The Malcolm Code: Fighting prejudice at UK Islamic societies

Malcolm X In Oxford
4 min read
12 October, 2021
A new campaign seeks to address inclusivity and anti-Black Muslim prejudice at some of the UK's most prestigious universities.

Black Muslim advocacy group, the Black Muslim Forum, has launched The Malcolm Code to help train leadership skills and tackle the exclusion Black Muslims say they experience at Islamic Societies or ISocs.

Named after American civil rights activist, Malcolm X, the initiative requires ISocs who pledge to the Code to demonstrate their commitment to addressing prejudice towards Black Muslims among their members. The Code requires signatories anti-racism training for their committees, a welfare position within ISoc leadership, Black Muslim representatives in ISoc leadership and a zero-tolerance policy towards anti-Black racism.

The Black Muslim Forum’s managing director, Soukeyna Osei-Bonsu tells The New Arab that the initiative was formed off the back of the group’s 2020 study which surveyed 100 Black British Muslims on their experiences of anti-Black racism within the British Muslim community.

"While the general Muslim Ummah is efficient in identifying the Islamophobia inflicted upon the community by foreign international forces, the same is not true for the racism that lies within"

“We found that 84 percent of participants did not feel welcome in their university’s ISoc due to the reality of anti-Black racism and prejudice. Another statistic we found was that 63.41 percent of participants felt that overall they did not belong to the UK Muslim community. Whilst this mobilised some people to post on social media, it did not create the structural change necessary to combat such realities,” Soukeyna tells The New Arab.

The report also cites other non-university related incidents of racism including racial segregation at a mosque where Black worshippers were required to pray at the back of the mosque, to the use of the n-word, as well as experiences of colourism in marriages.

The UK’s leading race equality think tank Runnymede Trust defines anti-Black racism or anti-Blackness as “the specific exclusion and prejudice against people visibly (or perceived to be) of African descent – what most of us would commonly call Black people.”

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Anti-Blackness also covers attitudes, beliefs and stereotypes that are rooted in the unique experience of the enslavement and colonisation of people of African descent. But for Black Muslims, the intersection of their cultures and faith means they are exposed to more than one type of prejudice.

“For many contemporary Black Muslims, the problem of being at the intersection of Blackness and Islam brings to the forefront many challenges. While the general Muslim Ummah is efficient in identifying the Islamophobia inflicted upon the community by foreign international forces, the same is not true for the racism that lies within. The issue, when brought up, is often ignored, belittled and in many cases arouses anger blaming the expression of such issues as divisive and hostile,” says the Black Muslim Forum.

At least 21 committee members from ISocs including the London School of Economics and Bristol University took up training with the Black Muslim Forum and pledged to the Malcolm Code in time for the academic year in late September.

"We found that 84% of participants did not feel welcome in their university’s ISoc due to the reality of anti-Black racism and prejudice"

Taibah participated in the training with the London School of Economics ISoc committee in August. She told The New Arab, “The LSE ISoc will endeavour to ensure that Black Muslims are represented and given a voice at all stages and levels within the ISoc, its committee and its activities, as well as highlight the contribution that Black Muslims have made to the ummah in Black History Month and throughout the year.

"We sincerely believe that change should start from within ourselves and we hope for a trickle-down effect whereby committee members can identify and tackle racism within the ISoc, as well as educate ourselves and our peers and work to build a more inclusive environment.”

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A 2015 report compiled by the Muslim Council of Britain shows there are around three million Muslims in England and Wales. Around ten percent of that number are from African and African-Caribbean backgrounds. It also highlights that the proportion of Pakistani and Bangladeshi Muslims are falling while those belonging to ‘Black African, Black other’ and ‘Asian other’ are rising.

For several years and in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement protests last summer, events have taken place in the UK to address anti-Blackness within the British Muslim community.

In 2019, the Muslim Council of Britain launched its first Proudly Black and Muslim Initiative and award-winning author Na’ima B Robert launched the first global Black Muslim Family Festival in October 2020.

Adama Munu is an award-winning journalist that writes about race, Black heritage and issues connecting Islam and the African diaspora