Tethered

6

The tragic story of a young man’s end has sparked a nuance of big questions in our roles as Muslim social activists.

 “Trayvon Martin was an unarmed, 17-year-old who was killed by a neighborhood watch member as he walked to his father’s home in a gated community.” – Huffington Post, Canada (March, 2012)

He never really stood a chance, did he?

He walks into a room and the preconceived notions pour seamlessly into your mind. Before he’s even had a chance to utter a word, you’ve pinned him as a rebel of sorts. You conclude that he has motives and intentions that are intensely opaque. Startlingly enough, you even find him suspicious. His eyes plead for an emotional appeal, “For what crime did I commit?” You need not even respond for you’ve already branded him an outsider. And, your body language says more about the thoughts stirring inside your head then perhaps all of the words of the English language strung together. His “fatal flaw”? An answer in the simplest of forms states, it’s the colour of his skin.

Last week, I had the pleasure of joining a friend for dinner and amidst the polite dinner conversation arose the most riveting discussion. Between bits, she mustered the question, “As a black youth in North America, how are you coping with the Trayvon Martin tragedy?” I wanted to tell her everything. I wanted to force the words from my very core. To say that I, like Trayvon, am tethered to my race. That, regardless of whether it’s right or wrong, it anchors me and allows people a point of reference for which they form judgments concerning me. Immovable and fixated, my race is something of divine decree, and it is the disconcerting actions and words of others that ravage my spirits. “I’m devastated”, were the only words I could seemingly gather. I was drowning in anguish and was grasping for the straws of proclamation. I looked at my reflection in the spoon nestled beside my plate; the tone of his skin was very much like my own. The wounds were still fresh and they subjugated me to replay the image of a young man, Trayvon, having to have had his life end in such a tragic fashion.

As Muslims, our experiences of being discriminated against very much parallel with that of the racial and cultural prejudices being faced by many segmented populations. Often times we are treated in an ill-fitted fashion simple because of the hijabs wrapped around heads or the kufis our brothers or fathers choose to don. We become characters in news stories of wreaking havoc for having merely prayed in a public setting. Our identities have been wrongfully stigmatized and yes, we too must walk into a room as all eyes pierce us with thoughts of pre-judgment and pity. We catch deplorable words in our teeth like bullets wrongly shot from mouths.

I went home that evening in blistering tears. My heart ached for his parents, family, and friends. I wept for humanity and the horror of the flagrant and illusionary prejudices that were still running rampant. Requiring solace, I turned in search of ayahs in the Qur’an that could cool my ailing heart. I read the words and allowed them to soak in,

“And of His signs is the creation of the heavens and the earth and the diversity of your languages and your colors. Indeed in that are signs for those of knowledge.” [Surat Ar-Rum: 22]

Frantic for avenues of action, I searched for information on rallies, authentic articles, or vigils in my locale. I later discovered that each was few and far between. My heart sunk, “Where are the Muslims?” Yes, where are the Muslims who advocate for the weak? Where are the Muslims who stand for the basic human rights of others? Where are the Believers whom Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala addresses in Surah  An-Nisa: 135: “O you who have believed, be persistently standing firm in justice”?

A faint whisper fills the void of what should be a collective outcry. This is a call for action and a sharing of somber sentiments for this enormous tragedy.

Professor A.J. Toynbee, wrote a telling passage in 1948, “The extinction of race consciousness as between Muslims is one of the outstanding achievements of Islam, and in the contemporary world there is, as it happens, a crying need for the propagation of this Islamic virtue.”

I strive to rise from the ashes of wrongly painted labels and stigma-induced caricatures and to speak on behalf of so many who have lost their voices by no choice of their own. I choose to do so, not only because I too am tethered to my race, but also because I am a Muslim and it’s my duty to do so.

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