by Faridah Abdul-Tawwab Brown
We are advised throughout The Book to heed the examples of those to whom messengers have been sent. Allah has blessed the African American people with a succession of warners: leaders and cultural lights who affirm the guidance of revelation and enjoin their people to maintain their covenant with G-d. Within the womb of the “invisible institution,” many a warner studied Scripture, reinforcing and disseminating messages of dignity, patient perseverance, and reliance on the Lord of all systems of knowledge in pursuit of His promise to liberate and redeem the believers. It is in our response to this consistent exhortation to seek the pattern of human excellence upon which all human beings are designed that our identity as a people was formed in covenant with G-d.
“While We intended to favor those who were held as weak in the land, and to make them leaders and make them inheritors.” (Surah Al-Qasas: 5)
Just as Allah favored the children of Israel, acknowledging their suffering and sending them a warner in Musa (as), so too has He favored the African American people, whose line of culture and leadership contains a succession of G-d conscious warners and reminders whose consistent message has been to enjoin freedom, justice, equality, and righteous behavior in adherence with the natural pattern of human design – leading to a full flowering of our potential. This succession of leadership ultimately manifested in the flourishing of Islam in the United states with African Americans entering the worldwide community of Islam, composing the largest indigenous group of Muslims in the United States.
As the Quran beautifully illustrates, the fulfillment of Allah’s promise to an oppressed people is dependent upon their answer to the warnings sent to them. Witness the children of Israel, who constantly struggle with rebellion, even after they have been blessed with guidance. Within Juz’ 20, we find the story of Qarun, whose wealth and arrogance lead him to challenge Musa (as). Flaunting his wealth and arrogance, Qarun urged the Israelites to reject their warner. He is rebuked by the wise among his people,
“…Woe to you, Allah’s reward is much better for him who believes and acts righteously. But this is given to none but to those who observe restraint.” (Surah Al-Qasas: 80)
Qarun’s answer was to disregard their rebuke, resulting in he and his house being swallowed by the earth.
So too, African Americans can be swallowed up by history as we risk severing the favor of Allah; for we have become disconnected from our leadership and culture. We would do well to reflect on that beautiful righteous line. A line that begins with the seed of faith planted and protected in the breast of many an ancestor, a significant number of whom were Muslim. A seed whose growth could not be strangled by the yoke of oppression, but which was nurtured against all odds, by the “…One who responds to a helpless person when he prays to Him and removes distress, and Who makes you vicegerents of the earth…”(Al-Naml:62) and “… who guides you in depths of darkness on land and sea, and who sends the winds bearing good news before His mercy…”(Al Naml:63)
We note this divine mercy, recognizing the line of succession immortalized in the words of James Weldon Johnson:
G-d of our weary years
G-d of our silent tears
Thou Who hast led us thus far on the way
Thou Who hast by thy might
Led us into the Light
Keep us forever in the path we pray
From Absalom Jones and Richard Allen to Nat Turner and Denmark Vesey, the seed of faith blossoms and the line of succession carries on, unbroken; it is a line picked up by Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth and Frederick Douglass. The sapling grows taller, striving toward its goal as Booker T. Washington and Marcus Mosiah Garvey urge us toward self-determination. The line continues and the tree begins to mature and bear fruit in the form of awakened minds and the establishment of institutions and organizations which provide for our own needs – organizations which serve as training ground for the final leg of our journey – carrying the banner of this line all the way before G-d.
What a beautiful and noble line we have inherited!
It is at this point, however, that Allah calls to our attention the following reality:
“Do people think that they will be left only on their saying, ‘We believe’ and not be put to any test? Indeed We have tested those who were before them. So Allah will surely know the ones who are truthful, and He will surely know the liars.” (Al Ankabut:2-3)
The Children of Israel struggled with a constant rebellion against righteousness in their community. Likewise, we find ourselves tested. Just as the wise among the Israelites advised Qarun, there are voices among us today reminding us that true progress and success lies in fulfilling the covenant. There are voices reminding us that that only those who believe and act righteously and who exercise patient perseverance realize G-d’s favor.
This exhortation to righteous, disciplined, and deliberate behavior is anathema to those who venerate the self- righteous rebel as the ideal. Deification of the “glory days” of the Black Panther Party, embrace of the strident discordance of Trap Music and Gangster Rap, or wholesale acceptance of a family structure that forces women to raise children alone, critical work which the Creator has designed for two in community, are all aspects of the 21st Century rupture of our African American Covenant with Allah. The peculiar mindset that rejects calls for reducing the violence and criminality of the inner-city with slogan, “don’t blame the victim” coexists with a greed that motivates millionaire Hip Hop moguls and self-satisfied Black professionals alike.
“..Surely, Allah does not change the condition of a people unless they change themselves…” (Ar Ra‘ad: 11)
This is our test. We are forced to make a choice between the accepted norms of our society, or G-d’s guidance and warning. Nearing the end of Juz’ 20, Allah draws our attention back to those who reject their messengers and what will be their inevitable fate:
“And if you reject me, then many nations have rejected their messengers before you. The messenger has no more obligation than to convey.” (Al Ankabut:18)
“And those who deny the signs of Allah and meeting with Him-those will despair of My mercy, and those are the ones for whom there is a painful punishment.” (Al Ankabut:23)
We are a people who have been favored and who have inherited a line of culture and leadership that speaks with an unbroken voice – from the watery chasms of the Middle Passage to the rice plantations of the Sea Islands and tobacco plantations of the mid-Atlantic; from the dimming light of post Reconstruction era South to the dawning of self-determination in the urban North; from the raised voice in the ring shout to the whispered prayer in sujud – beckoning us to the fulfillment of our covenant with G-d. What will be our answer?
Lord, Dear Lord above
G-d Almighty, G-d of Love,
Please look down and see my people through…
Faridah Abdul-Tawwab Brown is an educator, wife, and mother with experience as a homeschooler and classroom teacher. She’s worked at several Islamic institutions , including the Clara Muhammad Schools in Washington, DC and Baltimore, MD. Faridah is a consultant at Building The Right Foundation, where she is developing Quran-based curricula for use in primary and secondary classrooms. She resides in Columbia, MD.