Black Muslims Unlocking the Revolutionary Potential of the Prophetic Biography
(This is part of a transcript between Professor Shareef Muhammad and Hakeem Muhammad on the Black Dawah Network in the discussion titled “Looking Towards the Prophetic Biography for Black Liberation.)
The Prophetic biography is the story of an orphan child who was brought up in a harsh and volatile environment, who belonged to a people who were negligible in the eyes of the world and through a spiritual revolution transformed his people into leaders in the world. The Prophet Muhammad’s (pbuh) success was connected to his obedience to the Creator. It was power in piety, not piety in power. He did not lean on ‘might makes right’, but rather being right that which is in obedience to the creator who is the sought of all might, might one mighty.
The Prophet Muhammad, (pbuh) showed us how to do religion so that it improves the society in which you live. He showed us how to balance responsibility to one’s people, without becoming a hostage to their shortcomings. We saw that spirituality was something that was practical, that it’s not something that you are but something that you do, and we can be kind, compassionate, chivalrous, and charitable and firm also, in a world of immense cruelty and imbalance.The Prophet Muhammad pbuh was husband, father, statesman, general and activist; all those things.
When one studies his theory, one notices parallels between the Arabs of pre-Islamic times, known as Jahiliyyah or the age of ignorance, and African-Americans: they were a nation without an actual nation. The Arabs would: they lived in anarchy, they didn’t have a head of state; before Islam they didn’t have a government. They were a collection of tribes that in many ways functioned like gangs. They policed themselves through custom and reinforce their rules through vendetta and the threat of ostracism. Your honor, your reputation meant everything. They were giving to fighting, drinking, using drugs, idolatry, which today is sort of mimicked by materialism; the fetish we have for consumables is sort of a new kind of postmodern idolatry.
The pride that pre-Islamic Arabs took in their poetry and the subject matter of that poetry is eerily similar to Hip Hop, which is sort of the trademark of our Jahiliyyah. The Suspended odes, which hung on the Kaaba when it was filled with idols, these were considered the source of Arabic poetry and they valorized the physical prowess, the sexual exploits, they glorified gambling and violence. The things that were written by Antarah and some of the other pre-Islamic poets mirrored in varied ways some of the contents you find in Rick Ross, to be perfectly honest.
So, the theory based on what we just talked about, about the parallels on the Arabs in pre-Islamic times and African-Americans, the theory is that if the prophet Muhammad peace be upon him transformed his people from a people steeped in vice, uneducated and without political power, then following his prophetical example could transform black folk into moral leaders, lovers of learning and acquirers of political sovereignty. In other words, there’s revolutionary potential in his prophetic model.
The idea of using the life of the Prophet Muhammad peace be upon him as a model for which to achieve black liberation was first uttered by Marcus Garvey, who said in a speech, quote: “Muhammad suffered many defeats at certain times but Muhammad stuck to his faith and ultimately triumphed and Muhammadism was given to the world”. In a publication of Garvey’s UNIA -I think it’s the Champion Magazine- March issue, 1917, it wrote: “The negro is crying for a Muhammad to come forward and give him the Quran of economic and intellectual welfare. Where is he?” In the flagship newspaper of the UNIA, The Negro World, it read: “The prophet of Allah, concentrating his inexhaustible, incandescent energy on the spiritual, material liberation of his people and the herald of the new dawn”, Garvey, stressing with equal view the material, spiritual redemption of his race.
So the life of the prophet Muhammad (pbuh) was social, political transformation of an entire people and amon the early pan-Africanists and black nationalist nationalists; that’s what it was seen as. And the Prophetic biography had capital in black political thought. We need to unlock the revolutionary potential that is within this religion, which inspired or attracted our forefathers to come to it.
The prophetic revolution contrast with the Marxist revolution is that the Islamic revolution of the prophet pbuh was a revolution that occurred from the inside out, whereas the Marxian revolution was one that sought to take place from the outside-in. So, where the Marxian revolution took the position of ‘change the structures, you change the people’, the Islamic prophetic revolution of Muhammad peace be upon him was ‘you change the person and then, from there, the thing that are outside of that person change’.
The application of the prophetic model of Muhammad (pbuh) will cause a lot of people to lose a lot of money and the resurrection of the black man and the black woman will cause a lot of people to lose a lot of money.
Take drugs, for example, narcotics; it veils the intellect, it impairs ones judgment. Well, people take narcotics in part to cope with their condition, with their situation. So that prevents them from becoming 100% dissatisfied and uncomfortable with their condition so that Allah will then per his promise, change their condition. So the narcotic, the drug gets in the way of that first step towards a people’s social, political and economic transformation. That’s why the drug dealer is the most counterrevolutionary agent in the black community.
The Qu’ran teaches that Allah would change your condition if you change what it is in yourself. This mean means that you have to purge yourself of the affection that you have towards the very magnet that’s arresting your development. that blunts their attempts or blocks their attempt to change what is in their hearts
You study the Sahaba and you can see… they may remind you of people in your neighborhood. And the people in your neighborhood who have not reached their potential, you may look at them differently when you study the Sahaba because you see that the Sahaba reached their potential and why not the person down the block.
Muhammad(pbuh) who was the greatest alchemist in the metaphorical sense of the word in which he would take something that was rust and turn it into gold; we’re talking about character here, we’re talking about once he would take somebody who metaphorically was rust and sort of transformed them into this gold.
The other thing to sort of contrast the life of Muhammad peace be upon him and the Islamic revolution with that of the Marxian model is that Marx talked about the lumpenproletariat, and, what did he say about the lumpenproletariat? That the Marxian revolution, the communist revolution would happen when capitalism would exhaust itself and the workers would overthrow those who own the means of capitalist production and take over the economy and it would end up in a sort of cooperative commonwealth in which the workers would share equally in the means of production and the product, have access to the product. He said that the lumpenproletariat –these were your criminals, your prostitutes, drug dealers, thieves, etc.-, these people would not only be apart of the revolution but they are in many ways a danger or a threat to the revolution. And so he completely excluded the downfall of the lumpenproletariat from this great transformation that would occur. While Islam, particularly in black America, centered its revolution or its idea of revolution on those very people.
So Malcolm X, el-Hajj Malik el-Shabazz, was what Marx would’ve considered lumpen, and yet it is from him, from Malcolm that we get this sort of push in this direction towards revolutionary change or transformation, this revolutionary event in religion and thought through the religion of Islam. So the Marxian revolution is a revolution from the outside-in, which excludes the social outcast, where Islam is a revolution from the inside out that not only incorporates those people that Marxists excluded but in many ways can center the change on those very people.
This is why Islam is liberation; it is the solution, the remedy and the answer to what ails oppressed Black communities.
Professor Shareef Muhammad has taught history at Georgia State University and Islamic studies at Spelman University. He has a masters in history at Kent State University with his thesis on The Cultural Jihad in the antelbellum South: How Muslim slaves preserved their religious/cultural identity during slavery.