by Nina Daoud
Throughout Juz’ 25 (41:47–45:37), a distinct message emerges about humanity’s natural tendency to focus on worldly matters. The juz’ begins with Surah al-Fussilat (Verses Made Clear), which focuses on the truthful and divine nature of the Qur’an while admonishing those who disbelieve as well as those who are ungrateful to Allah (SWT). I am particularly moved by verses 49–51, where Allah (SWT) points out the ungrateful nature of mankind. We are seldom content, constantly praying for better, yet quick to give up and lose hope when we do not receive what we desire. Relatedly, we see from these verses a quality that often emerges in our daily lives: we grow arrogant and smug when good things happen, seeing ourselves as self-sufficient and decrying the existence of Judgment Day.
In thinking deeply through the aforementioned verses, I am reminded of the important role that Ramadan can and should play in mitigating some of these characteristics we embody individually as well as collectively. The spirit of Ramadan and the blessings it bestows on us is exponentially amplified by being among a community of believers, with whom we may be our true selves, in all of our identities. Yet for many Black Muslims, Ramadan can heighten feelings of isolation. In particular, the culinary and cultural aesthetics most often associated with the holy month regularly exclude or marginalize the experiences of Black Muslims. In recent years, social media initiatives such as #BlackMuslimRamadan and #BlackOutEid have emerged to center our experiences, illustrating the tremendous diversity in a Muslim community that often renders Black Muslims invisible. But what would it mean to live in an ummah where these initiatives are not necessary?
In Surah al-Shura (The Consultation; 42), Allah (SWT) emphasizes unity among believers; conflict and divisions in our community are regarded with contempt. The title of the surah emerges from verse 38, a seminal verse in which consultation is first introduced as a characteristic of believers. The surah progresses with Allah (SWT) continuously praising believers in verses 36–38, identifying characteristics such as avoiding large sins and practicing forgiveness, remaining steadfast in our worship and conducting affairs by mutual consultation. Perhaps the most poignant part of this juz’ takes place in the subsequent verses (39–43) where Allah clearly and comprehensively delineates a code of conduct for oppressed Muslims. Immediately after He permits believers to defend themselves, Allah (SWT) briefly emphasizes the importance of patience and forgiveness in verse 40, before reiterating the enjoinment of Muslims to consult with and defend one another when faced with oppression. In His words, “And whosoever defends himself after having been wronged, for such there is no way against them” (42:41) noting that there “is no blame upon those who seek retribution” (42:42). Instead, blame is placed upon the perpetrator of injustice, the one who initiates the betrayal. Thus, Allah (SWT) provides clear evidence that pacifist practices such as turning the other cheek are not always the preferred ways to respond to injustice. While patience and forgiveness is encouraged, Allah (SWT) also indicates the importance of defending oneself and one’s community in the face of injustice.
Although Black Muslims are often the target of the racism within the Muslim community, we are often blamed for separatism, constantly being told we are “dividing the ummah” whenever we identify the systems of oppression that (re)produce widespread anti-Blackness. Perhaps even more disheartening are the divisions taking place among Muslims who fall into the neoliberal traps of “activism” at the expense of Black Muslims who are often left in the margins of the conversations regarding our own experiences with oppression. In the past few years, we have witnessed some Muslims who use their affiliation with Islam as a way to advance their own political agendas or platforms, rather than using said platforms to promote justice for all Muslims. In many ways, social media has led to the proliferation of a new generation of individuals who fall into such traps, as presented in Surah al-Zukhruf (The Ornaments of Gold; 43), whereby we begin to perceive social status as an indicator of one’s worth.
In Surah al-Zukhruf, Allah (SWT) refutes wealth as an indicator of long-term power, reminding us of the fate of Pharaoh (43:46–56). Here, the myth is dispelled that only individuals with prominence are the ones worthy of being trusted with the Truth. More specifically, Musa’s (AS) prophethood was dismissed by Pharaoh and his nobles because he did not possess the gold ornaments and wealth that Pharaoh did. Haughty in nature, Pharaoh asks Musa (AS), “Am I [not] better than this one who is insignificant and hardly makes himself clear?” (43: 52) effectively rejecting Musa (AS) as a true messenger because he lacked high status and had a speech impediment. This is a tactic regularly implemented by leaders to diminish the status of those who are oppressed and working towards liberation.
The ableism that Pharaoh hurled towards Musa (AS) has taken place repeatedly throughout history, manifesting itself in the form of many other -isms, including racism, elitism and sexism. Within the Muslim community, Black Muslims, particularly those who do not have wealth, advanced degrees, or high social status are often dismissed in the discourse regarding justice, despite having the lived experiences to understand and combat various forms of oppression. In so doing, dominant groups perpetuate the hierarchies that keep marginalized populations at bay. Understanding the historical underpinnings of these patterns is crucial for those of us working towards liberation, keeping in mind the lessons learned from the Quran, which offers “insights for mankind, and guidance and mercy for a people who are certain” (45:20). And as we continue our God-commanded pursuits towards justice, let us seek Allah’s guidance in steering clear from letting money and status pervert our intentions, to persevere in the face of affliction, and to continue to find solace in the beauty of the teachings of the Qur’an.
Nina Daoud is a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Maryland and a Ford Foundation Dissertation Fellow. Presently, Nina is completing her dissertation, a qualitative study on the experiences of Black Muslim women in college as they navigate their racial, religious, and gender identities in today’s social context. She also works as a Research Associate at the Center for the Study of Race and Equity in Education at the University of Pennsylvania, where she conducts research related to campus climate and spearheads programming related to responding to Islamophobia in education. Nina can be followed on twitter @chiatraveler