Why Ferguson is Our Issue: A Letter to Muslim America

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Dear Muslim America:

Ferguson is your issue.   Ferguson is our issue.  For a range of reasons that go well beyond passive commitment to civil rights or symbolic solidarity, Muslim-Americans are bound to Ferguson – and the shrill demand calling for an end to state-sponsored and structural violence against Black America – that reverberates from its embattled streets.

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Ferguson is a Muslim-American issue because we frequently appropriate Black imagery and ideas with no history of aligning ourselves with Black struggle.  We quote Malcolm X to counter government surveillance of our mosques, and cite Martin Luther King, Jr. to relate the struggle of Syrians to an American audience.

During the siege on Gaza months ago, we raised banners of Black Civil Rights activists ravaged by police dogs, and posted pictures of Black Civil Rights protestors violently water-hosed.  Ideas and images displaced form their original Black context, and pasted to a foreign framework in order to pronounce the plight of Palestinians.

Over and again, we borrow from Black struggle as a means to advance our political or strategic ends.  And without pause, condemn Black victims or look the other way during ongoing moments of Black crisis.  Both yesterday, and again today.

Ferguson is our issue because, before Muslim-America was “Arab” or “South Asian,” it was Black.  Enslaved Muslims constructed the first mosques, observed the inaugural Ramadans, and paved the streets and roads we drive atop today.

Although our segregated masjids won’t reveal it, Black Muslims comprise the biggest segment of the Muslim American population.  More than one-fourth of Muslims in the United States today are Black.  While disoriented as an “Arab religion” in America, there are far more Black Muslims than Arab American Muslims.  Black Muslims also outnumber South Asian Muslims, and rank as the fastest growing demographic of the faith’s domestic population.  Muslims aren’t the “New Blacks,” as many pundits stated after 9/11.  Muslims have always been Black.

Black Muslim NY rally 1963
Black Muslim NY rally 1963

Ferguson is our issue because Muslim-America has not learned from its political blunders.  Before 9/11, when racial profiling was a Black and Latino issue, few if any Muslim-American leaders or organizations spoke against it.  Self-interest, combined with ethnocentrism and anti-Black racism, persuaded us to deny solidarity meetings with MALDEF, the NAACP, and pioneer opponents of profiling.  Our seat at that table, until 9/11, was empty.  We believed then that “profiling is not our issue,” until the two planes collided into the World Trade Center.

While Muslim Americans may have forgotten, Black and Latino Americans remember our void at the table.  And more vividly, our rush to it following 9/11 when PATRIOT and FISA snuck into our homes, communities, and institutions.

Ferguson is our issue because the same structures that ruthlessly enforce anti-Black racism also execute and endorse Islamophobia.  Long before Muslims bodies were monitored for fear of violence, subversion, and security, these tropes drove the systematic surveillance of Black bodies.

Black Muslims, who sit at the intersection of anti-Black racism and Islamophobia, endure compounded mistreatment from the state and private citizens.  And most damagingly, remain largely excluded from the Muslim American civil rights and advocacy organizations responsible for retrenching racism and religious animus within our communities.

Ferguson is our issue because during 9/11 and the Boston Bombings, the crises of yesterday and those that are certain to unfold tomorrow, the state’s and society’s fury will again shift in our direction.  For those Muslim Americans who turn away from the struggle in Ferguson; argue that, “structural racism is a farce,” “Black on Black crime is the real problem;” or that the “grand jury decision was fair and not driven by racism,” I ask that you apply this mythical reckoning to your own circumstance when the heat and hate is pointed in your direction.  Because it surely will, and this shortsighted analysis will not only turn away those allies you deride today, but also expose your self-serving hypocrisy.

Samantha Grace Lewi#2102A6C
Samantha Grace/Flikr

Ferguson is our issue because we have failed our faith, falling short of its unequivocal commitment to racial tolerance and justice.  Our missteps are many, and mistakes too numerous to list.  Ferguson offers an opportunity to rebuild, and construct that missing pillar of cross-racial commitment that will make us worthy of our faith, and – one day – trustworthy to our Black brothers and sisters.

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  • About the autor
    Khaled A. Beydoun

    Khaled A. Beydoun is an Associate Law Professor at the University of Detroit Mercy School of Law. He is also Senior Affiliated Faculty at the University of California-Berkeley Islamophobia & Research Documentation Project. He tweets @khaledbeydoun.

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    • Straight Shooter

      “Self-interest, combined with ethnocentrism and anti-Black racism, persuaded us to deny solidarity meetings with MALDEF, the NAACP, and pioneer opponents of profiling.”

      I would also add, another reason why American Muslims may be hesitant to become active in showing solidarity with the African American cause may also be related to fear. American Muslims fear that any type of activism and dissent against the government may be viewed as unpatriotic or even treasonous. The Righ Wing propaganda aims to stir fear and paranoia by saying that Muslims who participate in pro Ferguson protest are radical Islamists, ISIS sympathizers, Muslim Brotherhood agents, etc. They see Muslims’ activism and dissent stemming not from any genuine place of legitimacy or moral obligation, but rather they see it as stemming from Islam’s way to delegitimize America, spread Islam and establish Sharia Law, etc. However, I agree with your overall sentiment that Muslims should take a more active role in protesting against injustice in America and at this time in America, clearly police brutality and excessive use of deadly force by law enforcements is a huge problem. We should speak up!

    • Razainc_aka_BigBoss

      Well said

    • Jenny Nguyen

      Wow this is amazingly well written, mashallah brother. I am a convert to Islam and your article summed up my frustrations very well. I am Asian American and have had the same frustration within my ethnic community as well.

    • Martin

      Short and to the point. Spot on.

    • Homam

      If I may so boldly ask where did the author get these numbers? ” While disoriented as an “Arab religion” in America, there are far more Black Muslims than Arab American Muslims. Black Muslims also outnumber South Asian Muslims, and rank as the fastest growing demographic of the faith’s domestic population.” The US Department of State states that South Asian Muslims are the largest demographic. Unless there are other statistics that can disprove this, that statement can’t really be made factually speaking.

    • Guest

      Ironically, it seems like this should be addressed to (Immigrant-background) Muslim America

    • Az

      I would argue that immigrant Muslims have become too comfortable with their well paying jobs and nice homes. All this protesting stuff sounds inconvenient.

    • Naimah Latif

      As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” All people of faith, be they Muslim, Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu, or any other faith, if they are sincere, they should be speaking out for justice and actively involved in helping establish laws that protect all human rights. If you’re not doing that, then your religion is just an empty ceremony with no meaning or value. Unfortunately, many immigrants came here to reap the financial benefits of the country and are too afraid of loss of business, loss of a job, or deportation to be vocal activists. That’s okay, if you’re not able to openly speak out. Donate money to those who can. But do something to help. As Malcolm X said, “If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.”

    • Wendell Muhammad

      It appears from experience, many of the brothers and sisters that say they are Muslims, no longer consider themselves as being Black and part black and the struggle for justice. “I’m not black, I’m Muslim. I know its hard be black in white racist America, but claiming to be Arab is a copout.

    • O. Locke

      mosilims cannot and should not attempt to use the plight of American blacks to advance their cause. it is obvious to me what this does. moslims want to use the race card to get out of reforming their death-cult.


      even the blacks are on to you. they have no stomach to deal with terrorism because they’ve seen enough of it. middle eastern moslems are some of the worst racists you could ever meet. as our their moslem brethren who share no resemblence to the average American black.

      remember the moslems fought ont he side of the nazis in wwII. not traditional allies of the American black person and they despise moslim aggression as much as the other 5 billion people around the world who aren’t moslems justifying the violence because of unsubstantiated claims made by a man who married a 6 year old and raped and molested her when she turned 9.