Islam’s Contributions to African-American Greatness
by Imam Michael “Mikal” Saahir
Qur’an – “For We assuredly sent amongst every People an apostle, (with the Command), "Serve Allah, and
eschew Evil": of the People were some whom Allah guided, and some on whom error became inevitably
(established). So travel through the earth, and see what was the end of those who denied (the Truth).”
Sura (chapter) 16:36 - (Yusuf Ali translation)
African-American greatness is well-rooted in soil that has been tilled and refined by the hands of many great
leaders who had our best interest in mind as we – by the Will of G_d, expressed in scripture and nature –
rose up as a New People from the nadir of the worse slavery in the known history of mankind. American
slavery was a peculiar form of slavery that failed to reach its goal of total annihilation of our human essence;
but it was successful – for a few centuries – in robbing us of our African-ness, and our humanity; thus making
our racial/ethnic group, a new people on Mother Earth. Therefore, to begin speaking about contributions to
African American greatness we have to remind ourselves of the depth from which we rise, or as
Mother Maya Angelo prosed, “And Still I Rise!”
World history has documented that one of the greatest achievements of Africans, pre-American slavery was our Islamic lives on the Motherland. The Kingdoms of Mali, Timbuktu, Songhai and other Islamic communities earned the nicknames “City of Books” and “Cities of Gold” as witnessed in men such as Mansa Musa. This is a snippet of our African Islamic greatness before being enslaved by a European version of Christianity that had very little – if any – regard for the human value of the children of Africa.
Our sojourn, as a stolen people who are trying to find their way back to the human excellence that we were created for, has been a dignified struggle; but as Prophet Muhammed, peace be upon him, taught, “No son of Adam enjoyed a meal better than the meal he prepared with his own two hands.” Dr. Martin Luther King reflected this same message when he declared, “No Lincolnian Emancipation Proclamation can do this for us...If the Negro is to be free, he must move down into the inner resources of his own soul and sign with a pen and ink of self-assertive manhood his own emancipation proclamation.” This is where Islam (properly called, “Al-Islam”) shines as a major contributor to the rebuilding, or the remaking of our African American greatness as a new people in creation.
Today, we, the children of Africa still have the outer physical expression of the strong African phenotype. Our beautiful broad noses, full lips, and warm brown to black skin; however, internally (in our heart, mind, and soul) we’re a brand new people on Mother Earth. What has made us a “new people” on earth is not our physical makeup. Mentally, morally and spiritually we (the former children of Africa), don’t think, talk, act, or feel like any other racial or ethnic group on earth – and that also includes Africans; we don’t think, talk and act like Africans anymore.
If you are a descendant of America’s chattel-slavery, no matter if you are Muslim, Christian, Jew, or so-called atheist – you are a member of a race of people who were emptied of all of our African past. We had to start all over again, with the help of Allah, because America’s form of slavery completely robbed us of our African family ties; an evil multiplied with 300 years of repeatedly snatching the suckling baby from the mother in an attempt to make us a “no-people.” However, this slavery process actually prepared us to be the best vessel for Allah to use in the making of a new people in creation.
How do you make a “new people”? You make a new people by giving them a new mind, by feeding them knowledge (Words) that had a virgin birth. Words that have a virgin birth are words that did not come from the thinking of man; especially words (knowledge and teachings) that came from the same man that enslaved your fore-parents. Virgin words are scripture that has not been tainted by man’s theological scholarship. The reconnection of the children of Africa with the meaning of the words in the Qur’an has been a major contribution to giving African Americans an independent intellect. When you infuse into the minds of an emptied people the unadulterated Word of Allah; that infusion is the process of making a new people. That is the message in the first four verses of Chapter 55 of the Qur’an that reads, “The Merciful Benefactor, taught the Qur’an – thus, creating the human being and gave them intelligent speech.”
Among the children of Africa – who are now in America – it has been those of the Islamic faith that has given the most in the making and directing African Americans into a new people with a new mind, with a new way of doing almost every aspect of life; and we thank Allah for this miracle-blessing.
The Islamic contributions to African American greatness are also seen in giving people new names, namely, Islamic surnames to replace the “slave names” our families inherited from the last slaveholder of their fore-parents; à la, Muhammad Ali rejecting the name Cassius Clay, and me, Michael Saahir, rejecting the last name of Mr. Simpson B. Flanagan, the former “owner” of my great-grandparents in Athens, Alabama.
When speaking about the making of a new people and what Al-Islam has contributed to our greatness, we must include the vast influence of Islam on America’s jazz scene. Jazz, often considered the genre’ of the thinking person, has many Muslim jazz musicians that include, Pharaoh Sanders, Art Blakey (Abdullah Ibn Buhaina), Charlie Parker (Abdul Karim), Ahmad Jamal (Fritz Jones), Dakota Staton (Aliya Rabia), and McCoy Tyner (Sulaiman Saud).
Not only did Islam contribute to African American art and culture, overall the Islamic faith has given African Americans a “New Language”; a new conversation as Al-Islam expanded our worldview by seeking to reconnect a “new people” to a lost past and a stolen humanity.
Other contributions of Al-Islam to our African American greatness include a modest attire for men and for women; a distinct dress that enhanced, imbued our group identity. Al-Islam also gave African Americans cleaner mental and physical diets of no pork and independent thinking. Yes, other efforts existed within the African American community that contributed to these qualities, but the Islamic contributions seemed to raise the bar mainly because, by and large, the Al-Islam taught to African Americans was not imported from overseas Islamic scholarship. The dominant Islamic scholarship that prevails amongst African-American Muslims was bred right here in the United States namely from Imam W. Deen Mohammed, the son of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad.
It was the leadership of Imam W. Deen Mohammed that infused into our African American community a “freedom of thought” that gave us independent direction and a sense of destiny. Beginning with the work of his father, Islam as it was taught to African Americans, gave us a bona fide religious alternative that is based directly upon the Qur’an and the life modeled by Prophet Muhammed (ppbuh). This great contribution gave African Americans a clear expression of independent Islamic leadership that is based upon a pure and strict monotheism. Al-Islam has given the African American people fresh theological arguments that have now become respected all over the world. Al-Islam has returned to African Americans our original Qur’anic Arabic tongue and our proper relationship to our beloved Prophet Muhammed, the prayers and peace be upon him.
As mentioned, there are many who have contributed to our collective African American greatness. We must be cherished every contributor and their contributions. We must humbly submit to the Mercy that Allah has shown to a formerly lost people. One of the best ways we can show our appreciation for receiving these mighty contributions is by us sharing – in shaa Allah (G_d Willing)! – our blessings with the whole of humanity. Ameen!