It’s easy to get lost in the names, numbers, and contexts that inform who we are. In this podcast, we hear how Mustafa Briggs conceives identity as something that both illuminates and conceals. Piecing together aspects of identity and experience, Mustafa and other like-minded U.K. based Muslim millenials are creating a niche cultural conversation using Instagram and YouTube as tools to connect. We hear about ‘Beyond Bilal,’ a talk that Briggs designed to foreground black history in Islam, and how this project has taken him to forty different colleges and venues in a single year. As these identities enrich our understanding of who we are and where we come from, Mustafa reminds us that there is no one way to embody them. These identities are only the beginning of our journey. How we use them to manifest the truest version of ourselves is the work that must not be left undone.
A few highlights from our conversation:
Mustafa: It’s up to us to educate people about our experiences the same way everybody else educates everybody else about their own experiences. So I created Beyond Bilal: Black History in Islam… just to bring people to a different understanding, and a different perception of black Muslims and Islam in the West, it was more for black Muslims themselves to know… they have a place within the Islamic narrative.
Mustafa: I feel like it’s up to us, as young people who live in this new world, and live with this new technology and live within this globalized monoculture, and live within the societies to think about what aspects of the Islamic tradition are the most relevant to our context today? And what do we need to connect to? Because this is this whole concept of being connected to the tradition? But what part of the tradition?
Whatever you emphasize, that’s what gets spoken about.
Imran: The word you use emphasis I think that’s, that’s an interesting word. Because a lot of times it’s like, it’s either this, or it’s that. But to say, ‘what are we emphasizing’ — Emphasize what we need right now. Let’s not focus on the things that may not be helpful. It’s an attitude rather than a paradigm, or an epistemology, or something like that.
Mustafa: All these identities and all these different strains… I feel like instead of you seeing yourself being put into different boxes, you should just see yourself as a well that has different streams of water flowing into it from different places. I have my influence in Fiqh (Islamic Law) from the School of Imam Malik, then I have my influence in Tassawwuf (Islamic Spirituality) from Sidi Ahmad Tijani and Shaykh Ibrahim. And then I have my cultural influences from being born in inner-city London. And all of that just makes up me, as a person. And then even all of that is just majāz, like, it’s just allegory. Because in reality, I’m not even any of these things. I’m, you know, I was that soul that said, balā’ before I came into this world. And I’m going to return to a state where there will be no family ties, and there will be no identities, and there will be no politics, and there will be no pronouns, and there’ll be nothing except— were you good? Did you believe and did you make the best of that part of a day that you were in this world? Like, Pre-eternity, abad, and Post-Eternity, azal, those are the real days. Those are the real times. because Allah describes the Qur’an… When you’re brought back Allah says, how long were you there, and you say, ‘a day or bit of a day.’ It’s a flash— it’s an allegory. It’s so minute that I feel like we shouldn’t kill ourselves trying to figure out what box to fit ourselves in and what to do. All of these minute details when there’s the bigger picture of inna lillahi wa inna ilayhi rajiun—you belong to Allah and you’re gonna return to Him. You come from him and you’re going back to him.
So just using Islam, imān, and iḥsān as tools to access Allah, I think, is the goal.