Back in the day when I was in in my early teens, I used to purchase candy from a local gas station near my grammar school. One day, I came in the store and the Arab cashier began screaming at me frantically, demanding that I leave his store at once. I had no idea what his problem was but I quickly left the store after telling him off. I then went home and told my mother about this event; she was furious.The next day my mother and I went to this gas station to discuss this incident with the merchant. He accused me of throwing a brick at his store window. My mother was very professional, calm, and told this man the error of his assumption without using any profanity or cursing. We cleared up the confusion—he had me confused with one of the thousands of other black kids that frequented his store. Many young black kids would often come in his store to take goods and then run off. Some would disrespect him by referring to him as “Mr. Osama Bin Laden” and he in turn would mumble the ‘N-word’ under his breath.
Fast-forward to my senior year of high-school. I had gotten off the bus on my way home from school and decided to go to a gas station (not the same one, I had moved since then). There were a couple of guys hanging outside the store—one of them looked at me with a cold, grim face so I already speculated as to their intentions. I went inside the store, bought my goods, and then walked out heading to the bus stop. They began following me and eventually attempted to rob me. From then on I began to notice a rise in the amount of young blacks hanging outside of various corner-stores a couple of years ago. Prior to the increase store owners would complain of loitering to the police to get rid of them.I wondered why this change occurred, and one day while I was in school talking to a classmate who was a member of the Gangsta Disciples I got my answer. He was talking about how he and his crew now have a corner store.
I knew this didn’t mean he owned the business—but that various gangs had begun to sell drugs out of these corner stores. Thus, it confirmed something I had speculated—these Arab owned corner-stores had begun to collaborate with gangs in the illegal underground economy that black youth have been forced to partake in for survival. Nearly every convenience store in the black community in the South-Side of Chicago is owned by Arab merchants who do not even live in the community. Some areas of the South-Side of Chicago are essentially food deserts. Many black resident’s lack cars to be able to go to mainstream stores and thus have to depend on these corner-stores which sell overpriced goods to the community at inflated prices. I will never forget, one day I had gone to a corner-store near my house and an elderly black woman with unkempt gray hair came in begging for food. The Arab merchant then yelled at her, demanding that she leave the store. I then went up to the cash register and I purchased my products with a credit card. He asked for my I.D.; seeing that my last name was ‘Muhammad’ he asked me if I was Muslim.
I told him I was to which he then responded by greeting me with an “as salaam alaikum.’ After his sudden change in demeanor, he proceeded to complain about this unruly lady saying, “Brother, I don’t know what’s wrong with these people.” I, much to his surprise, came to the defense of the black woman and we began to have an in-depth discussion on the issue. He then had the audacity to ask me was I a ‘real Muslim’ or one of those NOI guys.“NOI” stands for the Nation of Islam, an Islamic Black Nationalist organization founded by Elijah Muhammad. There are many elements of the Nation of Islam theology that differs from that of the so-called “orthodox Islam.” The Nation of Islam believes that white people are ‘devils’ and are innately evil; a wide variety of beliefs that are held by NOI followers are considered to be heresy by so-called Sunni Muslims.
After Elijah Muhammad’s death, the organization was then headed by his son who was Warrith Dean Muhammad. Warrith Dean Muhammad totally revamped the theology of the Nation of Islam to that of mainstream orthodox Islamic people. However, some members of the Nation of Islam resisted such changes—one of whom was Louis Farrakhan who revived the Nation of Islam under its original teachings.My mother’s side of the family consists of Christians as well as orthodox Muslims, followers of Warrith Dean Muhammad, whereas my Dad and other members of the paternal side of my family are followers of Elijah Muhammad and Louis Farrakhan’s NOI. My dad was once a spokesman for Louis Farrakhan himself. Therefore, I have experience with both of these organizations and have attended many mosques and lectures.
What’s wrong with ‘these people?’ The real question was what was wrong with him. I was totally taken aback by his question.He asked me if I was a ‘real muslim” and yet he turned his back on a woman who was begging for food even though his store was full of merchandise. If he actually read the Qur’an he would know that such an act is shameful.The Qur’an states that:
Righteousness is not turning your faces towards the east or the west. The Righteous are those … who give money, cheerfully, to the relatives, the orphans, the needy, the traveller, the beggars, and to free the slaves. [2:177]
If he actually was a follower of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), he would know a hadith that reads:“He who eats while his neighbor is hungry is not one of us.”This man sold cigarettes as well as alcohol in his store but Sharia law, according to many so called orthodox Muslims, prohibits the sale and consumption of alcohol. Despite this fact, the name of this ‘real Muslim’s’ store was called “Food and Liquor.” I was not amused by this man’s question in the least and did not feel the need to justify my religious beliefs to a man’s whose hypocrisy was so blatant. Worst of all, this man had collaborated with gangs in the underground illegal drug economy who sell the most illicit of drugs (crack, heroin, etc.). Additionally, his store sold pork which, once again, is not allowed to be consumed by Islamic people.Yet, despite all of this, he had the audacity to ask me if I was a real Muslim. I left the cash register and gave my black sister some spare change—all she wanted was some coffee. Despite the fact that she now had the money, this Arab merchant refused to sell any to her and demanded that she leave his store. I began to walk with my sister to a local doughnut shop where she was then able to purchase herself some coffee.
I myself am a huge admirer of Louis Farrakhan. The man is a gifted orator, a charismatic individual, head of a Multi-Million dollar organization, and he was the organizer behind the million-man marches. The few black-owned businesses in Chicago are owned by the Nation of Islam. I’ve been to orthodox Muslim mosques with both Arabs and African-Americans and they all hold negative views of the Nation of Islam, viewing them as ‘heretics,’ among other things. Yet, these very same Imams (who spew this rhetoric) are totally silent on the issue of Arabs exploiting black ghettos as well as their selling of alcohol, pork, cigarettes, in their stores, as well as their un-Islamic like mistreatment of their customers. In fact, I would not be surprised if these very same Arab merchants attended their mosques
Also, anti-blackness is very prevalent in the Middle Eastern Islamic world. Anti-blackness in the Islamic world is a product of European colonization—similar to how African-Americans themselves have even internalized self-hatred. (This is illustrated by a well-known study of black children who, when confronted with a black doll and a white doll, responded by calling the black doll ugly.)Nevertheless, regardless of its origins, black people are both persecuted and discriminated against in many areas of the Middle East and are referred to as ‘abd,’ meaning slaves.
These orthodox Islamic Arabs and African-Americans hold way more discussions of the alleged heresy of the Nation of Islam than addressing the crucial issue of the mistreatment of blacks in the Islamic world.Despite cries of alleged heresy, the Nation of Islam has done a much better job than any orthodox Muslim stronghold in regards to addressing the social ills of the black community. Just recently, Louis Farrakhan sent Nation of Islam members to discuss and record dialogue with black youth gang-members with the intent of working on a solution to the violence. The only times Arab orthodox Muslims are in the ghettos of Chicago are to sell our people alcohol or pork or to collaborate with gangs in the drug economy—something the NOI has never done. Thus, this raises a serious question, who are the real Muslims?