Why I’m Not Down With #MuslimLivesMatter


I don’t have a twitter account, but I’m well aware of how hashtags can be used as tools to express solidarity, speak out, and mobilize against injustice. Almost immediately after the Chapel Hill murders, I noticed a lot of Muslims on Facebook using the hashtag #MuslimLivesMatter. It was heartbreaking to hear the news and I understood the grief Muslims were expressing online. However, I cringed when I saw the hashtag because I recalled all of the critiques of #AllLivesMatter, which was used online and in activist rallies/spaces as a response to #BlackLivesMatter. Though #MuslimLivesMatter is not exactly the same as #AllLivesMatter, it still co-opts the movement against police brutality and racism that systematically targets, terrorizes, and devalues black people.

It became more unsettling when I watched South Asian, Arab, white, and other non-black Muslims posting up both #MuslimLivesMatter and #AllLivesMatter. While there are many people who mean well when they post these hashtags, I still see a disturbing amount of people getting very defensive (and even make racist remarks) when they are informed about how these hashtags co-opt and appropriate #BlackLivesMatter (and this is yet another example of how we cannot make it about people’s “intentions”). When they persist in posting these hashtags, it seems like they are doing it out of defiance against #BlackLivesMatter, as if the latter is “ethnocentric” and supposedly doesn’t value the lives of non-black people. The persistence and refusal to listen also reflects the anti-blackness that exists in our communities.

I know this is an issue that needs to be addressed sensitively. We know the lives of brown Muslims are not valued in this society and I know there are lot of Muslims who are shaken up or feel triggered after the brutal murders of Deah Barakat, Yusor Abu-Salha, and Razan Abu-Salha. Hashtags may seem trivial to some, but they become more than hashtags when we see them used to organize protests and movements. #BlackLivesMatter was created by three self-identified Black queer women, Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi. As Garza writes:

Black Lives Matter is an ideological and political intervention in a world where Black lives are systematically and intentionally targeted for demise.  It is an affirmation of Black folks’ contributions to this society, our humanity, and our resilience in the face of deadly oppression […]

When we deploy “All Lives Matter” as to correct an intervention specifically created to address anti-blackness,, we lose the ways in which the state apparatus has built a program of genocide and repression mostly on the backs of Black people—beginning with the theft of millions of people for free labor—and then adapted it to control, murder, and profit off of other communities of color and immigrant communities.   We perpetuate a level of White supremacist domination by reproducing a tired trope that we are all the same, rather than acknowledging that non-Black oppressed people in this country are both impacted by racism and domination, and simultaneously, BENEFIT from anti-black racism.

When you drop “Black” from the equation of whose lives matter, and then fail to acknowledge it came from somewhere, you further a legacy of erasing Black lives and Black contributions from our movement legacy. And consider whether or not when dropping the Black you are, intentionally or unintentionally, erasing Black folks from the conversation or homogenizing very different experiences.  The legacy and prevalence of anti-Black racism and hetero-patriarchy is a lynch pin holding together this unsustainable economy.  And that’s not an accidental analogy.

There are excellent critiques that I will quote and share below about #MuslimLivesMatter (because I believe they do a better job at explaining the problems of this hashtag), but I’ll just share a few thoughts here. Yes, the lives of Muslims are not valued in white supremacist capitalist heteropatriarchy. We know how the media and Hollywood has demonized Muslims and Islam for a very long time. We know that Islamophobia isn’t something that “only started after 9/11,” but existed well before that. We know how the massacres against Palestinians, Iraqis, Afghans, and Pakistanis show us how brown people are not seen as human beings, especially if they are Muslim. At the same time, we also cannot deny that when we talk about Islamophobia, it is often centered on the experiences of Arab and South Asian men. African/black Muslim men and women are frequently left out of the narrative, marginalized in mosques, otherized, and vilified by Arab, South Asian, white, and other non-black Muslims.

Anti-black racism is global. We cannot be preaching Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) or the Qur’an’s teachings about diversity and how no one is superior to another person on the basis of race if we are not practicing it in the community. Yeah, we’ll hear Arab, South Asian, and white imams quote Malcolm X whenever it is convenient or boast about Muhammad Ali, but then they’ll marginalize black Muslims or make racist remarks about the black people (Muslim and non-Muslim) in their neighborhood. There is also a colorblind narrative that accompanies the sermons about Malcolm X. I remember a white imam in one of my local mosques giving a speech about how Malcolm used to be a “racist black supremacist” until he went for Hajj and started to accept all Muslims (he liked to emphasize on how Malcolm started to accept white people). The conclusion the imam drew from this was that Islam advocates colorblindness or that “race doesn’t exist in Islam.” This narrative not only ignores Malcolm’s post-Hajj speeches against white supremacy, imperialism, and the western power structure, but also erases his blackness (side note: I’ll be writing a post one of these days on how religious and community leaders, especially those in the west, use Islam to silence anti-racism).

We’ll hear non-black Muslims speak highly of Hazrat Bilal (peace be upon him), the Abyssinian companion of the Prophet, and how he was chosen specifically by the Prophet to be Islam’s first muezzin. We’ll hear them talk about how beautiful his voice must have been and how he was one of the most trusted companions of the Prophet. We’ll also hear talk about how Islam doesn’t tolerate racism and point to Hazrat Bilal as proof. Yet, when it comes to the way we treat black people or talk about black people, whether Muslim or not, there is no denying that anti-black racism exists and needs to be actively addressed and challenged. We’ll still hear Arab, South Asian, white, and other non-black Muslims use the n-word (and even argue that they can “reclaim” the term) and use derogatory, anti-black words in Arabic, Urdu/Hindi, and other languages.

When two Somali Muslims, Mustafa Mattan and Abdisamad Sheikh-Hussein, were recently murdered (Mattan was murdered a day before the Chapel Hill murders), we didn’t see the same outrage from Muslims in North America nor did we see the start of “Muslim Lives Matter.” It was necessary and important that Muslims spoke out against the murders of Deah, Yusor, and Razan, so I am by no means saying that anything was wrong with this. The only thing that is wrong is how non-black Muslims tend to devalue the lives of black Muslims and non-Muslims. Abdisamad Sheikh-Hussein was 15 years-old and deliberately hit by an SUV that had a message reading “Islam is worse than Ebola” on the rear-view mirror. The Islamophobia and anti-Muslim violence was frighteningly explicit in this case, but why wasn’t there a national outcry about his murder from Muslim communities and national organizations? As Khaled A. Beydoun and Margari Hill recently wrote in their article, “The Colour of Muslim Mourning”:

The curious case of Mustafa Mattan is as much a story of intra-racial division and anti-black racism within the Muslim population as it is a narrative about the neglected death of a young man seeking a better life far from home… The outpouring of support and eulogies that followed their deaths revealed that Deah, Yusor and Razan were, in life and in death, archetypes of young, Muslim Americans. Lives neglected by the media, but ones that mattered greatly for Muslims inside and outside of the US. […] Despite a few vocal critics, Mattan’s erasure in the discussion of Islamophobia in North America is evident. The exclusion of Mattan and Sheikh-Hussein perpetuates a harmful hierarchy that privileges Arab narratives and excludes black/African Muslims. This racial stratification relegating black Muslim lives is evident as much in death as it is in life.

In order to understand the critiques of #MuslimLivesMatter, we need to acknowledge that anti-black racism exists in our communities. We also need to understand that these critiques are more than just about hashtags. Because #BlackLivesMatter is not “just a hashtag,” it represents a movement. We can create our own hashtag and call for justice and solidarity for all Muslims without co-opting, appropriating, and/or stepping upon the rights of other communities. #JusticeForMuslims and #OurThreeWinners (the latter was started by the victims’ family) should be used instead. Below is an excerpt from Anas White’s excellent article, A Black Muslim Response To #MuslimLivesMatter:

#BlackLivesMatter began as a statement to an establishment – an overall system if you will, declaring the seeming unrecognized value of black lives. It continues to hold that same meaning, even as it moves to become an expression of the movement itself. A movement against deep rooted systemic racism, high rates of police brutality, extra-judicial executions, media smearing and vitriol, and the failure of the justice system to actually hold anyone accountable for dead black men, except dead black men. It is important to remember, that #BlackLivesMatter was not born of an occurrence, but of an atmosphere wrought with repeat occurrence. […] A 12 year old black boy was shot and killed for playing with a BB gun, his sister then handcuffed to watch him bleed. A black father was killed in a Walmart, holding a toy gun sold at that very Walmart, in a state where it is legal to carry guns. A black father was shot in the back, while handcuffed. A black father was essentially choked to death in high definition. A black protest was met with a para-military, and national guard troops. A black woman was shot seeking help. A black man was literally lynched. Where were you then? My respect to every single one of you that ever attended a protest, and to every Imam that ever gave mention, but I mean this on a deeper level. Where was the Muslim community in response to these egregious civil rights violations? Where is the Muslim community in solidarity with a movement against these civil, and even human rights issues?

And an excerpt from Sabah’s article, “Stop Using #MuslimLivesMatter”:

#BlackLivesMatter represents an entire movement and its history. It’s not “just” a hashtag, it’s a powerful outcry born from a racial injustice felt by a people. It cannot, and should not, be molded to fit another people’s struggle. And solidarity, while important (and in fact, essential), never involves co-opting another movement. […] There is obviously nothing inherently wrong with saying that “Muslim lives matter,” but contextually, it’s being used parallel to #BlackLivesMatter — it’s meant to evoke the same concepts, using the same kind of language. This appropriation of a movement is counterproductive and frankly unfair to both the Black and Muslim communities. We should not be blending together two complex, multifaceted issues for the sake of convenience. It’s a reductive move that simplifies both struggles, and it only contributes to erasing the very real, very dangerous implications that Islamophobia specifically holds for Muslims.

14 thoughts on “Why I’m Not Down With #MuslimLivesMatter

  1. You’ve been a roll this week!! 😀 So much has been happening.

    It makes me happy when NonBlack-PoC speak out against anti-Blackness. So thank you for this. There’s still work left to be done, but it’s very helpful when NonBlack-PoC call out others when Black struggles are used as a proxy for the struggles of PoC, because it’s not solidarity. This is the root of anti-Blackness.

    1. Thank you, RenKiss! I’m glad to hear you found this post helpful in addressing anti-Blackness among non-Black people of color. I agree with you that there’s a lot of work left to be done. It’s really sad and disturbing when I see non-Black Muslims getting so defensive and angry about these critiques of “Muslim Lives Matter.” It reflects the anti-Blackness that exists. :/

  2. This has been beautifully mindopening.

    I find it sad when minorities and oppressed people turn against/neglect each other. Only if people realise that isn’t going to knock down white supremacy.

  3. This is a very old post, but my reply to it is quite ontopic……. A short while ago, Asra Nomani wrote an awful piece in which she basically villified the entire Black Lives Matter movement. It can be acessed here: https://heatst.com/culture-wars/the-violent-tone-of-black-lives-matter-has-alienated-even-liberals-like-me/

    I’m sad to bring the news, because I’ve been a long time supporter & admirer of her. She used to be one of my Muslim feminist rolemodels. I read her book Standing Alone in Mecca as a young, new Muslim, trying to grapple with all the patriarchal salafi nonsense propaganda to which I was exposed very early on. In that same time, I read Amina Wadud (God bless her), Fatima Mernissi and Leile Ahmed. They opened a window for me to a feminist Islam & Islamic feminism.

    So, I still respect her work in fighting against discrimination of women in the mosque, and her help to fund Amina Waduds prayer. I, ofcourse, was totally against her propagating ethnic profiling but still willing to give her the benefit of the doubt. But now, she has gone a step too far.

    I was utterly dissapointed when I read the article – it’s sheer madness, really.

    Here is a link to an excellent reply to the article: http://bodhirook1138.tumblr.com/post/147200433482/the-violent-tone-of-asra-nomani-is-part-of-the

    And here are my comments:

    “I can’t believe that you could write a piece like that, the title alone……. In times when unarmed black teenagers are gunned down in the streets of the U.S. How dare you blame BlackLivesMatter, whilst they’re standing up against racist police violence? I’m very & utterly dissapointed. You seem only to be able to critique Muslims of all ethnicities and blacks of all religion in the way they react to their opression, but never a word about white racism, sexism, colonialism..sadly enough.
    Then why haven’t I heard you about racism? And why are your focusing your energies on attacking an anti-racist movement, and not racists? This is not about you, it’s about innocent blacks getting killed. The U.S. laws allow the use of violence in self-defense.
    And also, never a word about anti-black racism amongst Pakistanis, Arabs, Latinos and other non-black people of colour. (Yes, I know, there are also Afro-Pakistanis, Afro-Arabs, and Afro-Latinos, but I’m referring to brown/non-black Pakistanis, Arabs and Latinos)”

    1. I’m sorry to hear about your disappointment. It’s always tough when one of our role model says or does something oppressive. I was familiar with her book early on, but then when I saw her writing articles that advocated for profiling and witch hunts against Muslims, I started to see her as behaving like a native informant.

      Exactly — why is she attacking an anti-racist movement? The way she attempts to vilify Black Lives Matters is utterly shameful and horrible. I can’t believe she compared herself to Rosa Parks, too. When did Parks ever promote a victim-blaming mentality?

      1. Full argeement. I mostly followed her early work, back in the day when she still was progressive, but now her work is one-sided at best and enabling racism & Islamophobia at worst. Sadly…….I did mail with her for a while and mailed her about this, but she didn’t reply just yet.

  4. @ Sabeeh: Asra never replied.

    But just when one thinks stuff can’t get any worst……here is a video of the famous white American scholar Hamza Yusuf in which he bashes BLM & denies both Arabic & white American racism towards blacks.

    O, Lord. My blood starts to boil again, by him downplaying Arab racism & saying that “3unsuriyya” is not a real Arabic word because it’s not 7th Century Quranic Arabic. Stop. Just stop.

    It’s also interesting that he talks as if being black and being Muslim are two mutually exclusive cathegories……whilst the largest single ethnic group of Muslims in the USA (up to 44%), are African-Americans& Islam came to the Americas on the slave ships. Up to 30% of enslaved West Africans were Muslims.

    Here is the vid: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4tjV64JMv-I

  5. The latest info on Yusufgate: The videos in which Hamza Yusuf does his controversial claims, were taken down from Youtube, supposedly because of Copyright issues from RIS. It would be laughable if it wouldn’t be so infuriating.

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