As Protests Spread Across Major American Cities, Black Muslim Americans Speak Out About the Difference We Need and How to Make it Happen

In the wake of the murder of George Floyd and countless more Black Americans at the hands of the police, protestors have taken to the streets to demand an end to racism and police brutality while being met with excessive force as approved and encouraged by President Trump. 

The protests began in Minneapolis the night after Floyd’s murder and are ongoing, having spread across major American cities since. While protests in some cities have turned violent with protestors resorting to looting and vandalism, the protests have largely been peaceful and nonviolent. Regardless, officers have been reportedly using excessive force including tear gas, pepper spray and rubber bullets to extinguish protestors.

Cincinnati, Ohio protestor and organizer Amna Rustom said, “at some point, there were 300 plus people in police custody and they were sitting outside without resources and in the heat. Most of them were cuffed for about 12 plus hours.”

The scene is a familiar one and a milder one in comparison to the neighboring city, Columbus and other major cities including Los Angeles, Atlanta, Chicago and more. 

Muslim public figures including  Omar Suleiman, Ammar AlShukry, Khaled Beydoun, and Ibtihaj Muhammed amongst others have contributed to the conversation or participated in the protests. 

Ibtihaj writes on Instagram in a post, “be wary of friends who mention their issues with looting and rioting in regards to the protests, but fail to mention police in America looting Black bodies.”

She continues in her post, “don’t let anyone tell you how to express the pain you feel. Historically, they’ve told us that we are protesting wrong, from the 1960s sit-ins to Colin Kaepernick taking a knee. Remember there’s no “right” way to do it. That’s what a protest is – a public expression of objection towards the system it’s protesting.”

Rustom – a black American Muslim herself – echos this sentiment and said, “I’m in no place to say how other people should protest – we’re talking about the reaction and the anger and the sadness and the fear from 400 plus years of oppression and generational trauma.”

If it takes a few broken windows to get the change desperately needed, it’s worth it, she said. 

Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery were also murdered earlier in the year due to excessive police force or racism against Blacks. Floyd was the most recent victim of police brutality, who pleaded with the white officer holding him down with his knee, “I can’t breath”. The plea struck an all too familiar nerve across America and became a popular chant amongst protestors. 

Rustom cites the importance of individuals speaking out regardless of background, race, or religious affiliation. 

“This isn’t supposed to be black folks standing up for black folks. It’s a responsibility on all of us,” she said. “Besides, being silent is being compliant. And honestly, it’s also violence. Because when you don’t say anything, it can be mistaken that you don’t really care about this community and you don’t care about the message.”

Firas Elshiekh, another Black American Muslim protesting in Columbus said, he feels fear. Not from the excessive police force, but rather that this time will be just like every other time. 

“It’s difficult because it’s one of those things where you’ve seen it so many times. It’s so quickly and easy to go back to what it was like before this,” he said. “Yes, there’s momentum riding with us now, but there’s so much fear riding on all of this, resorting back to where we were before all this.”

Ammar AlShuky writes in an Instagram post, “the relationship of the believers is allyship. When one group hurts we all hurt. We help each other up and hold each other up, and walk together towards Allah and His Mercy.”

Rustom parallels this by citing Islam as her prevalent guiding force which has given her the values and ideals that she has today. 

“That’s part of the reason I feel so called to call out these injustices and step up when it’s time to fight,” she said. 

While not everyone can attend the protests, Rustom proposes that there is truth to “it takes a village”, and that change begins at home. 

“One of the things you can do is talk to your family and friends who are being silent, talk to the ones that make racist remarks, talk to them, call them out and explain to them why their behaviour and words are hurtful and why they need to change because it really takes all of us and I believe that starts at home,” she said. 

Today brings news that Derek Chauvin, the officer behind the murder of Floyd has had his third-degree murder charge upped to second-degree. While the other three officers present during the murder will be charged with aiding and abetting. 

Written by: Momina Tashfeen 
Photos taken by: Munira Abdullahi

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