When It's Not About Race
Her voice quivered. Barely concealing her anger, Professor Amina Wadud's words bellowed across the hall, "I am a nigger and I can't do much about it." Wadud, who was speaking to a Toronto audience on Sunday, was responding to a questioner who asked her to address internalized racism within the Muslim community and if that had anything to do with the hostility she had faced from a section of the crowd.
"Usually I wear the hijab, and when I am wearing it, most Muslims do not consider me African–American; I pass off as a South Asian," she said. "But when they see me without a scarf, they can see my African locks and they know I am Black and suddenly their attitude changes. The fact is I am a nigger and you will just have to put up with my blackness."
Risama: Wow! Nothing like the "N" word to put your hecklers in check...even when it's not justified. The word "nigger" has taken on many meanings. Once the word of oppression used by slave owners to indicate that Africans were mere property has now become a word of empowerment. Non-Blacks are not socially allowed to say the word in public while some African-Americans use it as if it is going out of style. As an African-American Muslim woman, that is one word I could never embrace. I can't even joke around with it knowing how many of my people fought to be addressed and treated as human beings. So you can imagine how it hurts me to hear Blacks use it as a term of endearment and for an Islamic scholar to use race as a means of defense. What better way to reduce those who dare to question your ideas than to use the word "nigger." That way, you don't have to engage in dialogue or give support to your reformist ideas. But then again, that what the "progressives" do.
Why should Michael Knight talk to Siraj Wahhaj about his interpretation of Islam when he can put his hand down his pants and then procede to shake his hand (or stink palm him) at an Islamic conference? Why should Asra Nomani deal with the problems of women's space in the mosques with Muslims when she can slander ISNA and CAIR in the New York Times and also plug her new book. By the by, what's the deal with on-again/off-again love affair with hijab. Why hijab just on the book covers? It's just weird.
The basis of her talk was "How to be God's agent (khalifa) on Earth; to be a moral agent of the Creator." In this context, she presented four ways of looking at Qu'ranic verses which Muslims find difficulty dealing with. She identified the four methods as: (1) The literal readings of the text, (2) The legalistic arguments that constrain how verses are applied, (3) Reinterpretation from alternative perspectives, and (4) Saying "No to the Qur'an" when one disagrees with it.
Risama: Saying no to the Qur'an when one disagrees with it? There are some big problems inherent in this. You see, when terrorists read verses like, "Killing a human being is like killing the whole of humanity," then tend to ignore it because they don't like it. It makes them feel bad about murdering innocent civilians. Rejecting that which we don't like seems like a good idea in theory but what limits are placed on those rejections? When does the Qur'an become good enough for them to believe? Do we stop at hijab, alcohol prohibition, hetero- and homosexual fornication? Who determines what we should keep and what we should discard? The terrorists of 9/11 had no problem discarding Islamic law's prohibition against the destruction of property, the murder of civilians, and the murder of other Muslims. Who draws the line, if there is a line to begin with?
When Amina Wadud referred to the 9/11 tragedy and the fact that some Muslims deemed it Islamic to crash planes into buildings and kill innocent people, a section of the crowd interrupted her. "What about Israel killing Palestinians," they yelled. One middle-aged heckler said, "She is a CIA agent." Other men and women lined up at the mike to accuse her of all sorts of things. Another man, angered by Wadud's 9/11 remark, came to the mike and lectured Her. "Let me remind you that no Muslim was involved in the 9/11 attack." Wadud did not dignify his remark with a response. One young man, with his oversized shirt hanging out, mimicking a rapper, took the mike out of its stand, twirled around, and started addressing the audience, with his back towards Wadud, accusing her of not knowing the Qur'an.
Risama: This is not Islamically acceptable either. Whether you agree or disagree with someone, you should never attack their character. Baseless accusations only hurt the opportunity for dialogue. While I don't agree with her statements, I would never debase anyone or myself by booing like I'm at some football game, shouting out the same lame conspiracy theories or anti-Jewish sentiments.
One questioner apologized to Wadud for the rudeness of some members of the audience, suggesting very few Muslim men had ever seen or heard an African American woman in charge and in command. She responded that as a black woman, she knew what it is to have one's views rejected, she thundered to an applause that started with a few hesitant claps and then rolled across the hall. Every time she used "nigger" to describe herself, most of the lighter skinned members of the audience became visibly disturbed, squirming in their chairs, perhaps uncomfortable at how she was destroying their middle class comfort zone. When an Indian man told Wadud that he understood racism, she replied, "No you don't understand. You are not Black; you don't know what it is to be Black."
Risama: So in order to understand racism you have to be Black? I don't think so. I think some hijabi women who happened to be at the wrong place and time on September 11th would not agree with Dr. Wadud's statements. The Indian gentlemen didn't claim to understand what it is to be black, he said that he understands racism. Anyone who is not white, male and Protestant is going to feel the social pangs of prejudice. When did racism and oppression become something that only Black people could claim? Once again, this is playing the race card. And what is the deal with the supposed discomfort of light-skinned Muslims in the audience. It might have something to do with the fact that Dr. Wadud used an offensive racial slur at an Islamic conference. I would feel unconfortable and it has nothing to do with my race or skin color so what is Tarek Fatah talking about? There is no real revoultionary dialogue taking place; just strong language that meant to shock.
Addressing Wadud, a woman with peroxide blonde hair and hip hugging jeans said, "Even though I am not a practicing Muslim, I believe you do not know proper Islam." "Your response is not new to me," Wadud replied. "When I wear a hijab, I don't look African and my words are measured with politeness; however, when my hijab is not covering my hair, I become Black and my words lose all value."
Risama: Very interesting. Unfortunately, because the blonde, non-practising Muslima disagreed with Dr. Wadud, Fatah dismisses her by mentioning her tight clothes and dyed hair. But wait...isn't the removal of hijab and modesty in clothing exactly what they are trying to get rid of? The woman in the audience would have been praised if she praised Amina Wadud rather than questioned her. But Fatah gets revenge by simply dismissing her as some bleach blonde bimbo in tight clothes with no intellect. Very hypocritical considering that they claim to embrace different opinions and different interpretations of Islam.
The straw that broke the camel's back came when Wadud, answering a question, criticized Canada's proposed Shariah laws and expressed support for same-sex marriage. A deeply troubling aspect of the audience's reaction was that it was clearly divided along ethnic lines. Arabs largely behaved as one group heckling her, while South Asians bandied together in supporting her. The few white Muslims stuck quietly with each other. And in a telling indication of the profound divisions within the community, it appeared that Wadud may have been the only African in the room, although Africans account for about a quarter of Toronto's Muslim population.
Risama: So now we are relying on racial generalizations? And see how Fatah sets up the Arabs as the most intolerant members of our community. It's always the "Arabs, " isn't it? It has become quite chic to blame the Arabs for all the ills in the Islamic world while ignoring that fact that not one Muslim country is living up to Islamic ideals. I guess that explains why you don't see a lot of convert voices, Latino Muslims, African-American Muslims and Arab-American Muslims on MuslimWakeUp.com. Oh, there are Arabs, most of them are very ashamed of being Arab and usually join in the Arab-bashing brigade.
The knee-jerk reaction to being reminded of our internalized racism is predictable: complete denial. Racism governs our behavior, yet we are oblivious to our own prejudices and tribalism. With noted exceptions, I saw this in action on Sunday. I heard repeatedly from Arabs in the audience that Amina Wadud does not understand Arabic. Instead of debating the merits of her argument, many invoked and sought refuge in their ethnic and linguistic superiority. Then there is the predictable reaction towards converts. If the converts are white, all of us, Arabs and South Asians, simply go complete gaga, but if we run into Black converts, we treat them at best in a condescending manner with barely concealed disrespect, as demonstrated Sunday night in Toronto.
Risama: More Arab bashing. Lesson of the day: If you plan to challenge preconceived notions of Islam without the proper knowledge and education, be prepared to be questioned. And when you are challenged, don't lean on race or gender. Make your point based on sound Islamic knowlegde and please, drop the "n" word. No one is impressed.