Lul Mohamud: insights On How She Navigates Being a Black Muslim

I recently had the pleasure of having a conversation with Lul Mohamud (CAS’19) on how she navigates being black and being a Muslim. It’s hard to navigate this world right now, especially in this political climate, a world that is increasingly becoming more racist and islamophobic.

I understand that it is hard to navigate being black and Muslim – how do you do so?

It’s just me existing. It’s the way that I came into the world and the way that I carry myself. It’s two core parts of my identity. I am visibly Muslim and visibly black. Being black and being Muslim, you are growing up fighting two fronts – all the while trying to find comfort in both of the communities but finding in each of the communities a general pushback. There are perspectives that will combat the other part of you – sometimes in the black community you’ll see Islamophobic behaviors, and sometimes in the Muslim community, you’ll find anti-black sentiments. There’s the separate black mosque – showing you how deep colorism’s reach is. Sometimes you hear stuff like “I prefer to go to this mosque because they do it a way that I like” which makes it difficult for a black Muslim to navigate the Muslim community – it implies that black Muslims are not real Muslims, that they don’t practice correctly and thus their faith is undermined.

Myself being present in this country – one that is Islamophobic and racist and treats the idea of whiteness as the core of the USA – is a sign of dissent or protest. I’m always at risk for hearing or having to deal with Islamophobic or racist ideology, and having both of these identities increases its probability. It’s hard to find that space – a space that allows you to exist at your fullest and not feel threatened – because you’re in a country that prevents it from existing.

What is the greatest challenge?

The idea of intersectional dialogue – talking to people, confronting their Islamophobic or racist attitudes – just within each of these communities. For example, in the Muslim community, we will be talking about certain issues and there will be this underlying anti-blackness when you hear some statements, immediately ostracizing you from everyone. It hurts because you think you’re sitting in a room full of people that you can be safe with and then you immediately don’t feel safe. It’s the same way in any white-dominated areas. It’s really gut-wrenching, because you thought you were in a space where you were supported and where you belonged and to be hit with something like that. It might not be explicit, but it could be covert.

Muslims and black people don’t realize how close they are in their innate struggle to survive and be a part of the United States. Everyday makes me more and more aware of these issues in these two communities.

What do you want people to know?

There’s a lot I want people to know, but more importantly, that we are all socialized and we are all living in communities and institutions that are built to be racist and discriminatory towards black bodies and black people. And even if you live outside of the USA, you are still touched by the effects of colonialism and white supremacy – you are still complacent in that system of anti-blackness and colorism.

We need to consistently act against the system of white is better and black is not. We need to work against that ideology. Whenever you begin to feel comfort, it’s because you aren’t affected by it directly, which in my opinion is a sign of complacency. It’s effecting all of us, and if you aren’t doing something to counter-act it, well, in my opinion, neutrality is the same as doing evil. It could be as small as correcting your relative when they say something racist – fear of those few awkward moments in standing up is not an excuse for allowing someone to hold those beliefs and spread them. I like to believe that whatever can be constructed can also be deconstructed.

Do you consider yourself an activist?

I refuse to call myself an activist because I haven’t dedicated my entire life to counter-act it. It’s disrespectful for the people who are on the frontlines and making changes every day.

Social media is great – but instead, people have started to think that social media is activism, and that it’s enough. It isn’t. It’s just the beginning, it’s opening up the dialogue and putting it in their faces. But people are holding ideas like “I have shared it, so I’m good”, which isn’t true. During the Civil Rights movement – media brought it to their face, but the people went out on the streets. Do proper research on it, to take the first step and move forward.

If you could change the perceptions of people around you, what would you change?

The idea of superiority and inferiority. Everyone just wants to rank things, and black people are always put at the bottom. It shows in religion and spirituality as well. It makes it easier to demean in comparison to other Muslims. I have friends that come from places where you know that this is the Indian mosque, and that is the Arab mosque, which is completely opposite from what our religion teaches us – that man is equal to man. It’s harming the whole community – and a house that’s divided falls. I want people to understand that this separation exists and it’s much bigger than their little mosque or community.

What advice would you give to your black Muslim sisters?

You are entitled to the space that you take up. Whenever you enter a room, assert who you are, whether visibly or by going up to people. Take up that space.

It’s so defeating to think that you find a space and then realize that you don’t, and it becomes isolating. You forget to take up space, and you begin to think that you don’t deserve to.

But you deserve to take up that space. Don’t apologize for taking up that space – we’re always so used to apologizing or asking for permission to take up space. But it’s our right to take up space.

Accept whatever you are feeling. We like to pretend that we aren’t feeling that racism in a room, but accept it and choose to act on it – whether by processing it or leaving that space. If it’s getting too much, or you don’t feel safe anymore, or you’re becoming the butt of jokes – just leave.  

Girl, take a goddamn break when you need to. Unfortunately, in this world the first thing that black women were told is that no one’s got your back – you got your own back.

Take a break. Be a proud black Muslim woman.

 

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