October marks Black History Month in the UK. In Britain today, Muslims of African or Caribbean heritage make up about 10% of the Muslim population in Britain – that’s roughly 270,000 people.
Despite this relatively small number, black British Muslims have made a significant impact on the cultural landscape of the country, leaving their mark on the worlds of art, sport, literature, academia and beyond.
To celebrate this important month, we wanted to focus on three black British Muslims who have caught our attention this year for a variety of impressive reasons.
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'Amidst this crisis of identity, the photo series acts as Shaw’s exploration of what it might mean to depart from the path set out for you by others and yourself at some point long ago. With subjects from her own family, elements of Islamic symbolism and a rich variety of colours and textures, her photography delves deep into the realms of Islamic identity and African heritage: simultaneously, a fusion of the two and a departure from both.' Words by @nkasambala for @dazed . Read more about 'Poly-' by clicking on the link in my bio.
A portrait from Shaw’s series, ‘Poly-’.
Ejatu Shaw is a London-based artist. Born in the UK to Sierra Leonean parents, much of Shaw’s work deals with her own complex identity – black, female, Muslim, British – and its inherent ties to issues surrounding culture, race and gender.
In an interview with Dazed, Shaw explained how exploring her faith made her feel all the more distant from it, leaving her to question who she was: “I felt like there was nothing left to me once I took away all the parts I disagreed with”.
The sentiment was echoed in a description she wrote on Instagram about her 2017 series ‘Poly-’.
‘Poly-’ explores the conflict I have with my identity whenever I try to connect with my Fulani roots outside of the confinements of Islam (a religion that 99% of Fulani people follow), and my struggle and failure to meet both the religious and cultural requirements of my tribe due to my British identity and values.’
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‘Poly-’ explores the conflict I have with my identity whenever I try to connect with my Fulani roots outside of the confinements of Islam (a religion that 99% of Fulani people follow), and my struggle
and failure to meet both the religious and cultural requirements of my tribe due to my British identity and values.
Like all of us, Shaw’s relationship to her faith is hers alone. Even her lived experience doesn’t chime with your own, her work serves as a vital rumination on the intersection of Islamic identity, African heritage and womanhood.
Mustafa Briggs is a graduate of Arabic and International Relations from the University of Westminster. After starting an MA in Translation at SOAS (with a specialisation in Arabic and Islamic Texts), the 23-year-old was accepted on the prestigious Rawaq Islamic Law and Arabic Studies programme at al-Azhar University, Egypt. In short, he is a scholarly young man.
Throughout Black History Month, Briggs is embarking on a UK-wide presentation tour titled “Beyond Bilal: Black History in Islam”. The talk will explore the relationship between Islam and Black History, from prominent black figures in the Qur’an to contemporary issues on race and gender. For more information about the talks, be sure to follow Briggs on Twitter.
Yusuf Shegow is the founder of Somali Architecture, a project that digitally recreates buildings from pre-civil war Mogadishu. Shegow, a graduate of the Manchester School of Architecture, hopes the project will ensure a better future for Somalia by preserving the memory of a peaceful past. Although ostensibly an endeavour of design, Shegow wants the project to instil a sense of pride, potential and determination in a diasporic generation who are increasingly returning to the east African nation.
“By focusing on how the city used to be, we’re also asking where the city is going now,” he told the Guardian. “The diaspora are coming back now, and we need a cohesive idea of where the city is going.”
A large focus of Black History Month is heritage. Somali Architecture exemplifies a black British man’s effort to preserve his own. Read our longer piece on the project here.