Category: Politics


Hijab and the Policing of Black Women and Girls: Black Muslims Respond

By Nisa Muhammad

On February 1, 2018, World Hijab Day was observed and encountered opposition from an unlikely source. A number of Black Muslims were taken aback on February 13, World hijab Daywhen 10 feminist faculty members of Spelman College released a letter expressing their concerns with the Spelman student who organized fellow students and Spelman faculty who participated in World Hijab Day. It included concerns about the women around the world who protest World Hijab Day spelman-collegeand Muslim women who are forced to wear the hijab (in Saudi Arabia and Iran) with violent consequences if they refuse. While the authors took great care to express their thoughts and concerns about Muslim women who wear hijab from around the world, their failure to mention the many Muslim women who chose to adhere to a command from God to cover their hair, speaks to their incomplete or misunderstanding of hijab. Unfortunately, many people, fail to grasp and comprehend our perspective. It is so foreign to them why any woman would want to cover her hair every time she walks out the door, so contrary to their order of freedom and justice, that it just does not compute.

Why do some women care what or how Muslim women dress? This feigned concern for the rights of Muslim women “forced to wear hijab” seems to be a double standard.

Why do some women care what or how Muslim women dress? This feigned concern for the rights of Muslim women “forced to wear hijab” seems to be a double standard.  The Spelman faculty wrote about the women in Iran who are protesting the laws requiring them to wear hijab.  However, there were few if any historical protests for the women in Iran in the late 1930’s when they were forced to remove their hijab with violent consequences if fullsizeoutput_75a6they did not.  It was unlawful for them to wear hijab. Women were relegated to their homes because they could not, would not come out uncovered. That was so long ago you may think, however, in Turkey until 2013, just five years ago, it was unlawful for women to wear hijab to government offices, hospitals, universities, and schools. That meant Muslim women who wore hijab could not go to school, to the hospital, work for the government or go to university. Where was the outcry for those women who only wanted to show their devotion to God? While the Spelman letter however, does mention the American discrimination faced by Muslim women who cover there is generally little outcry such as for the three women in New York who were forced to remove their hijab to have mugshots taken.  Their case was just settled for $180,000.


This letter is policing at its finest. It is a female reflection of white patriarchy and colonialism that says Muslim women are supposed to do and be a certain way that reflects western values.


This letter is policing at its finest.  It is a female reflection of white patriarchy and colonialism that says Muslim women are supposed to do and be a certain way that reflects western values.  What about nuns who cover and dress a certain way for God? Are you concerned that they are forced to cover? Well, Muslim women who cover for the sake of our Lord reject your policing. We have rejected it from the first colonizers who attempted to impose it on us. We rejected it then and we continue to reject it now. As educators and academics we have to find better ways to tackle the complexities of culture, religion, life and what it means to be a woman in America. Policing how each other dresses is not the best way to educate or inform. It is the best way to offend.

That mindset of telling Muslim women what they should and should not wear is so Nasihahpervasive in America, that a Philadelphia high school referee easily prevented Nasiha Thompson-King, a 16-year-old Muslim student at Mastery Charter School Shoemaker Campus in Philadelphia and a member of the school’s girls’ basketball team, from playing on her team. The referee demanded Nasiha choose between the court or her hijab; she chose to obey God.

In response to these incidents Black Muslims felt duty bound to respond. Here are some of their responses.

Majidah Muhammad: Wife, Mother and Educator

Majidah PurpleAs an alumna of Spelman College, Class of 2009, I am extremely disheartened by the letter signed by 10 Spelman faculty members and department chairs voicing their “concerns” with the 5th Annual World Hijab Day. When I think of Spelman, I think of a nurturing environment for all women to thrive regardless of their religion. The letter highlights a need for additional educational events to provide a holistic view of the hijab. Impact is greater than intent. If there were genuine concerns about educating Spelman women about Islam and the hijab, then the professors should have reached out to An-Nisa, the Muslim Women’s Organization on campus, to collaborate.

Although wearing the hijab is a complex issue among Muslim women, the Qur’an is clear. Khadijah, Aisha, Maryam, Hagar, and many other women in the Qur’an are our examples of “feminism” grounded in strength and capabilities not oppression. It is clear that Spelman still has much work to do to empower all students.

Hakeem Muhammad: Patheos Truth to Power Blogger

Let me get this straight: The faithful Mother of the Believers,  Aisha bint Abu Bakr (May Hakeem MAllah be pleased with her) commanded an army whilst clothed modestly in hijab. The great African scholar-warrior-queen Nana Asma’u, in full hijab, continued this tradition by taking part in military campaigns for the Sokoto Caliphate. The Great Black Muslim woman revolutionary, Safiya Bukhari, as a member of the Black Liberation Army undertook revolutionary actions for the freedom of Black people while wearing hijab. Now, folks want to suggest that our Muslim sisters cannot partake in boxing, basketball and other athletic competitions in the modest clothing which Allah (SWT) has prescribed for them? Absurd!

The real reason they despise the hijab and wish to see it removed from our Muslim sisters, is because the hijab is rooted in the underlying Islamic beliefs that challenge western materialism, commodification and capitalism. Indeed, the great Black revolutionary Frantz Fanon observed that French colonists would forcibly remove the hijab from our Muslim women as part of a racist colonial effort to enforce secularism. Today, perverted male-owned fashion companies set the fashion trends and profit from the commodification of women’s bodies and sexuality. The need to keep up with the latest fashion trends and clothing, in western materialistic liberal society results in emptiness, stress and depression. Indeed, Islam provides a transcendent value for clothing choice, that comes from Allah not man. Hijab is worn out of submission to Allah not man and as such hijab, rooted in its Islamic foundation, comes as a clear alternative to western materialism and capitalism.

Donna Auston: Anthropologist, Writer, Public Speaker, Ph.D. Candidate

2013-02-09 15.49.57It is the responsibility of the administration at a university or college to create a safe space for a diverse student population. I am responding to what happens when tenured faculty band together to issue a public reprimand of a student, skipping over the many chances to engage in dialogue and educate as is their professional and ethical duty. There is a problematic power differential here that makes this action seem a contravention of the duty to create educational spaces free of bullying and intimidation. From the Combahee River Collective Statement,

In the practice of our politics we do not believe that the end always justifies the means. Many reactionary and destructive acts have been done in the name of achieving “correct” political goals. As feminists we do not want to mess over people in the name of politics.

Given that they invoked feminism as a motivating framework for their letter, there are real questions about a politics of care that ought to be informing this conversation, yet seem to be absent. Their definition of feminism relies on the fetishizing of the hijab as the alpha and omega of liberation as it concerns Muslim women — a narrow and destructive framework to be sure. The fact that they have invoked Asra Nomani, a woman who has publicly called for government surveillance and law enforcement profiling of Muslim communities, and has gone on record to justify her support of Trump calls into question any meaningful moral feminist high ground — considering the myriad ways that both of these policy positions actively harm Muslim women marginalized by race, gender, citizenship, disability, etc. as well as religious identity — as a position that only makes sense when hijab becomes the starting and ending point of all assessments of Muslim women’s liberation.

Maryam Sharrieff: Muslim Chaplain MSharrieffProfileColorPic.jpg

Spelman College, Atlanta, Georgia’s historically Black woman’s mission statement purports, that it is “dedicated to the intellectual, creative, ethical, and leadership development of its students.”

This past February, when a Bengali Muslim-American student creatively illustrated her leadership development skills by hosting World Hijab Day on campus, she was met with an unexpected, ugly response in the form of a public memorandum from certain faculty. The perception of Spelman College’s embracement of women of color was sorely stained and challenged. Once again, this ultimatum missive, proved to be an attempt to silence and control Black bodies and Black women’s voices, and by extension, all women of color. This is especially reminiscent of the need and emergence of womanist theory, in the vacuum of white women’s feminism that more often than not, curtails and silences the important voices of Black Muslim women. Many Muslim women students, including those who are not Black have decided to make Spelman their alma mater. Although there have been a few studies and articles focusing on Muslim American women on campus, none have particularly focused on the Black Muslim women’s experience. Almost two years to the date of “World Hijab Day”, evangelical Wheaton College’s tenured Christian professor Larycia Hawkins, was dismissed for donning a hijab in solidarity with her Muslim sisters. In the age of Intisar Rabb, tenured Harvard Law professor; Amina Matthews, renowned social activist; and Ibtihaj Muhammad, Olympic fencer and fashion designer (who now has a new hijabi Barbie); we need to do as we say, not as we do and fulfill the ethos of the Spelman mission statement, to uphold “the intellectual, creative, ethical and leadership development of our students”.


nisaNisa Muhammad is the Politics Editor of Sapelo Square.  Mrs. Muhammad is a recent graduate of Hartford Seminary, Class of 2017, with a masters in Islamic Studies and a Graduate Certificate in Islamic Chaplaincy.  She is also the Assistant Dean of Religious Life at Howard University.  She was the 2007-2009 Spelman College Parents Association Northeast Coordinator.


Being “of the Land”: The Politics of Calling Ourselves Indigenous

By Su’ad Abdul Khabeer

In what one might call American Muslim English, it is common to refer to Black Muslims as “indigenous.” The term came through self-definition and in response to the assertions of religious authority, tinged with anti-Black racism, made by Muslim immigrants from South Asia and the Middle East[1].

Indian and train

“Killing The Black Snake” Photo Credit: Ryan Vizzions/Flickr

In a counter power play, Black Muslims challenge the Muslim immigrants’ claim to be more knowledgeable about Islam with their own assertion to know more about how America works. Although the term has its reasons and resonances (since them folks still be trying to teach what you already know), I would like to suggest U.S. Muslims, as a community, reconsider using indigenous because of the dangerous way it erases and hides.

First, the term erases Muslims in the United States who are in fact, not metaphorically or by analogy, indigenous and autochthonous, meaning “of” this land. Of course, there are Black Muslims who have Native American ancestry but despite the popular claim, most U.S. Black folks do not have, to riff Zora Neale Hurston’s playful saying, “a grandfather on their mother’s side who was an Indian chief.”

Since 9/11, the term has expanded beyond the Black Muslim community and is now being used by all U.S. Muslims to lay claim to being indigenous. Citing everything from enslaved African Muslims to Jefferson’s Qur’an, Muslims claim a long history in the United States to argue they are not foreign but “native.” This claim is subsequently used to seek a seat at the table — the very table of the settler colonists who are responsible for indigenous displacement, dispossession and death.

Citing everything from enslaved African Muslims to Jefferson’s Qur’an, Muslims claim a long history in the United States to argue they are not foreign but “native.”

Countries that are settler colonies, like the United States, Canada and Israel, are established by immigrants who come to stay (settlers) rather than by those who plunder material and natural resources to back to their homelands. Staying means that they come to live on the the land, which means they must remove the people, the Indigenous People, who are already there. Removal happens forcibly, including through genocide. Yet to add insult to injury, not only do they settle on indigenous land, but they also take indigenous customs and symbols to construct national myths (e.g., Thanksgiving). Which means the second problem with our use of indigenous is that it is about as anti-indigenous as you can get because Indigenous politics is not that of inclusion, but resistance and refusal or as the indigenous anthropologist Audra Simpson states, “utter opposition and struggle against the state.”

standingrock1-Imam Khalid

Imam Khalid Griggs at Standing Rock  Photo Credit:



In the United States, we talk about Native communities and their struggle as if they were relics of the past. Yet, as demonstrated powerfully by the resistance at Standing Rock, Indigenous Americans are still here and still fighting. I learned this lesson, thanks to a great book by Simpson that I had the pleasure of teaching called Mohawk Interruptus: Political Life Across the Borders of Settler States. In the book, she narrates forms of resistance by the Mohawks of Kahnawà:ke (pronounced ɡahnaˈwaːɡe) whose ancestral territory covers parts of the United States and Canada. Kahnawà:ke resistance, as Simpson tells it, is a politics of refusal. They insist on their sovereignty as a nation and refuse both American and Canadian citizenship.

Indigenous politics is not that of inclusion, but resistance and refusal

women at standing rock

Indigenous Muslim Activists (Melanie, Asmae and LaTanya Barlow) at Standing Rock. Photo Credit: Margari Hill

For example, Simpson recounts stories of Kahnawà:ke who may in fact hold U.S. citizenship but when crossing borders to and from the United States, they only identify as Mohawk and present status cards rather an American passport or birth certificate. This is a far cry from a lot of the “indigenous” politics of many U.S. Muslims, including Black ones. In fact, this use of indigenous erases not only Indigenous Muslims, but also all Indigenous people, thus furthering the work of the settler colonial state — the same state that enslaved African ancestors and perpetuates Black displacement, dispossession and death today.

Do we claim to be indigenous because in addition to our grandfather “the chief,” we are opposing the state or are we seeking, simply, to be settlers of a darker hue?

In this context, rather than use the term “indigenous Muslim” (or “immigrant Muslim” for that matter — that is the topic of another essay) my recommendation is to be precise. If you mean Black people, say Black people (and if you mean Black Indigenous people, call them by their names). And I say this knowing that Black people in the United States have their own politics of refusal. In fact, Black Muslim groups are well known, from the Nation of Islam and the Moorish Science Temple to other Black Muslim groups, for seeking their own sovereignty. We have to call it what it is so we can uncover rather than hide our political, cultural and economic motives and aspirations. Do we claim to be indigenous because in addition to our grandfather “the chief,” we are opposing the state or are we seeking, simply, to be settlers of a darker hue?

[1] In his book, Islam in the United States of America, Dr. Sulayman Nyang cites a 1969 Black Sunni Muslim newspaper as an early use of the term.

screen shotSu’ad Abdul Khabeer @DrSuad (Founding Director and Senior Editor) is a scholar-artist-activist whose work explores themes of race, religion and popular culture. She is currently an associate professor of American Culture and Arab and Muslim American Studies at the University of Michigan. Su’ad received her PhD in cultural anthropology from Princeton University and is a graduate from the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University. She also has an Islamic Studies diploma from the Institute at Abu Nour University (Damascus). Her latest book, Muslim Cool: Race, Religion and Hip Hop in the United States, examines how intersecting ideas of Blackness and Muslim identity challenge and reconstitute the meanings of race in the United States.


Losing Your Husband to Prison

The Politics section welcomes 2018 with a focus this year on mass incarceration, police brutality and surveillance, in addition to the many other events and activities that may happen in our community that require our response. Being Black and Muslim intersects these issues in a variety of ways.

We start with selections from an article by Rachel Turk that explores the challenges of love and loss with incarceration. She openly shares that, against the advice of her wali (marriage helper), she married a man who was involved in criminal activity, fell quickly in love and bore him two children. The long arm of the law was not far behind and he goes to jail. Many will read this and shake their head as just another case of “you’ve made your bed, now you have to lie in it,” which is true. But, the author is now part of a growing segment of our community: the families of the mass incarcerated. Although it may be easy to blame and shame, the harder task is to provide the support they need to make the seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, months and years just a little easier to bear, insha’Allah. That is the responsibility of our ummah.

Losing Your Husband to the Prison System

I wanted to tell my story for any who has ever wondered about the reality of a family who had a husband and father who is then suddenly stripped away to the prison system. It’s such a taboo topic. I am here to shed light on it.

IRachel and Hassan start by saying that it is probably one of the most painful and traumatic experiences for a family to endure aside from death. But it is so similar to death (dare I say), that I compare the two often. I knew he was doing the crime before I married him. But I fell in love quickly and was tired of working full time (as a single mother with two children prior to marriage). So in my mind I thought, “I can work with him and help him to build a legit business. He won’t do this forever.”

So fast forward almost five years.

Hopefully when he comes home in three more years, he will use his creativity and intelligence in ways that can be profitable legally. But back to my point. The point of this article is that when you’re married to someone in prison, it feels like everyone judges you. I won’t say everyone. I’ll say 97.3% of people. I’m a very transparent person so I don’t hold back the location of my husband when I deem it best for someone I’m talking to, to know.

I know of a person who had everyone thinking her husband had gone overseas for educational purposes instead of telling people that he was in prison. I would never dare. And I’m asking all of you who read this to take in the knowledge of someone’s loved one in prison with no judgment. Because you don’t know their circumstances. You don’t know their life. And like I say often, there may be someone sitting right next to you [who is] involved in criminal activity and just hasn’t been caught.

So treat people as you would want to be treated. It has been 14 months so far for us. 32 more months to go. My husband is almost dead if you asked me. Understand that. We now have a 4-year-old son and a 2-year-old daughter who cannot even see their father because the feds moved him to a facility 10 hours away from our home.

Rachel and Hassan 2After he was first arrested, our son used to run to the door screaming “Daddy!” if he ever heard movement near the knob. Imagine that. Take note that I am very clear on the fact that my husband did something illegal. But just like I told the judge at his sentencing, removing him from his family for the past nine months that we’ve been waiting for this hearing has been pure torture.

So I walk this path pretty much alone. I’ve met other prison wives via social media. None that I’ve met in person yet. But I still have 32 months left of being a prison wife. Then, I’ll have six months of being a halfway house wife. Then, I’ll have a few years of being the wife of the man [who is] on probation. Then, maybe we can finally have our dream of living in a secret bubble away from all of those who don’t understand.

To read the entire article visit Losing Your Husband to the Prison System

Rachel and Hussain 3Rachel Turk is a 36-year-old mother of four. Her husband is in prison. She works dead-end temporary jobs that do not interest her and she loves to write. “Just trying to survive out here in this crazy, crazy world we live in and make it to Paradise.”

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Does the Apple Fall Far From Prison (Tree)?

Have you ever wondered what life is like for a child when their parents or guardians are incarcerated? Where do you go? Who do you live with? Are you at a higher risk of being incarcerated too? How do children learn to cope when daddy goes to jail? In this TEDx event at Howard University, Dr. Bahiyyah Muhammad discusses the stigmas placed on the children of incarcerated parents and how they are triumphant despite the social and political odds. Does the Apple Fall Far From Prison (Tree)? In many instances it falls very, very far from prison (tree).


Dr. Bahiyyah Muhammad is an assistant professor of criminology in the Sociology Department at Howard University. Her research primarily focuses on the lived experiences of children of incarcerated parents. This research has taken her around the world interviewing families and children. Dr. Muhammad is the originator of the innovative Inside-Outside course that is held at a correctional institution with students from Howard University and inmates. This class as well as her Policing Inside-Out course, are both offered exclusively at Howard University. The Policing course addresses questions on race relations with minority communities and law enforcement with both students and law enforcement in the class.