Islamophobia as an Integral Part of the Political Platform

The general mood in the United States has grown increasingly intolerant towards Muslims. Charlotte Wiedemann was in New York and spoke with Imam Talib Abdur-Rashid, Afro-American and President of the Islamic Leadership Council, on the mood in this election year and about his criticism of some Muslims for what he sees as opportunism

Imam, you stood on the street with a sign that said “Muslims demand equal rights!” Against what were you directing your protest?

Talib Abdur-Rashid: The surveillance of Muslim communities, mosques, meeting places, and student groups is a grave violation of the American constitution. Under the pretext of security, the New York police and their “Intelligence Division” have assumed the right to snoop around wherever they like. We will not put up with this. The matter must be decided by the courts.

Opinion polls indicate that almost every other American holds a negative view of Islam. And every third Republican supporter calls Barack Obama a Muslim, here synonymous with being un-American. Is religious tolerance in the USA a thing of the past?

Rashid: The atmosphere today is even more negative for Muslims than after the September 2001 terrorist attacks. We were all traumatized by 9/11, but back then there were efforts to support each other as Americans and not to fall into the trap of a collective guilt mindset. Today, the Republicans and, in particular, the Tea Party, have made Islamophobia an integral part of their political platform. They utilize fears, traumas, and a lack of knowledge to further their political aims. We have observed in recent times that there is a rise in anti-Islamic emotions during every election year. This was the situation at the time of Obama’s election and equally the case in local elections in New York two years ago.

African-Americans still attracted and converting to Islam

Despite the string of recent terror arrests in the US, the Muslim faith continues to convert many average African-Americans, who say they are attracted by Islam’s emphasis on equality, discipline and family.

But American black Muslim Sekou Jackson admits the life is not without its challenges. “It’s kind of a double whammy to be African-American and Muslim,” said Jackson, who studies the Navy at the National Academy of Science in Washington. “You’re going to be judged.”

“The unique history African-Americans have faced, we’re primed for accepting Islam,” said Jackson. “When someone comes to you with a message that everyone is equal, that the only difference is the deeds that they do, of course people who have been oppressed will embrace that message…it’s a message of fairness.”

A Pew survey estimated that 35 percent of all American Muslims are African-Americans, mostly orthodox Sunnis.

At the Quba Institute in Philadelphia, a black Sunni mosque, the worshippers are a mix of blue-collar workers, young college graduates, professors, law enforcement officers, and “regular people who are just trying to worship God and live a decent life,” said the imam, Anwar Muhaimin.

Marc Manley, a local black Muslim, said that many blacks who have struggled with crime, drugs or alcohol are drawn to Islam’s regimented lifestyle, which includes prayers five times a day.

“Especially in the urban context, it provides a vehicle for African-Americans to deal with those ills,” he said. “It provides a buffer or a barrier.”

Increasing number of Black British converts to Islam

By Richard Reddie, author of “Black Muslims in Britain: Why are a growing Number of Young Black people are Converting to Islam?”:

Black conversion or “reversion” to Islam is not new; it has been taking place in the African diaspora since time immemorial. However, I looked deeper into the phenomenon to find out why a growing number of Black Britons, especially younger ones, are embracing Islam. Although I am not a Muslim, I have always been interested in Islam — three of my all-time heroes, Muhammad Ali, Malcolm X and Jamaican singer Prince Buster were Muslim converts, and I was intrigued by the way Islam inspired all three to transcend their respective vocations to become icons.

My research reveals that there is no one, straightforward reason for conversions, but a plethora of theological, emotional and cultural motivations. Practically all those interviewed suggested that Islam had given their lives meaning and woken them from a spiritual malaise. Others said that their faith provided inspiration and strength to engage with a society they regarded as corrupted by materialism and moral relativism. And for those whose lives had previously been errant, Islam’s decisiveness on a range of religious and socio-cultural matters had given them a focus and an anchor. Equally, many of the women interviewed suggested that the Islamic focus on modesty had liberated them from the rampant fashion-related consumerism that objectifies all women, and sexualises pre-pubescent girls.