Muslims Reflect on Gentrification of Black Community

(Editorial Note: Reflection piece by Danial Osmani)

The Prophet Muhammad said, “You will not enter heaven until you believe, and you will not believe until you love one another… Spread peace among yourselves” (Sahih Muslim #54). A recurring statement we often hear from those who were old enough to remember the 1970s or earlier is that people in the hood do not look out for one and other as much as they used to due to 21st century modernization. My father was raised in the Adams Morgan neighborhood of Northwest DC decades before it got gentrified and he often mentions how his neighbors were part of one close-knit community

Help was there before it was even asked for. Back in the day goodwilled consideration was practiced much more no matter it be job referrals, free babysitting, free mentorship, potlucks, local business loyalty, funneling community assets, and even money lending in reasonable amounts. Community or as Muslims call it the “ummah,” is a cornerstone of Islam. The Islamic calendar did not begin in 610 A.D., the year the religion as we know it today was established. Instead, the Islamic calendar begins in the year 622 A.D., which is the year the first self-governing Muslim community was established. 622 A.D. was chosen as the start date to symbolize how everything in the Muslim faith starts with strong community ties (Lunde, 2021).

The last thing we ever want is for a city official or a greedy real estate investor to gentrify a black and brown community. Unethical house eviction and landlord harassment are haram (forbidden) acts in Islam. In Chapter 65 Verse 1 of the Quran it says, “Do not drive them out of their homes” because Allah hates it when property managers or any oppressor turn the roof over someone’s head into a game of spoils. Inner-city black and brown residents of public or private housing complexes are often victims of housing discrimination. When property owners want to enter the more profitable luxury apartment industry, they will drastically increase the rent of longtime tenants with only one year notice. In many cases, landlord exploitation occurs just so they can increase their monthly rent incrementally enough so current tenants cannot afford it

That is how exploitative American real estate is for black and brown Americans. It causes many to lose their jobs because their commute is no longer doable. Finding a new home takes over a year to budget and hunt for. Gentrification is defined as the process whereby the character of a poor urban area is changed by wealthier people moving in, improving housing, and attracting new businesses, typically displacing current inhabitants in the process. Not only do wealthier people move in, but there is almost always a demographic change when it comes to the new racial makeup of a particular community.

Diverse or predominantly colored communities suddenly become homogenous predominantly white communities. Gentrification disproportionally displaces Americans of color by the thousands every year (Wiltse-Ahmad, 2019). It’s also essentially landlord and local government betrayal. These good-standing tenants have never missed payments, have never violated their lease contracts, paying local taxes, and have been contributing to the local economy for years. Muslims believe the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) was sent as mercy to mankind to spread God’s grace and to maintain an ethical society. The Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) commanded we establish a benign commonwealth that terminated elitism (Mohamed, 2001). The concept of landlordism exists in Islam, but the local governments and the property leaser are held to a high standard when it comes to treating renters fairly (Mohamed, 2001).

Muslims believe rising prices the of essential goods without any reason is impermissible and is a reprehensible act in Islam (Fakkar, 2010). Hiking up the rent price for the roof over someone’s head is greed. The Holy Quran stresses how we must “trade by mutual good-will” (Quran 4:29). State land is referred to as “ard al-khalisah” and raising rent prices for unnecessary excess wealth will never be permitted because “private ownership operates in relation to the interest of society at large” (Mohamed, 2001). The “most just” is one of Allah’s nicknames and Muslims believe “to Allah belongs the dominion of the heavens and the earth,” therefore renting a home is a spiritual covenant with The Creator (Quran 3:189). An extremely common home rental practice in Islamic governance is ijarah wa iqtina sometimes called musharakah, which is rent to buy. The tenant’s monthly rent is contributed to an agreed upon price that warrants a transfer of ownership when paid. It is highly encouraged so conflicts that even remotely resemble gentrification are avoided. Many apartments give tenants the option to buy their unit, so under Islamic finance this would be a practice we see more in American innercities.

Black Americans must funnel their resources, so they can be the safekeepers to their community assets. Once ownership is transferred from outsiders to residents the risk of exploitation will decrease drastically. Exploitation will come to a complete halt the moment Islamic morals are applied to black and brown real estate. Islam injunctions the concept of a compassionate landlord that understands the financial burden his or her tenants may face.

The Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said, “If the debtor is in hardship you should forgive the debt so Allah will relieve us [of our hardship in this world and possibly in the hereafter] (Sahih Bhukari #3293). It is simply not right for a Muslim to demand money back from someone who suddenly does not have the means to pay back, reducing the debt to a more manageable amount and eating the difference is a rewardable act in Islam (Quran 2:280). However, the lender is authorized to charge a predetermined premium per a day when the borrower defaults on a payment. The excess money the borrower accrues must be donated to charity. Therefore, under Islamic finance banking is not designed so the rich get richer at the expense of another person’s misfortune.

Studies conclusively show high crime rate areas are a result of lack of opportunity (McClure). During the Great Depression crime soared and the COVID-19 recession has shown the same phenomenon. These types of economic handicaps have always been a constant in innercities since the end of American slavery. The Black and Latino unemployment rate is approximately 50% higher than the white unemployment rate. Lack of investment by the private and public sector is the reason for the catastrophic discrepancy in workforce participation.

The public sector does not design sufficient workforce programs to create decent jobs in inner cities. Once middleclass White America begins suffering the same uncontrollable economic neglect, the government swiftly passes relief packages. Look no further than the New Deal, the 2009 American Recovery Act, and the COVID-19 Relief Bill. The federal government also woefully underfunds education in predominantly black and brown school districts. Education is another dependent variable to crime. The greater the educational attainment of a region the less likely there is to be crime in that region (Bell, 2018). The private sector is reluctant to open the type of chain businesses one sees in the suburbs and even when they do none of the cashflows stay in the nonwhite communities they do business in. It’s almost parasitic.

Many Americans incorrectly claim high crime in innercities is due to laziness, however Islam clearly inscribes crime due to poverty is a poor reflection of the state’s legislation. Umar ibn Khattab, one of the righteous successors of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), enunciated how a thief is not to blame for theft when he steals out of “need” because of financial “hardship” (Musannaf Abd al-Razzaq #18371). One universally laudable quality of Islamic Law is how Allah has issued hudud (boundaries) so “that the needs and welfare of every individual, irrespective of creed or faith are provided for on the basis of equity and justice” (Mohamed, 2001).

Notice how hudud reverts back to equity not equality. The American political climate still thinks the elimination of Jim Crow was the silver bullet to ending institutionalized racism because it brought equality, but equality does not erase the lasting effects segregation has had on the victims’ succeeding generations to this day. The racial wealth gap is a generational equity problem. World renowned economist Thomas Piketty conducted an extensive peer reviewed studied that revealed a staggering 60% of American middleclass wealth is inherited (Ingraham, 2019). Under Muslim leadership, tax money expenditures must be used for building infrastructure in the communities in which the taxpayer lives in. Caliph Umar Ibn Khattab once admonished the Governor of Yemen for sending taxpayer money to a faraway land (One Path Network, 2018). Black Americans must rally together to buy real estate in their communities. Housing discrimination will be mitigated once housing property owners are community members themselves who want to see standards of living increase the right way. There are only four crimes that mandate explicit legal punishment in the Quran and gang violence is one of them (Quran 5:33).

The Quranic word for violence is hirabah, which means spreading corrupt mischief in the land. Gang violence is obviously forbidden in Islam, Islamic education makes everyone more aware of how systematic racism is the culprit behind the gang violence we see in many innercity communities. The best methodology to eliminating high crime in innercities must resembles Umar ibn Khattab’s aforementioned reaction to a starving poor man stealing out of need. In other words remove the lack of opportunity that is guaranteed to make crime rise in every town or city regardless of what the community’s racial makeup is. Land acquisition initiatives and increased black/brown entrepreneurship are the building blocks that will rise our people up socioeconomically. The Prophet Muhammad said, “the government is the guardian of those who have no guardian” and given the fact public housing officials continue to fail us, we must become our own guardians (Sahih Muslim Book 20).

Works Cited

Bell, B. (2018, October 14). Why education reduces crime. Retrieved May 08, 2021, from https://voxeu.org/article/why-education-reduces-crime

Fakkar, G. (2010, August 07). Inflating prices of essential goods ‘haram,’ scholars say. Retrieved June 13, 2021, from https://www.arabnews.com/node/352154

Importance of Zakat. (2018). Retrieved May 07, 2021, from http://www.upliftcharity.org/importance-of-zakat

Ingraham, C. (2019, February 06). Analysis | people like the estate tax a whole lot more when they learn how wealth is distributed. Retrieved May 08, 2021, from https://www.washingtonpost.com/us-policy/2019/02/06/people-like-estate-tax-whole-lot-more-when-they-learn-how-wealth-is-distributed/

Lunde, P., & Siddiqui, I. (2006, January 26). The beginning of hijri calendar. Retrieved May 07, 2021, from https://www.soundvision.com/article/the-beginning-of-hijri-calendar

McClure, D. (2019, April 30). How lack of economic opportunity can lead to crime. Retrieved May 08, 2021, from https://lnr.politicususa.com/how-lack-of-economic-opportunity-can-lead-to-crime-3605/#:~:text=In%20areas%20with%20high%20rates,of%20behavior%20in%20their%20lives.&text=However%2C%20unemployment%20rates%20and%20stagnant,to%20high%20rates%20of%20crime.

OnePath. (2018, May 31). The importance of giving zakat locally. Retrieved May 08, 2021, from https://onepathnetwork.com/the-importance-of-giving-zakat-locally/

Pruitt, S. (2016, May 03). What part of Africa did Most enslaved people come from? Retrieved May 08, 2021, from https://www.history.com/news/what-part-of-africa-did-most-slaves-come-from

Wiltse-Ahmad, A. (2019, October 18). Study: Gentrification and cultural displacement most intense in America’s largest cities, and absent from many others ” NCRC. Retrieved May 07, 2021, from https://ncrc.org/study-gentrification-and-cultural-displacement-most-intense-in-americas-largest-cities-and-absent-from-many-others/

 

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Conveying to Black America What Islam Is

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