Since the terrorist attack on Muslims in Finsbury Park, it appears that Islamophobia is now being taken more seriously by wider society than it ever has done in the past. The most recent incident being shared on Facebook is of a bearded Muslim man being stopped in the street for wearing too many layers of clothing – three layers, to be precise – in the summer heat. Most people watching this video have called out its nonsensical reasoning based on what is quite basically suspicion on the basis of anti-Muslim sentiment.
Reactions from Muslims aren’t unwarranted; would this man have been stopped, questioned and thoroughly examined had he not been so visibly Muslim with a beard and heading towards a mosque for Friday prayers? I think we all know the answer to that. But upon deeper reflection, why do we all suddenly care about this incident or any other incident, for that matter? When we look back on the history of stop and searches, racial profiling has occurred long before it was even coined as a term. How many Black men, including Black Muslims, have been searched on the racist premise that they were deemed to be a potential threat or looked ‘too suspicious’ just because of their skin colour? That an entire community should be criminalised and then treated with contempt is morally reprehensible; this point seems to have evaded the conscience of non-Black Muslims until it began to only recently affect them. Even then, we still get it wrong. There have been many instances where I have witnessed non-Black Muslims speaking of Islamophobia as if they are the hegemony of Muslims to experience some form of bigotry. To add insult to injury, when Black Muslims then speak of their experiences, the recent Islamophobic incidents are apparently considered as being equal to both the anti-Black racism and Islamophobia that Black Muslims have experienced. When it comes to experiences of discrimination, the solidarity with Black Muslims has been sorely lacking by those who proclaim that we are ‘one Ummah’.
Quite simply, Islamophobia has just become another word for simultaneously being anti-brown and visibly Muslim, and Black Muslims seem to be ignored in all of this. By insisting that their experiences ‘aren’t as bad’ as the experiences of Islamophobic attacks, we are inadvertently feeding into that very racist narrative that Islamophobia can only be experienced by the brown-skinned without acknowledging that bigotry has been experienced by our religious community for far longer than just the last 15 years. The fact that we as a community have shunned the Black Muslim experience just goes to show how pervasive racism is and how we refuse to acknowledge how deeply entrenched it is within the mindset of Muslims. For all the declarations that Muslims simply cannot be racist, its manifestation among us ranges from the very subtle in how we have defined Islamophobia to the blatant, in-your-face usage of the n-word towards our fellow brother or sister in Islam. For those who rant on about enjoining the good and forbidding the evil, where is your admonishment of those who discriminate on the basis of race and ethnicity? For the ones who claim we should revive a Sunnah and act with our hands to remove an evil, where is your open condemnation of racism among Muslims?
The reactions to this incident only shows us how narrow-minded some Muslims have become to only use Islamophobia as a term applied to those victims who are usually brown-skinned from a South Asian or Arab background and are visibly Muslim. It is as if only a subsection of the Muslim community holds a monopoly over who gets the ‘privilege’ of being called a victim of Islamophobia and that ‘other’ Muslims, namely Black Muslims, are denied this label altogether and their experiences are sidelined as irrelevant. This, in and of itself, is racism and to deny it is a gross hypocrisy. Moreover, it fuels the media and political narrative that being Muslim and brown and everything associated with them are the only true types of Muslims. Crying about racism every time we are misrepresented is akin to crying wolf if we continue ignore this disparity based on prejudice.
If we are truly sincere in tackling Islamophobia, we first need to tackle the bigger issue of racism within the Muslim community. Just as many Muslims whose ancestry hails from the colonial East lament that Western powers refuse to admit their unjust roles as colonial masters and is one of the causes of alienation, we too as a community need to admit that the racism of some Muslims towards Black Muslims is causing alienation, and brotherly and sisterly disunity. While this video is a clear example of how normalised Islamophobia has become, let’s be honest – it shows no actual violence towards the man nor does he experience any police brutality; it is only mildly humiliating that he was questioned and searched and the fact that this video has received any sort of recognition while the Black community, including Black Muslims, have been speaking of serious violence for years and the fact that no one has listened is beyond shameful. Indeed, there may be some who will insist that this is just the beginning of Islamophobia rearing its big, ugly head and that much worse is to come – such people need only to crack open a book to read up on how racism has been a violent practice from the beginning for some, or better yet, speak to the nearest Black man or woman to discover the bloodshed they or their ancestors have experienced.
As members of the British public, we should be ashamed that it has taken Islamophobia to expose how racism is still a part of British society in 2017 and that when the Black community has spoken of racism in the past, they have been undermined with the assertion that we live in a post-racial society. But as Muslims, we cannot justify talking about our experiences of Islamophobia until we accept that what our Black brethren experience is much worse, and what is incredibly detestable is that some of it occurs at the hands of the same ‘brothers and sisters’ who speak of the unity of the Ummah. If we are serious about the eradication of Islamophobia, we need to be equally sincere in taking a strong stand against racism. Otherwise, I fear that our hypocritically selective attitude will lead to the very downfall we wish to avoid.