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Black Muslims in US fear they could be 'disproportionately impacted' by coronavirus 

The community is often rendered invisible within the larger Black and Muslim populations
The lack of consideration for Black Muslims in studies means there isn’t enough solid data about the community (MEE/Haithem Hammad)
By in
Philadelphia

Black Muslims in the United States fear they could be at a higher risk from coronavirus infections, as cases continue to climb and hospitals in communities of colour struggle to flatten the curve.

More than 10,000 people have died from the coronavirus in the United States - and the pandemic hasn’t even reached its peak.

As the crisis worsens, a lack of access to quality healthcare, insurance and other essential resources has left the community feeling they could be among the most impacted. 

Making up a fifth of all US Muslims, Black Muslims sit at multiple intersections and are often rendered invisible within both the larger Black and Muslim community.

'We consistently have substandard care. We don't have access to the things that larger hospitals do in middle class or upper middle-class neighbourhood'

- Donna Neil-Demir, health advisor for the Zakat Foundation of America

Dr Kameelah Rashad, the co-director and founder of the Muslim Wellness Foundation, told Middle East Eye that decades of unequal healthcare access and research that is racially biased, could result in Black Muslims witnessing an alarming rate of deaths in their communities.

Last month, the Muslim Wellness Foundation (MWF) and Muslim Anti-Racism Collaborative (MuslimARC) launched the National Black Muslim Covid Coalition to help the community contain the disease.

"From my vantage point, there was not the sufficient inclusion of Black Muslim concerns," Rashad said.

"Sometimes, the underlying assumption is that this is going to do damage to an already well-resourced community... We as a community are sort of an invisible third-world community right in the West."

'Disproportionately impacted'

The decision to form the coalition comes as cities such as Charlotte, North Carolina, are reporting a disproportionate number of coronavirus cases among African Americans, with black residents accounting for more than 40 percent of confirmed Covid-19 cases.

"Unless we mobilise - and do that effectively and efficiently - [Black Muslims] will be disproportionately impacted in a year where there's a census and a presidential election," Rashad said.

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At its core, the coalition draws from the black freedom movement of the 1950s to 70s, and social justice movements. On its website, the coalition describes itself as grounded in the frameworks of healing-centered engagement, and the cycle of liberation.

Part of the coalition's focus includes disseminating accurate information and sharing best practices and resources, such as fact sheets in Somali, Haitian Creole, Yoruba, and other languages.

Margari Hill, the executive director of MuslimARC, said that a lack of medical studies and research on Black Muslims meant there wasn't enough data on the community. 

But that doesn't mean it's impossible to predict how Black Muslims will be impacted by the coronavirus. 

"Taking the shahada [Muslim declaration of faith] does not make us immune to any of the vulnerabilities that Black people face," said Hill, who also serves as co-director of National Black Muslim Covid Coalition. 

'Impact will not be shared equally'

Hospitals in predominantly black communities have raised alarm over a lack of adequate supplies, staffing, and protection to handle the pandemic.

According to several reports, Black Muslims often live in communities bearing the brunt of hospital closures, and must navigate anti-black Islamophobia in the medical industry. 

Experts say that the government’s unwillingness to track the virus by race could obscure a crucial underlying reality that a disproportionate number of those who die will be black.

Donna Neil-Demir, a health advisor for the Zakat Foundation of America, told MEE: "We consistently have substandard care. We don't have access to the things that larger hospitals do in middle-class or upper-middle-class neighbourhoods."

Dr Aswhin Vasan, a public health expert, agreed telling USA Today, "The virus is an equal-opportunity crisis... but the impact and burden of it is not going to be shared equally."

'Disposable, unfortunate casualties'

Black Muslim communities are also economically vulnerable. In 2018, the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding (ISPU) found that one-third of Muslims in the US live at or below the poverty line, and Black Muslim households are more likely to earn less than $30,000 a year than other Muslim racial groups. 

With the US recording soaring unemployment rates, Black, Latino and other minority workers are also less likely to be able to work from home. 

Black Muslims are in every demographic - they are disabled, low-income, LGBTQ, older, immigrants, refugees, and they are incarcerated.

As the coronavirus spread through jails, prisons and detention centers, it impacts Black Muslims; as some advocate for increased surveillance or police power to stem the pandemic, it also impacts Black Muslims. 

Rashad warned, "What may be a setback for one community is going to be catastrophic for ours."

'When you help black people, you're helping everybody. Centering Black Muslims, who face overlapping, intersecting oppressions, will make the Covid response much stronger'

- Margari Hill, executive director of MuslimARC

When it comes to these densely populated cities and others, Rashad worries, "We will be seen as disposable, as unfortunate casualties to this pandemic."

The coalition isn't focused only on the pandemic but in the aftermath. For now, it continues to assemble resources for Black Muslims on the coronavirus and coordinate events such as a webinar on medical apartheid.

And although its focus may be on what appears to be a small population, Hill said: "When you help black people, you're helping everybody.

"Centering Black Muslims, who face overlapping, intersecting oppressions, will make the Covid response much stronger."

This article is available in French on Middle East Eye French edition.