A Detroit Revival Engaging American Muslims (DREAM) held its annual dinner and celebration Saturday May 9 at the Cadillac Book Westin in downtown Detroit. Dubbed by one attendee as “the Muslim Habitat for Humanity,” DREAM has rehabilitated three houses since the group’s inception in 2012.
Inspired by Chicago’s Inner-City Muslim Action Network (IMAN), and founded by two allied organizations, Detroit-based Neighborly Needs and the suburban-based Indus Community Action Network, DREAM is seeking to revive the neighborhood of the Muslim Center of Detroit. “Shrinking job opportunities and the housing crisis of the 2000s caused many neighbors to seek refuge elsewhere. And as a result, house by house, the neighborhood became a victim of blight,” said Shaykh Momodou Ceesay, resident imam of the center.
The keynote speaker for the event was Dr. Zareen Grewal, associate professor of American studies, religious studies, ethnicity, race and migration and Middle East studies at Yale University. The MC for the event was IMAN’s executive director Dr. Rami Nashashibi. “We’ve demonstrated that Islam can be relevant and that if we’ve done it before we can do it again,” said Nashashibi.
Grewal noted that in the 70s students had to read The Autobiography of Malcolm X, but that now the book is not required reading. She said that in spite of the book’s importance even African American students were not reading it. “Things are worse now than they were in the 70s,” she said. “The wealth gap is worse between blacks and whites today than it was then [and] the number of blacks and Latinos in prison has skyrocketed.”
Grewal pointed out that while people in the suburbs of Detroit are watering their grass in the city people are going without water. “It’s insane, this is a first-world country.
“Detroit more than any other city has been hit by white flight and capital flight,” she explained, noting that people from the suburbs are often ashamed to say that they are from Detroit. “No other city is like that,” she said.
“The tragic University of North Carolina shooting of three young Muslims is not Muslims’ Trayvon Martin moment,” said Grewal. “Trayvon Martin was my Trayvon Martin moment. Mike Brown was my Mike Brown moment.
“#Blacklivesmatter is not a black movement, it is a human rights movement,” she added. “We have misremembered Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream. The dream of a colorblind society was not all he cared about. White supremacy was a real problem [that he campaigned against also].”
Grewal added that Muslims talk often about the concept of an ummah and a colorblind society, but that the term sometimes is used to cover up racial problems in the Muslim community. “Racism justifies the exploitation of non-whites. … Stereotypes are the symptom not the cause,” said Grewal, noting that underlying power structures are directly responsible for inequality.
In the 80s Grewal’s father got a job as a technician at Ford and had a chance to leave their diverse neighborhood for an overwhelmingly white area, not because her family was racist in any way, but because they had a chance to purchase a home with a value that would continue to rise. She spoke of how she didn’t feel she belonged there and that her experience later led her to choose to live in a very ethnically mixed community in New Haven, Connecticut, where her child would not feel ostracized.