يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا كُونُوا قَوَّامِينَ بِالْقِسْطِ شُهَدَاءَ لِلَّهِ وَلَوْ عَلَىٰ أَنفُسِكُمْ أَوِ الْوَالِدَيْنِ وَالْأَقْرَبِينَ ۚ إِن يَكُنْ غَنِيًّا أَوْ فَقِيرًا فَاللَّهُ أَوْلَىٰ بِهِمَا ۖ فَلَا تَتَّبِعُوا الْهَوَىٰ أَن تَعْدِلُوا ۚ وَإِن تَلْوُوا أَوْ تُعْرِضُوا فَإِنَّ اللَّهَ كَانَ بِمَا تَعْمَلُونَ خَبِيرًا
You who believe, uphold justice and bear witness to God, even if it is against yourselves, your parents, or your close relatives. Whether the person is rich or poor, God can best take care of both. Refrain from following your own desire, so that you can act justly- if you distort or neglect justice, God is fully aware of what you do. [Qur’an 4:135]
On the 25th of May, 2020, George Floyd was murdered by a police officer in broad daylight. His death was one of the few documented among the countless other lives lost to anti-Black racism and police brutality in the United States of America. Along with the recent murders of Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery, this has sparked global demonstrations making the uncontroversial — yet inexplicably disputed — declaration that Black lives matter. Though the U.S. is the epicenter of these events, American systems of oppression have global reach and parallels in other Western nations.
Below, five sisters have written reviews of books on the origins and functions of systemic racism, conceptions of Blackness in the history of our ummah, and Islam as a guide to liberation. There are many related reading lists, such as Dr. Kayla Renée Wheeler’s #BlackIslamSyllabus and Asim Qureshi’s 10 Books to Understand Racism in the U.S. This list from The Qarawiyyin Project specifically aims to provide Muslims with a place to begin learning about systemic anti-Black racism, insight into the content of these books through our writers’ reviews, and an imperative to work for change as Allah ﷻ commands.
For those looking to support Muslims distributing food and supplies in the Minneapolis community, they can donate to Al-Maa’uun here.
Have a title you think we should read? Comment down below or let us know on Twitter @QarawiyyinProj.
1. The Condemnation of Blackness: Race, Crime and the Making of Modern, Urban America
“But what about Black on Black crime?”
This statement, frequently expressed by detractors, reflects not only ignorance and hypocrisy, but also a racially embedded stereotype. The association of African Americans with crime is a trope that has endured despite evidence to the contrary and the election of a Black president. Whilst this is often justified with data on prison populations, in a ground-breaking historiography, Khalil Gibran Muhammad traces the origins of this narrative as not simply a racist generalisation, but as a long-standing ideology governing the race and equality discourse. Stretching back to one generation after abolition, Muhammad reveals how, since the publication of the first census in 1890, concerns over the disproportionate presence of African Americans in prisons were used to shut down concerns over discriminatory treatment. Narratives of Black criminality that had been fundamental to upholding the rationale of slavery were later used to evaluate African Americans “fitness for citizenship”, and institutionalise racial punishments and daily surveillance. The urban North ensured that the shift from the racial-biological claim to the racial-cultural claim kept race at the centre of the discourse.
In the post 9/11 era, Muslims of all races are no strangers to the power of narratives in shaping public discourse. But that does not mean we are immune to them. Muhammad highlights the deep-rooted nature of stereotypes surrounding African Americans, and how they were reinforced at key moments in U.S. history by the state and intelligentsia. The endurance of such tropes till today is an even more damning indictment on how such forces continue to manipulate public opinion. Dismantling systemic anti-Blackness consequently requires the dismantling of these narratives, not by demanding “success stories” of African Americans to prove their lack of criminality, but rather by stressing the mechanics of the system that has empowered such claims.
Length: 380 pages
“For white Americans, of every ideological stripe from radical southern racists to northern progressives — African American criminality became one of the most widely accepted bases for justifying prejudicial thinking, discriminatory treatment and/or acceptance of racial violence as an instrument of public safety.”
Read our previous recommendations here
2. The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America
James Baldwin wrote in 1965, “De facto segregation means that Negroes are segregated but nobody did it.” Low-income, underprivileged neighborhoods — we might think — are the result of private practices and individual prejudice, “white flight”, bank redlining, and the like. Richard Rothstein argues that while this accounts for a portion of the racial segregation project, the enduring effects of housing discrimination stems from not simply vestiges of Jim Crow laws exclusive to the south, but racially explicit laws that endured for most of the twentieth century and were reinforced by the government — in other words, de jure segregation. The rationale of supposedly having become a post-slavery society left lawmakers and courts in a stupor, unwilling to eradicate its remains. Rothstein explains how, spurring the promises of the Civil Rights Act of 1866 in banning discrimination in employment and housing, the Supreme Court ruled that Congress could not ban discrimination by private actors. In other words, the equality African Americans were promised could not be enforced.
By highlighting their discriminatory offenses, Rothstein uncovers the reprehensible policies meant to keep African Americans at the fringes of society. We, especially those of us in America, must learn how deeply entrenched racism is in our system. Policies of this ilk work in tandem to deny African Americans a modicum of opportunity to flourish. The author demonstrates how these are not issues simply relegated to the past, and examines laws and acts passed throughout the 20th century that have bolstered these conditions. Obstacles in housing further narrowed access to employment and education, the effects of which continue to be felt today. Still, those experiencing these effects are subject to rhetoric that positions them — and not centuries of purposeful displacement — as responsible for their condition.
Length: 369 pages
“Racial segregation in housing was not merely a project of southerners in the former slaveholding Confederacy. It was a nationwide project of the federal government in the twentieth century designed and implemented by its most liberal leaders. Our system of official segregation was not the result of a single law that consigned African Americans to designated neighborhoods. Rather, scores of racially explicit laws, regulations, and government practices combined to create a nationwide system of urban ghettos, surrounded by white suburbs. Private discrimination also played a role, but it would have been considerably less effective had it not been embraced and reinforced by the government.”
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3. Centering Black Narrative: Black Muslim Nobles Among the Early Pious Muslims
Though certainly a microhistory of sorts, Ahmad Mubarak and Dawud Walid’s Centering Black Narrative consists of more than a recounting of historical events. It begins with a crucial explanation of how the — by no means immutable — concepts of race, Blackness, Whiteness, and Arabness evolved into their current popular understandings, as well as how these terms were used differently in the Qur’anic and Prophetic vernaculars. Correctly defining and contextualizing these concepts is necessary for understanding race relations among the early Muslims, as well as language in the Qur’an and ahadith regarding race and complexion. The authors go on to relay short biographies of several Black nobles among the Companions (RA) and early generations of Muslims, including Lady Fidda, Usamah ibn Zayd, and Julaybib (RA) — who, importantly, attain the rank of nobility for their immense piety.
It is an embarrassment to the legacy of Rasulullah ﷺ that many Muslims are not only oblivious to the existence of Black sahaba and tabi’een, but somehow able to formulate racist readings of our religious sources in order to bolster their Satanic prejudices. However, beyond simply proving that Islam is anti-racist and that Black people are integral in Islamic history, this book is humbling for those of us who anachronistically project our modern understandings of race onto history and are unable to conceptualize different social realities. It also gathers the names of some of the most honorable human beings to ever walk the face of the Earth, whose legacies must become guiding lights in our lives.
Length: 107 pages
“Though Muslims have never been post-tribalism, the implicit biases existing among many Muslims [have] led many to view Whiteness as more beautiful, Blackness as being less attractive, less Arab, [and] thus less Muslim and less authoritative in the classic development of Islamic scholastic thought. It was important for us to provide evidence from early Islamic texts to deal with the issues of Blackness and Arabness, in particular to show how these two frames were not viewed as mutually exclusive in the early generations of Muslims.”
4. Islam and the Blackamerican: Looking Towards the Third Resurrection
Islam and the Blackamerican by Dr. Sherman Jackson is an astute overview of the historical, cultural and political experiences of Black Muslims in America — from slavery to the modern day — and penetrates deeps into the crucible of modern-day American race-relations. Dr. Jackson explores topics such as the encounter between Islam and Blackamericans, Black Religion, Spirituality, Immigrant Islam, Proto-Islamic Nationalist groups, and the role of the latter in authenticating Islam in a Blackamerican context. Shedding light on the apparent affinity of Blackamericans to Islam, Dr. Jackson credits “Black religion” — the phenomena of holy protest and appeal to God against anti-Black racism — for laying the groundwork for the rapid spread of Islam. He delves into Islam’s role as the tool by which Blackamericans believed they could liberate themselves from, and eventually subvert and annihilate, an oppressive system of white supremacy and anti-Black racism. Dr. Jackson refers to the challenge of navigating an authentic Black identity as the “Third Resurrection”: the recognition and mastery of the Sunni Tradition among Blackamerican Muslims and the fight against the imposition of false universals by immigrant Muslims. “Immigrant Islam”, which is not necessarily synonymous with immigrant Muslims, is characterized by universalizing particulars and projecting “historically informed expressions of Islam in the modern Muslim world as the standard of normativeness for Muslims everywhere.”
Although this book caters primarily to Blackamerican Muslims in their search to negotiate an authentic Black American experience, other Muslims can benefit from it greatly. Recent events have revealed a great deficit in knowledge among non-Black Muslims in our understanding of “whiteness” and the origins of anti-Black racism within our communities. For instance, 1965 U.S immigration law categorizing immigrant Muslims as legally “white” allowed them to reap the benefits of “whiteness” by distancing themselves from Blackamerican Muslims, deepening the anti-Black prejudice that remains palpable in our communities. “Whiteness” is not simply defined as the colour of one’s skin, but as a universalized set of standards that socially and materially enhance certain groups over others, and it is a system that privileges even those of darker complexions among immigrant Muslims. It wasn’t until 9/11 that non-Black Muslims in America began to feel the effects of their “newly acquired […] social non-whiteness”. As non-Black Muslims who wish to support our Black brothers and sisters in their cause against systemic racism and efforts to create a space of religious, spiritual and political expression, this book offers a blueprint to understand and appreciate the idiosyncrasies of the Blackamerican Muslim identity.
Length: 235 pages
“Resistance, however, would have to emerge as a positive, efficacious effort that served a higher good. Indeed, Blackamerican Muslims would have to recognize that blind resistance is no less grounded in a false universal than is the order that it blindly resists. Their aim, as such, must be to move Blackamerican Muslims from a position in which they can only be defined and controlled by the state and the dominant culture to one where they are self-defined and exercise enough influence over social and political institutions to be able to protect their interests and self-determination.”
5. Natives: Race and Class in the Ruins of Empire
When dominant notions of anti-Black racism are coloured by American experiences, it’s easy to forget the racist past and present embedded in Britain. In Natives, Akala seamlessly dissects British culture and debunks the common myths of our empire, filling in the gaps conveniently left out of our history curriculum. He touches upon class and race dynamics whilst challenging the notion of British meritocracy, and speaks of his experience with an education system designed to stunt his potential. He describes the ‘British Brand of Racism’ of a nation that broadcasts its achievements and feels entitled to call out the injustices of foreign nation states. Yet, this same nation converts to polite denialism when the lens is turned inwards, shifting the focus from systemic racism to issues of interpersonal morality.
Akala deconstructs Britain’s erasure of its colonial past to play down systemic racism; in a rather Orwellian manner, he notes the dangers of celebrating how far we have come without understanding the role of colonialism in shaping our society. We do not need to look as far as the U.S. to find riots, institutional racism and police brutality. Enoch Powell’s infamous “Rivers of Blood” speech became all too relevant 50 years later with the 2018 Windrush Scandal, threatening to deport the children of Caribbean labourers who were invited to rebuild the economy after WW2.
Natives is a memoir intertwined with philosophical analysis, historical research and contemporary politics. It is not a mere timeline of events but a polemic that exposes many uncomfortable truths regarding the hidden history of British racism. As Muslims, when the greatest of our people refused to enjoy the bounties of life until everyone could taste its sweetness, ignorance of these realities is not an option. Akala also provides a comprehensive bibliography for those interested in further reading. I highly recommend the audiobook; Akala is a superb orator and brilliantly conveys his message through wit and sincerity.
Length: 352 pages
“Racism is apparently a card to be played; much like the joker, it’s a very versatile card that can be used in any situation that might require it. Only non-white people ever play this card to excuse their own personal failings — even those of us that are materially successful. Humans racialised as white cannot play the race card — just like they cannot be terrorists — so European national empires colonising almost the entire globe and enacting centuries of unapologetically and openly racist legislation and practices, churning out an impressively large body of proudly racist justificatory literature and cinema, and much else has had no impact on shaping human history. It has really just been Black and brown people playing cards.”
6. Towards Sacred Activism
A brief introductory guide to reconciling activism in a secular sphere with Islam, Towards Sacred Activism is a call to reflect on the dominant practices of activists in the 21st century. Starting with Islam as the basis, Imam Walid clarifies Islamic conceptions of justice and highlights the urgent need for Muslims to engage in resistance against social oppression. Stressing the internal conditions that activists should embody, the book emphasises numerous qualities frequently overlooked: checking intentions, verifying facts before acting, holding oneself accountable and inclining towards pardoning.
Whilst sacred activism is attained through centring the spiritual as well as the material, one could also add that in the context of resisting racism, Islamic values are integral to this discussion. The Prophet Muhammad ﷺ and his injunctions on this issue form the basis of the Ummatic worldview; this is fundamentally opposed to racism, but also to nationalism and patriotism. These, too, are structures that perpetuate oppression against Black and brown people across the world. Our resistance cannot be restricted to the limits of the current discourse — sacred activism is embodying the scope of the Islamic perspective on these issues.
Length: 75 pages
“Those who make equals with their Lord are those who replace belief with disbelief, or those who take matters outside of their properly set places and commit wrong or injustice by violating their specified parameters. Allah (Mighty and Sublime) is known as the Truth (Al-Haqq). The true reality of all things, including what is right, is fully known by Allah. Moreover, it is He who is the doer of what is correct and wrote for it rightness.”
Aaminah Y. works in healthcare and has interests in history and politics. You can follow her on Twitter @yucipaloosi.
Ilham Ibrahim is the founder of Qurtuba Online. A surgical nurse by profession, she’s an avid reader, martial arts enthusiast and enjoys studying history and sacred sciences.
Heraa Hashmi currently serves as the Marketing Director of Traversing Tradition. She completed her bachelor’s degree in Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology and aims to be an active community member.
Aisha Hasan is the founder of the Qarawiyyin Project. A researcher in international development and the political economy of the Muslim world, she is also a student of Islamic Studies and a Quran teacher. She has been active in her Muslim community for several years, appearing on television, radio shows, and delivering talks at universities around the UK.
Sarah Bellal serves as Digital Director at The Qarawiyyin Project. She completed her undergraduate studies in Political Economy, with a concentration in development in the Middle East and North Africa.
2 thoughts on “Book List: Islam & Systemic Anti-Blackness”
This was a fantastic read, thank you for having me and may Allah bless you all and reward you for the benefit we the readers reap.
I remember the extent of Civil Rights discussed in middle/high school was the civil war and then Martin Luther King Jr., and everything becoming dandy right after. But the vestiges of racism continue to fuel the society today – from policy to education to imprisonments to our individual biases. May Allah forgive our shortcomings. Ya rabb.
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