Despite forming 10% of the British Muslim population, Black Muslims feel displaced in both Islamic and black history narratives. For the UK’s Black History Month we look at Black and Muslim in Britain, a highly entertaining documentary that gives agency to Black British Muslims, whilst challenging Islamophobic and racist stereotypes.
By Sarah Khurshid
According to the Muslim Council of Britain, Black Muslims constitute 10% of the British Muslim population. Despite this, Black British Muslims lack visibility in their respective communities. Therefore, on the 30th Anniversary of Black History Month in October 2017, the influential poet, Mohamed Mohamed and multi-talented British Muslim TV presenter and performer, Sakinah Lenoir, made it their mission to address this lack of Black British Muslim representation.
What they did was to create a wildly entertaining yet informative documentary series, Black and Muslim in Britain. This 13-part series, co-produced by the lifestyle blogger Saraiya Bah, is an excellent introduction to the under-represented and diverse Black British Muslim experience. The binge-worthy series explores both poignant and hard-hitting topics from love and marriage, to racism and Islamophobia.
It brings many beloved and influential British Muslims of African and Afro-Caribbean heritage right to the forefront and it is very exciting to hear directly from YouTube personality NafisaPearlz, writer Mustafa Briggs and Social Media Influencer Asma El-Badawi, to name a few. Each participant is charming and persuasive as they talk about their experiences, and the series ranges fluently over many important issues.
The second and sixth episodes, for example, feature participants recalling their memories of growing up with Muslims of Arab and Asian descent. In episode two Samia Amao uncomfortably explains how a non-Black Muslim assumed that Samia had converted to Islam when she began to wear hijab. Meanwhile, episode six dedicates itself to dissecting the infamous, yet problematic ‘but Bilal was Black’ line of defence, manipulated by some in an attempt to absolve responsibility for racism within the modern community. Both episodes display how the dynamics of racial privilege, racism and ignorance play out within the Muslim community in the UK.
Black and Muslim in Britain also addresses how Black Muslims have pioneered education, human rights and innovation throughout history. Despite their extensive and important presence, the role of Black Muslims in both black and Islamic history has been reduced to Bilal and Malcolm X. Although both figures are influential and deserve their reputations, the much broader place of Black Muslims in history is trivialised by non-Muslims and non-Black Muslims alike.
The documentary excels in addressing the socially constructed dichotomy of being Muslim and Black. Some of the participants explain how they have felt conflicted in a society that attempts to refute the concept that one can be ‘Muslim’ and ‘Black’. It doesn’t just illustrate the unique experience of being Black and Muslim in Britain either. It is relatable for all Black Muslims and challenges dominant and dangerous ideologies in both non-Muslim and Muslim societies.
Black and Muslim in Britain, is more than successful in its mission to introduce the Black British Muslim experience. All the participants are compelling to watch and each episode is short, snappy and effortlessly entertaining. It tackles problematic attitudes towards race and religion in the west head-on and is a game-changer in addressing accountability for racism and ignorance in the Muslim community.
It is a rare and important piece of documentary filmmaking that contributes much to the conversation about what it means to be Black and Muslim in a society that attempts to divide both identities. Highly recommended.