Here at Ummahsonic HQ (that’s right, we have a whole headquarters AND it’s complete with nap pods, slides and segways), our Black History Month celebrations are alive and kicking.
This week, we’re highlighting more amazing black British Muslims who inspire us, move us, give us LIFE and, in almost every case, make us feel like we should really try to accomplish a lot more.
Last week, we introduced you to the incredible artist Ejatu Shaw, the gifted scholar Mustafa Briggs and the architect Yusuf Shegow.
This week, we’re doing things ever so slightly differently. As the United States is about to vote in important midterm elections on November 6, we thought we’d venture a little further afield and showcase a black Muslim who we can confidently describe as a trailblazer.
She may not be British, but her achievements transcend nationality and can motivate anyone, anywhere. Let’s go.
Ilhan Omar is a US politician who made headlines in 2016 after she became the first Somali-American woman elected to office in the United States, when she was voted into the Minnesota House of Representatives.
The 35-year-old legislator fled Somalia with her family after the outbreak of civil war in 1991. Following four years in a Kenyan refugee camp, the family emigrated to the United States, ultimately settling in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Since serving as a campaign manager in the 2012 Minnesota senate race, Omar has risen through the state’s political levels, in part because of her progressive viewpoints. She wants to raise the minimum wage to $15, abolish private prisons, cancel student debt and automatically register 18-year-olds to vote. These stances, she recently told The New Yorker, reflect “a politics of moral clarity and courage.”
On 6 November, Omar has the chance to become the first Somali-American and one of the first two Muslim women (Michigan’s Rashida Tlaib is running unopposed, so is a shoe-in) to be elected to Congress.
(FYI, in the summer primaries she kind of crushed the competition, so the likelihood of her winning the midterm seems pretty high.)
Now, after all that transatlantic excitement, let’s head back to the UK.
Faisal Salah is a Somali-British poet who we’ve been fans of for a while. While we say poet, he could just as easily be described as a spoken word artist, lyricist and performer.
His work blurs the boundary between poetry and song, while exploring themes like faith, heritage and identity. To get a true feel for Salah’s words you really have to listen to his work rather than read it, so as to fully experience his melodic, flowing style, check out this video for his poem ‘Waterfall’.
In a 2016 interview with Buzzfeed, Salah described the technique as ‘words in motion’, before adding: “You have poetry on the page and what I do is bring it to life….when you’re performing that onstage it’s you who’s bringing it to life because you are the moving expression. For me, melody is the emotion that can’t be contained in words.”
Salah is one of many young, British-Somalis who are adding to Somalia’s rich poetic history. Through his words, Salah is giving new life to a vital part of Somali culture, while allowing it to flourish throughout the diaspora.