The Muslim Community Rises with Ferguson
For the last 70 days the youth of Ferguson, Missouri have led protests and vigils every night in remembrance of 18 year old Michael Brown and the countless other black lives that are cut short at the rate of at least 400 annually by police in the United States. This past weekend protesters merged on Ferguson for a weekend of action called for by the youth of Ferguson with actions, protests and acts of civil disobedience taking place from Friday to Monday, October 10th to the 13th.
Mustafa Abdullah is a community organizer originally from North Carolina who moved to St. Louis two years ago to work for the ACLU of Eastern Missouri. In the days after Michael Brown’s shooting Mustafa went to work with a number of other Muslim leaders locally and nationally to organizer Muslims for Ferguson who are helping to lead the call to get American Muslims more deeply involved in community organizing around issues of racial justice, mass incarceration and police brutality throughout the United States. What follows is an in depth interview with Mustafa Abdullah about the organizing taking place on the ground in Ferguson, and his hopes for the Muslim community, as he stated clearly to us in our interview,
“my hope is that Muslims really begin to see that our own liberation, and our own freedom are intricately intertwined with the freedom of the youth that are on the street in Ferguson.”
Ummah Wide: Within a few days of the killing of Michael Brown you all started organizing the Muslim community to be actively engaged in what is happening in Ferguson. Can you tell us about Muslims for Ferguson, what the local response has been like and also what the national response has been so far to this call to action?
Mustafa Abdullah: In seeking justice in Ferguson, and justice for Mike Brown for me it’s about building a just world and it’s about building the values that are of the utmost importance to me. I take very seriously the verses in the Qur’an that if one part of the body is in pain then the whole body wakes up in a fevered state and I think that is making a deeper metaphorical statement about world. That we are aware of the pain that people are going through and a we have a belief that we should be there to support communities in ways that are authentic.
This is exactly what we have been trying to build with Muslims for Ferguson which has really been a movement that has developed rapidly and organically. Two days after the killing of Michael Brown, I had been traveling that weekend and I came back to the office Monday morning and my inbox was flooded with a couple hundred emails, a ton of voice mails and around 9:30 that morning I got a call from Linda Sarsour, the Executive Director of the Arab American Association of New York. She asked me, ‘Mustafa where is the Muslim community on this?’
That hadn’t even come to mind for me yet because as Muslim organizers and advocates in our community sometimes it feels like we are in real isolation and she brought that reality check to me. When she made that call to me and she posed that question, she also said that we need to get with the Muslim community. So I called the executive director of CAIR St. Louis, Faizan Syed and we drafted a solidarity letter together addressed to Michael Brown’s family and we got 20 mosques and Islamic centers, all the major ones here in the St. Louis area to sign onto this letter that we had sent out.
Then I had a conversation with Muhammad Malik an organizer from Miami who has been involved with the Dream Defenders and the anti-police brutality movement there around the police killing of 20 year old Israel Hernandez last year. He suggested that we do a national call for the Muslim community, because Muslims need to hear from people that are on the ground in Ferguson. So we organized a few days later this national call and we had over 250 people on the call where we featured myself, Faizan Syed, and a few national Muslim leaders, Muhammad Malik, Linda Sarsour and Imam Dawood Walid.
Since then we have done a number of follow up calls with local organizers and activists on the ground here, including Torey Russell organizer for Hands Up United who was the first organizer on the ground the evening after Michael Brown was killed. That night he organized 12 other people to protest with him outside of the police department and the protests snow balled and people had the courage to come out and face the snipers, rubber bullets, and face the tear gas and face the tanks, and the long range acoustic device system, all this military equipment and intimidation from law enforcement, to peacefully protest the killing of Michael Brown and calling for the arrest of the officer who did the shooting.
Since then our online and Facebook presence has grown rapidly, members of the Muslim community have reached out to me, to Linda and Muhammad, and there are a number of organizers that we are in relationship with that are so thankful for all the people on the ground. I know that Muslims have donated to organizations on the ground doing this work, particularly to the Organization for Black Struggle who have been doing this police brutality work for 35 plus years.
This all really culminated over the last weekend when we had a block of Muslims and Palestinian rights folk as an organized block at this march and rally where there were at least 5 or 6 times where the rights of Muslims and Palestinians were brought up by speakers, where non-Muslim and non-Arabs speakers.
I think that for the Muslims who have participated, we are really beginning to see that our experiences of racial profiling, our experiences of surveillance, their experiences with their countries being torn up by war and the increasing militarization of the world and American police departments. We are really beginning to see that all of this is tied up with and connected to the experiences of African Americans, particularly black and brown youth in this country.
What my hope is, is that they are seeing their own liberation, their own freedom as being intricately intertwined with the freedom of the youth that are on the street in Ferguson.
The youth that have talked to us and shared their stories of being pulled over while driving a nice car in town, their experiences of being stopped and frisked on the street, their experience of not having any good after school programs with almost no options as to what to do with their lives, these are stories that we need to be listening to. One of the first memories that many of these organizers and youth in the streets of Ferguson have is when they were first in the streets getting hit with tear gas and rubber bullets for the first time and getting tweets from Palestinians telling them how to deal with the tear gas and the rubber bullets.