“First, I’m beige, not black, despite the title of this convocation.”
National speaker, advocate and Muslim chaplain at the University of Cincinnati Amina Darwish clarified this tiny detail before she led a convocation on the subject of “Islam and Blackness in America,” sponsored by the Black Student Association and the South Asian Middle Eastern Association, in the Massey Business Center on Monday.
Darwish wasted no time with other formalities. She immediately launched into a casual but intentional discussion, pausing frequently to take questions from the full room, and organized her thoughts in a series of questions of her own posed to the audience.
“Do you know when the biggest wave of Muslims came to America?” Darwish asked.
No, we do not.
“It was 400 years ago. And they didn’t bring themselves,” Darwish answered her own question matter-of-factly.
From there, the chaplain continued with a brief history lesson, unpacking the one-sided narrative which presents Christopher Columbus as “The Man Who Discovered America.” Muslims created maps of North and South America, Darwish explained, expressing her frustration at both the erroneous interpretation of Columbus and the intentional dismissal of Muslim achievements.
At times, the convocation was more lighthearted.
“Anyone taken an algebra class?” Darwish asked.
More hands this time.
“That was us,” Darwish said, to easier laughter.
But despite the occasional crack of cynicism, the message stayed far from bitterness. Darwish’s focus, clearly trained on halting the toxic one-track narrative of Islamophobia, conquering negativity and elevating interfaith friendships and cross-cultural understanding.
For SAME club president Dina El-Rifai, the message was both liberating and validating.
“I can identify with most of what she said, so it’s cool to have someone express what you’re feeling in words,” El-Rifai said.
Skewering lazy and oversimplified misconceptions of the origin of ISIS, Darwish asked the group to raise their hand if they were over the age of 40. A lone professor raised his hand, and the majority rule gave Darwish the chance to prove her point.
“Everyone under the age of 40 in Afghanistan has never seen a day of peace in their life,” Darwish said.
The speaker then encouraged the room to understand the complexities of a nation ravaged by warfare and to keep from settling into a broad and confused state of fear.
One of the attendees, Jeremy Capps, came interested in the intersectionality of Islamophobia and the Black Lives Matter movement.
“BSA sponsored the convocation, and I came because I usually have these kinds of conversations with people anyway,” Capps said.
Continuing her method of asking questions, exposing bias and attempting to change the narrative, Darwish asked the room who heard of the “absent black dad” stereotype.
Many raised their hands slowly, with tangible shame.
Citing a 2015 study by the Centers for Disease Control, Darwish explained black fathers are no more likely to abandon their children than any other father of any other race and may actually have a slightly better record in some situations than other dads.
And in this methodical and intentional way, with her continuous debunking of commonly held but false beliefs, Darwish prodded the room into a deeper, more introspective view of Islam and blackness in America.
She ended the discussion with her belief in the similarities and unified struggle of all people against toxic, one-sided narratives.
This article was written by Jessica King. Photo courtesy of Dina El-Rifai.