Sunday, March 11, 2007

Between Black and Immigrant Muslims, an Uneasy Alliance



This is a huge article in the NYT that spans on a quarter of the cover, and then to 2 whole pages in the metro section. It's incredibly interesting, and the picture NYT chose to run on the cover is emblematic of the progress that these two cultures within the same religion have undergone.

The story is about how African-American Muslims and immigrant (Arab, South Asian) Muslims are hesitant to embrace each other despite having the same religion. Black Muslims face different problems and different stereotypes. The article said that a lot of these black people actually found their faith in prison when they were lost and down, by following the path of Malcom X. They are often the forgotten members are the Muslim community.

Oh, since I mentioned the picture on the frontpage. It shows Dr. Faroque Khan, who is the head of a mosque in Long Island, and Imam Al-Hajj Talib 'Abdur-Rashid, head of a mosque in Harlem, sitting on the ground with their legs crossed, and they have food in front of them. They are leaning in towards each other, Imam Talib is talking and gesturing with his hands, and Dr. Khan is listening intently. Behind them, there are some other people in a line of some sort, presumably waiting to get food. I thought this picture was great, because it just shows how the rest of the Muslim community are kinda unaware of the steps that need to be taken in order to unite these two seperate faiths into one religion.

Here's something that the article mentioned that was kinda intriguing. It said that when blacks became Muslims, they had to part with mainstream culture in some way, whereas Muslim immigrants are just trying their best to assimilate into the American culture.

"Black converts often take Arab names, only to find foreign-born Muslims introducing themselves as 'Moe' instead of 'Mohammed.'"

That must be frustrating. Because say you are someone who is being judged by a religion you choose to take up because you really really believe that your soul belongs to that religion, and then you meet someone whom you feel is privileged enough to grow up in that environment and yet wants to hide that rich history.

Another difference is the economic rift in these two communities. The muslim immigrants are often well-educated and came here for a job, or to study or whatever. So as a result, they live in nice neighborhoods (ie. Long Island) and drive nice cars. On the other hand, like I said before, many of these black muslims found their faith out of desperation, and it is often from hitting hard times.

Something the writer, Andrea Elliott, also said was that for some people who convert to Islam, it is sometimes a political action because they are looking for a faith that does not cater to the majority, that is not "dominated by the white elite."

It's hard to judge, because this is just one article (and to be fair, the only in-dept article) that I have read about Muslims, be it black or immigrant. However, it seems like black Muslims are very hung up on combining politics with religions, like they are trying to prove something by clutching on to their Koran.

I got that impression halfway through the article, when Imam Talib is quoted, "We need power. Without that, we'll destroy ourselves." He said that in context of having returned from Manhattan Detention complex where he works as a chaplain, and there were men in there from his mosque who were back in jail. So, he is saying this kinda in exasperation, in quiet desperation- that's what I have worked from the quotes.

Also, the reason why Imam Talib traveled to Long Island to speak in Dr. Khan's mosque was to ask for funds for his mosque. Again, there's the whole donation factor involved. Of course, the article is about what it took in order for Dr. Khan to invite Imam Talib to his mosque, the understanding that he had to go through. And also what it took for Imam Talib to accept this invitation, since it means venturing out into a part of the religion that he is not fully aware of.

But the practical end of this deal is that Imam Talib got $10,000 from the congregants of Long Island. I know, bright side is that that immigrant population is responding well to the sermons of a black muslim. And then the article say that that is the most amount of money Imam Talib has ever raised for his mosque in one night- well, duh, since they are rich Long Island dwellers, instead of Harlem neighborhoods.

That came off very cynical. That was just my take on it though. The article is definitely worth taking a look at.

Link: http://www.nytimes.com/2007/03/11/nyregion/11muslim.html?_r=1&ref=todayspaper&oref=slogin

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