Category Archives: Defending The Faith

The Fatal Flaws of Afrocentrist critiques of Islam by Professor Shareef Muhammad

(This is a transcript of a discussion between Hakeem Muhammad and professor Shareef Muhammad on the Black Dawah Network podcast addressing and refuting Afrocentric ‘criticisms’ of Al-Islam. Professor Shareef Muhammad discusses six fatal flaws of Afrocentrism0

Hakeem Muhammad: In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, The Merciful. I bear witness that there is no God worthy of worship but Allah(swt) and I further bear witness that Muhammad Salallahu Alayhi wa Sallam is Allah’s(swt) slave and messenger. You’re currently listening to the Black Dawah Network podcast. We are a podcast that’s dedicated to the rise of Islam within black America and overcoming all opposition to the rise of Islam within Black America and in particular we focus on Islamic outreach to oppressed black communities and as a part of the Islamic outreach to oppressed black communities this inherently entails overcoming ideologies, overcoming opposition, overcoming anti-Islamic sentiment within the black community particularly within the black conscious community.

And as you’ve seen many of our viewers from our previous programs, we’ve been doing a series on actual centrosome as well as black manifestations of Orientalism. And today we have our brother back. Brother Professor Shareef  Muhammad who is a Professor at Georgia State University with a specialization in African-American Islam history as well as social-political theory. Today our brother will be speaking about the style in the context of an Afrocentrism. So dear, Brother please you can begin to discuss the style in the context of Afrocentrism.

Shareef Muhammad: Yes Bismillah Al-rahman AL-Raheem,  in the name of Allah, The Most Gracious, The Most Merciful. I thank you again for having me to sort of iron out some of the ripples that have occurred within the black tradition, the black radical thought tradition. That Afrocentrism had the potential to be something beneficial and it has unfortunately succumbed to pitfalls that have arrested its own development and progress. And of course we’re here addressing this because for whatever, well it’s not whatever, we have insight into the reasons for why they are somewhat obsessed with Islam and the Muslim presence that’s in black America and particularly in Africa.

But a lot of people when we talk about Afrocentrism in the conscious community, it is a sort of ambiguous term. Very blanketed and there’s a very good reason for that. Because Afrocentrism is not an organized intellectual tradition. It’s not a coherent, intellectual tradition and that is one of the things that it suffers from. But just a little background of Afrocentrism and we want to talk about the style and the content of Afrocentrism and sort of the offshoot of that which is today’s conscious community.

So Afrocentrism was the depoliticized faction that emerged after a defunct pan-African movement in the United States in the 1980s in New York. And then after the martyrdom of the Hajj Malik el-Shabazz brought along Malcolm X that was also a watershed event in Pan-African history because he was, I think indisputably, the last great pan-African leader on this side of the ocean. So that’s what Afrocentrism sort of emerges out of. It emerges out of a defunct pan-African movement in America centered in New York in the 80s.

Now it began as an impromptu challenge to Eurocentrism in academia. This Eurocentric academia which had everyone believing that the only that only Europeans made significant contributions to human progress and that others have only played supporting roles. In particular, the academic establishment asserted that Africans has made no meaningful contributions and where contributions have come from Africa, it was non-black Africans who were responsible for those contributions. So there were challenges to this view by polymaths who were not specialists but ambitious researchers. So you had  JA Rogers, you had Drusilla Houston, you had the great Arthur Schomburg to name a few.

But there was a dearth of secondary material on the contribution that Africans made to human history and so we can forgive a lot of the shortcomings or blind spots of these early pioneering Pan-African Afrocentrism. Because this was the nascent stage of any kind of African centered approach to written critical history. The foundation they laid was an important starting point but no one followed through. So the pioneer Afro centrist were really pan-Africanist whose operational logic held that: black people all over the world must reconnect culturally with Africa if they are to repair the psychic disturbance that stems from the crisis in their identity. Hence, Afrocentrism was on a mission to correct oversight omissions and outright lies actually in academia that devalued Africa and Africans.

Now in the beginning, its basic goal was just to highlight African contributions which had been ignored, minimized or given to someone else. However, I think when the complexities of Africa could not be easily reconciled with the psychic and political demands of African Americans, Afro centrists sought to create a unified African identity that they would use as the lenses through which to view the continent, its history, people and to unite us across geographical and cultural gulfs. This had a negative consequence.

It became an excuse to undermine the cultural expressions of black people that did not conform to their narrow view of what it means to be African. And here is where the problem begins and why Afrocentrism never really became a force of change. So I identify really six flaws that Afro centrist thinking suffers from and these flaws have been inherited by the conscious community.

Number one, it’s anachronistic. They present their ideas and concepts as more ancient than they are and as African when they are not.

Number two, cultural Puritanism. They use a standard of authentic African culture that is not accurate, universally accepted or even achievable.

Number three, they uncritically assimilate Orientalist and colonialist driven sources from the 1800’s and early 1900s without thought to the political motives inherent to these sources. Then they use these sources to judge the motives and authenticity of black people who disagree with them.

Number four, they have a penchant for discredited theories that reinforce their biases but have not met the burden of proof or have been disproven altogether.

Five, they possess unresolved contradictions that are unresolved because of number four and number six.

Number six is that they do not have a formal theory or methodology that is consistently applied when they examine sources.

So these are the six flaws of Afrocentrism and the thought within the conscious community; anachronism, cultural Puritanism, orientalist assumptions, a penchant for discredited theories and unresolved contradictions along with no methodology or theory. Now, these are the most glaring fallacies, undergirding thought within Afro centrists and conscious community circles. But first, let’s look at the origin of a lot of this stuff because we have to look at what something is born to sort of get a sense of its nature.

Now there’s no official birth date for Afrocentrism. But the person who I would argue had the most impact on the ideas of Afrocentrism was Cheikh Anta Diop.  Cheikh Anta Diop was the patriarch if you will of Afrocentrism and has been called the Pharaoh of Afrocentrism even though he sort of preceded the term, Afrocentrist. This is a man who was born in Senegal to a prominent Muslim family. In fact, they belong to an independent Sufi-order or Tariqa founded by the renowned mystic and scholar, Ahmad Tijani. Ahmad Tijani, you can read up on his history, very polarizing figure within the Muslim world but very significant within the indigenization of Islam and sub-Saharan, West Africa and in particular the Sene-Gambian region.

The adherence to this order was known as Marabouts or Marie’s and Diop himself was educated in a traditional West African Islamic school. And although his level of practice is not known, there’s no record of him renouncing Islam as a result of his stance. So here we see another contradiction right that although Afrocentrism has this anti-Islamic, anti-Muslim strain at its core the progenitor of their ideas of much of their ideas about Africa and Egypt come from a Muslim. Afro-centrists and the conscious community consistently and hypocritically rely on the contributions of Muslims to frame their ideas.

Now Diop studied Anthropology, Nuclear Physics, Philosophy, Linguistics, Math and Egyptology at the Sorbonne in France, the University in France, the Sorbonne. And in 1954 he registered his thesis where he argued that ancient Egypt had been a black African nation. That its language and culture was identical or shared a great deal with sub-Saharan West Africa. And that ancient Egyptians, their language and culture, had actually spread throughout West Africa. So this was what he was arguing in 54. He received his doctorate in 1960 but before he died he was working on translating Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity into Walla, his native language. So this is Diop. And again although Diop’s work predates what we call Afrocentrism or “black consciousness” his work is paradigmatic in two ways.

One, he argued that there is a shared cultural continuity of African peoples over cultural linguistic religious and ethnic boundaries. And two, that by restoring Egypt to the African context, that this is essential to understanding this shared continuity that Africa has with Egypt and all over and restoring Africa’s dignity. So those two things have been the indelible impact that Job, this West African Muslim, had on Afrocentrism thought.

Now Dio pwas challenging the scientific racism that undergirded Egyptology and anthropology. He defended his thesis in France against one of the most Eurocentric institutions in the world. But he never intended for his research to be used as an attack on the legacy of his people, his tribe, the legacy of Islam in Africa or for ancient Egyptian religion and culture to replace the religious traditions practiced by black people today. This is an adulteration of Diop being a fraud and this led to Afrocentrism being racked with fallacies that have become the source of much contention and rancor.

So when we take those six flaws of Afrocentrism, anachronism, cultural Puritanism, Orientals assumptions, a penchant for discredited theories, unresolved contradictions and a complete lack of method or theory, this is the result of not picking up where Diop, John Henry Clark, Chester Williams and Bin Yochanan left off. So we take the first one.

The main flaw I would say is Afrocentrism and that it’s plagued by anachronisms. Afrocentrism became an anachronistic view of Africa that transposed the pathologies of the Diaspora onto the common history. It used the African-American experience of the new world and racial subjugation as the primary lenses through which to view African history and cultural identity. Now there are several ways that Afrocentrism forces the present onto the past.

Number one, it refracts pan-Africanism into early African society. You can’t do this. You can’t talk about African tribes in the 11th and 14th century as if they were operating within a unified trans-tribal African identity or hold them accountable to Afro centric politics. In the real world of Africa; languages, religions, customs, and ancestors were not interchangeable. They were tribe-specific, they did not equivocate. So whenever they charge you with cultural heresy they are using an aged historical standard of authenticity that has no merit in history or now. Non-Afro centrist makes the same mistake. And I’m sure you’ve heard of them say things like: “Well you know Africans sold their own people into slavery”.

African had tribal wars in which enemy combatants were captured and they were either sold back to their tribe and family or to foreigners but within the African context they were not “selling their own people”. This is refracting present politics on the past where they don’t belong. This aged historical view is also what dictates their understanding of ancient Egypt. That the ancient Egyptians for example— well look, the ancient Egyptians were black but they weren’t Pro black. They were African but they weren’t pan-Africans. They were nationalists but they weren’t black nationalists. I mean the ancient people of Kemet did not regard the other Africans whom they shared the continent with as their kin. So we should not be surprised when we look into the writings of ancient Egyptians and find that they unabashedly advocated the enslavement of Nubians.

I mean they had foot skills with engraved depictions of Nubians for the purpose of walking on them as a gesture of disdain. Now we can say that this was not racially motivated in the modern sense of the word race because again, there’s ample evidence that they and Nubians belong to the same category of Negroes. However, within the traditional African cosmologies, gods and their creations were tribe-centered. The god of one tribe or nation created the people of that tribe and nation only. And so the member of each tribe, it’s not far-fetched to say, might have regarded the members of another tribe as a different race. There was no humanity as one and as a consequence, there were no Africans are one.

This brings us to the second mistake that a lot of Afro centrists commit which ancient Egypt is being made the standard by which they limit their perspective of Africa. They have made Egypt or Kemet, the focal point for understanding the rest of Africa when the rest of Africa did not hold Egypt in the same esteem. Those close enough to Kemet, and even those who shared a kinship such as the Nubian, had an antagonistic relationship. Afrocentrists ignore this fact as they try to use Egypt as the magnifying glass through which to scrutinize the religious and cultural expressions of African American so it’s anachronistic. It’s refracting present-day politics and contemporary views onto the past people who did not have those views or have anything invested in the people in the future of having those views.

The second flaw of Afrocentrism is cultural Puritanism. Traditional African religions, and I put religion in quotations, traditional African religions do not equivocate or translate across tribal boundaries. They are vertically transcendent but they are not laterally transcended. They can, in other words, take you into the cosmos. And many of them, many traditional African religions, when you study them are obsessed with astronomy. The ancient Egyptians are an example of this which the pyramids being sort of centered around the belt of Orion. So they can take you into the cosmos but they cannot take you beyond the village gate. We’re talking about the pre-modern Africa so the Diaspora and religions have not yet been created. But the traditional Africa that Afro centrist used to hold the rest of us accountable, did not recognize members outside of the tribe. African Americans who have been de-tribalized could not have been officially recognized by these religious traditions because they’ve been de-tribalized.

We’ve lost our tribal identities. African religions were local. You belong to the religion because you belong to the tribe or society in which the religion was practiced. So the quote religion could not be separated from the tribe. African-American as I’ve said have thoroughly been racialized. You cannot simplify Africa’s diverse religions that are specific to a tribe and transpose them on to African-Americans who have been detribalized as part of a process of racialization. This is why Afrocentrism and its cultural Puritanism only get play in America and other parts of the Diaspora but not on the continent of Africa. Continental Africans largely reject Afro centrists or the conscious community’s conceptualization of African religion. For the record and I think this is also worth stating: Almost none of those who push this idea of African spirituality or African religion actually observe an African religion or any of these sort of Diasporic religions like voodoo. I think that’s interesting, considering that they keep extolling the virtues of traditional African religions, yet they haven’t practiced them themselves. So anachronism, cultural Puritanism.

The third is that when you read Afro centrist literature and you begin to study the subject of Islam in Africa and traditional African religion you’ll see that they’ve uncritically assimilated orientalist and colonialist driven sources from the 1800’s and early 1900. And they don’t seem aware or maybe they don’t care about the political motives that are inherent in many of these sources. So Afrocentrism and the conscious community is fraught with the assumptions and aims of the European colonialists of the 19th and 20th century. We talked about this in our first discussion.

We talked about Afrocentrism and as kind of being a black Orientalism to use the word that was coined by Allen Missouri. These assumptions have controlled their perspective and rhetoric on Islam and Muslims in particular. And this is what sort of brings us this subject. The Senegalese historian and author, Sylvain Joseph, who wrote the book: Servants of the Law- African Muslims enslaved in the Americas. She shares her observations of Afrocentrism and its treatment of Islam as both an African and an expert. Now she herself is not Muslim but she is African, a Walla, and she writes on page 204: “it is significant that Islam is rarely if ever mention in Studies on or references to African religions. Although after 1,000 years of continuous presence dissemination by the sub-Saharan Africans themselves accommodations to the local cultures and an overall record of voluntary conversion rather than imposition. Islam is still considered a non-African religion by most American scholars. For some to see Islam’s influence on and importance to Africans in both Africa and the new world acknowledged is almost a belittling of what they think are authentic African cultures and African. Islamic influence is wrongly perceived as Arabization and a reflection of the supposed weaknesses of traditional African cultures or of traditional cultures in the face of foreign entities. Interestingly Chinese, Indonesian and Albanian Muslims are not seen as being Arabized only sub-Saharan are viewed as acculturated which seems to indicate that some advocates of African cultures have internalized the anti- African prejudices they are fighting in other setting. In this mindset to celebrate the so-called real Africa or what is perceived as being the real Africa, Islam and the Muslims have to be denied.

The reality is that traditional African religions have usually been favorably disposed towards Islam and the Muslims have taken from them what they deem useful to their own preservation and continuity. however, in the mythical and false reconstruction of African cultures as static, millennial, untouched and uninfluenced except by force, Islam has no place”.  This is an African observation of Afrocentrism.

This is the grand contradiction of all Afrocentrism views on Islam. That to accept the Afrocentrist critique of Islam’s authenticity in Africa, you have to devalue traditional African culture and religion. They’ve rejected the view that Islam has been indigenized. But in doing so they validated the academic racism of Europe and the West that has historically portrayed African cultures and religions as static, millennial, untouched and uninfluenced. You with me so far?West Africans embraced Islam voluntarily and then disseminated it themselves and then incorporated it into their cultures and their social and political framework on their own without some foreigner standing over them dictating to them how and what to do. If you reject that, which is supported by the historical records, the only place for you to go then is to see the traditional African religions and cultures that you claim to advocate as being static, millennial, untouched and uninfluenced. That you would thereby necessarily be embracing the Orientalist and the colonialist view of traditional African culture.

 

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.

 

A Summation of the Arguments and Rebuttals to the Afrocentric Criticisms of Islam in Africa

In this article by Professor Shareef Muhammad, he summarizes arguments and rebuttals to Afrocentrist criticisms of Islam in Africa.

Afrocentrist mythIslam are that it spread by the sword, undermined traditional African cultures, and that the Arab Slave Trade depopulated Africa and destabilized those African societies. They alleged that both conquest and slavery were the principal means by which Arabs introduce Islam to Africans.

Response: These assertions are hyperbolic and not supported by either the African sources or the external Arab sources that make up the corpus of literature that are the core source of information on the subject. The events in question have been inflated to gain ground in the identity politics of the diaspora. The Arab Slave Trade was never a defining issue on the continent of Africa but was part of the normal state practices of that time. In fact, Walter Rodney in his esteemed work How Europe Underdeveloped Africa said that the term Arab Slave Trade was a misnomer since its used to describe bilateral trade agreements across a myriad of ethnic groups in which Africans had full agency.

Metanarrative: Islam south of the Sahel was an indigenous affair in which Africans controlled the terms on which Islam was adopted and practiced. It’s proselytizing, practice, and politics were entirely African. This is evinced in how unique Islam was in the sub-Saharan from Islam in the Levant and North Africa. Even in North Africa where Islam did spread by force the Arabs never made it across the whole of North Africa leaving the assimilation and practice of Islam entirely to the Berbers. Berber attitudes and behavior towards the sub-Sahara were Berber not Arab or determined by Arabs.

Afrocentrist myth: The Almoravid were Arab invaders who toppled Ghana in 1076 ACE and this is how Islam was introduced to the region.

Response: This event is controversial because there is no unambiguous mention in the Ghanaian oral traditions or the chronicles of the Arab writers of this time (11th century) nor is there a scholarly consensus that this invasion happened. At most the primary sources point only to a correlation between the spread of Islam throughout the western sub-Saharan and the Almoravid efforts at doing so through what we know were missionary work not a military invasion. David Conrad and Humphrey Fisher wrote an exhaustive treatment of the Arabic sources and African oral accounts called The Conquest That Never Was. They concluded that they could find “nothing in the traditions to indicate any conquest of the eleventh-century Sahelian state known to Arab geographers as “Ghana.”” Yet, this remains a controversy among actual scholars. So, let us explore the position that the Almoravid conquest did take place. All of the sources that describe the Almoravids in sub-Saharan relate them as an African contingent of the movement that originated in Senegambia. Cheikh Anta Diop who takes the stance that there was an invasion and that they seized Aoudaghast and Ghana saying on page 163 of Precolonial Black Africa that “This was the only time white troops attempted to impose Islam through violence.” The “white” Berber to which Diop is referring took up a retreat in Senegal where he attracted Senegalese who converted and aided him in this military campaign to spread Islam through force. But their victories were confined to only the northern part of the Ghana, Sijilmasa and the Maghreb. They did not succeed in West Africa, to the east and west. The conversion of these regions was the work of autochthonous marabouts (West African Sufis) who were preaching the religion. So, even if we take the theory of an invasion we see that even that is described as an indigenous affair. The fact that the Ghanaian oral sources point to draught instead of northern conquerors as the cause of Ghana’s fall at the least minimizes this event. Diop goes on to say that “The primary reason for the success of Islam in Black Africa, with one exception, consequently stems from the fact that it was propagated peacefully at first by solitary Arabo-Berber travelers to certain Black kings and notables, who then spread it about them to those under their jurisdiction.” pg. 163.

Afrocentrist myth: The Arab Invasion Destroyed Egypt and Enslaved the Native Black Population.

Response:  Ancient Kemet was destroyed and compromised over a millennium prior to the 640 A.C.E when the Muslims invaded. The Kemet that Afrocentrists romanticize had been long gone. When the Muslims arrived they were entering a thoroughly Hellenized, and Romanized Egypt whose native population was an amalgam of black African, Phoenician, Greek, Roman and Eastern European. Whole population of Italians and many Vandals and Goths moved into North Africa during the time of Augustine. The Berbers were made lighter when Europeans moved into North Africa since as far back the Ice Age. The Hyksos colonization of Northern Egypt didn’t help either. The further west you went in North Africa the lighter the population. Alfred J. Butler’s The Arab Invasion and the Last 30 Years of Roman Dominion. The Baqt Treaty exposes the lie that the Arabs introduced the enslavement of black Africans. Its pertinent to this controversy because it was the first time the Arabs tried to invade sub-Sahara and they failed. The Baqt Treaty was an agreement in which the Nubians who were the victors set the terms of peace and offered to pay the Arabs slaves as a peace offering. The point here is that like everywhere else in Africa up till the 1800 sub-Sahara African states negotiated with outsiders from a position of strength and autonomy. This contradicts the Afro-centrist version of African history which insists on portraying Africans as eternal victims. They had full agency during these transactions and their encounters with Arabs who were numerically and technologically inferior to the Africans they encountered. To understand their decision to give slaves to foreigners requires that we look at African states and politics as they were and not as we want to for the purposes of our petty arguments cultural authenticity.

Afro-centrist myth: Islam is an Arab not an African religion.

Response: What is the point being made here? This is a strange criticism setting aside for now whether its valid. Did Africans view themselves as African first or as their tribe first? There is no single African religion there are African religions and they do not equivocate. So, while they share similarities they have very pronounced differences. The religious practices of the Dogan would have been perceived just as foreign to the Xhosa as Islam. You cannot change tribes and therefore you cannot change tribal religions which are tied exclusively to the tribe. Since Islam was not being forced on them by outsiders and because African rulers accepted the religion on African terms and not Arab terms the indigenization of the religion was faster and more natural. However, the fact remains that Islam as a religion debuted in the Arabian Peninsula with its Prophet being an Arab, and the official language being Arabic. I suppose you could make a surface argument that based only on these facts that it’s an Arab religion. However, if you are going to look at the 30 years of Seerah (life of the Prophet (saws)) during his mission as a Prophet then one would honestly have to emerge with a different picture. Why can’t we reduce Islam to being an Arab religion?

  1. The Arabs were the first and most vehement enemies of Muhammad (saws)’s when Africa was welcoming. The first hijra into Ethiopia led to the first free practicing Muslim community. Islam was settled peacefully in Africa before Arabia. If Islam was an Arab religion then why were the Arabs so hostile?
  2. Many of the early companions of the Prophet (saws) were not Arab but African, Persian, and European. From Bilal to Salman al Farsi (may Allah grant them Jinnah). Most of them had been slaves within Arabia. If you were to ask them they would have said that they do not see Islam as an Arab or slave religion.
  3. The Prophet (saws) is reported to have said in a hadith that the person who stammers trying to read the Quran because Arabic is not their native tongue receives more blessings for their struggle than the native who speaks with fluency. This is the most explicit denial of Arab supremacy.
  4. The Prophet (saws) said in his final sermon that there is no superiority of an Arab over a non-Arab nor a non-Arab over an Arab. This is an even more explicit rejection of Arab supremacy.
  5. In another hadith the Prophet (saw) is reported to have said that you must obey your ruler even if he be an Abyssinian slave with the head of a raison. Everyone is so focused on the phrase “head of a raison” that they completely missed the meaning of the statement. He said obey your Black African ruler. He is foretelling the rule of Africans.
  6. The difference between Arab and West African is as vast as the difference between West African and East African and the similarly between East African and Arab is as much as the similarity between those on the coast of West Africa and those in the interior of West Africa. In other words the foreignness of Arabs depended on where in Africa you were and what part of Arabia you were from. Yemeni has more in common with Ethiopians and Somalis than Kuwaitis. The Arabness of Islam is less of a barrier to the Africans in the 11th century than it is to black people in the Diaspora who have been Westernized. Ironically the same Afrocentrists who cite the foreignness of the Arab are even less familiar with African cultures than they’d like to admit which is one of the reasons why they focus such much on ancient Egypt. It’s not a present reality (culturally) that they have to deal with.

Afrocentrist Myth The Arab Slave Trade. The Arabs introduced the enslavement of Africans that paved the way for European enslavement of Africans.

Response:  The trans-Saharan Trade and more significantly the Indian Ocean Trade predate the rise of Islam by thousands of years with the Indian Ocean Trade dating back to 2500 B.C.E. The spread of Islam simply made Arabs the new participants in something that was old. Africans were equal partners in their commercial relations and more often operated from a position of strength. In both the trans-Saharan Trade and Indian Ocean Trade slaves were never the central item traded. Slaves was part of a wider trade in gold, ivory, and soapstone. The Indian Ocean Trade in particular was already thousands of years old and had been controlled by different ethnicities in that region when the Arabs first came into possession of it. Why not call it the East African Slave Trade, the Greek Slave Trade, the Roman Slave Trade, the Gujurat Slave Trade, the Garamante Slave Trade, or the Persian Slave Trade? Why not call it the gold trade, the soapstone trade, or the ivory trade? Why is there only an interest the Arab period? To call the trans-Saharan and Indian Ocean Trade the Arab Slave Trade when it was practiced for thousands of years before the Arabs took possession and slaves were not even their central focus is a political decision not scholarly one.

Afrocentrist myth  The Indian Ocean Trade depopulated East Africa and ravaged the continent. It proves that the Arabs were the first enslavers of Africans and laid the foundation for the European enslavement of Africans.

Response:  The Indian Ocean Trade predated the Arab involvement. It goes back as far as 2500 B.C.E. Before it was the Arab slave trade it would have been the Indian slave trade, the Persian slave trade, the Greek slave trade, and the Roman slave trade. It was only the Arab slave trade during the Abbasid period. During this time slave raiding occurred in fits and starts, spikes and periods but there were also places where it didn’t happen at all. The Zanji Uprising was larger and more impactful than the slave trade itself. Historian M.A. Shaban argues that the majority of participants were not slaves but free blacks and Arabs with some runaway slaves. There would not have been enough slaves to do the kind of devastation that happened. The irony is that it did more damage to Iraq than it did to the East African states that traded with them voluntarily. The aggressive slave raiding that is so often referred to belongs to the 1800s and has much to do with European activities in India and the Middle East at this time as the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade was practically over. The scramble for Africa accelerated the slave raiding in Southeast Africa. After the Abbasid period ended the Arabs were simply the face of Islamic power which had passed to the Turks. This brings up to very significant facts about Arabs, Islam, and slavery: the majority of the slaves in the Arab world were white and Persian who overthrew their Arab masters and subjugated them and eventually took African slaves from Indian and African middle men. There was no organized enterprise that principally targeted Africa for slaves to build up Arab countries. African slaves were used on an as needed basis but for the most instrumental slave labor the Arabs relied on whites.

Note: The majority of African slaves were used as servants (guards). This function would not have required millions of slaves such as was the case with the military whom the Arabs relied upon for their military campaigns that were directly responsible for their building up of wealth. Hence, there is some doubt about the number of African slaves being in the millions that are found in secondary sources on the zanji trade.

Afrocentrist Argument: Arabs are just as racist towards Africans if not more than Europeans.

Response:  The inferior status of Africans only appears when we examine Arab-African relations within Arab societies but between Arab nations and African nations going all the way back to Abyssinia we see that Africans were in a position of political superiority and when the Arabs interacted with sovereign African nations they did so with diplomacy and deference. African sovereignty did not make Africans or Africa vulnerable to outside opinions.

Afrocentrist Myth:  The Hamitic-hypothesis is the rationale that the Arabs relied on for their inferior view of Africans and it has given African’s who’ve embraced Islam a negative view of other Africans.

Response:  Some Arabs involved in the enslavement of Africans employed this theory but it was not widespread either among the Arabs or the Africans. Africans who did use this used it to disparage other tribes with whom they did not get along with. This was not a consequence of the Hamitic-hypothesis but rather their decision to use this was a consequence of tribal conflicts. Ham does not appear in the Quran or Hadith. He is not a part of Islamic hagiography. The story of Ham only appears in Judeo-Christian sources and the story itself flies in the face of what Islam demands we believe about the Prophet’s like Noah. The usedof Hamitic curse to justify the subjugation of Africans began with a Syrian Christian and it was adopted by Arabs and Africans with no religious scruples. Its proliferation and impact of religious thinking in the continent was negligible. Those who in West Africa who were using it as part of the rationale for their tribal wars that predated the rationale itself were brought under control by Uthman don Fodio when he established the Sokoto Caliphate.

Afrocentrist  myth: Islam did more harm to Africa than good. It devastating the continent.

Response:  This is a personal opinion. However, during the time of this supposed devastation Africa reached its last great renaissance. Even Chancellor Williams ruminates in The Destruction of Black Civilization when he writes: “It may not be without significance that the Renaissance in Africa occurred at the same time it did in Europe, between the 15th and 16th centuries, and that in both Europe and Africa Islamic sources were the catalyst.” So, even Chancellor Williams had to concede this point. Islam impacted sub-Saharan West Africa in two significant ways:

1.The spread of Islam brought the major overland trade routes that connected Asia with Africa and Europe. This enlarged the scope of the trans-Saharan Trade which then transformed Ghana from a local kingdom to an empire. The conversion to Islam by West African kings and notables brought these West African empires into an international association of an established trade network that made these West African empires the wealthiest of the entire continent. Mansa Musa is the heir to this reality.

2.The West African Kingdoms of Ghana, Mali, and Songhai were successively more Islamic, more literate, more erudite, politically more sophisticated, and economically more powerful concomitantly.

Islam was the catalyst for both of these as can clearly be established when comparing them to their non-Muslim counterparts. Those who wish to say that the religion of Islam was a force of bad can only do so by denying these facts.

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.

 

Afrocentrist Myth Busting: Did Arabs Force Islam on Black people in Africa?

Members of the Black conscious community often assert that Islam spread to Black Africa through force, war, and slavery. The Black Dawah Network spoke with Shareef Muhammad, a professor of history at Georgia State University and a former professor of Islamic studies at Spelman University to fact check this particular claim. As to whether Islam spread to Black Africa through war and slavery, Professor Shareef Muhammad explained:

“Islam entered sub-Saharan West Africa by way of merchants via the Trans-Saharan Trade. These Berber merchants attracted West African merchants who converted. The kings converted and then other elites, those under and around him followed suit. The Arabs did not conquer and colonize the Sub-Sahara. The Arab slave trade involved mostly Eastern European slaves not Africans.Black Africa was never conquered by the Arabs. I repeat: Black Africa was never conquered by the Arabs. The sovereignty of black Africa was untouched with the spread of Islam which was an indigenous affair.  There was no conquest of sub-Saharan West Africa by Arabs and the Arabs certainly did not have free range to go around slave raiding. Slave raiding for what? The primary commercial item of the Trans-Saharan Trade was gold. So in this fictitious invasion they were so interested in slaves they forgot about the gold mines?

Afrocentrists fail to show how the spread of Islam underdeveloped Africa and fail  to show that Arabs invaded sub-aharah. Afrocentrists seem committed to view that portrays Africans as eternal victims. Docile canvases on which outsiders conveniently write themselves on. The Arabs, Persians, and Indians negotiated  with autonomous economically, politically, and socially stable African kingdoms south of the Sahara. These kingdoms were never conquered by Arabs and they were not plundered, and raided with Islam forced on the people. This did not happen. Nowhere in the literature does it happen. It remains a figment of the Afrocentrists imagination.”

  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.

What If Chancellor William’s Destruction of Black Civilizations Was Updated Today?


What if Chancellor William’s book The Destruction of Black Civilization was updated in 2018?  What if the book was updated based upon current research about the rise and fall of several African civilizations?   

The updated version would tackle several conflicting statements regarding the legacy of Islam in West Africa. Chancellor Williams speaks laudatory about Islam stating that ”[t]he renaissance in Africa occurred at the time time it developed in Europe, between the 15th and 16th century, and that both in Europe and Africa, Islamic sources were the catalyst.” Here, Williams credits Islam for bringing about a revival of civilizations and culture throughout West Africa.  

Yet, in another portion of the book Williams chronicles the downfall of the Ghana civilization of West Africa stating that “[t]he destruction of the capital[of Ghana] by Muslims in 1076.”  With the Islamic invasion of Ghana, Chancellor WIlliams writes that, “The African masses, of course, were regarded as ‘infidels” upon whom Muslims sought to carry out,  “forced conversions to Islam.” Chancellor William’s account of the fall of Ghana by Islamic invaders has created much animus towards Islam within the Black conscious community and is cited to solidify their belief of Islam being a tool of subjugation over Black people. Moreover,  it is hard to reconcile William’s claim that Islam brought about an intellectual renaissance in West Africa whilst simultaneously contributing the destruction of an important civilization in West Africa.

Williams wrote this book in 1973, and that time, the account of the collapse of the Ghana civilization by Muslim invaders was a widely accepted  theory in academia. The updated version of his book would include the current research, which starting in 1982 discredits such theory as European colonial propaganda. In the article The Conquest That Never Was: Ghana and the Almoravids, 1076, historians David C. Conrad and Humphrey J. Fisher  determined local oral tradition posited that drought was the major contributor to the collapse of Ghana. Through their analysis of oral, archaeological, and written records, they could find no evidence at all that Muslim invaders destroyed Ghana.

In a follow up work, The Almoravid Conquest of Ghana in the Modern Historiography of Western Africa, Pekka Masonen and Humphrey J. Fisher concluded that  “there is no direct evidence of any conquest, still less a violent and destructive, of Ghana.” They declare the narrative of an Islamic conquest of Ghana to be a myth and a total historical fabrication. Tracing the origins of this theory behind the collapse of Ghana, they write “ The conquest hypothesis is a European creation…The conquest and destruction of Ghana by cruel Almoravids could be seen as an historical example of the native impact of Islamic fanaticism, justifying European “protection” in Sub-Saharan Africa.”   In other words, the narrative of Muslim invaders destroying Ghana and seeking to carry out force conversions was a European invented myth that gained acceptance in academia at the time of WIlliams writing but has since then been discredited.

If published in the contemporary era, William’s account of the destruction of civilization would not include the narrative of an Islamic destruction of Ghana that has been at the source of so much of the black conscious community animus toward Islam. Instead, he would focus more on his more historically corroborated claim that Islamic sources were the catalyst for a renaissance in Africa.  Yet, members of the Black conscious community who continue to promulgate the narrative of an Islamic destruction of Ghanian civilization should know they are repeating a myth designed to justify European colonialism and is as much fictional as the story of a white Egypt, whites building the great wall of Zimbabwe, Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, take your pick..

Sources

Williams, Chancellor. The Destruction of Black Civilization: Great Issues of a Race from 4500 B.C. to 2000 A.D. Chicago, Ill: Third World, 215

The Conquest That Never Was: Ghana and the Almoravids, 1076. II. The Local Oral Sources,David C. Conrad and Humphrey J. Fisher, History in Africa Vol. 10 (1983),

Not Quite Venus from the Waves: The Almoravid Conquest of Ghana in the Modern Historiography of Western Africa by Pekka Masonen and Humphrey J. Fisher, History in Africa Vol. 23 (1996),

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