By Margari Aziza Hill
On May 26, I began my first night of Ramadan trying to process what had happened on that train in Portland, Oregon. Just before the first night of Ramadan, Jeremy Joseph Christian began a racist anti-Muslim tirade against two Black girls, one of whom was wearing hijab. Three men risked their lives to shield the girls, and two of them lost their lives. The day before, Christian, a known white supremacist, threw a bottle at a black woman who defended herself with mace. But that Friday, Christian’s attack turned deadly. On June 3, Rahma Warsame, another Black Muslim woman, was brutally beaten while intervening in an altercation. With mosque arsons, armed protests and attacks on our most vulnerable Black Muslim women, the verses in Juz’ 19 provide a needed grounding in sacred history.
The Qur’an chapters “The Standard,” “The Poets” and the “Ant” were all revealed when Muhammad (saw) made his message public, addressing the spiritual, social and moral ills of the time. The revealed verses comforted our Prophet (s.a.w.) as his people rejected his message and mocked him. In “The Standard”, Allah reveals that other prophets before Muhammad were also oppressed. “The Poets” highlights the nations and people who rejected Prophecy. “The Ant” recalls the stories of Solomon, Queen of Sheba, Salih and Lot.
Juz’ 19 of the Qur’an, like many of the chapters revealed during the Meccan period, are pertinent to living as a religious minority. The poor, the youth and marginalized were the first to embrace the message of Islam. Similarly, many Black American Muslims embraced Islam. We build communities, struggling to maintain our dignity as we face constant structural barriers and generational trauma that manifests itself in mental disorders, substance abuse and harmful behaviors. We are living in a time of the New Jim Crow , with Black people of all faiths locked out from civil engagement, employment and housing. While our numbers may be small, Black Muslims communities have lived our faith out loud, calling for personal, interpersonal and social transformation. We are trying to reclaim ourselves, rebuild our families and build our futures.
We look to the past to find wisdom for today. We also find many parallels. The Poets during the time of revelation were that day’s media. You had your shock jock poets, your snarky clever poets, your pundit elitist poets. The Meccans dismissed the Prophet (s.a.w.), ridiculing his followers for being young, poor and enslaved people. Muhammad (s.a.w.) was mocked for not producing miracles or converting the powerful members of the Quraysh. But the greatest miracle is the Qur’an, which remains unchanged to this day. In the 1400 years since the first revelation, dynasties such as the Byzantines, Sassanids, Tang and Ottomans have all crumbled like ‘Ad and Thamud. But our Scripture, our Truth, has prevailed. It even found itself within the Americas as enslaved Africans wrote down the texts. Juz’ 19 not only reminds us of the oppression all the prophets faced, but the enduring legacy of Truth. In one ayah, Allah (s.w.t.) tells us, “Put your trust in the One Who’s always alive and never dies. Glorify His praise, for He’s capable enough to know the shortcomings of His servants” (The Standard, 58).
Islam appealed to the Meccans who were divested from maintaining the status quo. During this early period of prophecy, members of Muhammad’s household converted. Umm Ayman, an Abyssinian woman who served Muhammad’s parent’s, embraced Islam and was described as a heavenly woman. As the message became public, eventually, the repression of Muslims escalated with a Black woman, Sumayyah bint Khayyat, becoming the first martyr in Islam.
Muslims are often questioned, taunted and accused of being irrational. Black Muslim women’s socio-economic conditions attenuates the harassment and discrimination they face in the public, at school and the workplace. The violence that women of color face during this sacred month is reflective of the structural and emotional violence of White supremacy. During our Holy Month, on June 10, across the country ACT for America has staged anti-Muslim rallies across the country. A number of white supremacist militia groups pledged to join the actions. These same groups and their supporters regularly harass Muslims, Black people and Latinos. But Allah reminds us about how we should deal with the provocations. Allah tells us, “The (true) servants of the Compassionate are those who walk humbly through the earth. Whenever the ignorant try to engage them (in futile argument), they say to them, ‘Peace’” (The Standard, 63).
We have our sacred history to make sense of the repression we face today. Juz’ 19 should remind us that all edifices, and all systems, will eventually crumble; Only Eternal Truth will endure. The verses in these chapters point to the signs in the natural world that point to the Creator. While we may be rejected by mainstream society, our commitment to righteousness will give us integrity as a people. Reflecting on the natural world and its beauty, remembering our Lord, is self care. Turning to our Lord late at night in prayer and reflection is self care. Through these uncertain times, when Black Muslim women and girls are under increased attacks, without protection and support, we should look to the sahabi, we should look to our ancestors, and strive to make our streets, mosques and workplaces safe. We should strive toward protecting our most vulnerable and find comfort in aligning ourselves with Truth, patience and constancy.
Margari Aziza Hill is the co-founder and director of the Muslim Anti-Racism Collaborative (MuslimARC) and a columnist at MuslimMatters. An educator and independent researcher, she has given talks and lectures at various universities and Muslim community organizations across the country.