Solidarity in Commonality

Sara Rahim (United Nations Advisory Councillor) offers unique insights into how communities and governments can work together in solidarity.

Sara Rahim

Sara Rahim

It has been an uneasy and challenging past few months in the United States. With an increase in the disproportionate targeting of black men and women by police, mass civilian shootings, and increasing violence around the globe, it seems that with every act of senseless violence, the issue of religious identity has been making headlines every day. From my interfaith perspective, I often challenge myself to ask how we can use religious diversity as a source of cooperation rather than conflict.

In early June, we lost one of our greatest heroes: Muhammad Ali. He will be most missed by Muslim Americans because he was a source of pride to our community. The heavyweight icon from Louisville, Kentucky, originally named Cassius Clay, served as a prominent figure in American history. His spiritual journey to Islam began in 1964, and he left the Nation of Islam to Sunni Islam in the 70’s. He lived a life of service and social justice, speaking out against the Vietnam War and pushing for interfaith and interracial dialogue at a time of racial tensions. To many, Ali offered a connection in both faith and race. Kameela Rashad, the Muslim chaplain at the University of Pennsylvania remarked, “Ali remains for me a symbol of what it means to be unapologetically Black and Muslim in America.”

With his passing, Ali leaves his legacy as a shining light on not only what it means to be Muslim American, but what it means to be a Black Muslim in America. As a global community, our mourning quickly turned to another tragedy. Shortly after Ali’s passing, we were faced with the tragic news of the deadliest mass shooting in US history, at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida. Omar Mateen, a lone shooter, opened fire at Pulse nightclub and killed 53 people, a majority of whom were black, brown, and Latino members of the LGBTQ community, during Pride Month.

Almost immediately, the shooting was linked to terrorism. The “youth radicalization” narrative that we often here was once again seen echoing the headlines as soon as the shooter’s identity had been revealed. Not only does this rhetoric continue to perpetuate the Islamophobia that is so systemically rooted within our communities, but it brought about a new message: Muslims are irredeemably homophobic.

This coverage failed to show the link between systemic homophobia and Islamophobia, and it put an already invisible community of LGBTQ Muslims at further risk and vulnerability. Those who fight against Islamophobia may not always be aware or inclusive of LGBTQ individuals, and LGBTQ communities may not always condemn Islamophobia. Yet, it is crucial to remember that we are fighting the same fight of equity and inclusion in a time of rampant xenophobia and hate.

The vulnerability of our Black communities cannot go unmentioned in the conversation of fighting systemic racism. While black individuals may not necessarily be direct victims of mass shootings, there has been an increase in the targeting of black men and women by law enforcement. Most recently, Alton Sterling, a 37-year-old black man, was shot and killed in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, in July 05. Less than 24 hours later, Philando Castile was shot by the police in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Both killings were captured on video and showed a complete sense of brutal, senseless, violence without reason. Sterling had been selling CDs outside a convenience store, and Castile had been pulled over for a broken taillight.

Within the United States, black bodies are often linked to the perception of being threatening, even when they are unarmed. This has, for decades, fuelled the mistrust for police in black communities and pushed the Black Lives Matter movement forward. At such a tense, critical moment in solidarity, I often ask myself how to respond, as a non-black Muslim American.

As communities of color, be it brown, black, Latin American, or Muslim, we sit at the intersection of surveillance and criminality. For Muslims, religiosity is linked to potential for terrorism, or “radicalization”, and it enables law enforcement to spy on Muslim subjects and within houses of worship. Our question of civil liberties has truly come into question, and we must challenge ourselves to question the policing models that have been set before us.

My definition of solidarity is no longer limited to building community partnerships within religious communities in the United States. Understanding systemic racism means enduring the dehumanization that comes from it. Communities of color, Muslim Americans, and LGBTQ communities can mobilize together and serve as a powerful coalition if we truly align our voices. With the rise of hate-crimes and xenophobic rhetoric from a political candidate, it is crucial for all communities to recognize the role that we play in fighting the same fight against structural racism, and pushing for inclusion on all fronts.