Category: Religion

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Ramadan 1439/2018: Black Muslims Reflect on the Qur’an—Juz’ 27

By Donna Auston

If our vaunted rule of the people does not breed nobler men and women than monarchies have done, it must and will inevitably give place to something better. – Anna Julia Cooper

During the month of Ramadan, many Muslims understand that the heavens are open — that through increased worship and adherence to a set of moral dictates (restraint of the tongue or corralling of physical desires, for example) that we are given the opportunity to approach the Divine. In this blessed season, we take advantage of a unique opportunity to seek nearness to Allah through heightened attention to acts of piety, hoping that through our fasting and prayer that we might be granted clemency when we are faced with the inevitable reckoning with the One to whom we all must return. This season is often approached as a much-needed space for personal introspection, an increase in personal worship, all of which are essential spiritual practices. But what happens when we allow for the possibilities that come with the acknowledgement that morality is constituted in relationship with the social — that our understanding and subsequent interface with the Divine presence is only possible through the filter of our particular on-the-ground reality? That our conceptions and perceptions of God, our relationship with our Creator, and what we ultimately understand about what we are expected to do in response to the Divine summons are all shaped to some extent by our experiences in the world?

Since becoming Muslim over 25 years ago, I have heard Muslims repeatedly make the attempt to disavow the role of culture in the implementation of Islam, to proclaim that “Islam is relevant in all times and places”— these proclamations serving to assure believers that they are adhering to the Will that exists above all petty human entanglements and nafsi aspirations. While it is undoubtedly true that Allah is Timeless, not subject to the constraints of space and place and His message to humankind is relevant and necessary across the spans of history and geography, human beings are never  free of such things. Therefore, every attempt to understand and approach the Divine is subject to our limitations. Our choices here are but two — we live in denial of this fact to detrimental effect; or we acknowledge it, attempt to manage it, and most important, make the necessary adjustments to it when we realize that it has begun to interfere with our attempts to connect with Allah.

The surahs contained in Juz’ 27 (51:31–57:29), with one exception (i.e., Surah Hadid), emerge out of the particular social context of the early Makkan portion of the prophetic mission. It is a social context that many of us living as a racial and religious minority can relate to: we are few in number, our spiritual expressions are not necessarily mainstream and interactions with representatives of the status quo can run the gamut from friendly to violently hostile. Given that reality, many of the themes contained in this section focus on the absolute essentials: the importance of tawhid, or the Oneness of God as the foundation for all spiritual works, reminders about the hereafter that render those often abstract realities into matters of tangible concern, reminders about the long history of prophetic engagement with their respective societies — the expansion of notions of morality from the realm of the private to being matters of public and social concern.

Here “worship” does not simply indicate a regimen of individual prayer or reflection, but it also encompasses the implementation of public justice: where people are able to live in safety and security, where people are not marginalized or treated as less than human on the basis of personal or social identity, where everyone has access to adequate food, shelter, and other necessary resources they need to survive and thrive, where there is clean drinking water and the earth is not subject to abuse. None of these realities are a given. Instead, they require deliberate intention, continued work and sustained vigilance to be effected — a spiritual orientation that recognizes these matters as moral imperatives, and therefore incorporates a holistic approach to worship that does not compromise with social injustice under the guise of preserving a limited and narrow conception of personal morality: “Verily, human beings will have nothing save that which they strive for” (53:39).

Here, we are reminded of the missions of the Prophets Ibrahim, Nuh, Salih and others, peace be upon them, and their interactions with their respective peoples. We are also instructed concerning some of the early dialogue between the Prophet Muhammad, Allah bless him and give him peace, with the leaders of the Quraysh. There are many lessons in these exchanges — one worth highlighting brings us back to the epigraph that began this reflection and the importance of recognizing the influence of the social on human understandings of the nature and will of the Divine. In Surah Najm, Allah challenges the polytheists of the Quraysh about their theology,:

Have you considered (the vernacular deities) Al-Lat, and Al-‘Uzza, and the third, Manat? Do you ascribe sons to yourselves, and for (Allah), daughters? This is indeed an unjust division. — 53:19–22

This is not, as it may seem superficially, a statement from the Divine sanctioning the inferior position of girls; for we believe as a matter of creed that Allah has no gender — period. Rather, we have here a direct challenge to a misogynistic status quo, whereby women and girls were not valued in the everyday realm of the social — by (male) human beings who prized male children for themselves as the ultimate status symbol and subsequently projected this disdain for and devaluation of women onto their theological and cosmological frameworks. This exchange is also not here simply so that Muslims can pat ourselves on the back and acquit ourselves of such shortcomings — for if we do not take social justice seriously as an essential moral concern — our interpretations of scripture will consequently be infected with these virulent, debilitating ideologies. “Islam,” then, is in danger of becoming a repository for all manner of social injustice. Our holy men (for they are, more often than not, men), our shaykhs, our religious leaders will become instruments of hegemony rather than healing, and we will all suffer the consequences. According to Dr. Cooper, our “vaunted rule of the people will not produce human beings any nobler than the monarchies” and dictatorships have done — words of insight and wisdom gleaned from someone whose social location as a Black woman born into U.S. enslavement shaped the stubborn perception that she was by virtue of her “natural” constitution incapable of delivering either. (Dr. Cooper proved everyone wrong in 1924 by becoming only the fourth African American woman to earn a Ph.D.)

If this seems far-fetched, if we stubbornly cling to the notion that “Islam” is immune to the nitty-gritty, street-level influences of everyday sociopolitics, we need look no further than much of the contemporary discourse in American Muslim communities that, because of its own sociopolitical investments, is slow to forbid the evil of racism, sluggish and lethargic in enjoining the good of gender justice, or that dismisses the efforts of Muslim social justice activists (many of whom, not coincidentally, are Black women) as inherently secular endeavors that have no grounding in an “Islamic” moral framework. Fourteen hundred years later, the anti-Blackness that Sayyiduna Bilal sometimes encountered is still alive and well, we still do not value women, and many in our communities are still behaving like the leaders of the Thamud people described in Surah al-Qamar: 24 (whose hallmark crime was cruelty and violence to non-human life), where the basis for not heeding the message had everything to do with the socially ingrained biases against the person of the messenger.

Verily we have sent our messengers with clear arguments, and sent down with them the Book and the Balance, so that human beings may conduct themselves with equity. — 57:25




Sapelo Square is proud to support Believers Bail Out, a community-led effort to bail out Muslims in pretrial incarceration. During these last ten days of Ramadan give what you can to restore justice and free our people. Donate and join us on the steep road!

Support the Believers Bail Out campaign.  Donate today.



unnamedDonna Auston is a doctoral candidate in the department of anthropology at Rutgers University. Her dissertation is an ethnography of Black Muslims and spiritual protest in the Black Lives Matter era. She writes and speaks regularly on race, gender, Islam, and other topics; she has published at Anthropology News, Religion News Service, Al, and the Washington Post. You can follow her on Twitter @TinyMuslimah.

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Ramadan 1439/2018: Black Muslims Reflect on the Qu’ran—Juz’ 25

by Narjis Abdul-Majid & Kamilah A Pickett


Sapelo Square is proud to support Believers Bail Out, a community-led effort to bail out Muslims in pretrial incarceration. During these last ten days of Ramadan give what you can to restore justice and free our people. Donate and join us on the steep road!

Support the Believers Bail Out campaign.  Donate today.



Kamilahpickett.jpegKamilah A. Pickett @MilahPeezy (Special Projects)is Director of Community Health Compass, a health advocate training program focused on Black and Latinx Muslim communities, and also serves as a Consultant for the Race Matters Institute, providing technical assistance that enables organizations to be more intentional in advancing racially equitable outcomes in both operations and programming.





fullsizeoutput_414Narjis Nichole Abdul-Majid @She_Aiight (Special Projects) is a part-time lecturer in the departments of Pan African Studies and Humanities at the University of Louisville and Philosophy department at Indiana University Southeast. Her research interests focus on the African American and Indigenous American Islamic experiences (Slavery-Melungeons-20th Century Islamic Movements-Present Day) with emphasis on minority voices.

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Ramadan 1439/2018: Black Muslims Reflect on the Qur’an – Juz’ 26

For Juz’ 26 we are featuring a repost from our Black Muslims Reflect on the Qur’an 2016 archive.

By Um Hussein

In the Name of Allah, The All-Beneficent, the All-Merciful

In the true words of the Holy Qur’an, 17:9-10

“Indeed this Qur’an guides to what is most upright, and gives the good news to the faithful who do righteous deeds that there is a great reward for them. As for those who do not believe in the Hereafter, We have prepared a painful punishment for them.”

As we reflect upon the 26th juz’ of the Qur’an, we must understand what our Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him and his progeny) has said about the Holy Qur’an.

The Prophet (saaw) said:

“I leave behind me two weighty (very worthy and important) things:

The book of Allah (i.e. the Qur’an), which is a stretched string from the heaven to the earth, and my progeny, (my AhlulBayt); for verily Allah, the Merciful, the Aware, informed me that never, never will these two get separated from each other until they meet me at the Fountain of Abundance (Houd of Kauthar). Therefore, be careful and contemplate on how you will treat them (after me)”.  Ma’uni-ul-Akhbar, p.90 Tradition 2 & Musnad Ahmad-ibn-Hanbal, Vol.3, p17

The 26th Juz’ of the Qur’an is comprised of six chapters:

Surah Al-Ahqaf 46:1-35 verses (ayah), Surah Muhammad 47:1-38, Surah Al-Fath 48:1-29, Surah Al-Hujurat 1-18, Surah Qaf 50:1-45 and Surah Al-Dhariyat 51:1-30.

The first surah of this juz’, which was revealed in Mecca, reveals a major warning to anyone who denies the truth and the Resurrection. The word ahqaf refers to the “curved sandhills” whereby the people of Ad were warned by Prophet Hud (as) and they ignored his warnings. Thus the wind blew for seven days and seven nights piling up sand that erased traces of their existence. False pride and enduring obstinacy were the prevailing attitudes then and one can observe them clearly in contemporary global society.  This particular juz’ is filled with the warnings of “fire and brimstone ” reminiscent of early rural African American sermons that resonant in some speeches today. Wrong doing impedes insight and results in deprivation of Divine Grace. Today, we are faced with the decision to “stand up” and risk loss of worldly freedom, wealth, even life or live a life filled with anxiety, oppression and ultimately a loss of faith that can result in the loss of Allah’s forgiveness.

In Surah Muhammad, the dominant theme of jihad against the enemies of Islam strikes a deep cord of fear familiar to those present in the time this surah was revealed in Mecca which persists even to this day. People fear to say the word jihad, much more to type it into their electronic devices or utter it in a public space. It is mentioned in verse 20 that when struggle is mentioned as in war, the faint heartened become sick. The defining specifications of those who follow their own desires is stated clearly as those who choose to enjoy this life and seek personal pleasure. We are abound with pleasure-seeking activities that numb our sensibilities masking our fear and doubt. Resultant of fear, doubt, and ignorance is our decreasing faith and withdrawal of Allah’s rewards.

We live in a time where polytheism and disbelief appear to be truth which gives us free license to pursue our enamored examples of the rich and famous, singing idols and “golden calves”. Let us be clear that polytheism can even be a form of self-worship, placing ones desired and personal preferences before the commands of Allah.

Reference in the final verses of Surah Muhammad, refer to “stinginess”. We can observe in the millions of people migrating from war today, that the cost of struggle is expensive. Would it be so far a stretch in thought, that as people of African descent in the West, our migration could take another forced turn in the light of contemporary threats? Will we be then stingy and niggardly? Even now we can report the reluctance of some Muslims to return a simple greeting of “Peace.” Imam Husayn (as), grandson of Our Holy Prophet, said:” The niggardly person is he is too niggardly to greet.” Stinginess is sometimes overlooked within our struggling communities. Our economic power must be refocused to promote unity, reject the branding of our oppressor and encourage self sufficiency within our African American communities and throughout the African Diaspora.

Characteristic of Allah’s Mercy and Compassion, we are given hope and promise of victory in Surah Al-Fath in terms of forgiveness. We can also be given guidance, composure in our hearts and the ability to increase one’s faith. In this Medinan surah, revealed in the sixth year after the Treaty of Hudabiyya, strivers are given assurance that they will be recognized and rewarded according to their good deeds.

We as people of African descent and of the African Diaspora, let us self describe as having been guided by Allah, to have submitted to Islam. Surah 50:15, defines:

“The faithful are only those who have attained faith in Allah and His Apostle and then have never doubted, and who wage jihad with their possessions and their persons in the way of Allah. It is they who are the truthful (sincere)”

Are we, the African Diaspora, like the people of Noah..?

The people of Noah denied before them, and [so did] the inhabitants of Rass, and Thamud, and Ad, Pharoah, and the brethren of Lot, and the inhabitants of Aykah and the people of Tubba.

Each [of them] impugned the apostles, and so My threat became due [against them]. Surah Qaf:12-14

Let us strive to be as individuals, families, clans, tribes and communities in the Diaspora to be described as in Surah Al-Dhariyat 51:17-19:

“They used to sleep a little during the night, and at dawns they would plead for forgiveness, and there was a share in their wealth for the beggar and the deprived.”

Let us not think of Islam as a worthless old lie from the past (46:11), but rather utilize the bounties of health, property, wealth, delicious food and intellect to attain virtue and perfection which can be accomplished within 40 years of life. Let us not aid the enemies of Islam in usurping and erasing traces of our existence or living lives worthy of Allah’s erasure.  By example, we can bring hope to our oppressed communities of a good life in this world and in the Hereafter for those who have done good deeds.

Sapelo Square is proud to support Believers Bail Out, a community-led effort to bail out Muslims in pretrial incarceration. During these last ten days of Ramadan give what you can to restore justice and free our people. Donate and join us on the steep road!

Support the Believers Bail Out campaign.  Donate today.


1bc74b5Khadijah Rose is the descendant of Black Cherokees, the more than 15,000 free and enslaved Africans that were owned or intermarried with tribes in the early part of the 19th Century. Rose doesn’t call herself a Shia, but strives everyday to be a good human being and live by the teachings of Imam Hassan Al-Askari (as) about how to be a true momin.  She was the development editor of “Lets Get to Know Imam Ali” a children’s book about the life of Ali ibn abi Talib (a.s.).  She is a mother of 7, but an Umi to more.

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Ramadan 1439/2018: Black Muslims Reflect on the Qur’an – Juz’ 24

By Kelly Crosby

In reflecting about Juz’ 24 (39:32–41:46), I must first reflect on my love for the Holy Month. In short, I love Ramadan!

It always comes with its myriad of blessings and opportunities to remember our Lord. Worship becomes easier. And, despite the rigors of fasting while doing our jobs or taking care of our families, my spirit always feels strengthened. The days are consumed with prayers, dhikr and sharing iftar with my friends and community. For those who don’t fast as a part of their faith tradition, it’s hard for me to explain how I can feel physically tired but spiritually energized,

I guess that’s why I refer to the Holy Month as a spiritual reboot. There is always some spiritual improvements to be made — some polishing of rust off the heart and shrinking of the ego.  

I consider Ramadan to be a radical shock to our nafs — a monthly bootcamp to remind us of why we are really here.  And, in our busy lives, reminders certainly benefit the believers. One of those well-needed and much appreciated reality checks comes first in Juz’ 23 in Az-Zumar:

And when adversity touches man, he calls upon his Lord, turning to Him [alone]; then when He bestows on him a favor from Himself, he forgets Him whom he called upon before, and he attributes to Allah equals to mislead [people] from His way. Say, “Enjoy your disbelief for a little; indeed, you are of the companions of the Fire.” — 39:8

This thread of ease and adversity is woven throughout Juz’ 24. What is it about ease and comfort that can easily allow us to forget Allah ta ‘ala? It is no wonder that pious scholars say that the trial of ease can be more difficult than the trial of hardship. Allah subhana wa ta’ala repeats later in Juz’ 24 (39:32–41:46) in Az-Zumar,

And when adversity touches man, he calls upon Us; then when We bestow on him a favor from Us, he says, ‘I have only been given it because of [my] knowledge.’ Rather, it is a trial, but most of them do not know. — 39:49

I don’t think I ever relied upon Allah so much as during the time I was dealing with a seemingly endless succession of calamities. A job loss, a broken heart, fair-weather friends and a relocation to another city left my self-esteem and faith shattered. Little did I know that I was suffering from a mild form of depression. The process of healing was quite painful, but I still called upon Allah, even when my faith was as small as a mustard seed.

Fast forward to today. I look at my life and I see an abundance of blessings. I have a job that I love, a new sense of self-worth and a budding career as an artist and writer. I take joy in having a loving family and in being a part of a community of Muslims who are committed to community development and social justice. Sometimes I have to convince myself that just a few years ago, I was burdened with such levels of sadness and despair that I never thought I would experience joy or hope again. Even in these times of happiness and contentment, I remind myself to call upon Allah. I must thank Him in times of ease and ask for His strength during times of difficulty.

So this Ramadan, let’s reset or “reboot” our relationship with the Creator. Let’s ask ourselves, “are we only thinking of Allah when there is a crisis?” Or, do we infuse our days and nights with His remembrance? Our Alhamdulillahs, Subhan’Allahs, and Allahu Akbars should be said and reflected upon during the emotional highs and lows, during our sadness and grief; our happiness and euphoria.

Reflecting on the juz’, I was inspired to create this piece titled “Al Hadi” (The Guide). May Allah make us people of profuse dhikr and reflection. May we be counted amongst the grateful to our Lord. Ameen.




Sapelo Square is proud to support Believers Bail Out, a community-led effort to bail out Muslims in pretrial incarceration. During these last ten days of Ramadan give what you can to restore justice and free our people. Donate and join us on the steep road!

Support the Believers Bail Out campaign.  Donate today.


unnamed-1Kelly Izdihar Crosby is an artist and freelance writer based in Atlanta, Ga. Born and bred in New Orleans, she is committed to “waging beauty” in the world with her multicultural Islamic aesthetic. You can find her work at Kelly Crosby Design.