A Black Man’s Manifesto (the short version)
I have been meaning to get around to this for a while, as part of my other blog: http://inthisjournal.wordpress.com/. I felt it was necessary to address this issue since I am writing about my experiences as recorded in my Journals, and I wanted to make it clear what my views are on race, identity, and Islam TODAY, so that people don’t think I have the same views now as I did back at the time of my “Great Racial Awakening.” I feel that it is important to make it abundantly clear that this was a phase that, thank Allah, I passed through.
Nonetheless, it is also important that Muslims have a candid discussion about race and identity. And I believe that African-American Muslims—those who are serious about their religion—are uniquely poised to initiate that discussion. They want to have that discussion, but more often than not, such discussions are suppressed by the immigrant population. I would say that a major reason for this is that many immigrants simply don’t feel comfortable about talking about race… because racism and color hang-ups are so deeply entrenched into their cultures. This is reflected in the matrimonial sections of some Islamic magazines wherein South Asians would have “personals,” like: “FAIR SKINNED daughter with degree in computer science….” Or: “Looking for a suitable husband for my FAIR SKINNED sister with Master’s in Biology,” and so on. Or if one goes to Saudi Arabia, and finds that it is common for the natives to refer to a black person as “`Abid” (slave). Or if one goes to some places in the Middle East he can find that the banks offer loans for plastic surgery so that the women can go get their noses hacked-up, so they can look like the Europeans they are so deeply infatuated with.
This type of stuff goes on not rarely—and it is not unnoticed by black folk (African-Americans). Everyone who knows me, or gives an honest read of my blogs, knows that I DEFINITELY don’t let African-Americans off the hook. But something can be said about African-Americans: as a rule (the Michael Jacksons of the community, aside), we are comfortable with our complexion—not perfectly so—but at least we are not ashamed about who we are, and we don’t openly try to be something we are not. It just ain’t cool to say: “I wanna be white.” As a matter of fact, among the worst insults that can be leveled at a black person is to call him an “Uncle Tom,” “sell-out,” or “wannabe.”
Because of the history of this country, African-Americans had to make race the foremost aspect of their identity, and many of us have learned not only to live with it but to dig the skin we’re in. Also African-Americans are able to grasp matters that seem just too abstruse for many immigrant Muslims who have their own racial/color hang-ups. For one, “being white” in the American context isn’t just about a skin complexion. Being “white” is tied into a Western European identity (that historically was tied into Christianity). As every observant white Muslim convert knows, your “white card” gets revoked with the quickness if you start walking around wearing a hijaab or a kufi and thawb or offering your prayers in public places.
It matters not that you are a fair-skinned Syrian with blue eyes. After Billy Bob and Bubba call you a “Sand N-Word” for sticking your foot into the rest-stop sink basin, your effort to explain that you are as white as they are, and that in the Shari`ah you are “white,” is going to be in vain… And if you want to keep talking to them about the Shari`ah, it may very well be a cause for them, and their Masonburg buddies to resuscitate their old custom of lynching. Black folk know that what is called “Islamophobia” is not only driven by a general hatred of Islam, but it is also driven by racism and the disdain of all things that are not white (of Western European descent).
Okay, enough of that. Let’s get to the Black Man’s Manifesto. When you die and are put in that hole in the ground, the Angels of Interrogation will come. They are going to ask you about: your Lord, your religion, and your Prophet. You are not going to be questioned about what color you are. Similarly, the Prophet informed us: “Allah does not judge you according to your shapes and outward appearances but according to our hearts and actions.” Our creed and our deeds are ultimately what matters, and are the difference between Paradise and Hellfire.
On the Judgment Day, you are not going to be punished—nor rewarded—simply because you are black. However, if you are treated unjustly because you are black, and you are patient with that, and you attempt to rectify the situation by enjoining the good and forbidding the evil (for racism is an evil), then your encounters with racists and racism is an opportunity for you to earn reward. And conversely, if you allow your response to racism and racists to cause you to transgress the limits of the Sacred Law and fall into sin (or use as an excuse to sin), then you will be accountable for those transgressions. That’s the bottom line.
With the above said, African-American Muslims have a unique set of circumstances that, quite frankly, we need to work through. And it really isn’t the place for other folks to say: “Just get over it.” In one sense, they are absolutely right. But on the other hand, if you ain’t been there, then you really don’t know what it’s like. (It’s like me telling someone to “get over” your father giving you whoopins’ when you were twelve for not memorizing all of Suratul-Baqarah, or your family pressuring you to become a medical doctor and marrying that girl from the village back home. Ain’t been there. Ain’t done that. And ain’t gonna pretend I did.) We all have our issues we need to work through.
You (meaning other Muslim ethnic groups) have your own scholars, your own leaders, your own heroes. You have, or at least historically have had, access to the Arabic language. You have lineages that have been preserved intact for a thousand years or more. We don’t have that. It’s not only what we don’t have, it’s what we do have… meaning we inherited a culture that was by designed never intended to be functional. We were told that we were inferior, stupid, and bestial. A lot of that crap got internalized… and for most of us, we never came to grips with it. Part of the reason we became Muslim is that perhaps on a gut level, if nothing else, we felt Islam, since it is the Truth, would enable us to deal with this baggage.
Also, ask yourself (other Muslim ethnic groups) what heroes from our own people do we have? We (African-American Muslims) have the Muslim heroes in general, but where are our Salahud-Deens, Al-Bayhaqis, Ibn Hajars, Ahmad Bambas, Abdul-Qadir Jilanis, Dhun Nun Al-Misriyys, Muhammad Al-Fatihs? Other than Malcolm X, who was no learned Muslim by his own admission, who do we have? Who do we have that we can relate to as an example of someone who triumphantly navigated through the racial labyrinth of America as a learned and pious Muslim?
The solution? We have to be our own heroes. And I say that humbly, not in a haughty or arrogant manner—nor underestimating what that entails. But only we can tell our own story, and we need to see to it, in-shaa’ Allah, that we make that story worthy of telling. We need to produce men and women of knowledge, sincerity, wisdom, and integrity. This means that we have to deal with our issues: our laziness, our impulsiveness, our irresponsibility, our intellectual cowardice—a cowardice that is even afraid to investigate and clarify what is the correct belief in Allah. We have to deal with this, and although I usually try to keep my blogs pretty clean, I will use this word here: we have to deal with this “get-over, ghetto-nigger slave” mentality, in which we are constantly trying to get something for nothing. Such a mindset reflects a heart that is utterly infected with insincerity… and self-deception.
Lastly, this manifesto shouldn’t be anything that makes other Muslims feel intimidated or uncomfortable, but it should make them excited to see a people grow and be transformed by the power and beauty of Islam. And this is not a call to some sort of jahiliyyah black nationalism, either. Instead, it is an invitation to African-American Muslims to begin to resolve their issues, so they can be a genuine asset to the Ummah, and in doing so, they can make everyone stronger, in-shaa’ Allah.
That’s my manifesto… at least the short version.
With Allah is the success, and Allah knows best.