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By Rahimeh Ramezany, Program Manager
“And among the signs of God is the creation of the heavens and the earth and the diversity of your languages and colors. Indeed, in that are signs for those who know.” (Qur’an 49:13)
Greetings of peace,
On May 25, 2020 an African American man by the name of George Floyd was murdered by law enforcement. This event was followed by the greatest push for change this millennial has witnessed in her lifetime. The world watched as protests took place across the United States to express the rage and grief felt at yet another innocent life needlessly taken from his family and community, and we witnessed organizations, schools, businesses, and houses of worship that had never touched the topic of racism at long last take an internal look at the state of their relations with peoples of African descent.
It has now been over 8 months since then, and we find ourselves celebrating, honoring, and commemorating another Black History Month. As a non-Black American Muslim, who is both a child of an immigrant and a descendent of 17th century colonizers, what does Black History Month mean to people like me? The answer is quite simple. Black history is American history, and Black Muslim history is American history.
Twenty-eight percent of the Muslim American population is of African descent, but as non-Black Muslim Americans, do we know the history of the great African American writers, inventors, thinkers, and doers, both Muslim and non-Muslim? Do we still operate under the false understanding that Muslims first came to this country in the mid-1900’s with a wave of Middle Eastern immigrants? Do we live up to Islam’s inclusive and equitable values in our spaces?
ING was one of these organizations that responded to the call for deep reflection on how we benefit from and perpetuate white supremacist norms, and out of that came many internal conversations with expert consultants to guide us into more inclusive practices and presentation content, including our five-part webinar series Educating Ourselves: Expanding the Muslim American Experience Beyond the Immigrant Story. This series spanned the course of three months in the summer of 2020 and focused on the voices of prominent African American Muslim imams and scholars with the intention of uplifting voices in our community that often go unheard or are ignored.
This series was an opportunity to begin conversations in the immigrant-based Muslim American community about our internalized anti-Blackness. By facing the issue head on, we also intended to turn the conversation towards uniting our community across racial and ethnic boundaries. In order to properly unite ourselves, we must remember that diversity is part of God’s plan and that we are responsible for actively reaching across communities to build friendships and community together.
“Oh humankind, We created you from male and female, and We made you into races and tribes that you may know one another. Indeed, the most noble of you in the sight of God is the most righteous of you. Indeed, God is All-Knowing, Fully Aware.” (Qur’an, 49:13)
So as we celebrate Black History Month with our African American sisters and brothers, as we learn their history as our own history, and as we get to know one another as the Qur’an instructs us, let us also question what actions we can take in our spheres of influence to make our spaces more inclusive and equitable for all. In pursing that worthy goal, I encourage readers to refer to the Educating Ourselves series to take advantage of the deep insight that the speakers shared with us last summer and that resonate all the more now in 2021.
Rahimeh Ramezany is a Program Manager at Islamic Networks Group (www.ing.org), a peace-building organization providing face-to-face education and engagement opportunities that foster understanding of Muslims and other misunderstood groups to promote harmony among all people. Rahimeh earned both her M.A. and B.A. in Communication Studies with a concentration in Intercultural Communication from San Jose State University. During her graduate school years she participated in an intensive study abroad program in Amman, Jordan, and earned a Certificate in Advanced Global Leadership from the Lucas College of Business’s Global Leadership Advancement Center. In 2016, Rahimeh served as a Fellow at the Summer Institute of Intercultural Communication, where she played an active role in the Institute’s programming and training opportunities. Since then, she has been working in the nonprofit sector as a project coordinator and trainer.