"Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed."

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

African American Muslims

So I'm moving on in the Journey Into America with Akbar Ahmed and his team. I found the chapter on the African American Muslim community of great interest.  I was struck over and over with how many of those interviewed initially were part of the Nation of Islam (NOI) joining Islam not for spiritual reasons, but political and social reasons as one man put it.  It was a joining of something to express their hate of their situation and the white people whom they understandably blamed. Often they saw Islam as the true, original religion of slaves forced to America from Africa and they wanted to embrace their historical religion and reject what they considered the white man's religion which was forced upon their ancestors. 

NOI, of course, doesn't embody the true teaching of orthodox Islam. They revere Elijah Muhammad way more than Muhammad the Arab prophet (or so it seemed to me!) and they didn't encourage any sort of understanding between the races. In fact Ahmed noted there was some talk that the KKK had actually funded some NOI stuff because of their shared common goal of keeping the races separate!  NOI and KKK...how's that for strange bedfellows?

Thankfully many NOI members initially became mainstream Sunni Muslims and sought to have better relationships with whites.  I'm glad. The NOI's Yakub - the mad scientist - was a little freaky, what with his tinkering with genetics and creating the devilish white race, those blue-eyed monsters! 

I enjoyed reading of the teams travels throughout the country especially to the coastal region of Georgia where a Christian lady told of her Muslim ancestor who was known as Bilali. He had come to America as a slave. Mr. Ahmed was able to tell her the story of Bilal the slave from prophet Muhammad's time so she would understand the connection to her own ancestor's name and story.  Many black people remembered grandmothers who would shun pork and cover their hair and wash their arms and feet and such that Muslims do before prayers.

The testimonies of how Islam saved many people made me feel glad for them.  It's no secret that the black community has its problems. Everyone does, but it seems disproportionately black youth and men especially are in prisons and children are born out of wedlock more than they are born to married parents.  This means many black children are raised in poverty and drug abuse and gangs absorb many of them.  Yet I saw where finding Islam helped many of them. With its rules and highly structured way of life, Islam told them to do this, do that, don't do this and it has essentially stepped into the parental role.

Perhaps in a way, God had become a Heavenly Father to them.  Something - a person, a system to give structure - they were lacking in their own houses.

Wherever they went throughout the country Ahmed and his team asked what was the greatest threat to America. He had shared in an earlier chapter that ignorance, lack of education and loss of civil liberties were the most common replies. When asking the black community, the greatest threats to America tended to be "white people" and issues pertaining to racism and the "unwillingness to part with the notion of white privilege."

I was introduced to many African American imams, the two Washington politicians (one reared Catholic, the other Baptist, but went to a Catholic school) and some entertainers. Must say that I never heard that Snoop Dogg was Muslim before this book!  Did you know Mike Tyson cleaned the prayer rugs at a mosque as an act of piety?

Later I will share the major differences Ahmed observed in the African American Muslim community and the immigrant Muslim communities.

information from chapter 4


Lat said...

Very interesting! I've read on NOI before and some Islamic websites pointing it out as outside Islam.But that was a long time ago.I think now the leadership has changed right? Now the Imam wants inclusion of all.Got to check my notes here.

Now the KKK link to NOI is strange! Never heard of it!

Why didn't the slaves feel welcomed in the white man's religion? Did the author mentioned something of this? Islam being a religion of their tradition like the grandma taking ablution and so forth and called a historical religion is interesting.So they brought Islam with them from Africa or did they embrace it as a newfound religion in America.

Suroor said...

I knew v little about the NOI. Arab Muslims don't consider them as Muslim so we hear very little about them here.

Interesting post. I hope you will like the book in the end otherwise it was a bad present :)

Susanne said...

Lat, I'm glad you found this interesting. I certainly have loved this book much more than I imagined. It has really opened my eyes to my identity as an American, how it was shaped and how other people, other groups have been "welcomed" (or not.) :)

This chapter wasn't really about NOI completely except as it related to people interviewed and how they turned from Christianity to accept this political Islam due to their extreme hatred of their situation. Like I said in the post, I can see why they felt this way being oppressed. I think many were attracted to Islam's OKing of fighting oppressors as they have seen the white people oppressing them and they wanted God's sanctioning for fighting them. None of this Jesus stuff about loving their enemies.

Also "Christians" had used the Bible to keep them slaves...telling them sometimes that they were part of the race of Ham that God had cursed and they were supposed to be subservient to them. So that's partly why many of them thought of Christianity (misguided as these teachings may be to actually following Christ) as a white man's religion.

Many African Americans are Christians. In fact some of the biggest Jesus fans are black people in the South from my experience. :) But there are others who wanted to fight the oppressors and found Islam better suited that need in their lives.

Yes, some of them think the slaves were originally Muslim so they brought it with them to the US. I'm not sure if that is true or not. I've heard that Arabs were involved in slave trade and I assumed the Arabs were Muslims and wouldn't capture and sell their brothers and sisters in Islam. The slaves being animists/pagans and/or Christians..maybe they would not have minded so much. But that's me speculating. I guess some see their ancestors as Muslims and they wanted to go back to their heritage and become Muslims instead of embracing the religion of the white people (Christianity.)

It's all quite interesting really.

Susanne said...

Suroor, I love the book! In case you hadn't noticed it has been the topic of my last thousand posts! ;)

Actually the follow-up post compares AA Muslims and immigrant Muslims and your statement just made me wonder if part of the conflict is because immigrants think AA have been too influenced by NOI and, therefore, the AA "Islam" is tainted and to be looked on with suspicion..hhmmm. You should read my post on the contrasts Mr. Ahmed observed and tell me what you think.

Thank you both for your feedback!