Why Muslims Need Critical Race Theory  

I am a Muslim. As a profession, I have also taught and lectured extensively on Black Political Thought including Critical Race theory at universities from U.C Berkeley to  Harvard University. Critical Race theory posits that even in a post-Jim Crow era, structural racism continues to operate on a defacto as opposed to de jure level with detrimental impacts to the standard of living, quality of life and access to opportunities for African-Americans.

As someone who works in many impoverished inner-city African-American neighborhoods on a grassroots level, I believe critical race theory, while certainly not infallible, offers valuable political insights that Muslims should study and engage with in a meaningful way.

Recently, there have been many Muslims who engage in Dawah who have endeavored to pushback against Muslim social justice activists who have adopted liberal or leftist political frameworks. In such critiques, Muslim public figures such as Daniel Haqiqatjou, Imam Zaid Shakir, Abdullah Andalusi, Ismail Royer,  Nour Goda, among others, have sought to critique critical race theory. They categorize critical race theory as being a liberal or leftist political framework. 

In their critiques, however, they have only demonstrated an immense ignorance as to what critical race theory even is. Their critiques are replete with intellectual laziness that only demonstrate they have not even bothered to read nor study  foundational works of critical race theory.  This article aims to 1) explain how such Muslims public speakers fundamentally misunderstand critical race theory and 2)explain how critical race theory bolsters Islamic critiques of liberalism.

The Ignorance of Muslim Opposition to Critical Race Theory

Daniel Haqiqatjou has stated that “Insofar as our dawah abandons the Qur’an and, instead, aligns with leftist activism with its reliance on critical race theory, decolonial studies, intersectional gender justice nonsense, etc., the less effective it will be. In fact, it will not be dawah at all. It will just be victimhood whining, which only breeds more resentment and hatred of Muslims and Islam.

In another lecture titled The Middle Way, Abdullah Andalusi writes that  “Islam doesnt have a word for racism….We are all human race.  Humans tend to hate each other based on tribe. It’s not limited to melanin in skin. People of the same ethnic group, same religion, but different tribes can hate each other just as much as a white supremacist hate immigrant.  The western social justice warrior concept of racism coming from critical race theory starts discriminating off the back.”

The characterization of critical race theory as being liberal or western is grotesquely inaccurate. Critical race theory emerged as a critique of the inability of liberalism and liberal political strategies to alleviate the structural racism facing African-American communities.

Critical race theory posits that liberal political reformist maneuvers in the form of civil rights legislation that prohibited de’jure racial discrimination only merely shifted it from de’jure to defacto.

For example, racially restrictive covenants made it impossible for African-Americans to move into neighborhoods which were designated as “white only.” African-American residential homes were often placed by city agencies near toxic waste dumps. African-Americans were often denied essential social services such as plumbing and garbage disposal services.

The Fair Housing Act outlawed these practices. Yet, critical race theory examines the ways how even after racial discrimination was formally outlawed, racial discrimination in housing continued via blockbusting and redlining, without a formal legal mechanism mandating such segregated policies.  

The origins of critical race theory traces its origins to African-American legal scholar, Derrick Bell, who once worked as an attorney for the National Association For the Advancement of Colored People(NAACP). Bell was part of the legal team that sought to end racial discrimination in schooling. This culminated in the Supreme Court’s decision in Brown v. Board of Education which prohibited racially segregated schools.

In later writings which serve as the beginning of what is dubbed critical race theory, Bell reflected upon his work in the NAACP in more critical ways.   In fighting to end racially segregated schools, Bell stated the NAACP legal strategy relied upon the argument that racial discrimination in schooling would hurt America’s image in the cold war.  

Bell argues that the ultimate decision of the Supreme Court to end de’jure racial discrimination was facilitated by the need for the United States to better improve its image to newly decolonized nations in the cold war. It was not driven primarily by the fact that racial discrimination was inherently wrong. Bell believed much of his former work in the NAACP was ineffective in resolving structural racism in a meaningful way.

The second part of Bell’s analysis posits that structural racism is able to maintain itself even after legalized racial discrimination came to an end.  As proof, Bell cites data that indicated schools continued to be just as racially segregated even after the Brown vs. Board of Education declared racial segregation in schooling to be unconstitutional.

Now the question is this: what in Bell’s theory violates any tenet of Islam? What in this theory is liberal? What in this theory exactly is western? In fact, Bell is critiquing the inability of a western liberal state to resolve structural racism of a meaningful level.

Malcolm X, made similar critiques when he stated that “Washington, D.C tries to pacify our people with deceitful promises of tricky, civil rights legislation” and  “civil rights legislation will never solve our problem.” In fact, one can argue that it many ways Malcolm X’s critiques of the mainstream civil rights theory served a precursor to much of Bell’s writings.

In his lecture, Abdullah Al AnDalusi accuses critical race theory, a theory of African-American legal scholars to analyze structural racism in a post jim crow era as being the culprit in “perpetrating discrimination.”

Is Critical Race Theory Liberal?

There have been efforts of Muslim public thinkers to claim somehow that critical race theory is western or liberal, and this has the impact of undermining Islamic ethics. Ismail Royer, an American convert to Islam and Research and Program Associate at the Religious Freedom Institute, writes that “The paradox about these absurd attacks on American Muslim politicians/activists is that there activism actually involves undermining Islam with their “intersectional feminism” and critical race theory.”

Abdullah Andalusi also argues that critical race theory is somehow liberal or western in his lecture the Middle Way. The reality is that critical race theory has been highly critical of liberalism’s foundational founders.  African-American political theorist and critical race theorist, Dr. Charles Mills. for example has brilliantly critiqued how Immanuel Kant once wrote a treatise on how to properly beat African slaves with split bamboo to extract better labor from them and the implications this has on his categorical imperative theory.

Dr. Charles Mills writes that “Kant believed in a natural racial hierarchy, with whites at the top, and blacks and Native-Americans at the bottom. He saw the last two races as natural slaves.”

Critical Race theorists have been highly critical of John Lcoke. In his book The Critique of Racial Liberalism, Dr. Charles Mills  “John Locke invests in African slavery and justifies the aborignal expropritation; Immanuel kant turns out to be one of the pioneering theorists of modern “scientific racism“…liberalism needs to be reconceptualized as ideologically central to the imperial project.”

Critical race theorists have been critical of the ways in which John Locke introduced into the fundamental constitutions of Carolina in 1669, the right of white men to have “absolute power over their African slaves, and thus the right to kill their slaves with impunity.”

Several critical race theorists have noted that slavery has existed throughout history but was not always based upon race. They have noted and critique John Locke specifically as being  “an architect of the new race-based slavery.”

The Political Reality of Global White Supremacy

Critical Race theorists use the term white supremacy to identify the power system that has shaped the modern world. By white supremacist, they do not mean fringe figures such as an EDL or KKK members. They mean the essential thinkers that have shaped the modern world– Kant, Locke, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau.

Dr. Charles Mills defines white supremacy as “the system of domination by which white people have historically ruled over and, in certain important ways, continue to rule over nonwhite people.”

In a discussion with Abdullah Andalusi, he writes that  “CRT is problematic for two reasons, it creates a category called “whiteness” & ascribes to it culture and beliefs when visually low melaninated skin clearly has no connection to beliefs, culture.”

This is simply false. Critical race theorists are not the ones who created a category called whiteness. Derrick Bell, the founder of critical race theory, grew up in the United States, a society organized around the concept of white supremacy and through critical race theory merely analyzed how white supremacy continued even after African-Americans obtained formal, juridical equality.  It is not that Derrick Bell created a category called whiteness.

Rather, Derrick Bell grew up in the United States which through Jim Crow Laws and Black codes were predicated upon upholding a false construct known as whiteness. European settler colonists created a concept known as whiteness and upheld a political construct known as white supremacy in their political relationship with people they designated as non-white.

In this lecture, the Middle Why, Abdullah Andalusi spends time discussing how critical race theorists are in error because race is not a valid biological concept. This is non-sequitur.

Acknowledging that white supremacy as a political reality and to criticize that political arrangement does not require one to believe race has any biological reality. Critical race theory is critique of how European settler colonies have organized societies around race and created detrimental outcomes to groups of people who have been categorized into certain races.

In his lecture, Abdullah Andalusi precedes to talk about poor white people exist in the United States. Again, this is non-sequitur in addressing the basic contention of critical race theory that structural racism against African-Americans continued in a post jim crow era. As a result of the uniqueness of racism, poor whites are not nearly as detrimentally impacted by the rise of the prison industrial complex nor are they as adversely impacted by incidents of police brutality.

Poor whites have access to more opportunities for social economic mobility than do Black people.  Additionally, the existence of poor whites does not refute the fact that white supremacy in white settler colonies organizes distribution of wealth along racial lines.  African-Americans have such minimal wealth that at current trends even two whole centuries from now they will continue to lag behind in terms of household wealth in comparison to whites.

Why Muslims Need Critical Race Theory

Muslim public speakers who are opposed to critical race theory have not offered any meaningful critique of critical race theory that demonstrates that have even studied it. Critical race theory is a very meaningful political tradition for it demonstrates an effort of African-American legal scholars to conceptualize how structural racism could maintain itself even absent a formal legalistic mechanism mandating racial segregation.

Far from being “liberal” or “western”, critical race theorists have criticized the ways in which liberal strategies to resolve structural racism have been ineffective. Critical race theorists have critiqued the founders of liberalism for upholding white supremacy.  Critical race theory is not liberal or western. It is a Black criticism of being subjugated in a liberal-western state in an era in which Black people were told that the end of de’jure racial discrimination would resolve structural racism.

I am open to the possibility of valid criticisms of critical race theory. Unfortunately, the aforementioned criticisms by Muslim public figures of critical race theory which amounts to painting critical race theory as some “liberal social justice warrior nonsense” is not a valid criticism.  It is intellectually lazy and disrespectful to the Black political tradition and Black political thought.

 Such aforementioned criticisms of critical race theory will only result in Muslims being oblivious and complicit in oppression. Muslims have been obligated to enjoin the good and forbid the evil. Muslims are obligated to oppose oppression and tyranny whenever it is found. In order to achieve this, Muslims would benefit from the political insights of Derrick Bell and Dr. Charles Mills who have thoroughly dissected how structural racism continues to manifest itself in a post jim-crow era.

In the same way we need Muslim doctors, scientists, mathematicians..etc, we need Muslim critical race theorists. We need Muslims who study how structural racism impacts societies and the world.

Comments

  1. Abdallah says:

    CRT like all critical theory is based in a denial of the concept of objective truth and objective reality. It is relativistic

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