By Dr. Vibert White
Sadly and unnecessarily, Islam is under attack in the United States and throughout the Western hemisphere. The political and social structure has created an atmosphere that Muslims are violent, cruel, and savage beast in our society. However, in order to help reconstruct the real image of Islam as one of the great religions in the world that is comprised of over one billion believers it is imperative that a factual history of its arrival into the Americas is presented.
Prior to the recent influx of Muslim immigrants into America, Islam was associated with the culture of people of African origin. That is, the names of Fard Muhammad, Noble Drew Ali, Elijah Muhammad, Malcolm X, Warith D. Muhammad, Muhammad Ali, The Darul Islam Movement and Louis Farrakhan echo the growth of Islam as an urban Black religious movement. However, the roots of the American Islamic movement are much greater than these wonderful advocates of the faith. The African American base extends back to the last three great empires of West Africa—Ghana, Mali and Songhai.
Ghana, Mali, and Songhai were empires that lasted hundreds of years that consisted of millions of people who practiced democracy, created the world’s first universities, and gave the world a sense of humanity. The empire states were multi-lingual, multi-cultural and multi-religions. Ethnic groups such as Arabs, Berbers, Mandingos, Hansas and Wolofs lived in harmony without the extensive bigotry they many of them would feel in the New World. Timbuktu, the greatest cosmopolitan city in Ancient Africa, was known throughout Europe and Asia as a city that allowed free expression in science, scholarship, politics and religion. The liberal religious atmosphere continued in West Africa until the arrival of European explorers, who radically destabilized Songhai, the last of the great West African empires and ushered in the Atlantic slave trade in the sixteenth century.
The Atlantic slave trade transformed West Africa, Europe and the Americas, creating a continental shift that caused several distinct and unique groups to trade cultures, ideologies and human conditions. Before the slave trade and modern bondage, West African peoples were self-determined. Fortunately, one of the few elements they were able to keep and develop was their basic concept of religion and spirituality. The transporting of Africans into Europe and the Americas spanned more than 200 years and brought over 60 million people to an entirely different society. Africans who were forcibly removed from their homes comprised the Yoruba, Melinke, Kisi, Limba and Ebo to name a few. Although there were many types of African groups and many religions—they shared a basic similarity—they were Islamic in nature. Thus, on their arrival in the Americas, the Africans combined their religions to create a New World religious philosophy as a bulwark for protection. One of the greatest tenets that survived the early years of human bondage was African Islam.
It is very interesting that while American and European politicians, media agencies, and the larger white population label Islam as a violent religion—it were Europeans who used the religion of Christianity to destabilize the African continent, enslave its population, and ushered in policies to rob them of their humanity. Fortunately, major tenets of Islam survived among the Black populations in areas such as Haiti, Cuba, Brazil, and the United States (Article will continue in next edition).
Dr. Vibert White is a Professor of African History and Author. He has taught at Ohio State University, University of Illinois and the University of Central Florida.