October 23, 2008
Fitzgerald: Arab racism and black Muslims
You can find online complaints about Arab racism from black Muslims (or Black Muslims, that is members of the Nation of Islam, who are not considered real Muslims by the Arabs) in this country. Despite the universalist claims made for Islam, it is, and has always been, a vehicle for Arab supremacism. The reasons are not hard to find. As Anwar Shaikh (an ex-Muslim who was born in Pakistan and died in Wales in 2006) noted in his book Islam, The Arab National Religion, the Arabs consider themselves to be superior to other Muslims because they “received” the message from Allah. It was given to them and was in their language. Non-Arab Muslims are supposed to read the Qur’an, or listen to its recital, only in Arabic. Any other version, in any other language, is not the same thing.
Compare this to the missionaries for Christianity, who in some cases became extraordinary linguists in order to study native languages and dialects and translate the Bible into them. And they did this for languages that in many cases had never had a written form — thereby helping to preserve the language for use, and for study.
And when a Muslim prays, wherever in the world he may be, he is directed to pray — it is a matter of fantastic importance — toward Mecca, toward the Hejaz, toward Arabia, the center of his being.
And the Sunnah, one should not forget, is at least as important as the Qur’an. Some Arabs even say that it is possible to imagine a guide to life with the Sunnah alone, but not with the Qur’an alone. Both matter. And what is the Sunnah? It consists of “practice” — the customs and manners of the early Arabs, that is, of Muhammad and His Companions, that serve to gloss the Qur’an. And the Sunnah is derived from two texts — the Hadith, the written record of the sayings and acts of Muhammad, and the Sira, the biography of Muhammad, the first version of which appeared a century-and-a-half after the historical (if he was historical) Muhammad’s death. What matters is not what parts of the Sira were imagined or which Hadith were made up, and by what means, but which parts Muslims take to be the genuine details of the life of Muhammad, and what Hadith they believe to be the most “authentic” in the compilations of the most “authoritative” — by their lights — muhaddithin.
As Anwar Shaikh notes, the Arabs of Arabia needed their own “religion” to compete with, but not to be completely unlike, the earlier-in-time monotheisms of the lands they first conquered. These lands were inhabited by Christians and Jews. The Jews were not confined to the Land of Israel, but were to be found living, and for a long time, in many parts of the Middle East. They were living in Iran and present-day Iraq, and of course in Arabia itself — for how else could they keep being encountered by Muhammad, in Mecca, Medina (Yathrib), the Khaybar Oasis? The Arab “religion” that they created is clearly the result of taking bits and pieces of pagan Arab pre-Islamic lore (the djinn, for example), mixed with misunderstood and misremembered bits of Judaism and Christianity.
This amalgam was presented to the conquered peoples, the Christians and Jews, as not the New and Improved Version of their faiths (as modern Western marketers might have done with a detergent), but rather as something else — the True Version of Their Faith, which they had misunderstood and distorted or perverted. This made it less strange a faith, and those elements of pre-existing beliefs to be found within it, however jumbled, made it easier for Islam to insinuate itself into the minds of non-Muslims who often converted purely as a practical matter. They did so in order to join the side of the conquerors, to be free of the many disabilities that as non-Muslims they would have to endure (the three choices were: to be killed, to convert, or to endure forever the status of dhimmi, with all that that meant). How many Christians in America today, if they had, in perpetuity, to pay $50,000 per head to remain Christians, would do so? For how many would there be a falling off, and how many each year?
Islam has been a destroyer of other cultures and other languages. In a world that worships “diversity,” the thrust of Islam has been to efface diversity. Languages other than Arabic have received no sympathetic study or attention by Arabs or Muslim missionaries — the effort has been to efface the many languages and cultures that could once be found in the lands conquered. There are, here and there, pockets of Aramaic-speakers in some Syrian villages, a handful of Mandaeans and Yazidis (450 of whom were killed by Muslim bombs in the worst act of Muslim terror in Iraq). There are the Copts in Egypt, or what is left of them, they who once were virtually the entire population of Egypt. There are Assyrians and Chaldeans in Iraq, or what is left of them, they who were once…ditto. And so on.
The history of Arab oppression of blacks, whether those blacks became nominal Muslims or not, is too long. The history of Arab enslavement of blacks started far earlier, was much more devastating in its effects, and continued much later, than the Atlantic slave trade. A scholar has estimated that because Arabs specialized in seizing young black males for use in harems (contrary to the Western imagination, harems were not just for the rulers), and would castrate their hunted prey in situ in the jungle, the mortality rate among those then taken by slave coffle to the waiting boats that would take them to the slave markets of Islam reached 90%. See “The Hideous Trade” or google that title and “Jihad Watch” for more.
Slavery is legitimate in Islam. Muhammad had slaves. Muhammad is the Perfect Man. Seventh-century Arabia allowed slavery. Seventh-century Arabia provides the Sunnah, the customs and manners that are to be followed. The Arab slave trade went up and down East Africa, with the chief entrepot for the local trade in African blacks being the islands of Zanzibar and Pemba, held by the Arab rulers of Oman. The Arabs also went deep into Central Africa, and into West Africa too, while the European slave-traders never managed to penetrate the interior, preferring to remain on the coast of West Africa and having slaves delivered to them by local tribes.
Slavery was not abolished willingly by the Arabs. It was stamped out, rather, by Western powers. There is no Arab William Wilberforce. There never has been a declaration, by any Arab leader, or government, or theological institute, that slavery is always and everywhere morally wrong. And there cannot be such a declaration, because Muslims are hemmed in by the Example of Muhammad, uswa hasana, al-insan al-kamil, and the practice of the Sunnah. If the French ended Arab enslavement of blacks in much of North Africa, it was the British — the Royal Navy — that helped stamp out the slave trade that continued between Africa and Arabia. This tale is told most fully in J. B. Kelly’s “Britain and the Persian Gulf, 1795-1880.” But the Arabs still managed, as the British presence on the seas diminished, to resurrect that slave trade, which continued into the 1960s.
In 1962, just before slavery was formally abolished — because Saudi Arabia was not yet rich from oil revenues, it had to succumb to Western pressure — 20% at least of the population consisted of black slaves. For more google “Arab slave trade in Africa,” or start here.
It is not surprising that in Dayton, a Muslim girl might have made up a story blaming black men. Nor is it surprising that the Arabs in this congregation want to move from a black neighborhood to a white one. Look at how unwelcome Arabs and Pakistanis have made black Muslims who wish to attend, in any numbers, the same mosques with them. Blacks are seen as fit fodder for conversion to Islam — without really letting potential converts know much about Islam. The proselytizers hold back so much, until their targets are deeply committed and can’t easily get out. They do this so as to swell Muslim ranks and perceived (and real) power, but are not so happy for the new converts to actually associate with Arabs and Pakistanis, who find such an association distasteful. Compare that with the welcoming practice of Christian churches, not least among those evangelicals who have become the butt of so much self-assured mockery.
Not only are most forms of art — sculpture and most painting — forbidden in Islam (look at any major museum at the “Islamic art” — Arabic calligraphy on ceramic plates, and Qur’anic calligraphy on paper), but it is difficult to conduct science within a society suffused with Islam, that discourages every sign of free and skeptical inquiry about the most important thing — Islam — and hence about everything else as well).
And then there is music. There is no Muslim equivalent to the church music of Christianity. Music is forbidden (Black Muslims in America may at times ignore this ban — one more sign of un-orthodoxy). Wherever strict Muslims are in power, they attempt to ban all kinds of music, the folk-music that naturally wells up, as it does in Afghanistan, because it responds to a universal need that the Shari’a laws do not allow to be met. The wedding-singers killed in Afghanistan, the gamelan players in Indonesia disparaged by local Muslims, the RAI singers (often Berbers) threatened or killed in Algeria — all of these are signs and symbols of the Islamic hostility to music. This does not mean that there are not singers. No one denies that there is Arabic music — that oud, those other exotic instruments, or even singers such as Umm Kalthum. But the role of music is much smaller, and it is despite Islam and its discouragement that music appears. The texts and the spirit of Islam, truly adhered to, would deny a role for music altogether. It distracts, you see: distracts from worship.
Sister Rosetta Tharpe begs to differ.
And in the earlier, pre-old-time-religion phase of her career, Rosetta Tharpe’s performance begs to differ with, and demands to ignore, just as much as does her later work, the hostility to music that is inculcated by Islam. And her many admirers — whose numbers may swell with the two examples of her art posted today — will agree.
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