Interviews

The following videos were produced by various investigators and editors at multiple universities between 2015 and 2019. They have not been standardized; rather the unique qualities of each production have been preserved. Collectively, these videos highlight just some of the remarkable diversity and histories of Midwestern Muslims.

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Contents

Illinois

Indiana

Michigan

Ohio and Iowa

Ohio and Michigan

Video Interviews

Title: A Graphic Designer

Name: Annan

Location: Chicago, Illinois (Arab American Cultural Center, University of Illinois at Chicago)

Investigator: Nadine Naber (University of Illinois at Chicago)

Interview Assistant: Leila Sayed-Taha

Description: Annan is a writer, artist, and graphic designer who specializes in print, typography, branding, and front-end web development.

Title: A Graphic Novelist

Name: Leila Abdelrazaq

Location: Chicago, Illinois

Investigator: Nadine Naber (University of Illinois at Chicago)

Description: Leila Abdelrazaq is an acclaimed Palestinian author and artist who was born in Chicago and is currently living in Detroit. Her creative work primarily explores issues related to diaspora, refugees, history, memory, and borders. She is co-founder of Maamoul Press, a multidisciplinary collective for the creation, curation, and dissemination of art by marginalized creators whose work lies at intersections of comics, print making, and book arts.

Title: A Pioneer of the Nation of Islam

Name: Syid Muhammad

Location: Chicago, Illinois

Investigator: Su’ad Abdul Khabeer (University of Michigan)

Description: Syid Muhammad joined the Nation of Islam in the early 1950s and later helped to found and run the Nation’s business and farming enterprises. In this rich oral history, he describes his encounters with Malcolm X (eventually also known as El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz), what led him away from preaching to business, what inspired him to become Muslim, and the kind of religious training (including Arabic language classes and learning du’a Ibrahim) he received as a member of the NOI.

Title: Close Friends of Elijah and Clara Muhammad—Part I (11/13/16) (Captioned Audio)

Names: Dr. Zia Hassan and Dr. Shakeela Hassan

Location: Chicago, Illinois

Investigator: Junaid Rana (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign)

Description: Shakeela and Zia Hassan lived in the Hyde Park area on the Southside of Chicago. They originally hail respectively from India and Pakistan. These oral histories chronicle their close friendship with Clara and Elijah Muhammad and their relationship to the Nation of Islam. Zia Hassan taught at the Illinois Institute of Technology as a Professor of Management Science and is a former Dean of the Stuart School of Business. Shakeela Hassan joined the University of Chicago’s Department of Anesthesiology and Critical Care in 1961. Dr. Hassan was deeply involved in teaching, research, clinical care, and departmental administration.

Title: Close Friends of Elijah and Clara Muhammad—Part II (12/10/16) (Captioned Audio)

Names: Dr. Zia Hassan and Dr. Shakeela Hassan

Location: Chicago, Illinois

Investigator: Junaid Rana (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign)

Description: Shakeela and Zia Hassan lived in the Hyde Park area on the Southside of Chicago. They originally hail respectively from India and Pakistan. These oral histories chronicle their close friendship with Clara and Elijah Muhammad and their relationship to the Nation of Islam. Zia Hassan taught at the Illinois Institute of Technology as a Professor of Management Science and is a former Dean of the Stuart School of Business. Shakeela Hassan joined the University of Chicago’s Department of Anesthesiology and Critical Care in 1961. Dr. Hassan was deeply involved in teaching, research, clinical care, and departmental administration.

Title: Close Friends of Elijah and Clara Muhammad—Part III (12/15/16) (Captioned Audio)

Names: Dr. Zia Hassan and Dr. Shakeela Hassan

Location: Chicago, Illinois

Investigator: Junaid Rana (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign)

Description: Shakeela and Zia Hassan lived in the Hyde Park area on the Southside of Chicago. They originally hail respectively from India and Pakistan. These oral histories chronicle their close friendship with Clara and Elijah Muhammad and their relationship to the Nation of Islam. Zia Hassan taught at the Illinois Institute of Technology as a Professor of Management Science and is a former Dean of the Stuart School of Business. Shakeela Hassan joined the University of Chicago’s Department of Anesthesiology and Critical Care in 1961. Dr. Hassan was deeply involved in teaching, research, clinical care, and departmental administration.

Title: An Attorney and a Graphic Designer

Name: Leila Sayed-Taha and Annan

Location: Chicago, Illinois (Arab American Cultural Center, University of Illinois at Chicago)

Investigator: Nadine Naber (University of Illinois at Chicago)

Description: Leila Sayed-Taha is the staff attorney at the Arab Resource and Organizing Center (see her individual interview below). Annan is a graphic designer (see her individual interview above).

Title: Executive Director of Arab American Family Services

Name: Itedal Shalabi

Location: Chicago, Illinois

Investigator: Nadine Naber (University of Illinois at Chicago)

Description: Itedal Shalabi is the co-founder and Executive Director of Arab American Family Services (AAFS). For over two decades, Itedal Shalabi has worked on behalf of domestic violence and sexual assault survivors in the Arab American community. She is the recipient of numerous awards including the Chicago Foundation for Women’s Impact Award (2017).

Title: Former National Director of Sis. Clara Muhammad Schools (1975-1986)

Name: Clyde El-Amin

Location: Chicago, Illinois

Investigators: Su’ad Abdul Khabeer (University of Michigan) and Maryam Kashani (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign)

Description: Br. Clyde El-Amin played a central role in building first-class educational institutions for Muslim children in the United States. In this interview, he describes his role in institution building, how his mother’s participation in the bus boycott and childhood in Montgomery, Alabama, led to his joining the Nation of Islam in Chicago in 1973 and his later accepting the Quranic based teachings of Islam under the leadership of Imam WD Mohammed in 1975.

Title: The Staff Attorney at the Arab Resource and Organizing Center

Name: Leila Sayed-Taha

Location: Chicago, Illinois (Arab American Cultural Center, University of Illinois at Chicago)

Investigator: Nadine Naber (University of Illinois at Chicago)

Description: Leila Sayed-Taha holds an LLM in International Human Rights Law and Criminal Justice from DePaul University. She is an advocate on issues pertaining to women empowerment, immigration, civil liberties, and national security. She has worked with refugee and immigrant communities in the Middle East, the United Kingdom, and the southwest side of Chicago

Title: A Leader of the Islamic Society of North America: Chief Operations Officer

Name: Habiba Ali

Location: Plainfield, Indiana

Investigator: Asma Afsaruddin (Indiana University)

Research Assistant and Interviewer: Yasser Sultan

Description: Habiba Ali is Chief Operations Officer of the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA). She has been involved in the organization since 1989.

Title: A Leader of the Islamic Society of North America: Conventions Registration and Housing Coordinator

Name: Safiyyah Mustafa

Location: Plainfield, Indiana

Investigator: Asma Afsaruddin (Indiana University)

Research Assistant and Interviewer: Yasser Sultan

Description: Safiyyah Mustafa is Conventions Registration and Housing Coordinator at the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA).

Title: A Leader of the Islamic Society of North America: Development Foundation Assistant Director (Captioned Audio)

Name: Aisha Kishta

Location: Plainfield, Indiana

Investigator: Asma Afsaruddin (Indiana University)

Research Assistant and Interviewer: Yasser Sultan

Description: Aisha Kishta has spent several years working in the Development Foundation of the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA). The Development Foundation organizes various fundraising campaigns.

Title: A Leader of the Islamic Society of North America: Development Foundation Executive Director—Part I

Name: Ahmed ElHattab

Location: Plainfield, Indiana

Investigator: Asma Afsaruddin (Indiana University)

Research Assistant: Yasser Sultan

Interviewers: Yasser Sultan and John Boyd

Description: Ahmed ElHattab is Executive Director of the Development Foundation of the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA). He has been involved in the organization since 1983.

Title: A Leader of the Islamic Society of North America: Development Foundation Executive Director—Part II

Name: Ahmed ElHattab

Location: Plainfield, Indiana

Investigator: Asma Afsaruddin (Indiana University)

Research Assistant: Yasser Sultan

Interviewers: Yasser Sultan and John Boyd

Description: Ahmed ElHattab is Executive Director of the Development Foundation of the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA). He has been involved in the organization since 1983.

Title: A Leader of the Islamic Society of North America: Development Foundation Executive Director—Part III

Name: Ahmed ElHattab

Location: Plainfield, Indiana

Investigator: Asma Afsaruddin (Indiana University)

Research Assistant: Yasser Sultan

Interviewers: Yasser Sultan and John Boyd

Description: Ahmed ElHattab is Executive Director of the Development Foundation of the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA). He has been involved in the organization since 1983.

Title: A Leader of the Islamic Society of North America: Director of Education and Programs

Name: Mukhtar Ahmad

Location: Plainfield, Indiana

Investigator: Asma Afsaruddin (Indiana University)

Research Assistant and Interviewer: Yasser Sultan

Description: Dr. Mukhtar Ahmad is Director of the Education and Programs Development Department at the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA). He arrived in the United States in 1999 after completing his graduate studies in the United Kingdom. In this interview, Dr. Ahmad discusses, among other things, the impact of the 9/11 attacks.

Title: A Leader of the Islamic Society of North America: Longtime Volunteer and Member of the Communications Department

Name: Faryal M. Khatri

Location: Plainfield, Indiana

Investigator: Asma Afsaruddin (Indiana University)

Research Assistant: Yasser Sultan

Interviewers: Yasser Sultan and John Boyd

Description: Faryal M. Khatri is a longtime volunteer and member of the communications department at the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA).

Title: A “Daughter” of Malcolm X

Name: Kareemah Hasan

Location: Lansing, Michigan

Investigator: Mohammad Khalil (Michigan State University)

Description: Kareemah Hasan grew up in the Nation of Islam in Lansing, Michigan. Her teachers in the movement included Malcolm X (eventually also known as El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz) and his brother Philbert X (eventually also known as Abdul Aziz Omar).

Title: A Flint Community Activist

Name: Jenan Jondy

Location: Flint, Michigan

Investigator: Leila Tarakji (Michigan State University)

Description: Jenan Jondy is a Flint native and University of Michigan-Flint alumna. Her experiences have been shaped by working with marginalized populations. As a local community activist, she helped to direct the campaign for the distribution of over 1 million bottles of water and was involved in the opening of a free dermatology and lead screening clinic during the Flint water crisis.

Title: A Flint Community Educator

Name: Hesna McFarland

Location: Flint, Michigan

Investigator: Leila Tarakji (Michigan State University)

Description: Hesna McFarland discusses her experiences as a strong, Black, Muslim woman raising her family in Flint, Michigan. She also shares some of the challenges she and her family have faced within their communities.

Title: A Founder of the Islamic Center of East Lansing

Name: Shaykh Omar Soubani

Location: Greater Lansing Area, Michigan

Investigator: Mohammad Khalil (Michigan State University)

Description: Shaykh Omar Soubani was a key founder of the Islamic Center of East Lansing. He was born in a suburb of Jerusalem and graduated from Al-Azhar in Cairo. After becoming Director of General Education in Jordan’s Ministry of Education, Soubani moved to East Lansing, Michigan, to pursue a graduate degree in Education. The Islamic center he helped to establish and oversee would serve as a model for other US Muslim communities.

Title: Crime to America: Mother

Name: Zekiye Ural

Location: Farmington Hills, Michigan

Investigator: Emine Evered (Michigan State University)

Description: Zekiye Ural is originally from Crimea. Her long journey to the American Midwest after WWII not only led her and her daughter Nurten Ural (see her video below) to rebuild their lives anew but also start a local Turkish community organization. Their connection to Crimea continues and got memorialized with getting a mosque built there.

Title: Crimea to America: Daughter

Name: Nurten Ural

Location: Farmington Hills, Michigan

Investigator: Emine Evered (Michigan State University)

Description: Nurten Ural’s family is originally from Crimea. Her family’s long journey to the American Midwest after WWII to rebuild their lives anew (see above the video featuring her mother, Zekiye Ural) shaped her upbringing. She is a second generation Turkish American and although she is heavily involved in Turkish-American communities in the United States, her connection to Crimea continues and got memorialized with getting a mosque built there.

Title: Embracing Islam: Family, Work, Community

Name: Marie-Annick McLaughlin

Location: Flint, Michigan

Investigator: Leila Tarakji (Michigan State University)

Description: Marie-Annick McLaughlin, who was raised in a Catholic family in Quebec, shares her journey to Islam and how her faith shapes her home and family life. She has lived in Flint for the past ten years and works in administration at Genesee Academy, the local Islamic school.

Title: Faith, Family, and Fashion from the Nation of Islam to Today

Name: Zahirah El-Amin

Location: Detroit, Michigan (filmed in Chicago, Illinois)

Investigator: Su’ad Abdul Khabeer (University of Michigan)

Description: Zahirah El-Amin joined the Nation of Islam’s Temple #1 in 1969. In this interview, she narrates her life as a Muslim, including how she raised seven Muslim children, supported her family’s print shop, designed clothes for other Muslim women, and specialized in making the individual-sized bean pies that are currently popular. She also shares her thoughts on Muslim identity today.

Title: Former Member of the Nation of Islam

Name: Charles Goins Jr.

Location: Lansing, Michigan

Investigator: Mohammad Khalil (Michigan State University)

Description: Charles Goins’s mother was an active member of the Nation of Islam community in Lansing. Growing up, Goins interacted with various leaders of the movement, including Malcolm X (eventually also known as El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz). Following his mother’s death, however, Goins eventually converted to Sunni Islam.

Title: Founder of the Islamic Institute of America

Name: Imam Hassan Qazwini

Location: Dearborn Heights, Michigan

Investigator: Mara Leichtman (Michigan State University)

Description: Imam Sayed Hassan Qazwini is a scholar, author, educator, and advocate for Islam in America. He was born in Karbala, Iraq, to a family of eminent Shi’i Islamic clerics and studied in the Islamic seminary of Qom, Iran. He moved to the United States in 1992. He came to Michigan in 1997 to serve as the spiritual leader of the largest mosque in America, the Islamic Center of America, until 2015. He then founded the Islamic Institute of America in Dearborn Heights, Michigan.

Title: Member of Masjid Wali Mahmoud (Formerly a Nation of Islam Temple)

Name: Muhammad Qawwee

Location: Lansing, Michigan

Investigator: Mohammad Khalil (Michigan State University)

Description: Muhammad Qawwee is a former member of the Nation of Islam and a current member of Lansing’s Masjid Wali Mahmoud. He and the leadership of his mosque community were inspired by the example of Imam Warith Deen Mohammed, the son of Elijah Muhammad.

Title: Syrian Refugee Succeeds as Anthropology Student

Name: Iman Ali

Location: East Lansing, Michigan (Michigan State University)

Investigator: Chantal Tetreault (Michigan State University)

Description: Iman Ali is a young woman who fled Syria with her family. Today, she is the first in her family to attend university. Her plans include helping Muslim refugees like herself after she graduates from college with an anthropology degree.

Title: West African Sufi Leader and Entrepreneur

Name: Alhousseynou Ba

Location: Ypsilanti, Michigan

Investigator: Mara Leichtman (Michigan State University)

Description: Alhousseynou Ba is a Sufi imam, Senegalese community leader, and entrepreneur. He was born in Kaolack, Senegal, to a prominent religious family and moved to the United States in 1995. Ba is president of Ansarudeen USA, the North American branch of the global Tijani Sufi organization, and imam of the Ansarudeen Sufi Center in Ypsilanti, Michigan. He was president of the Senegalese Association of Michigan and founded the online community One Africa to connect Africa and the African Diaspora.

Title: Growing up Muslim in Mid-20th Century Cedar Rapids, Iowa

Name: Amney Marie Igram Shousher

Location: Oregon (suburb of Toledo), Ohio

Investigator: Salah Hassan (Michigan State University)

Description: Amney Marie Igram Shousher was born in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, one of the oldest established Muslim American communities in North America. In this brief interview, she describes her childhood growing up during the mid-twentieth century as a second generation Muslim American in Cedar Rapids. Her father immigrated from Lebanon to the Midwest in the early 20th century, but her mother, the daughter of Arab Muslim immigrants, was born in Fayette, Iowa. She discusses her personal history, the cultural practices of Arab American Muslims, and the changing conditions of Muslims in North America.

Title: Growing up Muslim in Mid-20th Century Detroit

Name: Mariam Matt Shousher

Location: Oregon (suburb of Toledo), Ohio

Investigator: Salah Hassan (Michigan State University)

Description: Mariam Matt Shousher was born in Dearborn, Michigan, and raised in Melvindale, Michigan, a suburb of Detroit that was the home of many immigrant factory workers in the first half of the 20th century. In this brief interview, she describes her childhood growing up during the mid-twentieth century in a culturally diverse working-class neighborhood of Detroit, in which her family was at that time one of the few Arab Muslim families. She discusses her personal history, the cultural practices of Arab American Muslims, and the changing conditions of Muslims in North America. 

Title: Feminist Activists of the Z Collective (Transcript)

Names: Multiple pseudonyms

Location: Dearborn, Michigan

Investigator: Nadine Naber (University of Illinois at Chicago)

Description: This interview with the Z Collective (formed in October 2012) focuses on themes such as gender, sexuality, racism, and activism and sheds light upon the possibilities for social justice envisioned by a group of young feminist and gender non conforming Arab American Muslim activists.

Interview Transcript

Note: The names below are pseudonyms. The identities of the interviewees have been kept confidential due to the sensitive nature of the interview.

Interviewer: Okay, so we are here on August 15th [2015] with Salma, Amina, and Zain and we are about to have a conversation about their work with the Z Collective. If you could start by telling me about the history of the Z Collective and how it started.

Salma: Of course. The history of the Z Collective started as a support network because we all came with the similar narratives of we’re the only women, the female-bodied people at this time in the city, and we have such strong opinions, and we all come from a similar struggle. What can we do? At first, it started out as a community, literally just like our own community, and then, when we all helped each other cope with our struggles, we said we wanted to give back. We wanted to just work within our communities with other women who didn’t exactly have a voice as strong as ours.

That’s when the domestic violence opportunity started. We applied for a small little scholarship fund from the Women’s Studies Department at Wayne State, and then we started brainstorming and created the domestic violence initiative. That was like threefold of three different things. The first thing that we did was create a culturally sensitive pamphlet which was adopted in the domestic violence courts in downtown Detroit.

Interviewer: This is so fabulous.

Salma: They translated it in Arabic and English. Then we decided we wanted to do education-based modules, basically, just like informal conversations, which is just like an informal coffee like this, but in the morning because that’s when a lot of women have the most time — when their husbands go out. Just gonna talk to them about respect, family, what love is, what values they are, and then, from there, dive into like, what is a healthy relationship? Still, we haven’t implemented that, but that was part of the initiative.

Another thing was having documentary screenings for this 12-minute mini-documentary which was filmed in the Palestinian refugee camps. It was a one‑woman monologue, and it basically touched on every single cultural restriction that comes in a violent relationship and why women are silenced. It was similar because a lot of people in the Dearborn community were immigrant women, so it was kind of the same, but in a different setting.

Interviewer: Yeah.

Zain: We thought it would relate to them.

Salma: Yeah, so that’s how we started. I feel like I’m delving into other things. Did you guys want to add anything?

Interviewer: Yeah. What would we add on that piece?

Zain: Wait, on which piece?

Interviewer: The history of one, like the earlier—before going forward.

Zain: Yeah. Okay, so like Salma said—this is like a genesis of Z Collective [laughter]—we started as a support network. We never really thought of it as something political as something that’s active. It’s not until, in retrospect, we think of it as a political act, as coming together with our voices and being able to speak on things that we thought we were ashamed of or that we were alone. We came together just to have friends and speak in a way that we would be accepted unconditionally. Like Salma said, it wasn’t until we were like, “Why are we just gonna sit around and complain about it? Why don’t we do something about it?”

Interviewer: Right.

Zain: I guess that’s how we started is actually being active in the community. Even in our earlier assessment, we were like, “There’s no—” I don’t know what it is about—I call it Dearborn College. It’s like Arabs, I don’t know, or maybe just first generation. It’s a lot of factors. We were like, “There’s no way. It’s not possible. It’s impenetrable. How do you do something about this?”

Interviewer: Right.

Zain: [Laughter] Then we were thing about it, of like, “Well, we have to.” There’s no way—we might see it as impossible, but what’s the alternative?

Interviewer: Wow.

Zain: Yeah, I think that’s all I’ve got to say anybody out that right now.

Interviewer: Thanks for that.

Amina: I think one of the particular things that drew me to the Z Collective was the method throughout which we wanted to interact with the community. Lots of startup organizations and grassroots collectives like to focus on educating people and building awareness, but what’s the demographic we want to shoot for? Youth. Which is completely understandable because our younger generations are the future of the world, so if we’re going to shift the mentalities, why not start young to build that lasting effect?

Then one thing that was very unique that I found about the Z Collective and that the conversation didn’t exist enough was the particular attention paid to the older generations and what effect they have, especially in our culture. Since the Z Collective wanted to start off with, obviously, support systems for youth, LGBTQ, homeless, people who lack that sort of support, but then, also, when it came to really changing the way that the people in our culture think and the way they condemn certain things just for lack of understanding and awareness of how things really go.

We thought that it was very important to reach out to our older generations because who has the greater weight in the home, as far as influencing behaviors and mentalities? It’s the older people. It’s the parents. It’s the grandparents. It’s the way they raise their children that just feeds into how they’re gonna come, too. That one was one major focus on the Z Collective, not only just empowering people through education, but who do we want to empower? That’s what I felt.

Interviewer: That’s great.

Amina: Coming together, I should say that something I did not anticipate was challenging my own idea of what a community is and what friends and family are. Growing up in Dearborn—and we spoke about this last time—there was a major rift, like intra-Arab tensions between different countries and regions. I didn’t see myself as being part of the Yemeni community because—I don’t know. It was conservative, and I was not accepted of my ideas and my identity, and so meeting others who were Lebanese, I dealt with a lot of backlash and bullying.

I was like, “There’s no way that we’re gonna be able to come together.” It’s too different. I didn’t see us as having some sort of common goals. It really does, it separates people in growing up, and so that’s something that I didn’t anticipate changing about myself, of being able to see myself as part of other people’s community and them being part of mine. It’s more about your ideas, and what are you bringing to the table? Love and—yeah, so that’s something that I radically shifted within myself.

Interviewer: That’s really cool. We’re talking about the very beginning of the Z Collective and how it started. Do you want to add anything?

Dima: Okay. [Laughter] I think, at the beginning of the Z Collective—I’m gonna go to the beginning-beginning, before any members even, before it was even the Z Collective.

Interviewer: Yeah. That’s that I want.

Dima: Two years ahead of us coming together, I met Lamis at the library, and she was a phenomenal person. I was very drawn to her as a human being. I think one of the ways that I had learned how to show up, and I think the ways that a lot of the members talk about me and how I show up in the collective by creating spaces, I learned all of that from Lamis. From the get-go, that was a very important thing and a very important theme in the collective.

To me, before it was about any radical change, or before it was about any community work, it was, for me, a space where I could just breathe because I felt like I was suffocating everywhere I was going because I was trying to fit something for someone. I was trying to achieve things, like I was a civil engineer major, and I hated everything about that. I was going to spend the rest of my life calculating numbers and doing something I don’t truly love. It was just nice to meet people that encouraged me to do what I want and pushed me because there was a lot of people in my life pushing me, like my parents. They were always pushing me to do stuff, but it was always things that they wanted, like careers, very minute, just like the larger scheme of everything.

Interviewer: Yeah.

Dima: I felt like I was always pushed to do what other people wanted and never pushed or encouraged to do the things that I wanted or the things that I felt needed to happen, and so I was always suffocating in some way. It was a liberation to have a space and to have a safe space. I think she introduced activism to me in a very different way. We would have tea and just have random conversations.

Dima: Yeah. [Laughter] I think it started with little conversations of simply challenging what I was being told and taught by anyone or anything. I mean, yeah, by like family, by what I grew up with.

Interviewer: Okay.

Dima: Just challenging what you’re hearing, and so it was just simply like small, little things, just small rules that I would follow for absolutely no reason, without question.

Interviewer: Can you think of one? If you are up for sharing it.

Dima: One would be like I didn’t used to touch men. I’m a gay person. I date women, but I was like, “I’m not gonna touch men,” because that’s a rule in Islam.

Interviewer: Got it.

Dima: Being queer and Muslim was like a huge part of it. Can you be one.. Can you be queer and Muslim?

Interviewer: Okay.

Dima: That was a huge thing that Lamis opened all our eyes to. Like, “Yes, you can.”

Interviewer: Wow, that’s beautiful.

Dima: That was beautiful. It was almost like I was acting on my feelings, but at the same time, I was ashamed of it and was like, “Okay, I’m doing one bad thing, so I’m gonna do everything else right.”

Interviewer: I see what you mean.

Dima: It was almost like I thought of faith and religion as a point system rather than a spiritual way of connecting with a higher being.

Interviewer: That this was against it?

Dima: Yeah, and this was against it.

Interviewer: One part of you was against it.

Dima: Yeah. It was almost like dividing my identity into these different things, but the Z Collective helped me bring my identities together, and specifically Lamis begin with. She was someone that, not only herself, but introduced me and put me in situations, encouraged me to be in situations where I would grow from these things, where I would challenge myself, where I would figure out how my identities could coexist and could accompany one another and could be powerful. I could be part of this change, part of this community, and how simply having a space where I could have visibility and could be part of this community.

Interviewer: That’s amazing.

Dima: When I first started doing Z work, when Lamis first approached me about it, I was like, “Yeah, I’ll be a part of it, but I really want to be in the back scenes of things. I don’t want to be in the front of this. I don’t want to be this feminist person doing stuff.” Now, I’m like, “Oh!” [Laughter] I’m excited.

Multiple Voices: [Laughter]

Interviewee: Things are kinda different now.

Multiple Voices: [Laughter]

Salma: Can I add one point?

Interviewer: Of course.

Salma: One thing that I feel like we didn’t mention is that we came together because of our identity as feminists. We came together. We do everything under the ideology, and I feel like that was one thing that brought us together, and that’s how we started—Yeah, so we all identified as feminists. Coming together, we were all very interested in feminism. I feel like feminism was the reason why we started doing political work, but it was also the reason why we had a support network because we were all isolated because we were feminists in our communities.

We were not only feminists, we were radical, outspoken female-bodied people, all of us, and that was isolating in itself because the mainstream conformist way was not that. Our framework and our ideology was because of feminism, essentially. That was what brought us together.

Interviewer: It’s so important. Yeah. Does anyone want to add anything about that? okay, so you started meeting and the first thing you did was the domestic violence—

Salma: Mm-hmm. Well, do we want to go a little further back before we even. So before, there was what is the Z Collective, or what it looks like today, I guess you could call it, there was a Z Collective, prototype. That was before me, and I’m gonna give the recorder to Dima, who was there before I even came in.

Dima: The beginning-beginning, before—There was an earlier organizing that didn’t happen, so we changed ways. Oh, not “we” cause I wasn’t there. The first time around was around the time that I met Lamis, and they had been meeting there. They had a few meetings and all of that. Then Lamis introduced me, and nobody liked me. They were like, “Oh, we’re not coming to the meeting if Dima is there.”

Salma: They weren’t called Z Collective. It wasn’t Z Collective. It was something that was trying to become similar. Yeah, so there were other Arab queer women in Dearborn and wanted to do political work, but it didn’t work because those specific individuals were not interested in doing political work in the same mindset as Lamis so it failed. That’s when she met Dima and she reconnected with me. Then it started out where we would just hang out at Lamis’ house and have conversations about being queer and being Arab and what does that mean? Not only that, but we had allies, like Rabiya and Firyal, who would come and be like, “Yeah, I’m in support,” which is a whole isolating factor in itself because, if you supported it, you’re just as bad as someone who was queer. We had conversations about that.

Zain: Then Pamela Geller was in Michigan. Remember when I was telling you about that?

Dima: I think the first time we had done a political act, Lamis was very slick about it. Lamis was just like, “Something’s happening at this hotel.” There’s some kind of protest happening at a different hotel, and she’s like, this is—

Salma: She said, “We need to go to the home site…You guys, we may get kicked out,” and then so me and Dima are like, “All right, let’s go!” [Laughter]  Yeah, so we were like, “Let’s do this.”

Dima: We showed up in four different cars so that at least one of us made it through, or one went through to the parking lot. Yeah, so it looked like, “a bunch of different Arabs are coming separately,” and then we went inside. It was amazing because Lamis told us it was gonna be a direct action, but said, “We’re gonna go to this event, and we’re just gonna see what happens and see if we get kicked out.” She was giving us a taste. Instead of telling us about how amazing it would be to speak up for ourselves, she just supported us to do it.

Then everyone was just like, “It’s time. There’s no more time to wait. We need to act now and create the safe space because something like this could happen again, and we need each other. We need some collective so that there’s some kind of safe space.” Then, a few months later, we all met in my house once, but that wasn’t really a meeting—we had dinner.

Then we meet in Lamis’ basement, and that’s when—It was the first official meeting. We came up with the name Z collective as a place-holder. We chose a letter that just didn’t mean anything.

Zain: Well, what we’ve learned—the reason that we give it now, which, I mean, it applies to what’s going on currently and current issues with LGBTQ, and not only that, but just queer, gender, and sexuality identity. The gender neutral pronoun  os “Z”. Also, “Z” kind of gives it that gender neutrality because we look at the chromosomes. “X” is for female, “Y” is for male, and then “Z” is just sort of gender fluid. It painted the picture of what we were going for anyway, so I feel like we picked that up later on. We were like, “Yeah, that’s what we wanted to do.” We chose it for its ambiguity.

Dima: Yeah, we chose it for its ambiguity because it didn’t appeal—we didn’t even know that, on the larger scheme, people used that as a gender-neutral term, but we chose it because it was neutral.

Interviewer: That’s really cool. Okay, you come together, and a lot of it, like you said, it’s like feminist family stuff, being queer, being Muslim. That’s the force that really ties you to each other.

Salma: Yes.

Interviewer: Then your first event is the Geller protest.

Zain: Yeah.

Interviewer: Could you talk about—how, as Z Collective, as a feminist collective, it was really important to you, to be going to challenge Islamophobia, right?

Salma: Yeah. I think one thing that we were all conscious of is that we wanted to reclaim the narrative of being Muslim and from Dearborn because there was such a negative stigma about Dearborn and about who we were because we are all Muslim–whether you identify as being religiously Muslim or not. Automatically, we are all culturally Muslim. Whether you’re Christian or Druze or wherever you’re from, we grew up—in Dearborn, it’s a majority Muslim society, and back home, it’s a majority Muslim society, so, culturally, we’re all Muslim, and we have that attachment.

Interviewer: Yeah.

Salma: Going to Geller’s thing, yes, it wasn’t our immediate attention, and it wasn’t the first thing that brought us together, but it was also something like, “You’re not gonna come to our town and talk about our culture and our religion without having us there to say our own stories.”

Interviewer: Yeah.

Salma: I feel like that was why we all were so passionate about doing that specific direct action.

Dima: I think it was about reclaiming our narrative.

Interviewer: Yes.

Dima: I think that’s where it goes in, as we wanted to reclaim our narrative, day one. I personally, I will speak for myself, I didn’t want some women coming in—like Salma was saying, coming into town and talking about saving us. I wanted to be there and be like, “We’re here. We’re queer. We’re female bodied. We’re educated. We’re not ignorant, and we’re not oppressed.Yeah, we have our issues, but we’re standing up and we’re here. We’re capable of fighting our own fight, and we don’t need a savior, essentially.

Interviewer: That is really amazing to me and pioneering because you’re working on multiple struggles at the same time. You’re fighting the racist anti-Muslim struggle one and you’re challenging sexism and homophobia.

Zain: It’s like we’re combatting—yeah, it’s kind of like what you’re saying, combatting Islamophobia and saying, “Yes, it’s unconventional, but we’re women and we’re leading our own movement, even though we come from a culture that culturally/religiously doesn’t exactly support.It just becomes a conflict, I feel like, from the outsider looking in. How are you gonna get up there and defend this? Your culture and your religion is put on blast for the country to see, but when you try to defend it, you get thrown under the bus by your own people. It’s because you, too, are oppressed by your own, so where’s the legitimacy in that? I feel like that’s one of the many struggles that we’ve had to deal with in being so visible.

Dima: Then another thing that I remember very vividly about that time was from my perspective—although there was patriarchy present in my family. It was very present, every ounce of the way. I would do dishes, and my brothers didn’t have to. I have four brothers. It was annoying, in a sense, but then there was this other side where my oldest brother would tell my brothers, “You should kiss the floor your sisters walk on.” Although there is, there’s patriarchy, there was this sense of respect that the rest of the world doesn’t see.

Interviewer: Yes. It’s more complicated. It’s not the way the dominant society defines patriarchy in Arab families.

Dima: Yes.

Interviewer: Yeah, so it’s a lot more complicated than, “Oh, there’s patriarchy, and they treat their women disrespectfully.”’

Dima: Exactly. Although some things are real, and patriarchy is present, and it’s present in maybe a different way than in American culture, although it is present in American culture, there’s still there this respect that’s present. Yeah. It’s very complicated. It’s more than black and white, and I felt that this white woman was not really understanding or presenting my struggle. That’s why she can’t save us. That’s why we need to stand up, and that’s why we need to challenge our own communities, and that’s why we need each other.

Rabiya: Go, because I already spoke.

Zain: Sorry, I always get tongue-tied when I get the mike. Okay, so, personally speaking, I think it would be wrong to say that I did have all of this figured out, like how complicated it was, Arab versus white American identity. I was born and raised here, and seeing myself different than my own community, not necessarily superior, but just I think differently. I wanted other things for myself than what were ascribed to me. I did lean on the white identity. I would be like, “I want it this way.” I threatened to run away. My mom was like, “[what are you American? Are you going to run away? Where are you going? Only whores run away.”

Constantly, if I acted white, my parents would call me Bint Amreeka, daughter of America, whatever. Yeah, I would take what I thought of was good from the American culture. At the same time, if I were to hear anything against Arabs or Yemenis or Muslims, I would just be like, “Hey, only I could say bad things about them.” [Laughter]

Interviewer: Yeah, right.

Zain: I can critique because I know the complexity. I wasn’t in any place, starting off, to articulate it as I can now, but I just would feel very much in this tug-of-war between the two identities. Like, which one am I? Am I more Arab? Am I more white? I didn’t think of myself as being able to be a complex person and I wasn’t allowed to be.

Interviewer: Right. Yeah.

Zain: It had always been like you have to choose one. That was something, I would say, it’s wrong to be like I was, that I had that foresight back then. I did not and I’m still struggling with it.

Interviewer: Yeah.

Salma: I know that, speaking of now, if I did not have the Z collective community, I really don’t know what I would’ve ended up with. I would not have been able to push myself to get to that point that I am now, which is far from perfect, but it’s at least better than I know what the alternative would’ve been. I probably would’ve, honestly, gone to either extreme of like running away or being married and pregnant or divorced or whatever. Knowing my stubbornness, I probably would’ve been divorced.

It’s amazing what I didn’t know that I could actually push myself to being and getting the privileges that I have now at home I didn’t think were possible, like traveling and just being able to talk about things. In a couple of weeks, I’m going to New Jersey for a work conference. I just told my mom. Five years ago, there was no way. If was going to New Jersey, it better be with my husband. It’s not to say that this is how it would be for anybody, but it’s just, based on how my family is. I didn’t think I was even able to try it.

Salma: One thing I wanted to bring up was that I was totally into the whole white feminism thing because I wanted to negate who I was.

Interviewer: Yeah.

Salma: I still go through it. This identity crisis is ridiculous. [Laughter]

Interviewer: You’re not alone.

Salma: Yeah. I was taking women’s studies classes, and then the feminism that I was being taught was just like, “Yes, I want this life. Forget marriage. Forget men and forget this and that.” But what the Z Collective did was kind of reclaim what feminism is and what it meant to me because it was like I could be traditional. I could be conservative. I could be Muslim. I could be queer. I could be all these things and still be a feminist. I feel like Halima in the beginning, what she really, really did was challenge what feminism meant to us and how not to forget your origins. This is your origins. This is where you’re from. You can’t negate who you are. If it wasn’t for me being Lebanese, I wouldn’t be the person that I am now.

Me trying to fit into the white feminism was the hardest thing to unlearn because I needed to understand the historical context of why my culture was the way it was. She taught us that–because you need to think more critically, like, why are we part of a patriarchal society? It’s because we were colonized by the West. It’s because of the imperialism in the Middle East is why our culture is the way it was. Being able to understand that and be like, “Okay, you know what? I actually love how hospitable we are, how loyal we are, and all of these amazing things that we have about our culture, being maternal and loving as women. Reclaiming that is something that is truly, truly, truly important and it took time. It took a lot of time for me to accept that, as well, because when I was reading white feminism, I wanted to negate that part of me. I’m a very nurturing and maternal person, and I hated that part of me because it’s like I did not want to be that maternal woman. It was as if that made me less of feminist.

Interviewer: Is there any commentary on the domestic violence event you worked on that changed you, that affected you, that made you think about why this mattered to the Arab American or Muslim American community or what was challenging about it? Can you reflect on its significance?

Zain: When we had the opportunity to apply for the grant, we were like, “Okay, well, we need something to propose. What’s our initiative? What are we gonna work on?” Originally, we came together as a support system, but when we wanted to delve into more active activism, we were like, “Okay, well, there’s so many issues. What are we gonna take on?”One of the things that was on the table that we realized we all had something to say and we all had in common, whether it’s personally or just seen in experience, is domestic violence and the taboo of talking about it in our culture. Then teasing that out even more is the misogyny that comes into play and the patriarchy. But then, its so much more complicated. Domestic violence…why does it happen? Well, it’s a power structure. It’s your immigrant status. You’re depending on your husband. You constantly break it down even more. Why are we depending on our husbands? Because we’re told to, because we’re told that women can’t do certain things. Well, why?

Personally, when we started doing more research about domestic violence: What does it look like in our community? What can we say about it? What is the research? It hadn’t even—like analyzing what I grew up with as domestic violence. My household, it would be very tumultuous, and even just seeing other family members, or just friends, and I would even hear things about other people, I never thought of as domestic violence. I saw it as domestic violence is just like bruises and just the conventional way you think of domestic violence.

I didn’t think about it as not allowing your spouse to have the finances, a say in how to raise the kids, mobility, access to education. It’s so much more than that, so it had me, I guess, really looking at whether it’s my family structure or others, and being like, once again, it’s so much more complicated than that. Yeah, of course, it was overwhelming in the beginning. How do you tackle—where do you start? Hop in a time machine and just go to the origin? You don’t even know where to start, but, once again, you can’t stop. We can’t afford to. I guess that’s how we became attached to domestic violence. Really, I can say that’s why I did.

Rabiya: When I was first getting involved with the Z Collective, at the time, this was all just getting started. I’d never done anything like this before. I really didn’t know what to expect out of the initiative and out of what we would do next. Okay, we’re presenting this to a bunch of people. Does that mean that professionals who do research in this are gonna call us up and say, “Hey, let’s make something out of this”? Then the pamphlet ended up happening, and then it turned into an entire, “Let’s talk strategy on how to reach out to these people and get on their level to where a dialog can happen.” I think this project, what I was able to witness with what I was—I was going through a lot of growth, as far as just being active and whatnot, but what I was noticing was the shift in how we go about working with specific communities. When we talked about domestic violence, we were like, “Okay, this is such a broad topic. You could say so much about the topic of domestic abuse.” “Okay, fine, let’s centralize it on heterosexual couples, on women being domestically abused by the husband, and then let’s get even further.” I guess like it’s still just such a large and vague topic to cover, so we wanted to just centralize it and focus on our home community. Okay, what communities and cultures do we know enough about to where, if we wanted to tackle this as an issue, we know how to come at it from all directions? We know how to come at it from the problem of lack of citizenship status. People don’t come forward because they’re afraid that, if they do try to seek help, then they’ll be deported, or a language barrier, the fact that other people in the community don’t support their choice to seek help or seek refuge from that situation.

You asked me a question in the personal interview that was really just like, “When did you realize that it was important to start really looking more internally on your own relationship with where you come from and your culture?”

Interviewer: Right.

Rabiya: I feel like this was definitely, this was a huge turning point for me because I was like, “Yes, the fact that our culture is painted in just all these negative respects, and if you’re talking about the issue of domestic violence, you’re just asking for more criticism.”

Interviewer: [Laughter] Yeah.

Rabiya: The fact that there are more than one ways to go about it and different people that you could communicate with.

Interviewer: How do you talk about domestic violence without reinforcing Arab bashing or the negative, limited way of defining Arab culture?

Rabiya: A lot of learning.Yeah, so it took a lot of learning on our parts, but also took a lot of changing of the way we went about it. I wouldn’t say, in the beginning, we were like, “Okay, let’s talk about it in a very complicated way.” It’s something that we had to—where you would present something, and then you would go back, whether it’s community feedback or yourselves. You’ll be like, “Well, this came up. We didn’t think about it like this.” You’re constantly having to add in and edit.

I guess our most recent—[laughter] I hate using the word “product.” I feel so corporate. Our most recent product, or the way we went about it, was that we would break it down and present it, whether it’s to the target audience or presenting what we’re doing to just a community or to schools, especially if it’s to an Arab audience. When we would break it down, I would always emphasize it like, “Domestic violence is not unique to the Arab community. It’s found in every single community, but there are cultural factors that we are tackling that make it unique in that way, that we would accommodate the way we’re going about it.”

Domestic violence is found in every single community—

Interviewer: Right.

Rabiya: —from the affluent to the poor, but there are also factors like low socioeconomic status. There are a lot of checkpoints that fit into the Arab community because of immigration, being refugees, being highly patriarchal, the double criticism from your own community. Then, also, the larger white American community that we’re surrounding ourselves with, we constantly have to, I guess, hide away from. It’s found in different communities. I know that if domestic violence is talked about in the black community, it’s—I’ve spoken to some activists, and they were like, “We don’t usually talk about men in our culture who perpetrate domestic violence because that just reinforces a stereotype.”

Interviewer: Right.

Rabiya: It’s the same thing in our community, but we have to talk about it in a complicated way. I always, I guess, we always try to give out that disclaimer, like, “Listen, we’re about to talk about this, but keep in mind this is not—don’t equate domestic violence with an Arab community. This is just how we’re talking about it in our community.”

Interviewer: Right, so you had that approach built into how you talked about it.

Rabiya: Yeah. Yeah, we can keep talking about that more. I think what I’m thinking—does anyone else wanna talk about that? It’s definitely interesting to me, and if you want to talk about it, it’s up to you, like how do you tackle domestic violence while tackling the anti-Arab stuff at the same time, which seems like what you just covered.

Interviewer: One think I wanna make sure we talk about, because I’d like to hear everyone’s perspective on it, is the Gaza water work and protest you did, but if there are other things you think are that important for a group, we can do that.

Rabiya: The solidarity parallel protest, from Detroit to Gaza water shutoff thing, but in terms of why we came together on, why Gaza, I think that someone—who was it? I think it was Rashida Tlaib said—well, I heard her say, one time, it was just like, “Palestine is like the adopted sister or adopted child to the Arab countries.” Most people are gonna agree on that.

Interviewer: Right.

Rabiya: If there’s anything, internal strife within the Arab world, that’s something that we have solidarity with.

Interviewer: Okay.

Rabiya: I think that’s something that’s always been near and dear because of that.

Interviewer: Yeah, right.

Interviewer: Do you think it’d be fair to say that—I mean, is this what happened, is this accurate, that, in between the domestic violence event, which was way before the Gaza water—that was a year before?

Rabiya: Yeah, it was a year before.

Interviewer: Then, in between that and the Gaza water, let’s just say, what was the Z Collective doing? I’ll just ask you the question. Was it the relationship building, safe space, conversations, dinners?

Rabiya: Actually, that was—is it HIV—We always we tried to—I feel like I’m hogging the mike.

Interviewee: You’re not.

Dima: We always tried to make it a point to stay current and stay involved on what other things are going on. We would have these, on our calendar, okay, there is this talk happening here. There is this happening.

Interviewer: Okay.

Dima: While you were doing that, which is staying current on politics, were you also doing the meeting each other and keeping that type of conversation going? I think we go through this cycle, actually. I just realized that it’s a cycle. We go through a cycle where we’re super-active.

Interviewer: Like public activities?

Dima: Yeah, publicly active, like on the streets doing—Yeah, we’re doing things, and then we don’t necessarily recluse, but begin to just observe and take in, and I think there’s always this point where we don’t give, but we take.

Interviewer: Okay.

Dima: I think that’s actually one of the most beautiful things about is because we’re not always trying to give, give, give. We have information, but we try to step back and take in information and learn and see where we’re—instead of hosting, we’re showing up. I think that is a very important thing about the Z Collective is that we don’t always have to give.

Interviewer: Yeah.

Dima: We can receive and show up, and that is a form of our activism, and that’s actually at the core of our activism, I think, between that time, although Zain was highly involved with the HIV, working with Misha. That was this past year.

Interviewer: Also, when did the HIV thing happen with you and—

Zain: The domestic violence community event happened in April, 2013. In the following months, we wanted to continue to come up with the simulated pamphlet that we’d been working on as a product of the domestic violence research and the symposium and all that good stuff. In the following months, it was just working on the pamphlet, figuring out what our next steps would be as far as reaching out to the community. Are we gonna host film screenings? Are we gonna host discussions. We used the documentary as part of our symposium, and we were like, “This could reach out to so many people.” Then, also, translating the pamphlet into a number of languages was another thing that we were really passionate about heading towards. Then, in December of 2013, was when we were introduced to Dr. Nisha Hanif. She’s a professor in Women’s Studies at University of Michigan. She’s like my mentor. That’s when we were introduced to Dr. Nisha. What she did was she created an HIV and AIDS educational module. It’s just this ever-expanding thing because a part of learning the module is you have to learn how to teach it back. It’s really cool, but then she’s just promoting owning the information and then just making it your own. She’s been doing this sort of philanthropy for years and years. She travels around, and she promotes it in different communities that really need it. The whole collective was trained by her and her students that December, and then, from then on, I was more in touch with you about carrying that. I was leading the future initiatives that we had of HIV and AIDS. We wanted to start taking it to Dearborn and Detroit Public Schools and implementing it there. Yeah, so a lot spinned off from that.

Interviewer: You went to LGBTQ Muslim Retreat that April.

Interviewer: Then the war of Gaza happened.

Interviewer: Then the LGBTQ Muslim Retreat, took the module there?      

Zain: That was in May. That was the second time we went.

Rabiya: After doing the presentation at Wayne State of our domestic violence event, a month or two later, we went to—well, some of us went to the LGBTQ Muslim Retreat. May 2013. Then we did the module there in May 2014. It’s annual thing in May, Memorial Day Weekend.

Rabiya: Yep, so a month later, we went to the LGB Muslim Retreat, whether as allies or as identifying with LGBT, went there to just—and the fact that it was a Muslim retreat, I guess, to touch on what we talked about earlier, how can we reconcile being this identity and that identity? Went there.   Met people from all over the world, activists and just general people. It flowed really well as like Muslim without being constrained. Men and women would pray together, and women led prayer, so it opened our eyes up even more. We met some of the coolest people that we consider brothers that we still—

Salma: We met a lot of people at the retreat, including one of them is one of our friends.  Allah Yirhamo. He ended up dying from HIV, and he didn’t disclose that he had it to anyone. It was two months after, so we learned the module in October and then he died in December. That was when we said, we need to take this module to where we met him. October and then he died in December, and so that’s why we were like, “Okay, we need to take this to where we met him,” and that’s why for the next retreat, Amanda led a workshop teaching the HIV/AIDS module. When we say personal is political. It’s because our brother died. Yeah, and then we continued. Yeah, the retreat this year we also taught the module.

Rabiya: Yeah, and then Zain took the HIV—well, she continued the work with the HIV module. During that time when Zain was bringing the module to the retreat in 2014, the Gaza thing happened.The protest we organized happened in August. Between April and August of 2014, we were trying to figure out how we were going to implement the documentary on domestic violence, and then we had the screening of Ana Ahlam in June. We had the film screening on domestic world at ACCESS in June 2014.

Interviewer: 2013 was when you started the domestic violence work with the pamphlet

Rabiya: The pamphlet, yes, and then the ’14 was more implementation. We had one film screening there. My mom went and Dima’s mom went. It was a small group, but it was interesting.

Rabiya: Then we met Fadiya that summer.

Interviewer: Yeah.

Rabiya: She’s the one that was doing the Palestine work, and she’s the one who took initiative on leading how the Z Collective did the Palestine solidarity work. She was connected to the local people in Detroit fighting for their right to war.

Interviewer: Wow.

Rabiya: Yeah and we met Rana as well, who is also a Z member who was part of the work on water rights. Then the Gaza protest happened and the Z collective got together with four different organizations. It was EMAC, which is this environmental water group in Detroit, and two other orgs. It literally happened in 42 hours. It was an emergency protest, but it was the biggest protest in Detroit.

The Z Collective got together, and we’re like, “Okay, how are we going to make this impactful?” What we did was took everyone’s strengths. I performed kind of like a spoken word with a well known Detroit rapper at the protest, and then we set up a photo booth at the protest with a green background because Wayne State has a green background. We created all of the signs that were used at the protest. We made a lot of different signs and Nour took photos of everyone, and then we posted them on Facebook. A lot of people from Gaza were also reposting those, too.

Dima: I think we wanted it to be just a connecting point, and we wanted to bridging the gaps. There’s a huge racial gap between Dearborn (Arabs) and Detroit (African Americans) and that was actually the moment where I personally realized where the gap was coming from and who was responsible for it. Just seeing how many people from the Black community showed up to a protest that was about building relationships and supporting each other, and then how few from the Arab community. Also, African Americans definitely organized and showed up and were very present, but then I realized the Arabic community was not doing the same thing.

Interviewer: That’s chilling and upsetting.

Dima: We realized there’s a lot of work to be done and not to be feared within our community.

Rabiya: Yeah, because a lot of the Arab community were getting upset by why were we relating the Gaza water struggle to the Detroit water struggle.They did not accept that at all. There was a huge conflict with it.Another thing that we made it a point at the protest is that it wasn’t gonna be based on a specific religion, and so that was another thing that was focused—a lot of the backlash from the Arab community was like, “Why are you guys saying—okay, don’t say Allahu Akbar [God is great]. They freaked out. We like, “We’re trying to make this as inclusive and peaceful as possible. Not just a Muslim thing. We wanted to bring people together.

Dima: One of the things that I remember that we were worried about, and I think the fact that it was done in Detroit was beautiful, was we were worried about the police retaliation. Then, that morning, we were quite surprised when we didn’t have a permit, we didn’t have anything, and the protest was a lot larger than we anticipated, that police showed up—Yeah, so police showed up and blocked the streets that day. I thought that was amazing. That was just beautiful to see that dynamic happen in this city.

Interviewer: Yeah, that’s great to hear.

Dima: Though there was things that we learned, but there was also solidarity that was built, and there was relationships that was built from that protest between our communities.

Dima: Although we haven’t began to build those things on a, quote-unquote, political level, but those relationships have been maintained on a personal level, and then once our community is ready, we want to take it to the political level.

Interviewer: I love hearing about this.

Salma: I just want to add one thing. This also ties in for the following year when the Black Lives Matters movement happened. All of the activists that we maintained our relationships with, it just happened organically that, “Okay, they showed up for the Gaza protest. It’s time for us to show up for the Black Lives Matters,” and so we did.

Interviewer: Yeah. That’

Dima: Everything just happened so organically.

Interviewer: That’s amazing.

Rabiya: What Dima began to touch on about the difference in the communities, Arab Dearborn versus, I guess, black Detroit, [sigh] there was, I guess, a lot of reassessing, and even going so recently as until yesterday that we still keep looking at our communities. With the police brutality in Black Lives Matter and things happening, ACCESS with their Arab American Museum, which is their museum, had hosted a take on hate forum where they—

Rabiya: Which is a campaign that is trying to reclaim the Muslim and the Arab identity. About combatting Islamophobia and Arab phobia. They hosted a forum which is, how are we going to begin talking about solidarity between the Arabs and black activists? It was a huge forum. I don’t even know how many people. More than 100 or 200 people were there. We attended that, and more as listeners. We did say our parts. Everybody, instead of talking, I feel like—we have a lot of critiques about it. It ended up people mostly talking at each other. There was, I guess, a lot of historical bad blood of everybody talking about how their situation’s worse. Like, “We have it bad.” Yeah, well, surveillance of the Arabs, and this happened and that happened, and we’re doing community work here.

One person there who’s very well-known in the community mentioned that Arabs are not ready for black solidary. We’re not ready. We consider ourselves—which we took an affront to it because we’re like, “No, we’re ready. We are ready. We need to start breaking down these walls.” Going off of that, we split off and met with several people from the black community, starting a smaller forum, Arab-black solidarity discussion. Of course, life happened, and we haven’t been able to reconnect since that last—and this was like in February.

Interviewer: Okay.

Rabiya: A lot of things have changed for us, so like, yesterday, we kind of looked back at it. I’m like, “No, I think what that gentleman said at the first ACCESS Take on Hate forum was that we’re not as ready as we think we are because we—so speaking personally, there’s so much racism. Even with language. Just like the word “abeed.” I never challenged that until I was told to challenge. I thought it was synonymous with black.

Interviewer: Right.

Rabiya: Going even into my household, like, “Mama, don’t say that word.” She’s been better about it, and even catching herself and other family members, but it’s so deep. Even between the cities, there’s so much historical racism that slings both ways.

Salma: Yeah, and the economic struggle, like the economic power struggles between Detroit and Dearborn and auto business owners and the black community. There’s so much bad blood. There’s so much bad blood and so much racism, so much racism, and so yesterday, we were like, “No, our community is not ready.”

Interviewer: Yeah.

Rabiya: It took us all this time to be like, “We are progressive. That’s why we are ready, but our community is not ready.”

Interviewer: I get it. I get it.

Rabiya: Yesterday, we were like, “We’re gonna go back to the basics.”

Interviewer: Yeah.

Rabiya: Yesterday was like a revolutionary meeting. Yeah, but it was such a revolutionary thing for us because we were like, “It’s time for us to attend these racism homophobic events in time to take up space and challenge that. It’s time to go back to our community,” because we were like, “Okay, who are our Arab contacts?” We don’t have a lot of Arab contacts because we lost touch with them. We were so focused on other movements that we kind of forgot our own.

Interviewer: Right. So many things on your plate.

Dima: I’m gonna talk about me personally. A personal front in the way that I want to navigate things is, although we aren’t going to be hosting things, but the way I want to live my life, I want it to be an example. I gave up a promotion at a chain restaurant to work at this business. The reasons are it’s the only black-owned coffee shop in the City of Detroit; well, in the Cass Corridor area. It’s not doing well, and the owner called me and was like, “I need you to do this.” Thinking about all the historical things that are happening between the two communities, between the Arabic community and the black community, I wanted it to be a collaboration between a black business owner and an Arab manager, and having it be a space where it’s inclusive.

Although we’re not actively doing the work, and we’re not actively doing things, we’re creating a space, a physical space where it can organically happen, where people from different communities can come and feel welcomed into a space and feel that it’s just happening more organic and we don’t need to be pushing it.

Interviewer: That’s really powerful.

Dima: That’s why it all goes back to our origin, the personal is political. It’s always political, and so I think, in a lot of our personal decisions, these things come up.

Dima: It’s not by choice that we do this. It’s not by choice. We don’t choose to grapple on all of these issues all at once. It’s just they’re all thrown at us, and you have to. It’s like, you lose your house. You have to figure out a way to live, and sort of just that. It’s you have to figure it out. There’s no choice but to figure out how to make all of this work and how to keep going, or else you’ll lay in your problems and be crippled, and we choose not to be. We choose to keep moving forward, so we figure out ways that we keep doing this because it’s not a choice. We don’t choose to be here. We don’t. I mean, we do, but—I don’t mean we don’t choose to be here.

Salma: We have to create the best alternative, we have to.

Interviewer: But you choose to be in some situations. You’re like, “I’m gonna go by choice to Detroit.”

Dima: Yeah.

Rabiya: I think it’s just like what I said in the beginning. We never thought that we would relate to HIV and AIDS, but the fact that our brother died, then it became relatable.Yeah, and none of us in our personal memories are Palestinian, but because many of us are from the South of Lebanon, because our families endured the Israeli State violence, that became personal to us. Everything matters because we live it. It’s a living experience, so it’s not just about being queer. It’s not just about feminism. It’s about the quality of the lives of our people and what we’re going to do to actually challenge that and change it. That’s why our work, it needs to be intersectional, and it’s not about which one is more important than the other. It’s about what is happening today that we need to combat, and what is going to make the quality of our lives and the lives of our people—how is our work going to change that? It’s about, I feel like that’s how we think of the priorities in the work that we do. It started out as domestic violence, but then HIV happened, and then our friend died, and then Gaza happened. Then it was just like, where do our—and then Rasmea Odeh’s case happened. I don’t think of things being pushed on the back burner, but it’s about what is happening today that we need to fight for?

Interviewer: Yeah.

Rabiya: I never thought I would be involved in any way with the Black Lives Matter, for instance. It’s not that I didn’t think of it as important. It was just I didn’t think of it, as like, “Oh, do I even have a place there?” I have my own issues, but personally speaking, the more and more you get involved in humanitarian work, the more you realize it’s all succinct. You can’t choose which one you’re going to just cut yourself off from.

I’ve been able to think of it as, a revolution is not successful if you think of it as only a private revolution. You can’t just be like, “Mine is the only thing that happened.” Equality does not mean—like you can’t say, “I.” If you are shooting for equality or justice, you can’t just say, “This only links to those people.” It’s all or nothing, and so dealing with multiple oppressions and multiple layers of bullshit, you can’t see someone else going through something, whether it’s trans activism or Black Lives Matter or anything, and just be like, “Well, that’s not mine.’  No, people need help. We need to help each other.

Dima: Yeah. I think carrying off of that is that I think intersectional feminism is feminism. Just it’s feminism. It’s the root of feminism. This entire sectionalities of struggles is seeing that something is happening and it’s inhumane, and because you are human, you are not gonna stand for someone else, whether or not you relate to the topic or not, you’re not gonna stand for something or someone to be dehumanized. I think that stems from love, which is the only humanizing thing that you can do is to love.

Interviewer: Thank you.

[End of Audio]