African American History Forum
Black History Month and the Contributions of Islam
February 9, 2008
Celebrating Black History month in February is an excellent opportunity to learn about the struggle and achievement of the people of African descent, and their creativity and their contribution to human civilization, and also to reaffirm the struggle and determination to fight prejudice and racism.
American Muslims are proud of the accomplishments of African Americans especially Keith Ellison of Minnesota, the first black Muslim elected to Congress, and Sen. Barack Obama, son of an African Muslim from Kenya, running for the nomination for the president of United States.
The Quran says: ''O people, we created you from a single pair of a male and a female, and made you into tribes and nations so that you may know each other. Verily, the most honored of you in the sight of Allah is the one who is most righteous of you.'' (49:13)
Today, Islam is the fastest growing religion in the United States; the majority of the populations embracing Islam are African Americans.
Why are African Americans embracing Islam in such large numbers? Is it because of Malcolm X's annual pilgrimage (Hajj) to Mecca or is it because of multiracial aspect of Islam? It is due to multiracial aspect of Islam.
When people think of Africa they think of blacks, civil wars and AIDS epidemic. The intellectual discourse on topics like African history in Islamic context is inadequate and absent from the history books.
Today more than 50 percent of the people in Africa are Muslims. And of the Africans brought over to America in slave trade, many came from Muslim families.
With this spirit in mind, Bilal Ibne Rabah, an Ethiopian slave living in Mecca, became a leading companion of the Prophet Muhammad. Very little is known of Bilal.
Bilal was a slave freed by Prophet Muhammad. Who at the time of slavery used to buy slaves and free them? Bilal is associated with very important decision taken by the Prophet Muhammad concerning the issue of race and color.
Prophet Muhammad chose a freed black slave to perform the Azan -- the call of the faithful to prayers. His decision was based on the Quranic teaching against racial discrimination, which explains the rationale behind God's creation of humanity in different tribes, color, religion and race, so that you know each other.
Prophet Muhammad chose Bilal to be the first Muezzin not because of his racial lineage nor his power or wealth, because Bilal possessed neither.
He was chosen because of his piety, character and honor even though his pronunciation was not accurate. Bilal was to become one of the greatest people in the history of Islam. His name adorns the pages of Islamic history as a reminder to all those who incite discord and disunity among people, races and nations -- but especially to Muslims -- not to transgress the will of God in their behavior and thinking.
Sadly, as we reflect on the current religious practices and social conditions of so many Muslims communities in United States, we find them divided along artificial lines of nationality, families, ethnic identity and culture.
In celebrating Black History Month, we should be able to include that rich Islamic history that has been hidden from us in the midst of Islam phobia that has marked out Muslims and Islam as ''medieval uncivilized.''
American Muslims need to know that in these times of deliberate misrepresentation and spin, Islamic scholars were the inheritors, keepers and developers of Roman and Greek learning.
Islamic learning and culture first illuminated the Dark Ages in Europe.
Africa and Islam have more in common than we think. Islam entered Africa 100 years before Columbus. The ancient and renowned city of Timbuktu in modern Mali was the crossroads of West African and Islamic civilization and learning.
Timbuktu was a city were scholars would travel to acquire knowledge. African Americans have been in America for long time, not as takers but as contributors, and it is worth celebrating this rich heritage, and as an American Muslim, I hold dear to my heart to enlighten both young and old, the black and non-black toward truth and social justice and pursue the vision of making America not of red and blue states, not as white and black states, but a better place to live with equal opportunity for all.
Mohammed Khaku is past president of Al Ahad Islamic Center in Allentown.