Surah al-Rahman and the Gift of Blackness

by: Ameer Hasan Loggins

Juz’ 27 begins with Surah al-Dhāriyāt (The Winnowing Winds; 51:31) and ends with al-Hadid (The Iron; 57:29). I will focus on the gleaning the gems from Surah al-Rahman

Surah al-Rahman (55) is named after one of the most beautiful of Allah’s 99 Names. This surah repeatedly provides examples of His Divine Grace and reiterates the importance of various Gifts of Allah, while simultaneously posing the question, “Which is it, of the Favors of your Lord, that ye deny?” This question begs humankind (as well as the jinn) to interrogate our potential neglectfulness of Allah’s Divine Favors, while reminding us that life in itself is a gift. Our family, friends, culture, food, water and health (both mental and physical) are all gifts; and we should be cautious of any individual or institution invested in the denial of the Divine Favors granted to us by Allah.

While reading Surah al-Rahman, I found myself focusing on the ayah 24, where Allah says, “And to Him belong the ships [with sails] elevated in the sea like mountains,” and thinking about the slaver ships carving a hellish path through the Atlantic Ocean during the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade. Although I tried to avoid this connection, my anchoring to my Blackness and my consciousness of the macabre Middle Passage forced me to think of how sharks trailed slaver ships from one edge of Old World Africa to the New World Americas, and become overgrown by the time they reached Jamaica from feeding on Black bodies tossed overboard en route.[1] I found myself thinking of the social death that my ancestors suffered, chained together as human cargo, floating through the ocean in mountainous, man-made vessels of dehumanization, permanent exile, and absolute exclusion from their homeland.

I felt enraged.

While wrestling with my anger, pinpointing the historical architects of the systemic oppression that has plagued the Black community — the Middle Passage, antebellum slavery, Jim Crow segregation, hyper-ghettoization, mass incarceration, and the modern-day lynching at the hands of the police — I saw light amid darkness. I was able to rescue my higher-self from being overly consumed by my lower-self. The light came from reading, “Which is it, of the Favors of your Lord, that ye deny?” With one glance, my focus shifted to celebrating the resiliency of Blackness. I began to hear the voices of my Black elders saying, “God is good, all of the time.” I began to think about Black Power, Black Consciousness and Black Love.

I felt favored.

I re-read the ayah. I reoriented the way I imagined those ships, dislodging myself from focusing on those ships of Shaytān, that were vessels of systemic oppression and dehumanization during the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, and I began to revel in the “favors of our Lord,” that have allowed me the audacity to be unapologetically Black, and unrelentingly Muslim, praying that the ships on which my ancestors came to the New World are the antithesis of the ships that they sail on into the afterworld.

[1] Marcus Redicker, “History from below the Water Line: Sharks and the Atlantic Slave Trade,” Atlantic Studies 5, no. 2 (2008): 285-297.


 

ameerAmeer Hasan Loggins is a Ph.D. candidate at the University of California, Berkeley. He has bachelor’s and master’s degrees in African American Studies both from UC Berkeley. He is currently working toward his doctorate in African Diaspora Studies at UC Berkeley. His research explores reality television as a social phenomena and its effects on the perception of African Americans. Ameer has conducted research for Harvard University’s W.E.B. Du Bois Research Institute (The Hiphop Archive and Research Institute) and currently works with Harvard University’s Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice on a series of summer forums. Ameer also received the UC Berkeley’s 2011 Graduate Council Advisory Committee for GSI Affairs, Outstanding Graduate Student Instructor Award.

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