Racism in Our Islamic Centers and Mosques


No Muslim leader or activist will ever admit that Islamic centers and mosques in the US have racism in their practices. On the contrary, all of them will say with one voice that Islam stands against all forms of racism and discourages ethnicism.

            However, when one goes beyond rhetoric and slogans one finds many Muslim leaders and activist promoting racism unconsciously and inadvertently.

            People know that American law is tough on racism. So no one initiates an act of racism deliberately. However these acts happen quite often. Everyone of our leaders from Arabs, South Asians, African Americans and Hispanic and well as Caucasian Muslim communities have found themselves in a situation where racism is manifested in overt or covert fashion.

            Recently a Muslim African American educator at the Orange Crescent School was fired by the school board. She took her case to the court alleging that board members had indulged in practices that she deemed were acts of racism. Dr. Zakia Muhammad is one of the finest educators in the country and she was serving the school for almost half a decade on a salary that is half of the salary her peers received in public education system. Her case highlights the tragedy of racism that exists in the Muslim community.

            If we look at our mosques and there leadership patterns, we find that our mosques are divided on ethnic and race lines. African Americans have their mosques, Indian and Pakistanis have their own and Arabs have there own. No one denies other the right to pray at there mosque. Yet the management in general comprises people belonging to one ethnic group and the services are often offered to people who are also from the same ethnic group.

            There is no deliberate attempt on the part of those who established mosques and Islamic centers to ensure that all groups and ethnicities represent in mosque boards and structures.

            Generally speaking Mosques organize by one group would promote speakers and scholars from that community. For instance, in Southern California African American imams are hardly invited in mosques managed by immigrant communities. Similarly, in mosques managed by African American Muslims, there is hardly any presence of non-African American speakers and speakers.

Even within the immigrant community the mosques are divided on smaller racial and ethnic lines. In mosques run by Pakistani or Indians, Arab speakers are rare and in mosques run by Arabs, South Asian Muslims are rare.

There are few exceptions. For instance in MSAs and campus based Muslim groups not contaminated by the foreign influence; Muslims are generally race and ethnic free. They have an increased exchange of idea on non ethnic ideas. Campuses offer a better model of Islamic community than mosques and Islamic centers.

The notion that Islam can help people to develop a race free community is yet to be practiced in its real sense. There are no deliberate attempts to broaden the Muslim representation in Muslim organizations and centers. For instance, the most visible of Muslim organizations are hose that are active in politics. Yet, when we look at their leadership and staff pattern we find; hem dominated by one group or ethnicity or race.

Muslims for better Government is primarily African American. The American Muslim Alliance is primarily Pakistani oriented. The CAIR's top leadership is primarily Palestinian/ The Muslim Public Affairs Council has only a few African Americans as its board members or staffers. The American Muslim Council is almost a dormant organization. Yet when it was active, it went through various racial phases.

All of these organizations can accommodate people from other races if they want to. Yet many of them tend to narrow their circles. .

A prominent Muslim activist confided to the Observer that even though he has been with his mosque and its affiliated organizations for almost 15 years, yet when it comes to crucial decisions he is kept out of the circle as the circle includes only those who happen to be from one ethnic background.

There are several factors for this latent racism. First of all there are several sociological factors that need to be taken into account. Muslims are still not an integrated community in the US. They are still immigrants and natives. They are still groups of people coming from one ethnicity and locality. Little effort has been made by Muslim scholars and leaders to expand the scope of the Muslim community and to make centers more inclusive.

There are also certain religious factors that need not be ignored. There is a notion among many Muslims that Arabs are superior because of their mastery over the language of the Quran and because they come from the race of the Prophet. In fact, in one Muslim gathering, a hadith was quoted saying that Arabs are superior to others because they come from the race of the Prophet.

Closeness to the language of the Quran or even to the tribe of the Prophet does not make any- one superior. If we look at this issue critically, we find that there are several Christians who are well versed in the Arabic language and they can recite the Quran much better than many Muslims. Does it mean that those one would have an edge over those who don't know the language of the Quran? Certainly, not, Knowing Arabic language is good, but practicing Islam dos not require a thorough knowledge of Arabic language. A simple recitation of the Quran for the purpose of performing the .ritual of prayers in Arabic language is required. However, what is not required is that people conduct their affairs on a daily basis in Arabic language. People can practice Islam in any language and region and can master the message of the Quran in any language.

Second argument is that Arabs are closer to the Prophet because of blood lineage. Well, that argument also does not hold any water. Historically, religiously and now even genetically, we all belong to one source of creation. Adam and Eve are the parents of all human beings. No one among Muslims, Christian and Jews will ever say that. God also tells us that he spelled his spirit in each one of us.

How is it possible that he could give a better spirit to the people of Arabia because they re born in the race of Prophet Muhammad and will deprive of is spirit those who are born in the family of Jesus, Moses and others specially when the Quran makes it clear that it does not make any distinction even among Prophets.

The best way to fight this racism is to ensure that our centers and mosques have a representation of pluralism that exists within the Muslim community. Our mosques and centers can be inclusive only when they realize hat people have a superior status in the eyes of God only on the basis of their conscious of Him.

Racism also manifests itself in gender discrimination against Muslim women in mosques and Islamic centers. However, this is a topic that deserves a discussion of its own.