A Conversation with Eiman Ali on Racial Justice
Eiman Ali is the co-founder of Muslim Women For; a grassroots social justice organization that works to foster and nurture vibrant Muslim societies that work to create positive social change and uplift their communities through political education, leadership development, relationship building, and women of color empowerment.
Over the past weeks, Eiman shared her work for racial justice in an email exchange with Interfaith America writer Silma Suba.
What work are you doing currently around the BLM movement and racial justice and how have you been engaging others in your work?
Anti-Blackness is so deeply embedded in the foundation of this country and it shows up in many ways, from housing to education, to healthcare, and so much more. There are equally as many avenues of addressing these problems, from immediate action to tackling these systems at the root. In this most recent BLM uprising, folks who have never been involved in racial justice and are tuning in, offering their own resources and skills in their respective fields and working to create better systems, from healthcare workers to educators, and it's been beautiful! We’ve been taking advantage of this moment by uplifting racial justice organizations that offer specialized resources and training, as well as sharing educational materials. Additionally, we’ve been working with our local Islamic leaders and organizers to organize Get Out the Vote work, digital organizing training, and work around the census.
What are some challenges you’re facing, or have faced previously, in doing work around racial justice?
It has been difficult to feel heard in non-Black spaces. Non-Black leaders who want to work on creating more racially inclusive spaces still have a hard time recognizing their own privileges. Black people are only brought in when it's time to talk about racial justice and even then, they are spoken over or receive pushback, and that's been difficult to experience and witness. It has felt like a fight to get into the room, and even when I’m in the room, I’m silenced. As a Black, hijab-wearing woman, this is not an unfamiliar experience. That is why my organization was created because we don’t want people to feel that way in our spaces.
How do you feel about the recent nationwide protests to either reform or defund the police?
Firstly, I think it's important to understand the difference between reforming and defunding. The end goal of defunding the police is the complete abolishment of police and prison systems. Reform won’t work because these systems were designed to target and further marginalize Black communities, communities of color, immigrants, LGBTQ, and poor people. I am an abolitionist because reform calls for more resources to be poured into these systems, while abolition calls for reallocating funds into these underserved and under-protected communities and ending crime by meeting needs.
We are witnessing a historically significant moment in America – how do you feel about the response to it, and how do you think we as a nation can move forward? Are there any messages of hope from your faith that you’d like to share with everyone?
It has been painful to hear these latest instances of police murders and watch Black lives being brutally ended every single day. A lot of painful memories and fears come up for me, however, the response to this uprising has brought me so much hope. I remember after the Ferguson uprising in 2014, so many conversations I was seeing were very much “anti-Black racism doesn’t exist,” “all lives matter,” and “not all cops.” Today, the response has moved past convincing others of our humanity, and folks are really trying to do the work within themselves and their own community. Black voices are being amplified, the pressure is being put on elected officials, and inclusion efforts are being reevaluated and prioritized. In my faith community, I’m seeing Muslims have important conversations about the ways Black Muslims are being treated in our spaces and, while there have been bumps in the road, we’re heading down the right path, and it's so exciting to see. Islam is a religion of peace, as we so often say, but without justice, there is no peace.
How are you taking care of yourself and staying grounded during this moment? What, from your faith, is inspiring you to do so and keep moving?
One of the most healing pieces of my self-care routine is staying connected with my Black Muslim friends. When you’re used to being the only one in so many spaces, code-switching, and putting on a smile, being in a space where you can bring your full self feels like such a sigh of relief. I connect with them via video calls just to laugh, commiserate, and watch a tv show. It does so much good for the soul! Islam is a religion that emphasizes justice and the Prophet Muhammed (peace be upon him) embodied that value in many aspects of his life. One of my favorite verses in the Quran comes to mind often which is in Surah An-Nisa, ayat 135 “O you who have believed, be persistently standing firm in justice, witnesses for Allah, even if it be against yourselves or parents and relatives.” PERSISTENTLY standing firm in justice is an important piece. I can’t stop, nothing in my body allows me to stop, but I must take care of myself in order to be persistent.
Eiman is a graduate from Meredith College with a Bachelor of Arts in Biology and a minor in Public Health. Her dedication to social justice is rooted in her identity as a Somali immigrant and her upbringing as a Muslim woman. During her undergraduate experience, she discovered her passion for service through her internship at the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants as a Health Intern, ensuring healthcare access for newly arrived refugees. She also served as an IFYC Coach, training college students from across the country to be interfaith leaders on their campuses. She went on to become the IFYC recipient of the Mike Hammer Leadership Award in 2017 and continued her work for refugees through a viral advocacy campaign with Oxfam America. She is an Associate Market Research Coordinator in Durham, North Carolina, where work pushes her to organize through a critical and creative lens, which is a skill she strives to bring into every aspect of her life.