When I was 14, I asked my school principal if I could decorate one of our school’s display cases. I made my case that our school of 300 white students and me, a Bangladeshi American, should celebrate Black History Month. Before that meeting, some of my peers had proven to me that they needed a lesson on tolerance. He permitted me to decorate the display case in my 8th-grade hall. For the first time, North East Middle School “celebrated” Black History Month with a display case highlighting Black inventors. Fun fact: did you know the touch-tone phone, caller ID, and fiber optic cables were created by Black inventor, Dr. Shirley Jackson?
When you are not white, you learn from an early age that our school textbooks are incomplete. So for my boys, I want to make sure that I fill the gaps. A piece of our American History education that always fell short for me was the story of America’s Black Muslims.
One of the first known African slaves to set foot in the Americas was Mustafa Zemmouri aka Estevanico. In 1522, he was enslaved by the Portuguese and sold to a Spanish nobleman who brought him on an expedition to colonize Florida. He led a life worthy of a Hollywood film. This African Muslim immigrant is considered a discoverer of New Mexico.
The first Black Muslims came to America as slaves. Historically, between 15% and 30% of slaves brought to the Americas from West/Central Africa were Muslims. The majority still worshipped tribal religions. However, most of these captives were forced into Christianity during the era of American slavery. Enslaved African Muslims used Arabic to build community, resist slavery, and pursue freedom.
Fast-forward to 2018, there are 800,000+ Black American Muslims who are predominantly Sunni Muslims. As a way to introduce Black Muslim leaders to my kids, I’ve started to create coloring pages.
As I was sketching coloring pages for Malcolm X, SZA, and Kareem Abdul Jabbar, Kian and Zayn were entirely captivated by who these people were and why they were so important to Mommy.
Malcolm X rose to fame as a leader in the Nation of Islam, which in the 1960’s was a divisive organization. But in 1964, he completed his Hajj, or pilgrimage to Mecca, and discovered an authentic Islam of universal respect and brotherhood. He later said that seeing Muslims of “all colors, from blue-eyed blonds to black-skinned Africans,” interacting as equals led him to see Islam as a means by which racial problems could be overcome. He left the Nation of Islam and continued to organize and advocate for civil rights until his assassination. He remains one of the most recognized figures in Black history.
Kareem Abdul Jabbar, in my LA-raised husband’s words, “was the greatest basketball player of all time, on and off the court.” As an adolescent, anytime I felt like complaining about fasting for Ramadan, I would think about Kareem and how he played basketball while fasting. Talk about self-discipline and devotion.
SZA, which stands for Sovereign Zig Zag Allah, is the breakout artist of the year. She grew up in a strict Muslim home and is living her truth, which might be different from her parent’s. I would have loved a cool, female, Muslim, American role model when I was young. I pray for her long career and that she can use her position to make a difference for her fans and the story of Muslim Americans.
You can find the downloadable files here. Just right click and save as. Print, share, color, enjoy!
Peace and Salam,