By Dawud Walid
The recent acquittal in the George Zimmerman case reignited a national discussion about race relations in America. There were many on one end of the spectrum, who stated the Zimmerman case typifies the lack of racial equity and justice in America for Blackamericans, from the initial profiling of Trayvon Martin, the trying of his character during the legal procedure to the not-guilty verdict for Zimmerman. Others countered that Zimmerman was within his legal right to defend himself and that the case has nothing to do with race. Some even went to the extreme of saying Martin was a thug who deserved death. American Muslims also weighed in on this issue within a similar range of opinions, which I heard in conversations to reading on Twitter and blogs.
How American Muslims perceive the Zimmerman trial differs. These differing perspectives may be based on varying factors including family lineage, knowledge and interpretation of American history and socio-economic background. Even when it comes to our reading of the Qur’an and Sunnah, these are interpreted or even colored based upon the prior texts of our experiences. Thus, my outlook on the Zimmerman verdict is informed not just by Islamic texts but also my experiences as a Black man in America.
The Qur’an commands [5:8], “Be just; it is closest to being regardful (taqwa).” It’s reported in a hadeeth hasan that Prophet Muḥammad also stated, “Justice in an hour is better than a year of ritual worship.” The Islamic jurisprudence definition of justice is to ensure that matters are in their proper places; thus, injustice or oppression is when matters are taken out of their proper places.
Within this context, I view this case and the American legal system in general as a dichotomy between the appearance of procedural justice, which is also expressed in the rhetoric of national values, with America’s ugly history of racism, which expresses itself in social structures and institutions. Hence, I simply do not see Zimmerman’s acquittal as being just, meaning that Martin’s homicide based upon citizen racial profiling and his killer being found not-guilty is outside of the bounds of things being in their proper place.
A counter-argument that has been put forth that Blacks primarily kill Blacks as way to dismiss concerns of racism in this case is actually bizarre to me as well. Yes, Blacks are the primary killers of others asWhites are the primary murders of each other in America. The grievance, again, that Martin’s murder brings up is an American double standard of applying justice, which is a form of oppression.
For instance, White people, who kill Blacks in “Stand Your Ground” states are 354% more likely to be cleared of murder than if a White is killed. To highlight this, a Black woman named Marissa Alexander is currently serving 20 years in a Florida prison for standing her ground while firing a warning shot to scare off her abusive husband. Of course, this is the American norm to me of our system though may seem as abnormal to others.
I ask brothers and sisters in Islam to empathize with the concerns of Blackamericans in terms of the systematic reality of anti-Black racism. Islam’s mandate is not for us to be only concerned about justice when Muslims are involved; justice does not mean “just us.” Moreover, we cannot expect to overcome anti-Muslim bigoty and anti-Arab/anti-Asian racism in America outside of the framework of dealing with anti-Black racism.
For those of you who are not Blackamerican that wish to understand more of the plight and concerns of Blackamericans in regards to racism, try listening and placing yourself in shoes that you have not walked in. This may help you connect with the profound pain that millions of your fellow Americans, who are Black continue to feel around this case and other ridiculous travesties of institutional violence.
Another useful contemporary tool of connecting is to watch the riveting new film “Fruitvale Station” about the last days of Oscar Grant, who was murdered a few years ago by BART Police in California.
I also suggest listening to “Trayvon Martin A Sign of the End of Time” khutbah by imām Zaid Shakir, “The Dangers of Hubris and the Murder of Trayvon Martin” khutbah by imām Suhaib Webb and a khutbah that I gave after the Zimmerman verdict titled “Empathizing With Others.”