My First Trip To ICNA and the Absence of Blackness in Baltimore (A Black Mecca)

Last Friday I went to my first ever ICNA convention in Baltimore, Maryland.  I wasn’t sure what I was going to see when I got there but I had an idea. A week before, ICNA had put out an image on Facebook that said the following “Islam empowers women with honor and dignity.#ICNA2017 “  It included an image of all the prominent women who were speaking at the convention.ICNA Women

Not a single black woman on the flyer. Not one. Nahela Moralez was the only Latina women on the flyer. Besides her, every other woman was either Arab, south Asian or white presenting. All of the women were fair skinned.  I posted the photo on my personal Facebook page with the caption “So no one notices anything wrong with this picture” It took less than ten minutes for people to notice what I had. Yet somehow the conference organizers saw nothing.
The photo was my first indication that I wasn’t going to be happy with ICNA. When making my list of programs I noticed the first session of the Saturday session was called “America’s Original Sins: Racism and Social Inequality”.Screen Shot 2017-04-21 at 3.45.38 PM It featured Ismael Essa, Nihad Awad, Dr. Hatem Bazian, and Dr. Altaf Husain. Not one of these speakers is Black or Black identifying. Not one person is Latinx. Not a single one. How is it possible? Look at what you are talking about. The program goes on further to say what each speaker will address: “ An Angry America: How Did We Get to This Point?” The Future of Civic Engagement” “Standing Rock, Mexican Wall, Muslim ban, #FlintWater and Beyond”. These are the topics; but there are no black people and no latinx people involved. I am confounded as to how anyone could look at that list of topics and not think that a Black Muslim needed to be up there.  How can you talk about the impact of the wall with Mexico and the other rhetoric Trump has used when referring to Latinx people without a single Latinx person? How can you talk about civic engagement, flint, racism without a single Black voice? How? It was by the grace of the Most High that I did not make it to that session. I had the intention to go and ask all of these questions in person. But I believe in the divine’s intervention. I believe that I was too close to my emotions at the time.  A week later and it still makes me angry. Frustrated really. This conference was held in one of the most historically black cities in our nation. Yet Black people; we again were obviously missing.

I try not to be one of those people who gets mad and does nothing with their anger and frustration. I thought of ways I could be productive and bring attention to the absence of Blackness at this convention. One thing I did to promote Blackness while I was at the conference was tweet with the hashtag #BlackICNA. I used to show Black vendors and comment on the lack of blackness at the convention. I took pictures of vendors, and organizations that were either owned by Black people or served the Black community. I wanted to high light that we as Black Muslims were here and deserve recognition.  Screen Shot 2017-04-21 at 4.15.48 PM

The second thing I did was by accident. I ended up at the session titled “ Muslims in the Media” and Linda Sarsour was speaking. At the moment I arrived she was talking about non black Muslims racism against black peoples. She was calling them out for their distrust of black people but their want to use black labor when they need help. Her words were so necessary for me. I was glad that someone was finally using their voice to say all of the things that I was feeling. Seeing as we were not on the stage, at least someone who called themselves an ally was using their platform to bring attention. Afterwards I spoke with her about the absence of Black women and men at the conference. While nothing of course could be done, I appreciated her speaking to me and acknowledging that void. It needed to be said and continue to be said. 20170415_133208.jpg

You might ask why not also a #LatinxICNA. I am happy to say that there was much more of a Latinx presence at the convention. There were at least four sessions specifically geared to talking about the Latino wave and experience within Islam and the Muslim communities here in the US. However the absolute silence from which the black community and black representation was suffering from was deafening. In light of our location and the size of the black community.

I left the convention less thrilled with my community. It’s hard having to be Muslim in the majority spaces of Christian America. In a better world, the very least I could expect is that in my own community, my “Muslimness” and my Blackness would be embraced. That when I am around people who call me Sister, they would really see me as their sister. That the color of my skin would be loved as much as the depth of my character. But this convention just reaffirmed that there is so much work that needs to be done. This community, needs to hold up a mirror and face the ugly truth. Because I’m not really your sister, if my Blackness is ever a problem.


  1. Another contributing factor is that an annual Muslim women’s conference (now in its 34th year) was held the same weekend in the suburbs of Baltimore City. That conference has a loyal following which is overwhelmingly black.

    1. I know about that conference and have even attended MashaAllah. But there are maybe 200-300 women in attendance. There are so many Black Muslim women who could have been invited as guest speakers, panelists. I just can’t believe that the sisters conference really changes that much. But that’s just my opinion.

  2. Powerfully stated and extremely honest. I love Islam but in some cases the Arab world has embraced the racist ideology that has been promoted by the west. In order for our ummah to flourish we must remember Prophet Muhammad (SAWS ) Last sermon and then practice his sunnah towards each other.

  3. What’s ever in a person heart will surely come to light, they didn’t see a need to have Asiatics of African descent there because in their hearts where not part of there Brother and sisterhood.But Allah (SWT) is G-d and he will put things in order.

  4. I agree with you sister. I noticed that in all panels too. And tv ..etc
    Also the non Hijabi Muslim women is another muslim catogory that is not represented in any Muslim conferences. I guess not muslim enough!

  5. Siraj Wahhaj, Khalid Griggs (VP, ICNA), Jamal Abdul-Karim, Yassir Fazaga, Mohamed Magid, Abdalla Idris Ali, Ali Suleiman Ali, Mikaeel Smith, and Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf all spoke. Several of them also spoke on the black experience. I hope you’re able to listen to them in the future. I also hope ICNA continues to diversify further inshaAllah.

  6. Saying it again
    The original sin is this racism within
    Until it changes don’t expect to be accepted anywhere else. The youth are supposed to be so woke…are you?
    Suratul Abasa…..

  7. Systemic structural racism towards those who aren’t Arab or Asian, and inequality towards women (with and without hijab) exists in ICNA, ISNA, MAS and nearly all Islamic institutions especially Masjid Boards. What can we do? We can boycott their conventions and events until their leadership becomes representative of diversity and accountable to social justice issues.

  8. Many yeara ago Muslims African Americans were very active at ICNA., especially as it relates to security and they were highly visible. Here in Baltimore there is a African American mayor and 3 HBCUS all having Muslim Students Association. But then again, Maryland is the beginning of the Mason/Dixon line. Yes, that old racism in America. Furthermore, it is ashame that ICNA got its start in the “black neighborhood of Jamaica, Queens, and a stone’s throw away from Jamaica Estates where Trumps father built that community. It was the Muslim African Americans in NYC that received the key to NYC in the 70s and 80s while by enlarge the ICNA community of speakers were still in diapers in their Third World countries. So the spoil brats are now riding of our Muslim coattails. And here in Baltimore there are scores of Muslim African American masajid with many Muslim women employed in civic engagement. In fact, Sis Zakiyyah Mahasan is a circut court judge in Baltimore. So the exclusion of Muslim African Americans by enlarge and women are by ICNA ” Uncle Tom” design. It makes them feel good to leave our women’s voices out. In the old adage of the jumah opening, ” Let’s us see Truth as Truth and Falshood as Falshood and give us tge strength to embrace it”

    The writer holds a MA in Museum Studies and Historical Preservation from Morgan State University, Baltimore.

  9. Rasicm & prejudice has been an ongoing problem within the Muslim co.munity in the US. Non-black Muslims around the world have been ill-educated about the history of black people. It will take a tremendous amount of re-education & openmindedness to fix this problem.

    1. Sorry for the misspellings in my prior post. I wrote quickly because this topic makes me very upset. Unfortunately,
      being true brothers and sisters in the religion is a goal not a reality.

  10. Racism & predjudice has been an ongoing problem within the Muslim co.munity in the US. Non-black Muslims around the world have been ill-educated about the history of black people. It will take a tremendous amount of re-education & openmindedness to fix this problem.

  11. I was at the convention in Baltimore. It was my first time attending an ICNA conference. My main comment to others was the lack of presence from the African American community. Linda Sarsour’s address regarding the history of Islam in America was very powerful. However, it felt a shame that “we” were not even there.

  12. You hit the nail on the head sister. I agree with you 100%. So let’s change this for next year. We can petition ICNA leadership to reach out to African-American and African scholars to provide conference content. I’ll put my name on whatever you’re doing to promote positive change and unity. Bismillah!

  13. I was at icna also. This was my second time there I think the only AA speaker they had was ImAm siraja. This year I did see more AA at the conference then before, which is even more reasone for them to represent us in the conference.

  14. Assalamu alaykum,
    I believe some of the above comments were unfair. Here is the link for speakers in MAS-ICNA Convention in Chicago:

    Also, Imam Siraj Wahajj is usually one of the main speakers at both conventions and he happened not to be in neither one of the last two.
    There might be some issues that we need to deal with as Muslim Community at the US, however, the divisive approach isn’t the solution.

    1. No one is trying to be divisive . I think the people who were mentioned by are a great start. However the main point is there is such a lack. 9 people for a whole three days. We can and should do better.

  15. So how about we aim to attend ,with 5000 people ,the ICNA-MAS Convention next year on March 30-Apr 1st with our sisters and brothers, whom we thought, were missing!
    Point is, if we as an attendee be there then we will be noticed!

  16. As a white revert, I have often felt rather excluded and on the periphery amongst Arab and AsIan “born Muslims,” as some seem to regard reverts as not as authentically Muslim as they are. Amongst black reverts, I have felt much more understanding and affinity–and yet some seem to regard me as being “other” because I am white, through no fault of my own. Amongst other white reverts, some seem to regard one another with doubt about their being authentically Muslim or as having just “married into” Islam–further, some married-into’s seem to have become Arab, Asian, or black wanabees. The entire concept of race in America is truly strange, and the doubting of the authenticity of one another’s faith is injustice . Can we please all get over it and move on? Sorry, I’m not directing this comment to our Black and Latina sisters, who have legitimate cause to make inclusion a point–but my point is that we are all affected in negative ways by the unspoken (and sometimes spoken) emphasis on race or origin . Often I have I felt dislike and distrust from others simply because I am white. And that causes me to feel sometimes hurt, sometimes annoyed, sometimes offended, and always exasperated. Isn’t it way past time for all Muslims to accept each other as equal and legitimate brothers and sisters, without labels or assumptions? I’m really tired of dealing with this issue. The fragmentation of our ummah only weakens us.

Leave a Reply