By Namira Islam
“In this competitive … and unequal world, we don’t have control over the privileges that are bestowed upon us or the doors that open up for us. What matters is that when we walk through some doors we kick them open so hard that they stay open. What matters is what we do with those opportunities and how … we serve others with the privileges we have been granted.” – Margari Hill
Margari “Aziza” Hill has lived a life of tenacity. At the tender age of four, her paternal grandparents, older sister, and aunt passed away within months of each other. As her family was heading to her grandparent’s funeral, they were involved in a car accident that threw her brother, sister, and Margari from the car. Thus, in just a few short months, Margari lost most of the family members “who loved (her) unconditionally,” with the tragedy having a lifelong effect on her and her family.
As a child growing up in a multiracial environment in Northern California, she was subject to racist bullying and violence, with the taunts of “slave” and “go back to Africa,” which she recalls when discussing her dedication to K-12 racial justice education and training today. By 3rd grade, she was asking herself, “Why does everyone hate Black people?” In sixth grade, she learned about Black History Month for the first time: “My teacher turned to me, the only identifiably Black student in class, and asked, ‘Margari, were any of your ancestors slaves?’ I shrunk in my seat.”
In the face of this adversity, she was placed into a gifted and talented program in elementary school. In junior high, she moved to East San Jose and there was able to learn from teachers who believed in the importance of Black History. “They opened my eyes to the liberation struggle of my people.” Margari went on to work to earn her bachelor’s degree in History from Santa Clara University in 2003 and a master’s in History of the Middle East and Islamic Africa from Stanford University in 2006. In the face of financial and other adversity, she completed research in fields that included colonial perceptions of mixed-raced identities in Northern Nigeria, anti-colonial resistance among West Africans in Sudan during the early 20th century, transformations in Islamic learning in Northern Nigeria, and International student programs at Al-Azhar and Cairo University.
Raised by a single mother, Margari began writing in elementary school, scribbling in her mother’s address book and writing short stories and poems. After converting to Islam in 1993, she began blogging in 2006 to put her experiences with being Black and Muslim into words. Her blog, “Just Another Angry Black Muslim Woman?”, thrust her into the public spotlight as a fixture in the early Muslim blogging scene. Since then, her articles have been published in SISTERS, Islamic Monthly, Spice Digest, the Huffington Post, Al Jazeera, and TIME (http://time.com/author/margari-aziza-hill/), with monthly columns appearing in MuslimMatters and other platforms.
In late 2013, Margari was the heart and soul behind efforts to establish an organization addressing anti-blackness and racism within Muslim communities. With nearly a decade of teaching experiences as an adjunct professor, instructor, curriculum designer, and teaching fellow, she was instrumental in pushing for an organization that taught anti-racism through a multidisciplinary faith-based lens. The organization, the Muslim Anti-Racism Collaborative (MuslimARC), officially launched in 2014.
MuslimARC cemented itself quickly, expanding and developing in leaps and bounds under Margari’s leadership. With dedication and ingenuity, Margari has successfully lead the development of racial justice workshops and trainings that have reached thousands of people; collaborative efforts that have helped raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for meaningful causes like rebuilding black churches, supporting San Bernadino victims, and providing clean water in Flint, Michigan. She has also been instrumental in changing the narrative around American Muslims in the media, the masjid, and in our minds. She has spoken and worked with Muslims and non-Muslims – children, college students, and adults of all ages – in cities all over the United States, showing us how we can begin to tackle a problem like racism in a manner that builds instead of burns.
Margari has diligently and tirelessly worked with little financial reward, through significant personal life changes, and in the face of hostility to grow a new organization. As a mother to a young child and a wife to a community-building imam, Margari juggles multiple hats and consistently re-dedicates herself to the mission of bettering and strengthening individuals and communities for the sake of Allah. In 2014, after living and working in Philadelphia, Margari moved with her family to Southern California. She lost no time in creating partnerships with local Muslim and social justice organizations and organizing MuslimARC trainings with the GetSMART (SoCal Muslim Anti-Racism Training) conference, with the second annual training coming up in April.
Through the work, she has further cemented herself as a leading voice and thinker on racial justice issues in the United States. Her research and writing on Countering Violent Extremism , Black Muslim identity, and American Muslim stories have changed narratives and jump-started a collective movement. Through it all, she remains accessible, approachable, and generous in providing her time, work, and wisdom to those who ask for it.
Being Muslim in America isn’t always easy. Being Black in America isn’t always easy. Being a woman in America isn’t always easy. Through it all, Margari has celebrated each facet of her identity, risen to meet challenges, and exceeded expectations over and over again. Her work continues to chart new territories and she remains tenacious and brave in making it all come together, with style and spirit.
Namira Islam is a lawyer and graphic designer. She is the Co-Founder and Executive Director of MuslimARC.