I’m on Pinterest a lot and when I look up hijab fashion I’m met with the same melanin deficient faces : everywhere you look for a stereotypical Muslim girl- Instagram fashionistas and abaya models- you’ll most likely find a Middle Eastern looking or white passing woman. Seeing a black or dark brown face is such an anomaly that it looks wrong. Like having a token dark hijabi is a Muslim faux pas. It’s never spoken of, never addressed, this elephant, but you can feel it whenever the norm is broken by a concentration of melanin framed by a chiffon scarf or draped in a kimono like abaya.
Arabs make up only 20% of the global Muslim population. The most populous Muslim country is Indonesia and the continent with most Muslims is probably Africa. Contrary to assumptions, Islam spread mostly as an organic movement through trade and migration. In fact,first Muslims came to Africa during the lifetime of the prophet Muhammad peace and blessings be upon him – a group of companions who sought refuge from the persecution of Makkan Arabs who were staunch opposers of the prophet and his message. While the prophet and most of his then smaller following stayed behind and endured the torture, a group managed to flee and were given asylum by the Abyssinian king, Negus, at the behest of the prophet.
Yet you don’t come across this diversity in media and a huge chunk of the blame lay with the Muslim communities themselves. Despite seeming like a unified homogeneous group, nothing could be farther from the truth. Islam isn’t a centralized religion- each society absorbed it differently, like a cultural kaleidoscope ( though political Muslim movements like the Ikhwaan have changed things in the past 50 or so years). With the decline of scientific and societal advances in the Muslim world, many societies have regressed to their shadow vices – the collective evil or injustice inherent in any group of people. Misogyny, racism, colourism started to rear their ugly heads since they were no longer actively denounced and sought to be transcended.
But most, an overwhelming majority, are unwilling to see this: they are as colour blind as Paula Deen claims to be and there’s nothing you can say to change their minds. In fact, whenever black Muslims plights are brought up, it’s met with a plugging of ears and a shouting of kumbaya. Somehow Islam is supposed to be this magical elixir that takes away human vices.
It’s very obvious when Muslim organizations like Islamic Society of North America ( ISNA) align more with the interests of the Arab Muslims and their plight yet remain mum on police brutality and institutional racism that affects blacks – Muslim or not. Recently the NAACP reached out to the ISNA giving support and solidarity in light of the spike of hate crimes post-election, but ISNA didn’t do much to reciprocate the gesture or create a stronger bond. Islam started out as a grass root movement fighting against the establishment and oppression of all people. It’s nothing like the bureaucratic mess created by a Muslim oligarchy.
I quit Instagram because of this. Or rather, it was one of the things that made me realize how false everything is – even amongst a marginalized group like Muslim women. We’re still hounded by white supremacy, we still bear the mark of the devil of colonialism in our dna. And just like a demon can’t possess you without invitation, we’ve invited this demon into our minds and lives and countries.