A Black Muslim on #MuslimLivesMatter

[title maintitle=”” subtitle=”As Salaamu Alaikum, peace, to any and all reading.”]

Last Tuesday, three Arab-American Muslim students, two of them newlyweds, were murdered execution style in their own Chapel Hill, NC apartment. The murders, and subsequent lack of media coverage, sparked widespread outrage among the Muslim community, which expressed its sentiments heavily through social media. What followed was an emotional response, exemplified by worldwide attention, social media tributes, and numerous hashtags – one of which is #MuslimLivesMattter, a play on #BlackLivesMatter.

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As a Black Muslim man, approaching this topic is honestly a hard thing to do, especially given sensitivities and emotions at play surrounding such events.

I will start with a prayer, asking that peace and love be with the families of Deah Barakat, Yusor Abu-Salha, and Razan Abu-Salha. May you never forget the good they did for the world, and the joy they brought to your lives, and the lives of others, and may their lives not be lost in vain.

Although the media seems largely disinterested in this story, the news has resiliently traversed the globe. At the moment of this writing, the legacy of these outstanding youth, as well as the expression of disapproval of this past week’s media coverage, have been shared using #ChapelHillShooting 1.8 million times on twitter.

Having participated heavily in protests, and actions both online and on the ground in several cities, I feel entitled to say that I have devoted time and energy to the cause that is #BlackLivesMatter. #BlackLivesMatter began as a statement to an establishment – an overall system if you will, declaring the seeming unrecognized value of black lives. It continues to hold that same meaning, even as it moves to become an expression of the movement itself. A movement against deep-rooted systemic racism, high rates of police brutality, extra-judicial executions, media smearing and vitriol, and the failure of the justice system to actually hold anyone accountable for dead black men, except dead black men.

It actually hasn’t been very long since we had to speak out against people using #AllLivesMatter. So I couldn’t actually go to sleep tonight without addressing the issue behind the charged hashtag that is #MuslimLivesMatter.  It is important to remember that #BlackLivesMatter was not born of an occurrence, but of an atmosphere wrought with repeat occurrences. #BlackLivesMatter has come to mean more than just a hashtag for social media purposes. It operates as a sort of mantra – a reverse mantra if you will, against a biased, demeaning narrative. #BlackLivesMatter did not only serve to inform “others” that black lives really do matter, but to remind black people, who are subject to the same demeaning and overwhelmingly biased narratives of themselves, that their lives matter.

Statistically, a black man will be killed by a police officer every 28 hours. A black teen is 21 times more likely than a white teen to be killed by police.

Some examples to the point: A 12-year-old black boy was shot and killed for playing with a BB gun. His sister was then handcuffed and made to watch him bleed. A black father was killed in a Walmart, holding a toy gun sold at that very Walmart, in a state where it is legal to carry guns. A black father was shot in the back, while handcuffed. A black father was essentially choked to death in high definition. A black protest was met with a para-military unit, and the National Guard. A black woman was shot seeking help. A black man was literally lynched.

Where were you then? 

My respect to every single one of you who ever attended a protest, and to every Imam that ever gave mention, but I ask you all to consider this at a deeper level. Where was the Muslim community in response to these egregious civil rights issues? Where is the Muslim community in solidarity with a movement against these civil and even human rights issues?

I can almost guarantee that the Chapel Hill shootings will be mentioned in every khutbah (sermon) across America. This is not to be misunderstood — it definitely should be mentioned. My point, however, is that Deah, his wife Yusor, and her younger sister Razan, obviously and visibly matter.

The movement of people devaluing their lives is virtually nonexistent. The media is not painting their lives as criminal, in what little they are reporting. Their killer is not at home watching his face plastered on the news. There is no movement of people trying to justify the actions of the terrorist who killed these young Muslims. Muslim parents are actually not having the same talks with their children that black parents are having with theirs.

I do not personally believe that social media has the right to simply “change the game,” as some seem to think. I invite disagreement, however, I believe you have to be playing the game, before you can change it. #MuslimLivesMatter is borrowing a regarded aspect of popular culture, using it to fit a different narrative, and completely ignoring the history, as well as people, connected to it.

   Grateful for social media changing the game. #MuslimLivesMatter -@NTagouri

I understand when people mean well, therefore I challenge people, specifically those in the Muslim community, to first understand #BlackLivesMatter at a ground level, not from social media or any other form of media. Secondly, I challenge the Muslim community to actually build a real relationship with a community before you co-opt an expression many of you may have never even used. The opportunity has not passed to put in the work necessary to build these bridges. Work such as the Black Lives Matter Toolkit for Muslims presented by the Muslim Anti-Racism Collaborative (MuslimARC), an organization to which I devote much time and effort. There are also actions which can be taken, such as endorsing MuslimARC’s “Call for Justice: Joint Letter on American Muslim Solidarity Against Police Brutality.” 

It’s uncomfortable to say this because I agree with all points made in response to this shooting. This was a tragedy that should not have happened, and it should be investigated as a hate crime. However, what makes this different is their killer is going to jail. A grand jury will likely indict him. Hate crime charges are the icing on the cake. Yes, fight for them, but be thankful for murder charges.

I will attend a vigil, I always do, or at least try to make my support known. Please, let go of #MuslimLivesMatter. The family of the victims has chosen #OurThreeWinners.

I hope and pray the Muslim community specifically can build the bridges necessary to begin fighting systemic injustice altogether. Whether it is through the toolkits provided by MuslimARC or other initiatives geared toward positive change, as long as it done together. Remember, Islam’s purpose is not to protect Muslims – it is to uplift fallen humanity.


Anas White is a 23-year-old Muslim, artist, writer, and activist with a deep-rooted interest in race relations particularly as it pertains to members of the African diaspora, religious pluralism, and African spirituality.


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