A few months ago I read an article by Yahsmin binti BoBo over at Illume Magazine on the topic of Arab-owned liquor stores in black communities throughout America and I told the sister I would write a response to her excellent piece and here it is. It was a good article that covered a lot of sentiments that have been out there in the Muslim community for years regarding the disgust that most observant Muslims have towards these stores.
I share these feelings. It saddens me that in many neighborhoods throughout America you cannot get a forty ounce of malt liquor, pint of Thunderbird, a strawberry blunt, pork chop, cheaply-made Chinese condom, hair-weave, payday loan, lottery tickets, and a lot of other things without going to a Muslim.
Where I live, as an example, in North St. Louis, most every liquor store and corner store I see is owned by an Arab Muslim ( there are a number of black-owned stores as well but they are the minority). Here they are mostly owned by Palestinians, Jordanians and Syrians and almost all of them are Muslims. When I lived in New York there were similar stores owned by Yemenis.
As I stated before, I share the disgust at these brothers that Sister Yahsmin and many others have; but I would also like to put it into context. First of all, off top we know what they are doing is haram, so Islamically there is no justification for buying or selling what is haram.
The shariah argument only applies when you are not in an Islamic State when the one you are arguing with is a pious Muslim with a traditional understanding of the deen. Liquor store and deli store owners by definition are not pious Muslims and they know full well what they are doing is haram just like the crack dealer in front of their store knows he is dead wrong.
The Arab store owner, store worker, and crack dealer are “doing what they have to do” in their mind. Some do it for the rest of their lives and others do it just long enough to move on to something more respectable.
What all three have in common is that they usually come from depressed circumstances. Crack and heroin dealers in the ghettos almost always come from poverty. Their opportunities in life are limited and they need to make money so they gravitate to the thing they can do that will make them the most money.
The Arab store owner and workers have not been raised by single mothers in American ghettos who may or may not be addicted drugs; rather they grew up in the poverty of the developing world experiencing the political tyranny that is the norm in Muslim countries that gave birth to the Islamic Movement.
Where they come from there are very few business opportunities and unless you roll the dice you are looking at a life of poverty.
Both the crack dealer and the store owner are not in an ideal position. They are looking for cash money to escape their circumstances and when you are in this kind of a situation, unless you are just a very pious person, you do not have the time to be super moral or “humanistic”. You are just gonna do what you have to do and if someone gets burned that’s the way it is- better them than you.
It is also a fact that both the dealer and the store owner are operating in very lucrative markets. There is a demand for the product and if they don’t sell it someone else will. It may be cliché but it is true. You can shut down every poetry house and fledging bookstore in the hood and it would not even cause a ripple outside of Facebook; but if you closed down all the liquor stores and delis you may have a revolution.
The Arab stores exist and they are not going away because people need to make money. Telling them to close their stores is akin to telling a young man to not go into the military when you do not have an alternative. The argument makes sense to the idealist and the activist; but in the real world people will think of themselves and their families first. A brother whose family is in a refugee camp in the West Bank is gonna think about them first before he thinks of the drunk in front of his store just like the crack dealer is gonna think of his need for a nice apartment before he thinks of the homeless crackhead.
Closing the Stores
So, how do we get the stores closed? Well the stores will never close until the demand for the product goes away that that aint gonna happen any time soon. Maybe the question for Muslims should be this- how do we get Muslims to not operate these stores?
First off, many of these brothers have closed their stores after becoming more religious and moved into other areas such as selling cell phones, furniture stores, restaurants, etc. You may say “that’s fine but do they then respect the people in the hood” and my answer is some do and some do not; but go to their countries and you will see people do not respect one another, so what makes you think they are going to come to America and respect black people when they don’t respect themselves?
There have been campaigns in the past by Muslims to get these stores closed. In St. Louis for example there was a local Black Muslim leader who is a cross between the Nation and a WD follower (in reality he is just a Black Nationalist charlatan) who led a campaign to have the stores close and organized a crew of black men to get the job done. They threatened to block the sores entrance and to even burn them down and the situation was so tense that I even went to the Mufti of Palestine personally to ask him about the situation ( who said, in general, the business was haram).
Come to find out the stores did not close and they were not burned down, so I wondered what happened. Well, come to find out, the campaign was really just a way for this guy to extort the money from the Arab stores and to get them to pay him protection money. In other words “have my envelope of cash ready every month and Ill be sure to keep the black folks off your ass”. Later I would find out there were black Muslims running these kind of rackets in a few other cities.
These stores are legal (for the most part as many sell bad meat and engage in food stamp fraud), they are haram but most owners do not care, and you cannot burn them down. The only solution is to make dawah to them and pray that Allah guides these brothers to the right way and Allah guides who he chooses. It is true that they do give Muslims a bad reputation; but that just means that the rest of us have to work that much harder in countering that image.
Another important question that I have not seen anyone address is the children. When I say children I mean those young people, many who are now adults, who grew-up working in these stores and that is all they know.
Now, a Muslim egghead only full of the knowledge they have been taught at the university may not be able to properly examine this problem because they have not seen it face to face. These young men probably started working at stores when they were seven or eight. They grew up estranged from other Arabs and the only culture they know is that of those in the neighborhoods they are serving. They can’t go to the masjid because they are ostracized. The white mainstream is a far away reality to them and being born and raised in America they can’t go back to the country of their parents. As teenagers they date and have sex with black girls in the ghetto and they may even fall in love; but they have to marry an Arab. The Arab girl was raised in the home and kept away from the dunya and now she has to marry these young weed-smoking, beer-drinking, liquor store employees, and then maybe one day they will show up at the masjid wanting her children educated. How do we deal with this? Of all of the issues surrounding these stores that may be the biggest one of them all.
Correct me if I am wrong; but has anyone seen the major Muslim orgnizations address any of these issues at their conventions?