By Kameelah Mu’Min Rashad
“Within white supremacist capitalist culture, black people are not supposed to be ‘well.’ This culture makes wellness a white luxury. To choose against that culture, to choose wellness, we must be dedicated to truth…If it remains a mark of our oppression that as black people we cannot be dedicated to truth in our lives, without putting ourselves at risk, then it is a mark of our resistance, our commitment to liberation, when we claim the right to speak the truth of our reality anyway.” — Bell hooks
hooks understood that for Black people, wellness is a luxury many cannot afford. One only has to read today’s headlines to see that White Nationalists have become emboldened in their public displays of intimidation and aggression. On Jan 22, 2019, for example, 4 white men were arrested and charged with plotting to attack and kill members of the predominantly Black Muslim community of Islamberg, which is located in upstate New York. These men stockpiled almost two dozen shotguns and rifles along with over three homemade bombs and explosives.
How do we cope – individually and collectively – with the onslaught of violence, discrimination and bigotry?
How do we cope – individually and collectively – with the onslaught of violence, discrimination and bigotry? In the Black community, there exists a cultural imperative to be strong, stoic and resilient in the face of unimaginable horrors. This has kept us living, loving and thriving for hundreds of years and the emphasis on patience and perseverance from an Islamic perspective resonates strongly with the cultural image/stereotype of indomitable Black strength. Verses from the Holy Qur’an related to suffering and trials are often used by many Muslims as a form of religious coping and to frame emotional issues:
“Oh you who believe! Seek help with patient perseverance and prayer, for God is with those who patiently persevere.” —2:153
While this scripturally based understanding of suffering may provide solace to some, many still struggle, albeit silently, with debilitating feelings of grief, anxiety, sadness or depression. The call to exude strength in the face of such enduring adversity comes at a grave cost. We are asked to be gracious, forgiving, respectful, polite and calm while being terrorized. Unfortunately, this unspoken pain often manifests itself in other ways: poor eating/overeating and diet, abuse of drugs or alcohol, extreme stress, high blood pressure and heart disease.
Black Muslims need and deserve a safe space to process their past, the present and the future.
To have honest conversations about our wellness in the face of what Calvin Warren calls “ontological terror,” Black Muslims need and deserve a safe space to process their past, the present and the future. We need a space that is unencumbered by the weight of white fragility, and from micro-aggressions from non-Black coreligionists. We need a space to gather in love and support to proactively reconcile and repair the tragedies endured and celebrate the ways in which Black folks have used faith and spirituality to ground and restore themselves.
Black people need their own spaces. We need places in which we can gather and be free from the mainstream stereotypes and marginalization that permeate every other societal space we occupy. We need spaces where we can be our authentic selves without white people’s judgment and insecurity muzzling that expression. We need spaces where we can simply be—where we can get off the treadmill of making white people comfortable and finally realize just how tired we are.
Kelsey Blackwell writes, “Black people need their own spaces. We need places in which we can gather and be free from the mainstream stereotypes and marginalization that permeate every other societal space we occupy. We need spaces where we can be our authentic selves without white people’s judgment and insecurity muzzling that expression. We need spaces where we can simply be—where we can get off the treadmill of making white people comfortable and finally realize just how tired we are.”
The Muslim Wellness Foundation acknowledged the need for such a space devoted to Black Muslims navigating the intersection of race, faith and identity. By launching the Black Muslim Psychology Conference (BMPC) in June 2015, on the 150th anniversary of Juneteenth, the oldest celebration marking the emancipation of descendants of enslaved Africans in the United States. This gathering intentionally and unapologetically centers the narratives, voice, and strengths of Black Muslims with a special emphasis on trauma and collective well-being crafting.
The emerging field of Black Muslim psychology is grounded in the experiences, strengths, perspective, racial and sociocultural identity and spiritual orientation of those who identify as Muslim and of Black/African descent. The convening seeks to understand and enhance protective factors, mitigate systemic stressors and promote psychological well-being within the Black Muslim community. Above all else, we focus on lifting up how Black Muslims recognize and celebrate the beauty, strength and joy this community possesses as well. The ways in which Black Muslims choose to love, laugh, dance, create, live and believe in a higher power and purpose.
Now in its 5th year, this unique convening of community members, religious leaders, mental health professionals, academic scholars, grassroots organizers and activists has grown tremendously, both in attendance and impact. The dialogue at the upcoming 2019 BMPC (July 19–21, 2019, Philadelphia, Pa) will explore the impact of internalized oppression, notions of Black inferiority and assumptions of Islamic inauthenticity on identity, well-being, and development of Black/African Muslims in the United States. The conference will ask participants, attendees and facilitators:
- How do we understand the importance of “knowledge of self,” amid marginalization and erasure of Black Muslim narratives?
- What does a holistic, integrated, deeply rooted education and learning process look like for the Black Muslim in today’s society?
- What is the role of faith, history and identity in spiritual and mental liberation?
In this post-9/11, post-Ferguson Trump era, it is time we “speak the truth of our lives.” It is time to courageously and boldly address the unresolved trauma, pain, fear and despair that is keenly and uniquely felt by Black Muslims in these moments of crisis and upheaval.
In this post-9/11, post-Ferguson Trump era, it is time we “speak the truth of our lives.” It is time to courageously and boldly address the unresolved trauma, pain, fear and despair that is keenly and uniquely felt by Black Muslims in these moments of crisis and upheaval. We must choose truth in the face of injustice. We must choose wellness over fear and complacency. We must choose to heal as an essential ingredient to our collective liberation.
For more information on the Black Muslim Psychology Conference, including a call for proposals and registration, visit blackmuslimpsychology.org
Kameelah Mu’Min Rashad is the Founder and President of Muslim Wellness Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to reducing mental health stigma and promoting healing in the American Muslim community. Kameelah also serves as the Fellow for Spirituality, Wellness and Social Justice at the University of Pennsylvania (UPenn) and advisor for Penn Sapelo, the first Black Muslim Student organization on campus. Kameelah earned a BA in Psychology and MEd in Psychological Services from the UPenn and a second Master in Restorative Practices & Youth Counseling (MRP) from the International Institute for Restorative Practices. She is currently pursuing her doctorate in Clinical Psychology at Chestnut Hill College in Philadelphia, Pa.