by Hakeem Muhammad
The Future of Islam in Black America
The beautiful ayahs of the Qu’ran and the extraordinary stories found within the prophetic biography are designed for each succeeding generation to be able to articulate and evoke the rich tradition of Islam to uplift, galvanize and inspire the oppressed.
For Black people, our 400 years of enslavement impacted our spiritual and theological needs. A substantial amount of Africans brought to the Americas were not only Muslim, but they were also astute scholars of the deen — yet the tyrannical nature of slavery denied them the ability to transmit Islamic knowledge to their posterity. As a result of this, Islam was eradicated among the descendants of enslaved Africans. Yet and still, Islam remains the first religion, we were able to select of our own free will and studies show Blacks continue to rush to Islam.
Overcoming Modern Pharaohs
In his classic article Deadly Symbiosis: When Ghetto and Prison Meet, sociologist Loic Wacquant pinpoints several peculiar institutions which have worked to oppress Black people: Slavery (1619-1865), Jim Crow (1865-1965), Ghetto (1915-1968) and Hyper ghetto-Prison (1968-present). Discussing life within the ghetto-prison system, hip-hop artist Jay-Z, between hustling for survival, ducking the police, and rivals, says that he, “never read the Qur’an or Islamic scriptures. The only psalms I read was on the arms of my nigga.” This bar of Jay-Z highlights the separation of the Black underclass from access to Islamic knowledge. Could this be because we have not mass produced tasfirs of the Qu’ran which have as their audience the oppressed Black underclass? If so, we must rectify this, for the Qur’an, more so than any other book, offers oppressed people hope, perseverance, and complete liberation. A clear example of this is found within the Juz’ 30 of the Qu’ran.
Have you not considered how your Lord dealt with ‘Aad -[With] Iram – who had lofty pillars, The likes of whom had never been created in the land?And [with] Thamud, who carved out the rocks in the valley? And [with] Pharaoh, owner of the stakes? -And increased therein the corruption. So your Lord poured upon them a scourge of punishment. ––89: 6-13
Surah Fajr reminds us that it is Allah, not temporal nation-states, who is the only superpower. The wealth, materialistic and architectural accomplishments of a civilization is not sufficient to avert the judgment and punishment of Allah if those civilization become corrupt and neglect the poor. For Black Americans, the vast wealth and many of the unique American architectural accomplishments were built by our enslaved ancestors. As a direct impact of institutional racism, Black people have been made poor and it would take over 200 years for Black families to have equal wealth as white families. Surah Fajr should remind us all that Allah is on the side of the oppressed against hegemonic powers.
Ali Shariati, the Iranian sociologist taught: “Allah wants to raise the position of the poor and miserable hostages of the Third World and get rid of their inferiority complexes.” Exemplifying this is Malcolm X who said, “the religion of Islam had reached down into the mud to lift me up, to save me from being what I inevitably would have been: a dead criminal in a grave.”
Never Turning Away From the Blind
In the critical hour, a surah that Muslims must take heed of is Surah Abasa. It was revealed after the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) approached several of the high-ranking Quraysh elites in his society with the message of Islam. While doing so, a poor blind man interrupted him asking a myriad of questions about Islam. This Surah reminded the Prophet (pbuh) that the poor blind man of low social rank was more worthy of his attentions than that of the arrogant, highly influential, Quraysh elites.
In contemporary times, I posit that it is Black people in the urban centers who have been made blind to a knowledge of themselves and who hunger for Islamic knowledge. This is who we must once again begin to focus our time and attention on.
We can begin to do this by making our masjids centers for Black Liberation. This allows us to uphold a Quranic struggle against white supremacy and institutionally work against the deleterious impact structural racism has on the Black community. When Imam Siraj Wahhaj established Masjid Al Taqwa, he recounts the numerous drug houses all up and down the blocks where the new Masjid was located. Again, structural racism in motion. That didn’t stop him from working night and day with his congregation to clean up his community. Black liberation in action. Now, all up and down the block are Muslim businesses. His masjid is so much more than a “prayer-rug activity centers”: but has worked actively to transform the entire hood into one of the finest Islamic communities in the world.
We need more Islamic scholarship produced by ourselves to solve the social problems in our community such as gang violence, mass-incarceration, drug addictions, police brutality and the school to prison pipeline. Islamic spirituality in the hood must include purifying the heart of greed, arrogance, and pride, but it must also include weaning our people from the, “sexual chaos that ravages our society” according to Dr. Sherman Jackson. Our Islamic scholarship should be that force that works to transform society and the world.
When the victory of Allah has come and the conquest, And you see the people entering into the religion of Allah in multitudes, Then exalt [Him] with praise of your Lord and ask forgiveness of Him. Indeed, He is ever Accepting of repentance. ––110:1-3
Hakeem Muhammad is a Black Muslim public intellectual, Public Interest Law Fellow at Northeastern Law School and educator at Muslim Empowerment Institute (MEI). Muhammad’s scholarship is dedicated to Islamic revival in the Black community. He believes that Islam must be restored to having the transformative effect it once had in mitigating the social ills of Black America. Muhammad has previously worked in the African-American Male Initiative, working to increase the college retention rates of Black male students. He has also taught political philosophy for Harvard Debate Council and Cal Speech and Debate Camp at UC Berkeley. Muhammad is the author of the forthcoming book, “The Significance of the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan to the Entire Muslim Ummah.”