Why Alton Sterling and Black Lives Matter to me

As long as police brutality, systemic oppression of black people in this country, and racism occur, no person, Muslim or non-Muslim in this country should stand silent. #BlackLivesMatter should be a concern for every living person. Black people have contributed to the civil rights and benefit of our society for years and they are still to this day not treated equally, but oppressed specifically. It is incumbent on all Americans to transform the culture that seeks to dehumanize our black brothers and sisters. Alton Sterling your death will not be forgotten neither will all of the other murders, torture, lynching, and psychological, emotional, and physical abuse that our black brothers and sisters continue to face for centuries. We must stand united to shift the paradigm of bigotry and xenophobia, our love, our humanity must overcome this oppressive regime of hatred.

As a Muslim, I hurt when my black brothers and sisters hurt. I can’t understand the pain of being a black person in America, but I hurt for all of the pain that my black brothers and sisters endure on a daily basis, both Muslim and non-Muslim. I become livid when I see racism within the Muslim community toward our black brothers and sisters. Many times for racist and tribalism-related reasons, non-Black Muslim families refuse to marry with black Muslim families. There is a cultural of exclusivity within Muslim Student Associations (MSA) at colleges, and with young professionals in their respective social circles as well. Perhaps, the even greater tragedy is the “spiritual appropriation” that has occurred in that the international community has laid claim to “Islam in America” in the mosques, Islamic organizations, and conferences when the black community has literally died struggling for civil rights including Islam in this country for years. I apologize profusely for all of the pain internally that has been inflicted explicitly or implicitly. In my own programming and collaborative initiatives, I strive to be intentional in being inclusive in regards to race, gender, and culture.

The Prophet Muḥammad (May God’s peace and blessings be upon him) said in his final sermon that no white man is greater than a black man and no black man is greater than a white man, no Arab is greater than a non-Arab and no non-Arab is greater than an Arab except in their piety and moral integrity.

He would speak vehemently against even his contiguous non-black companions who would at times express racist comments towards his contiguous black companions. He would not just promote diversity but would be inclusive by making the muʾaḏḏin, or the one who calls to prayer, a black man named Bilal, which is a great honor in the Islamic tradition. He would inquire as to the status of a black woman who would perform labor-related work duties in the community when others may not have had paid her much attention. He himself, was taken care of by a black woman named Umm Ayman. Her son, Usāma bin Zayd, who was a military general for the Muslims was also a young black man. There are numerous accounts of the Prophet Muḥammad arranging the marriages of black men to non-black women by literally going to the homes of the families. I call on Muslims to return to our Prophetic example, and to work to make this world a brighter place of hope and inclusivity.

The sad truth is that racism was an epidemic in the early Islamic period in Arabia, and is still a problem today globally and specifically in America throughout various faith and cultural traditions. Many times people who don’t identify as black, judge emotional situations without understanding the continuous pain and oppression that our black brothers and sisters are forced to endure. When riots occur, songs are produced, and voices are raised, these are potent examples of emotional pain release that needs to be heard. Black men at times are forced to purposefully “seem nicer” to avoid being seen as “scary.” Black women and women of color in general are treated worse than white women.

The society should not, cannot, and will not be witness to this constant pain.

Black people and people of color have to work 10 times as hard in terms of education and work ethic to get close to the same positions as white people without being afforded equal opportunities. We must recondition our hearts, minds, and souls if we truly want to pursue life, liberty, and happiness for all of our U.S. citizens, especially our beloved black brothers and sisters. I pray for you and my heart goes out to you, I will continuously speak up for you on a professional basis until my dying breath, and if my soul could bang my grave it would until true justice and honor is restored. You have my eternal love, prayers, and support.


Imam Adeel J. Zeb is a global educator and spiritual peacemaker. He is the Muslim Chaplain/Director of Muslim Life at Duke University. This piece was originally posted at the Huffington Post.

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