By Nicole Balin: Whether it’s vandalizing a Mosque or a hateful taunt, harassment of Muslim Americans post 9/11 is at an all time high. But what about African-American Muslims, who according to the most recent study by the Virginia based Allied Media Corp, make up 24% of 7 million Muslims in America? They can be harder to recognize (they often don’t wear scarves or head dresses) but they are lawmakers, rappers, and even corporate executives.
Debra Mubashshir Majeed, an associate professor of philosophy and religious studies at Beloit College in Beloit, WI and author of Encyclopedia of Women and Religion in North America (Indiana University Press, 2006), says this is really about the stereotype of what a Muslim looks like. Dress is the cultural aspect of the faith and interestingly, since 9/11, people associate the Arab garb with Islam.
Kameelah Wilkerson a 35-year-old African-American resident of Altadena, CA was raised Muslim and says she hasn’t experienced any more abuse since 9/11 but agrees it’s because she doesn’t dress in traditional garb. “A good friend of mine wears a head scarf,” states Wilkerson. “She’s interviewing for a job this week and is very concerned that her appearance may prevent her from getting it.”
But Wilkerson admits to a heightened state of anxiety at work or in social settings. “So far it hasn’t happened, but I find myself afraid or on edge that someone may say something derogatory about Muslims. Even in casual conversation, it’ll linger in the back of my mind and I’ll wonder if I should reveal my faith to prevent an uncomfortable situation.”
Lawyer and hip-hop emcee David Kelly says that, ironically, in some ways, things are actually easier for African-American Muslims since 9/11. The Chicago native and practicing Muslim explains that most Americans mistakenly assume that all Black Muslims were Nation Of Islam (NOI) members and at that time the NOI leader Louis Farrakhan—with his inflammatory speech— was considered public enemy no. 1. “Now, Middle-Eastern Muslims are considered much more of a menace,” says Kelly. “Farrakhan may have hated Jews, but he didn’t hate Americans—and he wasn’t trying to blow up planes.”
Kelly also says that the long-standing tension between Arab Muslims and African-American Muslims has somewhat dissipated as a result of 9/11. “We’ve typically been seen (especially converts) as not living up to the Middle Eastern standard of Islam. But in part because Middle Eastern Muslims have been vilified by the American mainstream, they’ve allied themselves with African-Americans and our struggle against racial discrimination.”
Majeed agrees that the horrific events of 9/11 forced a new the conversation between Arab and African-Americans Muslims. African Americans were reared in the racial context this country. “So after 9/11, Middle Eastern Muslims were objectified in the way we had been. We [now] have a common experience.”
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