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This is another older post I had written about three years ago now. I think it's probably some of my best writing, even if some of my thoughts or opinions may have changed since then.


[The believers are] those who, when afflicted by oppression, defend themselves. The requital of an evil act is an evil [act] like it, so whoever excuses and conciliates, his reward lies with Allah. Indeed, He does not like the wrongdoers. As for those who retaliate after being wronged, there is no ground for action against them. The ground for action is only against those who oppress the people and commit tyranny in the land in violation of justice. For such there will be a painful punishment.

Since the ruthless, brutal lynching of George Floyd, many different centers, mosques, organizations, and people all across the nation have raised their voices in support of police reform, policy change, and the valuing of black lives. While I have nowhere near the qualifications of many of the people who have spoken out already, I have been inspired by the words of respected scholars and thinkers, and I wanted to share some of my own introspections about the events that are taking place internationally – The protests, the riots, and of course, the police. 

The lynching of George Floyd can be added to a long list of black bodies, male and female, that have been murdered at the hands of the police. Fortunately or unfortunately this was the straw that broke the camel's back. George Floyd’s death has once again exposed the open wounds of the black community to the world. The intentional oppression and gross misuse of power that minorities have suffered at the hands of the country and, more specifically, the police, is and has been a red stain on the reputation of the “land of the free and home of the brave.” The reality of police violence, brutality, and murder is one that has been known to many Black Americans but acknowledged by few others. 

The rioting and looting being seen in several cities around the country have been the topic of continuous and tiresome discussion. Questions about the purpose, effectiveness, and benefits of these riots have circulated throughout the media, personal discussions, and public forums. Many of these discussions, while potentially well-intentioned, oftentimes miss the point. 

While rioting, burning, and looting are not necessarily the most effective or legitimate means of protest, let us not minimize the legitimacy of the anger or the intention of the cause by losing sight of the main point at hand, or by claiming that rioting is completely ineffective. The point of protest, civil or uncivil, is to raise awareness, point out injustice, and make the powers that be uncomfortable. These riots along with the protests have done exactly that and progress has been achieved. Not only is trying to determine what proportion of credit belongs to these riots difficult (and also silly), I find that critiquing actions that come as a result of specific circumstances, instead of critiquing what allowed those circumstances to exist, to begin with, concerning.

Martin Luther King Jr. famously said that “A riot is the language of the unheard.” Contrary to what is an apparently popular belief, riots do not appear out of thin air. Any one person's upholding of morality and appeal to ethics can only go as far as someone is willing to listen. The reality is that this is what happens when complaints and screams for justice fall on deaf ears. When the plight of black Americans at the hands of the American system and the very people meant to protect us go unheard, riots should be an expected result. This is the reaping of the seeds America has sown, and I’ll be damned if I condemn rioters for rioting before I condemn the government that put them in a position where they felt like they had to. 

Is rioting an ideal form of protest? Undoubtedly not, nor is the destruction of private or public property permissible in Islam, but let’s not pretend to live in an ideal reality, and let us not pretend that these riots are an unprovoked phenomenon. The fact is that there are layers of nuance and years of pent-up anger and unchecked oppression. When analyzing the current state of affairs any attempt to dismiss these factors is disingenuous. While it is obligatory for me to uphold the laws of my faith, I cannot ignore the multitude of reasons that the government has given protesters to riot. The first step in solving this issue is acknowledging the justifiably angry reactions that are these riots. In the words of Malcolm X, “the greatest mistake of the movement has been trying to organize a sleeping people around specific goals. You have to wake the people up first, then you’ll get action.”America has been asleep for far too long. 

Furthermore, the “rioters” are a small minority compared to the vast majority of people peacefully taking to the streets to protest, and the opportunists among these “rioters” are a minority within a minority.  If we are not to excuse the violent actions of a minority of protesters, then let us also not excuse the violence of the police who have not been held accountable for their role in the escalation of these situations. Many peaceful protests have been met with nothing but aggression, violence, and tear gas. The choppers hovering over protesters in DC, the hummers swarming major US cities, the countless videos of unnecessary brutality and force being used against unarmed civilians, and the rubber bullets used to allow our president to take his Bible photo opp. We must hold these people responsible! Democracy is supposed to be the backbone of this country, but when I see the supposed upholders of justice arresting people because of their speech, that doesn’t say democracy. That screams authoritarianism and tyranny.

The inclination to belittle and condemn rioters, while refusing to condemn the atrocities committed against black Americans and peaceful protestors by the police is at best, a painfully ignorant sentiment, and at worst, a dangerous lack of empathy, a purposeful ignoring of nuance, and a blatant lack of humanity. 

What then is the solution? This issue is one with a long history and very likely won’t be solved with any one approach. I don’t claim to have any definitive answers, all I can offer are a few humble suggestions. For everyone, use whatever means you can to try and effect positive change in this country. Use your hands, your voice, and your tongues as tools in this mission. Whether this is through protest, writing, voting, or bullying our local leaders into accepting our demands. Lobby for criminal justice reform, elect officials who are willing to commit to change, both locally and federally. Stay consistent and persistent; hold these officials accountable – no results, no re-election. March in the streets and demand to be heard. It is through many different tactics and many different voices that we will see change.

For our allies, continue to educate yourselves. Support black businesses, look for diversity of leadership in your venues, and ask yourselves who is not at the table and why. Use your privilege and your platforms to support and amplify the voice of the downtrodden and to disrupt racism and oppression. Black people did not create this problem, therefore we cannot solve it by ourselves. We’ve tried. It is only together that we can make lasting change. Demanding justice for George Floyd cannot be the end, it is only a small step in the right direction. 

For my Muslim communities, take this moment as an opportunity to address the racism in our mosques and community centers. Do not fall into the trap of viewing this issue as strictly a political one. As Shia Muslims, we come from the best of traditions, a tradition that vehemently opposes oppression, racism, and discrimination. We should take this moment to educate ourselves and create an open and honest dialogue with the black members of our community, who for so long have felt unwelcome in the presence of their fellow believers. 

In addressing racism do not think you are providing black people a service. ‘Asabiyyah, or prejudice is a nasty sin that soils our souls and inhibits deepening our relationship with God. In struggling to purify your soul of the disease of prejudice, realize that you are doing no one but your own self a favor. Ayatullah Khomeini narrates from a chain of reliable sources who report upon the authority of Imam Ja’far as-Sadiq (a.s), that the Holy Prophet (s.a.w) has said, “whosoever possesses in his heart ‘Asabiyyah (prejudice) even to the extent of a mustard seed, God will raise him on the Day of Resurrection with the pagan[s].” 

Lastly, but certainly not least, let us turn to God. Let us pray for Him to continue to allow us to educate ourselves, learn from one another, and perfect our relationship with Him. Pray for Him to purify our intentions and hasten the reappearance of His representative (a.j.t.f.s) on earth, who we actively wait for with heavy hearts and open hands.


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