Monday, January 30, 2012

Prophet Muhammad, the Arabs and the Many Shades of Blackness

By Wesley Muhammad, PhD

Muhammad b. Ahmad al-Minhājī al-Asyūtī (d. 1475) in his Jawāhir al-‘uqud wa-mu’īn al-qudāt wal-muwaqqi’īn wal-shuhūd [II:574], which is a two volume composition of principles and models to be followed by judges, notaries and witnesses in drafting legal decisions, has a section on human complexions in which he reports about the many shades of blackness (and whiteness) and their technical legal descriptions:

“If a person’s complexion is intensely black (shadīd al-sawād), he is described as hālik. If his/her blackness has a red hue, he/she is daghmān. If his complexion is lighter than that, he is asam. If the blackness has a yellow hue, he is aṣḥum. If his complexion in dark (kudra), it is described as arbad. If the complexion is lighter than that (i.e. arbad), it is abya. If there is less of a yellow hue and the complexion inclines toward black (al-sawād), it is ādam. If it is lighter than arbad and darker than ādam, it is shadīd al-udma. If it is lighter than ādam, it is shadīd al-sumra (“intensely dark brown”). If lighter than that, it is asmar (dark brown).”

In Classical Arabic Tradition several shades and hues of blackness, several shades of brownness, and several shades of whiteness were distinguished. There are very black complexions with red hues (e.g. daghmān) and very black complexions with yellow hues (e.g. aṣḥam). Both of these complexion-types exist in Africa today, as elsewhere. The most extreme degree of blackness is hālik, ‘pitch-black’.  The last stage of blackness is asmar, which is actually a brown.

The question is thus not whether or not the ancient Arabs, and thus the Arab Prophet, were black or not. The clearly self-identified as black. The question is: which shade of black were they?

The Arabs generally self-identified as akhdar, ādam, and asmar which range from very dark brown to normal brown (which is a much darker color than tan). They tended to disparage and distance themselves from the extreme pitch-blackness like hālik and attributed this to certain African groups.

Regarding the prophet Muhammad, Al-Tirmidhi, in his Jami’ al-Sahih (VI:69 no. 1754), reports on the authority of the famous Companion of the Prophet, Anas b. Malik:

"The Messenger of Allah was of medium stature, neither tall nor short, [with] a beautiful, dark brown-complexioned body (hasan al-jism asmar al-lawn). His hair was neither curly nor completely straight and when he walked he leant forward."

Al-Tirmidhi reports in his al-Shama’il al-Muhammadiyyah (#1), also on the authority of Anas b. Malik,

 "The Messenger of Allah (s) was neither tall, such that he would stand out, nor was he short. He was not albino-white (al-abyad al-amhaq), nor was he deep dark brown (ādam). His hair was neither very curly nor completely straight. Allah commissioned him towards the end of his fortieth year. He remained in Mecca for ten years and in Medina for ten years. Allah caused him to pass away at the turn of his sixtieth year and there was not found on his head and beard [as much as] twenty white hairs."

This report does not stand in contradiction to the other reports according to which the Prophet was dark brown-skinned, because asmar is not ādam. According to classifications of the Arabic linguists such al-Tha’labi, ādam is a more excessive blackness than asmar. What is therefore denied here is that Muhammad was one of the more excessively black Arabs, like the Banu Sulaym maybe.

Hālik African

Ādam Arab

An Asmar Arab (right) as depicted in Michel Ocelot’s animated feature film Azur and Asmar, telling the story of an Arab boy named Asmar, representing the Arab World, and a blond-haired, blue-eyed boy named Azur, representing the West.  

Friday, January 27, 2012

Did Islam 'Borrow' From Other Religions? Exposing the Shallowness of Some Afrocentric 'Scholarship' Today

We hear the claim from Afrocentrists (and others) all of the time:  

“Islam originated as a combination of pre-Muhammad ‘pagan’ Arab beliefs and practices... the prophets of Islam were borrowed/stolen from the Hebrew texts (hence u see Moses, Jesus, and others in the Quran as Muslims instead of the Hebrews they really were; and then there was the borrowing from faiths such as Zorastrianism and Sabeanism. Historically speaking, Islam was not an original religion. It borrowed from everything around.

Or similarly:

“It is my contention that the religious system called Al Islam is composed of elements of Abrahamism (Judaism and Christianity), Zoroastrianism (Persia), Kmt, Ethiopia, pre-Islamic Arabian practices, as well as Lunar and Stellar modes.”

My Response:

Your “Al Islam” is a real hodge-podge, huh? A nice religious stew or gumbo. With due respect Beloved, your contention is humorously throwback and it suggests a lack of familiarity with modern History of Religions scholarship and methodology in general and the historical-critical study of the Semitic religious tradition in particular. Such notions of religious ‘borrowing,’ ‘plagiarism,’ or ‘gumbos’ are outdated.  History of Religions scholars today recognize two important facts that went unnoticed during the olden days when your notion of a religious hodge-podge was acceptable: 1.) NO religious tradition (including that of Kemet) develops in a hermetically sealed environment, totally disengaged from the religious and cultural milieu in which it was born and 2.) With this being the case, religious traditions generally (with few exceptions) development autonomously and have their own internal integrity.

Specialists now see that Judaism, Christianity and Islam (which really should be Judaisms, Christianities, and Islams) are not three distinct traditions with a linear relationship of dependence, one to the other. They are three distinct, polyvalent reifications of a common Ancient Near Eastern Semitic (not Abrahamic) tradition.  There are commonalities among them, not because they ‘borrowed’ from each other – so throwback this is – but because they all tapped and exploited a shared tradition of religious discourse.  As specialists know and emphasize, the differences even among the so-called commonalities are FAR more revealing and defining for these traditions than is their commonalities. To be surprised at these commonalities and to suggest ‘borrowing’ or any similar concept as the reason for these commonalities is like emphasizing the similarities in the contents in the hands of three people who grabbed a handful of candy from the same bag with different candies in it. In such a case one would expect both variance and commonality, and no one would suggest that the latter is due to one person ‘borrowing’ candy from another. Judaisms (Plural!!), Christianites (Plural!!) and Islams (Plural!!) are three distinct, polyvalent traditions that are ‘handfuls’ that drew from the same ‘bag’ of religious discourse. As linguist and Africanist Prof Bernard Leeman points out

“Commentators have linked Muhammad’s extraordinary career to Christian and Jewish influences, although it is clear that the formative years of his frenetic career was spent largely in interaction with young idealistic Arabs from the merchant class. When Islam first galvanized Byzantine attention after A.D. 632, it was interpreted as Christian heresy but, despite references to Christ and the Virgin Mary, Islam is far removed from Christianity…many of the allusions to the Old and New Testaments do not follow the versions recorded in those books…It seems that Muhammad was not so much drawing on strong local Jewish traditions but on an ancient common Semitic folk culture…The overall impression gained from the Qur’an is of a shared Semitic historical and theological experience.”  Queen of Sheba and Biblical Scholarship (Queensland, Australia: Queensland Academic Press, 2005) 134.

Kemetic Ma’at is NO DIFFERENT in this regard. It is such that if one weren’t careful or up-to-date in our conceptions, and if one wanted to (again) invoke throwback categories and ideas, one could say that Ma’at was such a hodge-podge. Over its several millennia, the religious tradition of the Nile Valley, especially Kemet’s portion (from the Mediterranean to the First Cataract), was “informed” by several distinct traditions, some indigenous to the Valley – e.g. Afroasiatic and Nilo-Saharan – and some from Near Eastern immigrants. Kemitic religion or spirituality or whatever you want to call it was as much a ‘synthesis’ or ‘gumbo’ of distinct religious currents as your Al Islam is.

But in making this observation about Kemet, an important point raised by Dr. Mario Beatty must be kept in mind, because it is also relevant to the discussion of your, uhhh, “contention” about Islam. In discussing the historical conflicts between Egypt and Nubia, Dr. Beatty states:

“The most pernicious error that is being made (by scholars discussing Egypt and Nubia) is the consistent disrespect for periodization.” 
That is to say, people should not conflate the state of things in, say, pre-dynastic Kemet with those of Middle Kingdom Kemet, or conflate the Old Kingdom status quo with the New Kingdom status quo. Things changed over the several millennia and these periodic changes must be respected and accounted for.

The same with Islam. The above articulated contentions fall into the same pernicious error, most blatantly when you (plural) throw Persian Zoroastrianism into the stew or hodge-podge that is – you claim – Al Islam.  I have clearly demonstrated the Persianization of Islam, which included the introduction of Zoroastrian motifs. This process, its causes, its context, and its consequences are well known. And it is equally well known that this process began over a century after (Muhammadan) Islam was established in Arabia AND that this new Persianized Islam was radically different from the Islam established by the original Black Arabs or African Arabians. Such claims as those above show no awareness of or appreciation for such a critical issue of periodization .  

I could go on. I am writing a book about the popular Afrocentrist pious fiction that Islam was derived from or influenced by Kemet. Regarding “pre-Islamic Arabian practices, as well as Lunar and Stellar modes,” this part of your contention seems to be for the sole purpose of, shall we say, “padding the books.” For one, “lunar and stellar modes” were a part of the so-called “pre-Islamic practices,” not a separate phenomenon to be added to the gumbo recipe. Second, I along with Dr. Cheikh Anta Diop have already argued that Islam is in fact the genetic descendent of the ancient Kushite religion of pre-Muhammad Arabia. Muslim tradition (in its pious fictitious way) even recognizes the relation between Islam and so-called pre-Islamic Arabian religion. Nothing new here.

In any case, all of these matters will be discussed in greater depth in my upcoming book, “Islam: Africa’s Other Stolen Legacy”. Till then, be blessed.     

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Ma'atic Islam

"We, the tribe of Shabazz, says Allah (God), were the first to discover the best part of our planet to live on. The rich Nile Valley of Egypt and the present seat of the Holy City, Mecca, Arabia. " The Honorable Elijah Muhammad, Message to the Black Man.


"Remember that there are two main keys to knowledge. This is the first: ‘The without is like the within of things, the small is like the large; there is only one law and he who works is One...And this is the second:’ MEN ARE MORTAL GODS AND GODS ARE IMMORTAL MEN.’ Happy the man who understands these words, for he holds the key to all things." A Hierophant (teacher) from the Mysteries to his Student

"The Egyptian Mystery System had as its most important object, the DEIFICATION OF MAN." Richard King, African Origin of Biological Psychiatry

"The Father is our own kind. He wants to make you and me, not just believers, but Gods. Everyone of you, according to what He (Master Fard Muhammad) has taught me, will be Gods…There is no doubt that we are really Gods, but we lost our power and knowledge as shown in the parable of the Jesus. “Salt is good as long as it has saving power. When it no longer has saving power it is not good for anything, but to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.” This is referring to us. We had knowledge and we will be powerful when we are restored to what we originally were. But, we have been robbed of power through depriving us of the Knowledge of Self...." The Hon. Elijah Muhammad, Theology of Time


"the Egyptian’s...gods (were) in their own image, only they attributed to them super-human powers.” Egyptologists E. Wallace Budge, The Gods of the Egyptians

“Thus we can understand why the Egyptians always painted their gods black as coal, in the image of their race, from the beginning to the end of their history.” Cheik Anta Diop, African Origin of Civilization

“I saw my Lord under the form of a young man, beardless and curly haired.”  The Holy Prophet Muhammad, via Abd Allah ibn Abbas.

"The heretics (who deny God’s possession of a human form) cite in evidence the Qur’an verse ‘Nothing is like Him,’ but the meaning of this verse is only that nothing compared to God in His divinity. In form, however, God is like you and me." Muhammad b. Sa'dun al-'Abdari al-Qurashi (d. 524/1130), the famous Zahiri imam and hafiz of Andalusia and Baghdad.

"He (God) is on the Throne in His essence in the sense of being in contact with it ... when He descends [from His Throne, that descent] entails movement from place to place... His essence has limits, and ... measure and extent… one who descends must do so from above, and so...His descent (is) in terms of sense experience, i.e. that kind of descent by which bodies are described...the Divine Attributes (are described) in terms required by sense experience…and they represent Him as a physical person (shakhs) whose beauty exceeds all beauty…" An older orthodoxy, that of the school of Champion of the Sunna Imam Ahmad b. Hanbal.

"The ignorant belief of the Orthodox Muslims that Allah (God) is some formless something and yet He has an Interest in our affairs, can be condemned in no limit of time. I would not give two cents for that kind of God in which they believe." “God is a man and we just cannot make Him other than a man, lest we make Him an inferior one.” The Hon. Elijah Muhammad 


                                          Image courtesy Bro Akbar Shareef Muhammad


"The woman is made after the womb out of which God created Himself, and in the woman is the Secret of God. The reason you are far away from God is because of your attitude towards women. You will never find God and you will never grow to honor God, as long as you are a mistreater and disrespecter of women. The woman is the Secret and she contains the Secret....The riddle has been with God, but the secret of the riddle is in woman, and unless and until we become better acquainted with who she is, you may never see who you are." The Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan, “WHO IS GOD?” February 24, 1991

“If thou will contemplate the Creator even in perishable things, in things which are on earth, or in the deep, reflect, O my son, ON THE FORMATION OF MAN IN HIS MOTHER’S WOMB.” Thoth Hermes, the Egyptian god of wisdom, to his son Tatian


“O Rē' who gave birth to righteousness, sovereign who created all this, who built his limbs, who modeled his body, who created himself, who gave birth to himself.” Theban Tomb 157

“I (Atum) created my body in my glory; I am he who made myself; I formed myself according to my will and according to my heart.” Coffin Text 714 

"our First Father formed and designed Himself. Think over a Man being able to design His own form and He had never seen another Man before He saw Himself. This is a powerful thing." The Honorable Elijah Muhammad, Theology of Time


"He (God) came out of total darkness and He was dark. He proved that He came out of darkness, because His own color corresponds with the conditions of what is now the Heavens and the Earth, that was nothing then but total darkness. A totally dark man came out of total darkness..." The Hon. Elijah Muhammad, Theology of Time

"We have found the Black complexion or something relating to it whenever we have approached the origin of nations. The Alma Mater, the Goddess Multimammia, the founders of the Oracles, the Memnon of first idols, were always Black. Venus, Jupiter, Apollo, Bacchus, Hercules, Asteroth, Adonis, Horus, Apis, Osiris, and Amen: in short all the...deities were black." Godfrey Higgins, Anacalypsis



"Well, we all know that there was a God in the beginning that created all these things and do know that He does not exist today but we know again that from that God the person of God continued until today in His people." "The Father is our own kind." The Honorable Elijah Muhammad 

"The religious system (of the Yoruba) is based on the conception that each human being is the representative of the ancestor god. Filiation is through the male line. All members of the same family are posterity of the same god..." Leo Frobenius, the first Western anthropologist in Western Africa.


Sunday, January 15, 2012

Allāh Derived From Allāt? Exposing Another Afrocentrist Anti-Islam Myth

By Wesley Muhammad, PhD © 2012 Wesley Muhammad

(Excerpt from Black Arabia and the African Origin of Islam)

It is popular in some Afrocentrist circles to claim that Allah is a patriarchal corruption of the paramount Arabian goddess Al-Lat/Allāt. This claim is largely based on a suggestion by Dr. Yusef Ben Jochannan. According to ben-Jochannan the Islamic god Allāh was “launched” in Arabia by the Arabian prophet Muhammad b. ‘Abd Allāh, who apparently (according to ben-Jochannan) converted the female goddess Allāt into the male god Allāh.[1] The implication is of course that before Muhammad replaced the female deity Allāt with his own creation, the male god Allāh, no one worshipped the latter.[2] Hindu nationalist Purushottan Negesh Oak likewise suggests that the male Allāh derived from the early goddess.[3] This is a most unfortunate historical reconstruction in that, while it is completely disproven by linguistic, epigraphic and historical data, it nonetheless is frequently repeated. But as pioneering Canadian scholar of Islam Arthur Jeffrey points out:

"The name Allah¼ was well known in pre-Islamic Arabia. Indeed, both it and its feminine form, Allat, are found not infrequently among the theophorous names in inscriptions from North Arabia."[4]

The male and female pair Allāh/Allāt coexisted in Arabia before Muhammad's time, with Allah receiving recognition as supreme creator deity. Western Islamicist and historian from the University of Minnesota, Caesar E. Farah, affirms that

"Allah, the paramount deity of pagan Arabia, was the target of worship in varying degrees of intensity from the southernmost tip of Arabia to the Mediterranean."[5]

Samuel M. Zwemer notes as well:

"But history establishes beyond a shadow of a doubt that even the pagan Arabs, before Muhammad's time, knew their chief god by the name of Allāh, and even, in a sense, proclaimed his unity."[6]

British Islamicist William Montgomery Watt has shown that  Allāh, before the time of Muhammad, was what students of comparative religion know as a “high god.” This means that while only one of several gods whose existence was acknowledged, Allāh was the supreme deity over the others.[7] One of these subordinate gods was in fact the goddess Allat, who was considered both the feminine complement of the male Allāh and his “daughter.” Thus Jacques Ryckmans, French historian of Pre-Islamic Arabia, writing on the gods of Pre-Islamic North Arabia notes:

"Al-Ilāt or Allāt ("the Goddess"), was known to all pantheons. She is daughter or a consort, depending on the region, of al-Lāh or Allāh, Lord of the Ka’bah in Mecca.”[8]

To suggest that Muhammad somehow 'converted' the female deity Allāt into the male Allāh is completely without warrant.

Prophet Muhammad did not 'launch' Allāh or his worship in Arabia. Second century CE inscriptions from Sumatra Harabesi in the Tektek mountains, Edessa Syria, document this. At an Arab sanctuary the “governor of the Arabs” left the following inscription dated to 165 CE:

 (2) I, Tiridates, son of Adona, governor of ‘Arab, (3) built this altar and set up a pillar for Mār 'Allāhā, 'Lord Allah'.[9]

These inscriptions are 400 years prior to the beginning of Muhammad's reform movement in Mecca. But there are more, earlier examples as well. Evidence of the worship of Allah in ancient Arabia has been found in both the Northern and Southern portions of the peninsula. It is most documented for the Lihyan tribe in Northern Arabia. Four hundred Lihyanite and Dedanite inscriptions dating back to the fifth century BCE were found in the Nejd (Central Arabia). In these inscriptions are invocations to Allah. For example:

                                                                         H'lh 'btr bk hsrr
                                              'O Alah, (god) without offspring; in Thee be joy'[10]

F.V. Winnet, who has translated these inscriptions, lists others in his article, "Allah Before Islam."

O Allah, permit me to accomplish salvation¼
O Allah, God without offspring, greeting
O Allah, guide me that I may attain prosperity¼
O Allah, God without offspring, knower of men¼[11]

Allāh is called in these inscriptions "The Exalted": Give favor to this rock, O Exalted Allah.[12]

This Lihyanite inscriptional material gives evidence of an early Allah cult center 1100 years before Muhammad. And who were the Banu Lihyan? According to al-Tabari the Banu Lihyan were the survivors of Jurhum, one of the twelve original Kushite tribes in Mecca.[13] They were a division of the ancient tribe Hudhayl in the northern vicinity of Mecca and al-Tāʾif, of whom the Encyclopedia of Islam describes:

"Their skins were black and shinning; their looks¼were not hollow but round and teeming."[14]

This was an ancient center of Black worshippers of the male Allāh that preceded Muhammad in Arabia by over a millennium. The evidence for the cult of Allāh in Arabia, however, does not begin with the Lihyanites, but goes back to the Proto-Semites.  


[1] Yosef A.A. ben-Jochannan and George Simmonds, The Black Man's North and East Africa (Baltimore: Black Classic Press, 2005 [1971]) 25; Yosef ben-Jochannan, African Origins of the Major "Western Religions" (The Black Man's Religion, Volume I; Baltimore: Black Classic Press, 1991 [1970]) 212, 213.
[2] Wayne B. Chandler advances the same claim, quoting from the non-Arabist and non-Islamicist Amaury de Riencourt's critique of feminism, Sex and Power in History (New York: Dell Publishing, 1974). See Chadler's article "Ebony and Bronz: Race and Ethnicity in Early Arabia and the Islamic World," in Rashidi and Sertima, African Presence, 272.
[3] P.N. Oak, World Vedic Heritage: A History of Histories, 2 vols. (3rd Edition; New Delhi: Hindi Sahitya Sadan, 2003) I:696.
[4] Islam: Muhammad and His Religion (New York: The Liberal Arts Press, 1958) 85.
[5] Caesar E. Farah, Islam: Beliefs and Observances (Hauppauge, NY: Barron's, 2003 [1965]) 28.
[6] Samuel M. Zwemer, The Muslim Doctrine of God (1924) 24.
[7] Montgomery W. Watt, "The Qur'ân and Belief in a High God," Der Islam 56 (1979): 205-211; idem, "Pre-Islamic Arabian Religion in the Qur'an," 15 (1976): 73-79; idem, "Belief in a 'high god' in pre-Islamic Mecca', Journal of Semitic Studies, 16 (1971): 35-40.
[8] Encyclopedia Britannica 2004 s.v. Arabian Religion by Jacques Ryckmans. See further: F. V. Winnett, "The Daughters of Allah," Moslem World 30 (1940): 113-130.
[9] Retsö, Arabs in Antiquity, 441, 616 n. 5; Han J.W. Drijvers and John F. Healey, The Old Syriac Inscriptions of Edessa and Osrhoene: Texts, Translation and Commentary (Leiden: Brill, 1999) 104.
[10] F.V. Winnett, A Study of the Lihyanite and Thamudic Inscriptions (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1937) Plate IV.
[11] F. Winnet, "Allah Before Islam," The Moslem World 28 (1938): 243.
[12] F. Winnet, A Study of The Lihyanite and Thamudic Inscriptions (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1937) 27.
[13] Ed. de Goeje, Annales, 749.
[14] “Hudhayl,” Encyclopedia of Islam, 3:540.