Opinion: Why So Many Muslims Support Black Lives Matter — and Why Bigots Fear Our Solidarity

Photo Credit: Maranie Staab

In the name of God, the Most Compassionate, the Most Merciful. All praise and thanks belong to God, the Lord of the Worlds. May peace and prayers be upon Prophet Muhammad and his family.

By Edward Ahmed Mitchell, CAIR National Deputy Director

Over the past month, opponents of the Black Lives Matter movement have gone on the attack against some of the cause’s strongest supporters: American Muslims.

According to a poll conducted back in 2017, the American Muslim community was the faith group most likely to express support for Black Lives Matter. In fact, both African-American Muslims and Muslims of other ethnicities expressed strong support for the movement. That support has only increased since the murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arberry and other unarmed African-Americans earlier this year.

If you look upon such support as a positive sign of solidarity against racism, you are not alone. But a vocal number of rightwing activists see Muslim support for Black Lives Matter a dangerous threat to the status quo.

In an editorial published by Newsweek titled The World’s Red-Green Axis Has Come to Our Streets, Zuhdi Jasser — a prominent critic of Islam who openly collaborates with anti-Muslim hate groups — accused Muslim activists (or “Islamists,” as he calls us) of working with “neo-Marxist” Black Lives Matter and various other actors to destroy America.

Jasser wrote, “Whether at the United Nations, where oppressive, despotic nations such as China, Venezuela, Iran, Syria and Qatar work against American interests, or in Congress, where the “Squad” shills for both the domestic radicals of BLM and the Islamist movements, the world’s “Red-Green Axis” has landed in our streets.”

Did you follow all of that? Don’t worry. Neither did I.

None of this convoluted conspiracy theory, which has somehow popped up in other prominent editorial pages, makes any sense. However, all of it should sound very familiar — especially if you know about the strategy commonly used to undermine civil rights movements.

Back when Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and other African-American activists argued that our nation should live up to its founding ideals by protecting the right to vote, banning segregation, and ending racial terrorism, racists did not want to debate the merits of that argument.

After all, it’s not so easy to explain why some Americans should not have the right to vote, or why Americans of a different race should not be able to marry, ride the same bus, sit at the same lunch counter, or attend the same school, or why using batons, fire hoses and German shepherds on peaceful protesters is a good idea.

So, if you’re a racist who cannot argue with a moral message that may attract broad support across America, what do you do? You ignore the message and you attack its messengers. Better yet, you smear its messengers.

To that end, racists “red-baited” Black civil rights activists of the 1950s and 1960s, accusing them of being anti-American communists plotting to destroy our nation from within.

“The [NAACP] weathered attacks from House Un-American Activities Committee and the Senate’s Internal Security Subcommittee, and southern state investigative agencies, determined to discredit the NAACP by linking it to communism,” according to a historical archive about the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee, which experienced similar attacks.

The communist smear was also common at the local level. White racists protesting school desegregation could often be seen holding signs with messages such as, “Race-mixing is communism.”

To be clear, some Americans who identified as communists actually did participate in the struggle for civil rights. However, the movement was obviously not beholden to communists. The same is true of today’s Black Lives Matter movement, which includes supporters of various ideologies.

Although red-baiting failed to stop the Civil Rights Movement or other 20th century liberation movements such as the South African anti-apartheid struggle, the strategy has been resurrected in 2020 with a modern twist: Islamophobia.

Just as racists claimed that African-American civil rights activists wanted to destroy America with help from communists, anti-Muslim bigots have spent twenty years claiming that American Muslim civil rights activists are a dangerous fifth column. Now rightwing extremists claim that Black Lives Matter supporters are communists and “Islamists” who want to “erase and rewrite America’s history, destroy and rebuild her institutions, and overthrow her political system.”

In other words, the far right has combined a boogeyman of the past with a boogeyman of the present in order to undermine solidarity with Black Lives Matter, and ignore the actual policy reforms supported by an increasing number of Americans.

Same bigotry. Same strategy. Different century.

You might ask: why even bother to rebut all of this transparent nonsense? Simple. Recent history proves that anti-Muslim conspiracy theories can quickly inspire harmful government policies like anti-Sharia laws and the Muslim Ban, or even deadly acts of violence like the Christchurch massacre.

The best way to counter a blatant lie is to vocally speak the truth. And the truth is that American Muslims who stand up against police brutality and other manifestations of systemic racism are carrying out a religious duty, not a “Islamist-Marxist” conspiracy.

The Quran proclaims, “And of (God’s) signs is the creation of the heavens and the earth and the diversity of your languages and your colors. Indeed in that are signs for those of knowledge.”

In his final sermon, the Prophet Muhammad (may peace and prayers be upon him) said, “All mankind is from Adam and Eve. An Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab nor does a non-Arab have any superiority over an Arab. Also, a white has no superiority over a black, nor does black have any superiority over a white except by piety and good action.”

The Prophet also specifically condemned anti-Black racism. Upon learning that one of his companions had derided another man as “the son of a Black woman,” the Prophet reportedly became visibly upset and rebuked him.

In response to a similar incident, he reportedly said, “Raise your head and look about you. You are not better than any person regardless whether he is of a red or black skin color. No one is better than the other except through piety.”

The American Muslim community has been putting these ancient values into action for decades, from the anti-racist teachings of historic figures like Malcolm X and Imam W.D. Muhammad to modern groups working to combat racism (inside and outside the Muslim community) like the Muslim Anti-Racism Collaborative to the everyday American Muslims in the streets this summer chanting, “Black Lives Matter.”

By the way, the fact that so many American Muslims support the Black Lives Matter movement does not mean that Muslims support every view or goal of the official Black Lives Matter organization, as Jasser implied in his editorial. American Muslims are simply mature enough to work with organizations on shared goals while agreeing to disagree on issues that may conflict with some of our own views or values.

People like Jasser cannot understand or tolerate this sort of solidarity. In fact, the thought of people uniting across races, religions, causes, ideologies, and national borders to confront systemic racism terrifies supporters of the status quo. Hence their attempts to attack anyone who dares to stand with Black Lives Matter, particularly Muslims (though not exclusively Muslims; see hostility to Black-Palestinian solidarity).

Bottom line: if you stand up for a just cause, you should expect to see many American Muslims standing alongside you in support of that cause.

Bigots like Zuhdi Jasser can smear us as “neo-Marxists,” “Islamists,” or whatever else they want. Such smears did not stop the Civil Rights Movement, and God willing, they will not stop Muslims across America from declaring that Black Lives Matter.

Edward Ahmed Mitchell, Esq. is the National Deputy Director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the nation’s largest Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization. He may be contacted at: e-Mitchell@cair.com