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BLM and the Indo-Caribbean Muslim Experience In the “Western” World

Reaz N. Khan

Part of the "What does being Muslim Indo-Caribbean mean to you?" Series

BLM and the Indo-Caribbean Muslim Experience In the “Western” World

Indo-Caribbean Muslim organizations in the West have been silent on BLM. Their imagined “Indianness” takes priority. It is highly problematic.

In a New York context; this plays out as Indo-Guyanese and Trinidadians created community in Richmond Hill, Queens amongst what was envisaged to be their fellow brown-skinned, distant Punjabi Sikh and more recently, Bangladeshi cousins. They opted for this away from Afro-Caribbeans in the Flatbush and Canarsie areas of Brooklyn. Whether intentionally or not - a collective, racialized “Indian” identity plays out similarly in communities in Canada; through the Etobicoke part of Toronto, nearby Brampton and if in Scarborough, close to Tamil areas. Indo-Surinamese in the Netherlands live in Rotterdam, while their countrymen of African descent live in and around Amsterdam.

In the migration from South Asia to the Caribbean, crossing the kala pani was a shared experience. Our pre-partioned narrative deserves recognition as Hindus and Muslims largely coexist, even through migrations. This can be the future of South Asian diasporic communities in Western countries. Our conflict as a people who have come to the New World is not religious. Instead, we have internalized racial conflict and the hierarchy of the oppressor. We are living colonialism in the structure of our neighborhoods. It’s our obligation to unpack, understand and identify with those who too were oppressed. We are all not in the same struggle, but what we have in common is struggle.

Our faith implores us to stand with the oppressed and empower them. Our ancestors were aware of that as they performed and spoke about the tragedy of Karbala during Muharram. They told us of Bilal and how he was selected in Madinah to call the first azan as a freed slave from Abyssinia amongst native Arabs. Racializing Islam is living contradictory to the ummah. In the same way we call on imams and maulanas to make duas for Palestine and the Uyghurs in unison during Ramadan- this too, is a Muslim issue. We should demand they prioritize black lives in theological praxis.

In the South Asian communities Indo-Caribbeans have inserted themselves into in the West; we show support with our wallets and build by organizing. At ethnic grocery stores seeking masala, the moribund Bollywood video store, bridal clothing boutiques, professional organizations and clubs at universities; Indo-Caribbeans work with diasporic South Asians. At Indo-Caribbean Muslim iftaars during Ramadan in the West, it’s common to find biriyani and samosas – a generation before unheard of, prior to the advent of the internet and mass migration abroad. Our “Indianness” is fluid. Analyze our cookup rice, fufu and “provision” too. Our religion looks beyond race, caste and ethnicity. In the Caribbean context, Muslims are poised to build bridges as a non-ethnoreligious group. Individuals have to be willing to engage in those dialogues and understand history to do it.

Our roots left one continent to toil the soil of the jungles of another. Now on this land, may we emerge as trees with branches that grow and extend to shade others in solidarity.

Reaz Khan is an avid grant writer/consultant for a number of NGOs in international development and has taught political science and history at the university level in New York and Massachusetts. He is a native New Yorker that credits his upbringing in Queens for his eagerness in always learning about diversity. He has traveled, conducted presentations, workshops and led monitoring and evaluation projects in 70+ countries within six years. He holds an MBA in Managerial Analytics from Mercy College; an Ed.M. in Comparative & International Education from Columbia University, M.A. in International Relations from American Military University and B.A. in International Studies from Adelphi University, New York.

The views in this article reflect the lived experiences and positionality of this author based on the intersections of what being both Muslim and Indo-Caribbean means to them.


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