Friday, February 25, 2011

The Questions

Robert Bauval discusses the questions we have stopped asking.

Friday, February 18, 2011

The Moors of Spain

The original Black Berbers, who were called Moors, were the North African ancestors of the present day dark brown/black people of the Sahara and Sahel, mainly those called Fulani, Tuareg, Sanhaja, Kunta, as well as the Trarza of Mauritania and Senegal, and various tribes presently living in Chad, Morocco and Algeria.

Tariq ibn Ziyad, a commander of the Moorish army led the first conquest into Spain by Muslims in 711 A.D. On April 30, 711, Tariq landed on the Spanish Coast with 7,000 troops. His troops consisted of 300 Arabs and 6,700 native Africans (Moors). An early source, Ibn Husayn (ca. 950), recorded that these troops were "Sudanese", an Arabic word for Black people.

He seized a great cliff and an area surrounding it and there established a fortress. This cliff was called Gibraltar - from the Arabic Jibal Tariq (mountain of Tariq). Toledo, Spain was actually handed over to the invading Tariq by the Jews of that city who, like many other people of Spain, saw Tariq and his troops as deliverers from the tyranny of the Visigoths.

When the Arab rulers later arrived, the hardest part of the job had been done. Instead of treating the Moors fairly, the Arabs assigned themselves the most fertile regions. The dissatisfied Moors were not long in coming to blows with the Arabs. (The History of Spain by Louis Bertrand and Sir Charles Petrie - published by Eyre & Spottiswood, London, 1945, page 36). Ultimately, the Moors acquired two-thirds of the peninsula, which they named Al-Andulus.

Al -Andulus had been obliged to pay tribute to the Arab Caliph (King) of Damascus, but as Al-Andulus acquired its own identity, its bond with the Caliph began to weaken. In 756, Al-Andulus proclaimed itself an independent state. Thus, its only links to the Arabs would be the Islamic faith and the Arabic language.

In Spain, the Moors would build one of the most beautiful and astonishing civilizations in history. Moorish culture was a composite culture as the Moors acquired knowledge from both East and West. Because Islamic Civilization was a complex of many different nations and cultures, the Moors were able to draw knowledge from the science and philosophy of ancient Egypt, Cush, Akkad, Hebrews and Greeks and learn from the contemporary cultures of China, India and Persia. Eventually, Moorish Spain became a cultural and intellectual Mecca where all the great manuscripts and learned texts were collected, translated and classified, and where scholars from far and wide could gather to study them.
The Moors developed farming, the arts, sciences and beautiful cities with magnificent buildings, gardens, streets and a culture and civilization far surpassing that of the rest of Europe at that time. The city of Cordoba, under their administration, had more than 200,000 houses and over a million inhabitants. At night, one could walk through it in a straight line, along paved streets, for ten miles by the light of public lamps. Seven hundred years after this time there was not as much as one lamp in London. According to one historian, Cordoba had 471 mosques, 70 libraries and 300 public baths. There were upwards of 80,000 shops. Water from the mountains was distributed through every corner and quarter of the city by leaden pipes into basins of different shapes, made of the purest gold, the finest silver, or brass plates as well as into pools and fountains. The houses of Cordoba were air conditioned in summer by, “ingeniously arranged draughts of fresh air drawn form the garden over beds of flowers, chosen for their perfume, warmed in winter by hot air conveyed through pipes embedded into the walls.
The Moors had been able to create a harmony in the rhythms of life in the city and the countryside. They kept the surrounding countryside fertile and productive with advanced drainage and irrigation systems, reservoirs, aqueducts, sophisticated storage facilities and efficient marketing and trading networks. The Moors also brought the countryside into their cities with fantastic gardens, parks, lush inner courtyards and a constant supply of pure water.
In the field of science the Moors also made terrific advances.

"This is a crucial period in the history of world civilization that many historians have intentionally glossed over. "

However, some did not. Robert Briffault writing in the Making of Humanity, explained:

The debt of our science to that of the Arabs does not consist in startling discoveries or revolutionary theories, science owes a great deal more to Arab culture, it owes its existence. The astronomy and mathematics of the Greeks were a foreign importation never thoroughly acclimatized in Greek culture. The Greeks systematized, generalized and theorized, but the patient ways of investigation, the accumulation of positive knowledge, the minute method of science, detailed and prolonged observation and experimental inquiry were altogether alien to the Greek temperament. What we call science arose in Europe as a result of a new spirit of inquiry, of new methods of experiment, observation, measurement, of the development of mathematics, in a form unknown to the Greeks. That spirit and those methods were introduced into the European world by the Arabs (Moors).
Arabic poetry was crafted, above all, for recital and song. Its lyric forms, zajal and muwashshah, some say, inspired the first ballads of the European troubadors. The soul-stirring adagios of cante jondo, the deep song of Gypsy flamenco, still trace moods and rhythms to this lost age.

Miles Davis: "The Black Moors were over there in Spain because Africans had conquered Spain a long time ago. In the Andalusian area you have alot of African influence in the music, architecture and in the whole culture...So you had a black African thing up in the feeling of the music in the bagpipes, trumpets and drums."-From "Miles: The Autobiography".

The civilization of the Moors created an intellectual climate that served as a beacon for Europe, when Europe stumbled in darkness. The Islamic Scholars brought the works of Dynastic Egyptian and Classical Greek back to Europe by translating into Arabic the Greek texts of Aristotle, Plato, Ptolemy, Euclid, Galen, Hippocrates and others. They analyzed and improved upon these works, drawing from their wide-ranging intellectual experiences and observations in the vast territories they ruled.
Professor Thomas T. Hamilton of Old Dominion University made this point clearly when he stated:

"Between the middle of the Eighth and the beginning of the Thirteenth centuries, the Arabic Speaking people (Moors) were the main bearers of the torch of civilization throughout the world, and were the medium through which ancient science was recovered, supplemented and transported through Africa, Spain, Sicily in such a way as to make the Renaissance possible."

Toledo, Cordova and Seville were the centers of Moorish culture and science. Students from many countries in Western Europe would visit the Moor’s Universities to learn mathematics and astronomy. After Toledo fell in 1085, to Castilian forces, this city became the focus of a major translation effort, where teams of translators translated thousands of texts from Arabic into Latin. By 1200, Europe had recovered much of ancient science as well as appropriating several centuries of scientific, medical and philosophical works written by Muslim scholars.

The Christian kingdoms in the north started gradually to "reconquer" Spain.
The so-called Reconquista - a seven-and-a-half century long process by which Catholic Christians conquered the Iberian peninsula (modern Portugal and Spain), eliminated the Muslim and Moorish states of Al-√Āndalus. It was not really a "Reconquest" since Spain had never been Catholic - the Visigothic brand of Christianity had been Arian.

On January 2, 1492, the last Muslim ruler, Abu 'abd Allah Muhammad XII surrendered to Queen Isabella of Castile and King Ferdinand II of Aragon. Ferdinand and Isabella now ruled Granada.
1492 was a pivotal date. Secure in its borders Spain now funded sea expeditions such as that of Christopher Columbus the same year. Following the Christian victory, Muslims and Jews were given a choice of exile, conversion or death. So many left that within a few years the economy would collapse.

Most Muslims and Jews were forced to either convert to Christianity or leave Spain and Portugal and have their assets seized. Many Muslims and Jews moved to North Africa rather than submit to forced conversion. The Christian hierarchy demanded heavy taxes and gave them nominal rights, but only in heavily Islamic regions, such as Granada, until their own power was sufficient, and the influence of the Inquisition strong enough, to make further expulsion both possible and economically feasible.

Seven hundred years of Moorish influence left an unmistakable mark on Spain, making it markedly different even today from the rest of Western Europe. The Moors not only brought their religion, but also their music, their art, their view of life, and their architecture.

Monday, February 14, 2011

The Baobab Tree

Wisdom is like a baobab tree,
no one individual can embrace it.
- African proverb

The Baobab Tree is a symbol of the strength of Africa.

The Baobab is unusual in that it is close to 90% water, and swells up after the rains. It is therefore a tree that mirrors a human being and the earth, which are also comprised of 90% water.

The word Baobab means "the time when man began", a time when all man was one, as our journey home is a return to this state of being - oneness with other human beings and with nature.

In the African sense, this is expressed as ubuntu, which translates to the communual spirit of coming together to achieve something. This is the wisdom behind this African proverb, that through the community, we can eventually take hands and embrace the wisdom that is there and that is shared by so many members of our people.

"I have been forced to rethink our efforts to force God to be what we "know" God to be, without allowing God to manifest God's self in multifarious ways. It has become clear to me that our inability to live with differences is a measure of our limited knowledge (arms too short to embrace the totality of the baobab tree of truth)..."
- Kofi Asare Opoku, Lafayette College

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Egypt, Looting, Kemet and Dhu'l Nun

'Egypt Protests See Cairo Museum Looted as Artefacts and Mummies Are Damaged'

With the unrest in Egypt continuing over the weekend, the Egyptian Museum in Cairo is now "under military guard" (AP) in response to an attempted looting late Friday.

According to reports, nine men infiltrated the museum, decapitating two 3300-year-old mummies and damaging about 100 other artifacts. When the men were apprehended later that night, they were allegedly still carrying the skulls and a statue of Isis (TIME). Ultimately, nothing was stolen, but damage to the artifacts is still being assessed.

It's hard not to question the mentality of Arabs or muslims who
historically treat the civilizaton of Ancient Kemet with such disrespect.
Is it Islam that does this? As black people we can't be mislead by broad labels and generalizations.
Islam as we know it today is often confused with the spirituality of Muhammad and the prophets, a spirituality undefined and unable to be confined by religious law, tradition and dogma. (Keep in mind that the same ruling Umayyad forces that conquered Egpyt in 639 A.D., also killed the Prophet Muhammad's beloved grandsons, poisoning one and mutilating the body of another.)

Whether this attitude exists as a matter of orthodox faith or ethnic pride is difficult to determine, however it does not follow that an appreciation or understanding of Islam (peace) is or should be at odds with appreciating and understanding the spirituality of Kemet.

It is also necessary to know the history of Arab or islamic contact with Egpyt as well.

For the most part the early Islamic inhabitants in Egpyt admired the accomplishments of the great civilization they saw. A report that the Alexandrian library was burned by the Arab invaders during the 640s has been regarded as spurious by modern scholars. The fiction cannot be traced earlier than circa 1200, at a time when the trends in Islamic learning were changing for the worse, and the anti-scientific and anti-philosophical tendencies were mounting. The early administration of Islamic Egypt preserved the literary heritage of the country, including what had survived from the Alexandrian library, whose contents had been committed to the flames centuries before the coming of Islam.

The Abbasid Caliph (r. 813- 833)Al-Mamun genuinely patronised learning, and he perhaps wished to gaze upon the fabulous maps of celestial spheres said to exist in a secret chamber. Though his men were able to force their way into the "King's Chamber," of the Giza Pyramid, the monarch was evidently disappointed with the result.
Archaeologists have viewed Al-Mamun as commencing the habit of pillaging the Pyramids. Ancient monuments became a source for quarried stone, and the Giza Pyramids eventually lost their protective casing of limestone blocks, after an earthquake loosened the blocks. Those architectural components at Giza were appropriated by subsequent regimes and reused to construct the palaces of Mamluk and Ottoman Cairo. However, that was far in the future in the time of Dhu'l Nun, and he appears to have been genuinely concerned to understand the meaning of the resplendent architectural survivals visible along the banks of the Nile.

As once mentioned by late historian John Henrik Clarke, black people need to be in control of their own spirituality - no matter what form it takes.
Dhu'l Nun was a prime example of such a man.
He was born at Akhmim (Ikhmim) in Upper Egypt, an ancient town on the east bank of the Nile. In Pharaonic times, Akhmim was a temple center of the fertility god Min.

The Egyptian Muslim Dhu'l Nun traveled as an ascetic in Arabia, Palestine, and Syria. Dhu'l Nun was opposed by the Maliki jurists of Egypt prior to 829 CE, being condemned as a heretic for teaching on the subject of mystical experience.

According to Professor R. A. Nicholson, he "was a Copt or Nubian". His father Ibrahim was a Nubian who had converted to Islam, becoming a master (mawla) among the Quraysh tribe from which Muhammad himself descended. In brief, Dhu'l Nun was one of the Egyptian mawali, a native of the Nile valley who learned Arabic culture and language under Quraysh auspices.
Whatever the precise details of his parentage, his background milieu was substantially Coptic, and also featured architecture from the pre-Christian period. Akhmim had a history going back to the Pharaonic Old Kingdom era some three thousand years before. It is likely that Dhu'l Nun spoke Coptic in addition to Arabic. The Coptic language represented the final stage of Old Egyptian, being written in the Greek alphabet. The Copts were descendants of the dynastic Egyptians that later became converts to Christianity. The Pharaohs and their religion had blurred in the Coptic memory since the fifth century CE. (The French scholar Jean Francois Champollion (1790-1832)celebrated as the first man to decipher the hieroglyphic system, achieved this feat as a consequence of studying a granodiorite known as the Rosetta Stone. The knowledge of Coptic possessed by Champollion has been deemed the key factor in penetrating the phonetics of ancient Egyptian.)

Masudi (d. 957), an early Arab historian provides the first extant historical account of Dhu'l Nun, deriving information from the inhabitants of Akhmim during a visit made by the historian to this township. Masudi wrote:

"Dhu'l Nun al-Misri al-Akhmimi, the ascetic, was a philosopher who pursued a course of his own in religion. He was one of those who elucidate the history of these temple-ruins (barabi). He roamed among them [the temples] and examined a great quantity of figures and inscriptions." Dh'ul Nun was apparently not content with the conventional Arab disdain for the ancient "idol-worshippers". He found it evident that the inscriptions on ancient monuments were an index to the sciences of antiquity.
In the time of Dhu'l Nun, an ancient temple devoted to Min still existed at Akhmim. (Khem or Min, was the neter of reproduction; as Khnum, he was the creator of all things, "the maker of gods and men". As a god of fertility, he was shown as having black skin to reflect the fertile black mud of the Nile's inundation.) That edifice seems to have been of substantial size and in a good state of preservation; it may even have been as large as the Karnak temple complex so famous today. The Akhmim temple was not destroyed until the fourteenth century, the stone being used for local buildings.

The Tarikh al-Hukama (History of the Philosophers) is a compendium of Al-Qifti, and this states:

"He [Dhu'l Nun] professed the art of practical chemistry and alchemy and belongs to the same class as Jabir ibn Hayyan. He devoted himself to the science of the secrets (hidden phenomena -ilm u'l batin) and became proficient in many branches of philosophy (Hikma -wisdom). He used to frequent the ruined temple (barba) in Akhmim. And it is said that knowledge of the mysteries therein was revealed to him by the way of righteousness."

It has been noted by historian Reynold A. Nicholson that "Sufism has always been thoroughly eclectic," he observed, "absorbing and transmuting whatever 'broken lights' fell across its path, and consequently it gained adherents amongst men of the most opposite views." The sources credit Dhu'l Nun with a large number of disciples in tasawwuf (Sufism).

He was once asked "What is the end [objective] of the mystic?" The answer came: "When he is as he was, where he was, before he was."

Dhu'l Nun al-Misri remains one of the most fascinating figures in early Sufism.

* There is a recent claim that no mummies were actually harmed in the protests that have overwhelmed Egypt. Officials in Cairo said on Monday earlier reports that a pair of 2,000-year-old mummies had been damaged by looters were incorrect. "They were not mummies," Egypt's top archeologist Zahi Hawass told the BBC. They were just "two skulls taken outside from the CT scan machine." Daily News, 2/07/11.

Read more on Dhu'l Nun in "Inner Civilization: Redeveloping Black Culture and Civilization in America."

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Why Black History Month is a Joke

Why is it that year after year we participate willingly or unwillingly in black history month but overall our consciousness is hardly raised and our knowledge of self is barely deepened? We know something is wrong but can't quite put our finger on it.

The founder of Negro History Week, Carter G. Woodson was a Boule member and although he later woke up - he still maintained the limitation
 imposed upon boule members to this day; "do not venture beyond the scope of the United States or North America." (See article, "The Boule: Guides or Gatekeepers?" )

In other words, "you and your people's mentality belong to the U.S. or the white power structure." Garvey was a threat because he attempted to exceed that scope and connect black people to their homeland, culture and people, as did Malcolm X. Martin Luther King was considered acceptible until he broke this code and began to speak about matters outside of the boundaries of the United States. This was the same tactic used by America as a slave holding nation; "cut these Africans off from their pre-slavery history, their culture and from other peoples around the globe." The same approach is being employed when mainstream facilitators of black history month struggle to keep the scope of black history geographically and substantively narrow. This was pointed out by commentator Nefta Freeman below:

From Negro History Week to Pan-African Historical Context
February 7, 2008 · By Netfa Freeman

Black History Month must do more than emphasize the inspiring achievements of great individuals.

“A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots” - Marcus Garvey

"The need to once and for all embrace a reasonable and comprehensive interpretation of African history that inspires and uplifts Black people is evident when examining how Black History Month is celebrated in US culture. Like most other historic reflections, Black History Month is sanitized with stagnate and idealistic interpretations, aimed at removing the vital elements of historical struggle and revelation. Today it is customary during the month of February for media to make superficial sound bites about "African-American" pioneers in technology, sports, scholarship and anti-slavery activism.

While schools highlight leaders like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Harriet Tubman, Fredrick Douglas and several others, rarely is the celebration used to thoroughly reflect on the ethics, political vision, and philosophical insights of these leaders. Rarely does the celebration clarify the socio-political milieu in which they struggled and glean relevant lessons from historical context. Further, connections to Africa are generally severed at the Middle Passage, instead of recognizing the subsequent interconnections between the economic circumstances, cultural expressions, and political movements of African people. This is expected since it isn't difficult to see how knowledge of these connections conflict with a corporate capitalist culture that has effectively commercialized Black History Month as a means to advertise commodities. Nationwide Insurance airs a touching radio commercial that doesn't even offer history, but simply appeals to insure “personal Black history” by buying life insurance.

However, a proper examination of Black History Month must also take into account the laws of change and historical development to which everything is subject. In 1926, Dr. Carter Godwin Woodson, an African historian, writer, and educator, established Negro History Week to honor the contributions of African people in North America. For "historical clarity" African is being used by this author to refer to all people of African descent, whether they are born in North or South America, the Caribbean, Europe or any other part of the world. Born in 1875 to former slaves in New Canton, Virginia, the extent and scope to which the Harvard educated Dr. Woodson identified did not extend beyond North America. Woodson even chose the month of February for the observance of Negro History Week because the birthdays of abolitionist Frederick Douglass and US President Abraham Lincoln fall in this month. Regardless, Dr. Woodson contributed profoundly to our understanding that a better knowledge of history is critical for African people, at least in North America, to achieve greater pride, self-determination and collective progress. As go the laws of change, Negro History Week itself transformed. About fifty years later, near the close of the Black Power era (early 1970s), the celebration was renamed Black History Week and even later expanded to Black History Month in 1976. These changes reflected a progression in how African people throughout the world had come to identify.

Dr. Woodson insisted that history was not the mere gathering of facts or a chronology of events, but that the object of historical study is to arrive at a reasonable interpretation of the social conditions of the period being studied. Applying this objective to the social conditions in which Dr. Woodson lived reveals coexistence with the 1914 Garvey movement in the formation of the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) and the Black Star Line. The UNIA's movement, led by the Honorable Marcus Garvey, broadened the ideological scope for African people beyond the confines of birth-country and into the extensions of the Diaspora.

Marcus Garvey offered a more inclusive philosophy of how African people could identify, reflect and engage. Before the UNIA, the Pan-African movement found an earlier expression in 1900 at the first Pan-African Conference convened in London by Sylvester Williams. Since that first conference there have been seven subsequent Pan-African Congresses, the seventh taking place in Uganda in 1994.

Since the founding of Negro History Week, a host of positive and negative personalities, events and historical developments have transpired, affording African history instructive and dynamic lessons for humanity. More has also been learned about philosophies and methods of history. Nevertheless, the most instructive lessons are largely neglected. Black History Month must do more than emphasize the inspiring achievements of great individuals. It must also help in refining a historical philosophy and method of study that helps us understand the prevailing conditions of our time. Historical study should explain such phenomena as how young Africans from the Congo to Haiti, from urban neighborhoods in the USA to other parts of the world are armed and wreaking havoc on their own communities. It should be able to explain how a people from a continent that has spawned some of the greatest contributions to world civilization are, today, persistently plagued by apathy, disease, poverty and political disempowerment in communities around the world. Neglecting the history that connects Black experiences and struggles beyond the confines of a particular country renders Black History Month deficient and leaves room for the notion of African inferiority."

Netfa Freeman
IPS Events Coordinator