My writing and activism come out of my experience as a Black American Muslim woman
Who are you?
My name is Margari Hill and many of my Muslim friends where I grew up in California know me by Aziza, the Arabic name I chose for myself. I became Muslim over 20 years ago when I was 18 years old while attending DeAnza Community College.
My writing and activism come out of my experience as a Black American Muslim woman. Over the years, my faith and practice has ebbed and flowed. Following 9/11, I began to reengage with Islamic traditions through academic studies. Perhaps it was ambition and grandiosity, but I imagined that through historical study, we could better understand how Islamic institutions transformed and adapted in Muslim societies to develop proactive solutions to current day problems.
I began blogging in 2006 to fight a bad case of writer’s block that developed while I was in graduate school. My writing addressed issues that were important to me: Race, Gender, and Islam. After four years, which included a year studying and travelling aboard with little support, I married Marc Manley. Soon after, I dropped out of my Ph.D. program, packed up and moved to Philadelphia. I taught English at an Islamic School in Philadelphia for two years before taking a year off when I had my daughter. During this time, I had to reorient my approach to Islam in order to focus on my emotional and spiritual development.
Currently, I am a part time adjunct professor at Delaware County Community College, an independent researcher, and one of the co-founders of Muslim Anti-Racism Collaborative, where I serve as Programming Director. MuslimARC works to challenge racism through education, outreach, and advocacy. By amplifying voices, building bridges, and challenging racism, I believe that we can build a stronger community that is more true to the egalitarian ideals we are taught in Islam. Starting up MuslimARC has been humbling, exhausting, and rewarding. However, for the first time I feel like those 10 years I spent trying to earn my undergraduate degree and four years of hazing in graduate school are paying off and that I’m doing something that can make a difference.
Give us your favorite quote (poem) and tell us why it means so much to you:
The Second Coming
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?
W.B. Yeats 1919
I love eschatological imagery because at every moment we near the end. The poem appeals to me on a psychological level, both internally and as I peer out into the world. At the same time, there is this hope that our collective spirit can rise above our condition and we can be reborn again.
What Ayah of the Quran do you hold close to your heart? Why?
“So which of the favors of your Lord would you deny?”
Surah The Beneficent (55:13)
This ayah is a good reminder for me because I’m a half empty type of person who has internalized a lot of pain and sadness, reminding me to see the beauty in and acknowledge the advantages that I have been given.
What Hadith do you wish more non-Muslims knew about? Why?
Allah’s Apostle said, “The most hated person in the sight of Allah, is the most quarrelsome person.”
As someone who likes to argue and be right, this Hadith is a good reminder that polemical people are not serving God.
1. What is your favorite book?
From the first time I read Dune in 6th grade, it is the only book that I have read more than six times. Maybe it was because I was a precocious kid that I could relate to the protagonist’s sister Alia. Or perhaps Dune’s orientalist Zensunni religion and Bedouin-like Fremen people left a subconscious imprint that made me predisposed to Islam.
2. Who inspires/inspired you?
I think about Hajar, married to a Prophet, lost in the wilderness with her child. I motivates me to do what I have to do in order to ensure a better future for my child.
3. What is the best lesson your mother/mother figure taught you?
My mother taught me that no matter what anybody did to me or what I did, nobody could change the real me inside.
4. What advice would you give your 13 year old self?
Your family loves you, but they don’t fully understand you. Don’t let them or anyone else define you in negative ways and don’t go looking for love outside of your family. Instead, focus on working through those challenges you will face in the next few years and don’t give up because your grit will see you through the darkest of times.
5. What are your hopes for your daughter(s)?
My daughter is a very spirited little girl and I hope that I can steer that into a passion to overcome obstacles and leave the world better than when she entered it. I hope that my daughter sees her intrinsic worth, knowing she is loved. I hope for a world that will value her contribution, and not see her as an object for consumption.
6. What is the biggest trial you went through in your life and how has that changed you?
My biggest trial was probably something that I was ill equipped to deal with at the age of four, when my paternal grandparents, older sister, and aunt died within months. On our way to my grandparent’s funeral, we had a car accident in which my brother, sister, and I were thrown out of the car. In those short months, I lost most of the family members who loved me unconditionally and the survivor’s guilt became a source of life-long sibling tension that still plagues my brother and I till this day.
7. Any regrets? What’s something that you wish you’d thought about more before you did it?
Everyday I think about people I mistreated or never showed enough gratitude. Looking back, I know I have countless things that I have to repent for. But the biggest regret was holding on to a written secret that was entrusted to me, despite knowing I should have burned it. Eventually it was discovered, which led to some devastating consequences for two people I cared about.
8. How do you stay grounded in your work and/or spiritually grounded?
Every once in awhile I have to reflect on intentions: Why do I need to write, teach, or work with MuslimARC? My work can be humbling, frustrating and exhausting. I try to focus on moving forward in a way that will be effective and most pleasing to my Lord, knowing that all too often I am falling short.
9. How do you bring about real change?
As an educator, my job is to facilitate learning to assist my students in the process of internalizing knowledge or a skillset. I think real change happens through the process of persuasion, which is finding common ground, reaching out, and allowing someone to see your thought process so that you might come to a mutual agreement. For me, deep change happens when we modify how we think and act.
10. What do you hope to be remembered for?
I hope to be remembered for stumbling hard and getting back up, several times. But above all, I would want to be remembered for my desire to understand and be understood and my desire to love and be loved.
Video message from Margari:
More about Margari: