Before assessing the data, it is important to clarify why exactly we have carried out this research. With the brutal murder of George Floyd and several other racially driven incidents occurring in the US, it has triggered a powerful movement that many of us have never been attuned to. Every single community now must look within themselves and understand two things: are they contributing to the marginalization of black people, and what are they doing to correct the injustice?
According to the UK Census (2011), over 10% of the UK Muslim population is ‘Black’. The Muslim Council of Britain’s ‘Muslims in Numbers’ (2015) report also states that the number of Muslims in the ‘Black African’ and ‘Black Other’ ethnicities are rising. With Black Muslims being a substantial, but minority, part of the UK Muslim community, the rest of the predominantly Asian and Arab communities must actively speak out against anti-blackness. This must first start by addressing the issue within our own homes and our own localised communities. This report will break down in which ways anti-black racism is present within our communities and to what extent. Unlike other articles and conversations, the Muslim Census aims to provide the evidence in the form of both quantitative and qualitative data for us to form an effective response. With 97% of people believing that the Muslim community is not doing enough about this issue, such unanimous agreement cannot be brushed aside.
This study has been motivated by a powerful hadith on the authority of Abu Sa`eed al-Khudree (may Allah be pleased with him) who said:
I heard the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) say, “Whosoever of you sees an evil, let him change it with his hand; and if he is not able to do so, then [let him change it] with his tongue; and if he is not able to do so, then with his heart — and that is the weakest of faith.”Muslim
Firstly, let us answer the question of whether or not anti-Black racism exists within the Muslim community. The headline statistic that 98% of people believe that racism exists within our data pool is enough to point towards exactly that. However, let us look closer at the data.
Of the 82% of people who have witnessed anti-black racism from their friends or family, 85% of those people heard clear anti-black stereotyping. Moreover, 60% of people have regularly heard racial slurs come from non-black Muslims. However, what is even more concerning is that 63% of people have been told by their friends and family to fear black people. With the use of the data, we want to be very clear in making the following unequivocal statement: racism exists within the UK Muslim community at a higher level than we currently acknowledge and perceive.
With that conclusive fact in mind from the results of our survey sample, we want to identify the common themes that will highlight the extent of this problem and the key areas of focus for the UK Muslim community.
“Stares and hushed comments in the Masjid”
The idea that mosques in the UK showcase anti-black discrimination is not new. In a recent report from the Black Muslim Forum (2020), where 100 black Muslims were surveyed, 49% of people faced this type of discrimination within mosques or other religious settings.
In our study, we asked people to recount what type of anti-black discrimination they have witnessed and the word ‘mosque’ was mentioned countless times. Here are a few examples:
“You hear the older generation all the time using racial slurs when black Muslims come to the mosque.“Response 227
“In my local mosque it’s usually full of Bangladeshis and some Pakistanis. On occasion we have black brothers pray there too and they get a lot of stares and hushed comments.“Response 186
“My father-in-law refuses to pray at the mosque when it’s a black imam leading the prayer. He makes comments about they are not ‘real Muslims’ just because they may follow a different madhab from us.“Response 207
There were several other similar responses and so it is important to point out the repeated reference to “that look” displayed by non-black Muslims. Another theme that sticks out is the notion that there are visible signs of “tribalism and nationalism” within UK mosques that leads to “cliques” being formed. Specifically, the accounts noted people moving away from black Muslims during congregational prayers from both male and female mosque-goers.
The most alarming statistic from our research is that almost 80% of people have never attended a khutbah or religious talk regarding racism or the presence of black people in Islam. There needs to be more work done in understanding exactly why there has been this level of educational neglect around anti-blackness within our communities. Of the 21% of people that have attended a talk or lecture on these topics, 71% of people felt that more sessions like the ones they have attended would be the best way to eradicate anti-blackness amongst the Muslim community.
“Family using the narrative of a black man to scare children”
An unfortunate theme we saw arise from the responses is a teaching to fear black people. To repeat a key call, 63% of people have been told by their friends and family to fear black people. The responses highlight that this is influencing younger Muslims to adopt a mindset with no basis. Some examples:
“It’s mainly statements like “Oh Allah, a Black man is coming” or “A Black man will hit/kill you” [in their native language] which is sad because it’s built in, sometimes they don’t even realise they’re saying it which makes it even scarier, it’s like second nature”Response 79
“On the tube I got on with some cousins. And an older cousin told me to be more alert and hold my handbag tighter the moment a black man stepped on.”Response 47
The responses also showed that 13% of people that had black friends growing up were told to cut ties with these friends for no valid reason other than the colour of their skin. The fear mongering from parents and elders within non-black Muslim communities is continuing to divide the Ummah and further anti-black racism.
In addition to this, the volume of responses that mention the use of abhorrent racial slurs within their family and friends circles is an overwhelming 60%. The variety of words from South Asian and Arab languages all stem from a place of discrimination. The madaaris, mosques, charities and other Muslim organisations need to do their utmost to address this issue.
“I asked and started a discussion”
Highlighted in the summary, 73% of people answering the survey have never heard directly from a black Muslim about the issues they face. This may be surprising for some, but when considering that South Asians and Arabs make up approximately three-quarters of the UK Muslim population (taken from the MCB ‘Muslim in Numbers’ report), it is evident as to why so few have been in a position to openly speak to black Muslims about these issues.
Our data shows that of the people who held racial bias in the past, 22% said that speaking and integrating with black people is what removed their prejudices. Being able to have an open conversation, ask questions and hear of the discrimination that black Muslims experience, seems to be an effective method in getting people to eradicate this mindset. Here are some responses to the question “How did self-improvement come?” that support this claim:
“Having more conversations around this topic. Finding out how Black Muslims really feel and what they wish to see happen within Muslim communities.“Response 24
“Meeting them and getting to know them. Learning from them about the effects of prejudice against them.”Response 75
“Black Muslims NEED TO speak up about their experiences with racism. Because the majority doesn’t, non-black Muslims tend to view them as emotionally insensitive and continue directing slurs and developing negative thoughts about black Muslims. Personally, I have grown immensely in this regard through hearing from Black Muslims. I matured as an individual who has now acknowledged that every person is the creation of Allah SWT and belongs solely to Him, and any disrespect towards a being would equal disrespect towards Allah.”Response 19
How does one start having these conversations? We asked the 27% of people, who have directly heard from black Muslims about the racism they face, the question of how these conversations arose. 44% of people were confident enough to directly ask black Muslims in their lives about such issues, whereas 47% of people waited for a racist incident to trigger such questions. Events that trigger this conversation were often an act of discrimination witnessed, whether that was in an Islamic setting or any other, and if racism was generally being discussed.
That our data illustrates that only 27% of non-black Muslims have heard directly about this issue, reflects the compelling unawareness around anti-blackness within the Muslim community. It should be the aim of non-black Muslims to seek this insight appropriately from black Muslims whether that be with friends or through events. Can we look to encourage non-black Muslims to be more direct and appropriately ask questions? The anecdotes from our data, very clearly, indicate the positive impact in reaching Black Muslims and increasing our awareness surrounding their experiences. Cultivating an understanding of the lived experiences of anti-blackness leads to the conscious effort to look within our communities and actively attempt to eradicate anti-black racism whenever we encounter it.
“We want to see more Black Muslims better integrated within our organisations”
We asked the question “What would you like to see more of from the UK Muslim community in tackling the issue of anti-blackness and racism?” and there were two dominant answers. The first was that 43% of people said, above all, they want to see more black Muslims in leadership positions at Muslim organisations and be more involved and integrated. The other was that 57% want more Islamic lectures, khutbahs and activity from their mosques in tackling the issue.
What of leadership within Muslim organisations? We looked at the executive boards of several high profile charities; we looked at the range of trustees; we looked at board members of other Muslim organisations, and overall there was a clear lacking in the number of black Muslims. Almost half of the people we surveyed identified this as an issue and want it to change. In a recent article by the Telegraph (2020), only 11 out of 3000 partners at the Big Four accounting firms are Black. The Muslim community is not alone in this battle of underrepresentation, and these findings could serve as the catalyst to improve and develop Muslim charities and organisations’ ‘Diversity and Inclusion’ initiatives.
Many participants also asked for mosques to start leading the way in eradicating anti-black racism. The majority of the comments ask for a list of topics for khutbahs and talks such as racism, black Muslims in Islam, unity, the guidance to abstain from using slurs, and so on. What many mention as well is that they want their mosques to create an environment in which black Muslims feel more welcome, be that via bringing in black speakers and Imaams or ensuring any transgressions are called out. Here are some of those responses below:
“[we need] More diversity of black Muslims in leadership in predominantly south Asian run Islamic organisations.“Response 2
“[we need] More events aimed at bringing together different races with a particular emphasis on making Black people welcome.“Response 63
One response that highlighted this point was:
“To truly address anti-Blackness in Non-Black communities I think we need to see Black Muslims lifted up and given space in leadership roles, we need to acknowledge and apologise for the historical and current anti-Blackness, we need to listen to Black Muslims and hear what they want and need from us all and see if they can even be bothered with us after how much they’ve been let down.“Response 77
We need safe spaces for Black Muslims to call out anti-Blackness and have it addressed for us all to see accountability in unacceptable behaviour. For those who are leading in this type of behaviour, ultimately there needs to be a responsibility taken for them to be removed.
Actions so far
To conclude, we want to make it clear that our aim is not to simply provide data in the hopes that the right people see it. We aim to go above and beyond to make sure the right people, the change-makers see it. We are aiming to do this by presenting our findings directly to the organisations and forums that have the capacity to influence change. Below is a list of actions undertaken prior to publishing this report:
July 9th – Confirmed to present findings to the Muslim Network of a global bank and one of the ‘Big4’ professional services firms
July 1st – Presented findings to the Black Muslim Forum
If you want us to present our findings to your organization/group/forum, please do contact us on firstname.lastname@example.org
We aim to post updates on progress following this report and any further outcomes in our monthly newsletter. Please subscribe to keep up to date with our research and to get involved with future studies and surveys.
There is a lot more to come from the Muslim Census, God-willing.
Note: We would like to voice our gratitude to all those that participated in the survey and played a part in publishing this report. May Allah put barakah in our efforts and allow it to support the uniting of our Ummah.