May Peace be upon you . . .
Let me begin by listing a few names in a test of your recognition skills. If you heard the name, Malcom-Jamal Warner, Kareem Abdul Jabbar, Jamal Wilkes, Muhammad Ali, Ahmal Jamal, the singer Kashif, the sports commentator Ahmad Rashad, would know they were associated with Islam? Perhaps you can help me with more names. The point we are making is that the Islamic influence among African-Americans is an acknowledged fact and growing.
If you would visit any daycare or kindergarten class you would often find up to 30 percent of the class with names such as Sheriff, Saudi, Jasillah, Kareem, Akbar, Ahmed, Ali, Abdullah, Muhammad, Daud and others. These reflect the phenomenal growth, saturation and permanency of the Islamic movement in America.
However, this aspect of American and African-American history has been neglected, and we feel quite deliberately. Even when it is acknowledged, it is distorted or slanted in such a way that it is portrayed as an aberration rather than a major factor in the development of positive self-awareness or social and economic advancement of African-Americans.
I am sure that if I asked a non-Muslim, to expound upon his or her knowledge of Islam, they would perhaps say they heard of Malcolm X or had read his biography. Or perhaps they would say that they have read newspaper accounts of the Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, or have met some Muslim followers of Imam WD Mohammed, or perhaps a noted immigrant Muslim scholar.
What is really known or understood, however, about Islam or its true relationship to the African-American thrust for freedom and equality?
Let us look at the material on Malcolm X, also known as EL-Hajj Malik Shabazz. How much of this material deals with Islam, that is, the fundamental beliefs, the values, morality and traditions of Islam that made the man what he later became?
Frankly, we hear only of his militancy, only of his nationalism. He was in fact, disconnected from Islam, the religion, except that he was known to have been a member of the Nation of Islam for the better part of his life and reportedly accepted the Universal teachings of the Holy Qur’an, which was revealed to Prophet Muhammad in the last days of his life.
Most do not attribute the values of Islam, its inspirational message and other aspects to Malcolm’s rise from the seamy life to that of a role model. Is this not the same with Muhammad Ali? Notice that the focus is on the heroics, and the man and not on the principles of his beliefs, nor his practice of his faith.
Let us look at the case of Alex Haley, the “as told to” author of Malcolm’s biography, and the author of “ROOTS.” Actually “ROOTS” was written because of a Muslim challenge to Haley suggesting that he did not have true knowledge of himself nor his Islamic heritage.
When Haley was able to get funding, he proceeded to do the research and behold that his ancestors were in fact Muslims. As you can recall, however, this fact was presented in a very minuscule way in the movie “ROOTS.” When the television series was completed, we recall the Islamic aspect was all but forgotten.
Islam’s growth in America really represents an infusion of these universal forces in a situation that has broken down. The moral and religious community in America has allowed the neglect, distortion and misuse of essential principles of the unity of life that only through the infusion again of those principles essential to human life and excellence will save the coming generations.
Is it any wonder that Islam would not be the inheritance of the African-American? Especially when it says that ‘They who seek shall inherit the Earth.”
African-Americans have been trying to fight racism, bigotry and hatred all their lives. Let us ask, however, why has Dr. King’s “dream” gone unrealized? Perhaps because the “real” desire of the people was simply to be “accepted.” There is the rub. When a people strive all their life to be accepted by their oppressor or otherwise dominant class, they, by
implication, have accepted and inculcated the concept of inferiority.
Now does that mean that one should go to the other extreme to become an island unto one’s self? No, but it does mean that one should separate one’s self from the ethics and morality of the oppressors, including conflicting religious values and practices. Although it has been acknowledged, the movement of Islam, which does portray man as a sinner from birth but proclaims that man was made in the best of mold, has influenced true dignity, confidence and well being in thousands of African-Americans.
Of course, we acknowledge that we live in a political world where heritages and roots are going to be important for a long time. We, nevertheless, must put these things in perspective; otherwise we will lose our sense of perspective and more importantly, our relationship with the universal laws that govern our existence.
Today, God willing, the twain shall meet and given the inevitable dominance of Islam, America shall become the “promised land,” where the dream of Dr. King and others will become a reality.
Upon you be peace.