Saturday, March 10, 2007

Race Issues in Islam

Another good read in the New York Times elucidating some of the race issues that affect Islam in America. More specifically, by telling the story of the relationship of an African-American Imam and an Asian immigrant Imam and the dynamics that have taken place since September 11 that have shaped their understandings and dealings of each other.

African-American Muslims and immigrant Muslims from Asian and Arab countries have not particularly gelled in America. Apart from racial and cultural differences, these two groups have found it difficult to unify in the face of socio-economic disparities.

Also, while many African-American Muslims are converts or trace their Islam back to their West African forbears, and thus have a less continuous transmission of Islamic practices and proficiency in Arabic language as their immigrant counterparts.

Personally, I have witnessed the tension between these groups of Muslims. The Black Muslims often feel that the Asians and Arabs harbor an elitist attitude towards them while being wary of the newcomers "radical" and "extremist" tendencies. The Asians feel that the African Americans should respect their scholarship and tradition, while working harder to learn Arabic and the Qur'an.

Come to think of it, racial undercurrents in the Muslim Ummah are by no means limited to the situation in America. In the greater Muslim world and within the walls of the local masjid, racial issues weaken the unity and brotherhood that is the Islamic ideal (not to mention Sectarianism).

Persians think they are better than Arabs and want to be white. Arabs resent Persian and Iranian progress. Turks do their own thing and wish they were accepted as European (ain't gonna happen). I suppose some of that is due to the fact that Turks once ruled over Arabs, who subsequently sided with the British to overthrow them. Imagine if Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Pakistan, and Iran came together in some sort of Islamic NATO (uh oh, hold on, I think that's some intelligence agents knocking on my door...).

Furthermore, the Desi Muslims have adopted alot of the Hindu caste thing, so don't bother being Black if you want to marry one (Let's not even get started on the Ismailis). On top of that, the Arabs don't like how the South Asians pray and celebrate, so come Ramadan time, things get as friendly as oil and water. Philipinos and Malaysians seem to be more open minded, but I'm not sure how they relate to the Indonesians and vice versa. Berbers and Arabs have fallen out in the past, and don't see eye-to-eye even now. The Bosnians I've met have been cool, but if their Eastern-European heritage is anything to go by, they probably have race issues as well.

Oh, did I mention the intra-racial Muslim problem. In Somalia, if you're not from the right tribe or clan, you will have problems with your Muslim brother. And in Arabia, you have that Umayyad-Abbasid, white Arab-dark Arab disconnect. In addition, just about all of them look down on the Palestinians. Jordanians don't want them, neither do the Syrians, the Saudis, or the Egyptians. Heck, I'd rather be a African-American Muslim with that level of rejection.

Who knows what the solution is to the racism problem in Islam. How can we present Islam as a a unifying, peaceful, and egalitarian force in the world if Muslims continue to divide along racial lines? Perhaps, the more we are profiled, humiliated, killed, mocked, discriminated against, and roundly beaten in all forms of human endeavor by non-muslims, the greater sence of commonality and unity we will develop. Its sad that it has come to this.

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