“Why Islam and black history?” was the question posed to open the talk on the 29th of November. Newcastle University’s Islamic Society (ISoc) and Afro-Carribean Society collaborated with IDCNorthEast with the hopes of shedding light “on the value of black history and the unique beauty of Islam”. The event was held in the Herschel Building and was open to anyone who wanted to learn more about the experiences of black Muslims.
One of the central themes of the talk was the racism experienced by black Muslims both inside and outside of their Islamic communities. Studies show that 68% of hate crimes in the UK this year were recorded as anti-Islamic, and 23.78% of all hate crimes were committed against black and mixed-race people (Patterns of Hate Crime 2018). These statistics make many black Muslims feel that they are at a high risk of violence in their day-to-day lives; one speaker claimed that her friend, as a black Muslim woman, feels like a “triple-threat”.
But despite these risks to black Muslim’s safety, many of the speakers emphasised how racism had no place in the Islamic faith. In a talk titled “Islam’s Solution to Racism”, Abu Rayyan Abnaan claimed that Islam condemns racism in all forms. He pointed out that despite there being “different shades of people” in the room, “we all came from the same place” and that according to the Qur'an, Allah values people based on their righteousness rather than the colour of our skin, not looking at “the colour or features” of a person but their heart. Abnaan claimed that racism is inconsistent with Islamic belief because it comes from pride, a “characteristic of the Devil”.
This sentiment was mirrored in Mu-aawiyah Tucker’s talk, “Journey of a Black Racist to Islam”. With a title chosen deliberately, in Tucker’s own words, “to be offensive”, he empressed the importance of discussing what he called “uncomfortable topics” such as racism. To do this, Tucker told his own story about how Islam allowed him to accept people of different races.
“Somewhere along the line... I no longer saw slavery as a historical event that happened with people who were long gone, I saw it as evidence of people of today. And this is where an innocent boy with (a knowledge of) black history became, slowly, a racist.”
Due to his environment being made up of people of his own race for most of his childhood, Tucker claimed that he saw white people inherently different to himself, an opinion he now saw as false.
After converting to Islam as a young adult, his views “naturally” changed, and he began to believe that “God made us different so that we can know one another.” Tucker used this as an example of how Islamic values are inconsistent with racial intolerance.
Earlier this year after a "Reclaim the Metro" vent was held at Grey's Monument to protest the number of hate crimes against Muslims on public transport. As pointed out by Steven Ross, Muslim women seem to suffer the worst abuse.
The experience of black Muslim women was discussed during the event, with Kemi Adediran, the President of the Afro-Carribean Society, changing her topic from “Being Afro-Carribean in Britain Today” in order to discuss her friend, a black Muslim woman.
“I’m not even Muslim, I’m actually a Christian. I don’t want to discuss myself because this event isn’t about black female Christians, this event is about black Muslims and Islam, both of which have shaped the woman I am today.
“This person (her friend) has exposed me to new understandings of marginalisation, inequality and discrimination that I can never understand or even fathom.”
Adediran claimed that although her and her friend are similar, the latter is treated in a different way by many people because she is both black and a Muslim.
“I urge everybody, and not only Muslims in the audience, to continuously speak up for black Muslims and those in marginalised groups. I urge everybody to continue to campaign and understand black Muslims. I urge black Muslims to not hide their struggles in private spaces but bring them to platforms like this.”