A protester holds a die-in in front of a row of police officers during a peaceful protest over the death of George Floyd, at the State Capital building in downtown Columbus, Ohio, on June 1. — AFP

Muslim Americans assert solidarity with Black Lives Matter, finding unity within a diverse faith group

Since Floyd’s killing, Muslim Americans have mostly shown solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement.

Published 03 Jul, 2020 11:10am

The killing of George Floyd took place at the doorstep of Muslim America.

He was killed in front of Cup Foods, a store owned by an Arab American Muslim, whose teenage employee — also a Muslim — had earlier reported to police that Floyd tried to use a counterfeit $20 bill to buy cigarettes.

Muslim American businesses are common in lower-income areas, such as the part of Minneapolis where Floyd died after a police officer knelt on his neck. And as the writer Moustafa Bayoumi has noted, this puts stores in a precarious position — catering for the community while also duty-bound to report crime to the police, sometimes under the threat of being closed down if they don’t comply.

A woman gestures in front of police officers during a protest against the death in Minneapolis police custody of George Floyd, in Los Angeles, California. — Reuters
A woman gestures in front of police officers during a protest against the death in Minneapolis police custody of George Floyd, in Los Angeles, California. — Reuters

As a Muslim scholar of Islam who has written about the role of Muslims in the making of the United States, I recognise that the circumstances of Floyd’s death hint at the proximity and complex relationship that different sections of America’s Muslim community have with law enforcement and with the Black Lives Matter movement.

'Too often silent'

Since Floyd’s killing, Muslim Americans have mostly shown solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement.

Mahmoud Abumayyaleh, the owner of Cup Foods, has said that the store will no longer call the police on customers. Nationally, there have been numerous statements from groups such as the Muslim Public Affairs Council, the Council on American Islamic Relations and the American Muslim Institution.

A joint announcement by over 35 national Muslim civil rights and faith groups and more than 60 regional groups noted that Black people were "often marginalised" within the broader Muslim community. It continued: "And when they fall victim to police violence, non-Black Muslims are too often silent, which leads to complicity."

There have been Muslims in America for almost 500 years. Estevanico the Moor was brought as a slave to what is now Florida in 1528 and is memorialised on the Texas African American history monument as the first African to enter Texas. At least 10% of the slaves brought from West Africa were Muslim, and the National Museum of African American History and Culture tells some of their stories as part of its collection.

But, many African Americans came to Islam later through the Nation of Islam, which wove a Black nationalist element into their faith.

Speaking up

Black Muslims played a crucial role in the US civil rights movement. Even today, quotes and images of civil rights activist Malcolm X, who converted to Sunni Islam in 1964 after leaving the Nation of Islam, remain potent in the current protests.

Meanwhile Muhammad Ali, who at one time was perhaps the most recognisable Muslim in the world, gained fame as much for his political stances as his boxing prowess. Ali led the way for other Muslim American athletes who have pushed for social change, including NBA great Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who was involved in discussions by the Olympic Project for Human Rights for Black athletes to boycott the 1968 games.

And 20 years before Colin Kaepernick, NBA player Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf refused to stand for the national anthem while playing for the Denver Nuggets because of his "Muslim conscience". Polling shows many of these protests were greeted with disdain by the majority of white America.

NBA player Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf stands with his teammates and prays during the national anthem before a basketball game. — AP/File
NBA player Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf stands with his teammates and prays during the national anthem before a basketball game. — AP/File

Today, at least 20% of Muslims in the US are Black Americans. But starting from the 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act, there has been a growth in immigrant Muslims coming to America.

While increasing overall numbers of Muslims in US, immigration has created a dividing line in the American Muslim community — between Muslims with an American heritage that stretched back generations and newer arrivals. Immigrant Muslims were often assumed by American Muslims to know more about Islam as they came from Muslim majority countries, and so they were given more authority in Muslim organisations and as Islamic leaders.

They also built mosques that served their own ethnic communities, with immigrant Muslim communities often worshiping separately from Black American Muslims.

There is also a split in the economic status of American Muslims. According to the Pew Forum, 24% of American Muslims have an annual income above US$100,000, while 40% have an income below $30,000. Many of those who are wealthy — like billionaire Shahid Khan, an immigrant from Pakistan who now owns the NFL's Jacksonville Jaguars — are from immigrant Muslim communities.

Police and protests

The intersection of race, class and national identity means that views vary on issues such as police, protests and discrimination. A 2019 survey found that 92% of Black Muslims believe there is a lot of discrimination against Black people, compared with 66% of non-Black Muslims.

Nonimmigrant Muslims are more likely to have lived out the history of the United States, including the unjust legacy of slavery. As Americans, they were also taught early on and often that the right to protest is protected under the Constitution.

Immigrant Muslims may have a very different experience with protest if they come from a country where dissent can lead to imprisonment or death. They may also be more wary of being seen as "anti-American." Immigrant Muslims expressed more pride in being American than US-born Black Muslims, in a 2017 Pew poll.

Both communities, however, share a complicated history of US law enforcement. For Black Americans, police violence dates back to slavery. Since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, police in cities like Los Angeles and New York have tried to infiltrate and surveil American Muslims.

In vowing to stop calling the police on its customers, the Muslim-owned Cup Foods in Minneapolis is standing in solidarity with the largely Black community it serves. In a similar fashion, the soul-searching that has followed Floyd's killing provides an opportunity for Muslim Americans of all backgrounds to unite and side with the oppressed, many of whom share their faith.


Header image by AFP shows a protester holding a die-in in front of a row of police officers during a peaceful protest over the death of George Floyd, at the State Capital building in downtown Columbus, Ohio, on June 1.


This article originally appeared in The Conversation and has been reproduced with permission.

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Dr Amir Hussain is Chair and Professor of Theological Studies at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, where he teaches courses on religion. His own particular speciality is the study of Islam, focusing on contemporary Muslim societies in North America.


The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (23) Closed

Uzay Yazdani
Jul 03, 2020 11:43am
Muslim American businesses are common in lower-income areas - but Muslims do not live in those neighborhoods when they go home.
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Ravi Sanku
Jul 03, 2020 11:48am
America is far more tolerant towards Muslims than Muslim countries can ever be towards non-Muslims. You can check this with Muslim-Americans if you doubt my statement.
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Satish
Jul 03, 2020 01:05pm
@Ravi Sanku, I have seen how muslim countries treat muslims from pakistan and bangladesh.. Western countries treat far better than Muslim contries themself treat their citizans and muslims from other countries.. forget about the citizanship..
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Sachin
Jul 03, 2020 02:16pm
How ironic! A community highly intolerant of people of any other faith is taking part in protests?
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Malik
Jul 03, 2020 02:22pm
Calling or not calling the police is not the question here, everyone has his responsibility to do the right thing. What happened is a culmination of events that could have been stopped but it is what it is. Change always comes after these unfortunate incidents.
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Laeeq
Jul 03, 2020 03:53pm
America is most tolerant society on the earth. Few bad apples does not represent the values of any countru. There is moore persecution of minorities in their own country than living in America.
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Chrís Dăń
Jul 03, 2020 07:20pm
@Malik, well said.
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Sairbeen plus.
Jul 03, 2020 09:26pm
No doubt there are bad incidents but rare. Like every nation has patients of mental disorders. Let there be clarity in loud & clear. All Americans are Americans, nothing more, color, caste, creed,religion, have no merits in USA, all are equal before law. The Constitution is the Supreme Law of USA.
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Truthhurts
Jul 03, 2020 09:30pm
Uighurs lives matter
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wari sai sach baat bol
Jul 03, 2020 09:32pm
@Sachin, So true!
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JustSaying
Jul 03, 2020 10:11pm
@Sachin, Excellent... Well said.
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RationalBabu
Jul 03, 2020 11:58pm
@Sachin, jumping on an opportunistic bandwagon?
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anonymouseee
Jul 04, 2020 12:54am
@Satish, Same is true about Hindus. There is no Dalit, Brahmin in USA.
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Alih Kazmi
Jul 04, 2020 01:52am
@Satish, Pakistan has a lot more religious tolerance than India.
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UFO
Jul 04, 2020 02:03am
Comments from Indians always crack me up. Look who's talking
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atta rehman
Jul 04, 2020 03:51am
@Ravi Sanku, let’s not see this Muslims/non Muslims issue but more appropriately it is minority/ majority issue
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Umesh
Jul 04, 2020 06:32am
@Uzay Yazdani, So well said.
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Tamilselvan
Jul 04, 2020 07:03am
@Sachin, most of the Muslims who protested were African American Muslims not muslims from S.Asia.
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Anonymouseee
Jul 04, 2020 11:13am
Unfortunately one rarely sees African Americans during protests in America against muslim killings around the world.
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Vijay
Jul 04, 2020 06:26pm
@Anonymouseee, because Muslims in America especially fair skinned ones despise blacks even more than the whites. Very few Muslim Americans voted for Obama in 2008 and 2012.
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Dr. Salaria, Aamir Ahmad
Jul 04, 2020 06:34pm
United we stand, divided we fall.
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Cv
Jul 04, 2020 06:57pm
Muslims may be using this moment to gain inroads within the black community where Christianity has been silent. I don’t know if this is a good strategy as the BLM movement has turned violent and faces a majority backlash.
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tariq
Jul 04, 2020 06:58pm
Don't all lives matter? Black, Brown or White. We are all humans.
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