On The Square EP1- Being Muslim on Turtle Island



In this episode our host, Dr. Su’ad Abdul Khabeer talks with Siddeeqah Sharif Fichman an Afro-Native Muslim and community advocate and Hazel Gómez, a faith-based community organizer, about Being Muslim on Turtle Island. This deep discussion digs into questions such as What would make a Muslim a settler or indigenous to North America? How might settler thinking shape how we live as Muslims today? What are the responsibilities of Muslims, as a whole, to the indigenous inhabitants of the Americas?

During the conversation, Hazel reads the poem “Child of the Americas” by Aurora Levins Morales (shared below) and Siddeqah introduces us to the song “Bilalian Man” by Sister Khalifah Abdul Rahman.* To the question, if Black Islam had a theme song what would it be? Hazel chose “Allah” by Khalil Ismail and Siddeeqah chose “Bilalian Man” as her Black Muslim theme song. The song excerpt in the episode is sung by Siddeeqah’s mother, Sister Sabreen Sharif and full lyrics are below. Not sure what Bilalian means? Check out this article by Precious Rasheeda Muhammad. Also be sure to check out the music of Afro-Native Muslim performing artist Maimouna Youseff (Mumu Fresh).

*Siddeeqah misspoke in the episode and this particular song is by Sister Khalifah Abdul Rahman.

On the Square theme music was created by Fanatik OnBeats.

Artwork was created by Scheme of Things Graphics.

 

Bilalian Man
By Khalifah Abdur Rahman

Bilalian Man
You were a man without a name
but your God loved you just the same
as other men.
You stood for many nations tall
your perseverance proves it all
you’ll live again.
How could you, after all you’ve been through, want to give up right now?
Just submit, give your will to Allah, and let him show you how
to live right now.

Bilalian Man
So take the blinders from your eyes
the truth is better than a lie
the way is clear.
This is a light of our new day
I want to help you find your way
I’ll be right here.
You’re a king, Oh Bilalian man
This is your day to shine.
And I am your Queen, Oh Bilalian man
leave that old world behind.
Free your mind!

Bilalian Man
I’m trying hard to make you see
the truth will only set you free
to come alive.
Whenever you become aware
you’ll find your heaven waiting there
right by your side
You’re a king, O Bilalian man
This is your day to shine.
And I am your Queen, Oh Bilalian man
Leave that old world behind
Free your mind!
Free your mind!
Free your mind!
Free your mind!

Child of the Americas
by Aurora Levins Morales

I am a child of the Americas,
a light-skinned mestiza of the Caribbean,
a child of many diaspora, born into this continent at a crossroads.
I am a U.S. Puerto Rican Jew,
a product of the ghettos of New York I have never known.
An immigrant and the daughter and granddaughter of immigrants.
I speak English with passion: it’s the tongue of my consciousness,
a flashing knife blade of crystal, my tool, my craft.

I am Caribeña, island grown. Spanish is my flesh,
Ripples from my tongue, lodges in my hips:
the language of garlic and mangoes,
the singing of poetry, the flying gestures of my hands.
I am of Latinoamerica, rooted in the history of my continent:
I speak from that body.

I am not African. Africa is in me, but I cannot return.
I am not taína. Taíno is in me, but there is no way back.
I am not European. Europe lives in me, but I have no home there.
I am new. History made me. My first language was spanglish.
I was born at the crossroads and I am whole.

Hazel Gómez

Episode Guests:
Hazel Gómez graduated from Loyola University Chicago with double bachelor’s degrees in Forensic Science and Biology. Currently, she is a faith-based community organizer with Dream of Detroit, a nonprofit that combines community organizing with strategic housing and land development to build a healthy community and empower a marginalized neighborhood; a neighborhood in which she also resides with her husband and children. In addition to being an advocate for women seeking traditional Islamic education, Hazel is studying the Islamic sciences with Rabata.org’s Ribaat Academic Program under the tutelage of Shaykha Tamara Gray and other female shaykhas. She also dedicates her time as an advisor and board member to various nonprofits ranging from convert care and anti-racism work to bail reform. She is an avid reader of all things about Muslims in America and is interested in the research and creation of an authentic Latino Muslim experience. You can follow her on Facebook: Hazel Gómez

 

Siddeeqah Sharif Fichman

Siddeeqah Sharif Fichman is the administrator for the Biophysics Research for Baltimore Teens program, an internship at Johns Hopkins University geared towards introducing scientific research to underserved youth in Baltimore City. She enjoys writing, traveling, and is an avid reader. Siddeeqah currently resides in Baltimore, MD, with her husband and three small children.

 

OTS EP1- Being Muslim on Turtle Island- TRANSCRIPT

https://themaydan.com/podcasts/on-the-square-being-muslim-on-turtle-island/ 

 

Dr. Su’ad Abdul Khabeer   00:06    

Welcome to On the Square. A special podcast brought to you by Sapelo Square in collaboration with the Maydan. I am Dr. Su’ad Abdul Khabeer, senior editor of Sapelo Square and curator producer of this podcast, where every month we get on the square and into some real talk about race and Islam in the Americas. On this episode, we will look at being Muslim on Turtle Island with Siddeeqah Sharif Fichman and Hazel Gómez. Siddeeqah Sharif Fichman is the administrator for the biophysics research for Baltimore teens program and internship at Johns Hopkins university, geared towards introducing scientific research to underserved youth in Baltimore city. She enjoys writing, traveling, and is an avid reader. Siddeeqah currently resides in Baltimore, Maryland with her husband and three small children. Hazel Gómez is a faith-based community organizer with Dream of Detroit, a nonprofit that uses strategic housing, land development, and organizing to empower a marginalized neighborhood, a neighborhood in which she also lives with her husband and children. Hazel is a student of the Islamic sciences and also dedicates her time as an advisor and board member to various nonprofits ranging from convert care and anti-racism work to bail reform. She’s an avid reader of all things about Muslims in America and is interested in the research and creation of an authentic Latino-Muslim experience. 

 

Before we begin our conversation today, I, as a descendant of stolen people on stolen land, want to begin with a land acknowledgement. I acknowledge that the land upon which we live is the ancestral and unseated territory of the indigenous nations of Turtle Island, also known as North America. I, also, begin with acknowledgement of the histories of colonialism, imperialism, and resistance that brought us here today, that every day is Ashura and every land is Karbala. The topic of today’s episode was inspired by a recent talk given by Hazel. So, Hazel, can you tell us a little bit about what inspired you for the title of the talk?

 

Hazel Gómez    02:20    

Alhamdulillah, thank you so much Dr. Su’ad for inviting me to On The Square today to discuss this very important topic, Alhamdulillah. As you mentioned, a couple of months ago, I gave a talk titled, What Does a Medina on Turtle Island Look Like? First, I want to paint this image for you. Joan Tavarus Avant, a member of the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe, wrote about why North America is known as Turtle island to indigenous tribes. This is what she wrote: “One reason is the continent’s shape; the North American area has the shape of the turtle’s shell with a spiny ridge, the Rocky Mountains, protruding from the shell is the tail of Mesoamerica, the limbs of Florida, Baja California, Alaska, and Quebec-Labrador, and the head pointing toward the North Pole. The continent also has 13 regions that correspond to the 13 plates that are on the turtle shell.”  

 

I absolutely love that image because we can just close our eyes and see that the land that we live on, tread on, walk on, has this beautiful image of a turtle. My next question is, “ Why Medina?” The reason for Medina is because it was the establishment of a diverse and plural community, where the Prophet (Peace and blessings be upon him) paired the residents and the newly arrived migrants, where people of other faiths lived amongst one another, where socioeconomic class didn’t necessarily determine where people lived (at least among the Muslims). That’s the beauty of our faith tradition, right? That it spans across cultures, that it’s touched lands all over the globe and it continues to spread and manifest in such unique ways. The nation state of the United States is no different, better known as Turtle island. Although in my talk, I focused more on the importance of urban development instead of suburban development within our Muslim communities, I also highlighted the racial lines that are drawn due to such developments. Overall though, as I was preparing for that talk and delivered it, it left me with a much deeper question and that question is, as Muslims and as people of faith, how do we acknowledge uplift and center the original inhabitants of this stolen land?

 

Dr. Su’ad Abdul Khabeer    05:10    

Thank you for that Hazel. I think when I first saw the title that you had created, that’s also what it made me think of. I’m Muslim and I live in the United States. I know this is stolen land and what do I do? How am I supposed to navigate that reality? What are my responsibilities when I have that knowledge? So, I want to invite Siddeeqah’s views to speak to what Hazel said in terms of  what that title means to you as someone who is Black, who is Native American, and who is Muslim?

 

Siddeeqah Sharif Fichman    05:47    

First of all, I want to thank you Su’ad and Hazel for painting that beautiful illustration of what Turtle island actually represents to Native People. I remember the first time I ever heard that term when my aunt referred to North America as Turtle island. That’s the way that she had always called it growing up and I remember asking her, why is it called Turtle Island? She told me something similar, though not as beautifully as Hazel described it. She referred to the shape of the North American continent and the shape of a turtle. I thought, when I was younger,  how did they know that it was shaped like a turtle? As someone who was African American, Native American and Muslim, growing up there was no duality. It was something that flowed very easily for me and my family. We were Black, we were native, and we were Muslim.

 

I came from a very supportive and very close knit community. It came out of the Nation of Islam and had embraced a mainstream, or what people would call it, Orthodox Islam. In our community, there were loads of people like me, Afro-Native and Muslim. We had a very vibrant community life and my mother was a part of a singing group, which I know it’s probably controversial for a lot of people to think that there was a women’s singing group that was singing in the Masjid for everyone to hear, but that’s how our community was. We had a night of song every year and my mother, my aunt, and my aunt’s mother were always a part of it as well.  

 

So, one year, my mother sang for Muhammed Ali, who came to visit our Masjid. My mother sang the song Bilalian Man to him and then we had a fashion show. I remember the music changed and they were playing Stony Creek, which is an East Coast powwow drum circle group. My aunt’s mother, who was also Muslim, came in, dressed in full regalia and she walked through the Masjid. That, for me, was normal. That was just something that we did every year and every year, that’s what happened. The powwow drums would play and I would feel that same beat, that strong jump drum beat that you would hear and that kind of festivity was no different from me going to the powwow.  

  

Also, as I grew up, there were difficulties associated with being Muslim, being Black, and indigenous, not necessarily for my family, but for people who were not of that same background or who didn’t acknowledge that within their own background. They may have been native, but they didn’t acknowledge that and I think that growing up as we left our community or as our community shifted, because there were a lot of  divisions within the communities at some point and our community was fragmented, a lot of folk with a different ideology started to pour into our community. What we saw as normal, like going to the powwow or festivities and ceremonies, which were for us very normal, it became something that was seen as Haram or they were incongruous with being a Muslim. That was difficult. It was difficult to walk in that path with the scrutiny of people who were not from my community or who were not from that ideology that did not see an issue with that.

 

Dr. Su’ad Abdul Khabeer    10:55    

Can I ask you a question, Siddeeqah? How did your native community experience you as a Black person and as a Muslim?  

 

Siddeeqah Sharif Fichman    11:09   

In the native community, there’s a phrase, “Don’t make war, make relatives.” So, I have cousins who are probably closer to me than my actual blood cousins, like Mymuna and her mother. Our families became close because we were both Afro-Native families and clung to her. I became very close to her mother, who’s like my mother. If you asked my mother, she’ll say that’s your second mother. 

 

If we were all at the powwow together, I always covered my hair. No one could necessarily tell what my hair looked like, which is a big indicator that you have mixed blood. So, I never really experienced any prejudice because no one could look at me and say, “oh, she’s not native.” I remember sitting with my mom, my cousins, and my sisters at a powwow and we were all just all together. I had met someone there and we were hanging out at the powwow and I was like, “Come on. We’re going to go sit with my family.” So, I remember him looking at my family like, “Oh, that’s her family.” I already knew from looking at his face that he’s now seeing that I am Black and native and he was confused. I said, “Yeah, we’re mixed, like our family is mixed Black and native,” and he was like, “Oh, okay. My nephews are half-Seminole and half-Black blood,” but it has always been a weird experience.  

 

I remember going to the Baltimore powwow, which is full of people from our host tribe, the Lumbee tribe, which is a mixed tribe. If you look at the history of the Lumbees, or any East Coast tribe for that matter, they are very fair skinned. They almost look very mulatto, if you will. I was there with my grandmother, my mother, my sisters, my brothers, and my cousins, and Mymuna, who was a little darker and had her hair braided, but you can see the curl in our hair. She was on the arena floor in full regalia with otters hanging from her braids. I can tell you her entire outfit. It was this golden red, beautiful traditional regalia and the person who was the announcer, the MC, said for someone to get the Black girl off the arena floor, I can’t remember the exact way it was said, but I remember that was a turning point for Mymuna when she was very young. We were all shocked, but granny went up and said, “That’s my granddaughter.” Of course, there were all these apologies, but the damage had been done. It was like, “Hello? This is an Afro-Native family sitting here.” Like all of us are Afro-indigenous aside from granny, but it was something that put a very bad taste in our mouths, growing up being Afro-Native in native spaces.  

 

We never felt fully comfortable in native spaces, unless it was a mixed tribe. I remember the time that Mymuna went to the Shinnecock powwow and the Shinnecock are a tribe who are in upstate New York and are a mixed tribe, an Afro-Native tribe. The whole tribe looks like my family. So, the first time she went there, she called the whole family and she said, “Next year, we’re all going to the powwow together.” My sister happened to marry a man who’s Muslim and his family was Shinnecock, so we were all just really excited to find a home in a native space, where you didn’t necessarily feel uncomfortable being mixed. I don’t want to sound controversial, but if you were mixed with white, no one would have an issue with you being native enough, at least not on the East Coast, but if you are clearly Afro-Native, then there was a stigma, there was this idea that you were faking either from descendants of African-American people or from native people here. That’s something that’s always been disquieting and something that I have not been able to feel fully comfortable with. As an adult, I have accepted that I am who I am and if you like it, that’s great. If you don’t, that’s also fine, but growing up, it was something that was difficult to manage or to find your safe space. 

 

Dr. Su’ad Abdul Khabeer    17:43    

Yeah, I can imagine. Those are really powerful stories. What you’re talking about in terms of both navigating this really rich identity you have and this really deep connection to important histories that make up what we call “Turtle Island” and then trying to navigate that as a Muslim in Muslim spaces and Native spaces. It makes me think about terms, right, like settler colonialism is the term that we use to describe the kind of colonialism that established the US. So, for those who don’t know, the idea is that a settler state, like the US, was established by colonists who came to stay right rather than those who plunder material and natural resources to take back to their homelands. When you stay, that means you come to live on the land, which means you then have to remove the people who are already here, the indigenous people, and removal happens by force. It’s violent and it includes genocide. Not only do you settle on the land or move the people, but you also take on indigenous customs and symbols to construct the myth of who you are as a country. I think about that sometimes when I’m driving anywhere in the United States and I’m looking at place names and all these place names are indigenous, like Chicago, Illinois, and Michigan. Now, they’re American and that history is obscured or erased altogether. This is what settler colonialism is and, so, I wonder if you can tell us who is a settler? Who is indigenous? What would make a Muslim one or the other? 

 

Siddeeqah Sharif Fichman    19:28    

That’s a difficult one because, to be fair. If we’re looking at it in Black and white terms, everyone is a settler if you are not indigenous to this country, but at the same time, there’s something else going on here. We are a new people here. We’re not indigenous, we’re not African, we’re not European, we’re all those things wrapped up in one. There’s nowhere else we belong because this is where we were created, if you will. Our ancestors converged here, whether they were indigenous or whether they were enslaved here or whether they were the colonists who came and settled violently on this land. It’s a difficult question. I used to think about it growing up when people would say go back to Africa and, I would think,  how does that work when you are of mixed heritage?  

 

On the one hand, everyone is a settler, but on the other hand, there is a whole new population of people that were created here, that belong in the Americas. At the same time, there are still indigenous people who live here and there are still settlers who live here as well. I think that for Muslims, it’s important to create a language around that and create a culture of doing what’s best, doing what’s right, in terms of acknowledging the indigenous people who are of this land. I remember a couple years back, I may have called you about this because I was confused and my sister called me and we had seen this moniker, Indigenous Muslims, as someone’s social media handle and they had a whole blog and I got excited because I thought, “Oh, these are indigenous Muslims.” This is something that we’ve always wanted, so we kind of dug into that and it was a white family, who had called themselves Indigenous Muslims. My sister reached out because she was friends with the wife and asked,  “Are you guys indigenous as in native American?” The woman responded and acknowledged that she was white. I was so taken aback. How can you, as a Muslim, do that? You would be a part of erasing the indigenous identity 500 years after your ancestors arrived on the shores to do exactly that? As a Muslim, it was just kind of shocking to me. I haven’t seen them using that recently, but it was there for at least two years. I don’t know if they changed it or if I just haven’t noticed it, but that was their social media handle, Indigenous Muslims. 

 

Dr. Su’ad Abdul Khabeer    23:28    

Wow. That’s so interesting. Hazel, I know you want to jump in here and I’m gonna let Hazel jump in because I have a question too for Hazel. I asked about these terms and I think the terms are important because they bring up the issues, which are much more important. Like you said, they’re also challenging, right? I take myself as an example. I’m Black. I’m the descendant of Africans enslaved in the Caribbean and I think only there, as far as I know, it’s possible they could have been slaves in North America, but I think only in the Caribbean. Also, as far as I know, I don’t have any Native blood in my family, to quote an Afro-American proverb. I could get why someone would say I wasn’t indigenous right to North America, but to call me a settler, I’m like, wait a minute, it’s really challenging for me. I know what you’re saying. On the one hand, if you’re not indigenous, you must be a settler, but on the other hand, there are other things happening and your point about being a new people. I think it’s an intriguing way to think about that in terms of where we fit in this conversation. So Hazel, I want to invite you to jump in and respond to what Siddeeqah was saying, but also like how do you fit into that conversation and how do you navigate it?  Where do you see yourself?  

 

Hazel Gómez    24:46    

Yeah, that story was wild. I can understand why somebody who is white would say that they’re an indigenous Muslim quote unquote, because of this narrative of American Islam and I’m part of the community of American Islam and I’m among the first group of Muslims, whether convert or not, to create this merging between culture and religion. I’m assuming that’s where that person is coming from. I really disliked the term Indigenous Muslim in particular for white people and I’m so sorry Siddeeqah that you had to go through that, but I’m also glad that that person was called out/called in because it’s such an erasure of the indigenous experience of the first nations people.  

 

I would like to acknowledge that I love how you said that we all converged here and for myself as a Puerto Rican and Mexican growing up in Chicago, this question of, “Am I a settler?” was significant.  I know I’m a descendant of enslaved Africans, particularly in Puerto Rico. I know my Taino and <inaudible> heritage, but this question has always haunted me. It made me question my identity. It made me despise even more colonialism, slavery, and imperialism as a 13 year old. I specifically say 13 because that was when I read this poem that just radically changed my life and it’s something that I’m grateful for, Allah bless the poets. I do want to share the poem, if that is okay Inshallah, the poem is called Child of the Americas by Arora Levins Morales.  

 

I am a child of the Americas,

A light-skinned mestiza of the Caribbean,

A child of many diaspora, born into this continent at a crossroads.

I am a U.S. Puerto Rican Jew,

A product of the ghettos of New York I have never known.

An immigrant and the daughter and granddaughter of immigrants.

I speak English with passion: it’s the tongue of my consciousness,

A flashing knife blade of crystal, my tool, my craft.

 

I am Caribeña, island grown. Spanish is my flesh,

Ripples from my tongue, lodges in my hips:

The language of garlic and mangoes,

The singing of poetry, the flying gestures of my hands.

I am of Latinoamerica, rooted in the history of my continent:

I speak from that body.

 

I am not African. Africa is in me, but I cannot return.

I am not taína. Taíno is in me, but there is no way back.

I am not European. Europe lives in me, but I have no home there.

I am new. History made me. My first language was spanglish.

I was born at the crossroads and I am whole.

 

For me, as a 13 year old, when I read that poem, it just made me cry because I read it as I was also going through a spiritual crisis as a 13 year old. I was born and raised Catholic. I saw myself in her words because, as you mentioned, Siddeeqah, we are a new people living here. For myself, I really struggled with expressing myself. In high school, I had four flags hanging in my locker. I had the four flags I had in my locker. I had the Puerto Rican flag, the Mexican flag, the Pan-African flag and the Spanish flag.  I refused to put up the United States’ flag even though I was born here. For me, it was a way to describe where I was from and to make sense of my identities and all of my experiences growing up in a bicultural household, but also acknowledging that Mexico is a settler colony. Spain is a colonizer. I acknowledge it because I don’t speak my native languages. I speak two colonized languages. 

 

For me, I just had gone through all these different phases. I tried to connect more with my Tieno roots from Puerto Rico. I actually started learning about Aztlán and I started learning Nawa, Aztlán being the land of the Aztecs, and then I learned that I’m not actually Aztec I’m Coentacan from the Rio Grande valley, right on the border of Texas and Mexico, land where last year I was able to visit and intentionally ask questions to my grandmother and she said, “My brother, your great uncle, he was part of building the Rio Grande dam and he died here.”  Right now it’s a border crossing, so the border patrol is there. I couldn’t even pause and look at the water and the land where so many of my male relatives have died. I also tried to figure out what West African tribes my family was taken from. I would talk to my great-grandmother and her father, who went through enslavement in Puerto Rico. That’s a long story. She was conceived when he was in his late seventies. In his early twenties, he had experienced slavery in Puerto Rico. Then there is the Spaniard side of my heritage, right? The Spaniards came into my family in the last hundred years and that’s a whole other conversation.  

 

So, for me, I’ve constantly struggled with, as you also mentioned Su’ad, am I a settler? I’m not right. I’m from this land, but which land. I don’t know where I belong, even though I’m looking and trying to research and visit places. For me, I do feel more at home in Puerto Rico and that could just be my politics of the liberation of Puerto Rico, because we’re still a colony, but this is something that I’ve constantly struggled with. Even being a visible Muslim woman and the assumptions people make of me because I cover and not knowing all this history that I carry with me. This is something I struggle with navigating. This is something that I teach my children about, their multiple identities and how they can live their fullest, as young Muslim boys and, Inshallah, Muslim men.  

 

One thing that I really appreciate about this question is there’s this saying from Imam al-Ghazali where he says, “Those who know themselves, know God.” Even in the Quran, Allah reminds us that he blesses people with knowing themselves in turn by getting to know Him. So, for us to have these conversations, I pray that there’s this blessing in really digging deep into our hearts and being conscious of the land that we live on as a way to, inshallah, draw closer to Allah, but also do something about it.

  

Dr. Su’ad Abdul Khabeer    32:35    

Thank you for that Hazel. You both speak to the idea of us being a new people, which is powerful, but a version of that is also used by the settler state to justify its existence. Here, I’m thinking about melting pots. That brings me to my next question. Have you seen settler logic shape Muslim communities? For example, I was listening to a Native American podcast and they were talking about how the term “pioneer” is a settler term, which makes sense when you think about it, but it’s also a term we use on our elders.

 

Siddeeqah Sharif Fichman     33:18    

I’m going to start with “pioneer” because that’s the term that is used in our community for the people who opened up Islam for their community, their people. I think we should be very careful about canceling terms because it’s a word, it has a meaning, and one meaning is in reference to one who first settled in a territory, but another meaning is a person or a group that originates or helps open up a new line of thought, activity, method, or technical development. I think that is the meaning of pioneer in our community. It’s not someone who settled into a territory. I do understand that there are triggers for communities who may hear the term “pioneer” as something different, but every word has a multitude of meanings. I don’t see a connection to our use of the term “pioneer” and settler colonialism. It’s the other meaning, which fits perfectly for what they did and who they were for us. It’s been used in that way for the past, probably, 70 years in my community.  

 

My community just celebrated 70 years. I don’t see it going anywhere, but I also don’t see it as a connection to settler colonialism. I don’t really have an issue with that word, but I do have an issue with other forms of settler colonialism being used religiously against Muslims in general in America. I remember the first time I met a Lakota Muslim at ISNA and I was so excited, somebody was excited to introduce me to this person and I was super excited to meet her. When I did, we were talking and I was trying to find out whether she’s number one, whether she was the only Muslim in her family, whether she was married, whether she had children, and what their family life was like.  It dawned on me when having this conversation that she had a colonized idea of religion. She had come from a Christianized Lakota family, who had rejected Lakota spirituality initially and then merged that with being Muslim, so I couldn’t relate to her. We could relate on the fact that we’re both indigenous Muslims, but her way of viewing Islam was like a co-opted Arab way of being Muslim. It saddened me. I remember talking to my aunt about it when I came home and, if you noticed, my aunt comes up a lot. I talked to her and she said, “You know, Siddeeqah, what happened to our people is tragic. Do you know what happened to our people here? The first wave of colonists that came to the East Coast obliterated us and everything that was on the East Coast. All the East Coast tribes are scrambling to figure out how to remember, or find someone who can hold onto, our traditions or who can teach us our traditions.”

 

On the east coast, thankfully through the American Indian Movement, we learned our traditions from the Lakota. That’s why I was so enamored with this woman. I thought I’d be enamored by her because I thought she had this great way of blending Islam and indigenous culture, but a lot of us are a broken people and that same settler colonialism, that same ideology, is used when spreading Islam here in America, where one culture dominates and their idea of being Muslim dominates. It leaves no room for creating an authentic Muslim identity or cultural identity for people who are not of the dominant culture that is spreading this ideology. The person that I spoke to happened to learn her Islam through that kind of ideology.  

 

It was kind of disappointing for me and I thought then, there’s something that we should be doing. I was probably around 14 at the time, but I was thinking, “God, there’s something that we should be doing to introduce indigenous people to Islam in a way that is not going to erase who they are as a culture.” At the same time, I had this idea of missionary-ism, which is an issue for me. I haven’t ever been able to reconcile how missionaries typically erase or replace the culture that they’re coming to teach and prosletyze to, either Christianity, Islam, or some other mainstream religion. I couldn’t reconcile being a part of that, so I think there is a need for a conversation around that.  

 

Hazel Gómez    40:10    

So, the question of using the terms “indigenous” and “pioneer.” I really appreciate the nuance of the definition for pioneers. When I hear the word “pioneer” within our community, I immediately think this is a Black Muslim community or this Masjid must be just predominantly a Black Muslim Masjid. To look at it as a settler definition never crossed my mind. Now, the term indigenous Muslim or indigenous Islam, I have always had an issue with because that feels like an erasure of first nations and the indigenous peoples of Turtle Island. I can understand as it being a qualifier for stolen people on stolen land, enslaved Africans that are here that were brought or forced over, but again, just like Siddeeqah mentioned, the story of how that Muslim that used the term indigenous, you can’t use that term. I do have an issue with that in particular. 

 

Now the settler logic, as you ask Su’ad, within our Muslim communities, it’s an oxymoron. Land acknowledgement and respecting the people of the land is something that is within our Islamic history. Really briefly, I want to mention the story of the Khalifa Omar ibn Abdelaziz. He had moved people before he became Khalifa, so he was talking to the people, talking to the elders of the community. One elder had said, “80 years ago when you Muslims said that you were coming, you arrived a couple of days too early.” Omar ibn Adbdelaziz is struck. He was like, “Excuse me?” The elder replied, “Yeah, you guys arrived a couple of days early. I mean, alhamdulillah, we’re glad you’re here, but we’re letting you know. At that moment, he told all the people who had either migrated or who were descendants of those who migrated that we got to go, we got to pack up and leave. All the Muslims packed up and started going, even though some of the people that were there had already converted, but the people who had migrated. They’re starting to leave and the elders are in shock. Where are you going? Omar ibn Adbelaziz replied, “Well, we broke our promise. Even though this was 80 years ago, as Muslims, we broke our promise. We came too early, we got to go.” The elders asked permission and they’re talking and the people, the original people of the land, were like, “No, please do not leave. Do not leave it. It’s fine, please.”

 

That right there was bravery and that right there shows us that it’s within our tradition, within our Islamic history overall, that there is respect for the original people of the land. Another thing that I really appreciate about the Khalifa was that lands that were conquered through victories, he refused to divide up among the soldiers because there was this fear. He did not want the concentration of different lands within a very few hands. That goes into land rights and whatnot. Again, there’s this notion of keeping the land within the state, keeping the land to those that it belonged to and working together for everybody, for the common good. So, I really appreciate that story because we are not meant to ignore the people that were originally here. It goes back to the first question of why Medina on Turtle island? What is our responsibility?  

 

Dr. Su’ad Abdul Khabeer    44:26    

Thank you so much, Hazel. I actually had a conversation recently with Imam Talib Abdur-Rashid, who is the Imam of the mosque of Islamic Brotherhood in Harlem, New York, and he was responding to an article I had written on Sapelo Square about this question. I call it the politics of calling ourselves indigenous. He said to me, it was important to understand or to recognize that the use of this term has many histories. So, one way which I hadn’t thought of, I hadn’t heard before, but he was saying is part of the way that Black people, and Black Muslims in particular, are using this term is in a recognition of relationships before Columbus between Africans and the indigenous people of the Americas. That use of that term is actually not meant to erase the indigenous people of North America or the Americas, but rather to identify a relationship between these people before the Europeans, which I thought was an interesting layer to the conversation. Everyone doesn’t have to agree with that, but I think it’s important to note that. Also in talking with him as well about, in the 20th century at least, the additional ways in which Black Muslim communities have been quite aware of the relationship to indigenous communities in the United States and thinking about the alignment of solidarity between these two communities and the question of land. 

 

We’re not gonna get to that today, we don’t have time for that, but I wanted to mention that alternative perspective and this idea that Black communities and Black Muslim communities have been navigating in a very overt way that maybe may not be the case or that may be, from what I understand, not the case when we think of other Muslim communities in the United States. Part of the whole point of this whole conversation that I wanted us to have today is that we have to understand who we are to each other, so we can be better to each other like the Quran says. Not in a kind of kumbaya kind of way, but in a way that involves truth-telling, reparations, and reconciliation.  

 

So, Siddeeqah, I want to end with you and I want to ask you, as someone coming from the position of being Black and Muslim, when we’re thinking about this question of being Muslim on Turtle island, what would you wanna see?

 

Siddeeqah Sharif Fichman    47:24    

For me, I would love to see African American Muslims or Black Muslims or Muslims in America in general actually acknowledging that this is land that does not belong to us. Even for indigenous people, we don’t believe that this land belongs to us either, but acknowledging that there were people here before you migrated here. I had this issue come up for me a lot, where we’re asked to champion causes that are thousands of miles away and, not that we should not be championing those causes, but there are causes right here.  

 

Draw a parallel to Palestine and the people who are right here having their land taken away right now. Earlier, Hazel mentioned the Mashpee Wampanoag. A very good friend of mine was the one who was working on that case for the Mashpee Wampanoag to get their land and trust, so that they’re able to have their own sovereign territory and this was in 2020. They were still fighting for the right to have sovereignty over their own land. The United States government at the time was still trying to take it away and the Keystone pipeline has been a huge issue for native people. The Water Rights movement and being able to say what is allowed on their land and to reject drillings and other things that would cause negative environmental impact on their land is a part of this.

 

I feel like Muslims should be championing those causes. I know that there was a huge outcry from the Muslim community at that time to support the people who were on the front lines fighting against the Keystone pipeline, but those need to be our causes. Also, I was watching on Instagram, where we see a lot of news these days, there was a celebrity, an African-American activist who had posted something on her page about a Lakota elder on the Rosebud reservation who needed help because he had 19 people living in his very small house that had holes in the roof and that had no heating in North Dakota. All of these people relied on him and he’s the spiritual leader of his family, so he’s not able to work or earn money for his family. I would like to see Muslims championing those causes until native people have the same freedom, justice, liberty, and economic stability as other communities in America. I feel like that’s always going to be a cause that we need to be championing. That’s going to be something that we will have to answer for. What did you do for them? What did you do for the people whose land you lived on? How did you give back and how did you empower them? 

 

Dr. Su’ad Abdul Khabeer    51:53    

Thank you so much for that, Siddeeqah. We really need to have this one podcast episode to really kind of really get into this, but I’m really happy that both you and Hazel joined us On the Square today to begin to open up the conversation because I think you had mentioned this earlier, this is a conversation that is long overdue and it’s not just about talking the talk. There’s work to be done. So, thank you both and, before we close today, we have a question going to all of our guests to answer. I’m going to ask you first, Hazel, and then we’ll go to Siddeeqah. The question is, if Black Islam had a theme song, what would it be?  

 

Hazel Gómez    52:42    

So, if Black Islam had a theme song? I have to channel my children’s energy and think of all the requests that they make for me to play. I’m going to have to say Khalil Ismail’s 99 names. My sons absolutely love that song, but it’s the way that he translates the names and attributes of Allah that make it absolutely relatable. For example, I love when he says, “Al-Jalil, the majestic, you are the fixer of messes.”  

 

Dr. Su’ad Abdul Khabeer    53:17    

Thank you. Siddeeqah, what’s your Black Muslim theme song?

 

Siddeeqah Sharif Fichman    53:24    

Growing up, as I said before, my mom was in a singing group along with other Muslim sisters and brothers from our community. There’s one song that, hands down, no matter what, it’s the song that we always ask them to sing if there’s a reunion or if the older community, the pioneers, get together. It’s called Bilalian Man. I remember growing up, we encountered other black Muslim communities and the term “Bilalian” became a point of contention, but the song is called the Bilalian Man and it was written by brother Derek Amin from our community and my mother sang the lead. She said, this is the song she sang to Muhammad Ali when he came. 

 

[Music: Bilalian Man]

 

Dr. Su’ad Abdul Khabeer    55:22    

Thank you for tuning into this episode of On the Square: Real Talk on Race and Islam in the Americas, a special podcast brought to you by Sapelo Square at the Maydan. Thanks to our guests, Hazel Gomez and Siddeeqah Sharif Fichman. You can find more information about what we discuss, including links and more by visiting sapelosquare.com/onthesquare or themaydan.com/podcast. Our theme music was created by Fanatic on Beats. 

 

On The Square

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“On the Square: Real Talk on Race and Islam in the Americas,” is a podcast produced by Sapelo Square in collaboration with The Maydan. Sapelo’s editors get “on the square” with guests in lively and unfiltered conversations on a wide range of real issues from settler colonialism and the police state to the question of being Black and Muslim in the world. Like our award-winning website, On The Square is a digital space where we come together, exchange, celebrate, debate and always keep it real. On The Square has a home on Sapelo Square: https://sapelosquare.com/onthesquare 

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