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 Such notions of religious ‘borrowing,’ ‘plagiarism,’ or ‘gumbos’ are outdated.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.     

1 comment:

  1. “Islam: Africa’s Other Stolen Legacy”….

    Excellent, I can’t wait to delve into the research and mull through the topics.

    I will defiantly be in the house for the ATL lecture in February. Until then stay blessed as well God/Dr. Wesley.

    Peace 7