Responses to my calling out the term ‘abeed’

Two months ago, I wrote an oped titled “Fellow humans are not abeed” for the Arab American News to address the usage of the term abeed, meaning slaves, used by many Arabs to describe black people.  After receiving some positive feedback from some of my Arab-American friends, primarily in Metro Detroit, I decided to search Twitter for the usage of this term in varying transliterations (abeed, 3abeed, 3beed, 3bid, 3abid & 3abed).  What I found was very casual usage of the term, almost exclusively from teenagers and young adults, who are Arab-Americans and appear to have been raised in the USA.

image (1)bullying

I decided at this point to not comment directly to those tweeps, but to merely tweet my article at them with the hopes that they read it and stop calling black people slaves.  What I’ve experienced from doing this as well as later engaging some of these tweeps in the past two months continue to be four things.

The first is that some simply have­­­­­­­­­­ not responded to the article when I sent it to them.  Some continue to tweet in which I have not seen them tweet abeed again.  Others have continued to use the slur.

The second response is that some have actually apologized for using the term.  Of those, some of them also said that they didn’t know abeed meant slaves.  They said that their families simple refer to all blacks as abeed.  This is a deeper structural issue of racism among Arabs, primarily in the Levant, which I plan on writing about later.

The third response is that of defending the usage of the term abeed that we are all abeedullah (slaves of Allah), and that I should stop being so touchy.  Of course, this is insincere because they don’t really view blacks as the best worshippers, nor do they call other Arabs with light skin including their own family abeed.  Calling anyone slave is haram (forbidden) anyway according to the Qur’an and Sunnah.

The last of the responses has been horrendous, which involve cussing me out to calling me a slave.

image (3)abeed

Some Arab-Americans who joined me in calling out the usage of abeed themselves have even been attacked.  One tactic of shame used is calling someone “abeed lover” like how white supremacists say “nigger lover.”

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An Arab American colleague of mine is in the planning stages of starting a national campaign to address not just this nomenclature issue, but the broader issue of anti-black racism among Arabs.  Keep in mind that there are Arabs who have dark skin that would be considered black in the USA if looked upon strictly by physical characteristics.

In the interim, an Arab American friend of mine in Michigan has started the twitter account Arab AntiBlack Racism to call out anti-black racism among Arabs and to challenge fellow Arabs on Twitter not to be passive observers when seeing slurs hurled against blacks.

This issue is a race of the tortoise not the hare.  There are deep roots of tribalism and colorism in the Arab world, which pre-date colonialism, were encouraged during colonialism and further solidified within many Arab Americans based upon America’s racial hierarchy.

I also keenly realize that if Muslims sincerely strive to effectively challenge Islamopobia, there needs to be a simultaneous effort to combat ethnic bigotry among Muslims.  The Creator helps those who have spiritual integrity and authenticity.  It’s not authentic to talk about Islamophobia and Arabophobia while being silent on its cancer-like manifestations among Muslims and Arabs.  Also, this is not simply Arab on black racism that Muslims need to face.  There is Somali on “Bantu” racism, black on white bigotry among some in Islamic centers, colorism between Pakistanis and Bengalis, etc.

Given, however, that the most overt discrimination that I see on Twitter is Arab on black racism and my personal interests as a black man, who has felt my share of anti-black racism in the heart of Arab America, Metro Detroit, I’m obliged to deal with this most entrenched form that I see.  This is in no way an indictment on all Arab Americans.  I do know, however, that this issue has been dealt with too passively for many years.  Problems don’t fix themselves on their own as proof of the racism exhibited by those born and raised in the USA. I hope that my challenging it will push more Arab Americans to take more aggressive stands against anti-black racism.

29 thoughts on “Responses to my calling out the term ‘abeed’

  1. I am an Arab-American and I am offended by the use of this term, and the deeper problem it represents. Thank you for writing this article–it’s the first step to make a change.

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  3. I think ,in most cases,the word changed meaning to become “black” instead of “slave”. A similar case comes to mind is the word “antisemetic” which now means “antiJewish”.

    • I strongly believe that it is an issue that is deeply rooted within the arab mindset. Some arabs simply view themselves as better muslims being from specific tribes let alone skin color. What we lack as muslims is the true understanding of our beautiful religion islam in which we are all equal regardless of race, tribe, skin color or tongues! We all know Bilal Al habashi’s story and how he became the first Moathen in islam!

      Our religion is simple and beautiful, lets not discriminate rather accommodate.

  4. Well, ironically, I actually know some people personally with the actual name Abeed (spelled Abid). However, I do agreed that the term Abeed is very unfairly used to describe, not only Black-People, but, Non-Arabs generally. And, also, something that I think should’ve been cited within your article is the fact that Arabs, generally, have such a pathological thirst to pursue Whiteness/Euroness, to bw White, that they reject, repudiate, and ridicule anything that is remotely Non-White. And, Black-People are as Non-White as you’re ever gonna get.

    I’ll give you an example: there’s an Arab-Kid where I work, whose parents actually dye his hair, Blonde, just to make him look more Euro. This is one of so many sad examples of what the fruits of `Asabiyyah/Bias, and self hate yielded among Human beings.

    • “3abid”, with a short /i/ is ambiguous between “slave” and “worshipper”, and is very often used as a boy’s name (usually with a name of god after it, like “3abd el-raHmaan”). But the plural “3abeed” (with a long /i/, hence spelled with two e’s) exclusively means “slaves”. The plural meaning worshippers is “3ibaad”.

    • No, it’s just used for Black people. It’s never been used for non-blacks. It’s not a sickness only within Arabs, and it’s not a strictly, singly or even primarily linked to perusing Whiteness/Euroness. This is unfortunately a combination of many reasons but the trumping of all factors relate back to Socio-Economic standards that pilot into race. All areas of the world suffer from the same problem. Darker = poorer = uneducated = unskilled = “blue-collar”/ physical laborer. Because of that you have many countries today where the leaders of industry and the nation will be “White” or Lighter Skinned of which ever Ethnicity it may be, and it will continue to perpetuate over and over until there is a balance in the population between those of different skin, more interracial marital relations and a sharing among the wealth and power.

      And using one “Arab” kid as an example of kid and how he would dye his hair blond to look “Euro” isn’t a fair example unless he actually admitted to or said that was why he does it. And even then, that is one person, and unfortunately many Blacks in American, and around the world suffer from those same ideas. Straightening of their hair with chemicals, weaves and dye.

      I am a half-European half-Syrian decent man born in the U.S., and I honestly could never, and will never feel the pain and discrimination you face. I know that you and all Blacks, whether Black-American, African, Tamil all suffer for your skin, and it isn’t fair. No person should ever have to be judged from afar based on skin. The only cleansing of this sickness, the only means of progress I can see is through, is through true exposure. Placing people in environments where they are exposed to differences, where they see the truth and beauty in differences, without the poisoning of others to tell them that differences are bad or negative.

      Children all have that chance, but unfortunately many go home at the end of the day where their families and friends will have the greatest impact on their as that is the environment they are influenced by the most, and then they carry that sickness back to school, or any other public place. Until we take measures treating racism like the outbreak of the bird-flue and quickly vaccinate it (purify the hearts of any people with such ignorance through exposure and education) we will continue through this very sad and unfortunate path.

      A perfect example was the story of the Companion Abu Dharr in the heat of an argument with the Companion Bilal became agitated and said something along the lines of “what would you know, You son of a black woman.” Later which Abu Darr was confronted by the Prophet Muhamad, and was told that ‘This means you still retain the standards and judgements of the pre-Islamic days of ignorance. Islam has eradicated all those false standards or measures judging people by blood, fame, colour or wealth. It has established that the best and most honourable of men is he who is the most pious and upright in conduct. Is it right to defame a believer just because he is black?’
      After which Abu Darr when to Bilal and placed his face against the ground and said ‘This head will not rise from here until the blessed feet of Bilal tread on the face of foolish, impolite Abu Dharr.’ Bilal responded: ‘That face deserves to be kissed, not trodden upon’, and forgave Abu Dharr.

      • Self-Hate is Universal. No one ever said that Non-Arab Peoples don’t suffer from self-hate. However, relative to this article is specifically pertaining to Arabized `Asabiyyah/Bias & Arabized Self-Hate. Even if you go to the (conventional) Muslim-World, especially within the confines of the Khalij/Gulf-States, the term “Abeed” is most-definitely used towards Non-Arabs generally. And, based upon my travels within the Middle-East, I know for a fact & have actually even heard this term used against all types of Non-Arabs, regardless of whether they’re Malaysian, Filipino, Thai, Sri Lankan, Somalian, Sudanese, Ethopian, Indonesian, etc., which proves that your claim that “Abeed” is only used towaards “Black-People” is completely false.

      • Brother Omar very thoughtful response. When your parents named you Omar, they were praying and hoping that you will have some of the great qualities of Omar Bin
        Khatab. God accepted their du’a.

  5. This is an amazing piece, and you did well by addressing Arab racism against blacks (and Latinos )

    There are other forms to this problem also, such as class issues between Arab Americans and new Arab immigrants. We are the only community that uses the term “fob” from minorities.

  6. From my understanding, Islam is fairly egalitarian on ethnic/racial issues, like Christianity, but also like Christianity, it has a long history of racism within its traditions. The Arab slave trade which primarily targeted Africans and the justifications given for it is one example.

  7. Asalamu alykum wAwb,

    I could not agree more with this article! This is something I hear on a frequent basis. I am an Arab American who was born in the Middle East, but grew up in the states, yet I hear this from both the older and younger generations. It surprises me that people continue to say it so casually. I understand some have gotten accustomed to it, not knowing what it means even, but it is time someone does properly speak out against it on a larger scale. Jazak Allah Khair for bringing this up, as it is something worthy of being spoken out against.

    • I have to admit, I am extremenly surprised at the pictures posted. I cannot believe people actually retaliated by retweeting negatively. May Allah (swt) guide us to seeing what is wrong with this picture.

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  9. I’ve also had this conversation with my Arab bros and it astonishes me when they tell me that ‘abīd simply means “black” and maybe we’re over reacting.
    I recall one Arab brother responding to my concern of the use of that word asking (sincerely mind you), “What other word do we use?”. I responded how about Insān “human being”, Shakhs “person”, Akh “brother”, al-Mar’u “man” even Aswad “black”. I told him Arabic is so vast he could choose ANY other word besides ‘abīd. I also asked him to consider why Chinese, Italians, or Australians weren’t referred by that word. At that point he began to realize.

    As brother Dawūd articulately stated, this underscores the deep structural racism in our community. How ironic it is that black Bilal ran from the subjugation of racism and slavery of the Jahili Arab society to the brotherhood of Islam only for his ancestors to encounter the same Jahili behavior that he was emancipated from.

    • As far I know, Profet Mohamed was the first person, who spoke out against racism and the example he set for mankind by shifting the focus from appearance and skin color to good character was amazing. He tought us, we should judge each other on taqwa which is changeable and nit on skin color which is not only superficial and shallow but not changeable.

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  13. And they wonder why they are going through so much hell. Allah knows exactly what he is doing. Down South, they would be called a Nigger in a heart beat, and attacked on top of that.

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  15. Well, I don’t know why all the fuss about what arabs call blacks. In the US and the west in general, the are MANY more derogatory terms used against arabs I hear quite frequently. As a black man, I often hear such terms used to refer to arabs by other blacks(even more so by whites).
    So, if we are going to complain about the terms arabs use to refer to blacks, we also need to address the MANY derogatory terms used by blacks and others to refer to arabs.

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