By K. H. Hamilton

Qur’an Surah 4, An-Nisaa, Ayah 97: Bismillah ir Rahman ir Raheem. “Was not the earth of Allah spacious enough for you to move yourselves away (from evil)?”

(Originally published: Muslim Journal Vol. 46, No. 43, July 10, 2020 (Part I) and Vol. 46, No. 44, July 17, 2020 (Part II))

INTERNATIONAL – I am elated to introduce an Advocate for Humanity, Atty. Najmah Brown, who specializes in litigation and transactions. Her reflections on travel and powerful message to our youth are ingrained in the spirit of our people’s ability to transcend all obstacles.

Atty. Brown reminds us that James Baldwin’s leaving America at the age of 24 and El Hajj Malik El Hajj Shabazz’s (Malcolm X’s) trips abroad to Mecca and Ghana speak to her experience of reprogramming herself to live abroad and beyond the realms of racism in the United States. 

Earlier this month, I had the pleasure of interviewing Atty. Najmah Brown. Mash’ Allah, I was truly in for a treat, as Najmah is exceptionally down to earth and genuinely reflective of all that Al-Islam represents. 

I am certain her family is extremely proud of her accomplishments. And after reading this article, you will Insh’ Allah see how inspiring and timely her words are for our youth. 

In keeping with the teachings of Imam Warith Deen Mohammed, Najmah describes herself as an advocate of humanity. With all that is going on in our world today, it is imperative for us to first and foremost keep our faith. 

But what I am reminded by Atty. Najmah to share with all of you is that we must not allow ourselves to be siphoned into the narrative of racism, which can manifest into internalized racism that impacts our thoughts and ability to succeed.

We must understand that the Earth is spacious, and Atty. Najmah encourages us to travel abroad. she acknowledged how we are programmed in schools to believe a certain mindset about race. 

From school, from the start, young minds have been programmed to fit into this “system” – that mold. The “mold” is to become “racialized,” and when I say I racialized I mean to follow, to “participate” in the race competition.

You’re going to be boxed in with your labels, you’re going to be programmed to work a job and to be okay with whatever it is that you do, without questioning the system. You have to accept the system as you are, because you have to be grateful for being able to stay on this land.” 

We are conditioned to participate in the race toward human survival in which Atty Najmah likens to “the survival of the fittest by any means necessary.” 

Najmah grew up in our community, here in Los Angeles attending public schools and proudly refers to Imam Warith Deen Mohamed as a “brilliant genius.” As an active student, she was very involved in classroom discussions and school activities (on and off-campus). 

Like so many of our children, she enjoyed hands-on learning, which is typically missing from most of our schools today. Fortunately, her parents whom she is exceptionally close with were able to place her in weekend activities that supported her interests in nature, outdoors, as well as public speaking, while keeping her engaged and happy. 

The following is an excerpt from our beautiful interview.

KHH:  My question to you is … and I can’t wait for your answer, Mash ‘Allah, I’m just going to say it: When you hear the term “white privilege,” give me your thoughts?  

Atty. Najmah: Oh gosh, somebody just asked me that. I am glad you asked me. I don’t know what it means. I guess because I want to know “what are the privileges”? Because G-d, the Creator, gave us our human rights on this Earth, and nobody can dictate or encroach on our human rights. 

And of course, we have all of these laws because people have gotten so far away from humanity that they can’t govern themselves. Or they’ve allowed people to convince them that they cannot govern themselves.

So when we talk about this privilege that is supposedly existing here in America, that prevents White people from actually speaking out against injustices, against people who do not look like them. 

I am like okay, what are they protecting? Are they protecting their spot in the race, okay, just to be here in America? This is not even a privilege; this is just a brotherhood. They do not have to give up anything for non-white people to being treated like humans. 

All communities in America have to be rebuilt and reprogrammed. I am going to answer with: Having white skin is the privilege because perhaps it makes that group of people less vulnerable to the struggles that other groups face, such as poverty, homelessness, unemployment, police brutality, disproportionate sentencing and more.

This privilege grants them access to opportunities and arenas that are not open for everyone. Let me be clear, I have friends who travel all around the world taking advantage of their White Privilege. 

I have an American friend who lives abroad and loves professing how he gets away with morally questionable behavior and gets overlooked by police because of his “white skin.” 

KHH: Every institution in America, including education, if we already have these biases and then we come into the classroom and we are teaching…, my fight is to eradicate racism within schools (i.e., prison to pipeline/school desk to jail cell).

SIDEBAR: When asked about George Floyd, Atty. Najmah referenced that the police officers went beyond their scope in violating George Floyd’s rights by not focusing on being a police officer but acting as “the prosecutor, the jury, the judiciary and the executioner – all in one.” 

In essence, they went beyond their scope and have to be held responsible but a lot of people feel that they have these rights, and maybe that is another “privilege” they are arguing about – the privileges that allow them to be “white knights” and vigilantes. 

So in our criminal justice system, when it comes to melanated people, the “system” dehumanizes [and criminalizes] the victims of color to justify the wrongdoings against that person. 

Also, if the defendant in a criminal case is “Black, Indigenous and People of Color” (BIPOC), they are coerced into accepting plea deals for unfair and excessive sentences out of fear; the defendant knows the system has all of the power in that case. 

Who really thought it was humane to lock anyone up in a cage for “30, 60, 100 years” and these are the type of sentences being handed down. Disproportionately, if a corporation does something to harm society and its members, their corporate leaders get a slap on the wrist and maybe a fine. 

We must move away from exonerating people on the basis of their skin color and wealth, Atty. Najmah noted, in essence: Stop discriminating. Whatever systems we have in place in our country must be fair and be applied across the board. What is happening today, according to Atty. Najmah is “a violation of our human and civil rights.”

RETURN TO INTERVIEW: 

Atty. Najmah: The 1866 Civil Rights Act specifically says Black people will be punished the same as White people. But when we try to enforce those laws, the Supreme Court blocked it and said that they didn’t have the authority, and it was a state issue. That’s how they were able to enact and enforce Jim Crow laws.

KHH: And these “Stand Your Ground” laws, please talk about that, too.

Atty. Najmah: Yes, I believe the Supreme Court could have done a lot more to publicly condemn Systemic Racism in connection with race crimes, hate crimes, discrimination cases. 

In 1866…, our criminal justice system wouldn’t be where it is, if the Supreme Court would have said, “You know, you’re right, these are violations of that Civil Rights Act. Why aren’t White and Black people being punished the same?” 

They all know the disproportionate sentencing statistics, which are very startling. The opposition will say White people aren’t committing crimes. However, we have established there is the White Privilege of preferential treatment. 

So when the White kid goes out and commits a crime, the officer, instead of arresting him, takes him home and the kid receives counseling. If the kid is not White, then he’s going to be sent to Juvenile Hall. We refer to it as the School to Prison Pipeline. So all those things are issues. 

In our society, people believe, “It’s fine, as long as it doesn’t happen to me.” Let’s look at the protest taking place. The government should not have implemented curfews meant to stifle people’s freedom of speech. There was an outcry, and I believe because most people arrested were White protestors. 

Their parents stepped up and used their power. Suddenly, the curfews were removed and then District Attorneys announced they wouldn’t press charges against protestors, which was the right thing to do. 

Would this story end differently if the majority of the arrestees were Black or Latino? You can’t keep changing laws and policies when it only impacts your children. Either you’re fair or you’re not.

KHH: And that’s a problem, right Najmah. So with that said and your experience of being deprogrammed when you went to Kuwait. And then returning back here to the States and being reprogrammed with this hatred, what advice would you give to young people like yourself in the community?

Or what case would you make for them to travel abroad and kind of leave out from here and experience what you experienced in Kuwait, for their own mental wellness and development?”

Atty. Najmah: Yes. So I don’t want to say that I am being reprogrammed back into it. Let’s just say I am better equipped to handle the circumstances of America, you know once you’ve been outside of it. And for the youth, that’s why I say I am an Advocate of Humanity. 

I don’t say I am an advocate for prison reform, I don’t say that I am an abolitionist of the criminal justice system or any of these systems. I can say that I am an Advocate of Humanity, and that is what we have to focus on teaching our youth. 

When Humanity is at the forefront, then we wouldn’t have so much injustice. You know how to be the best human beings because we need community reform more than anything. And that goes into us programming, reading our books, reading the Qur’an.

The information is there for us. Knowing who you are first and don’t ever let anyone judge and tell you who they are, without you first knowing who you are. Research. Study. And once you know who you are and you’re enlightened, then you can start adding on layers to your elevation to humanity. 

But it’s all written there for us. So I think that the youth should travel if they possibly can. Like I say, go on YouTube, talk to different people; don’t only talk to people who look like you.
Learn. And I hate that with what’s going on, you kind of become divided again. 

You know we always talk about “a divide.” But I am also telling people that when we reflect back on what is happening now, you should be satisfied with what side of humanity you stood on. I hope we don’t get afraid to reach out to people. And I have had to “block” or people will say “just unfollow me.” And I am like, “okay, fine.” 

It’s a lot of that going on, so that’s going to hinder our ability to engage in meaningful conversations with people; people who come from different backgrounds, different cultures, different regions. 

But do not live in fear. You have to be fearless. You also have to have confidence in yourself and know you are “enough.” Because I know when I used to come back from traveling, and people would call me Black, I would say: “Don’t call me Black, I am not Black.” 

They’d say, “What’s wrong with you?” And I’d say, “I don’t want to talk about it.” You’re already boxing me back into these labels, and it’s like saying you’re a democrat or a republican. It’s the same thing! 

It is this race; it’s just competition. Oh, this is the first Black, African American to do it…; this is the first to do it…. Okay, I am out of the race. Get out of this RACE, okay. And get on the team of HUMANITY. And humanity keeps us connected, all of us. 

So I think what I hate is the divide part, but what current events will hopefully do is unite more people who are on the same path of humanity and see everyone as equals, as you know brothers and sisters who are all from the CREATOR (SWT). 

The CREATOR never came out and said any of HIS creations are better than the other. So no man can ever do that. I always say like  I am my own master. You know, I have to master myself. No one has the authority to deny me of the Human Rights I’ve been born with and granted by the CREATOR. 

So even when they put these charges on us, they dehumanize us; we make a mistake, “Oh, you’re a criminal.” These titles, “thugs, rioters, looters,” they are so nasty. But they are easy ways, they trigger words. They play on words; it’s all a manipulation to influence the masses. 

So we have to also be mindful of what we bring into our spaces. So watching what we look at on television, on social media – you can’t watch reality television and think that it’s not going to have any influence on you. You can’t listen to Gangsta Rap music, or this “trap music” and think that it is not going to have any influence on you.  A lot of our youth are on drugs because they are listening to these rapping about suicide and you know trying to get clothes and fast cars, but they start going crazy, trying to achieve these things. So we are saying to youth that they have to be fearless…: Protecting your arc, your arch. Striving for human excellence.

Attorney Najmah with her parents Brother Surdalyer and Sister Yolanda along with siblings

An Advocate for Humanity, Atty. Najmah Brown specializes in litigation and transactions. Her reflections on travel and powerful message to our youth are ingrained in the spirit of our people’s ability to transcend all obstacles. 

She reminds us that James Baldwin’s leaving America at the age of 24 and El Hajj Malik El Hajj Shabazz’s (Malcolm X’s) trips abroad to Mecca and Ghana speak to her experience of reprogramming herself to live abroad and beyond the realms of racism in the United States. 

Atty. Najmah Brown took it upon herself to take the leap as a Muslim woman to travel to the Middle East and embrace both her Islamic culture and African American culture. 

Many of her friends from America commented on how she naturally blended in. Perhaps it was due to her ability to respect culture as she sees and experiences it firsthand. 

Her religion is personal and is sacred to her, which she protects and keeps to her heart. Quite naturally, the modest dress and cultural norms that Atty. Najmah experienced in Kuwait and was accustomed to as a Muslim juxtaposes the norms of America where the pressure to dress immodest made it much harder for her American colleagues to get used to. 

This also included handshakes and other cultural norms versus religious norms. In particular as an attorney, it’s typically the norm to shake hands when greeting someone (before Covid-19 era).

Atty. Brown also points out that Kuwait’s people are a mixture of the Saudis and Emirates, where the women are educated and travel. While America is rooted in racism, Kuwait for example has laws set for morality that prohibit children outside of marriage. 

THIS EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW CONTINUES FROM PART I in Muslim Journal issue of July 10, 2020:

KHH: And that’s a problem, right Najmah. So with that said and your experience of being deprogrammed when you went to Kuwait. And then returning back here to the States and being reprogrammed with this hatred, what advice would you give to young people like yourself in the community?

Or what case would you make for them to travel abroad and kind of leave out from here and experience what you experienced in Kuwait, for their own mental wellness and development?”

Atty. Najmah: Yes. So I don’t want to say that I am being reprogrammed back into it. Let’s just say I am better equipped to handle the circumstances of America, you know once you’ve been outside of it. And for the youth, that’s why I say I am an Advocate of Humanity. 

I don’t say I am an advocate for prison reform, I don’t say that I am an abolitionist of the criminal justice system or any of these systems. I can say that I am an Advocate of Humanity, and that is what we have to focus on teaching our youth. 

When Humanity is at the forefront, then we wouldn’t have so much injustice. You know how to be the best human beings, because we need community reform more than anything. And that goes into us programming, reading our books, reading the Qur’an.

The information is there for us. Knowing who you are first and don’t ever let anyone judge and tell you who they are, without you first knowing who you are. Research. Study. And once you know who you are and you’re enlightened, then you can start adding on layers to your elevation to humanity. 

But it’s all written there for us. So I think that the youth should travel, if they possibly can. Like I say, go on YouTube, talk to different people; don’t only talk to people who look like you.
Learn. And I hate that with what’s going on, you kind of become divided again. 

You know we always talk about “a divide.” But I am also telling people that when we reflect back on what is happening now, you should be satisfied with what side of humanity you stood on. I hope we don’t get afraid to reach out to people. And I have had to “block” or people will say “just unfollow me.” And I am like, “okay, fine.” 

It’s a lot of that going on, so that’s going to hinder our ability to engage in meaningful conversations with people; people who come from different backgrounds, different cultures, different regions. 

But do not live in fear. You have to be fearless. You also have to have confidence in yourself and know you are “enough.” Because I know when I used to come back from traveling, and people would call me Black, I would say: “Don’t call me Black, I am not Black.” 

They’d say, “What’s wrong with you?” And I’d say, “I don’t want to talk about it.” You’re already boxing me back into these labels, and it’s like saying you’re a democrat or a republican. It’s the same thing! 

It is this race; it’s just competition. Oh, this is the first Black, African American to do it…; this is the first to do it…. Okay, I am out of the race. Get out of this RACE, okay. And get on the team of HUMANITY. And humanity keeps us connected, all of us. 

So I think what I hate is the divide part, but what current events will hopefully do is unite more people who are on the same path of humanity and see everyone as equals, as you know brothers and sisters who are all from the CREATOR (SWT). 

The CREATOR never came out and said any of HIS creations are better than the other. So no man can ever do that. I always say like  I am my own master. You know, I have to master myself. No one has the authority to deny me of the Human Rights I’ve been born with and granted by the CREATOR. 

So even when they put these charges on us, they dehumanize us; we make a mistake, “Oh, you’re a criminal.” These titles, “thugs, rioters, looters,” they are so nasty. But they are easy ways, they’re trigger words. They play on words; it’s all a manipulation to influence the masses. 

So we have to also be mindful of what we bring into our spaces. So watching what we look at on television, on social media – you can’t watch reality television and think that it’s not going to have any influence on you. You can’t listen to Gangsta Rap music, or this “trap music” and think that it is not going to have any influence on you. 

A lot of our youth are on drugs, because they are listening to these rapping about suicide and you know trying to get clothes and fast cars, but they start going crazy, trying to achieve these things. So we are saying to youth that they have to be fearless…: Protecting your arc, your arch. Striving for human excellence.

KHH: On the line of humanitarianism and young people, are you fluent in Arabic?

Atty. Najmah: No, I am not. Let’s talk about that, because I have studied Arabic my entire life and I’ve never been fluent. I think that is just personal, I just have to work harder at it. Yeah, I was in Kuwait. I was isolated and said, “I am going to learn, Insha’Allah, I’m going to become fluent.” 

I went to an Arabic school there and I took exams; I probably got up to a level 3, but for me, it’s the memorization…; I would always look at the fluidity and to catch up on the words. Unfortunately, when I left, I was not fluent. 

I can understand now. There are different dialects in Arabic. You start getting better at identifying. (Najmah began giving examples of the differentiation of Arabic dialect based on geographical region; how some will pronounce the ‘J’ in Najmah as a ‘G’ for Nigmah or like Hajj is pronounced Hagg). 

I have always studied Modern Arabic, so I can read the Qur’an and be able to communicate; I love cultures. I always call myself an anthropologist. I study people, even here in America and I’ve always had love in my heart for people. 

Regardless of the wrong they’ve done, I still find a way to love them.

KHH: Have you been to Africa?

Atty. Najmah: I have. My first trip abroad was to Africa. I went to Kenya. My friend, her family had come from Kenya .We went there for her sister’s wedding. It was a culture shock, for sure. Since then, I have been to South Africa and Egypt. I would love to visit more countries in Africa. I would like to do more to explore the West. I still want to do the East, too. 

I want to go everywhere. I want to go to as many places as I possibly can. When I travel, I learn so much more about myself. I learn about people. Learn how to love. In America, we teach so much hate. Get away from that. 

KHH: Right? Learn how to love. So a young person growing up in our community, this community, your advice to them is to travel. They don’t necessarily need to be fluent. There are programs like Cornell, for instance and NYU.

They have programs where they are actually in partnerships with universities in Kuwait and in the Gulf where they do exchange programs. I mean these are exchange programs where they literally pay for you to go there to work, right?

Atty. Najmah: Well, there are different ways a person can get to see the world. Like I said, if you don’t have a big budget, you start with YouTube. There’re travel guides online and there’re like chat groups that you can join.

You can meet people online, and they can tell you more about where they are from. Get an introduction. And I say when you travel, just leave the “baggage” at home. All our race competition stuff, let’s leave that at home. 

You don’t need that there. You go with an open heart, you go with an open mind, so you can learn and love people.

KHH: Do you have an advantage of being Muslim?

Atty. Najmah: I wouldn’t say yes or no. Well, let me correct myself. Let me go back to the young people. In high school, you can study abroad. Now you have GoFundMe. Try to get someone to do a GoFundMe account for you. 

When you get to college I always tell students to do a study-abroad. I did several study-abroads.  I went to China. I went to Italy for study abroad programs, and I met some amazing people and saw amazing places. And these experiences, nobody can take them away from you and they just build your character and open up your heart more. 

Like in America, we’re still going through our transitions of reprogramming our culture. We have to take extra educational steps to do the work. We have to do it ourselves; we can’t wait for the system. 

I have been developed to help our people here because I feel like we need to be beneficial to ourselves here. Mash’Allah. But still go out and you learn and respect other cultures, like the Chinese did, where they sent all their children around the world. We need to do the same thing here. 

Send our children all around the world, so they can study and learn different things and come back and be better people, if possible. Don’t pick up the bad habits, pick up the good ones. 

Going back to what you were saying about the youth, I think sometimes perhaps the biggest issue is when the youth come here to America and they pick up on the bad stuff and they take that back home. 

Because I always tell people: “Listen, being a Muslim in America is the hardest thing to do. I am not in a society that is catering to my faith. I have to get up every day and navigate this society with all of the sins in it, full of temptations. So it’s even harder.” 

So that’s how a lot of people fall victim, and I am like maybe it would be a good idea to put some of these laws into the books. We do have to be more accountable and more responsible for our actions.

KHH: What about the presence of COVID-19 affecting young people’s decisions about traveling; they are going to be more fearful of going abroad?

Atty. Najmah:  I actually was really sick on my way back from my last trip from Kuwait. Whenever you travel, you have to take precautions in your travels. I believe that COVID-19 has exposed the cleaning practices of some of these businesses. Some of these hotel rooms and airplanes are so filthy. 

I know they now have cleaning kits. A lot of people get sick when they travel, and it’s usually from the airplane ride. So, I don’t think you should be fearful of traveling. Again, we have to be “fearless”; we can’t stay in the house. 

We are going to eventually have to go out and travel, so take precautions. Research what the cleaning practices are; take your cleaning supplies, do your own cleaning. I know it’s exhausting, but it has to be done. The youth are ready to be out there. The youth are ready as they are and out currently in protests. 

CLOSING: See a retweet of James Baldwin’s interview that Atty. Najmah sent me via Bakari Sellers’ tweet at: https://twitter.com/i/status/1227558780017221638.

We truly thank G-d, the Creator, Allah (SWT) for Atty. Najmah Brown, her father Bro. Surdelyer Harold Brown, her mother Sis. Yolanda Brown, her brothers Bashir, Bilal and Anthony, along with her entire family. 

For more information about Atty. Brown, visit: http://www.najmahbrown.com/about.html. For additional inspiration on traveling, visit: http://www.globaled.us/plato/statement_afam.html.

K. H. Hamilton is a West Coast Correspondent for the Muslim Journal

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