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What does it mean to be black and Muslim in Michigan?

Sep 14, 2017

It is an interesting, and also tough, time to be both black and Muslim in Michigan.

Anti-Muslim rhetoric in politics and media seems to be intensifying, and there are daily reminders of our nation's long, painful – and still unresolved – history of race relations. 

Dr. Halim Naeem​, a psychologist based in Livonia, and Tahira Khalid, head counselor at Muslim Family Services in Detroit, joined Stateside to share their perspectives on what it means to be both black and Muslim in Michigan.

"I think people are very curious. I think people now are struggling to find out where they stand," Khalid said. "I see with myself ... that I find that people are constantly trying to figure me out. Who is she, and how does her Islam and heritage impact my relationship with her. And I can't say that it's always positive. It's a huge curiosity."

"I find that people are constantly trying to figure me out. Who is she and how does her Islam and heritage impact my relationship with her? And I can't say that it's always positive. It's a huge curiosity." - Tahira Khalid

As the Muslim population in this country continues to grow, Khalid sees "America grappling with what that means for their own well-being."

Khalid and Naeem generally agree that there have been improvements in some areas of society when it comes to the acceptance of Muslims. However, one thing they definitely agree on is that the media is not helping that cause. 

"I'm very upset with the media and the way the narrative is played out. The images are very powerful. Images teach," Khalid said. "I see the images that I don't see. I don't see the image of the African American Muslim woman presented at all. If they interview someone, it is an Arab hijabi woman. And that's my sister, but there are a lot of differences in this religion, culturally, politically. So even within us, we're not a monolith."

According to Naeem, there are certain people and corporations that benefit from making Muslims out to be "the other."

"The popular narrative, and there's a lot of benefit that comes out from it, there's a lot of money in terrorizing people and fear mongering ... you don't have to search hard for it," said Naeem. "But the popular narrative is to demonize and other-ize Islam from being American."

When Naeem was growing up during the 1980s and 90s, he said he felt like there was more respect for Islam within the African American community. So what has changed? 

"The overall position toward Islam to really demonize it at a whole other level has changed," Naeem said. "And ... the growth of Muslims and people seeing more Muslims rather than Islam. People coming up short on what their ideals and what their principles are supposed to be ... people [who] don't necessarily represent Islam as it's actually intended."  

Listen to the full interview to hear why Khalid's father rejected Christianity, and how she addresses the perception that Black Muslims hate white people. 

Michigan Radio originally broadcast this story on July 5, 2017.

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