Beware of the supplication of the oppressed, for there is no barrier between it and Allah (Sahih al Bukhari 4090)
“I can’t breathe.”
A gut-punch and a sudden rush of panic erupted in my body. I was watching yet another Black Man transition from this life. I heard the voices of my sons echo in my ears. I felt helpless because I could and not run to his aid. Where were my sons? Nightmares all unfolding on the heels of reports of Breonna Taylor, then Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd, my spirit was broken.
As the video flooded my social media accounts, I made a conscious choice, not to watch. I couldn’t. I would watch it in my own time, at my own pace. Two days. I could smell the desperation. The anxiety, giving me dry heaves a familiar feeling since the day my sons were old enough to enter the world without my presence. Now, the same fear arises for my daughters. As a Black mother, my hopes were for them to not experience the loss of their brothers, fathers, or uncles at the hands of another. Today, I simply want them all to make it back home safely. I accept this country’s apathy for the death in my community was stalwart, especially at the hands of law enforcement.
George Floyd’s lynching provides a graphic and poignant portrait of the blatant contempt for the lives of Black men and women. His pleas linger in my heart alongside the anger and outrage. It was the knee. The actual knee to the neck of Mr. Floyd, by a white officer and his nonchalant demeanor, echoed the historical torment of African American men; allowing the world to witness a modern-day lynching. What is the value of life?
In 1791, Benjamin Banneker questioned Thomas Jefferson on the merits of slavery, not as a question of ethics, but of faith. The paradox, while Jefferson and many of his contemporaries believed Africans were inferior, they recognized them as creations of God. Banneker’s letter challenges Jefferson to justify the institution of slavery by simply asking this question:
…which are that one universal Father hath given being to us all, and that he hath not only made us all of one flesh, but that he hath also without partiality afforded us all the Same Sensations, and endued us all with the same faculties, and that however variable we may be in Society or religion, however, diversyfied in Situation or colour, we are all of the Same Family, and Stand in the Same relation to him.
(Banneker’s Letters of Jefferson, Africans in America, November 2016)
Banneker’s question is one we have yet to confront as a country or as a community of faith. We live in a paradox wrapped in an enigma. We say we don’t see race and color, yet divisions exist when it comes to race and color. If we are all divinely created by The One, should they separate us? They do, directly questioning Allah’s very creation. He created us male and female, dark and light- each a unique expression of His Mercy and Grace.
This is profoundly different in how geographic, cultural, and ethnic variations are expressed in American society. Race as a descriptive sociological construct in the history of America seeks to justify the superiority of those who describe themselves as White and the inferiority of Blacks. Adherence to this belief emboldened America’s continuation of slavery long after their European allies abandoned the practice.
The value of the lives of enslaved Africans, similar to property and monetary value based on skill, age, and skin complexion. There were no rules, ethics, or moral standards, those who enslaved Black persons, could do anything, at any time, and in any manner. It is here we find the pattern of abuse and mistreatment of Black people. Almost sixty years after Banneker’s letter to Jefferson, the Civil War, which resulted, brought the end of slavery, but not the end of the devaluation of Black lives.
The Civil Rights Act of 1866 sought protections for men born in the United States, during what is known as the Reconstruction Period, immediately following the Civil War. During this period significant efforts for integration were made but were quickly met with a renewed Southern sentiment to reclaim what was lost during the war- property and economic standing.
America witnessed an escalation in the passing of laws of segregation and exclusion. America created two worlds, one for Whites, the other for Blacks; any violation or challenge to this distinctive line was met with violence and intimidation. To put it all into perspective, it took almost a hundred years from the passing of the Civil Rights Act of 1886 to the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Since then, we have witnessed the loss of life of Sandra Bland, Trevon Martin, Eric Gardner, and countless others.
America created two worlds, one for Whites, the other for Blacks; any violation or challenge to this distinctive line was met with violence and intimidation. To put it all into perspective, it took almost a hundred years from the passing of the Civil Rights Act of 1886 to the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Since then, we have witnessed the loss of life of Sandra Bland, Trevon Martin, Eric Garner, and countless others.Click To Tweet
The existence of laws in black and white does not negate what remains in the heart. While we believe this a post-Civil Rights America, recent events reveal a different story one Muslims cannot ignore. Currently, this country is led by an elected official, who panders to those in our midst who hold animosity and hatred in their hearts and minds. Each day race-baiting tactics and imagery are employed to fuel their actions and we can no longer sit by the wayside.
This is an issue of race, plain and simple and it speaks to the very fundamentals of our faith. If Allah hears our cries, when will those who stand with us at the masjid as well?
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