Beyond Bilal - An Anti-Racism Perspective
This month, we thoughtfully turn our attention to how we can teach our children about equality from an Islamic lens. It's our aim to reinforce the ideals of unity, anti-racism and equity to honour Black History Month.
More than ever, this has become important for the future of our children and our communities. Black History Month needs to be extended and integrated into the entire year to highlight important anti-racism themes. Just as we need to go beyond Black History Month, we also need to explore beyond our discussion of Bilal ibn Rabah (Arabic: بِلَال ٱبْن رَبَاح, Bilāl ibn Rabāḥ) when we as Muslims talk about anti-racism.
Bilal is an honoured and lovingly remembered companion of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). An African man born into slavery, Bilal was purchased and set free by Abu Bakr. He became known for his piety, his devotion to Muhammad (PBUH) and his ability to call the Adhan with a beautiful voice.
Muslims continue to hold Bilal in high esteem, and visit his grave with respect in Syria today. When it comes to discussions of racism in society, Muslims often cite Bilal as the example of how Prophet Muhammad and Islam sought to create equality and unity among people of all races, cultures and languages as Muslims. We feel that as Muslims, we cannot be contributing to racism because we know and honour Bilal. But we have to ask ourselves, as parents: are we doing enough?
Exploring Racism within the Muslim Community
Bilal was and continues to be an important figure in terms of Islam and anti-racism. Knowing about his story and significance, and citing him alone is not nearly enough for Muslims to counter societal racism today.
We need to to examine our own biases and racism within the Muslim community. This can be achieved by actively countering cultural and family traditions that play into racism in subtle and insidious ways. It's important that we are open to being corrected when we offend, and look for new ways to show allyship. We need to explore ways to support our Black Muslim and non-Muslim community members in order to promote anti-racism.
Understanding our Social Identities
As Muslims, we need to understand our many social identities as they relate to our faith identity. Our positions of privilege and oppression take on different roles in certain contexts and situations.
If those of us who benefit from white privilege through post-colonialism and shadism, cannot see our role in promoting equality, then we cannot talk of Islam’s anti-racist ideals with credibility. We need to be purposeful and active in our desire to find equality in all aspects of life. We also need to ensure we carry that forward for our children.
Sometimes bias is so hidden because of culture and family tradition that we are not aware we carry it. Many of us Muslims belong to non-dominant cultural groups and are not white. Therefore, we may think that we cannot possibly act in racist or discriminatory ways.
However, we all have biases. Taking a hard look at our own is important as we raise our children to become positive role models in society. We should ensure our homes are free of subtle racism, jokes and micro-aggressions. It's also crucial that we show our children how to stand up for others by taking safe and effective action when we see or hear something racist.
Challenging Racism through Allyship and Unity
Being a good ally teaches your children the importance of standing up for others, as we demonstrate our unity through action. Here are some tips for being a good ally, taken from the organization Muslim Anti-Racist Collective.
When talking about race and demonstrating unity to younger children, make sure your words align with your actions. For older children, think of real life examples and discuss what they have experienced in their lives.
Over the next few weeks of Black History Month, we will be sharing role models from the Black Muslim communities. We will explore local anti-racist action and explore ideas for families on how to combat racism.
We will also highlight a very special limited edition Kaba and Madina Mat, taking you behind the scenes to understand the meaning of the mat while we mobilize tangible support for Black people and communities. Join us as we continue our efforts to move beyond Bilal in our search for justice and unity.