By Shameem Razack & Marian Haile
The month of Ramadan is the holy month within the Islamic calendar to which the Quran was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) during this month. For many Muslims worldwide, this is a time of reflection, study, and dedication to prayer as we focus on our connection with Allah (SWT). Another significant portion of this month is restoring and fostering community with other Muslims and community members this month. This understanding of community allows for affirmations and support during this time of reflection and dedication to our spiritual connection with Allah. Of course, this is not solely happening during this month as many of us try to be conscious of our deen (religion) in our everyday lives.
Shameem: As Marian and I reflect during this year of Ramadan, we wanted to center this post on Black Muslim women and how our faith practice guides us through resistance and healing. As a Black Muslim woman growing up in an African immigrant household, I became aware of the concept of community through Islam’s teachings of Ummah. Ummah, meaning a global Muslim community, helped shape an understanding of transnational solidarity and coalition-building through various communities. However, community is not guaranteed for everyone who is observing the month of Ramadan. As many have experienced the obstacles of continuing to survive in a society that already created systemic issues. The pandemic has exacerbated these issues. Including the lack of community or being able to be in physical space due to the COVID-19 pandemic. We have now reached a year and a few months since the start of the pandemic. As well as just last year during Ramadan we were in the midst of a wave of uprisings after several Black people were murdered by police. Last year as many of us fasted we also marched, protested and supported the Black folks who were(are) incarcerated and those who have lost their lives due to state sanctioned violence. This year has not changed as the injustice towards Black people nationally and globally continues, collectively we still stand in solidarity with our Ummah that are caged, deported, detained and killed. With this in mind I am constantly thankful for the community I have cultivated through various relationships with family, friends, and other community members.
Shameem: Why is community important to you and particularly during the month of Ramadan?
Marian: In Arabic, the word human, “insan”, shares its root with the verb “nisayah”, which means “to forget”. There were many Islamic teachings and proverbial takeaways that made up my childhood as a young Muslim girl of color, but this reminder and understanding that humans are forgetful creatures always stood out to me. That no one is perfect and there are people in this world that are somehow left behind. It is then during Ramadan where everyone develops patience, togetherness, forgiveness, and strength to reflect on the forgotten and the mistakes they have made to become better individuals. A month where these similar sentiments and regaining memories creates a powerful community, or Ummah, for the world to witness.
Growing up Black, Muslim, and the daughter of African immigrants in the United States, the concepts of belonging and what it means to be seen was heightened and never lost on me. As my formal and informal education grew, I began to understand the nuanced politics behind the discrimination of marginalized identities that intersected. It was more than just “too white for the Black kids and too Black for the white kids”, but also not Muslim enough, not Somali enough. I could never be my whole and authentic self all at once.
As the crises of the pandemic, police brutality, and Islamophobia have culminated and swept the globe in the last year and a half, it is still disheartening to examine the erasure of Black Muslim women who are fighting for their lives simply based on appearance and where they reside.
With the hidden, yet spiking COVID-19 cases in Africa, Muslim women are amongst a select few who are dispotrtionaelty affected by the pandemic due to the lack of social and economic opportunities. A slew of attacks against Black Muslim women in Canada’s Alberta providence have also showcased the lack of security and simultaneous recognition of both anti-blackness and Islamophobia; the same can be said with France and it’s African Muslim community as the country’s harsh hijab ban and color-blind belief system has made Black hijabi’s hyper-visible and more prone to harm than ever.
This Ramadan, I want people to remember to not forget our Black Muslim sisters. That we exist and deserve to live and thrive.
Shameem: How do you connect with your faith during the month of Ramadan and beyond?
Marian: Sustaining faith, or imaan, as a Muslim can be very difficult while navigating the modern world. During Ramadan, however, holding onto imaan is an easy task as community members are alongside you fasting from sunrise to sunset, read the Quran with you, and extensively pray with you for 30 days. Despite the limitations this pandemic has bestowed us this year, it has only increased many people’s faith and prayer like never before. The cloak of invisibility of the injustices of the world has made this Ramadan especially important as we examine the intersectional identity of the Black Muslim woman.
Iman (إِيمَان ʾīmān, faith)
And do you realize what is the steep road? It is the freeing of a human being from bondage
(The Holy Qur’an 90:12-13)
Throughout the existence of Black people within the Americas, there has been the existence of Islam. In the retelling of various experiences of Black people who were enslaved in the Americas, there is still a lack of acknowledgment of Black Muslims through archival documentation and overall mainstream narratives of American Chattel Slavery and broadly slavery in the Americas. However, contrary to popular belief, the presence and active practice of Islam within Black communities persisted as some have noted communities in various parts of the American south and biographical works. I reference this because Black Muslims who are currently incarcerated or in heavily policed communities navigating the intersecting oppressions of anti-muslim racism and anti-Blackness utilize faith as a form of healing and resistance.
Further, we recognize this conviction in faith with the most marginalized within our Black and Muslim community, particularly our incarcerated community members. The prison system in the United States is nothing but a tool to cage and remove our community members from society. As the United States continues to increase, expand and profit off the various ways of incarcerating and policing Black and Brown people (Prisons, Electronic monitoring, Probation), we must continue to resist and challenge the normalization of a prison state. Even within the prison system, Black women experience marginalization and outright discrimination. Such as the case of Muslim women. Some experiences include a lack of accommodation during Ramadan. Such as not offering meals before fasting in the morning or breaking fast at night; other cases include various prisons creating obstacles of specific material support such as providing women with hygiene products to prepare for obligatory prayer services. As community members, the responsibility is to advocate, affirm, and find ways to locally support those in the jail, prison, and detention centers as best as we can. More so, as Muslims, our faith calls upon us to increase our iman (faith), and we can only do this if we care for our community members.
Additionally, as we support our incarcerated community members, they also remind us of the practice of resilience in our faith. Thankfully organizations such as Believers Bail Out (Believers Bail Out supports Incarcerated Muslims, including women who are Black, White, and non-Black people of color) have constantly reminded us of this resilience. Some women have discussed a sense of community just through various ways the organization has supported them while being incarcerated. That does not mean the work is over; that means there are points of progression and hope that someday our community will be free.
May Allah continue to protect and help those in bondage, those who continue the work towards liberation, those who are healers, educators, caregivers, and over all those who are radically imagining and creating a better world for our Ummah (Community).
InshAllah (God Willing), we hope to have an ounce of faith and conviction as the ancestors, as the people who are currently incarcerated, as our family members, and as our community.
Shameem Razack is a Contributing Writer for the Pedestal Project, LLC. Shameem recently earned a Bachelor’s degree in Gender and Women’s studies at the University of Illinois Champaign-Urbana. Outside of being a student, Shameem is involved in various organizations that focus on social justice. Be sure to connect with Shameem on Instagram (@SincerelyShameem) and Twitter (@shameem_hr)!
Marian Haile is a contributing writer for the Pedestal Project, LLC. A literature graduate, she believes that storytelling and analyzing history can assist in developing an understanding of those around us and ourselves. You can follow her Instagram @marianhaile.