Ramadan is fast approaching. A time for reflection, forgiveness, supplication, and getting closer to Allah. It is said to be the time of the year when the most dua is made by Muslims all over the world. Soon we will see news outlets carrying pictures of Muslims preparing for the month or beginning their prayers. Their point is to show readers the diversity of Muslims around the world all unified in their celebration. These outlets are often American and the images they project are of Muslims overseas, in the Middle East or (South)Asia. Representations from entire continents are missing. Do Muslims exist elsewhere? Even in the Americas, where WE live?
Much like these news reports, we restrict ourselves during our dua during and outside of Ramadan. It’s an unfortunate thing to not be considered part of the ummah, despite all the lip service of unity and brotherhood. From a very young age we are socialized to recognize other Muslims as being part of some sort of global community from our parents, teachers, religious leaders, and the like. We are told that if one part of the ummah hurts, we all hurt. Yet, after many years of attending numerous Muslim conferences, classes, lectures, and of course rhumbas, from varied religious leanings, I've come to believe we privilege some above others. And not particularly based on ‘hurt’. Perhaps it seems a bit strange or even somewhat harsh. However, if we ask ourselves what countries are included during the ending dua of every talk or lecture we've attended, what do we come up with? Palestine is at the top of the list. And due to recent political tensions of the past decade, Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Syria, Egypt, Libya, Yemen, and the list goes on. Those of the past include Bosnia and Chechnya. Somalia and Darfur made the dua list when famine was fashionable. However, those countries that always make the cut are from Middle East, partially from (South)Asia, and almost never from Muslim countries with black inhabitants. That is the how far we are willing to extend our dua, without the catch all phrase 'wa fi kulli makan ("and in every place").
Often times, prominent scholars recount stories of their time studying Islam and the Arabic language in the East. The beautiful time in the old city. The teachers in the courtyards of Azhar. And the privileged Bedouin experience in the desert of North Africa on the western coast of the continent. Even having been on a continent with numerous Muslim majority countries, one doesn’t hear their names when our hands are raised to God. We can see this in the dangerously precarious situation of 200 girls kidnapped from their school in northern Nigeria. The media had been inert in their developments of the story initially and Muslim communities had followed suit. Until only recently, the story failed to catch enough public sympathy to create an outcry, as we are familiar with when other girls are kidnapped, raped or have acid thrown in their faces. The 'ummah' is not placing any attention on the plight of these girls. Is their situation any less important than children dying in Syria? If we are to accept Tariq Ramadan’s notion that the sense of belonging to the ummah is not only a part of our identity as Muslims but is also knotted to the essence of tawheed, what does that say about our belief?
Implicit in all of this is the way in which our attention and perceived sense of activism is linked to issues that the national media sees fit to take note of and the sense of privileged position of countries whose people are either Arab or (South) Asian. In January, pithy quotes of Martin Luther King circulated social media and more rolled in when Black History Month came around. These quotes and comments and the one-off program discussing issues related to Muslims of African descent allow us to remain rooted in our myopic view of the ummah, its peoples, and its issues. Simply put, Muslims in the Americas are part of the ummah. Muslims in Europe are part of the Ummah. Muslims in sub-Saharan Africa are part of the ummah, as are those who live further east, north and south. They are also deserving of our prayers and tears. So when we think of inclusivity within Muslim communities and notions of diversity, perhaps we can interrogate our existing frameworks for departure to interrogate the basis of our myopia and how it permeates the minute aspects of our religious practice.
By Zainab Kabba , 06 May 2014