African-American Muslims battle both racial and religious bias

Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan allegedly unleashed the wrath of hell in Fort Hood, Texas in the form of a massacre. Now there is spillover and pain.

There is a tendency among people to over or under react to tragedy. The ostrich approach works for some, while others prefer to scapegoat and gather followers in the process. Neither approach works; it’s more important to take an honest look at the facts.

In reality, jolts and shocks always reverberate throughout the black Islamic community whenever there are atrocities committed in the name of their faith. Although Hasan is not black, there are many blacks in the U.S. with Islamic names, and they are concerned about terrorism’s impact on the public’s perception of them. I am a former Muslim and I have friends and family who are Islamic and the idea that one can wage a personal jihad and murder in the name of God is as repugnant to them as it is to me.

Terrorism has spiked in recent years. The emergence of Al Qaeda and other similar groups have created a perverse version of personal jihad that calls for adherents to act violently in order to further God’s will. The fissure taking place within the Islamic community between perverse versions of Islam and authentic norms is global.

This fracture is giving people a choice between violence toward their country or devotion to it. Hasan pledged to defend this country, but was allegedly drawn away by the appeal to engage in violence for a primary loyalty based on religious fervor.

This is problematic for all upright Muslims, but African-American Muslims are placed further under the microscope because they now have to overcome two forms of bias: race and religion. The case of Hasan Akbar, the Army sergeant who killed two of his commanding officers in Kuwait in 2003, is still fresh in the minds of many black Muslims, especially those in the military.

The military has historically been a great vehicle for integration and inclusion of diverse people regardless of religion, race, gender or economic status. Blacks have found a rite of passage in the military and have served honorably. Colin Powell rose to the highest rank there, but Powell was not a Muslim. Being Muslim is a likely barrier to advancement now.

There is no question regarding the competency of many African-American Muslims in the military, but there is a question of loyalty. Muslims in the military will now have to deal with the spillover of the recent massacre and the perceptions that fellow soldiers will have of them.

Robert Salaam served as a Marine in this country and illustrates his concerns at his blog The American Muslim, where he writes, “To have served this country honorably as many other Muslims in uniform have over the years, I don’t think there is a word to describe my heartache, pain, and sheer disgust I have concerning this madman and the actions he carried out. Even as I make extra prayers and give Dua, I know that my fellow non-Muslim Americans would love to see me leave my country. To go where I wonder…”

That is the question: Where would he go and where would others suggest he go? Our country consists of diverse faiths and ethnicities. We have to educate ourselves about radicalization and not think in terms of race or religion.

Radicalization is problematic and perverse. It’s a virus of the mind spreading throughout all levels of society. The military is not immune, races are not immune, and places are not immune. There needs to be a conversation taking place in every house of faith from the pulpit. The message is clear: “God does not sanction these acts of terror! If this is what you believe, this is not a place for you. Please leave!”

People of faith should not circle the wagons. They should open up and demonstrate the authenticity of their faith, and be a clear contrast to the perversion. The virus of radicalization is seeking hosts, and the infected are making their way into all facets of life.