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Muslim Children, Racism and the Black Lives Matter Movement

I live in post EU referendum Britain. You don’t need me to tell you that it’s not pretty. Closet racists have come out of the woodwork and racists that were already crawling nastily all over the woodwork anyway, feel that they have been given a free pass to display their ugly thoughts and behaviour. And let’s not forget the Trump across the pond.

Since Brexit my social media timelines are heavily dominated by story after story of hate crimes. I began to worry about the future of our young children living here in the west. I wondered how they would cope with the rise of Islamophobia. With increasingly more difficult times that may lie ahead. Would they begin to compromise their faith? To ‘fit in,’ or to be ‘accepted.’ Would their deen be strong enough to withstand the tide of tests? Would they begin to believe about themselves what the ignorant ones believe about them? Or disenfranchised, and having lost connection with true Islamic principles, would they fall prey to those recruiting for groups such as ISIS? Scary thoughts. All of them.

Now I’m no pessimist. I’ve always believed that if one carries on with a positive outlook, everything falls into place. Positivity breeds positivity and love and peace prevail. But I realised more strongly than ever before, that instilling a firm understanding of Islam and an unwavering love of our faith in our children is of paramount importance. We must ensure their faith can withstand the times in which they will be moving towards adulthood. We have to, with vigour and passion, teach them and show them (by example) our beautiful, peaceful religion. Complacency is not going to cut it in these times. Unless we build that solid base, we cannot be sure that they will find the right path.

So while I was fretting over this, the shocking events of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile being shot by police in the USA occurred, and I really felt like we had gone back in time by a few hundred years. These incidents are not, of course, the first of their kind. But I pray they are the last. I can’t grasp the fact that we are 2016 and so many people are racist, and the Black Lives Matter movement even has to exist: it seems that it is beyond belief. But it really isn’t. Why? Because structural racism has been a feature of the social, economic and political systems in which we all exist.

If you think about it; racism is learnt; prejudice is taught; stereotypes are made; unconscious bias stems from somewhere.

Why aren’t your children’s favourite book and movie characters black? Because there aren’t any to pick favourites from. There aren’t enough heroes and protagonists in books and movies that are black. Nobody chooses the side-kick as the object of their admiration. The world is always being saved (from unambiguously ethnic people) by white characters. And we’re not constantly being sold flash cars, cosmetics and perfumes by dashingly handsome black people. I mean, just imagine Santa Clause was black. I think a world in which Santa was black would be a less racist world. Because the human mind works that way.

It is our duty as Muslims to stand against injustice and bigotry, and to raise our kids to see all equally. Every little helps and every individual, and every community has to be part of the change. Shamefully, I must highlight here that the Muslim community still struggles with issues of race although Islam clearly stamped out racism over 1400 years ago. Here are some small but meaningful things we should all be able to do to teach our children empathy and respect for all:

Talk to your children

Teach your children what Islam says about racism. For example:

The Prophet Muhammad said: {O people! Your God is one and your forefather (Adam) is one. An Arab is not better than a non-Arab and a non-Arab is not better than an Arab, and a red (i.e. white tinged with red) person is not better than a black person and a black person is not better than a red person, except in piety.}

Discuss the Black Lives Matter movement with children who are old enough, and explain why people are upset about what happened.

Buy books with diverse characters

Seek out books with strong black characters for your children. Ask in libraries and bookshops if you can’t see any on display. Also, encourage your children to develop black characters in their own writing and/or colouring.

Correct stereotypes

If you have family or friends who have negative stereotypical views of any race, please correct them. Lovingly and gently dispel their misconceptions. Ensure that their views don’t rub off on your kids.

Be there for others

If you know somebody who has been a victim of racism, be there for them. If you witness an incident, step in if it is safe. Talk to the victim rather than the abuser.

Make friends

If your children only experience you being friends with people who are racially the same as you, it will send them the message that others are not good enough, or are so different from us that we cannot relate to them. This is not true. Help your children to see common grounds between themselves and others.

Marry interracially

Yes! What better way to ensure your children don’t grow up racist than giving them grandparents, aunties, uncles and cousins from all backgrounds.

Make some noise

Campaign, rally and speak out against racism. Do whatever you can. Write to media outlets if you think they are propagating a negative stereotype. Write to publishers and producers calling for more diversity in their productions.

Together, we will make tomorrow’s world better than today’s In sha Allah.

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