By Dararrtu Abdullahi
Featured in our fall 2019 issue
I sit on the floor of the mosque with my hijab covering my tightly curled hair. We quietly converse amongst ourselves as the muezzin recites the call to prayer in Arabic. I am a Black Muslim woman, and for most of my life, I have felt misplaced. I’ve never experienced being in a Black church, listening to a choir sing as the attendants clap their hands and stomp their feet to gospel songs while catching the holy ghost.
I’ve often had trouble associating my race with my religion because my Blackness didn’t seem to intertwine with Islam. They intersect on the basis of my gender, and I’ve had to deal with explaining the hardships of being a Black Muslim woman, a concept that many don’t seem to grasp. Growing up, it wasn’t easy — when meeting new people, I was always somehow misunderstood. Learning to accept myself became a struggle in itself, not to mention having to find a way to embrace my uniqueness and show my own individuality. But as I grew older, I constantly felt the need to defend these three marginalized identities that I am.
I’m the youngest of my family, with three older brothers. There were things they could do and places they could go to that I couldn’t — simply because I was a girl and it was deemed socially unacceptable. My mother, despite being the only other woman in the house, was conditioned to think the same and believed that women had particular roles to fill. I constantly felt challenged in my own household.
This sexism prevented me from being adventurous — growing up, I missed out on sleepovers or being out for long hours having fun.
It’s hard to live in a world that constantly displaces you. Being a Black Muslim woman, I’ve often grown frustrated when someone does not seem to understand my identity.
I’ve always been too Black for Muslim people and too Muslim for Black people.
I remember being young, watching Tyler Perry movies and trying to relate to the characters in the films. Yes, we’re all Black. But I never understood all the Christian references like Sunday service, the pastor's enthusiastic preaching or the concept of turning to your neighbor. Growing up, everything I heard about Islam was negative — the people are terrorists and women are subservient possessions of men. I began to wonder why I was so different as if I wasn’t supposed to be the way I am.
On Eid, we wake up at eight in the morning to catch the 10 a.m. prayer. My family and I drive all the way down to Lawrence Heights, nicknamed the “Jungle” due to its long history of gang activity. We go into the community centre and pray in one of the two gyms that are always full.
There’s something about loving through faith that’s so pure, especially in Islam — being able to feel so consumed with gratitude and forgiving of those who have hurt you. The burdens put onto me are a test from Allah to see how I manage threflectionem since he doesn’t give me hardships that I can’t handle or carry. It reminds me that if I do get to see another day, it is always a fresh start — reassuring me that my beliefs are truly beautiful.
I feel like Blackness is a spirit, a rebellion against subjugation.
It has always been a source of alienation throughout my life. Just by getting onto the TTC, people will sometimes hesitate to sit beside me or think that they’d rather stand. And, as if I am part of an exhibit, random girls will walk up to me to touch my textured hair without permission.
But I never let the world's view of my race deter my self-love. I learned that the only validation I need is from myself. I don’t allow the degrading history and misconceptions around Black people define who I am.
I am a human being with dreams and responsibilities, constantly trying to outgrow myself each day. Seeking to be more ambitious as someone who’s admired for more than just her skin tone, but her perseverance.
Until recently, I felt as though I couldn’t speak up when I was being mistreated because I’d be viewed as just another “angry” Black woman. Or, when I go out with a hijab fully covering my body, people seem to move away from me because they connote the physical presentation of my beliefs as violent. It’s unfair — the notion of women being inferior to men has repeatedly revealed itself throughout my life.
However, I refuse to watch the intersections of my marginalization anymore. I am aware of all the hardships I endure, but I am also cognizant of the magnificence of my identity. I am a proud Black Muslim woman and you’ll never hear that change.