Thus We have made you a middle nation that you may be witnesses over humankind, and the messenger is a witness over you. (Surah Baqarah, 2:143)
Recent video footage of two black men being killed by law enforcement has revived a national conversation relating to police brutality and extra-judicial executions in America. The issue of unjustifiable and excess force against African Americans is not a new phenomenon. Smart phone cameras and citizen journalism via social media have just given greater and more graphic access to what African American and Latino American communities have lived in America for generations.
Law enforcement with anti-black tendencies does not know the religion affiliations of those whom they target during street patrols. The blackness of the victims was enough. Hence Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, who were Christians, were gunned down by Baton Rouge police and Falcon Heights police, whereas Abdi Mohamed, a 19 year old Somali Muslim American, was shot earlier this year by the Salt City police for holding a broomstick. Ahmadou Diallo and Mohamed Bah, Muslims from Guinean origin, were also killed by the New York police under controversial circumstances. These victims’ blackness was seen as threatening which caused aggressive responses—not their creeds.
Thus the mandate to stand for justice against police brutality and extra-judicial executions against African Americans is more than just an issue of spirituality. The issue has directly impacted American Muslims given that a large percentage of American Muslims are Black.
#BlackLivesMatter, a hashtag which started in response to the murder of Trayvon Martin in Florida, began trending four years ago to bring attention to the problem of extra-judicial killings of black people in which police and non-black shooters rarely get punished for their crimes. The hashtag in effect was meant to convey that Black lives should matter equally as White lives in America as it relates to law enforcement and the criminal justice system. Unfortunately, the hashtag is far from the present reality as Minnesota’s governor recently stated that had Castile been a white man, he would not have been shot by the Falcon Heights police.
There is a difference, however, between #BlackLivesMatter as a mantra and the non-profit organization #BlackLivesMatter. One can be concerned about Black lives and be a non-Black person who centers the importance of Black lives and Black leadership within the police accountability movement without agreeing with all of the platform and tactics of the non-profit organization which is seen as a movement. There is no one organization or set of strategies that has a monopoly on addressing Black suffering within the African American community.
The history of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960’s is highly instructive in this regard. When Malcolm X was the national spokesman of the Nation of Islam (NOI), it was the NOI’s position to not be involved in marches unless they led it in extremely rare occasions based upon their discipline. After leaving the NOI, Malcolm X was still not in favor of marches and advanced the idea of armed self-defense and policing the police, a tactic that the Black Panthers later deployed in open carry monitoring of the police. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was a strong advocate of marching and was against open carrying monitoring of the police. The Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) under Stokely Carmichael aka Kwame Ture had certain strategies and tactics while the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) and the NAACP had other strategies. Each of these organizations had their own character and strategies in addressing black suffering which included challenging police brutality.
As a spiritual descendent of the NOI, Malcolm X and Muhammad Ali who follows traditional Islam, I agree with #BlackLivesMatter as a mantra but not all of its stances and tactics. I believe in interrupting injustice within Prophetic parameters. Scrupulousness (al-Wara’) is from the excellence of Prophetic character and is to be applied to the etiquettes of enjoining good and forbidding evil.
Good and evil are not equal, so repel [what is bad] with what is more excellent. (Surah Fussilat 41:34)
Shouting down politicians and grabbing microphones to be allowed to speak at the threat of shutting down events simply is not from Prophetic character. Fir’awn (Pharoah) who symbolizes the biggest oppressor in religious scriptures was not approached in this manner by Musa and Harun (peace be upon them) per the command of Allah (Mighty & Sublime). Be it in Makkah in which the Sahabah were extremely oppressed, to al-Madinah in which Muslims had political authority, Prophet Muhammad (prayers and peace be upon him & his family) did not shout down political adversaries, including those responsible for torturing and killing his Sahabah.
As marching has its place, though the state of police brutality and mass incarceration of African Americans has gotten worse in the past 50 years which includes countless marches and protests, the common good in immediate circumstances must always be factored in. There is nothing wrong with questioning the wisdom of impromptu blocking off major roads and highways which impeded quick access for ambulances, fire fighters and even police officers for saving the lives of persons who are or are not marching. Shutting things down through civil disobedience has a time and place but not at the expense of first responders having the ability to reach the elderly or the injured who need urgent assistance.
There is nothing blameworthy with protesting and marching, including with #BlackLivesMatter leaders. I have marched with them myself in the past as well as other organizations including the NAACP, Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network (NAN) and others. There is nothing wrong, however, with not adopting all of BLM’s methods and all of its platform positions. As a Black man, I do not see any one way of being Black nor do I see only one way for non-Blacks to be allies in the struggle against Black suffering. Non-Black Muslims can march or not march, join boycotts, call congressmen to demand congressional hearings and stronger accountability for police brutality, and join forums regarding policing on the local level. What is paramount is that the engagement be done based upon Prophetic parameters, not blameworthy standard of the ends justifying the means which runs counter to the Qur’an and the Prophetic Sunnah.