By MAS National Tarbiya Department
Estimated Reading Time: 5 minutes
Netflix Original Documentary; 2016; 1 hr 40 min
Director: Ava DuVernay
Recommended for ages 16+ on Common Sense Media.
Disclaimer: This documentary is powerful and extremely educational. However, there are some strong scenes that may be disturbing for some audiences regardless of age. Please make sure to read reviews on websites like www.commonsensemedia.org to better understand the content.
The documentary explores ways in which the 13th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which abolished slavery, has been used to continue the oppression and control of Black communities.
The 13th amendment emancipated all slaves in the United States of America, with the exception of criminals who could legally be punished with involuntary labor.
The documentary summarizes the tools used to control the African American community since the Civil War, including:
- Creating the mythology of Black criminality to excuse arresting them for extremely minor crimes, and thus providing free labor to substitute slave-labor.
- Enforcing Jim Crow segregation
- Institutionalizing mass incarceration
Fighting the Civil Rights Movement
It was eye opening to hear strategists from the Nixon campaign and administration talk about fighting the anti-war and civil rights movements in the late 1960’s. Their plan was to fight anti-war and Black communities by associating them with marijuana and cocaine, respectively, and heavily criminalizing drugs. Manipulation of media is evidently crucial for the success of such a plan. It reflects the importance of having representative voices from minority communities in the media and having independent media outlets. This case also highlights the Islamic concept taught in the ayah:
لَهُ مُعَقِّبَاتٌ مِّن بَيْنِ يَدَيْهِ وَمِنْ خَلْفِهِ يَحْفَظُونَهُ مِنْ أَمْرِ اللَّهِ ۗ إِنَّ اللَّهَ لَا يُغَيِّرُ مَا بِقَوْمٍ حَتَّىٰ يُغَيِّرُوا مَا بِأَنفُسِهِمْ ۗ وَإِذَا أَرَادَ اللَّهُ بِقَوْمٍ سُوءًا فَلَا مَرَدَّ لَهُ ۚ وَمَا لَهُم مِّن دُونِهِ مِن وَالٍ
… Indeed, Allah will not change the condition of a people until they change what is in themselves. … (Ar-Ra’d 13:11)
In Islam, standing up for a particular just cause is not excuse enough to ignore other forms of corruption and oppression, including matters of immorality and major sins like intoxication with alcohol or drugs. Such a spiritual weakness in the community makes it an easy target and facilitates its manipulation into subordination.
وَيُنَجِّي اللَّهُ الَّذِينَ اتَّقَوْا بِمَفَازَتِهِمْ لَا يَمَسُّهُمُ السُّوءُ وَلَا هُمْ يَحْزَنُونَ
And Allah will save those who feared Him by their attainment; no evil will touch them, nor will they grieve. (Az-Zumar 39:61)
It is through the continuous process of tazkiyah on an individual and communal level that success will be attained in both this life and the next. It is clear in Surat Al-Ahzab (33: 70-71) that taqwa (God-consciousness) and standing for justice go hand in hand to attain success:
(يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا اتَّقُوا اللَّهَ وَقُولُوا قَوْلًا سَدِيدًا (70) يُصْلِحْ لَكُمْ أَعْمَالَكُمْ وَيَغْفِرْ لَكُمْ ذُنُوبَكُمْ ۗ وَمَن يُطِعِ اللَّهَ وَرَسُولَهُ فَقَدْ فَازَ فَوْزًا عَظِيمًا (7
O you who have believed, fear Allah and speak words of appropriate justice. (70) He will [then] amend for you your deeds and forgive you your sins. And whoever obeys Allah and His Messenger has certainly attained a great attainment. (71)
Learn History to Understand Contemporary Political Climate
We see how the recent election cycle and Trump campaign propagated the mythology of Mexican criminality and Muslim criminality, just as was done to the Black community. We now see how the current administration is building on that fear mongering to pass laws that harm innocent people. The oppression of the African American community continues, and similar tactics used to control them are now extended to other communities.
When political fear-mongering led to the passing of new laws, they often hindered the justice system. As with minimum mandatory sentencing and the three strikes rule, these laws prevented judges from serving justice according to each crime and its context and led to an extensive expansion of the prison system.
No Double Standard in Justice
A double standard was used in the war on drugs, particularly with cocaine. Crack (rock) cocaine was much cheaper than powder cocaine and thus was associated with the poor and Black communities. The possession of a small amount of crack cocaine was more severely punished than a larger amount of powder cocaine. The injustice of punishing the rich and poor differently for the same crime is appalling and completely immoral. Allah (subhanahu wa ta’aala) says in Surat An-Nisa:
يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا كُونُوا قَوَّامِينَ بِالْقِسْطِ شُهَدَاءَ لِلَّهِ وَلَوْ عَلَىٰ أَنفُسِكُمْ أَوِ الْوَالِدَيْنِ وَالْأَقْرَبِينَ ۚ إِن يَكُنْ غَنِيًّا أَوْ فَقِيرًا فَاللَّهُ أَوْلَىٰ بِهِمَا ۖ فَلَا تَتَّبِعُوا الْهَوَىٰ أَن تَعْدِلُوا ۚ وَإِن تَلْوُوا أَوْ تُعْرِضُوا فَإِنَّ اللَّهَ كَانَ بِمَا تَعْمَلُونَ خَبِيرًا
O you who have believed, be persistently standing firm in justice, witnesses for Allah, even if it be against yourselves or parents and relatives. Whether one is rich or poor, Allah is more worthy of both. So follow not [personal] inclination, lest you not be just. And if you distort [your testimony] or refuse [to give it], then indeed Allah is ever, with what you do, Acquainted. (4:135)
The Prophet (peace be upon him) said:
“إنما أهلك الذين قبلكم، أنهم كانوا إذا سرق فيهم الشريف تركوه، وإذا سرق فيهم الضعيف أقاموا عليه الحد ” رواه البخاري
“Indeed what has destroyed the [people] before you [was] if the nobleman stole they would leave him and if the weak amongst them stole, they would punish him [according to the law].” Bukhari
Know the Special Interests Involved; Mobilize and Vote!
With organizations like American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) passing legislature in the last four decades that feed the interests of corporations, it is important to know what lobby groups back particular candidates and policies. Being informed is the first step to effective political mobilization. Despite the great challenges and seemingly great powers backing unjust policies, it is vital that people become politically involved and vote. As the co-founder of ALEC says in the documentary, the corporations want fewer people to vote because it gives them more leverage in elections.
Suggested Action Items
- Screen the movie with your community and hold discussions
- Get involved with your local Black Lives Matter movement
- Stand up for justice and practice it in personal life. Be fair with your children, siblings, spouse, etc. and train them in following parameters of justice like hearing from both sides, presenting evidence and taking responsibility for our mistakes regardless of who they were perpetrated against.
- Stay strong and brave, for Allah rewards those who struggle more for His sake with a greater reward:
وَمَا لَكُمْ أَلَّا تُنفِقُوا فِي سَبِيلِ اللَّهِ وَلِلَّهِ مِيرَاثُ السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالْأَرْضِ ۚ لَا يَسْتَوِي مِنكُم مَّنْ أَنفَقَ مِن قَبْلِ الْفَتْحِ وَقَاتَلَ ۚ أُولَٰئِكَ أَعْظَمُ دَرَجَةً مِّنَ الَّذِينَ أَنفَقُوا مِن بَعْدُ وَقَاتَلُوا ۚ وَكُلًّا وَعَدَ اللَّهُ الْحُسْنَىٰ ۚ وَاللَّهُ بِمَا تَعْمَلُونَ خَبِيرٌ
And why do you not spend in the cause of Allah while to Allah belongs the heritage of the heavens and the earth? Not equal among you are those who spent before the conquest [of Makkah] and fought [and those who did so after it]. Those are greater in degree than they who spent afterwards and fought. But to all Allah has promised the best [reward]. And Allah, with what you do, is Acquainted. (Surat Al-Hadeed 57:10)
Related Objectives and Outcomes Relating to Tarbiya Qualities (Phase 1)
D. Exemplary Citizen:
2. Culturally competent of American history and current affairs:
(i) Civil War and its impact on slavery, society.
D. Exemplary Citizen:
4. Uphold and strive to promote America’s best ideals, values and principles – freedom, justice, equality, pluralism, rule of law, and individual liberties.
(a) Understands difference between upholding Islamic Values and positively interacting with groups / individuals who do not uphold Islamic Values. Understand importance of treating other ethnicities and religions with kindness and respect.
(b) Understands the Constitution
(c) Understands importance of voting and its implications….
(d) Understands importance of positive media representation…
B. Agent of Change:
4. Demonstrates commitment to contribute positively to local community development
(a) Attends and participates in beneficial community programs and supports them financially and with time.
E. Lifelong Learner:
2. Critical thinkers
(b) Engages in self-evaluation of critical thinking abilities and practices.
E. Lifelong Learner
4. Puts knowledge into action
(b) is humble, helpful and diligent in putting knowledge into action
Image Source: Netflix via IMDB
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