Small, intentional acts of love—this is how Faatimah Knight and her colleagues make their way through the world. Faatimah is part of a wave of young community builders who are boldly crossing divisions and carving out space for peace and healing in America.
Q: To be black and Muslim in America sounds…complicated. Can you describe what the experience has been like for you?
A: Being black and Muslim was never complicated when I was growing up and it's not too complicated now either. To me, it's a beautiful hodgepodge of identities. My parents were also born and raised in the Caribbean so that adds another layer, I suppose. Because I moved in almost entirely black and Caribbean spaces growing up, I was insulated. The people I grew up with accepted me as I was, they saw my blackness first because that was what we had in common. In either case, most of the challenges I've experienced at the intersection of being black and being Muslim has been vicarious pain that I've felt on behalf members in both those communities.
Q: Most people feel empathy when they read about the burning of Black churches in the news, but you quickly stepped out to help in a very practical way in starting a campaign (Respond with Love: Rebuild Black Churches, Support Victims of Arson across the South). Why did you do it?
A: I started it along with my team members Dustin Craun, Linda Sarsour, Namira Ali and Margari Hill. I know enough about the history of church burnings in this country to know that it can never be an isolated incident. It is a part of a racist apparatus to inflict black people with crippling fear. Black people are always rebuilding and reinventing themselves in the face of terrible odds. We launched the project after one initial conversation, used LaunchGood, a Muslim-run crowdfunding platform for ethically sound projects and hoped that we could tap into the notoriously generous Ramadan spirit that is infectious among Muslims this time of year. We truly felt no sense of conflict raising funds to help these churches rebuild. God says in the Quran that churches, synagogues, monasteries, and mosques are places where His name is oft remembered.
Q: You met your fundraising goal of $20,000 in less than 3 days! Did that surprise you?
A: Our initial goal was $10,000 which we met in one day. That surprised us for sure. Once we realized how willing people were to give and that people were just starting to hear about it as we approached our goal we thought there would be no harm in raising the goal and seeing the response. Now, we are at almost $24,000. We were in awe by the response, but the truth is that human kindness knows no bounds. [*note: when the campaign closed, over $100,000 has been raised!]
Q: This was the second campaign you initiated recently in support of Black churches in America—the first was in support of Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina after the mass shooting that happened during their June 17th Bible study.
You said: “We are hoping to flood their church with love through this small but intentional act. We want to show them that their pain is not missed by us…As Muslims we are sensitive to the pain of all people, we love our brothers and sisters in humanity as we love ourselves. We want for them the same kind of respect and basic security we want for ourselves. We often feel deeply for others, but as our Beloved Prophet instructed us, when we love someone we should tell them. This, insha'Allah, is an opportunity to express what is in our hearts.”
Can you describe how your faith leads you to express “small but intentional” acts of love?
A: Islam is all about intentional action. That is one of the cornerstones of the religion. We believe that we get what we intend so it is in our favor to intend the best actions. A good intention transforms even the smallest act into religious expression and encourages the pleasure of God. Faith is always paired with righteous action, whether that act is small or large. The reality is, we don't know what is big or small in God's eyes. As a Muslim, I am always looking for ways to stay in God's good graces.
Q: On the LaunchGood.com website, where both fundraisers are hosted, is the following quote:
“The believer is like rain, wherever he goes he brings goodness” -Prophet Muhammad Somehow, much of the western world keeps missing this message. Why do you think we miss it? How can we better see our Islamic neighbors?
A: Some miss this message, but others see their Muslim neighbors in their fullness and their goodness.
Unfortunately, bad apples ruin the bunch when it comes to how Muslims are represented and perceived in the media. The reality is that just like any group of people there are some associated with us who do dreadful things, but most of us are decent people.
Hopefully, the more Americans in particular and Westerners in general see and interact with Muslims as a part of their everyday, ordinary experience and see the ways in which Muslims are profoundly integrated into many other American communities, the more they will start to view Muslims with favor. People need to allow their personal experiences with Muslims, which are largely positive, to dictate the ways in which they see Muslims overall- as they would with any group.
Q: Where can we read more of your work?