Thursday, December 29, 2011

Dr. Wesley Muhammad

Dr. Wesley Muhammad is regarded by many as a phenomenal young scholar with impressive credentials, who is also passionately committed to playing a role in the healing of the Black Nation.  He received a Bachelor of Arts in Religious Studies from the acclaimed HBCU, Morehouse College (Atlanta, GA), graduating with honors in 1994. In 2003 Dr. Muhammad received a Master’s Degree in Islamic Studies from the prestigious ‘public Ivy’, the University of Michigan (Ann Arbor), whence he also received a Ph.D. in Islamic Studies with a focus on Early Theological Development in Islam. Dr. Muhammad’s doctoral work included training in Arabic, Biblical Hebrew, German and French and he conducts research in those languages. Twice as a graduate student Dr. Muhammad’s exceptional research earned him the highly honored, Great Books of Islam Prize, given out by the Center For Middle East and Near Eastern Studies, University of Michigan. Dr. Muhammad has been invited to present his research at the University of Chicago, Duke University, Emory University, Michigan State University, Western Kentucky University, Howard University, Cleveland State University ,Morehouse College, Spelman College and Clark Atlanta University. In September, 2002, Dr. Muhammad was one of a number of scholars selected to present at the First World Congress for Middle Eastern Studies held in Mainz, Germany, where 2000 scholars from over 14 different countries participated. He was asked by members of the organizing committee to chair the panels on Islamic Theology.

Dr. Muhammad’s research has been published or accepted for publication in some of the most respected peer-reviewed journals of his fields: The International Journal of Middle East Studies, The American Journal of the Oriental Society, The American Journal of Islamic Social Sciences, and The Harvard Theological Review. Dr. Muhammad has recently been asked to contribute to the much anticipated upcoming Encyclopedia of Muhammad, to be published by one of the leading Western publishers in academic and reference publications. Dr. Muhammad has taught courses on Islamic Studies, Religious Studies, African American Religion, and Middle East Studies at the University of Michigan, the University of Toledo, and Michigan State University.

Dr. Muhammad’s scholarship is both deconstructionist as well as constructionist. Not only has he courageously and convincingly deconstructed important aspects of the Orthodox Islamic historical-theological tradition, but he is also helping to construct a totally new historical paradigm for Islam.

But Dr. Muhammad’s credentials in the ‘Movement’ are equally impressive. As a fiery Five Percenter at Morehouse College, Dr. Muhammad or ‘True Islam’ as he was then and is stilled called, lit up the Atlanta University Center. Between the years 1992-1994, Dr. Muhammad, as 'Student Minister Wesley X,' was appointed by the Southern Regional Minister of the Nation of Islam to represent the local and regional Mosque among the colleges and universities around the Atlanta Metro area. Dr. Muhammad was president of the first Nation of Islam Students Association at Morehouse College in 1993-4, and was featured in British Broadcasting Communications documentary, 'The Morehouse Men,' which aired nationally in 1995. Dr. Muhammad is the author of several works, including: The Book of God: An Encyclopedia of Proof that the Black Man is God; Black Arabia and the African Origin of Islam and Take Another Look: The Qur’an, The Sunna, and the Islam of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad.

On January 10, 2010 the United Muslim Alliance and the New Black Panther Party (NY) presented Dr. Muhammad with The Dr. Khalid Abdul Muhammad Sayful Islam Award and on January 30, 2010 Student Minister Rodeney Muhammad and the Believers of Muhammad Mosque #12 (Philly) and the Delaware Valley Region presented him with the "Defender of the Ummah" Award.


The Master Teachers Speak: Dr Ben and Dr Diop on the African Origins of Islam

One of the most overlooked works of our great Master Teachers is Dr Yusef Ben Yochannan’s The African Origin of the Major ‘Western’ Religions, first published in 1970 and reprinted by Black Classic Press in 1991. Much new data and information has come to light since Dr Ben wrote this great work in 1970 which either invalidates or renders suspect a number of his conclusions. For example, Dr. Ben’s suggestion that the prophet Muhammad converted the female divinity Allat into his male divinity Allah is contradicted by the linguistic and the epigraphic evidence. Nevertheless, The African Origin of the Major ‘Western’ Religions is still a classic and a trail blazer, far ahead of its time. The work I do is in many ways an attempt to continue what Dr Ben started in this important work.

In his chapter on the African origins of the religion of Islam, Dr Ben makes the following remarks:

“The fact that within the last three to four hundred years the role of the indigenous Africans in these major religions has been carefully and purposefully denied, suppressed, and in most cases, omitted, will not stop the ‘truth’ about their indigenous African origins from coming to the surface.”

“none of the Gods, prophets, or founders of any of the three religions – Judaism, Christianity, and Islam - …was indigenous to Europe (a Caucasian, or White man.)…Judaism and Islam, both, had indigenous Africans in the leadership roles from the first day of their recorded origin. In Judaism, after Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, it was Moses and his fellow indigenous African-Jews of Egypt and those in Kush…Islam had Mohamet – whose grandfather was of African origin, and his closest advisor and co-founder of Islam – an African from Ethiopia …named Hadzrat Bilal ibn Rahbab.”  

“Africans were involved in Islam’s creation…But, the Moslem Arabs…have been for some time recently teaching a sort of religious history in which the indigenous Africans find themselves omitted from the historical role they played in Islam’s origins. They are also excluded from the highest posts of the administration of Islam in Mecca, which they had traditionally held from the beginning of Islam with the Prophet Mohamet, and Hadzart Bila Ibn Rahab…Islam was no better than Judaism and Christianity, as its modern administrators attempted to eliminate its indigenous African founders from the eyes of the faithful, and the world in general. But history, written history, once more acted in her own way, and mannerism, as it clamoured, once again, for Islam’s indigenous African originators.”   

Dr. Ben frequently stresses “Islam(‘s)…Arabian Peninsula African Origins” and that “Islam(‘s)….foundation…is so intensely African…in structure.” He declares categorically that “Islam, with her God – Allah…cannot escape its indigenous African origin” because “it was the Africans, and others of African ancestry, who were most instrumental in Islam’s creation.”  

My book, Black Arabia and the African Origin of Islam (2009) sought to continue this line of research opened up by Dr. Ben and to flesh it out by adding the weight of new ethnographic data as well as the evidence found in the Classical Arabic sources.

The great Dr Cheikh Anta Diop (d. 1986), historian, scientist, scholar par excellence, also had some very interesting things to say about Islam and its relation to African religious tradition. Now Diop's main source for his ethno-history of Arabia was the 1869 work by the French Assyriologist Francois Lenormant (d. 1883) entitled Manuel d'histoire ancienne de l'Orient jusqu'aux guerres médiques. While Lenormant was an accomplished historian and his book even today might still be profitably consulted, the wealth of new information, not the least of which derives from Arabic sources, means that many of Lenormant's theories are severely outdated. Thus, relying on this work as he did means that even the great Dr. Diop's ethno-historical reconstruction of Arabia, Arabs, and Semites needs significant updating and modification today. For example, Lenormant’s theories contributed to Diop’s conclusion that “Anthropologically and culturally speaking, the Semitic world was born during protohistoric times from the mixture of white-skinned and black-skinned people in Western Asia (The African Origin of Civilization, Myth or Reality [1974], xv).” In fact, it is clear today from the linguistic, archaeological, and anthropological evidence that the Semitic world was originally a purely African world, and remained so for quite awhile. Whites did “convert” to Semitism much later, but they added nothing to the original formation and spread of the Semitic world. Nevertheless, Diop’s thoughts on Islam and Arabia are worth quoting, because they ultimately agree with the current data, at least in their broad outlines.

Dr Diop discusses Islam in the context of his Two Cradle Theory.  The theory postulates that the severe climate and environment of Europe and Asia, i.e. the Northern Zone or Cradle, caused biological and cultural changes in the original human type resulting in the loss of pigmentation biologically and the development of an individualistic, xenophobic, aggressive, nomadic culture among the white northerners, in contrast to the cooperative, xenophillic, peaceful, sedentary culture among the African peoples who still inhabited the more benign climatic and environmental Southern Zone or Cradle. These distinct climatic and environmental conditions of the two zones/cradles produced two distinct types of civilizations, epitomized by Greece and Egypt.

Southern Cradle-Egyptian Model
                 1. Abundance of vital resources.
                 2. Sedentary-agricultural.
                 3. Gentle, idealistic, peaceful nature with a spirit of justice.                        
                 4. Matriarchal family.
                 5. Emancipation of women in domestic life.
                 6. Territorial state.
                 7. Xenophilia.
                 8. Cosmopolitanism.
                 9. Social collectivism.
                 10. Material solidarity of right for individual which makes moral or material misery unknown.
                 11. Idea of peace, justice, goodness and optimism.                 
                 12. Literature emphasizes novel tales, fables and comedy.

Northern Cradle-Greek Model

                 1. Bareness of resources.
                 2. Nomadic-hunting (piracy)
                 3. Ferocious, warlike nature with spirit of survival.
                 4. Patriarchal family.
                 5. Debasement / enslavement of women.
                 6. City state (fort)
                 7. Xenophobia.
                 8. Parochialism.
                 9. Individualism.
                 10. Moral solitude.
                 11. Disgust for existence, pessimism.
                 12. Literature favors tragedy.

In addition to these two polar zones, North and South, Diop acknowledged a third zone, a “zone of confluence” or meeting place of Northern and Southern zones. According to Diop Western Asia, especially Arabia, is the true zone of confluence in which the two polar cultures met, interacted, and mingled. While Diop’s theory seems a bit too reductionist, it does have heuristic value. It is in this context that Diop discusses Islam.

“Arabia was at first peopled by Southern (i.e. African/Cushite) peoples who were later submerged by those (whites/Jectanides) coming from the North and the East…The Jectanides ‘who were still, at the moment of their arrival in an almost barbaric state,’ only introduced (to Arabia)…the system of pastoral tribes characteristic of the Northern Cradle and the institution of military feudalism…The religion (of Arabia) was (on the other hand) of Cushite origin…it was to remain unchanged until the coming of Islam…The god Il (i.e. Ala) was the object of a national cult; he bore the following names: Lord of the Heavens, Merciful, etc…The only triad which was worshiped was that of Venus-Sun-Moon…prayers were offered to the sun at different moments in its course. There was neither idolatry nor images nor priesthood. Invocations were made directly to the seven planets. The thirty days fast (as in Islam) already existed – as in Egypt – and seven times a day prayers were offered with faces turned to the north. These prayers are allied to those of the Mohammedan religion. All the elements necessary to the birth of Islam were thus present more than a thousand years before the birth of Mohammed, and Islam appears as a ‘purging’ of (Babylonian) Sabaism by ‘God’s messenger.’ This superimposition of the two influences, Northern and Southern, on the Arabian peninsula, occurred in every sphere…

“It is remarkable that many Arabic religious terms can be obtained by a simple combination of the three Egyptian ontological notions, Ba, Ra, Ka. As examples we can cite:

KABAR (a) = The action of raising the arms in prayer
RAKA         = The action of placing the forehead on the ground
KAABA      = The holy place of Mecca

It is sufficiently obvious from what has just been said that Arabia was first inhabited by Southern peoples, sedentary and agricultural, who prepared the way for the nomads in different fields of progress. In early society, woman (sic) enjoyed all the advantages pertaining to the matriarchal régime; this is proved by the fact a woman could be a queen…The triumph of the Northern nomadic element was accompanied by the dominance of the patriarchal system, tinged with apparent anomalies, survivals of the previous régime. Thus, the dowry was given to the woman, as in the matriarchal régime. This fact can only be explained by invoking the influence of Sabaism on Islamic society (The Cultural Unity of Black Africa [1963/1989], 84, 87-89).”

According to Diop, then, Arabia was originally a Southern land and its indigenous people a Southern people, i.e. Cushites. These Cushites originated the religion of Arabia, which worshiped Il/Ala, somehow through the agency of the astral triad Venus-Sun-Moon. In this Arabian Cushitic religion that is related to the Babylonian Cushitic religion, the seven planets were honored, though there were no idols, images, or priesthood. Prayers were offered seven times daily and according to the sun’s position in the sky, similar to the Muslim prayers; and there was a 30-day fast, not unlike the Muslim Ramadan or the ancient Egyptian fast. This all suggests to Diop that the Islam of Muhammad – who was himself “mixed with Negro blood” -  was continuous with the ancient Arabian Cushite religion, only ‘purified’ of some ‘Sabaen (?)’ elements. Islam will also, however, like everything else in Arabia, be negatively impacted by the invader Northern Cradle culture, e.g. the eventual dominance of the patriarchal régime. Nevertheless, that Islam is continuous with the ancient Cushite religious tradition is indicated by terminology for some of its central religious expressions (kabar, raka, kaaba); many of these terms seem to be combinations of cognate ancient Egyptian religious terms. These central religious terms, along with the Islamic deity Allah, the 30-day fast (Ramadan), the multiple prayers whose occurrence was determined by the position of the sun (salat); the Islamic rejection of idols, images and priesthood, all are “survivals” from the ancient Cushitic religion of Arabia.     

These positions of two of our Master Teachers are significant and most often overlooked. However, while the positions of both scholars need some refinement and elaboration, we overlook them at grave cost to a full and proper understanding of Arabia’s and Islam’s place among Africa’s contributions to the world, and we thus deprive Africa of yet another of her ‘stolen legacies.’ Both Dr. Ben and Dr Diop seem to agree that Islam has, as Dr Ben said, “indigenous African origins.” Both agree, also, that whites took over the religion and negatively impacted it, partly by removing the original African creators from positions of authority and influence. In Dr. Diop’s terms, Islam is a ‘purified’ survival from the pre-Jectanide, Cushite religion that was however impacted by those invading and usurping Northern Jectanides (whites). Islamic society as Diop knew it in his day is ultimately an amalgam of indigenous Southern and invading Northern Cradle cultures.       

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The African Islam Debates


1.] Is Islam an African or White Arab Religion? The Debate with Natural Tahuti.
November 7, 2009 at Harriet Tubman School in Harlem New York

2.] Is Islam an African Religion? The Dr. Ray Hagins Debate
"The Discussion That Rocked Harlem". April 24, 2010 at Harriet Tubman School in Harlem New York.

3.] Ma’at and Islam: Two Distinct African Spiritual Traditions, Or Not? Discussion with Bro Mukasa Afrika Ma’at
December 10, 2011, Baltimore MD.

Part I: Dr. Wesley Muhammad’s Opening

Part II: Bro Mukasa Afrika Ma’at’s Opening

Part III: Dr. Wesley Muhammad’s Rebuttal

Part IV: Bro Mukasa Afrika Ma’at’s Rebuttal

Part V: Q & A

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Al-Ghazzali and the Aryanization of Islam

(Excerpt from my new book, Take Another Look: The Qur'an, The Sunna, and the Islam of The Honorable Elijah Muhammad)

2. Al-Ghazzālī: Proof of (What) Islam?

THEM’s claim that God is a man is certainly at odds with the normative or orthodox Islamic view, a view well articulated by the Persian scholar Muhammad Abu Hāmid al-Ghazzālī (d. 1128), called Hujjat al-Islāor the ‘Proof of Islam,’ in his Kitāb al-qawa’id al-‘aqā’id, 1.3:

“He [God Most High] is not a body with a form, or a limited, quantitative substance…He does not resemble anything that exists, nor does anything that exists resemble Him. There is nothing whatsoever like unto Him, nor is He like unto anything. He is not delimited by magnitude, contained by places, encompassed by directions, or bounded by heavens or earth.

He sees without a pupil or eyelids. He hears without ear canals or ears. Likewise, He knows without a heart, He seizes without an extremity, and He creates without an implement-because His attributes do not resemble the attributes of the creation. Likewise, His essence does not resemble the essences of the creation.”

Al-Ghazzālī’s influence on later (and current) orthodox theology is unparalleled. He is called ‘The Proof of Islam,’ Hujjat al-Islām in part because his articulation and rationalization of a formless, bodiless, immaterial God is the articulation and rationalization of Islamic orthodoxy today. Thus, the theological interpretation of the scriptures of Islam against which THEM is often judged and found guilty of shirkand kufr (unbelief), and the interpretation which he himself rejected, is an interpretation substantively influenced and informed by al-Ghazzālī. And while THEM has been accused of reading his anthropomorphist doctrine into the Qur"ān where it (presumably) does not naturally exists, it is demonstrable that al-Ghazzālī read his anti-anthropomorphist doctrine of incorporeality into the Qur"ān and Sunna where, by his own admission, this doctrine is completely absent. In his important treatise,Iljām al-awām an ilm il-kalām (“Bridling the Common Folk Away From the Science of Theological Speculation”) the Persian Proof of Islam confesses that, even though the Prophet Muhammad was in no way lax in terms of his desire to propagate the full truth as he knew it; though he had no intellectual deficiency that would have limited the truth as far as he possessed it; though he lacked nothing in terms of linguistic and semantic facility that would have precluded his clear articulation of the truth as he knew it; yet the Prophet never affirmed this incorporeal god to whom he (al-Ghazzālī) and the speculative theologians were calling the people. Why didn’t the Prophet, fully capable of affirming the truth of this incorporeal deity, actually do so? Because, al-Ghazzālī claims, the Prophet was commanded by God to speak “only at the level of the people's intellects.” Because the people to whom the Prophet was sent were not intellectually capable of grasping this ‘truth’ and therefore would have rejected this god as an impossibility and rejected Islam, the Prophet withheld the truth of the incorporeal god (see below)! It is not necessary here to deconstruct al-Ghazzālī’s elitist and condescending presumptions regarding the masses of the Muslim followers of the Prophet. It is enough to emphasize that al-Ghazzālī here clearly admits that the ‘Islam’ of which he is said to be the ‘Proof’ is NOT the Islam that the Holy Prophet articulated!

Relevant page from al- Ghazzālī’s Iljām al-awām an ilm il-kalām

Al-Ghazzālī thus had to read his incorporeal god into the Qur"ān and Sunna by applying allegorical exegesis (ta’wil) to the passages that would otherwise seem to affirm or support an anthropomorphist reading. His ta’wil was informed by Hellenistic logic, in particular Aristotelian Logical Analogies. It is therefore no surprise that his incorporeal god is but the god of the Greek philosophers in a turban.

3. Whose Orthodoxy? The Black Sheep and the White Sheep

To understand the full significance of this ‘Persian Proof of Islam’ and his revision of the Prophetic legacy, one must see him in the light of a prophetic report of Muhammad.

“Zayd b. Aslam related that the Prophet (s) saw a vision and told his companions about it. He said: “I saw a group of black sheep and a group of white sheep then mixed with them [until the white sheep became so numerous that the black sheep could no longer be seen in the herd of sheep.] I[1] interpreted it to mean that [the black sheep are the Arabs. They will accept Islam and become many. As for the white sheep, they are the non-Arabs (i.e. Persians, Turks, Byzantines, ect.)] They will enter Islam and then share with you your wealth and your genealogy [and become so numerous that the Arabs will not be noticed amongst them.]” The Companions became surprised by what he (s) said. Then one said, “The non-Arab Persians will enter our land, O’ Messenger of Allah?!” The Prophet (s) then said, “Yes. By He Who Has my soul in His Hand, if the religion was hanging on the distant star, men from the non-Arab Persians would reach it and the luckiest of them would be the people of Faris.”[2]

The original recipients of the Prophet’s message, the Arabs or ‘black sheep,’ are here said to have been (or in the future to be) engulfed by later non-Arab converts to Islam or ‘white sheep’ who will not only ‘share’ their wealth (e.g. the riches generated from Middle Eastern oil), but also share or, rather, ‘appropriate’ Arab genealogy. In other words, non-Arab converts to Islam will assume Arab identity to such an extent that the actual ethnicity of the original Arabs will be forgotten. The fact that the original Arabs and Arab followers of Muhammad were black is well-documented.[3] So too is the fact that these original Muslims have been lost within an influx of non-Arab converts to Islam.[4] The face of Islam went from black to white.

It is not to be doubted that the ‘black sheep’ metaphor in this report alludes to the black ethnicity of the original Arabs. This is confirmed by numerous reports. See especially the example of Muhammad b. ‘Abd Allāh (d. 762), known also as al-Nafs al-Zakiyya (“The Pure Soul”). He was a pure descendent of the Prophet himself through the latter’s daughter Fatimah, wife of ‘Ali b. Abi Talib, and in fact “prided himself on being a Qurayshi [Arab] of pure lineage…[with] a pure descent from the Prophet.”[5] This point is clearly evident in a letter he sent to the ‘Abbasid caliph Abu Ja’far al-Mansur (r. 754 – 775), against whom he rebelled in 762. Al-Nafs al-Zakiyya felt Abu Ja’far al-Mansur’s mixed lineage (his mother was a Berber) disqualified him for leadership over the community. He wrote to the caliph:

“You well know that no one has laid claim to this office (the caliphate) who has a lineage, nobility, and status like ours. By the nobility of our fathers, we are not the sons of the accursed, the outcasts, or freedmen…I am at the very center of the Banu Hashim’s lines. My paternity is purest among them, undiluted with non-Arab blood, and no concubines dispute over me.[6]

What did this pure Arab descendent of the Prophet look like? “Muhammad (Al-Nafs al-Zakiyya) is described as tall and strong with very dark skin”.[7]  Indeed, al-Dhahabi describes him as “black-skinned and huge.”[8] But it is al-Tabari’s description that is most informative:

Muhammad (Al-Nafs al-Zakiyya) was black, exceedingly black, jet black (adam shadid al-udma adlam) and huge. He was nicknamed “Tar Face” (al-qari) because of his black complexion (udmatihi), such that Abu Ja’far used to call him “Charcoal Face” (al-muhammam).[9]

Muhammad al-Nafs al-Zakiyya, a Qurayshi Arab whose pure lineage on both his father’s and his mother’s side put him “at the center” of the genealogical lines of the Banu Hashim, the Prophet’s kinsfolk, was so black he was called ‘Tar face’ and ‘Charcoal face’. He best represents those ‘black sheep’ to whom the message of Islam first came and who disappeared from view once non-Arab groups converted in large numbers.

It is not incidental that the Qur’an emphasizes that it is an Arabic, not a non-Arabic (a’jamiyya) revelation (41:2-3, 44). This suggests that the proper context in which to understand the revelation is a 7th century Arab linguistic and, thus, cultural context. It is the case that the Bedouin Arabs (a’rabi) were seen as the purest representatives of the Arabic Islamic way. Fine points of Islamic law were frequently decided by appeal to Bedouin tradition, and Arabic philologists privileged ‘pure’ desert Bedouin usage over the more cosmopolitan Arabic of the town when ruling on matters of correct Arabic grammar. The pure Arab was the Black Arab, the black sheep of the Prophet’s vision. This was the original recipient community of the message of Islam, and their linguistic-cultural way provided the context in which to properly understand the revelation.  

The Persian al-Ghazzālī best represents the ‘white sheep’ – those non-Arabs who converted to Islam and appropriated the wealth and even identity of the original Muslims, the black sheep or Black Arabs. It is quite telling that al-Ghazzālī would dismiss the original Muslim followers of the Prophet, the black sheep, as too dim-witted to have received the ‘truth’ of the incorporeal god from the Prophet – thus the conspicuous absence of this god from the Prophet’s message. This sentiment no doubt reflects not only a condescending elitism on al-Ghazzālī’s part, but also racism: the latter characterized much Iranian (Persian) Muslim literature in his day.[10] These ‘white sheep’ introduced non-Arab, even non-Islamic elements into Islam, such as an anti-black racism. They also, however, introduced the ‘God of the Philosophers’ and the Hellenized interpretation (ta’wil) of scripture so as to locate that god within Islamic revelation.[11]


[1] Or Abu Bakr with the approval of the angel.

[2] There are several versions of this report here conflated. See e.g. Al-Suyutī, Tārikh al-khulafā (Cairo: D§r al-Fajr lil-Turuth, 1999) 86. 

[3] See Wesley Muhammad, Black Arabia and the African Origin of Islam (Atlanta: A-Team Publishing, 2009) Chapters Six and Seven.

[4] Robert Goldston, The Sword of the Prophet: A History of the Arab World From the Time of Mohammed to the Present Day (New York: Dial Press, 1979) 87: “the original Arabs, those lords of the desert who had formed the vanguard of Islam and presided over its golden age…(almost) all had long since become so submerged into the cosmopolitan empire that they were indistinguishable from their neighbors.”

[5] Muhammad Qasim Zaman, “The Nature of Muhammad al-Nafs al-Zakiyya’s Mahdiship: A Study of Some Reports in Ißbah§nÊ’s Maq§til,” Hamdard Islamicus 13 (1990): 60-61.

[6] Quoted from al-Tabari, The History of al-Tabari, Vol. XXVIII: 'Abbasid Authority Affirmed, trans. annot. Jane Dammen McAuliffe (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1985) 167-68.

[7] The Encyclopedia of Islam (New Edition; hereafter EI2) 7:389 s.v. MuÈammad b. #Abd Allāh by F. Buhl.

[8] Al-'Ibar fi khabar man ghabar (Kuwait: Tur§th al-ArabÊ) 4:198. 

[9] Al-Tabari, Ta'rikh al-rusul wa'l-muluk, edd. Michael Jan de Goeje and Lawrence Conrad,Annals of the Apostles and Kings. A Critical Edition Including ‘Arib’s Supplement (Gorgias Press, 2005) 10:203.

[10] Mino Southgate, “The Negative Images of Blacks in Some Medieval Iranian Writings,” Iranian Studies 17 (1984): 3-35

[11] See Wesley Williams, “A Body Unlike Bodies: Transcendent Anthropomorphism in Ancient Semitic Tradition and Early Islam,” Journal of the American Oriental Society 129 (2009) 19-44.

Disrespecting Kemet and Ma'at? Dr Wesley Muhammad in His Own Words

Part I:

Part II:

Monday, December 19, 2011

The Ma'at - Islam Debate


Part I: Dr. Wesley Muhammad's Opening

Part II: Bro Mukasa Afrika Ma'at's Opening


Part III:Dr. Wesley Muhammad's Rebuttal


Part IV: Bro Mukasa Afrika Ma'at's Rebuttal


Part V: Q & A


Saturday, December 3, 2011

Abyaḍ and the Black Arabs: Refuting the Would-be Refuters

Wesley Muhammad, PhD 2011.

This is only the Intoduction.  To see the full, 22-page response go to: 

  1. Determined to Defend White Supremacy in Islam

Waqar Akbar Cheema from Pakistan and Gabriel Keresztes Abdul Rahman the Romanian have written what they believe is a refutation of my and other’s documentation that the Arab prophet Muhammad was black-skinned, contrary to popular representations in both the Muslim and non-Muslim world according to which the last prophet of Islam was ruddy-white. Their “refutation” may be found here:

Cheema and Keresztes believe, or try to make their reading audience believe that their motivation is non-racial/racist; that their concern is only to deal with the “racist theology” of the NOI which supposedly has no place in the Islam that they are urgently trying to protect. The simple claim that Prophet Muhammad was black-skinned rather than white-skinned is seen as “racist”:

“Mr. Wesley Muhammad in his article tries hard to ‘prove’ that Prophet Muhammad may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, was black in complexion. The racism within him prompts him to come up with such ‘interesting research’.”

Yet, Cheema and Keresztes unequivocally declare themselves that “In fact (Muhammad’s) complexion was white but not extremely white.” I maintain that it is in fact the racism deep within them – their terrified disdain for the thought that their Beloved Prophet was black - that prompted this amateurish attempt at a refutation which seeks to reassure for all readers that the Holy Prophet was not one of ‘them’, but one of ‘us’. Cheema and Keresztes claim:

“Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) is not venerated or worshiped (except by deviant-ignorant), nor is his color important to the ideology or practice of Islam.  It is true that scholars have written books and composed poetry on the physical characteristics of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), but never has such an issue become a theological one.”

But the hegemony of this fabricated white-skinned Muhammad has had profound theological consequences, for white and black peoples. Anthropologist Prof Janice Boddy reveals in her study of black women in a Northern Sudanese village:

“Hofriyati (village women) are especially conscious of skin color. White skin is clean, beautiful, and a mark of potential holiness. I, being Caucasian, was repeatedly told that my chances of getting into heaven-should I chose to become Muslim-were far greater than those of the average Sudani. This is because the Prophet Mohammed was white, and all white-skinned peoples are in a favored position of belonging to his tribal group.”[1]                

The fabricated white-skinned Muhammad has been the license for racism  - theological and practical - in Islam throughout the ages. All of Cheema and Keresztes’s efforts in this so-called refutation were to preserve and protect this chimera of White Supremacy against the deconstructing force of the available evidence.   

Cheema and Keresztes try to demonstrate that I have misrepresented the meaning of the Arabic termabya as it relates to Prophet Muhammad. The term normally signifies the whiteness of such objects as milk, teeth, ect. However, Classical Arabic has a linguistic phenomenon called al-addad, which we call antiphrasis, in which in certain contexts a word signifies its lexical opposite. In Classical Arabic the term abya when applied to human complexion rarely means ‘white-skinned’. For that, the term amar– lit. “red” – was used. As an Arab self-description abya normally denoted a clear, blemish-free blackcomplexion. This is the crux of the issue with Cheema and Keresztes and myself, as well as between them and Tariq Berry, author of The Unknown Arabs (2002). Cheema and Keresztes want to insist that the descriptions of the Prophet in the Classical Arabic literature that describe him as abya intend to describe him as white-skinned. In this Part I of my response to Cheema and Keresztes I will address this issue.

Before I begin, a caveat: reading through some of the exchange between Cheema and Keresztes and Tariq Berry compels to me make this point. Tariq Berry is my Brother whom I respect and admire. We travel in two different lanes though. While we have numerous fundamental agreements and are both (along with some others) trying to get the information of the historical blackness of the early Arabs and Muhammad out to a critical mass, it is also the case that I take positions with which he fundamentally disagrees and he takes positions with which I fundamentally disagree. Thus, he or anyone else should not be saddled with or called upon to answer for my positions. Tariq can answer for Tariq, and Wesley can answer for Wesley.

[1] Janice Boddy, Wombs and Alien Spirits: Women, Men, and the Zār Cult in Northern Sudan(Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1989) 64. 

Friday, November 4, 2011

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Kemet's Prison: A Note on the Problem of Giving Blind Deference to Our Master Teachers

"The student's obligation was to build upon the previous generation's work, to find what is missing, omitted (intentionally or not), neglected, and flat-out incorrect, so we can make the necessary changes for the following generation..." Dr John Henrik Clarke

Taqlīd is an Arabic-Islamic legal term signifying “blind deference” or the act of following the decisions of a religious authority without question and without examining that authority’s proofs or reasoning; blind obedience or face value acceptance due to the perceived ‘authority’ of a religious figure. Taqlīd is the opposite of ijtihād, independent reasoning and personal intellectual striving. The majority of the (Sunni) Muslim world today advocates taqlīd: Muslims are expected to simply defer to the decisions and opinions of such authorities as Ahmad b. Hanbal (d. 855), Malik b. Anas (d. 795), al-Shafi’i (d. 820) and Abu Hanifa (d. 767), the eponyms of the four orthodox schools of Islamic law.

The practice of taqlīd has ill-served the Muslim world in the long run, resulting in an intellectually and culturally stagnant ummah. The prevalence of the spirit of taqlīd is in fact a prison in which has been arrested and confined the intellectual creativity and cultural maturity of most of the Muslim world. I myself cannot be a muqallid (i.e. one who practices taqlīd), neither to the Classical Islamic authorities nor to the current Islamic authorities. Nor can I make taqlīd to the great Master Teachers of African History. Dr Chancellor Williams; Dr Yosef Ben Yochannan; Dr Ivan Van Sertima; Dr John Henrick Clarke; Dr Cheikh Anta Diop. These, and many more, are our luminaries. Their work is foundational, but NOT final. They have all made contributions that have greatly advanced the Black community intellectually and spiritually. These revolutionary scholars have helped us tremendously along the path of freedom from the psychological and spiritual chains of white supremacy and black inferiority. These luminaries have also, however, made scholarly contributions that must be reexamined and updated today.  These great Black Minds have earned and deserve honor, respect, and an honest hearing of everything they have said. They are not due taqlīd, however. There are errors and omissions in each of their work, as there are in the works of all us human intellectuals. It is the duty of every new generation of scholars to build on, correct, and move beyond the previous generation of scholars, all the while paying the proper respect to our predecessors.

The above words state a general principle, but I feel the need to demonstrate the soundness of this principle in this Note by showing a concrete example.

The great Dr. John Henrik Clarke is no doubt one of our paramount Master Teachers. He is one of the greatest warrior scholars that we have produced, and his influence on Black Thought, particularly with regard to Self, is almost unparalleled today. Many in the Afocentrist and African-Centered movement have such an emotional attachment to this luminary, however, that they believe that his scholarly output was infallible, and to simply quote Dr. Clarke on any subject is believed to be a sufficient guarantee of truth and accuracy. This is perfectly understandable, even if misguided. We in the Nation of Islam likewise have such a confidence and emotional attachment to the Honorable Elijah Muhammad (hereafter THEM), and it is generally believed (errantly) that he could speak no errors. But THEM himself admitted having to correct in his later years statements he had made earlier, and his teacher, Master Fard Muhammad, declared THEM’s early theo-historical recitations only “almost nearly correctly.”Regardless, in as much as THEM affirmed an ultimate truth value to his Teachings, the academic and scientific community has the right and duty – and was indeed invited – to subject all of his claims to critical objective scrutiny. No Black Muslim should presume that THEM’s Teachings are beyond being critically analyzed. The truth claims of Dr Clarke and our other luminaries are no less eligible for dispassionate academic critical scrutiny.

In a lecture now posted on Youtube and there entitled, “Dr John Henrik Clarke on Organized Religion vs Spirituality, Part 1” which can be accessed here,          

the Master Teacher made the following statement (starting at 1:30):

“Every element that went into the making of every major religion in the world started in Africa. Why is it that you (Black people) are so naïve that you let people redress something that you invented, sale it back to you, and then enslave you with it. I’m saying that all organized present religions are male chauvinist murder cults…There is no exception…

“We created peaceful nations that had no word for jail, because no one had ever gone to one. No word for old peoples’ home because no one had ever thrown away grandma and grandpa. No word for orphanages. We did all of this, and over half of human civilization was over before we knew that a European was in the world.”

I would like to parse this statement into three basic claims. The first, that “every element that went into the making of every major religion in the world started in Africa,” is no doubt accurate, particularly if by ‘every major religion’ we mean Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. It is also true that the forms that these religions took when most Black people of the medieval and modern worlds encountered them were “redressed” versions, redressed by European/Caucasian peoples, rather than the original African versions of these religions.

The second claim, that these religions are “male chauvinist murder cults,” is certainly hyperbolic, and it gives no awareness or recognition of African precedents for such. I will document these precedents in an upcoming writing.

The third claim is what I would like to focus own in this Note: that Black people in the past created peaceful societies which lacked any need for jails, convalescent homes, or orphanages, and this lack of need is reflected in our ancient languages in which there are no corresponding terms. This strikes one as a quite romantic vision of ancient African society. While there are documented fundamental, philosophic and ethical differences between Western and African civilization, it is also well documented that the latter was in no way utopic prior to our encounter with whites. But more importantly, this romantic view of ancient African nations – presumably Kemet (or at least including Kemet) - is supported by a factual error.

The single greatest and most richly documented African civilization of antiquity was Kemet. Kemet was certainly great, but was Kemet utopic? Or at least, was it peaceful with no jails, old folk’s homes, or orphanages, such that no corresponding terms even existed in Medu Netjer?

The Oxford History of Prison (1998) informs us:

“The earliest records of prisons in Egypt date from the period of the Middle Kingdom (2050 BC – 1786 BC). The pharaohs of the Middle Kingdom acknowledged a sacred duty to preserve public order. Every injury inflicted on (or by) an Egyptian troubled the sacred order, which the pharaohs were bound to reestablish through the judiciary, legal procedures, and punishments…Middle Kingdom pharaohs appear to have preferred public beatings and imprisonment to the death penalty…

”The prisons of Egypt…might have resembled fortresses with cells and dungeons or institutions like a workhouse or labor camp, since Egyptian prisoners appear to have be expected to work during their time of confinement…The prisons were directed by an overseer with a staff of scribes and guards. Prison records were meticulously kept, and prisons themselves seem to have housed the criminal courts…”[1]

Indeed the records of Middle and New Kingdom Egypt make it clear that Africans in the Nile Valley had the need for and utilized jails and prisons. See for example Papyrus (hereafter P.) Westcar, dating from the Hyksos period (c. 1650 BCE - 1550 BCE) but recognized as a Middle Kingdom text relating Old Kingdom tales of magic. The text may be found published in Adolf Erman, Die Märchen des Papyrus Westcar (Berlin, 1890) and an English translation is available in Adolf Erman and Aylward Manley Blackman, The Ancient Egyptians (New York: Harper Torchbooks, 1966) 36-47. In one passage we read of King Khufu who wishes to see a ghastly magical display: he wants a magician to replace a severed head. For this trick, a not-yet decapitated (in)volunteer is needed. The king orders: “Let there be brought to me a prisoner (nri) who is in the prison (nrt), that the injury may be inflicted on him!” (P. Westcar, 8, 14-17).    

Adolf Erman and Hermann Grapow, in their authoritative Wörterbuch der aegyptischen Sprache(hereafter Wb), inform us that the ancient Egyptian terms nrt and nri derive from the verb nr, “to restrain,” “to confine.”[2] As Sir Alan Gardiner pointed out, nrt signifies a “place of restraint,” “place of confinement.”[3]

According to P. Brooklyn 35.1446 (probably dating to the reign of Amenemhet III, c. 1860 BCE – c. 1814 BCE), as well as other Middle Kingdom sources, there was a ‘Great Prison’ nrt wr located at Thebes, modern day Luxor.[4] P. Brooklyn 35.1446 indicates that this Great Prison was, among other things, where fugitive corvées or statute-laborers served their sentence when caught. The corvée system was an old and long lived institution of forced labor in the Nile Valley. Free citizens were obligated at regular intervals or when called upon by the state to labor for the state with no recompense other than the necessities. By this means Egypt’s irrigation system was maintained, crops were harvested, and public buildings were erected. This, of course, was not slavery, which was a different institution that did exist in ancient Egypt/Kemet. Nevertheless, some citizens fled their temporary service to the state. P. Brooklyn 35.1446 contains government directives on the various punishments to such fugitives or deserters. Not only are the recovered fugitives consigned for life to penal servitude in the Great Prison, but also their families are seized while the fugitive is still on the run and assigned to a labor camp. According to David Lorton, the term nrt implies “a sort of concentration camp for persons assigned to penal servitude on government lands and building projects.”[5]  William C. Hayes, who published the text of P. Brooklyn 35.1446, notes:     

“While ‘prison’ is probably as good a one-word translation of nrt as can be achieved it almost certainly does not convey a complete picture of the institution in question…it appears to have functioned also as a workhouse or labor-camp, a sort of combined barracks and administrative center for housing, disciplining, and directing the efforts of those unfortunates condemned temporarily or permanently to a life of compulsory labor on behalf of the state. Its inmates evidently included not only the convicted criminals, some awaiting execution for capital crimes, but also gangs of statute laborers such as peasants…”[6]

Besides the Great Prison in Thebes, there were also local jails in the different towns. It seems that these smaller, local prisons or jails were given the generic term th (Wb i, 148, 24), also deriving from a stem meaning “to restrain.”

Besides imprisonment, public beatings were also a form of state-sponsored punishment. P. Mook, dated probably to the reign of Thutmosis IV of Dynasty XVIII, records an unfavorable hearing of a soldier named Mery, who was sentenced to be “beaten with 100 strokes.”[7]  In the Old Kingdom, beatings for non-payment of taxes were handed out on-the-spot. See e.g. the beating scene inscribed on the West Wall of the tomb of Mereruka from Dynasty V. A citizen is restrained by two Egyptian officials to a whipping pole, while a third official whips him.[8]    

New Kingdom royal decrees treating crime and punishment, such as that of Seti I of dynasty XIX inscribed on a rock at Nauri below the Third Cataract, mentions punitive mutilations such as the cutting off of the ear or nose of an offender for such offenses as trespassing on official land. This text, and others, also mentions capital punishment by impalement.

In the flag ship nation of our ancient civilizations, jails existed and the language had distinct terms for them. And as great as Kemet indeed was, “peaceful” is an apt description only if by ‘peaceful’ we mean not overly aggressive and bellicose to other nations. This too will change however in the New Kingdom and is in fact only relatively true for the Old and Middle Kingdoms.

It would thus be very inaccurate for us to go around quoting Dr Clarke’s claim that “We (Africans) created peaceful nations that had no word for jail, because no one had ever gone to one.” Our flag ship nation had need of jails, we (and others) were imprisoned within them, and the language of that nation has corresponding terms for them.

Now, the fact that such a Master Teacher as Dr John Henrik Clarke can make an historically inaccurate claim does not at all mean that he is any less of an authority on African and even world history. We all make errors. The greater our scholarly output, the more errors we are prone to make. That is, frankly, a matter of simple mathematics. What this does mean, however, is that even the great works of our Master Teachers must be scrutinized and, at times, corrected. This also means that making taqlīd to them is as ill-advised as our making taqlīd to Classical and/or modern Islamic ulema on matters of Islam.  Taqlīd to our Master Teachers is just as much a prison, not unlike the Great Prison of Kemet. Making taqlīd to our Master Teachers imprisons our generation’s scholarly achievement and advancement. This is not, I suspect, what our Master Teachers wanted for us.  

 Now, before anyone accuses me of subjecting Afrocentric scholarship, which is often hostile to Islam, to the type of analysis that I don’t welcome for Islam, please note that I have offered the same criticisms and subjected my own communities (which includes the African-Centered community) to similar critiques. See my Notes, “Ending Hustle Scholarship and Black Muslim Dogmatism: An Imperative,” and “Has the Nation of Islam Become a Personality Cult?” I am painfully aware of both the mote in my brother’s eye and the beam in my own.



[1] Edward M. Peters, “Prison Before The Prison: The Ancient and Medieval Worlds,” in Norval Morris and David J. Rothman (edd.), The Oxford History of the Prison: The Practice of Punishment in Western Society (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998) 8-9. 

[2] Adolf Erman and Hermann Grapow, (edd.), Wörterbuch der aegyptischen Sprache in Auftrage der deutschen Akademien (Leipziq, 1926-1963) iii, 295-6.  

[3] See further Sir Alan Gardiner, Egyptian Grammar, Being an Introduction to the Study of Hieroglyphs, 3rd edition (London, 1957), 201, 444 sign D19.

[4] For the text and translation of the papyrus see William C. Hayes, A Papyrus of the Late Middle Kingdom In the Brooklyn Museum [Papyrus Brooklyn 35.1446] (Brooklyn: The Brooklyn Museum, 1955).

[5] David Lorton, “Treatment of Criminals in Ancient Egypt: Through the New Kingdom,” Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient 20 (1977) 17.

[6] Hayes, Papyrus, 37-38.

[7] On which see Lorton, “Treatment,” 23.  

[8] The Sakkarah Expedition, The Mastaba of Mereruka, Part I (Chicago: University of Chicago, 1938), pls. 36-38.