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