Guest post: The Nada Zatouna Incident: The Strange Case of the Racist Egyptian Pharmacist that came out of Nowhere!!

The Nada Zatouna Incident: The Strange Case of the Racist Egyptian Pharmacist that came out of Nowhere!!


A black Egyptian director and activist is refused service in a pharmacy and Egyptians protest but Mubarak-era myths of a “innocent” society and false ideas about Africa still keep people from really interrogating racism even in revolutionary Egypt.


The other week went by like any other in Egypt when a girl was refused service in a store and was insulted by employees because of the color of her skin.

A pharmacist passed her by in line when it was her turn to buy medicine, stared straight in her face as he probably did many others with faces too dark before her, and without fear of losing his humanity or his job he said “I don’t take anything from people who are not white.” With that he instructed another employee to take the money from her black hands that were apparently not good enough for him to touch.

The difference this time though is that this girl was Nada Zatouna, a well-known Egyptian political activist and filmmaker in Cairo who is also Nubian and who is also a revolutionary and this, this small fact would upset the natural order of things in Cairo.

“I swear on my mother’s head aafashaaax them!!!” cried Nada on Facebook publicly about Seif Pharmacies, the famous chain of pharmacies that refused her. Arabic-learners, I’ll link you to my favorite Egyptian dictionary website to help you translate this not so polite Arabic gem.


But this was not the time to be decent or polite, it was time to fight. Nada with the support of her friends took to Facebook determined to instigate, incite, and interrupt the minds of the Egyptian public. Her online testimony circulated and in only a matter of hours after publishing it garnered over 400 shares and now stands at over 2,000. (Read the translation of the testimony here)

Nada’s testimony spread and quickly struck fear and shock into the minds of Egyptian social networkers. What was most scary about what happened to Nada was the fact that it sounded so much like those horrible stories we heard coming out of the Jim Crow U.S. or apartheid-era South Africa, it’s certainly not something that could come out of Egypt, Om ad-Dunia?!

Newspaper op-eds and Facebook comments about Nada’s experience all acted like this has never happened before. The incident was strange. Came out of nowhere. No historical precedent. An innocent society! An innocent people! How is this happening in Egypt? A moral breakdown of an innocent society!

“This is the first time this has happened in Egypt!”  one comment says in Arabic.

“Is what you’re saying real?!” another one said in response to Nada on her wall.

“We’ve never had this in Egypt before! How could this happen?! Wallahi this is a new problem,”  another comment in an online discussion says.

Even the Facebook protest page created in support of Nada bought into this narrative of never-before-seen -super-duper-new problem of racism!

“All of our lives we have never known anything about “black” or “white” and then comes someone who discriminates!” the Facebook page laments.

Then when the weeping and the gnashing of teeth subsided a bit, then came some voices of clarity, sanity and honesty, ones whom I genuinely appreciate and I have translated for you below:

Tamer Mowafy was one of the first to take down the pretentiousness in the reactions of some commentators and directly criticize the sentence claiming Egyptians were innocent of any knowledge of racism on the Facebook protest page for Nada.

tamer mowafy comment

“I strongly object to the first sentence [on the Facebook protest page]. If all our lives we didn’t have a thing called “black” or “white,” did the phenomenon of discrimination and unkindness towards blacks crash on us suddenly from the sky? The problem with these people is that they practice racism and sectarianism as if it is something so unusual so much so they don’t even think twice about it and all the time they imagine the people here are beautiful and don’t have any these bad things.”

Amira Aly also questions the underlying assumptions of the Facebook protest page that Egyptians just never “knew” how to racially discriminate:

amira aly comment

“With all due respect for the words written above. It is not right to say that Egyptians are not racist!! Egyptians are unfortunately racist to the core and I am for one am happy that we have finally risen up and stopped sleeping!”

As for the Facebook reactions that wanted to cast this as one bad apple or a “strange” or “unusual” incident Loda Kabo and Leil Zahra Mortada have much to tell us.

loda kabo comment

“We are a people that practiced racism and discrimination in all of its forms… the discrimination of thought, class discrimination, social discrimination and discrimination against women…  but demonstrations alone are not working we must fight racism in new ways …. The problem is not in an individual. It is in 80 million people who practice discrimination and racism in all its forms. The problem is a problem of a sick mentality.

leil zahra

“We must know that Nada is an activist and a revolutionary (and a great person) and many among her friends are activists and revolutionaries. All of them know to move and make an uproar against racism, but let us also think about how many people don’t have the strength and support she does. This is because society attacks them in every moment and every day, they don’t have that what we have in communications and means. This movement is not for Nada, this is for many more people, it’s for us, all of us. Discrimination and racism doesn’t have a limit. Today [we take on the discrimination] of skin, tomorrow gender, and after that religion….etc. etc.

These voices and their wisdom are encouraging but unfortunately Nada’s experience and the reactions to it reveal to us how out of touch with reality so many people are in Egypt concerning issues of race and color discrimination and they show us just how mired many people are in false Mubarak-era memories of “peace” and “tranquility” and “stability” between all groups.

One such example is this op-ed by a Mr. Hussien Ahmed which strangely tried to link Nada’s experience and the supposed “new phenomenon” of racism to the revolution. He suggested that in “post-revolution” Egypt there is a breakdown of morals and that “we have not seen this before.” The word “before” here means “under Mubarak” everyone, it means the last thirty years … This is code for more of the same myth that revolutionaries in this country hear all the time of the supposed “stability” and “peace” and all other sorts of great things that existed before the revolution. Mubarak era memories… a7a.

These Mubarak era memories asked the public to view relations between groups in Egypt with rose tinted glasses where just about everything and everyone was perfect under the previous regimes. These memories were of course selective … because we forgot that it was an Egyptian songwriter who wrote into Lebanese pop singer Haifa Webhe’s song the refrain referring to a “Nubian monkey”  toy and we forgot how the racist taunting of Nubian Egyptian football player like Shikabela was so bad it almost drove him to quit. And we forgot the racist Egyptian memes that pop up in our feeds or the culture of acceptable racism in printed Egyptian Arabic newspapers for decades. And we forgot the way darker skinned Nubians, refugees and migrants from other African countries are treated on daily basis, and we forgot more sinister episodes like the Mustafa Mahmoud square massacre or just how trigger-happy Egyptian guards are at the Israeli border.


These Mubarak era memories tell us to cancel out certain things so we wouldn’t be able to remember it if we tried. But all that forgetting doesn’t mean that racism wasn’t there “before.” So no Mr. Ahmed, the revolution hasn’t broken down morals  it has opened up eyes. It has done exactly what a revolution is supposed to do.

I speak harshly today, not just for my own sake as what Nada endures is something I suffer from personally but because it is something many of my diverse friends in this country, the people I deeply care about, the people I have come to admire and respect, people I consider like sisters and brothers also suffer from, people who are very very dear to me and no amount telling me “it doesn’t happen” from a society that insists claiming ignorance will make me be silent. It’s insulting.

The Nubian citizens martyred, imprisoned, injured and that fought for and continue to fight for this country and their homeland deserve for us to examine more the history of Egypt’s relations with Nubia and the Nubian people. Many of the South Sudanese, the Darfuri and Somali refugees that after enduring much hardships in their own countries still helped to secure neighborhoods during the 18 day uprising with their Egyptian neighbors in the neighborhood watch committees deserve more as well… all these groups deserve more than to have their discrimination to just be forgotten as that “strange incident!”

Many Egyptians have false ideas about Africa and this affects the way they treat and view blacks. (See: Three Myths Egyptians have about themselves and Africa). They often reject the idea that they are on the African continent, that blacks are “normal” citizens, or that racism really exists in Egypt. If Egyptians want to fight racism they must not only be against it verbally but go to the root of their misconceptions and false ideas and cut them out once and for all.

A Nubian Renaissance: Celebration and Resistance

It’s not even uncommon to even meet Nubians or other blacks in Egypt who accept one or all of the above false ideas. It’s not even rare to see them insist on pushing problems of color and culture discrimination under the rug or to see blacks advocate silence because the “best” road to advancement and survival is to act like nothing is happening… Or maybe as blacks we think it’s happening to the other ones of us, the darker ones, the female ones, the foreign ones, the poorer ones, the segments of our population that our least powerful, maybe if we think of it like this it makes it easier to discard racism to the back of our minds.

Nubian writer and model Fatima Ali couldn’t be more resistant to this way of thinking.


I ran into her the other day on the metro. I was eager to finally sit down and talk with the girl who had inspired me to start taking my translation of Arabic seriously.

But I would not be able to utter a single word to her on our ten metro-stop ride together because she was too busy defending herself. While we ride she hears people laugh at and taunt her, chide her for responding to her harassers, mock her for speaking Arabic correctly and one man even gets up off his seat and threatens to beat her if she doesn’t stop “talking back”. But not even for one minute does she not stand her ground, not even for one minute does she let any of this intimidate her.

As we near our stop and prepare to get off two other black women approach us and empathetically tell us “We go through this every day but you must ignore them and you must stay silent and not talk back.”

“Not talk back?” Fatima says in surprise, “I’m not going to stop expressing myself. Ever.”

And express herself she does… Fatima started her own blog called The Diaries of a Black Girlchronicling her experiences of ethnic and sexual harassment in Egypt and has garnered a following. But she isn’t alone many other Nubian bloggers are writing, tweeting and challenging the dominant premises that say racism doesn’t exist or ideas that deride Africa. Blogger Arkamani regularly writes about the many misconceptions Egyptians have about Africa and black people. Another Nubian blogger Ahmed Ragab writes about the intersection of Africa, resistance movements, and revolutionand encourages all Egyptians to see themselves and their struggle for justice in a larger and interconnected context.

The Black Kingdom Plot

What is so interesting about all this is that only twenty years ago Egyptian newspapers ran outrageously racist articles trying to convince the public that even festivals celebrating Nubian culture or identity were “Nigger and Jewish” plots to separate Egypt’s territorial and cultural integrity. But things are changing, one year after the revolution the “First Nubian African Egyptian Festival”was organized in Cairo where Egyptians of all backgrounds reveled in Nubian songs, dance, and art. Nubian women wore red, white, and black hijabs and dresses, beaming with Egyptian, African, and Nubian pride all in the same breath.

This generation whether they know it or not are breaking down rigid social binaries that say you cannot be African, Egyptian, and/or Arab at the same time. They are attacking social norms that look down upon identifying with Africa, as an African, or being darker-skinned. They are rejecting customs that say their Arab heritage or culture should relegate their Nubian heritage to the bottom.

Prominent Nubian activist and feminist with Nazra Center for Feminist Studies, Fatma Emam regularly blogs about the intersection of identities and experiences. She refuses to have any one of them sidelined.

“I’m not ‘related’ to Africa” Fatma states defiantly on her personal blog Brownie “I am African!”

These are bold words in a world where Africa is still universally regarded with a negative connotation but stronger words yet in Egypt a place where many still cannot accept the idea that they might be living on the African continent.

One Saydelia down but Thousands More to Go

The real fight for justice for Nada does not lie in just one “saydelia”  (pharmacy in Arabic) or protesting outside one store. Racism in Egypt is not just one man and it did not just fall from the sky. Real attacks against racism calls for a change in our paradigm, it calls for change in how Egyptians view Africa and their own image. This is the only way for justice and liberation for all.

Nada Zatouna’s experience should be a wakeup call for everyone who cares about human rights and justice in Egypt. Her experience is not an isolated one and is in fact a shadow of something that spans the whole entire Arab world as blacks in many places from Lebanon to Iraq face racism and discrimination and are increasingly organizing themselves to fight it.

Walking on the streets and being called every name in the book many of them derived from insults toward Nubians, there is no doubt in my mind that my own fate as a black American here is tied with the Nubians… and in this same way Nubians too should watch carefully how black refugees and migrants are treated in Egypt. Nada’s experience in particular shows them that their own fates are intimately connected with their brethren from other African nations.

nubian queen

Nubia Angel writes:

“The pharmacist’s justification is that he thought she was a Sudanese refugee as if this excuses him. This is the worst of excuses, even if she was a Sudanese refugee, is the Sudanese refugee not a human that can order medicine without him saying to her we don’t sell to blacks!?! He will marry her for refusing her for her color!?!”

Egypt like many societies in the Middle East and Africa is an oppressed society, but oppression doesn’t preclude innocence. Oppression doesn’t mean that society is good, shiny, and beautiful. And pointing out existing racism doesn’t threaten Egypt, celebrating diversity of identities and cultures will not tear Egypt apart. Affirming the fact that Egypt is in Africa isn’t going to turn the world upside down.

nubians girls dancing

Nada’s resistance to racism shows us that Egyptians are doing more than just unraveling traditions of discrimination they are actually challenging the way we think. The revolution has opened eyes here, and we are seeing that the people who will no longer adapt to poverty will also no longer tolerate sectarianism, the people who will no longer conform to gender oppression will also no longer assimilate racism into their lives…

I write this harshly but with an intense love as well. An intense love for Egypt, Nubia on both sides of the colonially drawn border and Africa as a whole kulluha.

We need a restructuring of our world and to do that it means we have to challenge our beliefs about the world. And only when we challenge our own ideas and societies can we even begin to imagine a better world, a world where racism and discrimination does not define people’s lives, a world where my friends and I do not have to walk down the street and be insulted for existing or being black in the wrong pharmacy at the wrong time.

Guest post: Translating Fatima Ali.

Fatima Ali is the woman behind the (now ended) blog “Diary of a black girl”. The translation is by the blogger The Strange and the Marvelous. The blog of that last lady can by found here:

Translating Fatima Ali

Every now and then I meet curious people who come up to me and ask… How does it feel to be black in Egypt? More interesting than my answer to the question, however, were their own ideas surrounding it.

 The speculations and suppositions range from overdramatic exaggerations of abuse, to happy feel-good pat-you-on-your-back flat-out denials of the existence of racism and its impact, to a suave and an educated watering down of existing racism from both Egyptians and white expats alike.

So when I ran across Fatima Ali’s piece a couple weeks ago I was happy to translate it.

Though it’s essential that this narrative be given to the Egyptian Arabic audience it was addressed to first (which is why I leave it in Arabic too), her situation is much larger than Egypt as girls painted darker shades everywhere from Brazil to Holland to the United States can relate to the hyper-sexualization, the denial of legitimately belonging to our faiths, and the constant ridicule we receive for having the audacity to walk into a room and be black at the same time.

So such a story should be added to the canon of the writings of the women of the African diaspora who can not only relate to this story but carry this story and stories like this with them every day wherever they go. Hers is one of the many voices which could easily go untranslated and often do here in Egypt…

* Note: I am by no means a professional translator, my Arabic is quite average, and the writer speaks in Egyptian slang quite liberally so until a real Arabic-speaker becomes so angered with this translation and he or she slams their mouse down and furiously edits this, you will have to settle for this unique creation of mine.

That said, I invite all suggestions, corrections, and contestations!*

يوميات بنت سمرا ( 2 )..بما أن: بنت حلوة وسودا ومش محجبة!!.. إذن: كده التحرش حلال

The Diary of a Black Girl (2) A girl is pretty and black and not veiled!!
License for Acceptable Harrassment


Fatima Ali

ناس كتير قوي اتكلمت فى موضوع التحرش بالبنات فى الشارع.. أنا بقى جاية أحكيلكم عن اللفظى والجنسي، وزود عليهم كمان التحرش ” العرقي ” اللي بتعرض له فى الشارع المصري الجميل..

A lot of people have talked about the harassment problem girls face on the street… Today, I am going to tell you all about the verbal and the sexual harassment and also add to this the “ethnic” harassment that also appears on the beautiful Egyptian street.

يعني إيه مثلا أكون ماشية فى الشارع و مجموعة شباب يشتموني بمجموعة قازورات منتقاة من الألفاظ القبيحة.. لكن اللى خلانى اتنح وسط كل السخافات دي، لما كلب فيهم قال:” يلا يا تريزة يا مسيحية يا بنت الم****ة”.. مش عارفة هو قرر إزاى إنى ” تريزه”هل مثلا عشان أنا سودا فيبقى أنا مسيحية.. ولا علشان مش محجبة؟.. طيب فرضا إن أنا مسيحية.. ليه بقى اتشتم .. يعني لو واحدة مسيحية شكلها ” عادي ” و لابسة صليب كبير كانوا هايشتموها كل شوية في الشارع ؟!..الحقيقة إنه ما كانش هايحصل، وحتى لو بيحصل بيبقى مرة ف الشهر مثلا مش كل يوم..

What I mean, for example, is I am walking on the street and a group of guys insult me with the worst choice of obscenities possible and while I’m walking in the middle of all this stupidity, one dog from the group says to me “Come on Mother Theresa! You Christian! You daughter of a “f**ker!”

First, I don’t know how he decided that I am a “Mother Theresa.” Could it be, for example, because I am black so it must be that I am Christian?  Or is it because I am not veiled? Ok , let’s presume I am a Christian… Still why would he insult me? I mean if I was a Christian girl with a “normal” appearance and wearing a big cross would they still insult her on every little street corner? The truth is that it doesn’t happen to Christian girls all the time and even if it were to happen it would be one time in the month not every day.

يعني إيه برضو أكون في الشارع _و دي بقى بسمعها أكتر ما بسمع إسمي فى اليوم الواحد_ الاقي حد يقول وأنا ماشية ”السود دول بيكونوا جامدين قوي ع السرير وسخنين ما تيجي !!” .. الغريب إنهم بيكونوا واثقين بنسبة كبيرة إني ممكن فعلا أروح معاهم لأني ياعيني محتاجة ده جدا، لأني ” سخنة ” طول الوقت وهو كده بيخدمني بمجهوده.. يا عين أمه.. ده غير أصلا إنه متصور أن كل السوداوات عاهرات طبعا من غير كلام..

What I’m trying to tell you all, is that in just one day when I am on the street I hear these kind of insults more than I hear my own name. Once, I found someone saying as I was walking “Those blacks they are very good in bed and very hot.  Here one comes!”

The strange thing about all this is that when they see me, they are very confident to a large degree that maybe I really will go with them because I really need this because I am “hot for it” all the time and of course he would just be doing a favor for me… This goes without saying that he pictures that all black girls are naturally prostitutes…

سيبك من ده كله.. طب عمرك شفت بنت في الشارع الناس بتشد شعرها عشان يضحكوا عليها خلق ربنا.. ده برضو بيحصلي طول الوقت، إن كان ف الشارع أو في المترو أو أى احتكاك بيني وبين قطيع منطلق يرعى سخافة..لأن المفروض إن السود دول ما عندهمش شعر.. يبقى أنا أكيد لابسة باروكة.. طب هو عايز يتأكد والموضوع شغله يعمل إيه؟؟ أو تعمل إيه؟؟ طبعا يقوم شادد هو الباروكة، ولما هو يشد الباروكة و تقع ينبسط هو أو هي، و يبسط خلق ربنا اللي محتاجة تتبسط معاه، لما الباروكة تقع

But it’s not just this…. Have you ever seen a girl in the street and people are pulling her hair and laughing at her, this girl, who is our God’s creation… This also happens to me all the time, indeed it happens in the street or in the metro or any place that I find myself between a pack of idiots.

This is because it must be that these blacks don’t have hair so of course I am wearing a wig and the matter is after all their business. They want to be sure of this so what do they do?  Naturally, they must take it upon themselves to pull the wig! And when they pull the wig and it falls they enjoy it! And simply the black girl, our God’s creation, is left with no other choice but to enjoy it with them when the wig falls….

ساعات بقى أكون ماشية في الشارع مع حد من اصدقائي اللي شكلهم “عادي” ومش ملفت، و تسمع الناس بتقول بصوت عالي “وإنتوا اتلميتوا على بعض فين؟!”.. كأني من كوكب المريخ، و صديقتي من كوكب الزهرة و المواصلات مقطوعة بين الكوكبين.. ياجدعان ده أنا مرة كنت ماشية في الشارع أنا وخطيبي اللي هو برضو شكله ” عادي “، لقينا واحد بيوقنا و قال لخطيبي ” يا شيخ حرام حرام عليك.. ده أنت أبيض و هي سودا؟!”.. وماتسألنيش يعني إيه!..

Another time, I was walking in the street with one of my friends that look “normal” and not at all eye-catching or conspicuous-looking and she hears people say in a loud voice “How did you all even become friends?! ” as if I was from Mars and my friend from Venus and transportation between the two planets is prohibited.

Still another time, I was walking on the street with my fiancé who is also “normal- looking” and we found someone hollering at us. “Hey sheikh!” he said to my fiancé “This is great shame for you! It’s forbidden! You are white and she is black!?” And don’t even begin to ask me what that means!

طب جربت تبقى واقف ف المترو و الناس كلها بتتكلم عنك بصوت عالي؟.. اللي يقول يا عم السود دول ريحتهم بتكون وحشة قوي مش عارف بيعملوا إيه في نفسهم عشان تكون ريحتهم كده.. اللى أعرفه إن الناس بتعمل حاجات عشان تبقى ريحتهم حلوة، مش يعملوها عشان تبقى ريحتهم وحشة.. و اللي يقول يا عم السود كلهم مسيحين.. أي والله كلهم.. واللي يقولك سودا قوي ؟!!.. و إذ فجأتن يجيلك تليفون و تتكلم ” عادي ” زي ما البشر بتتكلم، و تلاقي الناس كلها اتخرست فجأة.. و مش طالعلهم حس، لأنهم طبعا كانوا متخيلين إني من بلاد الهنولولو و مش بتكلم عربي “عادي” يعني زيهم..

Have you tried standing in the metro before and all the people are talking about you loudly? One says “Hey man these blacks their smell is always very bad and I don’t know what they are doing to themselves for them to smell like that… I know that the people do things to improve their smell, but they don’t do things to make themselves smell bad…” Another one says “Hey man all blacks are Christians… I swear all of them!” Another one says to you “You are very black!” Then… suddenly the telephone rings, speaking “normal” and like a human, I speak.  I find that everybody is suddenly silent and not one of them continues to talk because, of course, they all imagined that I am from the country of Honolulu and I don’t speak “normal” Arabic like them…

هاقولكم الخاتومة بقى.. أنا مرة كنت راكبة المترو و قاعدة جنب الشباك.. اذ أفوجأ بتفة عظيمة نازلة على قورتي من ناحية اليمين فوق حواجبي.. هل ممكن أي مواطن ” عادي ” يتعرض للموقف ده من لا شئ؟.. يا سيدي صلي ع النبي كده ف سرك .. و لما تشوف حد إسود_ أو أحمر حتى_بيحصل له أي حاجة من دي.. ابقى اتفرج زي عادتك و إفتكرني.

I’ll end all this with the time that I was once riding the metro and sitting next to the window and a huge spit fell on my right side of my forehead above my eyebrows… Really, ask yourselves, is it possible for any “normal” citizen to find themselves in this situation from nothing? Everyone, pray to the Prophet quietly when you see a black or dark person when any of these things happen to him then watch your own behavior and remember me.

*Ali describes herself as a Nubian from Sudan and an Egyptian-Sudanese. Her original blog can be found here.

Guest post by Eman: Here’s One Muslim Girl’s Take on Racism in the Ummah: It Does Exist

Here’s One Muslim Girl’s Take on Racism in the Ummah: It Does Exist

Photo credit:  YouTube

Guest post by Eman Idil: #OurThreeBrothers: Do You See Us Black Muslims Now?

#OurThreeBrothers: Do You See Us Black Muslims Now?

Guest post by Nida Sheriff:Abraham, Moses and Jesus Were Probably Black…But That Makes My Asian Muslim Family Uncomfortable .

Abraham, Moses and Jesus Were Probably Black…But That Makes My Asian Muslim Family Uncomfortable


Guest post by Lina Abdul-Samad:Arabs, the N-Word and the A-Word Are the Same.

Arabs, the N-Word and the A-Word Are the Same.

Now available: Dawud Walids book, Centering Black Narrative.

Dawud Walids VERY important book is now available: ”



Sidi Ahmad Mubarak and my new book Centering Black Narrative: Noble Black Muslims Among the Early Pious Muslims is now available in time for Black History Month.

You may purchase here or here.

Here is a brief summary of the book:

Blackness is a term which has been understood differently based upon time and geography. The authors of this book explore how the term was understood by Arabs during the era surrounding the first three generations of Muslims and how such context can better inform understanding who from among them would today be considered Black Muslims in the West. This is very important in light of the effects of colonialism and scientific racism theories such as eugenics etc.,, have forced the idea of species level taxonomies which are in reality social constructs upon the psyche of laymen across the globe. By examining texts of antiquity and centering them in the modern discourse, it is hoped that the nuance and breadth of the human experience can be appreciated. Moving beyond providing generic descriptive terminology, they elucidate in detail particulars based upon semantics of the Arabic language. Authors then give biographical information on a series of early Muslims from African and Arab lineage who would be considered Black in the post modern era.”



By Isra Amin Ibrahim

Last week, an Arab-American Muslim, Adam Saleh, was speaking Arabic on a Delta airline plane. Allegedly, this frightened and angered the white passengers, and Delta had him removed from the flight.

A recurring reaction from many non-Black Muslims to the viral video Saleh posted in response is a swift defense of Saleh, but the nonchalant attitude towards his “discovered” history of anti-Blackness. The most cited example of this history is his use of the word “Abeed,” the Arabic slur for “slave,” to refer to Black people.

Unlike many, my fury with this situation is not Saleh being kicked off the plane or even that his story was possibly a hoax. I am angered that this is yet another indication of the pervasive normalization of anti-black sentiment within the American Muslim Arab community.

It is important to recognize that Caucasians oppressing non-Black Arabs is akin to “white-on-white” crime to the global Black person who recognizes both groups as anti-Black oppressors. How whiteness manifests its violence is important to understand, however. If the white Muslim or Arab, like Adam Saleh, can be evicted for speaking Arabic, I can only imagine the reaction my 15 year old, 5’8” Black brother, Mohamed, would warrant. Would the white passengers have read him as a Muslim boy or just a Black man? Would non-Black Muslims even consider him a legitimate target of Islamophobia given his Blackness? Or are these questions simply an indication of the very real erasure of Black Muslims in Muslim spaces and conversations around Islamophobia?

I can empathize with injustice wherever it occurs, but it is necessary I am mindful and strategic about where I place my Black labor. My Muslim white Arab brothers and sisters are complicit in anti-Blackness that is just as egregious, if not even more so, than Caucasian racism. The people who would have me convinced that we are “brothers and sisters in Islam” because we share the same language have participated in the most violent ways of normalizing anti-Black ideas.

Black Muslims and Arabs are constantly questioned on the legitimacy of their Islam and demanded to put up labor while learning to tiptoe around the violent gaze of their whiter counterparts. The irony of casual anti-white humor that implicates them also is lost on the Arab Muslims who partake in it. Statements from my “well-meaning” non-Black Muslim sisters like, “my family really likes you, but they wouldn’t want you a part of it [because you are Black]” are not lost on me.

It seems while Ahmed and Fatima can see Becky and John’s anti-Blackness, they become completely dismissive of their own complicity. How dare you call me your sister, claim my work as only “Muslim” and participate in the intimate violence of my existence? Black Muslims cannot exist for the service of the Muslim community only as Malcolm X quotes or evidence that “Muslims have been here since slavery, too!”

The position of the Black Muslim or Arab is a paradoxical one. How does she reconcile with the question of “solidarity” while both the Arab and Caucasian communities still continue to oppress and violate Blackness in every way? Simply put, we don’t. The Black Yemenis are called “Al-Akhdam,” the servants. They are the “untouchables” at the bottom of the social ladder. The Black Iraqis are delegated to the most menial jobs and do not participate in public life. The Black Afro-Palestinian is called “Kushi” by Israelis, a derogatory term, but also “Abeed” by white Palestinians, and Black people are still referred to as “Abeed” all over the Arab world. The white Arab here functions just like the white Caucasian. Their anti-Blackness is what they have in common.

I am required to fight against Islamophobia not because I should have my labor at the service of non-black Arabs, but because I understand that, exactly like any other white supremacist project, it is the Blackest of the Black who will suffer the most. If the United States of America should launch another war in its “War on Terror” expansion, then we should recognize it is the disposable Black Muslim or Arab in these white supremacist Arab societies who will be exploited as proxy war soldiers, caretakers, and protectors of their Arab counterparts.

It is only through the constant and conscious recentering of Blackness in culture and religion, through the understanding that Blackness is constantly under threat, that all people can find liberation. Blackness cannot marginalize as it is all-protecting. Saleh is simply but one person, and as is often the case with non-Black people, he is centered way too often in important conversations and spaces. I will not allow his anti-Black history to be dismissed as simply “problematic,” or as having nothing to do with what allows the Islamophobic violence he experienced but affects Black people the most to continue in the first place. For me and many other Black Muslims or Arabs, he represents the entirety of our violent erasure. And he is not my ally.

Isra Amin IbrahimIsra Amin Ibrahim is a Sudanese-American and a junior on a pre-medical track at FIU. An active participant in the FIU community, she works to create interfaith events at FIU. She co-founded FIU’s first Muslim Chaplain Office of Multi-Faith and serves as a council member for Students for Justice in Palestine at FIU. Ibrahim aims to foster in her peers a greater awareness of the diversity of Muslim people and an understanding of how intersectionality is pivotal in promoting social change. She is also a member the Quantifying Biology in the Classroom (QBIC) program.



By Isra Ibrahim

On January 27, President Trump instituted his promised “Muslim ban,” an executive order prohibiting all non-citizens from 7 majority Muslim countries—Iran, Iraq, Sudan, Somalia, Yemen, Libya and Syria—from entering the United States. It is important to note that this list was based off of President Obama’s 2015 Visa Waiver Improvement Program and Terrorist Travel Prevention Act, which limited Visa waivers for anyone coming from the aforementioned countries, designated as “areas of concern.”


This Islamophobia was able to so easily evolve from liberal to conservative president because it is integral to the anti-Black structure of this society that both maintained. The equivalence between “Muslim,” “Brown,” and “terrorist” allows for imperialist wars abroad, but it also constructs a false reality disqualifying the black body from being a target of Islamophobic policies. The American empire benefits from this racial definition as it further justifies both its “War on Terror” while at the same time reinforcing that Black lives do not matter, even within Muslim spaces.

By understanding Islamophobia to be anti-Black, we can begin to unpack the very real erasure of the Black Muslim. This erasure is evident in the ways progressives and others protest against the “Muslim ban,” as well as in American Muslim discourse intra-communally. The separation of “Muslim” from “Black” is aided by anti-Black sentiment present in liberal spaces, and it is embraced by non-Black Muslims because it allows them to appeal to whiteness.


By embracing this separation, non-Black Muslims are able to place their bodies as an antithesis to Black ones. In returning to the mosques tomorrow, Black Muslims will be abused and patronized for this very reason. Muslim issues will be separated from Black issues and Black Muslims will be called upon for our undying solidarity and labor. Any attempt to combat Islamophobia without combating this separation not only means Black Muslims will still be in an abusive relationship with our white, Arab and Asian coreligionists, but also that Islamophobic violence will continue to build upon the separation between “Muslim” and “Black.”

Black people disappear from this discourse at the same point that “Muslim” becomes “terrorist.” This asserts the very critical need for Black Muslims to be the foremost faces in conversations about Islamophobia. Our very presence and leadership challenges anti-Black notions justifying a supposed synonymy between “Muslim,” “terrorist,” and “Brown,” helping to disrupt imperialist justifications for war abroad.


To fully combat Islamophobic violence, we must reject anti-Black imperialism altogether. While this “Muslim ban” is fought, we must acknowledge that all of this is done in an anti-Black land overlooked by a white colonizing power. Though it demands a rejection of non-Black Muslims’ claims to white society, Black organizing is in the interest of any true fight against Islamophobia.

To the Black Muslim: Your Muslim labor is Black labor. I write for you and my Black Sudanese and Somalian immigrant family who exist between the genocidal structures of anti-Black racism, Islamophobic violence, and xenophobic tactics. I write to the Black Muslim who must outperform their coreligionists on a “Muslimness scale” to combat an anti-Black order that has infested their own religious community. Fighting Islamophobia is a battle that can never be authentically won without us.

Isra Amin IbrahimIsra Amin Ibrahim is a Sudanese-American and a junior on a pre-medical track at FIU. An active participant in the FIU community, she works to create interfaith events at FIU. She co-founded FIU’s first Muslim Chaplain Office of Multi-Faith and serves as a council member for Students for Justice in Palestine at FIU. Ibrahim aims to foster in her peers a greater awareness of the diversity of Muslim people and an understanding of how intersectionality is pivotal in promoting social change. She is also a member the Quantifying Biology in the Classroom (QBIC) program.

Guest post. Black to the Future: A Black History Month Reflection from Margari Aziza Hill

Black to the Future: A Black History Month Reflection from Margari Aziza Hill

Margari Aziza Hill's great grandfather, Carlos Hilton, on his farm in Georgia

Editor’s Note: This is the first in a series of articles and reflections for Black History month.

By Margari Aziza Hill

Know from whence you came. If you know whence you came, there are absolutely no limitations to where you can go. — James Baldwin

I was in sixth grade when first learned of Black History month. My teacher turned to me, the only identifiably Black student in class, and asked, “Margari, were any of your ancestors slaves?” I shrunk in my seat.

Throughout the school year, two white boys in my class would shout “slave!” One girl’s voice shook with anger as she exclaimed that her great-great-great grandfather died to free my people. I asked my mother, “Why is it that all we were good for was slaves?” All I knew was that I was from a people without history. Without knowledge of my roots, I had no direction, because I could not imagine a future where I was free.

When we studied geography, those same boys who would call me slave would happily mispronounce “N*gger-ia” and the country of “N*gger” in our geography unit on Africa. Sometimes, on bus rides home, I would spot “Go back to Africa” carved into windows. I knew the message was for me.

On PBS and documentaries, the only image of Africa I had was wild animals of the Serengeti and nomadic tribes with topless black women. Growing up, I was ashamed to embrace my African identity.  As Malcolm X points out:

In hating Africa and in hating the Africans, we ended up hating ourselves, without even realizing it. Because you can’t hate the roots of a tree, and not hate the tree. You can’t hate your origin and not end up hating yourself. You can’t hate Africa and not hate yourself.

As a young Black girl, I constantly sought escape from the self-hatred. In the fantasy novels I read, I would disappear. But in reality, the authors imagined a world where someone like me didn’t exist.

My mother was a hoarder of old books, and scientific racism reached me there. I remember reading an old book where it claimed that Negroes had lower IQs. My mother once admitted to me that she also internalized this myth after a teacher exclaimed colored girls were intellectually inferior. But my placement in the gifted and talented program in fourth grade, my graduation from Santa Clara and Stanford and my sister from UCLA in biochemistry shattered her internalized inferiority.

Still I struggled as one of the only Black students in the honors classes.

After moving to the East side in junior high, I learned from teachers who believed in the importance of Black History. They opened my eyes to the liberation struggle of my people. Watching Eyes on the Prize in high school lit a fire inside of me. I became angry, but I also became proud by the acts of resistance. I learned about Black intellectuals and inventors, people who contributed to this society despite tremendous obstacles. I learned from teachers who highlighted my history and taught us with fierce passion, many of them who looked like me.

I took World History from Mr. Smith, who made us memorize all the countries in Africa and pronounce them correctly. I learned about the crusades from the eyes of the Levantine people, about African civilizations and about the Moors. His rigor and humor inspired a lifelong love of history, and he recommended that I go on to honors history for my junior year before he died of a sudden heart attack.

In high school, I went to a field trip to watch the Malcolm X (1992) and learned about the Black Panthers’ food programs. I even chose Public Enemy’s “Can’t Truss It” as the song to choreograph a routine for our step team.

Through high school, I struggled with my identity, but the seeds of consciousness were planted with Brand Nubian, Sister Souljah and Poor Righteous Teachers on my mix tapes. In my effort to redefine myself after I turned 18, I began reading books about African history and Black Nationalism. That journey led me to the path of Islam.

For me, embracing Islam meant cherishing the parts of me that society taught me to hate about myself.  Embracing Islam meant honoring the wombs that bore me. I was Black. I was African. I was the descendant of slaves. It meant a deep understanding of the difficult journey my ancestors took and being in communion and dialogue with Africans, who recently migrated to the Americas.

In the diversity of Black Muslim communities, I have made so many connections. At the same time, I have witnessed the tensions.  I have sadly seen colorism creep in Black Muslim communities, as well as internalized anti-Black and anti-African sentiment. Muslim communities must challenge the model minority narratives, the marginalization of African refugees, and erasure of undocumented immigrants from Africa and the Caribbean. We can better support each other in our shared struggles when we appreciate our histories and reject dominant narratives that dehumanize us.

My Islam has helped me appreciate articulations of diasporic identities in the Black Atlantic, as well as the descendants of the trans-Saharan slave trade and Red Sea slave trade in North Africa and in the Gulf.  It has helped me forge a space by which I can love my blackness and resist White supremacy through my work at MuslimARC. My Islam connects me to people of all races whose history runs deep, from the Filipino sisters who taught me wudhu (prayer abulations) to the Albanian sisters, whose pride in their Muslim identity inspired me during my darkest times.

As I meet Muslims, whose family histories were affected by displacement, genocide and colonial violence, I appreciate their legacies. Islam has been a vehicle for me to learn from others, to share parts of myself and connect with my African heritage. Learning the history of Africa and its diaspora has helped me envision possible futures where we all are free.

Margari Aziza Hill is co-founder and Programming Director of Muslim Anti-Racism Collaborative (MuslimARC), assistant editor at AltM, columnist at Muslim Matters. An educator and independent researcher, she has given talks and lectures at various universities and Muslim community organizations across the country. Find her on Twitter @margari_aziza and on her blog here.