By ALYNA NOREEN DADA
(Special contribution to Simerg)
We hear this word constantly and are reminded of the ethics of pluralism in Mawlana Hazar Imam’s, His Highness the Aga Khan, Farmans and speeches how we can integrate this in our everyday lives. What does pluralism mean and how can we, as Ismaili Muslims, understand our role in the Black Lives Matter movement and apply the tenets of our faith to make a meaningful contribution to improving the quality of life for our African-American community?
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His Highness stated in his speech on May 16, 2017 at the opening ceremony of the new headquarters of the Global Centre for Pluralism in Ottawa, “Pluralism does not mean the elimination of difference, but the embrace of difference. Genuine pluralism understands that diversity does not weaken a society, it strengthens it. In an ever-shrinking, ever more diverse world, a genuine sense of pluralism is the indispensable foundation for human peace and progress.” [Bold emphasis added here, and in remainder of article]
We are grateful to be a part of a religious ummah which prides on serving others and the societies in which we live and also allows us to build upon our moral compass by leveraging our intelligence, experience and humility with guidance from the Imam. In order to create a pluralistic society, our duty as Ismailis must be to support the movement and black-led organizations, particularly when we see African-Americans like George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and many others murdered unjustly when fighting for their own human rights.
However, this begs the question, why is anti-blackness so prevalent in the South Asian including our own Ismaili Khoja community and why do older generations continue to question the purpose of Black protests and police brutality that we see on a plethora of news channels every second of every day?
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This is a turning point in history that should serve as an awakening: our presence in the United States is as a result of work of Black activists who often sacrificed their lives to achieve equal rights. During the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s, African Americans led by the notable Dr. Martin Luther King used protests and civil disobedience to help abolish some of the most racist laws in the US not only for themselves, but for all communities of color like South Asians. Ultimately, this led to the US government implementing the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, which eliminated the racist quotas and allowed South Asian communities to emigrate to the US. We should be indebted to the civil rights movement and black activists who eliminated major barriers that allowed us as a community to settle and thrive in various parts of the United States and beyond.
I believe that the youth in our community have an obligation to educate our first-generation immigrants on their microaggressions and inherent biases pertaining to Black people.
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Fortunately, many Ismaili youth activists from all over the world have come together to vocalize racial injustices, particularly in light of recent killings of Black men and women due to police brutality in the United States.
They have been doing a wonderful job mobilizing resources (that I will discuss in greater detail later in this article). The goal of these coalesced resources is to target larger audiences initially at a local level, ultimately expanding this to a national platform to highlight this systemic issue.
South Asian/East African youth who are typically first or second younger generation Americans can begin to have these conversations, starting with their families and escalating it to a wide scale audience. Citing guidance from Mawlana Hazar Imam is paramount as this will quickly resonate with the older members of our community. Given that we’re a group of multicultural individuals with distinctive backgrounds should serve as a great example of strength in diversity and solidarity. Islamic principles of inclusion, peace and generosity should be used as our guiding principles when engaging various constituents of the Ismaili Jamat.
(Please note, these activists’ groups are not associated with the official Jamati institutions. They are Ismailis who have a passion for social justice issues and grassroots organization and want to create a forum for discussion to help implement change within our community)
An Instagram Account was created to underscore social justice issues that exist in USA and bridge the gap with what Ismailis should be addressing within our community. The purpose of this social media platform is to provide an open forum to for members to have honest discussions about topics that are seldom talked about within Ismailis due to either lack of knowledge, awareness or inability to vocalize these issues. Please click on Ismaili Activists Instagram Platform.
Ismailis for Black Lives Matter
A group of Ismaili youths from USA & Canada created a GoFundMe campaign, Ismailis for Black Lives Matter, an independent fundraiser set up with the purpose of involving the Ismaili Community in the discussion around racial injustices pertaining to African Americans.
This initiative symbolizes ally hood to the Black Lives Matter Movement and helps to educate members of the Jamat as well as mobilize the financial resources of the Ismaili community in accordance with the faith’s core principles. The campaign raised over $20,000 and was supported by platforms like Twitter and Ismaili Mail.
Please click on Ismailis for Black Lives Matter GoFund Me Website (all proceeds will go directly to Black Lives Matter Movement).
The team also created a library with talking points and helpful resources to further education on the Black Lives Matter Movement.
Ismailis for Change
This Slack group is focused on taking action based off an open letter addressed to the Jamat written by Alia Jeraj, a Minnesotan Ismaili. The Slack work group, created by Zahir Surmawala, is comprised of Ismailis from a variety of professional backgrounds including: product managers, tech entrepreneurs, attorneys, diversity and inclusion educators, healthcare professionals, artists, interfaith preachers etc. These individuals have all been brought together with one common goal of educating the Jamat on social justice issues to build solidarity for the African-American Community. Please click Open Letter Resource Guide.
Additional Resources Created by Ismaili Youth
1. Combating Implicit Racial Biases in the Education System
2. How to talk to your Ismaili Family About Black Lives Matter
I, along with my Ismaili brothers and sisters, hope you find these resources helpful and we continue to make the voices of our Black community heard.
Date posted: June 18, 2020.
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Alyna Noreen Dada is a healthcare professional working for a national physician organization that transforms the healthcare delivery experience for providers and consumers.
Originally from the New Jersey area, she is a graduate of The George Washington University in Washington, DC with a degree in public policy and public health and has been living in the District for a decade.
Alyna’s family hails from Kenya and South Africa by way of the UK and settled in the United States in the early 1980’s.
Living in DC for the last few years has certainly piqued Alyna’s interest in social justice and policy issues, particularly around racial injustice and the Black Lives Matter Movement. After all, she lives blocks away from the White House!
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Ya Ali Madad Malik:
Thank you for posting the letter and site information of Ismaili Activist Youth. This shows SIMERG supports Ismailis for equity and social justice. It’s an ethical stand.
Hope you are well.
Sultan Somjee Ph.D
Ethnographer and writer
Alyna, you articulate something truly wonderful.
Qur’an 49:13 is one of my favorite verses – an all-powerful Creator could have made us all the same but chose to create us as different and unique individuals, so we could become truly blessed through exploring and treasuring our differences. The Aga Khan addresses this so beautifully in the quote you shared, “Pluralism does not mean the elimination of difference, but the embrace of difference.” This is so completely, entirely true. And compassion is the driving force behind this desire.
When I hear “All lives matter” as a response to the supportive cry “Black lives matter”, it makes me realize that many may not appreciate how that well-intentioned (I hope!) observation can hurt. We show compassion by lovingly addressing the immediate need – and such a response as “All lives matter” may feel similar to telling a friend just diagnosed with breast cancer that “cancer is common – you’ll be fine”. Instead, by honoring pain and supporting the immediate need, we show our compassion and open a door for true love, appreciation, understanding, and enduring friendship to enter.
This moment around the world is filled with pain and heartbreak, felt so keenly by many, many members of our human family. I am supremely grateful for the attitude and example of Alyna and many remarkable people like her – who help inspire and support my own children to become better versions of themselves, and embody the full measure of the Aga Khan’s declaration.
God is Beautiful and loves beauty – and one of the greatest expressions of that beauty, I feel, is allowed to come in when we honor, treasure, embrace, and love the differences of our fellow beings.
May you be truly blessed, Alyna, in all you do.
Change requires awareness and education…well done .
Great thought and well said; you have my full support.
Great job Alyna! You articulation of racial bias in our community, either subconscious or because of our experience with the Black community, is apt and requires an introspection. I hope your generation is able to play a role in starting a dialogue and help us see this issue through the lens of compassion and empathy.
I am so proud of you Alyna for carrying forward our family legacy of fighting for social justice inequalities and oppression in the communities within which we live….and in upholding and continuing to put into practice the principles of our faith
Very well thought out and stimulating post on racial justice and how we need to revisit our assumptions and clarify our think to transform American society. Well done Alyna.
Alyna, great stuff. You have my support.