By Margari Hill and Namira Islam with MuslimARC

The Muslim Anti-Racism Collaborative (MuslimARC) is a faith-based civil rights education organization that aims to challenge racism in Muslim communities. MuslimARC developed out of conversations regarding anti-black racism perpetuated by Muslims and Arabs. In the United States, narratives surrounding Arab Americans are usually dominated by a Levantine discourse. However, with growing numbers of Black and mixed-African Sudanese and North African Arabs emigrating to the U.S., widely-held ideas regarding the ethnic composition of “Arab Americans” do not reflect reality. As one example, an AfroArab could be legally defined as both white and black in U.S. census data. In addition, many AfroArab Americans are subject to anti-Black racism in addition to anti-Arab and anti-Muslim sentiment and discrimination. In moving away from rigid binaries, we sought to approach the discussion from the more realistic vantage point that “Arab” is not racial identity, but a linguistic and cultural one. 

Amplifying Afro-Arab narratives highlights that Arabs are a diverse people and begins to reframe conversations on issues of race and ethnicity in countries in the Middle East and in Africa, as well as structuring a space to better discuss racism and anti-blackness within a specific context. To this end, MuslimARC first chose to rename “Arab Heritage Month” to Middle East North Africa Heritage month (MENA Heritage Month). Among our other campaigns, we then launched a hashtag called #AfroArabHistory through @MuslimARCon Wednesday, April 9th.

Historically, Africa and the Arab world have been strongly interlinked through trade and migration. Through our hashtag conversation, many individuals from around the globe shared the rich history and legacy that arose from those interconnections. Participants also touched upon some of the darker stories, including the trans-Saharan and Indian Ocean slave trade and the anti-blackness that exists in countries in the region today. Lastly, participants provided information and resources by linking to articles, books, websites, blog posts, images, and YouTube clips.

Three topics that were explored through the hashtag included issues surrounding:

1) the African Diaspora in North Africa Arab majority societies, including Black indigenous non-Arab ethnicities in North Africa Gnawa (Morocco), Haratine (Mauritania and Morocco), Nubian, Fur, Fulbe and Takruri (Sudan), and Zaghawa (Libya), Nubia (Egypt); and Black Arabs in Iraq, Kuwait, Palestine as well as African immigrants to North Africa and the Middle East;

2) Arab ethnic groups in Sub-Saharan Africa, including Shiraz (Zanzabar and Tanzania), Raishidi (Eritrea), and Hassani Arabs (Mauritania); and

3) Mixed-Arab-Africans, those who are descended from centuries of intermarriage -  such as in Sudan and Swahili Coast - as well as the children of more recent interracial relationships in places such as Lebanon or Sierra Leone.

Tweets touched upon the following themes: personal experiences; historical developments and people; terminology used in academia and the media, and to discuss Africa and the Middle East; and culture, including music, language, and dance.

MuslimARC is committed to continual dialogue and the examination of ethnic, racial, and Islamic identity. Our Storifys of the #AfroArabHistory conversation are at storify.com/MuslimARC/afro-arab-historyand storify.com/MuslimARC/afroarabhistory-resources, and we have posted resource posts on our Tumblr at muslimarc.tumblr.com. We are on the web at www.muslimarc.org