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The lived experience of racism Black South African Muslims go through everyday

Journalist, Nelisiwe Msomi, describes how black South African Muslims experience racism from fellow Muslims.

As my taxi turned into Plein Street, I began to feel thirsty. I shouted, “after robot” as the taxi approached Wanderers Street. I got off looking at the long Braam/Auckland Park taxi line. I was conflicted on whether I should go buy water or join the line and get water on campus. My thirst won, and I went to the shop that’s next to the line. I often by stuff here, especially if I need anything that may not be available on campus. I head straight for the fridge and grab a bottle of water. I get to the till and pay. As I put my change into my purse, the shopkeeper asks me if I’m Muslim. Clearly, my hijab doesn’t give it away, so I respond positively. He asks, “Are you South African?”

He then asks whether I am married to a Bangladeshi or Pakistani. I tell him that I’m not married. He then asks if I’m sure that I’m not married to a Bangladeshi or Pakistani.

At this point, I feel a spark of rage flaming up inside of me. It’s the same feeling of humiliation that I felt when a Pakistani man asked me to prove that I’m Muslim by reciting Qur’an verses in a taxi a few years ago. The same feeling that I always feel when my marital status to a foreign national is asked to verify whether I’m Muslim or not. The same feeling that I had when my friend was called a ‘kariya’ ( the Indian version of k*ffir) when we were 14. The same feeling that I had when a maulana in school said that because of how our (black people’s) hair grows we will not enter Jannah. The same feeling that I had when my madressa teacher described Munkar and Nakir having dreadlocks when they punish sinners in the grave. The same feeling I had when we were told not to speak our home languages at school. The same feeling that I had when I could only be domestic worker every day when we played house-house in nursery school. The same feeling I had when my little sister was told that putting her Zulu beaded band on top of her scarf is haraam, yet Punjabis are halaal.

The same feeling that I had when we were told that the women of Jannah are fair in complexion. The same feeling that I had when a maulana at school asked why we (black students) kept our “Christian” names and further said non-Arab names like Shirin and Shabnam are acceptable “muslim names”. The same feeling that I had when I was told that being Zulu and Muslim do not mix but constantly heard the same teachers ask the other kids in my class if they are Alipore, Memon etc. The same feeling that I had when my history teacher made a joke in class and said I wouldn’t get it because I’m not Indian. The same way I feel when I pass salaam and the wajib response is not given back to me. The same feeling that I had when black maulanas are called shaikh instead of maulana, even though they are equally qualified. The same way I felt when I watched some of my friends leave Islam because of the way they were treated.

Our parents send us to Muslim schools so we can be in an Islamic environment. We attend Muslim festivals to we can get spiritual upliftment. We go to the masjid to talk with our creator. But instead, these places have become toxic places to our well-being. Racism lurks in and selective Islamic principles become the norm of the day.

And he finally says, “How is that possible? You can only be a Muslim if you are married to a Bangladeshi or Pakistani man.”

I furiously walked out and never set foot into that shop again.

This is not an isolated incident. It has happened to me a lot. It happens to black South African Muslims every day. It’s torture and trauma. I don’t know why people feel that their skin colour gives them the monopoly on Islam. That they get to choose who is a suitable or not for Islam. But Allah says in the Quran:

“And Allah guides whom He wills to a straight path.”(2:213)

The irony of it all is that these are the same people who stand in the front of Free Palestine picket lines and shout “Down with Israeli apartheid,” “Down with Israeli racism,” yet they put black Muslims through trauma like Israel. Do you not see the bombs you drop on us? How explosive your behaviour to the Ummah’s unity?

I’m not here to beg for your approval. I’m simply doing what Allah commands of me in Surah Imran Ayah 103 and 104.

“And hold firmly to the rope of Allah all together and do not become divided. And remember the favour of Allah upon you – when you were enemies and He brought your hearts together and you became, by His favour, brothers. And you were on the edge of a pit of the Fire, and He saved you from it. Thus does Allah make clear to you His verses that you may be guided.

And let there be [arising] from you a nation inviting to [all that is] good, enjoining what is right and forbidding what is wrong, and those will be successful.”

Reflect, how different is your behaviour towards black Muslims to how Israel treats Palestinians?

*Drops mic*

This post was originally published on Nelisiwe Msomi’s blog and is republished with permission.

Featured image by 14hundred
11 Comments
  1. Petrus Civis says

    “Wanderous Street”. “I often by stuff here”. That’s just the first three lines. And this individual is a journalist.

    1. Nabila says

      @Petrus, do you want a noddy badge for your incredibly meaningful insights or do you agree that we should hang on to it until you learn to count?

      1. Petrus Civis says

        @Nabila, neither of the above, thanks. Ideally I’d like a higher standard of journalism, but I suppose I’m only kidding myself if I’m looking for that at the Daily Vox.

    2. Azad Essa
      Azad Essa says

      These typos were fixed. Thanks for pointing them out.

  2. azza says

    My sincere apology for all your horrible experiences,Nelisiwe.Unfortunately you had the misfortune to be exposed to people who are supposedly Muslim, but their behaviour totally contradicts that which our beloved Prophet(PBUH) prescribed for all Muslims.I hope in future that God gives you the opportunity to be exposed to TRUE Muslims whose behaviour reflects that of our beloved Prophet(PBUH),so you can truly understand that a Muslim is he who lives by the injunctions of the Quran and not he who calls himself a Muslim but behaves otherwise and shows no mercy to mankind.

  3. […] Nelisiwe Msomi recently wrote about her experiences as a black Muslim in South Africa, and the ways in which Indian Muslims mistreat her; “We attend Muslim festivals to we can get spiritual upliftment. We go to the masjid to talk with our creator. But instead, these places have become toxic places to our well-being. Racism lurks in and selective Islamic principles become the norm of the day. [Someone tells me] ‘You can only be a Muslim if you are married to a Bangladeshi or Pakistani man.’” […]

  4. SD says

    Ultimately however, I don’t understand why Africans must seek religious and spiritual fulfillment in other foreign religions. I respect her choice and anyone other African who is a Muslim or Christian. It’s just hard for me to believe that black Africans, arabs/ Indians and white can all worship the same god.

    1. h7 says

      Religion is not limited to race and ofcourse they all worship the same God, because there is only one God.

  5. h7 says

    I do apologise and sympathise with you sister Nelisiwe, it is very unfortunate that you had to endure such unruly behaviour and may Allah reward you for every struggle. It just so happend that you were exposed to a really unfair community, such was not the case in mine. I’m speaking as an Indian Male (not that it matters) our Moulana always treated all equal and I was always very close(if not closer) to the African Muslims, meaning their race had no bearing to me.
    I can only thank Allah for the Tawfeeq. You have come across many a fool in your life, don’t be concerned with them, you know the truth about Islam, your Islam, hold on tight. Unfortunately, racism is deep-rooted, and as much as you would never regard me a racist from the apparent, there are specks inside which I pray that Allah remove, but more importantly, is how we handle it, our actions, because we know what we have to do, what’s right. We pray that Allah forgive and guide these ignorant individuals and us all.

  6. […] Nelisiwe Msomi recently wrote about her experiences as a black Muslim in South Africa, and the ways in which Indian Muslims mistreat her; “We attend Muslim festivals to we can get spiritual upliftment. We go to the masjid to talk with our creator. But instead, these places have become toxic places to our well-being. Racism lurks in and selective Islamic principles become the norm of the day. [Someone tells me] ‘You can only be a Muslim if you are married to a Bangladeshi or Pakistani man.’” […]

  7. Prince says

    Nelisiwe, drop Islam bcos you are strugglingto serve yourGod and at the same time, being baptised in Islamic racism. Christianity is a better home for you.

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