As part of the events and celebrations for Black History Month 2021, Muzmatch and The Black Muslim Girl (TBMG) created a space to be unapologetically black and in love.
In this collaboration, the team produced and released a short documentary featuring four couples, varying in age and at different stages of life. The event was small and intimate, with young enthusiastic faces greeting each individual as they entered. Beverages and snacks were offered, in support of several small, black-owned businesses. One of the visibly committed and vibrant individuals who greeted me was Suleefah, a member of TBMG and a part of the mastermind team behind this event. In her own words, Suleefah informs us that the TBMG initiative aimed to widen representations of Black Muslim Love ‘because we don’t get to see that in our day-to-day lives. Another aim was to ‘show off the brilliance and the joyfulness’ of Black Muslim Love.
TBMG sought to collaborate with Muzz because ‘they both needed it – as does the Muslim community. The founder of Muzz, Shahzad Younas, built an app to facilitate Muslims in finding their life partners. He stood tall for a short but impactful introduction, declaring that the Muslim community is diverse, and he would like to take the opportunity to amplify Black Muslim voices as Muzz expands. This corresponds well with his intentions for developing Muzz. In past interviews Younas reveals, ‘I always wanted to have my own enterprise, my own business, and do something that at least helps people.
It was duly noted that racism in the Muslim communities is not going to be ignored, however for that night, the collaboration aimed to celebrate Black Muslim Love by spreading positivity.
In light of the above, the majority of young Muslims agree that there is a minimal representation of Muslim love, even more so for Black Muslim Love.
If we turn to TV series, the majority feature dysfunctional and/or interfaith relationships, often with love progressing at the price of a Muslim woman removing her hijab to ‘reclaim’ her freedom. See Ben and Ara, Elite, or Ramy for offensively flawed representation.
Instagram and YouTube? A little less dramatic! It is possible to view Muslim families documenting their daily lives on both platforms. Often a video is shared to showcase how a couple met, followed by regular updates on their journey post-marriage. Still (unfortunately), there is limited variety and few examples in mainstream media, especially for the Black Muslim community.
A quick peek at the empirical evidence for the psychological implications of issues surrounding race and ethnicity in the media shows us that change is needed – and fast.
It has been confirmed that there is a significant relationship between mass media consumption and personal/social beliefs about yourself. Predictably, negative characterisations can trigger shame, anger, and other undesirable emotions, leading to self-esteem issues. Favourable characterisations contribute to positive feelings towards other minority member in-group, boosting esteem. The effects of exposure to these representations depend on the quantity and quality of portrayals.
All in all, these findings offer evidence to show that media messages, or a lack thereof, can impact the self-concept and esteem of racial/ethnic audiences and are likely not harmless.
During this collaborative event, love was intensely discussed in a heartwarming way. Following the viewing of the documentary, the couple offered some commentary. The main theme circulating was that love cannot be described as a singular thing or feeling, but it is a combination of descriptive words and experiences. In other words, romantic love has a beginning and progresses gradually, through a collaborative effort from both parties. Personally, I have always felt it should be deeper than a few syllables and fleeting emotions. To me, as for many others who attended, it was a special night. The couples, TBMG and Muzz provided us with that rare diversity and positive representation we, the young, Black Muslim community want and deserve.
The representation of Black Muslim Love is a working process, just like love. In Arabic, the word ‘love’ (Hubb) comes from the word ‘seed’ (Habba) – boosting this imagery that love is planted, nurtured and grows.
As a young Muslim woman with a black heritage, my take from this documentary is that Black Love is like every other love. When planted and nourished like a seed, it has the potential to become beautiful. In the right environment, with the right attention and care, love grows into a healthy (insert your own favoured plant), offering kindness, affection, trust, respect, and commitment.
We all have the potential – It is important to first nurture and develop ourselves, then allow the blossoming of healthy, sustainable relationships with our respective partners.