In the lead up to the presidential election Sapelo Square published a series of short reflections by Black Muslims that considered the themes raised by Malcolm X in his famed speech, “The Ballot or the Bullet.” Their responses were diverse but one thing they all illustrated is that voting is not enough—change only comes from sustained political action. Building off that insight, Sapelo Square, in collaboration with MuslimARC and Mpower Change hosted “Where do we go from here?: Black Muslim Political Action” a live stream panel discussion. Taking place just a week after the 2016 election, this group of Black Muslim scholars, community organizers and activists from across the country assembled to evaluate the political landscape under the new president in light of issues that concern Black Muslims in the United States. This discussion identified the possibilities and challenges we will now face and suggested what organizing around and responding to these issues of concern should look like in our current climate.
The consensus of the presenters was resistance. We must resist, resist, and resist the ongoing challenges presented by the Trump administration. In that spirit, Sapelo Square encourages you revisit and share the video. We also provide speaker bios, discussion summary and some next steps below.
Presenters (in order of appearance):
Dr. Tasneem Siddiqui, Assistant Professor, Winston Salem State University
Dr. Tasneem Siddiqui is a visiting assistant professor in the Department of History, Politics, and Social Justice at Winston-Salem State University. She was a fellow at the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding (ISPU) and the Primary Investigator for ISPU’s American Muslims Elections Project 2016. She has a PhD in American Studies and Ethnicity from the University of Southern California (USC). Her research interests cover the intersections of race, power, and geography to explore how historically marginalized peoples and communities produce systems of knowledge, practice, and social movements. Her current research explores the ways in which racial, ethnic, social, gender, and religious identities are activated, managed, and manipulated for a broad range of political behaviors in the contexts both of the contemporary political activity of American Muslims and of the historical political activity of Black Americans.
Imam Zaid Shakir, Co-Founder, Zaytuna College
Imam Zaid Shakir has taught courses in Arabic, Islamic spirituality, contemporary Muslim thought, and Shafi’i fiqh at Zaytuna College. He presently teaches Islamic history and politics. He speaks and writes on a wide range of topics and has become a voice of conscience for American Muslims as well as people of other faiths. He is regularly included as one of the Western world’s most influential Muslim scholars in The Muslim 500, an annual ranking edited by John Esposito and Ibrahim Kalin.
Donna Auston, Ph.D. Candidate, Rutgers University
Donna Auston is a doctoral candidate in the department of Anthropology at Rutgers University. Her research interests include race, ethnicity, gender, the body, religion, language, media representation, and Islam in America. Her dissertation is an ethnographic exploration of Black Muslim activism and spiritual protest in the Black Lives Matter era. She has been researching and writing about the history and experiences of American Muslims for nearly two decades, with a particular focus on the African American Muslim community. In addition to her written scholarship, she lectures regularly at universities and other venues on subjects relating to her research. She has appeared on television and radio outlets including Al Jazeera and BBC World Radio, and her work has received coverage from national media outlets including NBC News and The Huffington Post. She has penned editorials for Anthropology Now, Al Jazeera English, and The Washington Post.
Imam Sultan Rahman Muhammad, National Imam, Nation of Islam
Imam Sultan serves as the Student National Imam of the Nation of Islam and is responsible for the training of the Student Ministers of the Nation of Islam and it’s general membership in Islamic Sciences / religious development under the Guidance of the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan. The Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan appointed him to his post as the first Imam of Mosque Maryam National Center in 2012. Imam Muhammad, has also served as the Arabic and Islamic Civilizations instructor of Muhammad University of Islam in Chicago since 2008. Sultan Rahman Muhammad is a nephew of Imam W. Deen Mohammed (may Allah be pleased with him) and a great-grandson of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad.
Mark Crain, Digital Strategist and Co-Founder, MPOWER
Mark Crain is a digital strategist, community organizer, and online campaigner from Detroit. He’s the Mobile Innovation Director at MoveOn.org, is a co-founder of MPower Change, and is the project director for Dream of Detroit—a local, Muslim-led community development group. Mark previously spent time at the Obama 2012 campaign, Chicago’s Inner-City Muslim Action Network, and, once upon a time, managing his own web design firm, DeCrain Solutions.
Moderated by: Dr. Su’ad Abdul Khabeer, Sapelo Square @drsuad
Put the election of Donald Trump into historical context—is this a break with the past or a repeat of the past?
Dr. Tasneem explained that after reconstruction, for example, the same type of “white lash” occurred in response of Black political activity of that period. In the 1880’s and 1890’s white populism was use to block Black progress and encourage the growth of the Klu Klux Klan. Expansive ideas are always followed by a white lash. Likewise, The civil rights movement was followed by the emergence of neoliberalism. And now, after eight years of a Black president this is what we see. “The generation of people who voted for Hillary look very different from those who voted in the Electoral College,” she said. Furthermore, she added, “This is the first election in 50 years without the protections of the Voting Rights Act.”
What is our spiritual imperative in this political climate?
Imam Zaid Shakir argued that the spiritual imperative is to be principled in actions. “Be wary of being boxed in a corner that makes us fearful. The only prism we can see ourselves in is safety and security. We have to resist this fear,” he said. “Allah says, don’t fear them, fear me if you are a believer. That’s what motivated Muhammad Ali, and Malcolm X.” He explained that at the height of the Nation of Islam’s activities during the 1950’s and 1960’s they were not a protest movement. They focused on building the individual, the family and communities. He then spoke briefly about the history of Muslims in America and how nearly 20 percent of Africans brought here for the slave trade were Muslims. “This is our history. We must appreciate the courage our ancestors showed under more dire consequences.”
What’s at stake for us under a Trump administration?
Donna Auston spoke about the vulnerabilities of this time and how many are concerned about personal safety. It’s more than just personal safety she explained. It’s also about concern for the planet because the Trump administration has the ability to wreak havoc on the planet. “This is not just about America. What they do reaches across the planet.” She then spoke about the racial injustice that continues to plague America. “This is what I know. My mother, grandmother, great grandmother, you could go to bed and set your clock on this racial injustice. We’re going to resist not just as Black people but also as Muslims. Our project is freedom.”
How can communities maintain security and safety-in mind, body and spirit– in the current climate?
Imam Sultan addressed the gradual changing of the political and social climate since 9/11. He offered the Prophet Muhammad’s hijra from Mecca to Medina as an example of what Muslims can do to separate from an oppressor. “We see division in many ways now such as Brexit,” he said. Imam Sultan explained that when he speaks about separation as an option, the Nation of Islam has a provisional constitution that seeks to establish a universal government of peace. “It is a shared space where we can be free and just to be righteous servants of Allah,” he said. Imam Sultan gave the example of the Justice or Else campaign to create neighborhoods of 10,000 Fearless ready, “To secure our communities, settle disagreements and address our issues from our own perspectives.”
“How should we organize? What tools should we use? What fundraising should we do?
Mark Crain explained that direct services will become more essential in the days ahead with the dissolution of safety nets that have served our communities. “We have a history of taking care of ourselves,” he said. Food programs will be necessary. “People will be hungry,” he said. “We have to see this as opportunities to organize.” Communities need to be rebuilt. Things such as job training, legal services, investing in CAIR, having legal minds ready and prepared to push back organizationally and legally are essential. There also has to be direct advocacy, which is what MPOWER does. “We built an inclusive organization,” he said; ready “to react quickly to the breaking news cycle.” He explained the need to be in solidarity with other communities and prepared for the worst Trump has to offer. Tools he suggested are actionnetwork.com, nationbuilder.com and neworganizing.wellstone.org.
Should Muslims engage with President elect Donald Trump?
The consensus was no.
Looking Forward and Next Steps:
- Sign up and get involved with Mpower Change. We are trying to work with the entire Muslim community.
- Work toward intra-community cooperation. Make a call and the Nation of Islam will help you.
- Remember who we are. We are the children of the captives, Harriet Tubman, Assata Shakur, Sojourner Truth. Straw strength from that legacy. Resistance is who we are.
- Work collectively. When organizing and resisting collectively we have an immense amount of power.