Diasporic Identity

Articulating grief as a Muslim: what the New Zealand massacre teaches us

I have really struggled to find ways to express my feelings about what happened on March 15th. I know I’m not alone.

I write this with a heavy heart and reluctant hands, I write this feeling like the least qualified, least educated, and least politically aware person out there. I write knowing it has been over 2 weeks since the massacre and this post is late. Yet, I also know that writing something, anything is better than passive silence.

Growing up in diaspora Muslim households, children are both fascinated and terrified by a couple of common narratives. We listen to and continue to share jinn stories, stories of our grandparents’ journeys, conspiracy theories, and the one narrative that is becoming dangerously true: towards the end of times, being Muslim will become so hard not a single place on earth will be a safe haven.

I was 8 when my father, furious that my Year 4 teacher was teaching a class of 31 South Asian Muslim students about Israel without mentioning Palestine, sat me down and taught me about Gaza. I was too young at the time to understand how perfect an illustration this was of a whitewashed Euro-centric curriculum. The year before, I’d spent 6 months in Kashmir where my aunt introduced me to Kashmiri taraane born out of war crimes tearing my motherland apart. Around the same time, the mass genocide of Bosnians led to an influx of refugees in my neighbourhood. Memories of that winter, of refugees knocking from door to door, being turned away by Muslims, walking for hours in the blinding cold, their children bundled in nothing more but thin pieces of cloth, begging for some money or food – are memories that live with me until this day. At 10 years old I thought: Gaza, Kashmir, Bosnia – it can’t get worse than this. Then 9/11 happened. Afghanistan happened, Iraq followed, Palestine continued to burn, Kashmir to this day barely makes the news, Rohingya Muslims aren’t anyone’s concern, Syria trampled to dust, African Muslims are literally at the bottom of the pile, and now, New Zealand teaches us living in a ‘Western’ country doesn’t guarantee safety.

What has this massacre taught us?

Internalized oppression, a term introduced by French-Algerian Frantz Omar Fanon, is the psychological state where coloured people subconsciously begin to believe they are inferior to their white colonising masters. After the abolition of slavery, superstructures like the education system and media have continued to reinforce a euro-centric and racist world view. Take a look at some of the newspaper headlines and political rhetoric surrounding Muslims in any western, democratic country – these are the same headlines being used to excuse and justify the actions of the New Zealand terrorist. Consider how a whole religion or community can be vilified by the actions of a minority, and in contrast, how a white perpetrator is a mentally-ill lone wolf. Think about how easy it is for a white person to tell you ‘Go back home,’ and how hard it is for you to tell them you would happily do so if only it hadn’t been bombed, raped, and pillaged by other white people. Simply stating the facts of war crimes committed by Western forces in Muslim lands would label you as someone who has failed to integrate and assimilate, someone who is radical, extreme, and a potential future terrorist.

What has this massacre taught us?

The massacre has taught us that influential people with huge followings, who are quick to condemn acts of terror by ‘Muslims’, are very slow to speak up about something like the New Zealand attack.

The massacre has taught us we have internalised our oppression and the fear of being punished makes us wait for permission, we wait until someone white, someone in a position of authority has the courage to speak up first: Kourtney Kardashian condemned the attack before some Muslim celebrities could locate their twitter accounts.

The massacre has taught us that we, as a global community, grieve openly if the world and world leaders view it as acceptable. I wonder, if Jacinda Ardern shared the same political views as let’s say Donald Trump, how many of us would have found the confidence to openly condemn the attack?

The massacre has highlighted a stark contrast of how some Muslims speak up vehemently when the issue concerns their country, their flag, their race, but remain silent for others around the world.

The massacre has taught us we want to see change but do not want to do anything that will affect change.

So I write this with a heavy heart and reluctant hands, but I write knowing now more than ever young Muslims all over the world are looking to each other, lost and in need of reassurance. To them I say, the massacre has also taught us this:

No matter how hard it gets, we will not slip into a quiet complacency.  Regardless of whether the victims are of faith or not, we will speak up against injustice. No matter how exhausted we are from counting the dead, from listing the countries, from the burden on our hearts, we will stand together as one ummah. We already know what has been prophesied; we have been listening to stories about ‘the end’ for generations.

Let us remember those who die in the way of Allah are not dead.

Let’s not wait for anyone’s permission to grieve our losses.

Let us lead by example.


2 thoughts on “Articulating grief as a Muslim: what the New Zealand massacre teaches us”

  1. There’s definitely been a sea change in the political environment, at least in some circles. But because this massacre against the martyred Muslims in New Zealand was not an isolated event, I am loathe to imagine what the response would have been if it was just Muslims being targeted. Thinking this way is not conducive though, so I won’t go into the depths of what-ifs… but I do agree that there are some deaths we cannot talk about. It’s just not just Muslims though, anyone who speaks on behalf Palestinians – and there have been a number of Jewish and Black activists that have – are labeled anti-Semites.

    Liked by 1 person

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