Arab racism has put me off the Middle East

A Muslimah writes

As a Muslim growing up in the West, its fair to see that my experience of Islam and Muslims has always been multicultural. Having been born and raised in the UK, and Asian culture not having a strong influence in my life, I was brought up to never discriminate because of a person’s colour, educated about Muslims in Africa and China alongside Arab and Asian Islamic history, and met people from numerous backgrounds in my daily life.

As a Muslim millennial, I was also always conscious of those around me who went abroad to study Arabic, and aspired to do likewise. Being a Muslim populated region and one that is more connected to Islam than others via the Arabic language, the Middle East seemed to have an appeal to me that was more than just tourism, it was about Islamic heritage.

My experiences there changed everything.

It wasn’t sudden. Since my young teens I had journeyed to various countries in the region on holiday. But on each trip, and on occasion when I met with people from there in London, something hurtful would occur. Such as when a woman in Egypt forced my mum to recite Quran to prove that she was Muslim. When a Moroccan sister mimed Hindu worship at me because I was Asian. When my Syrian teacher told a class full of Arabs to improve their Quran because “the Asians are getting ahead of us”. And of course as every non-Arab has experienced, and myself repeatedly, when you are pushed to the back of the queue to enter the Rawdah, the area close to the Prophet Muhammad’s (saws) grave in in Madinah, because you are brown, and “maghrebis” get preference over you (let alone the way in which the Saudi stewards laugh at the old Asian aunties who cry while making dua). For me, it culminated in a trip to Palestine, when I almost broke down in tears after a man questioned me repeatedly and disbelievingly about where I come from, insisting I look Egyptian, forcing me to explain again and again in my hesitant Arabic that I was Asian.


Theres a lot of denial that goes on when I tell people this. But for anyone wondering, these are not my only experiences of racism. Living in the West, I’m fairly used to people giving hateful looks or making rude comments. It rarely bothers me, if anything there’s a certain pride that whatever discrimination I am facing is not just because I am a person of colour, but also because I am Muslim. And as Muslims we know that whatever discrimination we face because of our faith is a test for us, and is something all the prophets faced. What could be more honourable as trial?

But when racism comes at you from people who you consider your own, brothers and sisters in faith; who make you feel like a lesser Muslim or out of place, when you are trying to bond on common ground between you, it is different. Having never experienced this before, even if it was just cultural ignorance and not rudely meant, I grew tired of the endless comments and explanations. I realised that I started to dread talking to people in Arab countries, even shopkeepers in case they started debating my ethnicity. I started to re-evaluate why I had looked up to a region so much that seemed determined not to have me, to instead box me in to their limited understanding of what being non-Arab meant. Despite having not visited every country in the region, I resolved that it was no longer high on my list of priorities.

Mine is not an isolated experience. I have heard stories from numerous brothers and sisters of similar encounters, and of course general racism is prevalent in many cultures, especially in South Asia. I don’t believe my experiences were always maliciously meant, but the enduring ignorance and stereotypes of Muslims from other backgrounds needs to stop, back home, and in the West. Unfortunately, this just the tip of the iceberg for our black brothers and sisters, many of whom are indigenous to these regions but face much worse discrimination from other Muslims.

Islam outlawed all forms of racism and nationalism from its very outset, and in the strongest terms.

Muhammad (saws) said:

“O people, your Lord is one and your father Adam is one. There is no virtue of an Arab over a foreigner nor a foreigner over an Arab, and neither white skin over black skin nor black skin over white skin, except by righteousness. Have I not delivered the message?” (Musnad Ahmad 22978)

Similarly in regards to nationalism, he (saws) said:

“He is not one of us who calls to asabiyyah (nationalism/tribalism). He is not one of us who fights for the sake of asabiyyah (nationalism/tribalism). He is not one of us who dies for asabiyyah (nationalism/tribalism)”

It is only since colonialism and the division of Muslim lands into modern nation states that this ugly form of nationalism and assumptions of religious superiority have become prevalent. In the absence of Islam as a unifying factor, societies have looked to these modern identities to bind them together, at the exclusion of others. This is when nationalism becomes poisonous, and goes beyond a mere love of the familiarity of ones homeland, as Muhammad (saws) loved Makkah, and instead becomes something paramount in ones identity. This then clouds the Islamic understanding of the issue, that being Muslim is what binds us first and foremost, and Islam is not owned by any particular race or country.

As Muslims, we will never progress until we understand the real unity is not just in making dua for the Ummah or marvelling at people from different races making pilgrimage to the Kaaba; its about uniting upon the Deen of Islam spiritually, politically and socially.


9 thoughts on “Arab racism has put me off the Middle East

  1. Very very well written. Perfect description with relevant proofs. I couldn’t have put it this greatly, Masha’Allah even though this is the exact thing which I feel and believe.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. A great post, very well written. Although I am deeply saddened to hear of your experiences, I think issues like these aren’t spoken about enough in Muslim communities and would like to thank you for being brave enough to write this. We need so much more education and discussion about the issue of racism among Muslims. Thank you for sharing 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Well said!!, on a trip to Morocco, someone asked me if I was actually Muslim despite the fact that I wear the hijab. In that moment, the realisation struck that to be black or rather non-Arab, means to constantly have to proof your Islamic identity to those who see you as ‘less muslim’ on the basis of your origin. These issues need to be talked about rather than people turning a blind eye under the pretence that xenophobia and racism does not exist in Muslim communities, so thank you for this wonderfully written post!!.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Oh, so that’s why that guy who owned the subway sandwich shop asked my kids to recite the fatihah? It never dawned on me that he was testing us!? What a shame. Well, we gave it to him, plus some, anyway. Also, the difference in that case was because he is in MY country, and if anyone should be proving something it would be him, but I didn’t go there.


  5. As an Egyptian girl . Some times people don’t mean to make fun or mock you in a harsh way , even the intensively questions about ur culture or why you wear hijab . About that try to be more easy going unfortunately not all Muslims follow every teachings of Islam . so be you the one who spread the value of manners and the word of truth and Islam among people Muslims and non Muslims 🙂


  6. Why adopt their religion? Why subject yourself to their dogma? Rediscover the religion of your ancestors and stop aping them. Simple


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