By Erlangga Utama
Islam arose as a religion that believed in God’s (Allah) messages, knowledge, wisdom, answers, and orders for human beings who live in tribulation. Initially, it was only practiced by a small community on Arab soil. Today, the scale of its following is growing, and it is now the fastest growing religion, its followers spreading across the continents across the globe. The founder of Islam was a prophet called Muhammad SAW (sallallahu alaihi wasallam), who was an illiterate Arab merchant. By the help of God through an angel named Gabriel (Jibril in Arab), Muhamad SAW was able to spread this belief to his followers through a holy book, the Koran (Al-Quran). Following Muhammad’s passing, the number of Muslims kept multiplying. We can see the result of Islam’s manifestations that consisted of the Ottoman empire through to the Cordoba civilization, which introduced Islam and it’s knowledge to Europe, the history of Muslim merchants who migrated across the Silk Road between Central Asia and Indo-China, and last but not least, it emerged as a prominent force during the civil rights movement in the USA that fought for the rights of black communities.
In Islamic history, as written in the Koran, many stories are told about the slave trade that was commonly practiced in the so-called ancient Jahiliah period, whereby Islam arose to counter this abomination. Throughout history, consolidation of fortunes have enabled several men in power to enslave the “weak” masses, a practice of which continues to occur to this day throughout every major civilisation. The history of slavery during the rise of Western civilization can be seen when the colonialists & scientists traded African slaves, who were tragically treated inhumanely. The slaves were traded as property, used as unethical biological experiments, and exploited as free laborers on American soil. Furthermore, the African cultures and Islamic identity owned by the slaves were abolished by the colonialists. African slaves were seen as racially inferior by their oppressive white captors who based their foundations on racist and supremacist interpretations of Darwinist theories. These underlying roots kickstarted the racism which appeared in the United States; namely, the continual oppression of black people.
So, can we generalize that most white Americans detest and look down upon Muslims and black people? Of course not, although examples such as the fact that the relationship between Islam and the United States of America has never fully recovered since the 9/11 tragedy, highlight the fact that issues continue to persist. Many innocent victims have died due to terrorist activities in the name of Islam; something of which is exacerbated through the cognitive dissonance aggravated through media propaganda and distortion. Subsequently, many western people started to become suspicious of Muslims and became exaggeratedly paranoid about terrorist activity, and consequently, Islamophobia has since become a global issue. This tension has continued and intensified under the presidency of Donald Trump, who relentlessly spread his propaganda, resulting in increased white supremacy, racial tensions, divisions and issues, not to mention immigrant rejection; a humanitarian crisis on several levels!
According to the FBI’s data in 2001, increasing numbers of cases of intimidation towards Muslims in the USA were reported, which progressively increased in the years that followed. According to pew research data, this statistic indicates that a large proportion of Donald Trump’s voters are responsible for much of the intolerant behaviour aimed at American Muslims. We can negatively stereotype this with the “redneck” community, who have since become synonymous with the red MAGA (Make America Great Again) baseball caps. As with all stereotypes, we need to look beneath the surface, as interestingly enough, there is a redneck Muslim called Shane Akitson who has raised concerns about the Trump regime. In an interview with PBS, he confessed his reason for converting to Islam, which he largely attributed to Malcolm X and the influence of Hip Hop, and he also discussed the anxiety recent current political events had caused him. Against all odds, he nonetheless tries to maintain ties and dedication to both Muslim and redneck communities.
Despite living in an era of accelerating technological advancement, racism nonetheless continues to persist. Recently, we saw the appalling police brutality of George Floyd, who died whilst under police custody through being violently mishandled. To exacerbate matters, Floyd also had a history of criminal activity and drug abuse, having been under the influence whilst being detained on that tragic night. This highlights far deeper issues underlying Floyd’s unfortunate demise, such as those of a failing system that inadequately addresses preventative measures to stop such incidences and their underlying causes from occurring. This tragedy was a time bomb that exploded through the help of social media, the murder was captured in a 10 minute video urging vast numbers of protesters from across the world from the United States, to Europe and Asia, to take action by gathering and protesting on the streets, voicing out civil rights issues over inhumane law enforcement injustices. To this day, black people are still disproportionately represented as victims of excessive law enforcement, injustice, and systematic racism. The Black Lives Matter movement insists on improvement inside the United States’ justice system, despite the fact that Trump’s presidency has shown a lack of concern to listen to people’s voices and cooperate by attending to their concerns.
Even though Black & Muslim people have been in the land of Uncle Sam for centuries, they still consider themselves as dual minority citizens. Nevertheless, population statistics indicate that these are large and fast-growing demographic. not only for the black population, but those of Muslims too. Given the large numbers of Muslim populations in the US, it is unfortunately unsurprising to see increased incidents of intimidation towards Muslims.
As can be seen, blacks make up the largest Muslim demographic in the US, with a current population of around 862,000. It is difficult in many respects for black Muslims in America due to the widespread prevalence of Islamophobia and racism, and the fact that they are considered to be dual minority citizens. Even though Obama had been the first black President of the USA, racial discrimination towards black people nonetheless still continues to persist as unfortunate recent events have indicated. Racism has been persistent in the USA since its inception, most evidently since the Jim Crow era in the late 19th Century, although not many people realize that this particular era also oversaw the birth of Islam in the USA too.
A Nation Inside A Nation
Black people were unable to leave their oppressive conditions in the USA during the Jim Crow era, whose grim history reveals systematic segregation and inexorable racist practices. On humanistic terms, oppression jeopardizes the intrinsic value of what it means to be human. Slaves underwent forced labour for large corporations and governments, and whenever they found obedient or submissive slaves, beatings and slaughters were inexorably delivered upon them, with some even being stabbed and hung by their oppressors. In the midst of this social turmoil, a sacred light came from God (Allah), and Islam became a refuge which offered hope for the oppressed black slaves. The seeds of civil rights and human rights movements brought about through Islamic teachings would later underlie the impulses that would bring forth “a nation” inside a nation.
Islam has been a force fighting for the abolition of slavery ever since the prophet Muhammad SAW, and its mission has sustained its purpose amongst various circles, leading up to the inception of the organization known as the Nation of Islam (NOI), that emerged in the USA in the 20th Century. This organisation has played important roles, such as maintaining slavery abolition, encouraging the subsistence of the black community, fighting the domination of white supremacy through law protection, providing educational and economic solutions for enhancing the quality of life of black Americans, and restoring the African cultures and heritage that were brutally abolished. All these efforts are embodied as a symbol of a counter-attack towards an injustice system that overwhelms the wholesome picture of the ideal American society.
Ideologically, the Nation of Islam has brought about another kind of Islamic hegemony, to some extent, different from traditional Islamic thinking. The organization was surreptitiously formed by a mysterious white man named Fard Muhammad whose identity is untraceable, to the extent that even Intelligence agents could not find his information. After his disappearance, a black man named Elijah Muhammad, a chosen student of Fard’s, replaced him to lead the organization. Fard’s legacy seems controversial. Some of his followers believed that he was an embodiment of supreme God (Allah) who appeared as a silk merchant in a Detroit Ghetto, and others saw him as a prophet who brought about revelation in the 20th century. His mysterious appearance triggers some questions. How can he persist to spread Islamic teachings in the middle of a chaotic situation within a short period? How did he vanish so fast from the government’s eyes while the organization was being watched? Perhaps, he is a man of miraculous ways – possibly an angel who descended as a force of divine will.
A narration that formed around Fard M. in the organization’s mind was as valuable as African folklore that is delivered from generation to generation. He told about inspiring discourses that evoked black community consciousness. Fard M. recognised black people’s predecessors as a high race, that should make them proud of Islam and proud to be Muslim, and consider it the righteous and impeccable religion to eradicate slavery. This teaching was to instil confidence in black people. When Elijah Muhammad was in leadership, he wrote a book that depicts the predecessor of black people, Jacob, The Father of Humankind. This is not a story of Jacob (Yakub) from a monotheistic religion’s perspective, but rather, it is a myth of a genius large-headed black scientist who invented biological and race experiments, and who at some point, would excogitate the white race to blemish and rule the earth. Departing from this myth, Elijah Muhammad considered white people to be the devilish spawn, which he preached whilst converting incarcerated black men. This is a controversial statement, and contradicts the belief of Islamic fundamentals, whether Sunni or Shia, as both sects only adhere to the unseen omnipotent God, not an ephemeral human God. This is why Islamic practice in the Nation of Islam is markedly unique. Perhaps this form of teaching was the only way to tackle injustice in the context of racial segregation in the USA.
Fard Muhammad evanesced from history in 1930 and Elijah Muhammad continued his path. Despite Elijah’s controversial statements, prominent world figures emerged from his leadership. To name but a few, Malcom X and Muhammad Ali were two young men of NOI generations that influenced the global view of civil and human rights. Following the death of Elijah Muhammad in 1975, his son, Warith Deen Muhammad, replaced his father as Nation of Islam’s leader. He did not espouse his father’s legacy, and reoriented the organization’s stance to Sunni Islam. Some of Elijah’s adherents deplored Warith’s decision that Elijah Muhammad’s legacy would be revived and preserved by the controversial Louis Farrakhan.
These examples name but a few of NOI’s fruits; it is not an easy task to maintain diverse ideas within such an organization. To achieve diversity, minds inside organizations should ideally assimilate contrasting perspectives to prevent discordance from arising. Malcom X was a great example of NOI’s fruits, but later decided to leave the organization and start his own movement, herding civil rights sympathizers and practising Sunni Islam. Nevertheless, Malcom X is a world figure through NOI’s previous roles & support, which makes him a product of the organisation.
The Harmony within a relationship between guru and students is depicted on the journey of Fard & Elijah Muhammad. Likewise, Malcom X and his students also decided to split from the organization. Malcom X’s student, Clarance 13X founded a new organization and built a cultural center in New York called The Nation of Gods & Earths, otherwise referred to as The Five Percenters Nation. The reason Clarance 13X left NOI was because of his rebuttal to the notion that Fard Muhammad was white. He was more convinced that a black man was incarnated in the written tenets of the organization.
Tenets of the Five Percent Nation
(1.) That black people are the original people of the planet Earth.
(2.) That black people are the fathers and mothers of civilization.
(3.) That the science of Supreme Mathematics is the key to understanding man’s relationship to the universe.
(4.) Islam is a natural way of life, not a religion.
(5.) That education should be fashioned to enable us to be self-sufficient as a people.
(6.) That each one should teach one according to their knowledge.
(7.) That the black man is God and his proper name is ALLAH (Arm, Leg, Leg, Arm, Head).
(8.) That our children are our link to the future and they must be nurtured, respected, loved, protected and educated.
(9.) That the unified black family is the vital building block of the nation.
The fruits of NOI did not stop growing at this stage. The distinct differences of Islamic interpretation between NOI & The Five Percenter Nation on fighting the same oppression has been expounded upon by Hip Hop messengers and founders. Examples include Kool Herc & Afrika Bambaataa, who were known to personally adhere to Five Percenters teachings.
Hip Hop is not only a music genre, moreover it is also a socio-political movement that has visions, revolutions, attacks on political corruption, injustices and excessive law enforcement, to drawing attention to ferocious gang wars and depressing poverty though an evocative and visceral artform. There are musicians younger than Afrika Bambaataa & Kool Herc, who have also learned through such teachings, including A Tribe Called Quest, Ice Cube, Busta Rhymes, Erykah Badu, Jay Z, Mos Def, and members of the Wu Tang Clan.
Afrika Bambaataa & The Soulsonic Force –Renegades of Funk
Perhaps some Muslims may question notions such as the concept of God in human form. If a black man is referred to as God, why do famines exist in Africa? Why do wars still occur? How did a man create a universe that is seemingly beyond human capabilities? Of course, the legacy of Fard Muhammad or Elijah is commendable, but some might say that this Islamic sect outdares Islamic orthodox teachings and beliefs. In Islamic orthodoxy, depicting God in human form is considered taboo and infidelious.
Al- Ikhlas (Al-Quran)
Say, “He is Allah, [who is] One,
Allah, the Eternal Refuge.
He neither begets nor is born,
Nor is there to Him any equivalent.”
Interestingly, God incarnating in human form is not a new concept in Islamic history. There was a prolific poet who conveyed his perception of God’s appearance in human from through poetry. The poet was Jalaluddin Rumi, a Persian Sufi and role model, whose poems have continued to inspire academics, artists and Muslims alike. If we delve deeper into his masterpiece “The Body is Like Mary” and try to ascertain its relevance to the notions of the Nation of Islam and Five percenters Nation beliefs, to me, we can find an imagery of God’s existence and nature in an infinite number of places or objects, as found in cells, atoms, frequencies, energies, solar systems, galaxies, and human flesh.
It is very sensitive to talk about different interpretations of religious teachings; especially in Islam, as a successor of Abraham’s religion that is bound by conventionally rigid rules and norms. On the other hand, however, Islam should be diverse, as it encompasses multiple races, cultures, histories, and interpretations. Therefore, it is necessary to understand the context and circumstances of the Nation of Islam and its offshoots for the sake of diversity. In my humble opinion, openness is needed to provide reunification within the Islamic sphere. Whether it is right or wrong, we as ordinary human beings should not justify or judge, as that should be decided solely by the supreme God. Praise merciful God!
The Body is Like Mary
The body is like Mary, and each of us has a Jesus inside.
Who is not in labour, holy labour? Every creature is.
See the value of true art, when the earth or a soul is in
the mood to create beauty;
for the witness might then for a moment know, beyond
any doubt, God is really there within,
so innocently drawing life from us with Her umbilical
universe – infinite existence …
though also needing to be born. Yes, God also needs
to be born!
Birth from a hand’s loving touch. Birth from a song,
from a dance, breathing life into this world.
The body is like Mary, and each of us, each of us has
a Christ within.