Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Islam, Black People and Slavery Pt. 1

In the last thirty years or so there has been a campaign to 'expose' Islam by highlighting the East African or Arab Slave trade and making it equivalent with Islam. This is, obviously a tactic used to smear and slander, but it is very effective. Obviously, Islam cannot be reduced to slavery, quite the same way black people or the whole of black experience cannot (and should not) be reduced to slavery. But, if any black person tries to, fully understand, explain, or put this affair in context, he is automatically said to be defending 'his Arab slave master'. No more history has to be investigated; no actual culprits named, no tribes, people, dynamics, motivations or even a causal connection between the teachings of Islam and the slave trade has to be made. 



Apparently all we need to know is that Arabs came from outside of the African continent, subjugated its inhabitants and put Africans in slavery. Period.  Our attitudes get locked in emotionally, and this narrow loop continues indefinitely. This is how myths are made. And even more sadly, this is how ignorance perpetuates and grows.


Such a narrative answers very few questions. How did over 70% of West Africa become Muslim? How did Somalia, which is 99% muslim, get into Islam? Why are Nubians, Sudanese and Fulani muslim? Why are countries in Africa like Djbouti, Niger,  Mali, Mauritania, Senegal all over 94% muslim? How long have they been this way? What is an Arab? What is slavery? What exactly is Islam? Is it even a religion? We have direct ancestors that arrived here on slave ships from Guinea, Gambia, Senegal, etc., who had been muslim going back over 900 years, why don't we know anything about them or their culture, or even care?

And here is the central question to ask: Did Islam, or the teachings of Islam condone the East African slave trade? If so, exactly which teachings?

One huge step towards true independence comes when we make up our minds to refuse to entertain any limiting beliefs, or refuse to embrace any approach that encourages us to dismiss or reject information - whatever the subject matter. We are a mature people, there's no information we can't handle. We should be able to take a step back from our emotions - survey any history, facts or subjects, analyze the data, process the information and then make balanced judgments that will help further our interests and deepen our understanding of the world and reality. If we can't do this, we might as well throw in the towel, right now, and accept servitude to the other peoples of the world who have developed their insight and perception this way.

This short article simply seeks to clarify a few basic matters.

What is Islam?

Ayé la bá ‘Màle
 Islam is as old as life
-From an African Yoruba saying.

Islam was never defined by Muhammad in the Qur'an but its roots and meaning go back many centuries before he existed. Muhammad never claimed to invent 'Islam' but rather he sought to make more explicit a reality which has always existed in human consciousness. If we were to ask what is the name of the faith and way of life of all the prophets, wise men, and sages of the world,  many may call it 'truth', 'righteousness',  or 'peace'.  Muhammad called it 'peace' (salaam). It cannot be invented by a person. This truth or reality has always been here and will always be here. It is only our perception of it that changes, based upon language, time, place and depth of understanding.


This concept existed going back to at least 1700 B.C.  (S-L-M) The root meaning translates to "whole, safe, intact, free (of evils of any kind), reconciled (with)". The same root and meaning appears in Ge'ez: ሰላም S-L-M. (Ge'ez is an ancient Ethiopian/South Arabian language). The same root word appears in ancient Hebrew. From Strong's concordance: Peace- salam/salem/shalam = to be safe, sound, healthy, perfect, complete. It signifies a sense of well-being and harmony both within and without; - completeness, wholeness, peace, health, welfare, safety, fullness, rest, harmony.

Jesus was called "the Prince of (Salam) Peace... رئيس السلام"

The name 'Solomon' is also a derivative of this word, from שָׁלוֹם (shalom, “peace”).

Keep in mind this is somewhat different than the meaning we are familiar with, currently. 'Peace' in English is derived from the latin 'Pax' which means the cessation of violence and was meant to designate the short periods between the many Roman wars. 

 In English, the word "peace" conjures up a passive picture, one showing an absence of civil disturbance or hostilities, or a personality free from internal and external strife. However, the ancient African and Middle Eastern verb root-'slm' conveys both a dynamic and a static meaning 1)"to be complete or whole" and also 2) "to live well." 

Psalms 34:14
"Depart from evil, and do good; seek (slm) peace, and pursue it."

Isaiah 32:17
"And the work of righteousness shall be (slm) peace; and the effect of righteousness quietness and assurance for ever."

Luke 1:79
 "...To give light to them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into 'the way of (slm)' peace."

 Muhammad spoke of Islam in terms of 'diyn'* meaning 'way of conduct',  judgment, self governance. *(Diyn has been mistranslated as religion). So in other words, his teachings were about 'the way of peace', or the way towards developing judgment, balance, peace, harmony and wholeness.

Qur'an 5:16
 "Allah guides those who seek his pleasure to ways of peace, and brings them forth out of darkness into light by his leave, and he guides them to a straight path." 


It has been said that Islam came to Africa and subjugated black people.
Obviously, "wholeness, or wellness"couldn't have come into Africa and have subjugated or enslaved black people. 

So what is meant by Islam in this context? There are additional meanings of Islam that we have to be aware of.  It's important for our understanding to distinguish between the way of life of peace, wellness and wholeness as taught by Muhammad and the wise sages of the ancient past,  and Islam in its contemorary usage. 'Islam' can currently mean all of the trappings, material artifacts, scholarly pronouncements, and the multitude of traditions attached and associated with the 'Islam' Muhammad tried to name. Islam can also refer to any history that took place in North Africa and the Middle East for the past fourteen hundred years. Any history. The Caliphate, domed Mosques, dhikr beads, Shariah Law, the Islamic conquests, the Islamic Empire, fundamentalism, Sunnism,  Shi'ism, Orthodox Islam, Hadith literature, the Star and crescent, the Ulema, etc., are all associated with Islam but did not exist during the prophet Muhammad's time and were not part of his teachings. 
So a distinction should be made between Islam and 'Islamic History' or the 'Islamic Empire'; they are related but they are not the same. This becomes more clear as we look at the difference between Muhammad's teachings on slavery and the East African Slave Trade.'

What was Muhammad's and the Qur'an's view on slavery?


Before Muhammad's time in Arabia, free men and women would be taken into slavery because of debt, by the whim of powerful tribal chiefs, by powerful fathers who sometimes sold their children,  through kidnapping and slave raids,  and as prisoners or war.

Muhammad spoke out and ended all of these practices with one restricted exception, the faithful were allowed to take prisoners of war in defensive wars only; (the Qur'an forbids any form of military aggression.)   
This was an old custom also practiced throughout Africa. The idea was that instead of killing those who lost the war, their lives would be ransomed as a debt to be paid off by service. Once the debt was paid off, the person was to be integrated into society. This was a more humane approach and minimized senseless killing.


"In Islam the principle is based on freedom and not slavery. Historical researches show that a step by step policy adopted in early Islam to depreciate the phenomenon of slavery gradually so its effects and consequences would not disturb the society. On the other side, regarding the non-existence of the prison organization in early Islam, because in wars there was no specific organization for protection of captives and prisoners, therefore this responsibility was distributed among people who were mostly rich in the society by sale of captives to them."

 'Slavery in Islam: An Islamic Sufi Approach' Bijan Bidabad1 Mehdi Tabatabaei.

Additionally, there was pressure to free any other slaves. 

This was made clear in the Qur'an.

"But he hath not attempted the Ascent -
And what will make you comprehend what the ascent is?
(It is) freeing the slave."
[Qur'an 90:10-14].

Narrated Abu Huraira:

The Prophet said, "Whoever frees a believing slave, Allah will save all the parts of his body from the (Hell) Fire as he has freed the body-parts of the slave." 

"Righteousness is not turning your faces towards the east or the west. Righteous are those who believe in God, the Last Day, the angels, the scripture, and the prophets; and they give the money, cheerfully, to the relatives, the orphans, the needy, the traveller, the beggars, and to free the slaves..." [Qur'an 2:177].





Our next issue is treatment of the slaves, or rather captives.
Here it becomes important to define slavery. As noted above, during Muhammad's time, 'slavery' was a process designed to integrate prisoners of war back into society. In America, as black people, when we hear the word slavery it triggers thoughts of murder, rape, torture, dehumanization, absolute control, the selling away of children, and exploitation. 

But if we look at Muhammad's instructions as to the treatment of "slaves", we see the description of a different kind of relationship. 


Man from the Banu Hawazin tribe considered to be the descendants of Hawazin son of Mansur son of Ikrimah son of Khasafah son of Qays ʿAylān son of Mudar son of Nizar son of Ma'ad son of Adnan son of Aa'd son of U'dud son of Sind son of Ya'rub son of Yashjub son of Nabeth son of Qedar son of Ishmael, or Ishmaelites, son of Abraham. The Hawazin were pastoral nomads that inhabited the steppes between Mecca and Medina during Muhammad's time.


These are his words: “Your servants and your slaves are your brothers. Anyone who has slaves should give them from what he eats and wears. He should not charge them with work beyond their capabilities. If you must set them to hard work, in any case I advise you to help them.”


Source: Bukhari, Iman, 22; Adab, 44; Muslim, Iman, 38–40; Abu Dawud, Adab, 124


“Not one of you should [ when introducing someone ] say ‘This is my slave’ , ‘This is my concubine’. He should call them ‘my daughter’ or ‘my son’ or ‘my brother’.”

Source: Ibn Hanbal, Musnad, 2 ,4



"If anyone separates mother from her child then Allah will separate him on the Day of Resurrection from his dear ones. Sayyidina Abu Ayyub reported that Allah’s Messenger ﷺ said."
-[Ahmed 23558]


"(Show) kindness unto parents, and unto near kindred, and orphans, and the needy, and unto the neighbour who is of kin (unto you) and the neighbour who is not of kin, and the fellow-traveller and the wayfarer and (the slaves) whom your right hands possess."

Qur'an 4:36.



Samurah (RAA) narrated that The Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) said:
“Whoever kills his slave we shall kill him, and whoever cuts the nose of his slave we shall cut off his nose.” Related by Ahmad and the four lmams. At-Tirmidhi graded it as Hasan. Abu Dawud and An-Nasa’i added the following, “and whoever castrates his slave we shall castrate him.” Al-Hakim graded this addition as Sahih.
The concern for the respectful treatment of human beings even in servitude traces all the way back to Ancient Kemet. It is written in the many of the 42 negative confessions. 

(From the Papyrus of Nu, Brit. Mus. No. 10477, Sheet 22)

"I have not vilified a slave to his master. 
I have not [attempted] to direct servants. Or ( I have not domineered over slaves)."

Muhammad also spoke out against the slave trade or the institution of trading in slaves. 
"The worst of men is he who sells men."
~Muhammad.

[Related by Jabir Ibn Abdallah.
The Anti-slavery Reporter, June 1884, p.135]

Muhammad was aware that the kidnapping, sale and mistreatment of human beings amounts to oppression, which he also spoke against, plainly: 

"As for that Abode of the Hereafter We assign it unto those who seek not oppression in the earth, nor yet corruption. The sequel is for those who ward off (evil)."
HQ 28:83

Allah’s Apostle (pbuh) said, “Help your brother, whether he is an oppressor or he is an oppressed one. People asked, “O Allah’s Apostle! It is all right to help him if he is oppressed, but how should we help him if he is an oppressor?” The Prophet said, “By preventing him from oppressing others.”
 Volume 3, Book 43, Number 624:Sahih Bukhari.










So what happened?
Put simply, after Muhammad died, some of his followers, seized power for themselves, killed and marginalized his family (Ali, Fatimah, Hasan and Husayn), subdued by force all of the Arabs on the Peninsula who opposed them and launched a series of aggressive military campaigns, even though the Qur'an only allows fighting in self defense. (Muhammad only fought defensive battles). The result was 'the Islamic Empire' stretching from Portugal and Spain across North Africa to as far as India. The kindness, dignity, peace and respect that Muhammad taught still managed to exist, but it existed within the larger framework of this Empire. And it was the Empire that developed the slave trade in violation of Muhammad's teachings. Specifically, in one of the great ironies of history, it was Mu'awiyah I, the son of  Abu Sufyan, Muhammad's and Islam's sworn enemy, who took control of power in 661 A.D., built a powerful Dynasty for his family the Umayyads and they authoritatively controlled the Islamic world for almost one hundred years. The Umayyads built an expansive worldly kingdom all too often at the expense of spiritual concerns - a development that disturbed many of the faithful Muslims. They were seen as "tyrannical, anti-Islamic and godless".  In fact, the Umayyad caliphate is often referred to as the first secular state in the world.   [Umayyad dynasty/Islamic History Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 2017-03-26.]
As noted by this scholar:
"The mutilation of the human body was also explicitly forbidden by Mohammad, and the institution which flourished both in the Persian and the Byzantine empires was denounced in severe terms. Slavery by purchase was unknown during the reigns of the first four Caliphs,  'the legitimate Caliphs' as they are called by the Sunnis. There is, at least, no authentic record of any slave having been acquired by purchase during their tenure of office. But with the accession of the usurping house of Ummayya a change came over the spirit of Islam. Mu'awiyah was the first Muslim sovereign who introduced into the Islamic world the practice of acquiring slaves by purchase. He was also the first to adopt the Byzantine custom of guarding his women by eunuchs. We see that the earnest attempt of Islam to stop its followers from acquiring new slaves was foiled by family of Umayyah." 
[Ameer Ali, Muhammadan Law, vol. 2, pp. 31-2.]

Ultimately, this empire expanded and created the great demand for slaves and servants. 

What did black people have to do with all of this?
First, it should be understood that Muslims enslaved as many  Europeans as they did Africans (possibly even more). Europeans don't like to discuss this point, but it's true. (This also accounts for the lightening up of the complexion of many Arabs over the centuries.) At this time it's important to understand what an Arab is.  'Arab' is not a race, or an ethnicity. There are a number of ethnic groups that have resided in the Arabian peninsula and an even larger number of ethnic groups who are considered Arab based on the definition of 'Arab" as a language group rather than a race of people. For example the Original Arabs were black, Cushitic Bejas or Ethiopian. They crossed over the Red Sea and settled on the peninsula in ancient times. Later, northern, more pale people migrated south and became Arabized by the darker, original Arabs. The Arabic language itself is part of the Afroasiatic language family (along with Amharic and Ancient Egyptian) and originated in the region of Ethiopia. In fact, in Arabic, the root word for 'black', 'aswad' means chief, lord, master. Muhammad was from the Hijaz, the southwest region of Arabia, closest culturally and geographically to Nubia and Ethiopia.
See, https://www.africaresource.com/rasta/sesostris-the-great-the-egyptian-hercules/the-original-black-african-arabs-of-arabia-part-1/


Nevertheless, the image we get is of pale Arabs invading and Africa, taking slaves and forcibly converting the African people by the sword. What is often said is that the Arabs or "Islam" invaded Africa, but what's never made clear unless one goes beyond this superficial view, is that these Arabs were at war with the Byzantine Empire which was European. The Byzantines were in control of Egypt and North Africa, and this is who the Arabs invaded and conquered. *(To add more complexity to the picture, Amr Ibn Aas, the Commander who initiated the campaign against Egypt was half Ethiopian. Ibn Kathir says in his book Al-Bidaaya Wa Al-Nihaaya: “He (Amr ibn Al-Aas) was black-skinned, tall, and bald. May Allah be content with him.” وكان أسمر، شديد السمرة، طويلا، أصلع رضي الله عنه)


Contrary to the popular myth, the Arabs never invaded and conquered any Sub-Saharan African people. Many scholars (including African scholars) have stressed this point but the myth in America persists among  misinformed black American Afrocentric lecturers.  

Children from the South Arabian Bedouin tribes of  the Shahara and Kathir.




"Much has been made of Arab invasions of Africa: they occurred in the North, but in Black Africa they are figments of the imagination. While the Arabs did conquer North Africa by force of Arms, they quite peaceably entered Black Africa. From the time of the Umayyad setbacks in the eighth century, no Arab army ever crossed the Sahara in an attempt to conquer Africa. The Arabs in these areas, who became great religious leaders, arrived as everywhere else individually and settled in peacefully. The Arab conquests dear to sociologists are necessary to their theories but did not exist in reality."
Pre-Colonial Black Africa, Cheikh Anta Diop, 1987: 101-102, 162, 163.

"No external conquest brought Islam to sub Saharan Africa. The work of spreading Islam was carried out by teachers and scholars who embodied Islamic knowledge and inscribed it into disparate communities across West Africa."

- Rudolph Ware III, professor of History, University of Michigan.



"Islam was brought to Sub-Saharan Africa in the first place via the trade routes from the Arab countries and North Africa. The African Muslims have always maintained quite close links with the Arab world, from which a number of its reformers came. But Islamisation was essentially carried out by Africans themselves, who shared the same life, spoke the same language, and lived in the same cultural world entirely. There is no doubt that, for African Muslims, “Africanicity” and Islam are in no way opposed. For them Islam is not an imported religion. For many, abandoning the Muslim religion is equivalent to the rejection of all their family and tribal traditions, so intermingled are the two socio-religious universes." Josef Stamer, Islam in Sub-Saharan Africa, Estella, 1995, pp. 121-125.

Muhammad saw himself at the end of a long line of prophets and wise men who lived in Africa and the Middle East 
and taught what he described as 'the way of peace.' He made it clear that he was not new, or a founder of any new religion, although this is what is told to us in comparative religion and by modern mainstream, so-called Orthodox Muslims. They erroneously say: The religion of Islam began in 610 A.D., following the first revelation to the Prophet Muhammad at the age of 40.
But Muhammad himself said in the Quran:

Qur'an 46:9 "Say: 'I am not an innovation (anything new) among the Messengers, and I know not what shall be done with me or with you. I only follow what is revealed to me; I am only a clear warner."

What he taught was that 'peace' was an aspect of the Creator and the nature of our souls, and that once we peel away veils of fear, ignorance, greed and agitation we will return to that state of peace. 

Qur'an 30:30 
"Then set your face upright for the 'diyn' (way of judgment) in the right state-- the nature made by Allah in which He has made mankind; there is no altering of Allah's creation; that is the upright 'diyn' (way), but most people do not know."

So the slave trade was (and is) a violation against Africa but also against Muhammad's teachings as well.   Yet, the truth remains. 



We can think of Islam as water. If someone poisons a glass of water, a well, or even a lake, does that mean all the water everywhere is poisoned? No,of course not. Can you accurately assert the generalization that "water is toxic"? No. 
In fact poisoned or polluted water cannot actually be considered water. Water is H20. Anything added to it would technically make it a different compound.
 And would all this now mean we no longer need (pure) water or that water is no longer an essential part of our biological nature or system? No.
Likewise, if Islam was corrupted in specific times and places by specific nations of people that hardly means all of Islam is forever corrupt. The pure clarity, truth and power of Islam still remains for all who seek to understand it and experience it. 
It is our nature. 


"The essential concept of Islam is not a description of an absolute material entity.
It’s actually a description of potentialities;
a realm of possibilities more in the mental realm and the heart than the physical.
Islam refers to a path, or possibilities for experiences. 
And it cannot be overstated that a very important role is played by the observers of this path.
The way it plays out in the physical realm and in the future is relative to the observers of the path."



"And say: The truth has come and the falsehood has vanished; surely falsehood is a vanishing (thing)."
Qur'an 17:81

















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