In the Name of Allah, The Most Gracious, Ever Merciful.
Love for All, Hatred for None.
Dedicated to the memory of Al-Hajj Dr. Muzaffar Ahmad Safar
United Nations demographic reports forecast that Muslims will constitute about half of the global birth-rate beyond the year 2055. With the fall of the Soviet Union, new regional alignments are rapidly taking place, and the place of Islam in these new arrangements is being analysed even in Western business publications. Some have even claimed that the West regards Islam as a 'threat' because its followers are globalised and, if ever united under some form of leadership, could become an invincible economic power. What is often overlooked is that the underlying philosophy of Islam is spirituality, not materiality. Nevertheless, the question of power, unfortunately, blurs the ability of many Western people to understand the value of the teachings of Islam -- not only as a religion, but also as a way of life which gives guidance in the practical affairs such as economics. Thus, their analysis of Islam is skewed and tainted because the basis of their analysis is one-dimensional and often biased and misinformed.
One such example of this is the 'traditional' (and wrong) view of the relationship of Islam to the African peoples -- specifically, the idea that Islam was 'forced' on the African people historically, or that chattel slavery was an 'Islamic' venture. While some people may wish to count Africa out of the equation of 21st century geopolitical analysis, the continent of Africa is seen by Asian and Western analysts as a potential powerhouse of the future. So the question of Africa's identity as a continent is considered important -- will Africa be Muslim, Christian; Eastern, Western; or will it revert back to its traditional 'indigenous' religions? This is a question that has troubled Western scholars for a very long time. Lothrop Stoddard -- a Harvard-based historian, expressed these very concerns in his classic book, The Rising Tide of Color, written in the early 1900's. In that book he openly expressed his fears that Islam might spread south of the Sahara and, thus, unite the entire continent of Africa -- both Arab and non-Arab -- under its wing. Certainly Africans, especially in West Africa, are to this day accepting Islam literally by the hundreds of thousands, so the question of a possible Islamic identity for Africa is very valid.
But, aside from Asians and Europeans, there is a group who themselves are also interested in the identity of Africa and the African peoples of the world: Africans themselves and the descendants of African peoples scattered around the world. Amongst them are some who deem themselves 'Afrocentrists'. Afrocentrists generally believe in various forms of racial nationalism, ranging from cultural to political. But a very unfortunate attitude has developed amongst some Afrocentric scholars: an apparent undying hatred for Islam, fueled by the misguided belief that the religion of Islam 'enslaved' African people.
Before continuing, it must be stated (and I will hope to demonstrate this in this article) that most Afrocentric scholars traditionally respect and appreciate Islam for its positive impact on the African people. But a small handful of Afrocentric scholars (such as Molefe Asante, William Chancellor, and Dr. Tosef Ben Joachannan) have bitterly maligned the religion of Islam and labeled it as something 'outside' of the African experience. And what is strange is that despite their small number, their works are somehow receiving more circulation than the majority of Afrocentric scholars who understand the importance of Islam amongst the African family of peoples.
One hesitates to criticise any of the African peoples, scholar or otherwise, because of the tremendous afflictions meted out to the African people over the centuries. But Islam is a religion of truth. And, oppressed or not, these handful of scholars must be taken to task for their distortions. For the future of Africa and the African peoples -- and indeed, the future of all countries -- should and must depend on truth.
Unfortunately there are still some who are unaware that the charges made against Islam, by both Christians and a tiny minority of Afrocentric scholars, are baseless and mere distorted historical fabrications. They continue to allow these fabrications to deprive them of the benefits of following and practicing the religion of Islam.
This article will hopefully show that the charges of certain Afrocentrists are false. It will demonstrate that the majority of Afrocentric scholars do not agree with the few Afrocentric scholars who have lied against Islam. In fact, this article will bring to light the fact that most Afrocentric scholars have a deep appreciation for the role Islam has played in African history, and that they have not been duped by the historical untruths promulgated against Islam.
But before dealing with that, it is probably worth highlighting just a few of the benefits that Islam has to offer the African peoples - one should keep in mind that this is just a tiny drop in the ocean of the Islamic beneficence. Islam, being a global religion is beneficial to all human beings. But, since many of the Afro-peoples (especially African-Americans, the descendants of Africans brought to America as slaves) have been led to believe that Islam has somehow hurt them historically, it is particularly important that African peoples understand that they too can benefit from the religion of Islam.
I will now present below just a few practical modern-day examples. This is particularly appropriate since we live in a world of 'pragmatism', and it is important to know how a religion can be of benefit in practical matters. Later, I will briefly outline some of the spiritual benefits. The examples which follow, I hope, will show that others who deprive themselves of Islam are missing out tremendously. I should point out that the primary reason for following Islam is to please God and attain nearness to Him. But this idea of following Islam to 'please God' can sound very foreign in the modern world where the 'bottom line' question is, 'what can this do for me practically?'
Most babies have a sensor in the brain which alerts the body that too much carbon dioxide is being inhaled. This sensor causes the baby to cough in order to expel this poison. But in some babies this sensor does not function properly. As a consequence, the body is not alerted when this poison enters and the baby dies.
Following this discovery doctors began to recommend that, in order to avoid this problem, babies should be placed on their backs and sides rather than their stomachs. In this way they would not breathe in the trapped carbon dioxide when the baby lies on its stomach. A few years after parents began to practice this recommendation of the doctors it was noted that the incidence of SIDS decreased dramatically.
Well, 1,400 years ago Muslims were taught by the Holy Prophet Muhammad (sa) to lay on their sides or on their backs and were specifically instructed not to lay on their stomachs. The following hadith, for example, illustrates this:
Ya'ish ibn Tighfah Ghifari relates that his father said: 'I was lying down in the mosque on my belly when someone poked me with his foot and said: Such lying down is displeasing to Allah. I looked up and saw that it was the Holy Prophet.' (Abu Daud)Muslims have known about this practice 1,400 years before medical doctors discovered this and this shows that long before the discoveries surrounding the causes and prevention of SIDS, Muslim lifestyle required sleeping habits that precluded the possibility of their children dying prematurely of SIDS. I accepted Islam 21 years before medical doctors discovered the reason for SIDS, and when I had my children I placed them on their sides, by propping pillows, or on their backs. Perhaps the Prophet (sa) knew nothing of SIDS, but being divinely guided by Allah (God), he followed God's every instruction, and the Muslims followed his example.
Well, this practice is a normal part of the Islamic way of life. In Muslim countries, people stop all work at the time of Zuhr (the mid-day prayer) and Asr (the afternoon prayer). They quietly go to a nearby mosque, or a room of their company, and perform their deeply relaxing and deeply spiritual prayers. Afterwards, they are greatly refreshed and can continue their day with much vigour. In some countries, people will actually take a two-hour, or so, nap after prayer. They continue their work day which sometimes lasts a little longer, but they are much calmer and more balanced and happier.
Unfortunately, this practice has yet to catch hold in the West to any great degree. But there are signs that some enlightened heads of industry are requiring their employees to practice some form of relaxation during the day.
There are many such practical benefits in the religion of Islam which African peoples (or anyone) can take advantage of, and I hope the above examples have helped explain just some of the hidden beauties of Islam. I should emphasise that although the Qur'an is not primarily a detailed book of science, it is a book of truth and as such it is amazing to note that no established scientific fact contradicts it, even to this day.
The primary reason for the success of Islam in Black Africa, with one exception, consequently stems from the fact that it was promulgated peacefully, at first by solitary Arabo-Berber Travelers to certain Black kings and notables, who then spread it about them to those under their jurisdiction... What is to be emphasized here is the peaceful nature of this conversion, regardless of the legend surrounding it. (Precolonial Black Africa, page 163.)Additionally, in view of what some Afrocentric scholars claim that African peoples should 'return' to 'their own indigenous African religions', such as Yoruba, it is interesting to note what Cheikh Anta Diop had to say about this:
African religions, more or less forgotten, were in the process of atrophying [dying] and being emptied of their spiritual content, their former deep metaphysics. The jumble of empty forms they had left behind could not compete with Islam on the moral or rational level. And it was on that latter level of rationality that the victory of Islam was most striking. That was the fourth cause of its success. (Ibid, page 166)Cheik Anta Diop, an African himself, cannot be accused of making a racist or anti-African statement. He was giving his opinion as an African man and as a scholar of high repute. In further dispelling the charge that Islam was forced on African peoples, Cheikh Anta Diop said the following:
During the period of our study, from the third to the seventeenth centuries, not one conquest was ever launched by way of the Nile...Nor was there ever an Arab conquest of Mozambique or any other East African country. (Ibid, page 101)He went on to explain precisely why Africans fell in love with the religion of Islam:
The Arabs in these areas, who became great religious leaders, arrived as everywhere else individually and settled in peacefully, they owe their influence and latter acceptance to spiritual and religious virtues. (Ibid, page 102)Africans, as the above shows, were attracted to the spiritual and religious virtues of their Arab brothers. But wasn't Islam forced onto them by the conquering and sword-wielding Arabs? Cheikh Anta Diop said:
The Arab conquests dear to sociologists are necessary to their theories but did not exist in reality. To this day no reliable historical documents substantiate such theories. (Ibid, page 102)
Mohammedanism [Islam] found its Negro converts at home in a state of freedom and independence of the teachers who brought it to them. When it was offered to them they were at liberty to choose for themselves. The Arab missionaries, whom we have met in the interior, go about without 'purse or script', and disseminate their religion by quietly teaching the Qur'an. The native missionaries -- Mandingoes and Foulahs -- unite with the propagation of their faith active trading. Wherever they go, they produce the impression that they are not preachers only, but traders... And in this way, silently and unobtrusively, they are causing princes to become obedient disciples and zealous propagators of Islam. These converts, as a general thing, become Muslims from choice and conviction... (Christianity, Islam and the Negro Race, by Dr. Edward Wilmot Blyden)'These converts, as a general thing, become Muslims from choice and conviction...' - Does that sound like Islam was forced down the throats of Africans? To the contrary, they were impressed by the practical examples of Islam and its moral code of conduct that stood before them. Blyden's words are very important because he was on the continent of Africa before the Europeans colonised Africa. He witnessed the spread of Islam in Africa in the 1800's. It is also worthy of note to see how Blyden contrasts Christianity and Islam:
Christianity, on the other hand, came to the Negro as a slave, or at least as a subject race in a foreign land. Along with the Christian teaching, he and his children received lessons of their utter and permanent inferiority and sub-ordination to their instructors, to whom they stood in the relations of chattels...owing to the physical, mental and social pressure under which the Africans received these influences of Christianity, their development was necessarily partial and one-sided, cramped and abnormal. (Ibid, pages 12-13)It is a shame that many African-American youths are being misled about Islam by some Afrocentric scholars at a critical time in African-American history when the purifying aspects of Islam are desperately needed in the African-American community -- especially amongst the youth.
In this whole story of the so-called 'Arab slave trade' the truth has been strangely twisted. (The World and Africa, page 68)Dubois further says,
Gao, Timbuktu, and Jenne were intellectual centers, and at the University of Sankore gathered thousands of students of law, literature, grammar, geography and surgery...From this Africa a new cultural impulse entered Europe and became the Renaissance. (Ibid, pp. 211 & 223).Contrast the above praise of the religion of Islam with his observations on Church-Christianity:
Modern slavery was created by Christians, it was continued by Christians, it was in some respects more barbarous than anything the world had yet seen, and its worst features were to be witnessed in countries that were most ostentatious in their parade of Christianity. (Ibid, page 44)
In short, the Negro was discriminated against in no phase of Mohammedan life oil the ground of color alone. Islam was the greatest and freest of all great melting pots. (Sex and Race, p. 108)If Islam had been so harmful to African people, would not this incredibly gifted and prolific scholar have revealed this to the African peoples of the world? He was a man of world-class scholarship who was a genius of world history and the history of the African diaspora.
As in other parts of the world, literacy in Africa was connected with religion, so that in Islamic countries it was a Koranic education...Moslem education was particularly extensive at the primary level, and it was also available at the secondary and university levels. In Egypt there was the Al-Azhar University, in Morocco the university of Fez, and in Mall the University of Timbuktu -- all testimony to the standard of education achieved in Africa before the colonial intrusion. (How Europe Underdeveloped Africa, page 240)This Afrocentric Marxist scholar and hard-nosed Pan-Africanist, in the above reference, praises the high level of university education made available by Muslims to the African people before the Christian colonisation of Africa. If Islam had been so detrimental to African people, would this great Pan-Africanist Marxist social, political, and economic analyst have praised Islam for its role in uplifting the African peoples?
Contrast the above praise of Islam with Rodney's appraisal of the role of Christianity amongst African people:
Christianity tried sporadically and ambivalently to make an impact on some parts of the continent. But most of the few missionaries in places like the Congo, Angola, and Upper Guinea concentrated on blessing Africans as they were about the be launched across the Atlantic into slavery...Elsewhere, there flourished Islam and other religions which had nothing to do with European trade. (Ibid, p. 114)Here Dr. Waiter Rodney places the blame for chattel slavery squarely on the shoulders of Europeans. And he says that 'Islam and other religions...had nothing to do with European trade.' Yet, some Afrocentric scholars claim that 'Islam enslaved African people.'
The Mohammadan religion also had participated in the suppression of slave trade. About six years before, the Sharif of Mecca had sent a letter to the King of Fulas for circulation through all these 'Mandingo' tribes, strictly prohibiting the selling of slaves -- and which latter was also promulgated among the Yorubas, Fulanis and other neighboring tribes. The slave traffic was declared to be contrary to the teachings of Muhammad (On whom Be Peace) which pronounce the most fearful denunciations of Allah's wrath in the world hereafter against those who persist in the traffic with the European nations. (Sierra Leone Studies, pgs. 18-19, Vol. No. XXI, 939)Here we see that a religious authority of Islam at that time, the Sharif of Mecca, actually and officially wrote letters to the West-African tribes, particularly the Muslim tribes, instructing them that the slave trade was strictly prohibited according to the religion of Islam, and that anyone participating in it would have 'Allah's wrath in the world hereafter.'
But, while the religious authority on Islam at that time condemned the slave trade, the highest religious authority of Christianity -- the Pope -- officially approved of and sanctioned the slave trade. This is recorded in Lady Southern's book, The Gambia, on page 50:
On the other side of the reckoning there is, however, the fact that the advent of the Portuguese was a calamity for Africa. It was Prince Henry's men who first brought back slaves from Africa to Europe, in the first instance from Morocco and later from West Coast. The first Negroes brought to Europe were presented to the Pope, who set his seal of approval on the traffic in human souls as being a means of saving souls. Thus the foundations were laid of the trade that brought untold sufferings to hundreds of thousands of men and women, deprived them of their birthright, depopulated West Africa and perpetrated a crime amongst humanity... (The Gambia, page 50)This shameful fact that the Pope sanctioned slavery was attested to by Pope John Paul II himself when, a number of years ago, he went to Africa and formally apologised to the African people for the slave trade and other crimes against the African people. This was broadcast on the major news media of the world. But in Islam, leading religious authorities at the time condemned this terrible crime against the African peoples. Yet, certain Afrocentric scholars perpetuate the lie that 'Islam enslaved African people, defying the recorded works of history itself.
Long before he was commissioned by Allah to be a prophet, he fought for the poor, the weak and the slaves. When he was a young man he had formed an organisation in Arabia which was dedicated to the poor, the weak, and the freeing of slaves.
When he was older Muhammad (sa) became a great merchant, often going on long caravans to buy and sell merchandise. Once a rich woman named Khadijah had heard about Muhammad's success. She sent word to him through a servant, asking him to lead a caravan for her. Muhammad (sa) led the caravan and with great monetary success. Khadijah was so impressed by this that she sent word to Muhammad (sa) through a servant, asking Muhammad (sa) to marry her. He agreed to marry her, but on one condition that she free her slaves.
This shows that even before Islam was revealed to Muhammad (sa) by God, he hated and fought against slavery. And after he became a prophet, his fight against slavery continued. As I mentioned earlier, Zaid Bin Thabit was the literate African man who recorded the Holy Qur'an for Prophet Muhammad (sa). It is also interesting to note that one of the Holy Prophet Muhammad's beloved and respect wives was an African-Egyptian woman named Maryam.
History shows that a very small clique of gangster Arabs became involved in the slave trade centuries after the Europeans had been involved in the slave trade for several centuries. The involvement of this these Arabs had its beginning and ending in the 19th century.
The participation of this tiny minority was nothing compared to the massive and centuries-long participation played by the European Christians. In fact, W.E.B Dubois, on page 68 of his book, The World and Africa said that the tiny gangster Arab participation was a 'secondary result' of the American and British slave trade. He says that it was 'based on American demand for ivory'. So these rogue and immoral Arabs were nothing more than a fluke amongst the many pious Arabs who brought Islam south of the Sahara, and who treated the African people as equals, and whom the African people warmly welcomed as their brothers. These are the facts of history.
So it appears that certain Afrocentric scholars have been duped by the old Christian 'Orientalists' who wanted to wash the bloody hands of Euro-Christianity from its responsibility for the institutions of the slave trade by blaming a few rogue Arab gangsters for the entire centuries-long activity.
As an aside, I must state at this point that I am not being 'anti-Christian' in my remarks. I am being historical. For it was Pope Nicholas V who, in his Papal Bull of 1454, told Afonso V, King of Portugal, that by papal or Apostolic authority, Portugal seek, capture, and subjugate Saracens, pagans and other non-believers and enemies of Christ. Africans were perceived as pagans and non-believers.
Dr. Ivan Van Sertima is the 'Renaissance Man' of modern Afrocentrism. This man is a world-renowned archeologist, botanist, chemist, historian, etc. Though not a Muslim, he suggests that African Muslims sailed to America centuries before Columbus arrived. One of those was an African named Abubakr the Second. The reader can find this information in his book, They Came Before Columbus. He says,
I think it should also be pointed out, contrary to myths about the Muslims, that they did not force their religion down the throats of the Christians. John Jackson, in an informative chapter on the Moors, in his book Introduction to African Civilizations, shows us how Christian, Jew and Muslim were treated with equal respect during the dynasty of the Ummayads. We have been given no evidence that this changed dramatically in later Muslim dynasties. (Golden Age of the Moor, pp. 18-33)This shows that even when Muslims went abroad and conquered Christian Spain, they continued their tradition of tolerance and freedom of religion, allowing Christians and Jews to freely practice their religions.
The painful fact of history reveals the following: That while the African people of the diaspora certainly are brothers and sisters genetically, the fact is that the tribes of the coastal areas were intimately involved as slavers against their own people. This is the truth. Of course, this activity was wholly inspired by Europeans.
The Europeans had been looking for allies against the Muslims, and they found them in the coastal tribes of West Africa. These coastal tribes strongly participated in the slave trade along with the European slavers. But it was the African Muslims who lived further within the interior of Africa -- inland around the Niger and Chad rivers in the regions of Timbuktu, Jenne and Gao -- who fought against this trade and who actually provided sanctuary for those Africans of the coast who would run inland to the African Muslims for protection against the European slavers and some of their own brothers who had, unfortunately, become slavers. Many Afrocentrists are so embittered with the European slavery that they want to paint African people as a perfect group of human beings who were merely victims of the 'white man and Arab's' greed. They hate to admit the truth of what both European scholars and honest Afrocentric scholars know: that Africans themselves were intimately involved in the horrid slave trade. As Basil Davidson explains:
The history of the Guinea Coast between about 1550 and 1850 is increasingly and continuously the history of an international partnership in risk and profit. So it is wrong to consider the Guinea experience as one that was simply ordered and imposed from outside, with the African part in it a purely negative and involuntary one. This view of the connection mirrors a familiar notion of African capacity, and it has no place in the historical record. Those Africans who were involved in the trade were seldom the helpless victims of a commerce they did not understand; on the contrary, they understood it as well as their European partners. They responded to its challenge. They exploited its opportunities. Their great misfortune -- and this would be Africa's tragedy -- was that Europe only wanted slaves. (Black Mother, pp. 201-202)Some Afrocentric scholars would cast Mr. Davidson's assessment as 'the lies of the white man.' But Dr. John Henrik Clarke (a noted African-American Afrocentrist who does not favour Islam) said of Mr. Davidson that he
..brings to the study of African history astute research and new insights into an old subject. (Introduction to African Civilizations, by John Henrik Clarke, p. 366)So, as painful as the above is to the Afrocentric idealist, the fact is that non-Muslim Africans themselves participated in the slave trade against their own people.
Contrast the above with Mr. Davidson's observations on the role of Arabs in the slave trade:
Some European writers, possibly out of an understandable but quite unhistorical conviction that 'Europe should not bear all the blame,' have tended to equate the Asian-Arab trade with the European trade, or even to portray the first as much larger than the second...This argument will not bear examination. There is not a shred of evidence that the Indian Ocean trade ever carried, or could have carried, a tithe of the slaves that were taken across the Atlantic...The clinching fact is that the eastern world...never knew an economic situation which could have used captive labor on the scale of the Caribbean and American mines and plantations. [Ibid, p. 80]
Zaid bin Thabit - Recorder of the Holy Qur'an. He was a 'Hafiz', meaning that he had committed the entire Holy Qur'an to memory.
Bilal Ibn Rabah - He was the first treasurer of the Islamic world. He was also the first 'Muezzin', or person in charge of reciting the call to prayer He was chosen by Prophet Muhammad (sa) as one of the main representatives of Islam.
Tarik Bin Ziyad - African Muslim general who, in the year 711, led the eventual Muslim conquest of Spain. Muslim rule of Spain lasted approximately 800 years.
Leo Africanus - His real name was Al-Hassan ibn Muhammad al-Wazzani, and he was re-named Leo Africanus by Pope Leo X in 1512 A.D. Leo was captured by Christians and given to the Pope as a 'gift'. He became a great explorer and writer. He wrote the book, History and Description of Africa, which for two solid centuries provided much information on Africa to travellers there.
Muzaffar Ahmad Zafr - Dr. Muzaffar Ahmad Zafar became the U.S. Naib Amir (Vice-President) of the world-wide Ahmadiyya Movement In Islam, and held that position for many years all the way until his death. This remarkable man rose from humble origins (a story partially similar to that of Malcolm X) to earn a Ph.D. in Public Administration. He became the head of the most successful drug-rehabilitation program in the state of Ohio; the project was called Project Cure'. He became a world traveller and widely-known and respected expert in African history, often invited to colleges around the U.S. to speak on various issues. He died recently in 1996.
Cheikh Anta Diop - Cheikh Anta Diop, whom I quoted in this article, is widely recognised as the premier scholar in Afrocentricity. But he was also a physicist and director of the Radiocarbon Laboratory in Dakar, Senegal. His most famous work is, The African Origin of Civilization. Dr. Diop was also a noted Egyptologist.