American Roots: Black Muslims and America

Opening dua

Morgan Freeman says “Black history is American history”, a statement that cannot be taken without knowing the role of Islam in American history. Islam was brought to America not by immigrants on planes but through slaves on slave ships. Of the millions of slaves brought over from Africa, the West African slaves were predominantly Muslim, bringing Islam with them as they were enslaved. It was through their Islam and reliance on Allah that they found resilience and a tenacious spirit to carry resistance against their slave owners. It should be noted with pride that the least docile and most rebellious slaves were Muslim. They were the ones most responsible for the deaths of their oppressive slave masters, there is nothing but honour in using violence against a physical oppressor.

Many times Islamic slavery is referenced as justification for Western slavery, being seen as morally comparable. And I don’t mean ISIS, ISIS is un-islamic and filth. It should be noted Islamic slavery does not take away the base dignity of a human being. It is not predicated on race or colour nor reducing a human down below the level of cattle. There are strict guidelines on how to treat slaves and honour them how they are due. In America, they practiced chattel slavery, a form of slavery that reduced the African to the level of a garden tool to be used at whim and tossed out when they lost utility. Among these African slaves was the great, great grandfather of Alex Haley, the author of Malcolm X’s autobiography, Kunta Kinte. Kunta Kinte was a West African Muslim who attempted to run away numerous times from his master, eventually having his foot cut off as punishment. In “Roots”, the miniseries, his spirit is shown as being whipped and being told that new name is Toby. Rather than giving in, he responds with: “My name is Kunta Kinte”, much like Bilal who was tortured and responded with “ahad un ahad”, making is owner angier.

It is through these acts of valour that Islam survived in America, morphing at times to fit the needs of people and taking on a very social justice oriented form predicated on racial survival. Of these one man stands out in particular, Brother Malcolm X, El Hajji Malek al Shabbaz. Known as the angriest man in America, a name of pride since anger towards injustice is the only reasonable response. He stood unwaveringly against the injustices of the white man and for the rights of his African American brothers. Malcolm didn’t bend to any of the threats or seduction that was thrown at him. He relied on Allah and pushed for unity of people against oppression. He is the reason for Islam being present in America today, a revivor of the religion on this continent. He is the pride of our people when it comes to standing for justice in America and a testament that our religion is not a ethnic monolith as presented by the media. The second largest population of Muslims in America are African Americans, immigrant Muslims need to understand this truth and shift our actions to match this.

Second dua

Islam incorporates the intellectual heritage of where it is, for us Americans this means the adoption of W.E.B. Du Bois’ “Double Consciousness”. The idea that the African American embody the American as well as being an oppressed minority in this society. We are not as oppressed as the African in this nation nor do we share their history but his wisdom apply to us wholly. As people who are other-ised by the majority we also develop the second sight allowing us to view the oppression for what it is. As Langston Hughes writes, “I, too, sing America. I am the darker brother…. They’ll see how beautiful I am. And be ashamed. I, too, am America.”. We do not reject our American identity, we are of the soil of the nation and have a right to it and must stand strong by our right to this identity.

Working in this context of being American, Dr. Jackson relates the African American to Banu Hashim as the natural allies of Muslims in America. Banu Hashim was the tribe in Quryash that stood by Muhammad as he was from them. African Americans, given their history, will stand as an ally for us given that we treat them with respect and dignity. It is a two way street and Muslims must honour their end of the deal by standing for the struggles of African Americans. Given our current political climate we must expand our role as standing for those who are oppressed. They faced COINTELPRO, a program that was meant to destroy their community from the inside and it has evolved into CVE for us Muslims. The mindset has changed from Anti-black colonialism to Anti-Muslim orientalism and their tactics have upgraded. This is not a conspiracy but a reality we cannot deny.

When the Prophet united Medina the constitution that was used referred to the inhabitants of the city as being part of the Ummah despite them not being exclusively Muslim. It is important for us to recognize that the ummah is based on mutual principles here and not theological conformity. Our modern day ummah needs to expand to those who are also facing hardships under this administration. Where we can find allies who stand for mutual goals we need to reach out to them to strengthen our stance in this nation. African Americans, Latino Americans, Asian Americans, and Jewish Americans are part of our ummah and we must stand against the same oppressors. But this does not mean we fall into a false kumbaya of multiculturalism, a phrase I borrow from a friend. Groups like the ADL which now come out in our support were working against our efforts for Palestinians and making the soil ripe for this sort of oppression to take place. Their support should not be taken without hesitation and precaution.

To end, I want to take from James Baldwin to summarize our approach to America, “I love America more than any other country in the world and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticise her”. Just as Muhammad loved Makkah and fought to change his beloved city, we must love America and change it for the better.

Edited by Aamna Asif