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.