“Why I Can Dance Down a Soul-Train Line in Public and Still Be Muslim” by Aisha Sharif

Aisha Sharif


My Islam be black.
Not that Nation of Islam
kind of black. I mean my Islam be
who I am—black, born and raised
Muslim in Memphis, Tennessee,
by parents who converted
black. It be my 2 brothers
and 2 sisters Muslim too
black, praying at Masjid Al-Muminun,
formally Temple #55,
located at 4412 South Third Street
in between the Strip Club
and the Save-A-Lot black.
My Islam be bean pie black,
sisters cooking fish dinners
after Friday prayer black,
brothers selling them newspapers
on the front steps black, everybody
struggling to pay the mortgage back

My Islam be Sister Clara Muhammad School
black, starting each day
with the pledge of allegiance
then prayer & black history
black. It be blue jumpers
over blue pants, girls pulling bangs out
of their hijabs to look cute
black. My Islam be black & Somali
boys and girls, grades 2 through 8,
learning Arabic in the same classroom
cuz we only had one classroom
black. It be everybody wearing a coat inside
cuz the building ain’t got no heat

My Islam be the only Muslim girl
at a public high school
where everybody COGIC asking sidewise,
What church you go to?
black. It be me trying to explain hijab
black, No, I don’t have cancer. No,
I’m not a nun. No, I don’t take showers
with my scarf on. No, I’m not
going to hell cuz I haven’t accepted
Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior
black. My Islam be riding on the city bus
next to crackheads and dope boys
black, be them whispering black,
be me praying they don’t follow me home

My Islam don’t hate Christians
cuz all my aunts, cousins,
and grandparents be Christian
black. It be joining them for Easter
brunch cuz family still family
black. My Islam be Mus-Diva
black, head wrapped up,
feathered and jeweled black. It be me
two-stepping in hijab and four-inch heels
cuz dancing be in my bones

My Islam be just as good as any Arab’s.
It be me saying, No, I ain’t gonna pray
in a separate room cuz I’m a woman
black. And, Don’t think I can’t recite Quran too.
Now pray on that black!

My Islam be universal
cuz black be universal.
It be Morocco and Senegal,
India and Egypt. My Islam
don’t need to be Salafi
or Sufi. It don’t have to be
blacker than yours black.
My Islam just has to be.

from Rattle #45, Fall 2014
Tribute to Poets of Faith

[download audio]


Aisha Sharif: “Poetry is a vehicle that allows me to write through an understanding of God, religion, and myself; my faith is constantly explored, tested, and revised with every draft of a poem. My Muslim faith pushes me to write about being a religious minority; it has also propelled me to use poetry to break traditional stereotypes surrounding Islam and Muslim women.”

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