Here are excerpts from an interview with American-born Canadian scholar Dr. Abdullah Hakim Quick about “Anti-Black Racism in The Muslim Community” (Sep 10, 2017):
Question: Welcome back. Despite Islam’s message of racial equality, black Muslims continue to experience discrimination within the Muslim community and feel excluded from mosques and Muslim organizations. What can we do to turn the tide on anti black racism within the Muslim community? Joining me to discuss this is Dr. Abdullah Hakim Quick. Dr. Quick is a senior lecturer at the Islamic Institute of Toronto, Head of the history department of Al Maghrib Institute, an outreach coordinator for the Canadian Council of Imams. He holds a PhD in West African Islamic history from the University of Toronto. Welcome to the show Dr. Abdullah… So when you did become Muslim and you entered into the Muslim community and you started to get involved were you surprised to find that racism existed within the Muslim community?
Abdullah Hakim Quick: Well, when I accepted Islam in 1970 here in Toronto I had left America and I was here, the brothers and sisters were very kind to me and I got involved and you know plunged right into my Islamic understanding, and then after a short time I went to Saudi Arabia to study. And I lived there in Arabia. Now I was surprised in going to Arabia to find that there is tribalism. You couldn’t call it racism in a sense of how what we encounter here in the West, but it was definitely tribalism and there was favoritism you know amongst the people there. Ignorance, it’s really ignorance. I tell the people, a Bedouin in Medina, that I’m from America and he said: No you’re not an American, you’re an Egyptian or something, you’re Moroccan. I said: No, I’m an American, and then he says: Okay South American. So he couldn’t deal with the fact of a North American. That’s ignorance, okay. But tribalism existed where they start looking down on certain groups of people which would include you know darker Africans and maybe from India in Pakistan, some of them they sort of looked down on them. So that was surprising to me but it was reality of life. But it wasn’t until I returned to the West and got back into the communities here that I started to notice some real tribalism that could border on racism, you know, within the Muslims, you know, who were practicing Islam, you know, in the West. This is where I really start noticing it.
Question: Can you recall any examples or trends that you noticed?
Abdullah Hakim Quick: Yeah I mean I started noticing that generally if you go to conferences and you see African people they’re usually calling the Adhan [Islamic call for prayer] or doing security. You very very seldom, you know, see them leading salat [prayer] or as the scholar or something like that. Also we noticed that when African Americans embraced Islam or Hispanics it was a good reception but when a white American embraced Islam it was like, you know, paradise and that person would suddenly be put to the position of leadership. Sometimes they would even let them lead salat [prayer] and they couldn’t even read you know Quran properly or that they become immediately scholars and famous people. That was a form of racism because racism is not only a superiority thing, you know, on the part of one group, but it’s an inferiority. So this is an inferiority complex, you know, where you feel that, you know, based on your color or your ethnicity that you are inferior to the other person. So was the effects of racism in the community and really to be honest the white Muslims who I met they didn’t want this. They didn’t come into Islam to be on top. They came into Islam to be with everybody else, but it was the ignorance of the people, you know, that effect of racism, you know, which pushed them into positions that they didn’t deserve.
Question: Now black Muslims account for arguably one-third of the Muslim population and Islam there shouldn’t be racism in it based on the teachings of the Quran and the example of the Prophet Muhammad peace be upon him. Why do you think racism persists?
Abdullah Hakim Quick: Well, you know, first we have to look at racism in a sense of the basis of racism ideology it’s a concept of superiority and inferiority you know and then you have expressions of racism which is calling person by names, and then you have institutionalized racism, which is where the color or the ethnicity, you know, affects the person’s position, okay. So within our tribal understandings Muslims have forms of racism within their own ethnic understandings. For instance, in India the ancient caste system which was developed thousands of years ago was based on the Brahmin people who came from either Germany or Russia, they were blond-haired blue-eyed people and they conquered, you know, parts of India and they subjugated, you know, the population Dravidian people who were a dark-skinned Indian people, and they set up the caste system and the word forecast in the ancient Sanskrit Varna actually means color. So literally that lighter you were the higher up on the cast and that was institutionalized. And so that caste type thinking even affects Muslims, even though Muslims are not Hindus but it affects the way of thinking that the lighter is sort of like the most intelligent and the most beautiful and so on. That concept was there. You also have in parts of Arabia you know where some slavery did from East Africa you know happened it wasn’t as much as the Atlantic slave trade but there was domestic slaves that came into many of the houses so they started looking at you know this is in 18th 19th 20th century they start looking at African people in this in a slave type position, okay. So that concept is also there. So so we have within our folk cultures. It’s really a modern-day jahiliyyah ignorance, you know, we carry this with us and it comes out sometimes, and you’ll find in certain languages in Arabic they use the word abd [slave] they will see a black person and something in some dialects of Arabic colloquial they’ll say oh that abd [slave] and that means a slave, you know, even in forms of Somali language, you know, they say adon, which means slave, because the lighter-skinned or the Bedouins straight ahead Ethiopian Somalis nomads they conquered the agricultural Somalis who are more bent to looking Africans, okay they’re both Africans. So they they think conquered them and use them like serfs in Europe they work under the Lord it wasn’t ball-and-chain slavery, but they would subjugate the villagers. So they carried that with them.
Question: so they’re literally referred to darker-skinned Somalis as slaves?
Abdullah Hakim Quick: Yeah, adon [slave] and the Arabs would say abd [slave] when they talk about you know a dark-skinned person although this is all relative because when you go to Saudi Arabia itself you find that there are many Bedouin, you know, who are black and within the cultures in Sudan and Egypt and many places there are black dark-skinned people who are original Arabs. So it’s not the same color line that we have here in the West, but you know it is there and unfortunately because of mass communications you know in the past you know 50 years the Western concepts are now spreading everywhere now, and it’s even having more of a dangerous effect on our own populations. So the racism coming out of movies that we had to go through here is actually affecting people you know in the Muslim world. So that complicates the issue and so now that the person who is an African person now who’s coming into Islam has got to face you know these negative cultural baggage and also the negative racist stereotypes that come from the movies that always has the black person as the second you know class citizen or the you know second-rate actor. If you have a movie and you know that the black person usually dies about 40 minutes into the movie if they’re fighting aliens or whatever and it’s a black guy in the group about 40 minutes he’s gonna die… Very rarely is he the hero of the program, right. So that’s a type of bias stereotyping racism. That’s still within our movies. Darth Vader you know, the darkness, the evil it’s still within the Western culture and affects people up until today.
Question: So many Muslims even locally in the Toronto area but you know across North America and across the world many black Muslims have felt that they have been sort of denied access and and not represented by the Muslim organizations whether it be mosques, Islamic conferences, Muslim Students associations and some have you know said well we need to start our own groups rather than expect that these Arab-run or South Asian-run organizations will represent us, it’s not going to happen, and it feels like there’s been sort of a bitter divide there. What recommendations would you make in terms of how to bridge that divide and help these Muslim organizations find the solution to anti black racism?
Abdullah Hakim Quick: Yeah, well you know in the United States itself because you have large black communities there it is natural to have a masjid [mosque] that is predominantly African-American. It shouldn’t be exclusively, but it’s natural to have that, so that’s not a problem. But in Canada where you don’t have large black communities, there really is no reason why we should be having these ethnic groups, but in the past twenty years or so you know we’ve actually expanded into you know ethnic type mosques, where it wasn’t originally in Toronto area, but now you know you’ll find you know found for the most part the masjids [mosques] are based on ethnicity. The recommendation that I’ve been making is number one is education, because the basis of racism is an ideology, it’s a belief that one group is superior to the other. So we need to understand what racism is. We need to understand how the Prophet Muhammad peace be upon him struggled against racism because it existed amongst his companions… They were dealing with racism at that time. They were specifically dealing with it, and you’ll see within the Companions of the Prophet peace be upon him African people in key positions. The problem is we’re facing with the Muslim community is that people accept Islam or practice Islam generally culturally. It’s based on what my family did you know not based on the actual traditions… now so now an African Muslims come comes into a mosque today and the other Muslims from Pakistan Syria you know whatever to say you know are you a Muslim? So imagine how the person feels right when his family can date back to the early period of the Companions, okay. So this is ignorance and through education we can understand that African people have been part of Islam from the right from the beginning