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Saturday, March 12, 2011

Why Do So Many African-Americans Convert to Islam?

For many decades, we have witnessed a phenomena of African-Americans converting to Islam. In many cases, they have embraced a militant version of the faith, most notably the Nation of Islam (currently headed by Louis Farrakhan). Many of these conversions have occurred in prison, and to this day, there is a large scale effort to convert black prison inmates to Islam. The question arises; what does Islam offer to African-Americans? It is undeniable that many converts have seen Islam as a return to their African roots before their ancestors were converted to Christianity-in many cases as slaves.  Yet, while everyone is well aware of the history of the Trans-Atlantic slave trade between Africa and the Americas, fewer are aware of the history of the Trans-Saharan slave trade from sub-Saharan (black) Africa to (Arab) Northern Africa, a trade that began before the Trans-Atlantic trade and has persisted in some quarters to this day, most notably in Sudan (that other country that nobody wants to talk about) and the Islamic Republic of Mauritania, where some 600,000 blacks (20% of the total population) are still held in slavery by their Arab masters.





(Post Deville-Vlad Tepes)

While most Africans sent to the Americas were subjected to back-breaking labor, those taken to the Arab lands were generally put in harems (women) or used as keepers of the harems (eunuchs). For the men, that entailed forced castration. So take your pick as to which form of slavery was the worst.

The point persists, however, that Islam in black Africa has similar roots as Christianity among blacks in the Americas-conquest and slavery. So the question arises, if converting from Christianity to Islam represents a way for a black American to reject the religion of the slave-master (Christianity), what sense is it to embrace another religion with a similar history?

Or is it because many converts are not really aware of that history?

Isn't it also amazing that given the universal revulsion that slavery represents in Western thought,  so little attention is given to modern-day slavery in Sudan. Ditto for that region in Western Sudan that the world just can't bring itself to rescue-the Darfur?  Why is there so little universal outrage over the fact that black people in southern Sudan, mostly Christian or Animists, have been so brutalized by the Muslim north (principally Arab) and the government in Khartoum?

What am I missing here?

When I was researching my book, "The Story of Papiamentu-a Study in Slavery and Language", I learned that the Dutch Protestant slave owners in Curacao, Aruba and Bonaire had no interest in teaching their slaves the Dutch language, nor converting them, while Spanish Catholic missionaries in nearly northern Venezuela were fervently trying to bring them to Christianity. Many of those missionaries learned the slave language that had been developing (Papiamentu) in order to better preach to the slaves. (As a result those Dutch colonial islands today are Catholic, not Protestant.) Indeed, history records Catholic missionaries in West African ports literally reciting Biblical passages to the slaves as they were being loaded onto the ships that would carry them from Africa to the Americas.

At any rate, it is clear that slavery did play a role in bringing those of African descent to Christianity. Those in Africa who remained were exposed to later missionary work that brought many to Christianity. Slavery also played a role in leading black Africans (who never came to America) to Islam. This does not, of course, get into any theological argument over which religion represents truth. It does, however, lead one to question why black Americans would find Islam so attractive given its history with black Africans. Perhaps, that is one reason we don't hear so much about it.

23 comments:

ekobrine said...

Interesting reading but I don't know if slavery is the driving force that some people convert to Islam. I don't know what is a driving force. I can only speculate.

Siarlys Jenkins said...

Gary, you really don't know how Islam became attractive to some portion of African Americans? At a time when most Americans of African descent were still under the results of the most psychopathically racist period of our history (1896-1948), a con man named Elijah Muhammed offered the line that what he called "Islam" was "the true religion for the black man." Because his organization did offer a degree of business development and economic self-sufficiency, a patina of high moral standards (which he himself violated with impunity), and self-respect, it was attractive.

One way beyond Elijah Muhammed's message was, when Malcolm X took the Hajj to Mecca, he learned that Muslims come in all colors -- but he committed to orthodox Sunni Islam. He did, however, come back reaching out to African American Christians, and was soon shot to death. The remaining fragments spun off in various directions. But it is true that without the Arabic trans-continental slave trade, the trans-Atlanic trade would have been virtually impossible.

By the way, I don't know of any account which suggests that having Catholic priests, complicit in the export of slaves from African, saying prayers over the enchained prisoners as they departed, inspired devotion to the saving grace of Jesus. African Americans acquired Christianity through Methodist and Baptist revivals that were quite multi-racial in character during the Great Awakening, and formed "the black church" when their newly respectable "white" brethren started INTRODUCING strange customs, 1780-1800, such as separating worshippers by race.

Siarlys Jenkins said...

I should also note, if you can bear so much historically accurate detail, that at the time of Denmark Vesey's revolt in Charleston (circa 1821) about 10 percent of the enslaved population in South Carolina retained the Muslim heritage from which they or their immediate ancestors had been torn. The strong Muslim presence on Trinidad and Tobago stems from the fact that enslaved persons brought there never lost their Muslim heritage. There was a case of several men and women of Moroccan origin who had purchased their own freedom in South Carolina, who petitioned to be exempt from various laws restricting free colored persons, on the ground that they were subjects of the King of Morocco, who had a treaty with the United States extending mutual protection to each other's citizens (US) and subjects (Morocco).

ragaye said...

I swear, I wish people would start talking to muslims themselves and asking them what they feel. I am an African-American that was born muslim. My family converted in the 70's because they read the Quran and believed it was the word of God..It had nothing to do with returning to our ancestors religion. They felt that Christianity was not the truth and that is why they converted, which is the reason why most african-american muslims convert...

Gary Fouse said...

ragaye,

Many African-Americans convert to Islam in prison. In certain ways, it appears to have cleaned up their lives. Yet, in most cases, there seems to be a militancy that goes with that conversion. I don't have the empirical eveidence, but anecdotally, there seem to be so many examples. Abdul Alim Musa is one example. It may have turned away from dealing drugs, but it did nothing for his views of his fellow man and his country.

Brian Milliner said...

I have tried to find an African American to ask him or her why Islam has become such a magnet to them. I believe that you are correct in saying that they are unaware the role that Islam played in African slavery. Of course I find that wierd. The reason is not because the roots of the African American are in Islam just as Christianity is certainly not. In fact the Moslems made the Africans convert to Islam in Africa under the threat of death. I believe that it is the bad side of Islam that attracts them: The violent side. It is admirable to find an alternative to drugs, etc. Why not Buddhism?

Frankly speaking, I am an Israeli and I am Jewish. This conversion to Islam would be the same as me joining the neo-Nazi party in America.

Why in prison? I believe that it is a way to commit themselves to violence without being punished. The use and supply of drugs in prison is subject to punishement. Crime is punishable as well. Conversion to Islam is not.

Anonymous said...

Brian sounds silly. The true word of all man is in the Quran.Violence has nothing to to with Islam. Read a book. A Muslim is one who submits to the will of God.

Gary Fouse said...

Anonymous,

If violence has nothing to do with Islam, then why is there so much reference to it in the Koran? Why are we seeing horrific acts of violence carried out daily in the name of Islam? Why are religious minorities in Muslim countries being persecuted? Why does Islam have a death penalty for blasphemy, apostasy, homosexuality and adultery? You have made a definitive statement. Let me see you back it up.

Anonymous said...

Gary,
The same could be posed to Judaism. In many aspects religion in general contain violence. Surely you're aware of that fact. Let's be balanced

Gary Fouse said...

Anonymous,

Yes, but I am not sure the point you are trying to make. If you could elaborate.

As far as violence is concerned, you are correct historically speaking. Today, however, the problem of religious violence is overwhelmingly dominated by Islam.

Anonymous said...

If you really want to know why, read this: http://www.answering-islam.org/ReachOut/emergence.html

Anonymous said...

I'm not Brian but I read the Quran and pieces found of the hadith and I lived in the middle east for 11 years. Just 1 point for now due mostly to time restraints. The "peace" of the cult religion of Islam, propagated by Muslim imams worldwide, has dominated all forms of media for the last two decades. Where is the outrage for such perverse interpretation say as there was for the man who drew a cartoon muhammad. There will never be true peace again until Islam is labeled properly and then outlawed. Seek out the facts. BTW, is it still 72 virgins for your sacrifice in killing as many of Gods creations because he's either too busy or maybe doesn't have the stomach for it or has the number gone down due to over participation? Anonymous because I need my head and because I am the soul member of my own church and want to keep it that way.

Anonymous said...

True. But Islam is the only one that hasn't evolved. Acts of barbarism in the name of a God is soooo 12 centuries ago. Watch the news in the past 2 decades? Join my club. My God doesn't allow for the killing of any of his/and/or her creatures except for sustainance. Sorry no virgins though.

Brahms said...

The other use of the black slave was slave master over the white slaves in Northern Africa - a bit of forgotten history.

Brahms said...

Also, the driving force of black conversion to Islam is simple - it's an organized anti-white racist group which offers power in numbers.

Anonymous said...

Regarding religion and violence, we must remember that there are/have been hundreds of religions. I believe is inarguable that the religions that fall under the Abrahmic umbrella (Christianity, Islam, Judaism) have been by and large the most destructive on earth.

Anonymous said...

Sharia does provide speedy and effective judgment and punishment of criminal violence. Hand up, don't shoot.

Gary Fouse said...

Anonymous,

Sharia also provides speedy and effective judgment and punishment for adulterers, homosexuals, those who leave Islam and those who criticize Islam. Death to all.

As for hands up-don't shoot, the grand jury investigation in Ferguson proved that was a false narrative.

Anonymous said...

this is USELESSS

Gary Fouse said...

Anonymous,

Any specific disagreements, or it it just USELESS?

Anonymous said...

@ Brahms: Sadly, I believe you're correct. There's such a driving force in the name of hatred, it's frightening. Our government is working diligently to create division like hasn't been seen since the Civil Rights movement. Another problem is that many want to cling to the past and resist moving out of the 'hole' created for them by a certain political party who thrives on baiting and switching the entire culture. All the claims of helping the entire culture is based on a lie - look at the party who created the Jim Crow laws and you will see parallel between the party of the past and present. There's a reason why our ancestors didn't endorse them. The political party of Frederick Douglass, Sojourner Truth, George Washington Carver, Harriet Tubman, and Martin Luther King, Jr. is finally receiving more attention thanks to people like Allen West, Thomas Sowell and Condoleezza Rice. "The first black members of the US House and Senate were Republicans. The first civil rights legislation came from Republicans. Democrats gave us the KKK, Jim Crow, lynchings, poll taxes, literacy tests, and failed policies like the 'Great Society.'" (http://clashdaily.com/2014/03/allen-west-lbj-ill-nggers-voting-democratic-next-200-years/)

It's all about control through emotional manipulations - it's what drives that anti-minority political party that created Jim Crow laws and the religious beliefs of Islam. Either way, we as a people need to wake up! Our voices are being silenced because we do not speak truth, we believe in the lies we're fed by too many - including the charloten's like Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton (who want to fuel hatred, and keep the racial stereotypes alive and well).

History is there so we can learn from our past, not so we can live in it and re-create the same horrible atrocities again and again. As a strong, proud Black Woman, I am made stronger by my family history - but not defined by it. I am who I am because of the struggles of those whom have gone before. I implore my fellow Brothers and Sisters to move forward and release the hate - because it hurts no one but you and keeps you and you alone in a 'hole'. Islam is not merely about submission to God, to live in an Islamic society means you are to submit to the ruling majority. If you disagree? You'll face death for Apostasy. Islam is a fate worse than slavery, and has absolutely nothing to do with peace or freedom. The Qu'ran and Hadith both are riddled with endorsement for violence. Our Brothers and Sisters have been taken in by smooth talking 'salesmen' who are essentially stealing them away from God with promise of something glorious. The Bible predates the Qu'ran, and God warned His followers of other attempts (such as Islam) to alter God's Word: Gal 1:6-9
No Other Gospel
6 I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel – 7 which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. 8 But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned! 9 As we have already said, so now I say again:If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned! (NIV)

I'm so sorry for the long post, but so many losing their eternal inheritance because of a lie is upsetting to me. Additionally, I hated to post as "Anonymous", but I haven't any of the account types it asks for. GOD BLESS.
Sincerely,
KYRA

Anonymous said...

Then why hold white people in 2016 accountable for slavery if this has nothing to do with returning to your ancestors religion? The reason your parents were muslin was more than likely because one of your great great aunts or grandmother's was a harem slave and the religion was passed down through your family. Real talk, own it if you're going to be a racist.

Aisha said...

Gary Fouse, You asked..."What am I'm missing here?" The truth in its entirety from reliable sources Qur'an and Hadith. Ragaye made a very good point which is a fact.