Serving as a point of departure from the so-called “clash of civilisations”, African American Muslims counter the claim that hostility is inevitable between Westerners and Muslims. Having barely any historical connections to outside modern nation states, African American Muslims have been entirely formed by the American experience; indeed, their “American-ness” is beyond challenge. And yet they are completely Muslim.
African American Muslims have roots in America that are four centuries old. They provide the larger Muslim American community with a unique connection to the West that is generally lacking in European Muslim communities. This connectivity offers a supportive narrative to all Muslims in America, and provides the African American community with an active role in bridging the gap between the West and the Muslim world.
Unlike Muslims that have migrated to Europe, Muslim Americans form a substantial indigenous demographic. This population, which is overwhelmingly African American, has an irrefutable connection with America. While the institution of slavery sought to erase religions, languages and cultural practices, African American Muslim heritage has been preserved through its historic contribution to freedom, justice and equality.
The role that African Americans have forged for themselves has benefited all Americans? And in fact the entire globe. Their struggles, notably during the Civil Rights movement, paved the way for a practice of Islam in America that is not found in other Western nations and even in some Muslim majority nations. For example, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 gave Muslims the right to attend Friday prayer services and gave women the right to wear the headscarf at their places of employment and schools.
The Civil Rights Act does not allow an employer the right “to limit, segregate, or classify his employees in any way which would deprive or tend to deprive any individual of employment opportunities or otherwise adversely affect his status as an employee, because of such individual’s race, colour, religion, sex, or national origin.” (Section 703.(a).(2))
The same movement further challenged America to address the social ills of white supremacy and opened the door for the Immigration Act of 1965, which had the residual effect of greatly increasing the number of Muslims in America from South Asia.
The American Muslim community has benefited from the majority of its members belonging to the African American community, a group that embodies America’s consciousness regarding civil and human rights. The increased recognition of the importance of this demographic within the American Muslim community may be recent, yet its value has long preceded the realisation. (MORE)
Dawud Walid is the executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations – Michigan (CAIR-MI) and Assistant Imam of Masjid Wali Muhammad in Detroit, Michigan.