What it’s like to be young, Black and Muslim in Britain today

Written by Bashirat Oladele

A 19-year-old Black Muslim woman opens up about the reality of living in Britain today, and why she and other Black Muslim women feel invisible.

I’m a 19-year-old British Black woman, but there’s a lot more to me than that.

When I was young I remember watching iconic 90’s shows that represented Black women on TV like Living Single, there was Ashley in The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Tia and Tamera on Sister, Sister and then in the noughties That’s So Raven.

These shows highlighted the beauty of being a Black woman and I loved seeing women who looked like me on the screen. However, I don’t remember seeing Black Muslim women represented. So often the narrative of Black womanhood in Britain excludes Black Muslim women.

As Black women, hair is a big thing. But, so is my hijab. Receiving comments about the size of my hijab or whether I have hair under my hijab annoys me. When I was in year 10, it was raining heavily one day and a girl asked me for my coat to cover her because I guess, she thought my hijab would shield me from the rain. Another time, I was asked about why I don’t wear a weave or wigs. When I explained that in my religion, it’s not permissible to use human hair on your own hair she seemed insulted. That was a bit confusing because this person asked me a question, I explained from the standpoint of my beliefs and then she acted offended. I feel like people fail to comprehend that my relationship with hair is unique because I wear the hijab and I have natural afro hair; my Blackness and Muslim identity can’t be separated.

From assalatus (Yorùbá Muslim gatherings) to gospel choirs, faith is important to the Black community in Britain. But I noticed when I started at the University of Warwick last October that while there were societies and gatherings for other faiths there was no space for Black Muslim women or Black Muslims, full stop, on campus. Don’t get me wrong – cultural societies are fun, but if you have a society for African Caribbean people or Black women with no inclusivity, what’s the point?

Speaking to my fellow Black Muslim sisters, we all agreed. We can’t and won’t separate our Blackness and our Muslim identities. You have to see us as both. It’s frustrating when some Black people will disregard my Muslim identity or act like it doesn’t exist. For instance, people send me Bible scriptures on Snapchat. I wouldn’t send non-Muslims verses from the Qur’an or Hadith if it doesn’t apply to them. It’s frustrating because they know I’m a Muslim but still attempt to evangelise to me. The most ironic thing is that some Black women will preach about intersectionality but neglect their Black Muslim sisters.

I asked some of my Muslim sisters (all university students too) to share their experiences of being Black, British and Muslim today. This is what they said…

Layla, 19, is a law student at the University of Nottingham

“Social media intensifies this issue. People always want to compare struggles. Comments like ‘Black people only care about Black problems’, erases Black Muslims who fight for both causes whether it is Black Lives Matter or Palestine. On the flip side, when other Black people spur Islamophobic hate, they forget Black Muslims exist but scream Black unity. It’s ironic because you literally cannot speak about the history of Africa without discussing Islam.’’

I feel like I am more accepted by Black people because I don’t ‘look Muslim’ or I’m not ‘that type of Muslim’. People pick and choose whether they want to identify me as Muslim or Black. At college, I was surrounded by Arabs and Asians who knew I was Muslim but people would still make derogatory statements about Black people and say ‘you’re East African, you’re not like them.’ They tried erasing my Blackness. My non Muslim Black friends would say things like ‘The blood of Jesus will cover you’ to me when I’m sick which is inappropriate because I don’t follow their religion. I wouldn’t tell them insha’Allah because it’s not relevant to them. It’s like they try to erase my Muslim identity. I may not appear visibly Muslim because of the hijab but my Blackness and Muslim identity are one.”

Roufiat, 19, is an electrical and electronic engineering student at the University of Warwick

“As a Black female Muslim in the UK, I believe we have a lot of cultural obstacles. Within the British Muslim community, we are often faced with prejudice, and Black Muslims are forgotten about. For example in events, guests speakers lack diversity and it sometimes feels like being a ‘British Muslim’ is synonymous with being Asian. Then, the majority of the Black British community are Christians, and again the Black Muslims are forgotten. This is particularly noticeable in the African Caribbean Society at university, where non-Christians are neglected, and some events incorporate Christianity into it, assuming every Black participant is a Christian.

When it comes to the narrative of the Black women, Black Muslim women are again forgotten about. There is a lack of representation of Muslims in initiatives for ‘Black women’ such as books, events and talk panels. To address this, organisations need to observe and acknowledge diversity of race, culture and religion in their audience, and find ways to make their products more inclusive for Black Muslim women.”

Zahra, 20, is a law student at the University of Warwick

“Black people and Muslims are the most vilified demographics in society. Belonging to both means I encounter stereotypes associated with both groups. But, it’s even more difficult when there is a lack of acceptance coming from your own people. For example, with racist non Black Muslims. I know that some Black people hold Islamophobic views. The lack of acceptance in both communities makes us create our own platforms such as The Black Muslim Girl or ACM Connect which is so beautiful. But, why do we have to create our own space to feel comfortable? We should be accepted regardless.

In Austria, I was criticised for the shape of my hijab at the mosque. I had braids and of course, it looked big in my hijab. Obviously, my hijab would look different because I don’t have the same hair as the non Black Muslims. My Blackness doesn’t make me any less Muslim.” 

Lafia, 19, is a psychology student at the University of Birmingham

“Some people fail to recognise that you can be Black and Muslim, whether it’s due to stereotypes or ignorance on the separation of race and religion, its still frustrating when people can’t acknowledge them both. I haven’t explicitly found myself in a situation where an individual questioned either of my identity because of that fact. However I have found that there aren’t enough spaces that accommodate both. Whether it be societies at university or charities, it would be nice to get recognition. Especially when it comes to representation in the media.” 

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