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Unapologetically Black, Muslim and Female
Opportunity. Oxford Dictionary defines this as word dually as a time or set of circumstances that makes it possible to do something and a chance for employment or promotion. It’s funny that an Anglicized embodies a global concept, even more ironic that the concept of opportunity can be alluded to a pyramid with glass ceilings at each level. There are so many ways I could write this article.
Do I go down the route of how after centuries of injustice, prejudice and racism; we are still triumphant and a testament to our ancestors. I could write about the microaggressions that macromanage how I compote myself because of stereotypes ascribed to me.
I could express how I feel like I’m lost in the margins of identity. Though I possess the deepest hue of melanin in my skin, as a Muslim I’m often excluded from the discussions related to black people. Yet I still can say I experienced institutionalised racism in all aspects of my life, how people have misconceptions as a direct ramification of institutionalise racism. That I have to always be mindful of how I express myself before I’m labelled as “aggressive” or labelled as possessing an “attitutude”.
Though I’m a Muslim, if I’m to walk down the street and see a sister who is Arab or Asian and I offer “Assalaamu alaikum [Peace and blessings be upon you]” an obligation of my religion, I’m met with silence. An aversion of gaze. Continue walking their path as if I don’t exist. I could state that I’m constantly asked when I converted to the religion or am I Somali; because it’s almost impossible to fathom that I could come from a family where four generations have made pilgrimage to Mecca, alhamdulillah. Because it’s almost impossible to fathom that Islam didn’t touch the hearts of Sub-Saharan Africa Pre-Colonialism.
I could continue with an ode to all the negativity myself and my fellow black Muslim sisters experience, but I won’t. Opportunity isn’t given to you. As Brother Malcolm X say, you’ve got to take it. With hard work, dedication and faith in the strength of Allah’s plan. I’ll explain this through ayats from The Quran.
So be patient. The promise of Allah is true [30:60]
The hardest part of the journey: Sabr. Patience is pretty hard to encourage one to be if you have invested a lot of time and money in your venture. Patience can be fleeting in the heat of agitation. But patience is ultimately the key. It will happen, if it’s for you and the signs will be there – with your interactions with people in your chosen field. By the collaborative work and recognition from peers and individuals who inspire you. In the time that you’re waiting for your breakthrough moment, incorporate productive habits to help you reach the best of your potential. Network with like-minded individuals who will motivate you to keep going on in the times of self-doubt.
Or think you that you will enter Paradise without such (trials) as came to those who passed away before you? [2:214]
Ultimately, this life I live is a means for me to attain Paradise, God willing. That’s a goal, and in order to achieve goals I need to make actions that will aid to my attaining my goal. Let me apply this to career. Just because one embarks on a career path, they shouldn’t expect the journey to be easy – because it won’t be. There will be setbacks, ventures that may have seemed like blessing turn into a big lesson. Sacrifices that could cost you emotionally and monetarily. Sometimes when you’re absorbed in reaching the goal you allow the process to get the better of you. You need to constantly remind yourself that you have to take the rough with the smooth.
O you who have believed, persevere and endure and remain stationed and fear Allah that you may be successful [3:200]
There will be times where you really want to throw in the towel and scream khalas. There will be times where your limits would be pushed to the extremes but you must preserve and keep going. Remember the reason why you embarked on your chosen discipline and always remember that anything work having requires putting yourself in a bit of discomfort. Which leads up perfectly to the ayat that always keeps me grounded.
Allah doesn’t place a burden to a soul greater than it can bear. It gets every good that it earns and suffers every ill that it earns. [2:286]
I won’t be naïve. Racism exists. Islamaphobia exists. Misogyny exists. But then I proper deep it and Malika Bilal – broadcast journalist, co-host and digital producer of The Stream at Al-Jazeera exists. Ibtihaj Muhammad – a sabre fencer and the first Muslim American Woman to compete in The Olympic Games and win a medal whilst wearing hijab exists. So as much as it can be presumed that it is easier said than done, there is no room to allow these factors to stop you from grasping opportunity.
In stating this, I would much rather use my words to spread light and enlighten the reader about successful black Muslim sisters who I have the pleasure to personally know, love and work with in various capacities. It’s only through their diverse stories that it can be affirmed that glass ceilings are just figments of imagination disseminated by people who enforce ludicrous limitations.
“I also hope women realise that our femininity is our power and it’s our gift as human beings. We don’t have to behave like men to be successful. You can still be a woman and still be strong, still be articulate, still be successful and still be you. My hope for women is that we’re just not afraid to be ourselves.” – Sheila Na’imah Nortley
A year ago I made the acquaintance of Sheila Na’imah Nortley – an accomplished woman with a heart of gold and humility to match. A Director and Screenwriter who has won a plethora of awards in the Film industry both behind and in front of the camera; a few of her many accolades include receiving an award from critically acclaimed Director Spike Lee and receiving the Woman of The Future 2016 Award for Arts & Culture. Sheila Na’imah Nortley is a British-Ghanian Muslim wife and mother who is defying the odds and trail blazing the way.
“Be Intentional With Your Life and The Work You Do” – Fauzia Amao
I met Fauzia Amao on an impromptu dinner date with friends. It wasn’t until after we became friends that I discovered that Fauzia was a graduate tunnel engineer who has worked on the HS2, Thames Tideway Tunnel and the Silvertown Tunnel. She is passionate about inspiring the next generation of engineers and currently volunteers with Engineers Without Borders and TfL to raise the profile of the industry. Her work in the Civil and Structural Engineering industry as a British-Nigerian Muslim woman has led to her lead a number of talks and workshops, her work featured in The Times newspaper and curated in an exhibition which documented her daily working life in an industry that stereotypically wouldn’t have a space for her.
“If our music can inspire listeners to love Allah (SWT), the Prophet ﷺ, and each other, then that in itself is beautiful.” – Pearls of Islam
My adopted sisters The Pearls of Islam. There are no words that I can use to emphasise how much of a mercy they are to The Ummah [Muslim community] and mankind. Their music and creativity transcends beyond the Muslim Community. Their voices, chords of strings from Sakinah’s guitar Pearly and the beat of the D’Jembe drum omit songs of praise of Allah (SWT) and Muhammad (SAW) through their unique sound which draws inspiration from African and Caribbean music.
My words alone cannot encapsulate the magnitude of Pearls of Islam’s accomplishments, so I have included an excerpt from their website: “The Pearls are one of the pioneers amongst the Muslim Female Artists scene and have opened up the doors and encouraged other women to seek forms and outlets of creativity and spirituality. They have taken their message of love and spirituality throughout Europe and beyond including countries such as Spain, Germany, Cyprus, Holland, Switzerland, Norway and Guyana. Whether it be a small intimate crowd of 10 or a crowd of 10,000 the Pearls believe that every moment and every performance is a means of connection and love.
Their music has inspired and transcended the stage and grown out into community projects in which they are very active in trying to serve and give back to the community. In 2012 they set up the collective ‘The Rabbani Project’ which hosts and fuses together events and workshops surrounding Creativity and Spirituality. The ladies are passionate environmentalist lovers; spiritual warriors, Afro-conscious Muslims, community givers who believe that music/creativity is much more than just sound. It is through this understanding that they pray they can continue spreading love and joy through their music.”
There are so many amazing sisters in the UK alone who are doing phenomenal work – Adama Munu, Sukina Douglas and Muneera Williams of Poetic Pilgrimage, Mariama Mulamba Bah, Nimatullah Brimah, Neimo Askar, Asma Elbadawi, Halimat Shode, Sumia Jaama, Aisha-Asher Morgan. All making power moves in different disciplines. All unapologetically black and Muslim. And if you don’t believe, Google them and you will see for yourself that the only limitations that exist are those imposed on yourself. I would like to end with a quote from Muhammad Ali. I know it’s strange to quote men in an article about women, but Brother Malcolm and Brother Muhammad are the strongest men I know of and their words perfectly articulate the strength of a black woman, masha’Allah.
“Impossible is just a big word thrown around by small men who find it easier to live in the world they’ve been given than to explore the power they have to change it. Impossible is not a fact. It’s an opinion. Impossible is not a declaration. It’s a dare. Impossible is potential. Impossible is temporary. Impossible is nothing.”