Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Was Muhammad and the Arabs Really African? A Breif Exchange

The following exchange took place last year on an Islamic Rearch discussion group on Facebook. I was invited to particpated because the subject was the ethnicity of the Prophet Muhammad. Many, such as the participants below, were argueing in defense of the popular myth that the Arab prophet was a white-skinned man and could not have been in any way an African. The following is a small portion of that exchange that included a great many persons. This portion that follows stands on its own and is complete, as far as my participation was concerned.

1.      1. Ismail Bey:

Just a thought: The Ummayads kept slaves who were of African origin. Bilal was such a slave. Muhammad had Bilal climb to the top of the Kaaba to give the call to prayer when the Muslims entered Mecca victoriously and cleaned out the Kaaba of the idols. This act certainly displays Muhammad's attempt at equality, and therefore reveals a racist attitude among the Meccans towards their African subjects. Their dealing in African slavery is well known, and they were certainly an imperialistic and racist group. To this day non Arabic speaking Sudanese are looked upon as inferior, just study the Darfur situation or the problems in south Sudan to understand that. Libyans have that tendency as well, as do many of the north African ruling houses, as they too are proud descendants of the early Ummayad conquerors. In other words, it is unlikely that the Ummayads were African. Perhaps there was some African blood here & there, but Ummayad racist policies were well known, and all this before the coming of the Turks, Circassians and Byzantine slaves. The revolt of the Zanji of Iraq was a revolt of Africn slaves against their Arab rulers. The jihads into central Africa in the 14th-15th centuries were also a product of that same kind of imperialistic racism. Zanzibar was a slave market, and the slavers were continuing an ugly tradition into the 20th century that goes back millenia.

2.     2.  Charles Lohman:

My final thought: Muhammad was NOT from Africa. It's that simple!

Now, can you trace his ancestry to Africa. Regardless - it still does NOT make him from Africa. He's from where he's from. It's like saying I'm a White-European because I look it BUT I've never been to Europe.

But I understand Kidr and Wesley's points AND learned a lot from these posts :-)

Kidr - I understand yours and Wesley's points AND I learned a lot from these posts. AND Muhammad as well as Jesus was probably a lot darker THAN I initially thought or initially cared to think. I admit this AND will read your posts about the history. Because if this is a concern of some of my Muslim brothers who have darker skin than I do THEN it's a concern for me.

Please accept my apology for not being more sensitive and open? Sorry!

Peace, LOVE and Respect!

3.     3.  Ismail Bey:

My point about the story of Bilal is that he was once despised, in the Hejaz, and Mohammad gave him a position of equality & importance. Could Muhammad not[have] had an idea in his mind to make a point about the equality of human beings? That's what I get out of the story of Bilal climbing to the top of the Kaaba to call all to Islam. By ordering this, Muhammad let it be known to all the Meccans that '"truth has come, and falsehood has vanished". Racism is clearly a falsehood and an evil in any society, and Muhammad rebuilt Meccan society from the ground up.

I hear the term 'dark skin' and 'black skin' used alot here in this thread. We all know that race is more than just the pigment of one's skin.

The term 'zanji' is from the word for chain 'zanj'. It is from this word that the name Zanzibar comes, literally the chained or 'slavery' coast. If all human beings look back far enough, all of our DNA comes out of east Africa. That doesn't mean that 7th century Arabs were Africans, however. The view I am expressing is that the Arabs of the Hejaz were keepers of African slaves, long before Muhammad, as well as long after him, with or without the Persian & Byzantine connections.


4.     4.  Wesley Muhammad:

Charles Lohman wrote:

“Kidr - I understand yours and Wesley's points AND I learned a lot from these posts. AND Muhammad as well as Jesus was probably a lot darker THAN I initially thought or initially cared to think. I admit this AND will read your posts about the history. Because if this is a concern of some of my Muslim brothers who have darker skin than I do THEN it's a concern for me.  Please accept my apology for not being more sensitive and open? Sorry!

Peace, LOVE and Respect!”

Kidr said it right – All praise belongs to Allah, and it is not me nor Kidr to whom any apologies are due Charles. I do, however, appreciate the humility and your openness to growth. We should all be humble and open to growth, and I pray that Allah finds me likewise or, if I am lacking, grants me humility and openness. 

You say also Charles:

“My final thought: Muhammad was NOT from Africa. It's that simple! Now, can you trace his ancestry to Africa. Regardless - it still does NOT make him from Africa. He's from where he's from. It's like saying I'm a White-European because I look it BUT I've never been to Europe. But I understand Kidr and Wesley's points AND learned a lot from these posts :-)”

Well, this final thought is factually right is one sense, and factually incorrect in another. Where it is factually right, it is a moot point because that was never the argument. That is to say, up to this point neither I nor Kidr argued that the Prophet was “from Africa”. He was from Mecca in west-central Arabia. No one disputes that. On the otherhand, I said that his people, the pure Arabs, were African-Arabians or Afrabians, but this is not the same as saying that he was “from Africa.” I am a so-called African-American, but when I introduce myself to academic colleagues at international conferences I don’t say “I’m from Africa”. While such a claim has some ‘distant truth-value’ to it, the most immediately factual statement is: “I’m from the US, specifically Michigan.” However, the immediate factuality of this latter statement does not diminish the distant truth-value of the former statement. In any case, please not that your “final thought” is a modification of your original claim that Muhammad was not “Black-African” either in appearance or otherwise. That original claim is factual incorrect, and your final thought is as well, from one perspective.

Muhammad and his Arab kin are actually ‘from Africa’ in one sense: Arabia, as Kidri points out, is actually Northeastern Africa. All of the physical evidence indicates this, and it was European map-makers that ‘de-Africanized’ the peninsula, arbitrarily making the Red Sea the dividing line between Africa and Africa. But the physical, linguist, cultural, and ethnographic evidence all indicate that Arabia is Northeast Africa and indigenous Arabians are Northeast Africans.

Physical evidence indicates that Arabia is

Ò  A geomorphic and climatological extension of NE Africa and
Ò  A phytogeographical (plant geography) and zoogeographical  (animal geography) extension of NE Africa

Plate tectonics separated the Arabian Plate from the African Shield five to six million years ago, creating the Red Sea. However, plate tectonics never de-Africanized Arabia, which still remains, as Maurizio Tosi points out, “the geological extension of Africa.” He has further pointed out in his discussion, “The Emerging Picture of Prehistoric Arabia” (Annual Review of Anthropology 15 [1986]: 461-490) that “Physically the (Arabian) peninsula is a part of Africa, landscaped by the same geological and climate processes as the eastern Sahara and the Ethiopian highlands.” This fact was pointed out much early by William H. Worrell in his A Study of Races in the Ancient Near East. He affirmed: “Geologically Africa includes that part of Asia which we now call Mesopotamia, Palestine and Syria…Arabia and the Syrian Desert are merely the extension of the great deserts of Northern Africa”.

Coupled with this geological and climatalogical evidence is the ecological data. In 1982 Stacey International published its Saudi-endorsed study of the region, noting:

“Maps and geography books make Arabia a part of Asia, but plant and animal life clearly bear out the theory that it is really an extension of Africa…Saudi Arabia’s wildlife is…an African complex of species…The animals and plants of northern and northeastern Saudi Arabia are generally closely related to or identical with Saharan species.”

All of this physical evidence indicates that the Northeastern part of the continent of Africa and the Arabian Peninsula together constitute a single continuous region, the so-called “Saharo-Arabian Region” (see photo).  Put simply, the Arabian Peninsula is actually just the north-eastern extremity of the African continent, a fact which the ‘tyranny of the Red Sea’ imposed by European map-makers obscures. As Ali Mazrui notes:

“a European decision to make Africa end at the Red Sea has decisively de-Africanized the Arabian peninsula…the tyranny of the sea is in part a tyranny of European geographical prejudices. Just as European map-makers could decree that on the map Europe was above Africa instead of below (an arbitrary decision in relation to the cosmos) those map-makers could also dictate that Africa ended at the Red Sea instead of the Persian Gulf. Is it not time that this dual tyranny of the sea and Eurocentric geography was forced to sink to the bottom? (Ali A. Mazrui, Euro-Jews and Afro-Arabs: The Great Semitic Divergence in World History, 2008).

It is indeed time that this arbitrary European decision is rendered ineffective and we recognize Arabia for it physically is: Northeast Africa. And the indigenous peoples of Arabia, including the Arabs, are African peoples. The Encyclopedia Britannica (9th Edition) correctly points out:

“(Regarding) [t]he origin of the Arab race…the first certain fact on which to base our investigations is the ancient and undoubted division of the Arab race into two branches, the ‘Arab’ or pure; and the ‘Mostareb’ or adscititions…A second fact is, that everything in pro-Islamitic literature and record…concurs in representing the first settlement of the ‘pure’ Arabs as made on the extreme south-western point of the peninsula, near Aden, and then spreading northward and eastward…A third is the name Himyar, or ‘dusky’…a circumstance pointing, like the former, to African origin. A fourth is the Himyaritic language language…(The preserved words) are African in character, often in identity. Indeed, the dialect commonly used along the south-eastern coast hardly differs from that used by the (Somali) Africans on the opposite shore…Fifthly, it is remarkable that where the grammar of the Arabic, now spoken by the ‘pure’ Arabs, differs from that of the north, it approaches to or coincides with the Abyssinian…Sixthly, the pre-Islamitic institutions of Yemen and its allied provinces-its monarchies, courts, armies, and serfs-bear a marked resemblance to the historical Africao-Egyptian type, even to modern Abyssinian. Seventhly, the physical conformation of the pure-blooded Arab inhabitants of Yemen, Hadramaut, Oman, and the adjoining districts-the shape and size of head, the slenderness of the lower limbs, the comparative scantiness of hair, and other particulars-point in an African rather than an Asiatic direction. Eighthly, the general habits  of the people,-given to sedentary rather than nomade occupations, fond of village life, of society, of dance and music; good cultivators of the soil, tolerable traders, moderate artisans, but averse to pastoral pursuits-have much more in common with those of the inhabitants of the African than with those of the western Asiatic continent. Lastly, the extreme facility of marriage which exists in all classes of the southern Arabs with the African races; the fecundity of such unions; and the slightness or even absence of any caste feeling between the dusky ‘pure’ Arab and the still darker native of modern Africa…may be regarded as pointing in the direction of a community of origin.”

The Pure Arabs and the East Africans are indeed kith and kin. Bertram Thomas, historian and former Prime Minister of Muscat and Oman, reported in his work ‘The Arabs’:

“The original inhabitants of Arabia…were not the familiar Arabs of our time but a very much darker people.  A proto-negroid belt of mankind stretched across the ancient world from Africa to Malaya.  This belt…(gave) rise to the Hamitic peoples of Africa, to the Dravidian peoples of India, and to an intermediate dark people inhabiting the Arabian peninsula.  In the course of time two big migrations of fair-skinned peoples came from the north…to break through and transform the dark belt of man beyond India (and) to drive a wedge between India and Africa…The more virile invaders overcame the dark-skinned peoples, absorbing most of them, driving others southwards…The cultural condition of the newcomers is unknown.  It is unlikely that they were more than wild hordes of adventurous hunters.”
You see Charles, this is the premise:

1.]Muhammad is from Mecca, Arabia
2.]Arabia is, according to all of the relevant physical data, simply Northeast Africa
3.]Ergo, Muhammad is from Northeast Africa.

Thank for the discussion Charles. I enjoyed it.

Thank you Ismail Bey for your contribution to this discussion. It is refreshing because it offers an attempt at historical analysis rather than repetitive dogma. However, Kidri correctly describes what you have presented as ‘distorted history’. It falls far below the bar of historical-critical standards, and suggests nothing more than a casual familiarity of the topics invoked by you, topics which – I might add – are indeed very relevant to the overall discussion.

Ismail Bey claims that “The Ummayads kept slaves who were of African origin. Bilal was such a slave.” You, Ismail, go on to suggest that Bilal’s experience “reveals a racist attitude among the Meccans towards their African subjects.” This, in your mind, means that “it is unlikely that the Umayyads were African.”This is logically fallacious and historical inaccurate.

Your claim that Bilal was a slave of the Umayyads is incomprehensible. The Umayyad Dynasty began in 661 with Mu’awiyyah from the Banu Umayyah and ended in 750. Bilal was never a slave to the Umayyads. He had been long freed by then. You were probably led to this error by the coincidence that Bilal’s Jahili slave-master was named Umayyah ibn Khalaf ibn Safwan. But the name is just that, a coincidence. Umayyah ibn Khalaf was not from the Banu Umayyah; he was from the Banu Jumah, another Qurayshi clan. Also erroneous is the implication you draw from it, that Bilal’s enslavement to Uamyyah ibn Khalaf signals Mecca “racism”. But Umayyah himself was black-skinned! The famous Syrian Muslim scholar al-Dhahabi, in his ‘Siyar a’lam al-nubala’ (I:160), informs us that this Qurayshi clan, like the others, was noted for their black-skins. So we have a black-skinned Arab enslaving a black-skinned son of an Arab father and Ethiopian mother: anti-black racism is certainly not operative here. And As Kidr Amari rightly pointed out, the Arab prejudice against Bilal was based on his cast – slave – not his blackness. In fact, the evidence is clear – there was little to NO anti-black racism in Pre-Islamic or Islamic Arabia! Dana Marniche, scholar of Arabian ethnography, observes:

“As if the world has been turned upside down, blackness in the early Arab culture as in pre-Ptolemaic Egypt and early Dravidian India (according to Marco Polo), was revered as representative of what was archetypically good, holy and powerful, while in European culture, even in early times, it appears to have been the exact opposite.”
This observation of a pro-black sentiment in early Arab and Islamic culture is echoed by a number of scholars. John Alembillah Azumah, in his The Legacy of Arab-Islam in Africa, points out that,

“There is hardly any trace of antagonism or discrimination on the basis of the skin color in pre-Islamic and early Islamic Arabia… In social life in pre-Islamic and early Arabia there were black slaves as well as white slaves, mainly captured during war, and there is no evidence that the former suffered any specific discrimination by virtue of the colour of their skin. On the contrary, the Habash (Ethiopians), who were active in sixth-century Arabia as allies of the Byzantines, were usually regarded as people with a higher civilization than the Arabs and respected during early Islamic times as people with a revealed religion. It was partly due to the high esteem with which the Habash were held in the early Islamic period that Muhammad advised his persecuted followers to seek asylum in Abyssinia in 615 CE. 

So too the late Professor St Claire Drake, in his “Black Folk Here and There”:

“In early Islam, there were positive associations with blackness…The rabbinic and midrashic stories that interpret black skin as a curse was apparently not part of early Arab oral tradition…However…they became known after the seventh-century Arab conquests, among scholars in Mesopotamia who were developing Islamic religious thought The scholars…some [were] Arabs, [most were] Persians.” 

But what about the anti-black racism evident in pre-Islamic poetry?.[1] How do we account for this, in the light of the above observations of the lack of anti-black racism in pre- and early Islamic Arabia and in the light of the overwhelming evidence that the Arabs of pre- and early Islamic Arabia were themselves black? Bernard Lewis rightly points out in this regard:

"There are verses, indeed many verses, attributed to pre-Islamic and early Islamic poets which would suggest very strongly a feeling of hatred and contempt directed against persons of African birth or origin. Most, if not all of these, however, almost certainly belong to later periods and reflect later problems, attitudes, and preoccupations…pagan and early Islamic Arabia seems to have shared the general attitude of the ancient world, which attached no stigma to blackness."

Pre- and early Islamic poetry was manipulated or fabricated and an anti-black racism was retrojected back to the ‘old’ Arabs. Later Iranian mawali or converts introduced into Islam a virulent anti-black racism. Thus, Bilal’s experience in pre-Islamic Arabia cannot be cited as evidence that the Arabs weren’t Black but were racist whites.

Nor is your grasp of the history of slavery in the Muslim world sufficient. Africans were NOT the main slaves of Pre-Islamic Arabia the Umayyads: whites were! Mark Perrey, in his article “Perceptions of Race in the Arab World,” affirms: “slavery in Islam for most of its history was not color-specific; indeed, the preferred slaves…came from the Slavonic regions of Europe.”

Ronald Segal, in ‘Islam’s Black Slaves’, notes as well:

“For much of Islamic history…there is no such virtually exclusive identification of slavery with blackness as came to exist in the Christian West with colonial expansion and the Atlantic Trade. This would not have been compatible with the widespread use of white slaves…The process of enslaving blacks did come, in the nineteenth century, to involve violence and brutality on a gigantic scale. But many of the leading slavers then were Afro-Arab blacks themselves.”   

Ismail, you say: “Ummayad racist policies were well known, and all this before the coming of the Turks, Circassians and Byzantine slaves.”

I consider myself well acquainted with the Umayyads, please inform me and us about these “well-known racist policies”.

You say further, “The revolt of the Zanji of Iraq was a revolt of African slaves against their Arab rulers.”

This is profoundly misleading and indicates a very shallow knowledge of the subject. Firstly, the major Zanj revolt was against the Abbasids, not the Umayyads. Secondly, the Abbasids were famously NOT “Arab rulers”. The Bannu Abbas were Black Arabs indeed, but the Abbasid caliphs were not pure Arabs. As Leslie Pierce documents in her,  ‘The Imperial Harem’:

“ While the caliphs of the Umayyad dynasty had prided themselves on the purity of their Arab lineage through marriage with noble Arab women, by the second century of Islamic history many of the caliphs of the Abbasid dynasty were the sons of slave concubines.”

This is actually an understatement: while practically all of the Umayyad caliphs were proud, pure, Black Arabs, practically all of the Abbasid caliphs, with the exception of the first, were sons of slave, mainly Persian, mothers. Many of these caliphs preferred the culture of the Persian mothers to that of the pure black Arabs. Many of the Abbassid caliphs were racists, but they were as racist to the Black Arabs as they were to the Black African! So the Zanj did not revolt against racist Arab rulers, they revolted against racist half-breeds, who were racist against both Arab and East African blackness.

Ismail, you then mention the notorious slave markets of Zanzibar, and want to attribute this to the ‘Arabs’, I guess the Umayyads. This is very wrong. It was the Persian Shirazi dynasty, founded by Ali ibn Hasan, which ruled the coast of East Africa for > 500 years (980-1513) and prospered due to their flourishing slave trade.

Ismail, the true Arabs are black-skinned (not tanned!), descendents of the African Arabians who initially populated the peninsula. Prophet Muhammad (saw) was one of these Black Arabs, as were the Umayyads. Kidr Amari is absolutely correct: the pronounced anti-black racism that characterizes the Muslim world today was initially introduced into Islam by non-Arab converts, mainly Persians, Byzantines and Turks. This is what I call the ‘Aryanization of Islam.’ The logo of this Aryanized Islam is that white-skinned Muhammad.   



  1. Holy shit what a propaganda shit ... you need to use source from islamic sources !!! .. idiot !1