Reasons Why the Diversity of the Muslim Ummah Still Hasn't Changed How Unrepresented Most Muslims Are - Global Muslim Writers

The ummah is very diverse, but sadly, not everyone is represented; not even some of the major ethnic groups. Through books, social gatherings, and even lectures, we usually hear of the same types of Muslims. We talk about the diversity of the ummah, but in reality, it's all left in theories. This wasn't really a problem until the world became globalized. It has its good and bad part. Now people read books from other people across the world, watch lectures, and even communicate. As Muslims, it's important to get out of our individual bubbles and remember that we have brothers and sisters in other parts of the world who may look different or speak different languages.

Not acknowledging that the Muslim ummah is diverse
Allah created us into different nations and tribes so we may know one another, yet, many Muslims face discrimination because of their skin color or where they are from. As a result of misrepresentation, people often associate being Muslim to a specific race or cultural backgrounds depending on the country. On an international level, most people directly associate being Muslim to being Arab. This is a reality despite Arabs being a minority in the Muslim ummah. The reason for the misrepresentation of the various groups of people in the Muslim ummah has a lot to do with prejudice thinking and racism from Muslims of different parts of the world. These are learned behaviors that could change if we make a difference today with the young generation. The problem with a lot of Muslims is that they often prefer to pretend as if there are no problems in the ummah. The thing is, the silence makes the problems grow and could potentially make the lives of many Muslims unbearable in countries where they are minorities.

Not engaging with others and speaking different languages
Another reason for the misrepresentation is because not many Muslims from other parts of the world seem to engage a lot in projects that could expose their presences in the ummah. Why is that? Perhaps because outside of their countries, they feel unappreciated or disconnected from the rest. Also, the internet seems to be invaded by the English language, and obviously, not everyone speaks English. There are many other languages out there besides English. But, it seems the collective language of the internet is mostly English. So those who speak other languages usually get left out to a certain degree. Still, many things could be done in the various languages out there if people simply get involved to make a difference. But the truth remains, even those who speak a common language are still left out.

Prejudice behavior and racism
To elaborate on the prejudice and racism part, it's a well and alive disease that seems to fill the hearts of many Muslims, yet the silence and denial surrounding it is unbelievable. It shows up in many forms. In countries where Muslims from different parts of the world live (usually Western countries), those of the majority groups usually look down on those who seem less in numbers. Some of the ones from the majority group see the other ones as less Muslim or question their Islam as if it's impossible to be Muslim aand be from country xyz!

Relying on what one grew up seeing as the face of Islam
I understand that it's human to see as normal what one grew up being exposed to from childhood. When I was a kid in West Africa, Muslims I knew of were either Africans or Arabs. Of them, Africans were the majority; specifically Mandenka (Djoula/Bamana/Manika/Soninke), Fulani, Wolof, Tuareg, and Hausa. The ethnic groups I just mentioned are a huge number of the Muslim ummah. There are millions of Hausa, millions of Mandenkas, and millions of Fulanis spread across West Africa and some even from the northern parts of Africa.

You can image that as I kid, I did think that most Muslims were Africans. Those were the Muslims I was exposed to! Despite that, I never thought for a second that it was impossible for other people to be Muslims; I just hadn't met them yet. Even when I started meeting Muslims from other African ethnic groups and countries, I was pleasantly surprised but never questioned it for a second. As I grew up, traveled, and saw more Muslims of various colors, cultures, and speaking different languages, I was also pleasantly surprised. I never went to anyone's face rudely asking them if they were Muslims; especially after seeing them in full Islamic outfits. And even when they didn't "look" Muslim, I still didn't question their Islam just because of where they were from. Adults should know better and teach their children about diversity outside of what they see. They can't keep living in a bubble as if the world revolves around them and think that no one else but them could be Muslim.

Assuming that every new face must be a new Muslim
Not everyone who looks different is a recent revert/convert. And even if they were, what's the big deal? Life moves on. All the companions of the prophet (peace be upon him) were also revert/converts. I fail to see what the big deal is and why some Muslims feel the need to walk up to people who look different from the Muslim face they saw growing up only to question their Islam. It's absolutely uncalled far.

Limiting Islam to specific geographical locations and forgetting the history of Islam
When one looks through the history of Islam, I don't know how a person could possibly think that Islam is reserved for only certain people. And even shocking is when some somehow act surprised when they see African Muslim or people of African decent. Not that it matters, but, Islam reached Africa well before it reached most of what is now known as the Arab world; including Madinah. And, most Arabs of today are Arabized Arabs; meaning, they're considered Arabs before they speak the language, lived with Arabs, or genetically mixed with the Arabs of before. If you go through the Arab world of today, they all look different because they have different genetic makeup. Some are mixed with Africans, many with Europeans, some with Turkish, most with multiple mixes, and others may not genetically be Arabs at all. It's sad that it needs to be mentioned because it really should not matter! Just to clarify, Arabs aren't the only people with this problem; I just mentioned them because people usually associate Islam to being Arab. We are all Muslims; that should be enough. Anyways, no one should be surprised to see 'Black' Muslims and wonder.

Some Muslims not mixing with other Muslims
On the flip side, not that it's justified, I can see why some Muslims in the West may be surprised when they see Muslims from African countries; especially those from West African countries. Sadly, most West African Muslim women of today do not wear the hijab. Of the men, most shave their beard. To make matters worse, they don't usually mingle with other Muslims in the West. Of those who go to the masjid, most probably only go to masaajid where the majority of the attendants are from their ethnic background and speak their language. The khutbah in those masajid is usually done in both English and their languages because there are usually many of the elders who only speak their own languages. If the country where they reside doesn't have a masjid with people like them or who speak their language, many wouldn't go to the masjid. One of the reasons for this may be because of not feeling comfortable around people who are racist or prejudice; based on their experiences.

Denying racism
When the racism of the ummah is mentioned, you hear some people with a come back saying statements like "There's no racism in Islam. Bilal (may Allah be pleased with him) was black and he was the first caller to Salah." Firstly of all, they are denying the reality and using a fact from Islam to cover their despicable behavior. Secondly, mentioning Bilal (r.a.) all the time in such situations is NOT a compliment because he has nothing to do with them or what's going on today. Thirdly, Islam is one thing, a person's behavior is another thing; sadly. Fourthly, they seem to use Islam as merely theories rather than at least trying to implement it in their lives. Lastly, there were and still are millions of Muslims who are Black other than Bilal. We need to move on now; there's more to him than being Black. By the way, 'Black' people come from various countries around the world, speak different languages, and have different cultures. They aren't just a "color" from the same city.

Not looking "Muslim" + a little bit of history
Now, going back to West Africans and hijab, why don't most Muslim women from West Africa (collectively) wear the hijab? That has a lot to do with colonialism. Pre-colonialism, the majority wore the hijab. There are still many parts of West Africa where most women still wear the hijab. Proof is, you wouldn't see a Muslim grandmother from the whole of West Africa without hijab outside the home; usually. I have yet to see one, even though very old women don't have to wear it anymore as far as I know. They also started wearing it even before puberty. During the European colonial period (not very long ago by the way), the Muslims there were the most resistant to the colonial power; as they were during slavery. Most refused to send their children to colonial schools out of fear of their offsprings getting corrupted or brainwashed. Because their wealth and resources were wrongfully controlled (not much has changed), it was hard to live without somehow depending on the foreign invaders. Since most of the Muslims were resisting, it left them poorer than the non-Muslims or the few Muslims who conformed. At that time, the vast majority of West Africans were Muslims. Today, it's more of a fifty/fifty ratio, but Muslims are still the majority (a little over 50%). And, many of the countries there are well over 90% Muslims.

Assuming people can't be Muslims based on the color of their skin
There's one more thing related to the misrepresentation of many Muslims that I would like to mention. White Muslims, or Muslims are European decent often get questioned of their Islam as well by the biggest minorities of Muslims in some countries. Even though they usually come with White priviledge even within the Muslim community, they still face rude commentators who either doubt their Islam or assume they must be reverts/converts just because of their race. As I've mentioned earlier, anyone who knows the history of Islam knows that Islam wasn't meant for any specific race alone. It is for every single human being on this earth and that was established from day one. It is up to individuals to reject or accept it. Islam is not a birth right; it's a belief system. One may be born with the natural disposition to be Muslim, but if later beliefs and actions aren't there, there's clearly no Islam for that person. Besides, from earlier on, there were Muslims from every corner of the world. Islam isn't new in Europe! There are still Muslim majority countries with people looking 'White'. And no, they didn't all just convert. I mean come on; don't we all know of Sheikh Al Albani (one of the most renowned scholars of Islam)? Where do people think he was from? Clearly Albania! Last time I checked, they were Europeans.

Also, there're millions of Chinese who are Muslims. We all know of Indonesia having the biggest population of Muslims in the world. Islam in America is NOT new, yet many people assume that all American Muslims (not first generation Americans) just converted to Islam. And so what if they just did? Does that give anyone the right to walk to someone, make them uncomfortable, and question them? It is absolutely uncalled for and a lack of respect. The funny thing is, some of the people walking around policing people's Islam don't pray, don't fast, and commit all the major sins of the world. And somehow, they think that they are above any other Muslim because they have a "Muslim" name, grew up calling themselves "Muslim," and have a great-great-grandfather who used to pray in the masjid. Big deal... We can do better than that. If some people from the Prophet (peace be upon him)'s family didn't make it to Jannah, I wonder how such people think having a Muslim ancestor would make any difference in their Islam.

Lack of education... must change
I believe that it is very important for all Muslims to be educated about Muslims from other countries around the world. Being exposed to stories of Muslims from various parts of the world enriches the minds of the young Muslims and creates a kind of closeness that would have otherwise been almost nonexistent. More books should represent various ethnic backgrounds, colors, and people who speak various languages. Best would be to start with the youth. They should know about Muslims they have never seen or heard about. Doing so through reading, writing, and education is crucial. This is also one of the reasons why we started the Global Muslim Writers. As an ummah, we need curricula that represent us as Muslims. And as Muslims, we need to represent Muslims from all parts of the world. People connect better when they feel included, and they should for obvious reasons.

Now, that was an essay! I hope I've made my points clear and you've enjoyed reading and/or have learned something. Let's be open-minded, respectful, and welcoming towards one another.
AuthorUmm Sumayyah
Umm Sumayyah is a mother of two and a former teacher who turned into a home educator after becoming a mother. She is also an editor and a researcher who loves collecting and sharing information on social matters, education, career, and entrepreneurship.

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