The Woyingi Blog

Article: Black History Month: A Challenge to My Fellow Muslims by Chelby Marie Daigle

For me, Black History Month is not only about celebrating the contributions of my fellow Black Canadians, it is about remembering the impact that the enslavement of Black peoples has had on Africa and the world. It’s about building on the strengths of the Black community in Ottawa by working across the socio-economic, religious, ethno-cultural, and linguistic differences of the diversity of individuals who make up our community. It’s about examining how anti-Black racism still exists within Canadian society and recommitting myself to challenging it by trying to understand why it persists and how it affects my life and the lives of my fellow Black Canadians.

This year, I was honoured to be invited to speak about youth engagement through arts and media at the launch of Black History Month at the City of Ottawa and I was humbled to be presented with a Community Builder Award by Black History Ottawa. For me, Black History Month has definitely started out with a bang.

I have been asked by Muslim Link to write a piece commemorating Black History Month. I feel obligated to take this opportunity to admit something: I often find it frustrating to be around Muslims during Black History Month. Why? Because, although there is often a celebration of Black converts to Islam, like Malcolm X, and condemnation of the Transatlantic Slave Trade perpetrated by the West, there is little, if any, examination of the history of slavery in Muslim societies or of the persistence of anti-Black racism within these societies as well as within Muslim communities in Canada. The reality is I have faced more blatant anti-Black racism from my fellow Muslims than I ever did growing up in a predominantly White community.

Anti-Black racism, which includes beliefs that Blacks are inherently less intelligent, more violent, lazier, dirtier, uglier and more sexually promiscuous than other races, is just as prevalent within Muslim societies as it is in the West, if not more so, because there have not been similar movements, such as the Civil Rights Movement and the Black Power Movement, aimed at combatting these prejudices, within Muslim societies.

Unfortunately, although Muslims will often cite the Quran and sayings of the Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, to demonstrate that racism is condemned in Islam, there isn’t really an examination of whether Muslims over the course of their history actually stuck to these beliefs.

It is important for Muslims to look deeper at their particular societies of origin in order to see how the enslavement of Black peoples in these societies has led to the development of anti-Black racism. For example, the fact that in several Arab dialects the word ‘abd, meaning slave, is used to refer to any Black person demonstrates that in these societies the equation of Black people with slaves still persists.

To read the my complete article visit Muslim Link

Further Reading:

Arab Views of Black Africans and Slavery by John Hunwick (academic essay available online)

Religions and the abolition of slavery – a comparative approach by William G. Clarence-Smith (academic essay available online)

Islam and Slavery by William G. Clarence-Smith (academic essay available online)

Islamic Abolitionism in the Western Indian Ocean from c. 1800 by William G. Clarence‐Smith (academic essay available online)

“Slaves of One Master:” Globalization and the African Diaspora in Arabia in the Age of Empire by Matthew S. Hopper (academic essay available online)

Straight, No Chaser: Slavery, Abolition, and the Modern Muslim Mind by Bernard K. Freamon (academic essay available online)

Oxford African American Studies Center: Middle East Page

Race and Slavery in the Middle East Histories of Trans-Saharan Africans in Nineteenth-Century Egypt, Sudan, and the Ottoman Empire (American University Press in Cairo) Review by Gamal Nkrumah available online

Slavery and South Asian History (Indiana University Press)

African American Women’s Lives: Krishna Kaur (formerly Thelma Oliver)

Thelma Oliver was a dancer and actress who in the mid to late 1960s was making her mark on Broadway and on US film history in director Sidney Lumet’s film The Pawnbroker. Then she started studying yoga and became Krishna Kaur. This is her story.

Oliver was born in Los Angeles, California in 1941. Her father, Cappy Oliver, played trumpet with Lionel Hampton’s band and her mother sang before settling down to raise five children. Oliver studied dance at the Jeni LeGon School and later majored in Drama and Theatre Arts at UCLA. Then in 1961 Oliver made the fateful decision to drop out of school and head East with the song and dance show Kicks and Company. However, the show was not a success and closed in Chicago after only four performances. Oliver found temporary work as a typist in New York and kept her Broadway dreams alive. Oliver’s New York stage debut was off-Broadway in Jean Genet’s The Blacks, where she starred as Virtue along with Lou Gossett Jr as Edgar She played the role of Virtue off and on for two years. She also had the opportunity to star in a one-woman show on CBS Repertory Theatre.

With her small role as “Ortiz’ Girl” in Sidney Lumet’s The Pawnbroker, Oliver, ended up making movie history in 1964.  The Pawnbroker, based on the novel by Jewish American writer Edward Lewis Wallant,  stars Rod Steiger as Sol Nazerman, a bitter pawnbroker in East Harlem who lost his family in the Holocaust. This is actually the first Hollywood film to deal with the Holocaust and its psychological impact on those who survived it. Oliver stars as a prostitute who is also the girlfriend of Nazerman’s Puerto Rican employee Jesus Ortiz. Desperate for money, she offers herself to Nazerman, taking off her clothes and appearing bare-breasted. This was the first time this had EVER occurred in a mainstream Hollywood production. Seeing her naked, Nazerman ends up having flashbacks to his wife being raped by Nazi prison camp guards. He ends up covering “Ortiz’ Girl” with a raincoat and gives her $20. Because the film was dealing with the issue of the Holocaust and its impact, this scene was able to get by the censors because the nakedness was deemed to be integral to the story. It was the first film to get a Motion Picture Association of America Production Code seal of approval that showed bare breasts. The film was scored by the legendary Quincy Jones.

Oliver’s big break came when she landed the role of Helene opposite Gwen Verdon in the Broadway hit Sweet Charity. Oliver auditioned in 1965 for the role only five weeks after surgery to have a tumor removed. The character of Helene is a close friend of the show’s main character Charity; both women work as “hostesses” in the Fan Dango taxi dancehall. Interestingly, the role of Helene is “non-racial”, meaning that it is not specified that she is a Black character. In October 1966, Ebony Magazine published an article about Oliver entitled New Girl on Broadway. The magazine describes her performance as Helene as follows:

Thelma cavorts, smiles, sings, and dances her way through the show, always bubbling with a humourous philosophy that overshadows the sordidness of life.

According to Oliver: “Sweet Charity has been good to me and has changed my life in a wonderful way.” In the September 1966 edition of Jet Magazine, Oliver, when asked about the future of Black actors in the theatre states:

It is certain that as the role of the Negro changes in society, so much it change in the theatre. For the theatre is merely a reflection of society. I feel that the main enemy of the Negro in theatre is fear. Not his fear but the white man’s fear-fear of losing the ‘dollar’. Therefore, I believe the real future of the Negro in the theatre lies in the hands of Negro producers. Negro producers who will take a chance and exploit potentially great Negro talent. Not to just utilize the Negroes who have already been accepted as great, but all of the Negroes out here bubbling over with talent who haven’t had a chance to express themselves.

Oliver would go on to organize a production of Sweet Charity with eight inmates of New York’s Women’s House of Detention, after having only five hours of rehearsal. The women put on a performance of the show for adolescent inmates who were finishing their year at the institution in 1967. But Oliver’s future would not lie with showbiz. In the Ebony Magazine article New Girl on Broadway, it mentions that Oliver studies yoga philosophy. In September 1975, Ebony Magazine published the article Yoga: Something for Everyone, which took a look at how various Black celebrities, including Herbie Hancock and Angela Davis, were embracing yoga and various other Eastern philosophies. This article focused on Thelma Oliver, who by then had changed her name to Krishna Kaur. Kaur, meaning “Princess” is the mandatory last name for female Sikhs after Amrit (Sikh Baptism).

Krishna Kaur studied yoga under the tutelage of Yogi Bhajan, a Sikh from India’s Punjab who had established 3HO (Healthy, Happy, Holy Organization) in Los Angeles where he taught Kundalini Yoga. Many of Yogi Bhajan’s American students, including African-Americans like Thelma Oliver, began to convert to Sikhism after observing with admiration the way of life of the Yogi. This would eventually lead to the development of the Sikh Dharma Movement. Yogi Bhajan particularly felt that yoga would be beneficial for African-Americans. In the 1975 Ebony article he says:

Outer help cannot help the handicapped and we’ve got to start admitting that the Black community is handicapped. My personal feeling is that the entire community should check it out.

Krishna Kaur began running the Guru Ramdas Ashram (school) in central Los Angeles, teaching Kundalini Yoga. She also began doing work in the community, sharing the practice of yoga with inner-city students. In the 1975 Ebony article there is a striking picture on page 96 showing Krishna Kaur teaching yoga to students at South Central’s John C. Fremont High School. In the article, Krishna Kaur rejects militant Black activism and states:

The revolution is really one of the mind. Blacks have got to realize where the power really is. The struggle is not on a physical level. It is on the level of the mind.

Krishna Kaur has continued her work bringing yoga to inner-city schools with the creation of the Yoga for Youth. Krishna Kaur describes the work of Yoga for Youth, as well as her own spiritual transformation in the following article posted on lifebyme:

My life changed during the late 60s, just as my career as a performing artist was about to take off. At that time, the Vietnam war was raging, the U.S. Civil Rights struggle had peaked, and more Third World and African Countries were gaining independence from European domination. I was excited about my growing fame in New York – I was in a big Broadway hit, a major film, and a one-woman TV show. However, something else was unfolding inside me at the same time.

I began to feel another calling, outside of the theater, a calling which pulled hard at my psyche. The internal voices continued to drown out my usual excitement about performing. After several months of internal struggle and fear, I learned how to slow down the incessant mental chatter so I could hear the voice in my heart telling me that my true purpose in life was to serve my people in a meaningful way. As Shakespeare wrote, “All the world’s a stage.” So I took my love of theater to the streets and began to teach yoga and meditation to kids on the playground, adults recovering from drug and alcohol addictions, gang members, and high school students throughout the Watts area in South Los Angeles.

Every day for the past 40 years, I’ve woken up excited to bring the art and science of Kundalini Yoga to people struggling to make sense out of life – good people, young people, people who have been discarded by mainstream society. They motivate me to get up every morning, enthusiastic about teaching, training, and nurturing them to experience who they really are. My work fulfills me. It gives me hope for the future of humanity and makes me optimistic about stepping into the challenges of these times.

Teaching urban youth through my non-profit Organization, YOGA for Youth, is the most gratifying part of my life. Our youth have every right to be healthy, happy, and productive in their lives. Yet many of them have inherited an environment that doesn’t support such longings. By teaching and training other yoga teachers to reach this very special population, I help plant seeds of greatness that will feed this country and the world, for many generations. When I see the light come on in the eyes of a young person, I know their life will be changed forever. That is worth living for, and that is what keeps me getting up in the morning.

Krishna Kaur is now a world-renowned as a yoga teacher with over 40 years of experience. In 1998, she established the International Association of Black Yoga Teachers which aims to promote the practice of yoga within the Black diaspora, with a particular focus on its power for social transformation. Through the work of this association, she has begun projects in Africa educating locals as Kundalini Yoga teachers. A video of her work in Ghana in 2005 is available online (starting at 4:24 min) as well as a video of actor and Kundalini Yoga student Forest Whitaker sharing a message of support for Krishna Kaur’s work.

In 2000, Krishna Kaur was interviewed for Yoga Journal. In the article Yoga in Black and White, Krishna Kaur addresses the challenge of making yoga relevant for Black people:

“How is yoga going to put food on my table or keep the police from going upside my head?” -these were the kind of questions we were constantly faced with when we first started reaching out to the black community in 1971. But we knew that yoga could help our young people see reality, live reality and find out where their power was, so that they were not always just reacting to their life situations.

I find the remarkable journey of Krishna Kaur (formerly Thelma Oliver) fascinating and a great example of spiritual transformation.

Woyingi Blogger’s Note: This post would not have been possible if I didn’t decide to google “black sikh” one day because I was interested to know if there were any Black converts to the religion of Sikhism.

Further Reading:

New Girl on Broadway (Ebony Magazine, October 1966, p. 52) available online from Google Books

New York Beat (Jet Magazine, July 27th 1967, p.62) available from Google Books

Yoga: Something for Everyone (Ebony Magazine, September 1975, p. 96) available online from Google Books

Yoga in Black and White (Yoga Journal, September-October 2000, p. 105) available online from Google Books

Yoga for Youth by Krishna Kaur article available online

Krishna Kaur’s Website

Yoga for Youth’s Website

International Association of Black Yoga Teachers’ Website

Video of Krishna Kaur’s 2005 Trip to Ghana available online (starting at 4:24min)

Video of Forest Whitaker discussing Krishna Kaur’s work available online

Video Interview (2009) with Krishna Kaur available online

Video Presentation Part 1 and Part 2 by Krishna Kaur about Yoga for Youth at the First Conference on Yoga for Health and Social Transformation available online

Being Black, Being Muslim: Michael Jackson and the Need for Converts

Recently, while reading the essay Things that Make us Muslim, by Kashmiri Canadian writer Rahat Kurd, I was reminded of the hullabaloo in the Muslim World leading up to Michael Jackson’s funeral as so many Muslims believed that Jackson was one of us. Kurd discusses the appeal that the King of Pop had for young Muslims of her generation and even their parents. She writes:

Fortunately, Thriller is released in 1983. It makes music as a cultural phenomenon suddenly intelligible not only to Muslim kids but also, crucially, to our parents, who stop whatever they’re doing to watch the “Billie Jean” video with us every time it comes on. Somehow, when we watch Michael dance, everything about pop that had seemed previously inaccessible becomes ours. To see him at the same time as millions of other people, to react with the same pleasure and awe, is at once to become part of the same culture, and to begin to feel a certain confidence in our own tastes, our own creative potential.

But what about Michael Jackson put Muslim parents at ease? Simple Answer: He was Black. Kurd writes:

This confidence has to do with the fact that Michael Jackson is an African-American. As religious teachers and imams, black American men were unquestioned authorities in our eyes: they were the funniest, the coolest, the most engaging role models we had. We liked their easy, friendly style of talk, so different from our parents. They were highly sought after as public speakers; their sermons and lectures eagerly attended, often tape-recorded and passed around among teenagers. Kids who were reluctant to talk to their own parents could talk to the imams.

Living amongst Muslims in Canada, where only in the last twenty years there has developed a significant Black Muslim population, presents a great deal of frustration. Because although Blacks are definitely looked up to as speakers, particularly African Americans, you will seldom find us in leadership positions in Muslim Canadian organizations. Although many young Muslims are drawn to the radicalism of someone like Malcolm X, the critique is directed entirely at White Western society, not the racial dynamics of the Muslim world. Blacks are liked as long as we are supporting what Muslims already feel about the West. The appeal of African American Muslim preachers in particular is that they are harsh critics of Western racism, something which many Muslim immigrant communities have to face themselves but they are not expected to criticize racism within Muslim spaces.

As a Black convert to Islam you quickly learn that a great deal of your appeal lies in your ability to praise Islam to the detriment of your “former” Christian or “Western” lifestyle. You also learn that White converts are far more popular than you…particularly when it comes to marriage prospects. But I didn’t convert to Islam for popularity or to get married and most of the Muslims I am close to are either Black themselves or aren’t the type of Muslims who need to hear other religions being put down in order to feel good about being Muslim.

To be fair, everyone loves a convert. The popularity of figures like Ayaan Ali Hirsi can only be understood by the Western Conservative need for a conversion story. The way Hirsi talks about Islam and the West is so Black and White that it can only be understood if you realize that she is a true believer…and a fanatic one at that. The problem with many converts is that they are often incapable of seeing the flaws that exist in the way of life they have converted to and seem to only see the flaws in the way of life they have left. But conversion is seldom really about what religion or ideology is being chosen as it is about what these things represent to the person converting.

Unlike many other converts I know, I had really no interest in trying to convert my friends and family to Islam because most of them were quite fine as they were. I don’t see Muslims as being any more at peace than any other people of faith I know. I was the one who needed grounding; I was the one who needed to build a relationship with my creator. Following Islam is about making me a less selfish, greedy, arrogant, spiteful, envious, unkind, gluttonous, dishonest and miserable person.  If I were to concentrate my energy in finding fault with other people’s immorality, it would probably be because I’m trying to avoid confronting my own. Being self-righteous is a cop-out and it’s often this self-righteousness that alienates people from religious communities. I would even argue that spending too much energy in analysing just how messed up Western civilization is actually leads to moral bankruptcy within non-Western communities. If our “intellectuals” took up half as much energy scrutinizing our own problems they might be on their way to solving them by now. That’s why so many “revolutionaries” just end up dictators-you need to be self-critical, you need to be humble, you need to realize that even if right now you are among “the oppressed” if you are a selfish, arrogant, unkind person (and being “oppressed” doesn’t stop you from being these things), if the tables were turned, you would be just as vicious as your “oppressors” maybe even more so. But I digress.

Another reason for the popularity of African Americans is, quite simply, they are cool. There is something inherently cool about African Americans.  Western Muslim Youth culture often takes cues from African American Hip Hop Culture, even going as far as having Muslim kids of Arab or South Asian descent calling each other “niggas“, as was most dramatically witnessed by convicted Canadian terrorist and fellow Ottawan Momin Khawaja’s e-mail exchanges with his co-conspirators. The sense of being “an underdog” and resisting oppression definitely are key to the appeal.

An important factor of African American coolness is the African American voice. The African American tradition of oratory goes back to our common ancestors in West and Central Africa and has been honed through Black church traditions. Obama definitely picked up his public oration skills and accent from the preaching of Jeremy Wright in Chicago. It is the Black Church that also fostered African American musical traditions as well and many young African American singers, from Sam Cooke to Whitney Houston, got their start in the church choir. Michael Jackson is something of an anomaly in this respect. He wasn’t raised in the Black Church tradition. His musical skills were honed under the strict and violent discipline of his stagefather, Joe Jackson.  When it came to religion, MJ was raised in a Jehovah’s Witness household after his mother, Katherine, converted to the religion in the early ’60s.

Jehovah’s Witnesses and Muslims living in the West have something in common: mainstream society is almost completely ignorant about who we really are and what we really are about and as a consequence we totally WEIRD them out.  Founded in the United States in the late 19th Century, Jehovah’s Witnesses have experienced religious persecution in North America and Europe, most notably within Nazi Germany, where Jehovah’s Witnesses were executed for refusing military service and thousands were put in concentration camps. I grew up watching media coverage of Jehovah’s Witnesses that was usually sensationalist, centering around their refusal of blood transfusions, objection to military service, mishandling of allegations of sexual abuse, or their shunning of those who left the religion or seriously broke its rules. (For example, MJ’s notorious sister Latoya Jackson was disfellowshipped (shunned) by the community in 1988.)

I remember growing up with classmates who were Jehovah’s Witnesses. They weren’t allowed to celebrate birthdays or sing the national anthem. One time, one of my classmates and her parents went going door to door in my neighbourhood passing out Watchtower Magazines and trying to get my neighbours to convert to their faith. When she came to my door she was visibly embarrassed and I was embarrassed for her, unlike on other occasions when I would run my juvenile mouth off at these folks for having the audacity to knock on my door on a weekend and try to save my immortal soul by converting me to their religion, I just smiled, took the magazine and said thank you but I wasn’t interested.

I have come to realize that Ottawa’s local Jehovah’s Witness population has many Black members, most originally from the Caribbean but now a growing number from the African refugee and immigrant populations settling in the city. Being Black and really wanting to support the community and “up the race” means having to learn all about the varieties of Christianity that exist because Black people are members of all of them.

As Muslims were eagerly awaiting the announcement that MJ was being buried as a Muslim facing Mecca, Jehovah’s Witnesses were wondering if he was going to be buried as a Jehovah’s Witness, meaning with minimal pomp and circumstance. You can imagine their horror when it got out that he was going to be buried in a 14 karat  Gold-Plated coffin!!! Rumours that MJ was a Muslim had begun to spread among Muslims and in the tabloids after his brother Jermaine Jackson, who is a Muslim, said that MJ was expressing interest in learning about Islam. In Canadian Muslim circles, alleged statements by singer-songwriter and convert to Islam Dawud Wharnsby got Muslims’ hopes up (After Jackson’s death, Wharnsby had to go on the record denying that he had even met Jackson; it seems that this rumour was spread by the British Tabloid The Sun and Canadian Muslims ran with it, without consulting Wharnsby himself). These rumours were further fueled when MJ spent a lot of time in Bahrain with its royal family. Of course, this ended badly with MJ getting sued by the King of Bahrain’s son, who fancied himself a pop song writer.

Judging from the final memorial service, all that I could conclude with certainty was that Jackson was buried as a Christian. Celebrities, being sort of like the “popular kids” of the universe, can make something seem more appealing by endorsing it. That’s why they are sought after by companies to advertise their products. But religion should never be a “product”, something that you sell (The film The Big Kahuna, based on a play by Roger Rueff, starring Danny Devito and Kevin Spacey, about three salesmen stuck in a hotel trying to cut a deal has a great monologue about this). Faith isn’t a commodity; it can’t be consumed. Faith should never be something that you need others to buy into so that you can feel more confident about your own choices.

So, I don’t care if Michael Jackson wasn’t a Muslim. His choosing to be Muslim would not make me “prouder” to be Muslim. (Frankly, I’m not proud to be Muslim, that would fly in the face of my attempts to cultivate humility. But I’m certainly not ashamed.) I think it would have been good for MJ to have followed a life path that surrounded him with good, honest people who wouldn’t have taken advantage of him. That’s what I hope for myself. May my brother in Blackness rest in peace.

Further Reading:

Things that Make Us Muslim by Rahat Kurd (article available online)

Will Michael Jackson’s Funeral be Jehovah’s Witness or Muslim? by L. Gornstein (article available online)

M. J. You Take My Breath Away by Shelina Merani (article available online)

Jehovah’s Witness Interactive Map of World Wide Work available online

Radio Documentary Review: Arise Black Man The Peter Tosh Story

Last week, I had the chance to listen to Don Letts’  BBC Radio 4’s Documentary about the life and work of Peter Tosh.

Here’s the description:

Peter Tosh found international fame alongside Bob Marley as a member of The Wailers. As a solo artist he released several landmark reggae albums and even recorded with the Rolling Stones. But he was more than just a successful pop star: he was a revolutionary and a hero to many of Jamaica’s poor. He spent his life as a strident campaigner for civil rights and for the legalisation of marijuana. He was more militant and political than his former band mate and his uncompromising arrogance often landed him in serious trouble. For that reason, as this documentary reveals, his life could be as brutal as the way it ended. Grammy award winning film-maker Don Letts explores his career.

The documentary opens with excerpts from interviews with people who knew Peter Tosh:

Peter Tosh was the Malcolm X to Bob Marley’s Martin Luther King. One was the arouser and one was the healer. But Peter was much more on the side of militancy. (Roger Steffens, Reggae Historian)

His songs have been recorded by Eric Clapton, Peter Gabriel, Jackson Brown, Ben Harper, Chrissie Hynes from the Pretenders, Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead, Sinnead O’Connor. (Wayne Jobson, DJ and producer)

Peter was adored as a revolutionary in Jamaica. He was so charismatic and he was saying  very much what the people thought. (Vivien Goldman, Journalist)

Don Letts’ opens the documentary with the following statement:

Peter Tosh was not your average rockstar and as a person you probably won’t even like him. He could be arrogant, unpleasant and intimidating. But for me he was also a completely awe-inspiring performer, a revolutionary who stood up for the equal rights of the Jamaican poor and Black people all over the world. They always call Bob Marley the Reggae Rebel but Peter Tosh was far more militant and political than Bob ever was. His uncompromising attitude often caused controversy and landed him in serious trouble and as you will hear his life could sometimes be as brutal as the way it ended.

As Bob Marley archivist Roger Steffens states:

He made a guitar out of wire and a sardine can and taught himself to play by watching an older man who actually had a guitar.

According to Jamaican-American Wayne Johnson, producer of the documentary Red X, about Peter Tosh:

I think with him growing up in Jamaica during the colonial days in the 50s and so it was you know as Peter said you never saw a Black school teacher, or a Black preacher or a Black bank manager or anything like it was all English people who came down and took the big jobs and therefore you know eventually you would want to rebel against this especially with the church where he was forced to go to church two, three times a week and every day he was singing “O Lord wash me and I’ll be as white as snow.” You can’t oppress anybody worse than that you know and so Peter said it was almost like apartheid in those days.

In a 1983 BBC Interview, Peter Tosh explains:

I was the first one in the group who played music. I used to play my guitar. I used to play  the keyboards. I taught Bob to play guitar and I taught Bunny to play guitar because it was a part of making your music perfect see. And in those times is like we had a good voice but we wasn’t creating music that music that much it was just singing people song and singing people son and the people been telling us that we sound good why don’t go to the studio so we got together once and we did some recording recorded the first one which was Simmer Down and the people loved it. It sold well.

 As Vivien Goldman explains:

I don’t think I’ve ever had as many arguments with anybody in my life as I did with Peter Tosh.I remember once I was interviewing him, he was like “Women are inferior to men!” I was like “Why is that?” you know “Oh look at the docks , if you go down to the docks a woman can’t pick up a heavy bag and carry it the same way a man can.” And there was you know there was quite embedded in Rasta certain things for women their period was regarded to be unclean but he was really into it “Oh!!!!” you know  “ Are you having your period? Should you be in the room with me know?” I was like excuse me, I’m here as a working professional matey.

Further Reading:

The Guardian’s Review of Arise Black Man The Peter Tosh Story by Elisabeth Mahoney

Roger Steffens’ Reggae Archives Website

Vivien Goldman’s Blog

The many voices of Rastafarian women : sexual subordination in the midst of liberation by O. Lake (essay available online)

Black Catholic History Month in the United States

Posted in African Americans, Blacks and Religion, Blacks and Roman Catholicism, Countries: United States by the woyingi blogger on November 30, 2010

November is Black Catholic History Month. In 1990, during their convention at Fordham University in New York, the National Black Catholic Clergy Caucus of the United States voted to establish November as Black Catholic History Month. November was chosen because of the number  of important dates to the World’s Black Catholics that fall within this month. These dates are as follows:

November 1st: All Saints’ Day, an opportunity to review the lives of the hundreds of Saints of African descent in the first 300 years of the Church.

November 2nd: All Souls Day: a time to remember all those African lost to cruel treatment in the Middle Passage crossing of the Atlantic Ocean.

November 3rd: Feast of St. Martin de Porres, the only Saint of African descent in the Western hemisphere

November 13th: The birth of St. Augustine in 354 A.D., the first Doctor of the Church from North Africa.

November 20th: The death of Zumbi of Palmares in Brazil, a symbol of African resistance to Portuguese slavery for Afro-Brazilians.

It is estimated that there are  approximately 270 million Catholics of African descent throughout the world. They represent almost 25% of the World’s one billion Roman Catholics.

There are an estimated 141 million Roman Catholics in Africa, with the largest communities in Nigeria (34 million), the Democratic Republic of Congo (28 million), Tanzania (10 million), and Uganda (10 million). The tallest Catholic Church is actually in the Ivory Coast, Our Lady of Peace Basilica of Yamoussoukro, which stands at 518 feet tall.

According to Michael Scott, Black Catholic History began in The Acts of the Apostles (8:26-40), when the Ethiopian Eunuch, Philip the Evangelist, converted to Christianity. Scott writes:

This text is important for several reasons. First, it chronicles the conversion of the first Black person in recorded Christian history. Second, the text suggests that the man was a wealthy, literate, and powerful emissary of the Nubian Queen and also a faithful, practicing Jew prior to his baptism. Clearly, he was not an ignorant heathen. Third, the Ethiopian Eunuch’s conversion predates the conversions of Saints Paul and Cornelius. Most significantly, many cite this conversion as the very moment when the church changed from a Hebrew and Hellenist community to the truly Universal and Catholic Church.

In the United States, there are 1300 Black Catholic Parishes, with 250 African American Priests and 300 African American Sisters. There are currently 13 Black Bishops in the US. The first Black Seminary in the US was established in St. Augustine Seminary in Greenville, Mississippi. In 1958, American Bishops declared that racism was immoral.

According to Father Cyprian Davis O.S.B., it is important for Black Catholics to know their history. He states:

Black Catholics want a sense of being Catholic, especially if they are converts; but they don’t want to be cut off from  their roots. They desperately need and want a sense of identity. So many were not able to tell their children about what it means to be black Catholics or about black saints or black priests. But now they have that background information, and they can use it. They have a good reason to be Catholic and to be proud of it and not feel they have given up being black.

According to Davis, many African Americans have left the Roman Catholic Church. He explains:

…I think part of it was because the church probably didn’t have the personnel to minister to the blacks and also because the church tended to be racist. Louisiana, however, was a special case. Archbishop Francis Janssens of New Orleans was committed to the cause of blacks and the idea of a black clergy. He began to establish black parishes in the late 19th century. Later it became the law to provide blacks with their own parishes.

After the civil-rights movement started, bishops in the South began to open parishes so that everyone could attend the same church. What that meant most of the time, though, was that the black churches were closed down. What no one realized was that a whole infrastructure of parish life among black Catholics was being dismantled. When the black church was closed and the parishioners were told, “You’re now to go to the regular church,” there was really no place for them. In their own churches they had formed a choir, been the chief ushers and part of the council, had a place to play, and a vital social life; and now suddenly it was gone. White parishes had no place for them.

Roman Catholic History in the United States is troubling for African Americans because the vast majority of Roman Catholics supported slavery and were in opposition to its abolition. Father Davis explains:

The abolitionists opposed slavery on moral grounds and were usually very religious, well-educated people coming from establishment backgrounds. Yet many had an intellectual disdain for the Catholic Church. They often saw Catholics as lower-class immigrants with a bigoted religion, so Roman Catholics in this country saw the abolitionists as their enemy.

There were, however, other reasons for church support of slavery, one of which was exemplified by Archbishop Martin Spalding, who was the bishop of Louisville at the time of the Civil War and later became the archbishop of Baltimore. Spalding wrote a letter to the Vatican and explained his own version of the sociopolitical situation in America at the time. Though he talked about slavery as an evil, he said it would be worse to free the slaves because they would end up becoming drunkards or homeless people. Yet later, as archbishop of Baltimore, Spalding was the one bishop concerned about what to do with the freed slaves and really made an effort to begin evangelization.

The opposition to slavery that existed wasn’t organized, even among Catholics. The first bishop in the country who really took a public stand in support of the Union and the emancipation of slaves was Archbishop John Purcell of Cincinnati, who, along with his brother, decried slavery at the outbreak of the Civil War. Later, however, Purcell met his downfall because Cincinnati became bankrupt and bishops were not happy that Purcell broke ranks.

Another outspoken Catholic abolitionist was Irish statesman Daniel O’Connell. Out of religious conviction, O’Connell saw slavery as a great evil. He castigated the Irish in America who were sending him money to fight for Irish emancipation from English rule while supporting slavery in the U.S. O’Connell sat in the British Parliament with his enemies who were opposed to religious freedom in Ireland and Irish rights, but he worked with them to end slavery in the British West Indies.

Claude Maistre, a French priest originally from the Diocese of Troyes in France, who worked a while in the Chicago area and ended up in New Orleans at the time of the Civil War, also took a very strong stand against slavery. In fact, the archbishop told him to stop preaching against slavery, but he refused. Ultimately, he put Maistre’s church under interdict to get him to stop.

By and large, the Catholic opposition against slavery, however, was found more firmly in Europe than in the United States.

American Catholic seminaries and university were some of the last academic institutions in the US to admit Black students. The first African American Priest who identified as Black was Father Augustus Tolton, who was ordained in 1886 in Rome because no American seminary would accept him. He established the Saint Monica Catholic Church in Chicago.

Father Tolton was raised as a Catholic by his parents who were slaves. According to Father Davis:

Father Augustus Tolton

His mother, Martha Chisely Tolton, was a Catholic slave from Kentucky who became part of the dowry of a young lady who married and move to Missouri. Martha married a slave named Peter Paul Tolton, who was also a Catholic. They had three children; Augustus was the second. When Peter died, Martha decided to leave the plantation with her children and cross the Mississippi River at Hannibal and go to Quincy in Illinois, which was a free state.

Martha was very insistent that her children get a Catholic education, despite being treated very badly by the Catholics. Two priests in Quincy, One German and one Irish, befriended Augustus. He then decided he wanted to become a priest, and the two priests tried to find a seminary for him, but they really couldn’t; no one would accept this young man who was black. The German priest joined the Franciscans and through one of the Franciscans there in Quincy, Tolton was able to take courses at Quincy College. Eventually the minister general of the Franciscans arranged for him to go to Rome and become a seminarian at the Urban College. It was almost like a fairy tale.

Tolton was supposed to go to Africa after he was ordained. When the time came, however, the cardinal prefect said that America was a great nation and needed to see a black priest. So he sent Tolton back to the U.S.

It was a triumphant return, and the whole city of Quincy was there for his first Mass. But after he started work as a pastor of a parish, there was a racial conflict between another priest and him. Tolton almost had a nervous breakdown. He was not at all assertive and wanted to leave the diocese. Tolton never told the cardinal prefect back in Rome what was happening; and when word did get back to the cardinal prefect, he was very upset. Luckily for Tolton, Archbishop Patrick Feehan of Chicago wanted to have a black priest, so Tolton was sent there and formed the black parish of St. Monica’s.

In 1987, Pope John Paul II addressed the Black Catholic community of New Orleans. He stated:

I express my deep love and esteem for the black Catholic community in the United States. Its vitality is a sign of hope for society. Composed as you are of many lifelong Catholics, and many who have more recently embraced the faith, together with a growing immigrant community, you reflect the Church’s ability to bring together a diversity of people united in faith, hope and love, sharing a communion with Christ in the Holy Spirit. I urge you to keep alive and active your rich cultural gifts. Always profess proudly before the whole Church and the whole world your love for God’s word; it is a special blessing which you must for ever treasure as a part of your heritage. Help us all to remember that authentic freedom comes from accepting the truth and from living one’s life in accordance with it – and the full truth is found only in Christ Jesus. Continue to inspire us by your desire to forgive – as Jesus forgave – and by your desire to be reconciled with all the people of this nation, even those who would unjustly deny you the full exercise of your human rights.

My dear brothers and sisters of the black community: it is the hour to give thanks to God for his liberating action in your history and in your lives. This liberating action is a sign and expression of Christ’s Paschal Mystery, which in every age is effective in helping God’s people to pass from bondage into their glorious vocation of full Christian freedom. And as you offer your prayer of thanksgiving, you must not fail to concern yourselves with the plight of your brothers and sisters in other places throughout the world. Black Americans must offer their own special solidarity of Christian love to all people who bear the heavy burden of oppression, whatever its physical or moral nature.

Further Reading:

The National Black Catholic Congress’ Website

National Black Catholic Clergy Caucus’ Website

Global Count of Catholics of African Descent, includes a breakdown by country

Interview Father Cyprian Davis O.S.B.

Archdiocese of Chicago Office for Black Catholics Website

Archdiocese of Washington Office of Black Catholics Website

Archdiocese of New Orleans Office of Black Catholic Ministries Website

African American Catholic Democraphics

An African’s gift to the Vatican: the world’s largest church – Felix Houphouet-Boigny, Basilica of Our Lady of Peace by Hans Massaquoi (article available online)

Being Black, Being Muslim: On Being Hated and Afraid

Posted in Being Black Being Muslim, Blacks and Classism, Blacks and Islam, Poor Whites, The Woyingi Blogger by the woyingi blogger on September 12, 2010

I’m a bit angry tonight and I don’t know why. So I’ve decided to do some free-writing. Let’s see how it goes.

Today is September 11th. We Muslims are also still celebrating Eid al Fitr, the festival celebrating the end of Ramadan.

It’s a strange time to be Muslim here in Ottawa. Three men from Ottawa have been arrested and charged with plotting a terrorist attack as a result of a CSIS-RCMP investigation called…ahem…Project Samossa. The last and youngest man to be arrested, Awso Peshdary, is well known and respected by his fellow young Muslims, who have rallied around him in his defense.

Although I feel that your average Canadian is beginning to realize that judging Islam based on the actions of The Taliban and al Quaida is like judging Christianity based on the actions of The Ku Klux Klan, I am still afraid.

In the fallout of all this, a colleague of mine said that non-Muslims are probably more afraid than Muslims in Ottawa are, what with the alleged plot to attack our city.

Really?

Well, I have to disagree. As a Muslim living in Ottawa, I am pretty afraid, of a lot of things. For one thing, if there actually was an attack on Ottawa, I could be killed, just like a whole lot of other Muslims living in Ottawa where we are a highly visible minority (There are about 65,000 of us in Ottawa). Actually, when one looks at terrorist attacks around the world, it’s mostly Muslims who are dying in places like Somalia, Pakistan, Iraq, Afghanistan and it’s not like no Muslims died in London or New York. But this strangely gets forgotten when discussions about Muslims and terrorists begin.

I also have to be afraid of hate crimes. I have to be afraid that I, as a “visible Muslim” because I wear hijab, might be attacked, even killed by someone who decides to hold me personally accountable for whatever threat that he or she perceives Muslims to present. Like poor Ahmed Sharif, a taxi driver originally from Bangladesh, who was recently stabbed by a 21 year old film student for the crime of being Muslim. There is worry that Islamophobic rhetoric is actually escalating, particularly in the wake of the proposal to build the Cordoba House near Ground Zero in New York.

Now, let me make it clear, being hated isn’t anything new to me. I’ve been hated long before I became Muslim. I grew up on welfare, living in subsidized housing here in Ottawa. I was called names by fellow students like trailer trash and welfare trash. I got to see my mother and my neighbours referred to as white trash…sometimes even by my teachers. My guidance counsellor advised me and my friend that we were a burden on hard-working taxpayers like himself and he didn’t know why schools had to waste time with kids like us seeing as we were just going to drop out and get pregnant and go on welfare like our mothers did. Our mothers who were trash. I grew up accepting that the people who really mattered, not people like us but people who worked who didn’t have to depend on charity and the goodwill of taxpayers, thought we were as good as garbage. I dropped out in junior high because I felt like I was a burden to my teacher, seeing as I was reading at a Grade 2 level in 8th grade…

During the Mike Harris years, there was a sharp escalation of hatred towards people on social assistance and the poor in general. I had to get used to Lowell Green’s tirades about welfare bums and editorials in the Ottawa Citizen about how people like myself, my mother and my neighbours were plotting to defraud the system. As if we lived just to piss taxpayers off. I remember being so afraid that we would be cut off, that our neighbourhood would be sold off to Minto and we wouldn’t be able to pay the rent, that we would end up homeless, and that no one would care because we deserved this…because we had not earned the right to exist.

My fears proved all too real. John Baird, who is now a minister in the cabinet of Stephen Harper but was then a minister in the cabinet of Mike Harris, was involved in implementing a policy of zero-tolerance for “welfare cheats” that placed life time bans on people convicted of welfare fraud. Kimberly Rogers, who was placed under house arrest for welfare fraud for receiving welfare along with student loans (Before changes made by the Harris government, people could receive welfare to cover living expenses and separate student loans to cover the cost of studies, under Harris this changed, meaning that people had to take student loans to cover their living expenses as well). The judge who convicted Rogers told her the following

This is how serious the matter is, Ms. Rogers. There is a jail term that is going to be involved, it just happens to be a jail term that will be served in your home, and not at the expense of the community. You have taken enough from the community.

Rogers was required to stay under house arrest while pregnant. She was only allowed to go out three hours per week. She had to pay rent and buy food without any income. She committed suicide in her apartment during a heatwave in August of 2001.   The coroner’s jury at the inquest into Rogers’ death recommended that the Harris government’s zero tolerance policy needed to be scrapped or more people would die.  I feared that someday this could be me or my mother.

There were times when the level of hate rhetoric got so high that I really thought people were going to come to our neighbourhoods and lynch us. Kind of like how Premier Ralph Klein got drunk and went to a homeless shelter and verbally attacked the homeless…for being unemployed!

That’s the kind of hatred I grew up with.

So, when I became Muslim in the post 9/11 world, I had some idea what it would be like to be hated.

As a Black person, I was familiar with being called names. Being a Black Muslim just means that on top of being called a nigger, I am now also called a sandnigger (interesting variation on the original) and a paki, my personal favourite as it hold so much irony. Paki means purified so although it is intended as an insult it’s actually a compliment. One of the significant changes has just been that I now have more than hateful words thrown at me. I have trash thrown at me as I walk along the road-I once had an egg sandwich thrown at me when I was pushing my friend’s baby in a stroller and recently I had a can of beer thrown at me. At least it’s not stones.

However, I have been pretty disappointed to experience the level of anti-Black racism that exists in Ottawa’s Muslim communities, particularly those that are more affluent and therefore less likely to interact with Blacks, at least within Ottawa’s Anglophone communities…there is more interaction with Blacks among Francophone Muslims, most of whom are North Africans. When you are poor and live in a poorer neighbourhood you eventually learn to get along with everyone. In my neighbourhood, I can chill with Afghans, Bangladeshis, Pakistanis, Kurds, Iranians, and a vast assortment of Arabs with no problems or off the cuff ignorant remarks. We are all struggling and many are or at some time were on social assistance so no one has any business turning their noses up at anyone else. But among the middle to upper middle classes it’s tough, you have to face a lot of ignorance due to a lack of experience interacting with Black people-from listening to bizarre stories of how some “uncle” threatened his parents that he’d marry a Black woman if they didn’t let him choose his own wife, with such a threat hanging over their heads they acquieced-“How Funny Ha Ha Hee Hee!”-to people expressing surprise if you are a Black person who can express yourself in English fluently-“Well, you don’t sound Black”-To commiserating with Black Muslims who had been rejected by their South Asian or Arab fiance’s family because they were Black-“What would the children look like? What would the community think?”-To comforting Black Muslim kids who’ve moved to the more affluent suburbs and have difficulty making friends with their Arab and South Asian counterparts…sometimes even being shouted at by these children’s parents-To volunteering to collect and distribute halal meat for Eid and being told that it shouldn’t go to those “Somalis“-To watching a Muslim woman call Black Muslims in Africa “savages” during an interreligious dialogue and having to be the only one in a room of over ten people willing to confront her. Being Black among the “established” Muslims of Ottawa can feel like death by a million papercuts, which is why I prefer to spend my time in the ghetto among poorer Muslims. I’m scared of being hurt. Muslims my age and younger are learning to overcome these prejudices but people my age and younger don’t make up much of our community’s leadership. The newly formed Muslim Coordinating Council did put in its constitution that a least one member of their board had to be of African descent, demonstrating how much of an issue Black exclusion from leadership in Ottawa’s Anglophone Muslim communities really has been.

I then have to cope with the rampant Islamophobia within Ottawa’s Black communities. Some of this comes from ignorance, some of it comes from actually lived experiences of oppression by Muslims, some of it comes from Christian religious zeal, some of it comes from a bizarre anti-immigrant sentiment that exists particularly among Blacks who are the descendents of slaves and often also gets directed towards any immigrants including non-Muslim Black immigrants.

The ignorance factor is the easiest to resolve. Again, regular interaction between non-Muslim Blacks and Muslims of whatever race helps. This depends on both communities as the anti-Black racism in Muslim communities can prevent this interaction as much as the Islamophobia of Black communities. I would like to see interreligious dialogue groups exclusively for Blacks of all faiths. This is actually pretty important as I haven’t seen many Blacks, either Muslim or non-Muslim, actively involved in Ottawa’s interreligous dialogue groups. Why I say these groups should be exclusive to Blacks, at least to start, is to address the “actual lived experiences of oppression” of Blacks by Muslims, and vice versa, and the ignorance and resentment that Blacks have about each other is probably best aired amongst Blacks. These dialogue groups should be focused on conflict resolution, reconciliation and finding common causes for action and solidarity…and should prioritize representation from people under the age of 40 as both Black and Muslim communities are both younger than the mainstream Canadian community and I feel that younger Blacks and Muslims are more open-minded than our elders…call me ageist but this has been my experience. I’ve met people who I know will never change their minds and seem to want to take any and every opportunity to make hateful statements; I don’t see the point of wasting time with them. By the same token, I’d love to see entirely South Asian interreligious dialogue groups that bring together Muslims (of all sects), Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists and Christians etc. to achieve similar objectives. I’d love to see dialogue groups between people of colour and the indigenous peoples of Canada with similar objectives. A girl can dream. But for now, I also tend to avoid the “established” Black community, because I’m scared.

Truth be told I avoid the middle to upper middle class of all communities, Muslim or non-Muslim, Black or whatever, because I am afraid of them…I am afraid of what they will say to people like me or about people like me…my early experiences of hatred as a child growing up on welfare have shaped how I interact with people and what spaces I can feel safe in.

The Islamophobia of the mainstream Canadian and American community has taken familiar forms. Daniel Luban, in his article The New Anti-Semitism, outlines the similarities between Islamophobia and the fear and hatred of members of the Jewish community. This fear and hatred usually revolves around a belief that Jews are conspiring to control the world. They are therefore dangerous and All of Them must be considered suspect. The Old anti-Semitism is still very much alive and well and I have come face to face with it on a regular basis among Muslims, Blacks, and mainstream White Canadians. Whenever I am faced with another person’s hatred for a community that I don’t belong to, I actually get more scared than if I was the one having hatred directed at me. This is because I don’t want to become complicit in their hatred by not being brave enough to confront them and I always wonder why they feel comfortable saying these things to me…why don’t they realize that their hatred horrifies me…do I come off as a bigot, someone who would sympathize with them? I feel the same way when people express homophobia to me; they think that because I am a practicing Muslim I must also hate all Gay people. Last year, I was let in on the global conspiracy of gays to convert Africans, particularly children to homosexuality, which is just one part of their grand plan to take over the world. As the details of this diabolical plan were laid out to me by a young African academic with a Master’s Degree, I had to restrain my laughter and dispute her assertions calmly and reasonably. So, it looks like some people think Jews and Gays are conspiring to control the world…

Muslims also appear to be jumping on the world domination bandwagon. Well, at least according to Islamophobes. We’ve planted Barack Obama into the Oval Office, we are using the constitution and the Canadian Charter of Rights to defend our barbaric religious practices, and we are breeding like rabbits in order to populate Europe and North America with Muslims until we devour the remains of Western civilization like a swarm of locusts. I remember reading comments about the Octo-Mom, Nadya Suleman, whose father is Middle Eastern, stating that she was a Muslim (She’s not) participating in Biological Jihad against the United States. Luban rightfully compares this with Anti-Catholicism as well, something that Canada is very familiar with (It was Catholics’ fear of Protestant exclusion that made it necessary to include the public funding of Catholic schools in Canada’s first constitution, in the British North America Act). The current Pope has also gone on the record stating his fear of the high Muslim birth rate and the need for Christian Europeans to get with the program and start making more babies.

After the arrests in Project Samossa, so many media reports emphasized how “normal” the suspects were. The point that they were trying to get across was that a terrorist could be anyone…well at least anyone Muslim. I feared that maybe my colleagues and acquaintances would come to suspect me. “Well, she seems fine now, but who knows what she’s really plotting? You never can tell with these people.”

How do you prove that you don’t want to take over the world? Particularly, if you are someone like me, who is quite opinionated and does want to make change? How do I prove that I am a loyal Canadian citizen if I openly criticize our government and its policies? Does wanting to hold your government accountable to your ideal of human rights and social justice make you less of a patriot? And what is patriotism anyway? As the daughter of a deportee (See Note below), who has also seen friends and neighbours deported after spending years in this country, I know that Canadian identity is a pretty precarious thing. I am angry that people I know and love have been ripped from their families, often arbitrarily, never to be able to return. Does being angry mean I am not a Good Canadian? Will I someday have to sign a special loyalty oath? Because I am a Muslim, and therefore suspect will I someday be interned like Japanese Americans and Canadians were during World War II?

People might think I’m overreacting. I don’t think I am. Because it’s been nine years since 9/11 but it feels like only yesterday. Because the fears I have carried with me since childhood are still all too real. Because my fears aren’t based on ignorance but experience. Because our Prime Minister is talking about Russian airplanes invading Canada although the Cold War’s been over for 20 years. Because we are still at war and there seems to be no end in sight.

So, I’ve always been hated and I’ve always been afraid but I guess I still haven’t gotten used to it.

But I know that my creator won’t give me anything I can’t handle. And just as I am learning to overcome the deep sense of shame and worthlessness that the hatred I faced as a child growing up on welfare fostered in me, I won’t let myself be ashamed for choosing Islam as my religion. And I won’t be silent and I won’t “keep my head down” for fear of being seen as unpatriotic because I believe in democracy, and democracy can only survive if citizens hold their governments accountable. I don’t want September 11th to become a day of mourning for Canadian democracy the way it is for Chileans, who mourn the 1973 US-supported military coup that overthrew their democratically elected government. I will end my reflection with words borrowed from Chilean American writer Ariel Dorfman, whose sentiments I share:

The terrorists have wanted to single out and isolate the United States as a satanic state. The rest of the planet, including many nations and men and women who have been the object of American arrogance and intervention reject – as I categorically do – this demonization. It is enough to see the almost unanimous outpouring of grief of most of the world, the offers of help, the expressions of solidarity, the determination to claim the dead of this mass murder as our dead.

It remains to be seen if this compassion shown to the mightiest power on this planet will be reciprocated. It is still not clear if the United States – a country formed in great measure by those who have themselves escaped vast catastrophes, famines, dictatorships, persecution – it is far from certain that the men and women of this nation so full of hope and tolerance, will be able to feel that same empathy towards the other outcast members of our species. We will find out in the days and years to come if the new Americans forged in pain and resurrection are ready and open and willing to participate in the arduous process of repairing our shared, our damaged humanity. Creating, all of us together, a world in which we need never again lament not one more, not even one more terrifying 11 September.

NOTE: My father’s defense lawyer when he was trying to appeal his deportation on human rights grounds was Lawrence Greenspon, the same lawyer who defended  Momin Khawaja. I guess Greenspon likes a challenge. I would like to think that Laurence Greenspon is the only connection I have to Khawaja…well that and a love for hip hop. If I ever had a chance to meet Khawaja I would take him to task on his use of the word nigga seeing as he constantly referred to his friends as his niggas and they referred to him as their nigga. Is there a word yet for Middle Class South Asian kids who act like they are Black Americans from the ‘hood, claiming everything but the burden of Blackness and Poverty? Keep me posted.

Further Reading:

Tracking Attacks on Muslims This Summer by Seth Freed Wessler (article available online)

New York Taxi Workers Alliance: Ahmed Sharif Family Support Fund Info

Ground Zero’s Slave Graves by Jamilah King (article available online)

When will those brave critics of Islam decry this mob hate? by Pankaj Mishra (article available online)

Muslim Presence Website (on bilingual Muslim Canadian organization promoting peace and community engagement among Muslims in Ottawa and Montreal)

Welfare Fraud, Necessity, and Moral Judgement by E. Kimel (Rutgers Journal of Law and Public Policy article about the Kimberly Rogers case)

The New Anti-Semiticism by Daniel Luban (article available online)

Globalizing the Culture Wars: U.S. Conservatives, African Churches, and Homophobia, a new report by the Rev. Kapya Kaoma (report available online)

Manzanar Muslim Pilgrimage (video available online about a visit by American Muslims on a former WWII Japanese American Internment Camp)

The last September 11th by Ariel Dorfman (article available online)

Nigs R Us or How Blackfolk Became Fetish Objects by Greg Tate (excerpt available online)

Being Black, Being Muslim: Intersections and Contradictions

Posted in Being Black Being Muslim, Blacks and Islam, The Woyingi Blogger by the woyingi blogger on July 21, 2010

Being Black and Being Muslim is a double-bind. You have to face the Islamophobia of the general public, but particularly other Blacks, who seem to perceive Islam as an inauthentically Black religious option. Some of this comes from Islamophobia that is deeply rooted in the various forms of Christianity Blacks adhere to, but some of it comes from a dislike of Islam because of its associations with the Trans Atlantic, Trans Saharan, and Indian Ocean slave trades. As understanding of the history of slavery in Africa by both Black Muslims and Black non-Muslims is sadly biased, inadequate and ill-informed, it is hard to engage Black people on this topic constructively.

You then have to face the anti-Black racism of Muslims themselves. I have to admit that since becoming a Muslim there are times when I have felt that I have been transported to the America of the 1950s and accidently crossed the Mason-Dixon Line. All this said the reality of how all these communities interact with each other in a city like Ottawa cannot be understood by simply saying there is racism. Black Muslims and other Muslim communities attend mosques together, study together, and intermarry at a striking rate, particularly among the younger generations (although it is more common to see Arab and South Asian Muslim women marry Black Muslim men than Black Muslim women marrying into Arab and South Asian Muslim communities. But this is true for all communities; women always seem to have more courage in crossing the colour line than men do.) I myself am very close to Arab, Afghan, Iranian, and various South Asian and South East Asian Muslim community members. I don’t face racism from these people although I am often told and warned about the racism that does exist in their respective communities.

Here in Ottawa, there are various groups that members of the Muslim communities are involved in whose intent is interreligious dialogue. Unfortunately, most of the Christian denominations involved are Anglophone and “Mainline”, meaning that there are not many Black Christians involved as Black Christians often are involved in non-Mainline denominations or, if Roman Catholic are Francophones. So, much of the interreligious dialogue that I feel needs to be happening between Black Christians and Muslims isn’t happening. Blacks belong to probably almost every incarnation of Christianity from Ethiopian Orthodox, to Roman Catholic, to Baptist, to Reformed Calvinist, to Seventh Day Adventist, to Jehovah’s Witness, as well as an amazing array of Pentecostal, Evangelical and independent Churches. Unfortunately, this poses a serious problem for interreligious dialogue, as there is as much need to encourage dialogue and understanding across these Christian denominations as there is to encourage dialogue and understanding between these Christian denominations and other religious communities. I believe that the situation is probably better in the US, at least between Black Muslims and Black Christians but I am not sure and need to explore this more.

There is also the added challenge of recognizing and respecting indigenous African religious traditions. This is something that both Black Muslims and Black Christians need to work on. I consider myself lucky to actually know something about the indigenous religious traditions of my father’s ethnic group, the Ijaw, including their pantheon of deities, such as the Supreme Creative Being, Woyingi, after whom this blog is named. Again, having a blog focused on my Black and African identity as opposed to simply my Muslim identity opens up the possibility of exploring all the religious traditions of Black peoples, including those that do not fall under the Abrahamic Tradition (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam).

Black communities in Ottawa strike me as incredibly insular, sometimes not even taking the time to explore the culture, history, and challenges of other Christian Black communities. An advantage of being of mixed race and not raised in one particular Black community (ie Jamaican, Somali, Haitian, Congolese, Nigerian-Yoruba, etc..) is that I feel free to learn about them all and see all of their experiences as part and parcel of my own experience as a Black Canadian.

There are Muslim communities all over the world and one of the few benefits of being a minority religion in North America is that Muslims emigrating from such diverse parts of the world are forced, so to speak, to worship together. If I wasn’t a Muslim, I probably would not be able to move so easily through such a variety of ethno-culturally diverse communities as I do in Ottawa. Again, I feel that being a convert Muslim is what helps me, as I was not raised with any preconceived notions about Muslims from particular countries, ethnicities, religious sects or class backgrounds as many born Muslims are.

I feel grateful for being both Black and Muslim because both identities connect me to such diverse communities whose histories are often inaccessible, even to their own community members, and are understudied and deeply misunderstood. There is so much wisdom to be gained from exploring the Black experience in the world as there is in exploring the Muslim experience; however, the bigotry that exists in both communities limits our ability to truly harness this wisdom for our benefit.

Further Reading:

Black Crescent: The Experience and Legacy of African Muslims in the Americas by Michael Gomez

Being Muslim and Trying to Connect to My Nigerian Heritage: No Easy Task

I became Muslim a couple of years before I found my Nigerian father. I am grateful to members of the Nigerian community here in Ottawa for making it possible for me to reconnect with him. However, during those years of searching, I discovered that being Muslim and trying to connect with the Nigerian diaspora is no easy task.

Religious conflicts have been a constant in Nigeria’s history. Most Nigerians in diaspora are not Muslims but Christians. Many Nigerian Muslims have actually converted to Christianity while in diaspora. Islam is generally concentrated within certain ethnic communities in Nigeria, such as the Hausa. But the majority of Nigerians in diaspora are either Igbos or Yorubas. Southern Nigerians, who are predominantly Christian, are more highly educated than Northern Nigerians which has led to a great deal of class resentment. Because corruption and nepotism in Nigeria is widespread many educated Nigerians leave and settle abroad, often doing quite well for themselves.

Often when I attend Nigerian community functions or just end up somewhere where there is a lot of Nigerians, I get asked about my conversion to Islam. Almost all of the time, the conversation ends up leading to my interlocutor trying to get me to accept Jesus Christ as my Lord and Saviour and abandon the “demonic” religion that has destroyed Nigeria. I politely refuse. I know many Muslims reading this will think: “How Islamophobic of those Nigerians to do that to you sister!” Well, the truth is, I get where they are coming from. I don’t think Islam has “ruined” Nigeria (Oh dear, now some Nigerian is going to write me a comment elucidating in great detail about just how Islam has ruined Nigeria…I’ve totally given them an opening.) However, I do believe that Islam has been used as a tool to manipulate people into committing acts of aggression against non-Muslim communities. It’s far more convenient for the Muslim religious and political leadership (remember the North of Nigeria is a caliphate) to distract their people from challenging their corruption and bad governance by blaming Christians for why they have no jobs and their region is so underdevelopped. If it wasn’t Islam being used to do this it would have been something else, like ethnicity or language. This is an old story.

Interreligious dialogue between Muslims and Nigerian Christians in diaspora would be really useful but unfortunately, most Muslims involved in this work really just want to talk to White Christians (I’m discussing the Canadian context, things might be different in the US…hopefully). Also, often it is only between such Christian denominations as Roman Catholic, United or Anglican. Pentecostals and other evangelicals are, it almost seems, purposely avoided. However, it’s these denominations that Nigerians and many other Africans often belong to. Also, if there is to be real interreligious dialogue between Muslims and African Christians, Muslims are going to have to leave off this whole triumphalist approach many of us seem to take when discussing our history. We often describe Islam’s spread from the point of view of the conquerors, not the conquered. That’s pretty imperialist. Yes, I said it…Imperialist! Certain Muslim communities have a history of imperialism and seem almost “put out” that the rest of the world refuses to recognize that they are the supreme rulers of the universe. To these Muslims I say: Get Over Yourselves!

Historically speaking, Muslims have not always been the “underdog”, sometimes we were the oppressors. This history has created a legacy of resentment and distrust between Muslims and many other communities. If we hope for reconciliation we need to get off our high camels. We need to be willing to look at our history and current politics as frankly as we demand that White Westerners look at their history and current politics. We will have to learn to speak about the slave trade carried out by Muslims in Africa frankly. We will have to learn to talk about the destruction of indigeneous African religions in the name of Islam frankly. Muslims always emphasize our respect for Christianity and Judaism but those aren’t the only two religions in the world!!! We will have to develop strategies for reconciliation, particularly if we are having a dialogue with people who have actually directly experienced violence in the name of Islam.

Sadly, I don’t know how many Muslims are ready to do this. I find that whatever religious violence happens in Black Africa is brushed off by Muslims who aren’t African as just a sign that Africans are barbaric animals and need to be taught Islam properly by their ethnic superiours. Thanks for the Racism! You are of course totally ignoring the brutal history of violence committed against Jewish, Christian, Hindu, Sikh, Bahai and other non-Muslim communities by Arab, South Asian, Turkish, Malay, and Persian Muslims. When you actually look at that history it’s pretty clear that we Africans don’t have a monopoly on barbarism. So put that myth to rest right now people!

Nigerian Christians, as well as other African Christians need to learn too that Muslims don’t have a monopoly on barbarism either. I understand that for many Africans Christianity has represented many positive things like the abolition of the slave trade, education, respect for human dignity, and democracy. But that hasn’t been true throughout the history or even present practice of Christianity either in Africa or in the world. It’s all about context. Most violence and oppression happens because people want something the other has: land, food, money, natural resources, women, livestock, access to the sea or a waterway, etc. People will use whatever reason to justify their right to take this stuff from others…religion (ie: Sunni Islam in Afghanistan during the attacks against the Shia Hazara, Christianity during the conquest of the Americas, Protestants versus Roman Catholics in Northern Ireland, Hinduism during the Gujarat Riots), ethnicity, language, level of development, political system (ie: Bush’s “Democracy”).

Attacking Islam as inherently evil isn’t going to help there be reconciliation. Muslims aren’t going anywhere. We are all going to have to learn how to live together on this planet and Muslim and Christian Nigerians are going to have to learn how to live together in Nigeria without one community claiming supremacy over the other or desiring to erase the other’s existence. I’m committed to seeing this reconciliation happen. Are you?

Commentary: Barack Obama is NOT a House Negro

Originally written in November 2008

“Back during slavery, when Black people like me talked to the slaves, they didn’t kill ’em, they sent some old house Negro along behind him to undo what he said. You have to read the history of slavery to understand this.

There were two kinds of Negroes. There was that old house Negro and the field Negro. And the house Negro always looked out for the master. When the field Negro got too much out of line, he held them back in check. He put ’em back on the plantation.

The house Negro could afford to do that because he lived better than the field Negro. He ate better, he dressed better, and lived in a better house. He lived right next to his master-in the attic or the basement. He ate the same food as the master ate and wore his same clothes. And he could talk just like the master-good diction. And he loved his master more than his master loved himself. That’s why he didn’t want his master hurt.” (From the speech “The house negro and the field negro” by Malcolm X)

Malcolm X

Malcolm X

I knew this was going to happen.

I knew that sooner or later some fool would call Barack Obama a house negro.

It was only a matter of time.

Unfortunately, it had to be a member of al-Qaida, and House Negro in Arabic translates as abeed al bayt, meaning house slave. Given that slave (abd) is a racist epiphet used against Black people in the Arab world the insult was compounded.

Thanks Al Zawahiri for further worsening African Americans’ perceptions of Arab Muslims…as if the whole history of the Arab slave trade in Africa, the war in Southern Sudan, and now Darfur wasn’t enough.

And of course now I, a Black Muslim woman, am going to have to explain to all my non-Muslim Black friends just what the hell he is on about.

Al Zawahiri is a big fan of Malcolm X. Malcolm X’s picture is supposedly hanging in the backdrop of this video along with a picture of Barack Obama praying at the Wailing Wall sporting a yarmulke. And we all know that Malcolm X liked to call Black people who he felt got along too well with white folks “house negroes”. So now, Al Zawahiri has been quoted as saying in reference to Barack Obama, Condoleeza Rice and Colin Powell: “It is true about you and people like you … what Malcolm X said about the house Negroes.” The tape also allegedly includes a recording of Malcolm X’s speech “The house negro and the field negro” delivered in Selma, Alabama in February 1965.” where he discusses his contempt for the “house negro.”

I first became concerned about the popularity among Muslims, particularly Muslims who aren’t of African descent, of the word “house negro” to refer to Muslims whose views of Islam they didn’t agree with.

I remember reading an article by British Muslim journalist and editor of Q-News Fareena Alam entitled ” A humane Muslim future” published online in opendemocracy in which she wrote: “Terrorism must be beaten, but it cannot be defeated with its own weapons – bombs, bullets, and the denial of human rights. We must not be afraid to follow the middle way, away from the extremes of literalism and, as Malcolm X would say, “house negroism”. Muslims, and all the world’s people, deserve better.”

In this article she is referring to Muslims who are political allies of the Imperialist West as products of “house negroism”. Fareena Alam is not an African American; I think she’s British Bangladeshi. I know what she was trying to say but how she said it blighted an otherwise worthy article.

There are just certain terms I believe you should not appropriate. “House Negro” is one of them.Why? Well, because to understand why Malcolm X had so much contempt for house Negroes you have to understand fully just what a house negro was in the context of American Southern Plantation society: a product of the rape of a Black female slave by a White slave owner. The house negro’s identity cannot and should not be compared to other people “selling out” their communities. To do so, is to totally show contempt for and ignorance of the traumatic legacy of slavery in the American South and the West Indies.

From The Autobiography of Malcolm X:

“Louise Little, my mother, who was born in Grenada, in the British West Indies, looked like a white woman. Her father was white. She had straight black hair, and her accent did not sound like a Negro’s. Of this white father of hers, I know nothing except her shame about it. I remember hearing her say she was glad that she had never seen him. It was, of course, because of him that I got my reddish-brown “mariny” color of skin, and my hair of the same color. I was the lightest child in our family. (Out in the world later on, in Boston and New York, I was among the millions of Negroes who were insane enough to feel that it was some kind of status symbol to be light-complexioned-that one was actually fortunate to be born thus. But, still later. I learned to hate every drop of that white rapist’s blood that is in me.)”

“House Negroes” were light-skinned and were given less physically straining labour than the “field negroes” who were often more recent imports from Africa, and who were forced to do hard labour and were more likely to receive brutal physical punishment.

In his speech “The house negro and the field negro” Malcolm asserts that he’s a “field negro”. But the truth is Brother looks a lot like a house negro. Malcolm X hated his light complexion. The house negro had a light complexion that was a direct result of his or her mixed race identity. The house negro is torn between two worlds; his or her loyalty to his or her master could very well be because they are blood relations. Malcolm X doesn’t say this but it’s understood…”You have to read the history of slavery to understand this.”

Although it is wrong to deliberately “sell out” our communities, the reality is we as Black people have the right to be individuals. We have the right to vote for who we want or pursue whatever political ideology we want and not be accused of being traitors to our race. When a Black person isn’t “left-wing” or “liberal” they are considered traitors to their race but if a White person is right-wing they are just considered a knob. Why should Black people continually be denied freedom of thought and action?
Barack Obama, as well as myself, are mixed race. We have White mothers. We are not the products of rape but of love…or at least lust. We were claimed as our mothers’ children. We were not denied. Our loyalties need not be divided unless Blacks deny us our individualities, our unique voices, the truth of our experience…and this they often do.

The truth is I have never really much admired Malcolm X. I still find him fascinating to read as a study of a conflicted mixed race man. In that way, his work has been invaluable to me. But he’s not someone I can say I look up to. He was searching, as so many of us are searching, for a place to belong, for acceptance, to come out of the fields and into the house that he could call a home.

Barack Obama

Barack Obama

When Malcolm X visited Mecca he was made a guest of the state by Prince Faysal “the absolute ruler of Arabia” as Malcolm X called him. Prince Faysal was eager for Malcolm X to learn the “true Islam”, not that of the Nation of Islam, and for him to spread this “true Islam” to his fellow Black Muslims, and hopefully, the entire United States of America.  As Malcolm X said:

“America needs to understand Islam, because this was the one religion that erases from its society the race problem. Throughout my travels in the Muslim world, I have met, talked to, and even eaten with people who in America would have been considered ‘white’-but the ‘white’ attitude was removed from their minds by the religion of Islam. I have never before seen sincere and true brotherhood practiced by all colors together, irrespective of their color.”

Unfortunately, that isn’t the experience of many Blacks within Muslim communities, particularly in North America. Even outside of the Muslim community, Blacks are experiencing racism from Arabs and other Muslims.

Quite frankly, given the extent of ethnic conflict that exists in the Muslim World between Muslims I don’t know how anyone could presume that Islam can solve the racial problems of the US if it can’t even solve the ethnic problems of the Muslim world. People living in glass houses really shouldn’t throw stones.

But Malcolm X didn’t know much about the history of either Africa or the Middle East. He might have heard very different stories if he had spoken with the Nuba of Sudan or the Afro-Shirazi of Zanzibar…but he didn’t. I understand why he was so moved by his experience coming from the racially segrated United States where for generations slave owners had denied their own children born of slave women (this was much less common, but not unheard of, in the Arab World). And let’s face it…Brother looked like an Arab (so does Barack Obama when you come to think about it).

Al Zawahiri considers Malcolm X an “honourable” Black Man because he believes that Malcolm X’s thought and actions were in line with his own. Spreading Islam across America now that is definitely Al Zawahiri’s cup of tea.

Al Zawahiri has contempt for Obama, Rice and Powell partly because they are agents of American Imperialist Foreign Policy in the Muslim World. Fair enough. But what I can’t take is that he also seems to have contempt for them because they are “uppity negroes”. If you have a problem with their politics that’s one thing but if you decide to attack them using racial slurs because you don’t like their politics it’s because you are a racist not because you are resisting American Imperialism. What Al Zawahiri is really saying is: “How Dare Black People Threaten the Muslim World…don’t they know they used to be our slaves?”

There are Arab and Muslim activists out there who are trying to resist American Imperialism and not being total racist jerks while doing it. They are also trying to fight the racism and the legacy of slavery within their communities. Al Zawahiri’s alleged statements have just made their job that much harder.

Yes I am Muslim but I am also African and I refuse to be any one’s “house negro”. Not the White Man’s or the Arab Man’s. Not the Christian’s or the Muslim’s. Not the West’s or the Anti-West’s. The continent of Africa has been devastated time and again by the hegemonic machinations of both these communities. I could just as easily make a case for reparations for slavery against Egypt, Morocco, Oman, Iraq, Saudi Arabia (remember Mecca was a major slave market), and Turkey as I could make against the United States, Canada, Britain, France, Spain, and Holland. So neither community should ever dare to demand my loyalty.

Documentary Review: The Imam and the Pastor

Posted in Blacks and Islam, Christianity in Nigeria, Countries: Nigeria, Documentaries, Islam in Nigeria by the woyingi blogger on June 3, 2009

Last year, I had a chance to see the film The Imam and the Pastor about Imam Muhammad Ashafa and Pastor James Wuye, two Nigerians, one Muslim, one Christian, who have been able to put aside their differences and come together to fight communal violence in Northern Nigeria. This film really gives me hope. It is also a great example of what real interreligious dialogue, with a vision towards reconciliation, can achieve. It was also just great seeing a documentary about Nigeria, this place I long to see, where my father lives, but which I have yet to journey to.

Imam Ashafa and Pastor James Wuye

Imam Ashafa and Pastor James Wuye

According to Imam Ashafa: ‘Religion is a candle to light the house or to burn down the house. It is an energy, and like nuclear energy, it can be used for good or destructive purposes. Our task is to see religion used for positive purposes.’

According to Pastor Wuye, ‘Nigeria is a very religious country. The conflict entrepreneurs use faith as the medium to inspire violence. We’re using faith to de-programme violence.’

I really recommend seeing the film. It premiered at the United Nations in New York and was screened at the House of Commons in the UK.

The following in an excerpt from an interview with Pastor Wuye and Imam Ashafa by Africa Today:

I put it to Pastor James that there are those – and there is an extensive list – who do not believe that after vowing to kill each other and confronting each other murderously for a long time, all is now forgiven and that they have kissed and made-up. Is this a match made in heaven or a match made in Hollywood? Pastor James replies, almost shouting: “This is your journalist instinct running wild,” but he admits there are ghosts to be exorcise. “I know some people would find the documentary too good to be true. But I truly believe that this is a marriage. From time-to-time we’ll disagree on things, however, I love this guy and we’ll never get a divorce,” stressing: “Imam and I are in this together, to promote co-operation for the long term in Nigeria and wherever we are called upon.” “I am no quitter. What our story proves is that communication is best,” he adds.
Ashafa told E K’ABO about how they faced opposition from their respective religious groups when they first came together to promote their inter-faith initiatives and local reconciliation in their communities. There was strong rejection. Some incensed people branded them compromising traitors. “Sceptics mocked us and our idea. But today we have majority support in my country and we are being called upon by other countries, organisations and small communities to sort out conflicts before they get out of hand and sometimes to quench already smouldering conflicts threatening to engulf communities.

The source for the following profiles of Imam Muhammad Ashafa and Pastor James Wuye and the description of their initiative come from Ashoka.org

Pastor Wuye and Imam Ashafa believe the only way religious violence can be reduced or stopped in Nigeria is by having leaders of each faith promote religious teachings of peace and non-violence. Their organization, the Interfaith Mediation Center of the Muslim-Christian Dialogue Forum, deals with the psychology of religious violence and addresses its causes and effects. Wuye and Ashafa are influencing schools, houses of worship, and community centers to prevent violence and intervene when conflicts erupt. Their education and media outreach strategies have afforded them unprecedented, widespread support and legitimacy for their efforts to promote peaceful coexistence.

The son of an Islamic scholar from a long line of Muslim clerics dating back 13 generations, Mohammed Ashafa grew up in a conservative family that espoused Islamic socio-cultural values and held deep suspicion for all things Western and Christian. As a young man and the eldest son, he followed the family vocation and became an Imam. To promote his family tradition of Islamic custodianship, Ashafa joined a fanatical Islamic group committed to completely Islamizing the North and chasing away all non-Muslims from the region. Ashafa became the leader of this militant group and also the Secretary General of the Muslim Youth Councils. The Muslim Youth Councils incited great violence in the North, which resulted in the Christians creating their own counter organization, the Youth Christian Association of Nigeria, led by Pastor Wuye.

Born in Kaduna State, Pastor Wuye, an Assemblies of God Pastor, was the son of a soldier who served in the Biafran War. From a young age, Wuye was fascinated by battle and war games. In the 1980s and 1990s he was involved in militant Christian activities and served as Secretary General of the Kaduna State chapter of the Youth Christian Association of Nigeria, an umbrella organization for all Christian groups in Nigeria for 8 years. He recounts that his “hatred for the Muslims had no limits”. He hated seeing people being intimidated and abused, so when Muslims were blamed for inciting a violent conflict in Kaduna, he immediately volunteered to lead a reprisal attack. He lost his right arm during one of the battles against Ashafa’s militant group in Kaduna; increasing his vengeance and deep hatred for Muslims in general and Ashafa in particular.

Ashafa also experienced loss at the hands of Pastor Wuye. In one of the violent clashes between Muslim Youth Councils and Youth Christian Association of Nigeria, two cousins and Ashafa’s spiritual mentor died while fighting Pastor Wuye’s Christian group. For years, both Ashafa and Wuye vowed to avenge the deaths and injuries of their loved ones by killing each other. However, a chance meeting in 1995 brought the two clerics together and through intermediaries and months of soul searching, both leaders decided to lay down their arms and work together to end the destructive violence plaguing their country. This chance meeting and Imam’s extension of the olive branch to Wuye led to the formation of the Interfaith Mediation Center of the Muslim-Christian Dialogue Forum.

Their collective work in peace building began in 1997, and they have since managed to spread their messages of conflict-resolution to all corners of the globe. Their work has earned them numerous accolades including the Peace Activist Award of the Tanenbaum Center of Interreligious Understanding; a joint Honorary Doctorate degree in Philosophy bestowed upon them in Kolkata, India; a Heroes of Peace Award from Burundi; Search for Common Ground on Interfaith Cooperation Award USA; and the Bremen Peace Award from the Threshold Foundation on interreligious reconciliation, among others.

Imam Ashafa and Pastor Wuye have designed a strategy to both prevent religious and political violence and resolve it when it happens. Their early-warning mechanism, developed in 1996, helps communities identify inflammatory situations and provides the means to reduce tensions. For instance, Ashafa and Wuye defused potential violence surrounding the 2006 Dutch cartoon fiasco, which inflamed many communities around the world. Sensing danger, they immediately asked the heads of the Christian Associations of Nigeria to appear on radio and television to publicly condemn the negative depiction of the Prophet Mohammed in the cartoons, and asked the Chief Imams to accept the condemnation and ask for calm. Their tactic of publicly encouraging Muslim and Christian leaders to support each other and sign peace agreements has proven successful in building ties between the two communities and towards their shared goal of mitigating violence.

Another early-warning technique is the “deprogramming” of violent youth through Christian and Islamic instruction that emphasizes forgiveness and non-violence. To reverse a “theology of hate” that is often taught to children at home and in school, Ashafa and Wuye set up Peace Clubs in pre-school, primary, secondary, and tertiary institutions. The Peace Clubs have peace-building and peer-mediation components and involve class representatives who mediate conflict between classmates and teach their peers how to resolve conflicts peacefully.

Students throughout Nigeria receive religious instruction, and particularly in conflict prone states learn that one religion is superior to others. So in 1998 Ashafa and Wuye developed a curriculum entitled “The Ethical Code for Religious Instructions in Schools” which is now used in schools and by other organizations interested in promoting peace. Coupled with Peace Clubs, the curriculum is reducing religious violence in schools. To date, over 30 schools in the majority Muslim Kaduna state, and primary schools and universities in Plateau, Kano, and Bauchi states have Peace Clubs and peace curricula.

They also created “deprogramming” Youth Camps which bring together militant youths from different communities for 5 days of intensive interaction. Camp participants are involved in activities that replace demonization of those of a different faith with the humanization. These militant youth attend skill-building activities such as financial and computer literacy classes. Ashafa and Wuye have also trained youth leaders from across the country to become trainers in their communities.

In addition to their preventive work, Ashafa and Wuye also focus on peace building and resolution. Since 1997, they have been training religious leaders of both faiths on conflict mitigation and organizing peace-building workshops for community members. They organize seminars with opinion leaders and elders that encourage dialogue about differing views on politics, society, and law. There are also practical workshops that encourage good governance, legislation, budget tracking, and building bridges between communities and political and religious leaders.

Ashafa and Wuye also help communities use peace building methods that may have been forgotten or abandoned. They train women of both faiths to monitor elections and educate their communities on the electoral process. Their studies have shown a sharp decline in rigging and violence at polls where the women operate.

The pair offers trauma counselling for those who have suffered losses at the hands of religious violence and trains religious and community leaders to assist those affected by violence. Ashafa and Wuye use scriptures from their two holy books to help people deal with suffering and tragedy. They also force men to deal with the ramifications of trauma; challenging African notions that men should not show emotion.

Media outreach is their main approach to spreading their work beyond the areas where they operate directly. Both clerics have television shows dedicated to preaching the tenets of their respective faiths as well as peaceful co-existence. They are featured in a documentary on conflict resolution which was showcased at the UN headquarters, at the House of Commons in the UK, and in Washington DC. This was made into a case study by the Tanenbaum Center of Interreligious Understanding.

The Center comprises a Secretariat of 14 people (7 Muslims and 7 Christians) with joint deputyships, coordinators, and program managers. Ashafa and Wuye have a rotating portfolio of responsibilities and enjoy an equitable division of labor. The sensitive nature of their work requires participation of both the Imam and Pastor in the programming the Center offers. Due to the dangerous nature of their work, they have succession plans in place for appointed deputies to assume executive leadership positions should anything debilitating happen to them.

They have set up offices in three states in Nigeria, two in the North and one in the East, and have partnerships with various religious groups in other areas. To ensure widespread impact, Wuye and Ashafa set up committees and advisory councils made up of religious and community leaders to monitor peace-building efforts and provide feedback, using a hotline to report religious violence nationwide. At least two people (1 Muslim and 1 Christian) from each of Nigeria’s 36 states are trained in conflict resolution (with more staff in conflict-prone states) and stay in close communication with the Center’s headquarters in Kaduna state. Their work has also spread beyond Nigeria to Northern Ghana, Burundi and Kenya. Their Center is sustained through support from international donor and religious organizations, and local and regional governments in Nigeria.

Ashafa and Wuye want to bring peace to all nations plagued by religious violence. They have assisted organizations in Northern Ireland, Rwanda, and Native American communities in the United States. They also work with Muslim and Christian entities in conflict areas outside of Nigeria. They have partnered in Sudan with the New Sudan Islamic Council and the New Sudan Church Council and in Kenya with the Kenyan Supreme Council of Islamic Affairs and the Kenyan Council of Churches. Their goal is to work with organizations in the Niger Delta region, Middle East peace groups, and are building an office with the African Union staffed with Muslim and Christian practitioners.

Their next steps include the construction of an Interfaith Peace Village, with land donated by the Kaduna state government. They are planning to host a summit on peace and religious harmony which will convene religious leaders and peace practitioners from across Africa. Because they believe peace building without development is ineffective, they have organized Muslim and Christian women rice farmers to work together as an effective peace building and income generation scheme.