It’s my belief that Muslims should avoid using the N-word except when discussing it within an academic setting to instruct people as to its origins of subjugation and dehumanization of enslaved Africans and their descendants and to highlight its current racist usage. American Muslim scholar Imam Zaid Shakir wrote a thorough commentary on this a few years ago entitled “Should Muslims Use the N-Word,” which I concur with. I wish, however, to add on a few additional thoughts from my vantage point addressing Blackamerican Muslims then non-Blackamerican Muslims.
“Nigger” and “nigga” are the same word. Nigger, which comes from negro meaning black in Spanish, is a term that was used to mentally enslave Africans. Prior to the Transatlantic Slave Trade, a Black man was referred to as Morisco (Moor), hence the popular saying in that region during the Middle Ages of “black as a Moor.” Negro was used to describe inanimate or non-human subjects due to the word deriving from the Latin root necro, which means dead. Clearly the roots of “nigga” are based in an outlook that Blacks are inhuman and socially unintelligent corpses.
So I know how words can evolve semantically and the argument that reclaiming words empower people. Some words are so vile and evil in their origin, however, that there can never be a justifiable and positive spin on them. For instance, no matter how much anyone tries to redefine words such as Lucifer, gip and kike, these words are beyond redemption. The same holds true for the N-word in its different forms. Even the name Prophet Lut (AS) is hardly ever given to Muslim boys at birth due to the association with Qawm Lut, the People of Lot.
Too many of our people were traumatized by the N-word for it to be used jokingly or in the form of artistic expression. My mom went to segregated schools and was called “nigger.” I’m one such person who was viciously beaten as a boy in Virginia by two much older white males who called me “nigger.” A White female friend of mine in high school was bullied and called “nigga lover” because she showed outward interest in a Black schoolmate. “Nigga” is “nigger,” and nigger” hurts.
To Muslim brothers and sisters who are not Blackamericans, please consider the points made above. In addition, I advise you that your Black friends and associates to rappers should not be the sole litmus test as to the acceptability of using the N-word just as your family members should not be the measurement for using racially insensitive terms like “abeed” (slaves in Arabic to describe Blacks), “kallu” (blackey in South Asian languages), “adoon” (slave in Somali to describe non-Somali blacks), etc. The measurement is that what offends people in a group that is unnecessary to be stated which is not categorically true or establishes truth should be avoided. Using “nigga” is not fundamental to Black people nor to your identity. This is the general Islamic standard of avoiding terms or phrases which are viewed as insulting names, per a command in the Qur’an. This is a command by Allah (SWT), which is non-negotiable.
Again, Jay Z to your Muslim friend who is Black that listens to songs with “nigga” or says “nigga” isn’t the Islamic standard. Just yesterday, I mentioned this privately to one of the sisters in the “Mipsterz (Muslim Hipsters)” video, which uses a Jay Z song saying “nigga,” which was later edited out of the song.
Prophet Muhammad (SAWS) said, “Surely Al-Islam began as a stranger, it shall return as it began, so blessed be the strangers.” We live in the times where there are many Muslims, yet simple teachings of the deen seem strange to many Muslims. Muslims seem to want to be accepted into all social trends of pop culture and seek to look cool to be accepted. There is nothing cool about “nigga.” Many people died behind “nigga,” people still get dehumanized by “nigga,” so I’m encouraging you along with Imam Zaid Shakir and other Islamic leaders to stop using that term.