The McGill History Students’ Association (HSA) and the McGill Office of Religious and Spiritual Life (MORSL) hosted a panel on March 18 that explored the interconnections between faith, race, and recent racial justice movements. The webinar was moderated by HSA Vice-President (VP) Academic and U4 Arts student Ffion Hughes, and featured talks from Wendell Adjetey, a professor in the Department of History, and Rawda Baharun, B.A. ‘20. In their remarks, both Adjetey and Baharun drew connections between historical Black resistance and Islamic movements, as well as contemporary resistance movements.
During her time as a McGill student, Baharun was the president of the McGill Black Students’ Network (BSN) and the vice-president of the Muslim Students’ Association (MSA). Baharun began her presentation by discussing Islamic History and theological and historical figures relevant to the faith. She noted in her speech how the Islamic religion often offered resistance for enslaved peoples during the trans-Atlantic slave trade.
“One of the reasons why religion acts as a powerful mode of resistance is because it asserts and instills a sense of personhood and humanity,” Baharun said. “Black Muslim slaves were forced to leave their spirituality behind [….] Islam instilled this Manhood or humanness in these slaves.”
Baharun detailed the intersectionality of Black Hijabi hair politics, highlighting how, for some Black Hijabi women, wearing a hijab acts as a symbol of individuality and resistance to patriarchal control.
“The idea of the hijab in its essence is a challenge toward the male gaze,” Baharun said. “By creating a dynamic where you cannot see something that people are accustomed to seeing, it kind of flips the gaze on its head. Veiled Black Muslim women’s terrain is unique because of the specific intersection of Blackness, womanness, Muslimness […] and what those identities mean within the wider scope of social currents […] associated with those identities.”
Next to speak was Adjetey, who researches civil rights and the post-Reconstruction United States. Much of Adjetey’s work focusses on the creation of a Pan-African North America, a topic that he touched on during his presentation. When examining the relationship between spirituality and religion in Africa, Adjetey stressed the importance that African spirituality and traditions had during the trans-Atlantic slave trade. He noted how Indigenous spiritual systems helped foster collective resistance among the enslaved.
“Despite these crimes against African peoples, which were genocidal in nature, spanning over 1,000 years and continuing, enslaved Africans and their descendants managed to retain aspects of their spiritual systems wherever they landed,” Adjetey said. “Not only did enslaved Africans believe that their deities helped them cross the middle [Atlantic] passage, but that the deities also helped them mount daring resistance against their enslavers.”
Hughes discussed how religion and religious practices have served as a crucial form of spiritual guidance for marginalized peoples throughout history. Hughes explained to The McGill Tribune that she hopes the event will impact the way McGill students perceive social movements.
“The speakers opened our eyes to the complex intersectional links between race, faith, and liberatory movements, a dynamic that is too often overlooked,” Hughes said. “Spirituality can offer an important basis for racial justice activism within and beyond the faith community. Hopefully, events like this will help make students more aware of the diverse ways that race and religions can intersect, both in history and in the present day.”