"IF WE FORGET OUR SHARED EXPERIENCE AS PEOPLE OF COLOR, IF WE COWER FROM ONE ANOTHER BECAUSE SOME OF US DON'T KNOW OR UNDERSTAND ISLAM, WE ACQUIESCE TO MORE DEATH, MORE WAR."
I am an American Muslim, a woman who freely chose Islam, the second largest religion in the world, as my personal path to spiritual power. I am also African-American, instilled with a legacy of activism since childhood.
I am blessed to inhabit what many people think of as two different worlds -- I live in the secular, democratic United States, where many religions are practiced, and I also devoutly follow Islam. As a woman I can attest that these worlds are essentially parallel. Among all people there is good -- and evil. I bear witness to the Christian woman beaten by her lover in the street outside my Brooklyn apartment and the Muslim woman tied to a whipping post in Nigeria. I bear witness to the woman forced to work in strip clubs to survive in Atlanta and the woman forced to cover herself from head to toe to survive in Afghanistan. In both worlds I bear witness to sisters constrained by man's convenient misinterpretations of law.
I also bear witness to my brothers -- Black men in sleek cars -- who are profiled by the police. Now, since the terrorist attacks, it's my Muslim brothers -- men in knitted kufis -- who are profiled by their neighbors. And there are my American Muslim sisters who, because they wear the hijab (veil), now hesitate to leave their homes. Yet no one profiled scrubbed-faced White men in button-down collars after Timothy McVeigh bombed the Oklahoma City federal building.
We must acknowledge and reject this double standard in America's popular response to evil. When we are tempted to blame last September's terrorist attacks on Islam, we should consider that the Ku Klux Klan burned crosses and set fire to Black churches, lighting symbols of Christian redemption and sanctuary with the fires of hatred. Madness is wrought when terrorists twist faith -- any faith -- to justify horror, as they did on September 11, 2001. With my sisters and brothers of every faith, I wept as fire twisted steel, bodies fell from a hundred stories in the sky and thousands of lives were destroyed. The mass murder of innocents defiles the very meaning of Islam, which promotes love, unity and justice.
I chose Islam because I insist on justice and because I love Allah. I think Allah chose me because I write, teach and demonstrate. Black life has often been held in opposition to American life. But since September 11, as a Muslim, I've felt my life held in opposition yet again. With more than 1 billion Muslims, Islam represents about 20 percent of the world's diverse people. The United States, too, is a mosaic of cultures, and Islam -- with up to 6 million American Muslims, approximately 30 percent of them African-American -- belongs in that mosaic. At congregational Jummah prayer at the mosque, I sit with my many-hued Muslim sisters. I celebrate the sanctity of difference in Islam. But as we Americans rightfully insist on justice and legal retribution for the attacks, we African-Americans must remember our history. If we forget our shared experience as people of color in America, if we shrink and cower from one another because some of us don't know or understand Islam, we simply acquiesce to more death, more war.
African-Americans' social consciousness has consistently shaped a better America. How many immigrants have been able to find peace and enjoy democracy in this country as a result of Black peoples efforts to ensure that we all have a place at the front of the bus? It is time, yet again, for Black America to act as the moral conscience of this nation. We sisters, Black women of all faiths, must unite and protect the ideal of American freedom, standing up for any sister in this country who feels vulnerable to taunts and threats because she is veiled. We must do this because we understand that beneath her hijab, that sister is one of us.