What Happened to Our Brother?

by Maurice Hines

An elder once told me that back in the 1960s and 1970s, the Black community regarded its Muslims as the big brother who stood up to the bully. Whenever white supremacist malgregoryideologues tried to back Black folks into a corner, the Black community could trust that by mentioning any idea espoused by our big brother Al Hajj Malik Shabazz (Malcolm X) would cause the white man to retreat, quivering in his boots.[1]  Since then, many have wondered, “What happened to that big brother? Where is he? Has he gone away? Has he been debilitated? Or does he no longer care about what happens to his little brother?”

Since the founding of the Moorish Science Temple in the early 20 century until well into the 1990s, Islam constituted the voice of social, political and cultural consciousness in the Black community. During the 1960s and with the rise of the Nation of Islam (NOI), thereafter, many heeded the call of Malcolm X, then the NOI’s national representative, to44917a8fb2a9656eab95455b4f496873 find solace in Islam as a vehicle for social justice, spiritual fulfillment, and ideal community life. Some also joined the international struggle for human rights across the diaspora as he and others envisioned. However, today it appears that his spiritual heirs, the Black orthodox Muslims — including their Salafi, Sufi, Shi’i, and W.D. Mohammed articulations — have fallen short of hitting this mark. As a result, many within Black Muslim communities as well as the greater Black conscious community examine Black Islam and its current state of affairs and question the vitality of Islam as a tool of liberation.

Black orthodox Muslims have been accused of losing their revolutionary fervor, exchanging their Black consciousness for dogmatism and cultural apostasy and serving the interests of Muslim immigrants and the white power structure. Although some of 19417462_1505466709512556_3817236356427304847_othese critiques are not completely unfounded, unraveling these questions require an open mind and an exploration that scratches beneath the surface. For anyone wrestling with these questions, I suggest keeping the following three points in mind: (1) The story has not yet been told; (2) progress requires assessments; and (3) let people do what they do best.

The Story Has Not Yet Been Told

The exploits of Black revolutionary Islam throughout history are many (see this Sapelo Square article published on Aug. 22, 2017, and documentary). From Bahia, Brazil, to Brooklyn and beyond, there is no doubt that Muslims have been at the forefront of the liberation struggle, proving that there is nothing intrinsically counter-revolutionary about Islam. However, the dearth of analysis about the history of orthodox Islam in Black America, especially since the 1980s, is a factor in minimizing our big brother status. This is possibly because the story is still unfolding. In a research paper entitled, The Decisive Solution, Shaykh Muhammad Shareef discusses at length how

…[from] the late 70s until the present the United States National Security Agency has maintained a time-honored pattern of preempting, undermining, and disrupting any and all proactive relationships between African Americans seeking self determination and independent African nations. And now, the same unconstitutional and illegal interdictions are being unleashed against African American Muslims communities [sic], in particular, under the cover of the “war on terror”

Of those who followed the militant trajectory of early Malcolm X, some were executed, imprisoned or exiled, and thus, could not pass their stories or Islam to the next generation. For example, because Mutulu Shakur and Sekou Odinga were incarcerated, they could not directly mentor their children who as adults are better known as Tupac, Mopreme, and Kadafi of the Outlawz. Others took the equally revolutionary route of raising families with Islamic values and Black consciousness. However, many communities fell short of communicating the social justice legacy and passing the torch of leadership to the younger generations. An immediate plan of action is needed to facilitate these aims, by looking back and thinking forward. [2]

Progress Requires Assessments

We should not fall into the trap of over-romanticizing our past or simply assuming that the way things are is how they have always been. Indeed, our predecessors made a lot of mistakes and were not able to predict certain trends and events. In the past, attitudes and practices concerning polygyny, formal education and suspicions over religious and political loyalty among other things were not healthy. They often contributed to the negative assumptions some people have about Muslims today. On the other hand, it is important to revive the brother/sisterhood, courage and other positive traits Black Muslims were known for and reject those negative aspects of our past.

The struggle for social justice has also changed. Nowadays, Muslims represent a substantial and influential minority within the Black community, who participate in every strata of American society. Many people uphold the revolutionary Black Muslim ethos through their work in their respective communities such as Mark Crain, Margari Hill, Dawud Walid, Donna Austin, Shareef Hameed, the late Umar Muhammad, and of course the staff of Sapelo Square, among others.

Let People Do What They Do Best

The breakdown of our communities — the Muslim Ummah and the Black community — stems from us competing with one another and refusing to collaborate. If one community is adept at advocating for or addressing a particular issue of concern to the Black community, then we all should encourage their efforts in as much as we feel comfortable doing so. The aforementioned individuals have used their respective expertise and networks to advocate for issues relevant to the community. Even though their spheres of influence vary, they are bound by a commitment to social justice inspired by the legacy of Black Muslims. Yet, until the greater Black community is mature enough to discuss our different approaches with the aim of actually improving the state of Black America rather than self-aggrandizement and disparaging others, the status quo will remain. We should heed the word of Allah when He commands us to

Hold fast to the rope of Allah and do not be divided among yourselves. — Qur’an 3:103

No, our brother, the orthodox heir of Black Muslim revolutionaries, has not vanished and he has not failed in his mission. Rather, his mission continues with different outlooks and perspectives. And while he is still his brother’s keeper, he has progressed and matured, and now, he must aid his little brother to do the same.

[1] Muhammad, Oliver (July 10, 2016). Personal communication for Oral History of Muslims in North Carolina. Raleigh, NC.
[2] For anyone interested in preserving the legacy of their community through oral history, I have produced a manual for the Oral History of Muslims in North Carolina project that can serve as a model for similar projects. The google doc can be found at the following link:

nullMaurice Hines is an educator and community servant who has worked in various capacities in the community of Durham, North Carolina. In 2011, he earned a Master’s degree in Teaching Arabic to Non-Native Speakers from the Khartoum International Institute for Arabic Language in Sudan. He has instructed Arabic at a number of institutions of higher learning, such as Elon University and Zaytuna College, and served as Arabic Project Director at Bennett College. He also holds a second Master’s in Library and Information Science from North Carolina Central University. His interests range from archival work and African-American history to Arabic teaching pedagogy, information literacy instruction and educational philosophy in the Islamic context and in the ancient world. He has also initiated an oral history project on the North Carolina Muslim community and written on the concept of Islamic information literacy. He currently serves as a reference and instruction librarian at the American University in Cairo.

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