By Wesley Muhammad, PhD
In December 2011 in Baltimore, Maryland I had the wonderful opportunity to engage my Brother Mukasa Afrika Ma’at in a public discussion on the subject “Ma’at and Islam: Two Distinct African Spiritual Traditions, or Not?” That historic discussion is now a matter of public record and is available in its entirety here:
I personally invited Bro Mukasa to this discussion after reading his book, The Redemption of Afrikan Spirituality: An Afrikan-Centered Historical Critique of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Considering his academic credentials, I thought then and I believe now that he was an excellent discussion partner for this topic at the time. Bro Mukasa agreed and the rest is history. I am proud of the discussion we had in Baltimore and the way we conducted it.
My discussion with Bro Mukasa was the third such live, public discussion I had with members of the so-called Afrocentrist community on this subject. While Bro Mukasa from the beginning wanted to make our discussion a ‘traveling’ discussion with episodes in different cities, I ultimately decided against this idea and decided that there is no more real value at all in debating Afrocentric ideologues over the subject of Islam’s Africanity.
My work on the African Origin of Islam has, among other things, exposed just how poor some of the current Afrocentric scholarship is with regards to Islam as an historical tradition, and just how dogmatically ideological many circles within the Afrocentric/Africa-Centered movement are. I grew up looking to Afrocentrism as the standard of Black Intellectuality especially over and against the stifling religious foolery that characterized so much Black religiosity. How disappointed I am now to find that Afrocentrism itself has currently fallen into the same religious foolery (not all, but too much it).
As wonderful a brother as Mukasa Africa Ma’at is, he right now exemplifies contemporary Afrocentrism’s poor scholarship on Islam and its zealously ideological nature. He would like another debate with me on the subject of Islam and Africa, but I have clearly stated my reasons why there will not be a FOURTH debate with Afrocentric deniers of plain facts. See here:
Bro Mukasa, like most Afrocentrists who engage in this particular discourse, is in total and obvious denial. His arguments, like the others, are just a reciting of the same ‘ol talking-points from the days of the Afrocentrist Crusades against Islam. He comes with nothing new himself and his approach to the wealth of relevant new data that I and others have brought to the table is to simply ignore it all. My brother is currently on a zealous, dogmatic campaign against Islam, but in doing so he exposes just how poor his “Islamic scholarship” is and why I can no longer take him serious as a relevant participant in the general discourse about Islam and Africa. Two examples will suffice.
In his blog entitled, “Islamic Invasion of Africa” (see http://afrikan-resistance.blogspot.com/2011/08/islamic-invasion-of-afrika-by-mukasa.html) Bro Mukasa makes the following comment:
“General ‘Amr who led in the capture of Alexandria, Egypt did not value knowledge as did the others, for he is historically quoted as saying, ‘If the library contains what is not in the Koran, it is false. If it contains what is already in the Koran, then it is superfluous. Burn it’ (Browder, 174). The Arabs destroyed statues, temples and pyramids and used the stones and limestones to build mosques and palaces.”
Here we find our Brother shamelessly quoting a long disproved piece of Christian anti-Islam propaganda. The fact that he cites as his authority for this claim our brother-scholar Anthony Browder only emphasizes how shallow Bro Mukasa’s knowledge is of Islam. While Anthony Browder is a wonderful author and educator, he is no historian of Islam and he simply got it wrong here. There were much more relevant sources that Bro Mukasa could have available himself of. See for example:
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) 53-56:
“For many centuries it was said that Caliph Omar had ordered the destruction of the great library in Alexandria because ‘either its books conflicted with the Koran and therefore ought to be burned, or they agreed with the Koran and were therefore superfluous.’ In actual fact the famous library at Alexandria had been destroyed much earlier-in the third century A.D. during a civil war in the time of the Roman Emperor Aurelian. The myth that the Arabs destroyed it was a lie invented by thirteenth-century Christian propagandists.”
David L. Lewis, God’s Crucible: Islam and the Making of Europe, 570-1215 (W. W. Norton & Company, 2008) 83:
“But (Umar) never ordered the destruction of the…library, for the very good reason that that terrible result had been all but accomplished in the last decade of the fourth century by fanatical Alexandrian Christians who travestied Emperor Theodosius’s decree against paganism.”
A.R. Doi, “The Arab Concept of Ifriqiya and the Planting of Islam in Africa,” Africa Quarterly 12 (1972) 204-205:
“In connection with the expansion of Islam in Egypt, a story is concocted that by the Caliph’s order Amr for six long months fed the numerous bath-furnaces of the city with the volumes of Alexandrian library… ‘(It) is one of those tales that make good fiction but bad history. The great Ptloemaic Library was burnt as early as 48 BC by Julius Caesar. A later one, referred to as the Daughter Library, was destroyed about AD 389 as a result of an edict by Emperor Theodosius. At the time of the Arab conquest, therefore, no library of importance existed in Alexandria and no contemporary writer ever brought the charge against Amr or ‘Umar.”
This blatant scholarly faux pas – relying on long-discredited Christian anti-Islamic myth to make a point against Islam – exemplifies much of Bro Mukasa’s approach to the subject of Islam. Thus, it is no surprise that he relies so much (in writings and at our discussion) on Dr. John Alembillah Azumah, who is now a scholar of Christian mission and Islamic studies at Columbia Theological Seminary faculty. He is Associate Professor of World Christianity and an ordained minister of the Presbyterian Church of Ghana. Azumah did evangelical work in northern Ghana and established 18 churches in three years. Dr. Azumah’s book, The Legacy of Arab-Islam in Africa, while not totally valueless, is a more sophisticated piece of Christian anti-Islamic polemic, one that Bro Mukasa’s enjoys employing.
This second example of my Brother’s over-zealous and poor scholarship on Islam has to do with the Arab-Muslim Slave-Trade. In his blog entitled “Arab Slave Trade” (http://afrikan-resistance.blogspot.com/2011/08/arab-slave-trade-by-mukasa-afrika-maat.html), Mukasa opens with this image and claim:
The death toll from the Muslim slave trade, Mukasa claims, was over 112 million! He then says:
“The Arab slave trade has been just as extensive, or more so, when compared to the European slave trade in both numbers and sheer brutality”
These claims of Brother Mukasa are simply bogus, pure propaganda. The Eastern Ma’afa or the East African Slave Trade was overall a horrific and condemnable crime against African humanity, and no Muslim should allow themselves to be an apologist for it. It did not, however, compare in numbers or brutality to the West African Slave Trade. Mukasa’s ‘112 million’ figure is deception by numbers.
Edward A. Alpers, The East African Slave Trade (Nairobi: East African Publishing House, 1967) 4:
“No historian of Africa will dispute the assertion that slaves have been exported from East Africa for as long as (two thousand years)…But just as we draw a distinction between the incidental trade in slaves which trickled across the Sahara from West to North Africa as long ago as the days of the Roman Empire, on the one hand, and the phenomenon which we call the West African slave trade, on the other, so we must draw a similar distinction for East Africa…It is very clear that the East African slave trade as a factor of continuing historical significance traces its roots back no further than the first half of the eighteenth century. [The] argument that it was of continuing importance from the earliest contacts with Asia simply cannot be substantiated. The slave trade as a factor in modern history of East Africa does not trace its roots back thousands of years.” “the old stereotyped idea that most slaves were seized by marauding bands of Arab and Swahili traders is just another one of the myths which have grown up around the East African slave trade…The horrors of the slave trade were … most pronounced during the last quarter of the nineteenth century.”
The Historical Encyclopedia of World Slavery, ed. Junius P. Rodriquez (2 vols.; Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, 1997) 1: 13, 14 s.v. Africa by Frank A. Salamone:
“From 650 to 1600, approximately 3.5 million to 10 million people were removed from Africa by the (East African) slave trade…These figures should be contrasted with numbers taken from 1650 to the end of the Atlantic slave trade where estimates range from just over 11 million to more than 20 million.”
Thus, 3.5 -10 million over 1000 years (East African), versus 11-20 million over 200 years (West African). How is it that Bro Mukasa or anyone can say with a straight fact that the East African Slave trade rivaled the Western in numbers? And where did Bro Mukasa get his “112 million” figure from? Murray Gordon, in his Slavery in the Arab World, gives us a hint of where Mukasa might have gotten this figure from:
“the lack of documents, personal accounts, and reliable data on the number of blacks who were enslaved (have discouraged historians from inquiring into the slave trade and slavery in the Muslim world)…What records there are from official and commercial sources are spotty and their reliability uncertain. Reports of consular officials from Zanzibar, Tripoli, and Sur, which provide the basis for some of the estimates of the volume of the trade in the area, are incomplete and have been criticized as reflecting abolitionist tendencies of inflating figures in order to justify the adoption of stronger measure to crack down on slavers.” “The spotty information available about the export of slaves from Africa to the Arab world makes any assessments of the volume of this traffic and the time period it covered subject to a considerable margin of error. Not surprisingly, this narrow factual base has become a broad launching pad for exaggerated claims about the number of slaves shipped out of Africa and the time frame in which the trade ran. This is particularly true of the traffic that came out of East Africa…”
Mukasa’s “112 million figure” is certainly a grossly exaggerated claim made possible by the extremely narrow factual base currently available and made necessary by the ideology that drives his scholarship on Islam.
One final example: Bro Mukasa recently posted a video to Facebook on the damnable practice of male castration in some Islamic lands. Brother Mukasa presents this video as “Islam Exposed”. While the horrific practice of castrating Africans would become a very notable practice in some medieval Islamic lands, to claim that this is a characteristic feature of Islam is pure propaganda. In Ronald Segal’s important work, Islam’s Black Slaves (2001), which Mukasa himself quotes in his writings, this myth is exposed:
“In ancient Arabia, castration seems to have had no place; and when it subsequently did acquire one, the practice was roundly condemned by early Muslims. Mutilation was forbidden by Muslim law, and a specific ban on castration was invested with the authority of the Prophet by a hadith: ‘Whoever cuts off the nose of a slave, his nose shall be cut off; and whoever castrates a slave, him also shall we castrate.’ But the wealth acquired by conquest and the influence of cultures encompassed in the advance of Islam – eunuchs were employed for various purposes in both the Persian and Byzantine empires - proved more potent than precept.”
Thus, there is nothing Arab or Islamic about the practice. This was a non-Arab and non-Islamic practice that was imported into Islam through the corrupting Aryanizing process that Islam later underwent. Mukasa and the ideologues like him simply refuse to deal with the fact that Islam, prior to its Aryanization, was distinctly and profoundly different from the later Aryanized Islam. It is no more just to judge Islam on the basis of the Aryanized corruption than it is just to judge Ma’at on the basis of the Ptolemaic corruptions of later times.
I could go on, but I only wanted to show here how ideological our Brother’s claims are regarding Islam and why I decided that there is no value in a follow-up debate/discussion with him (or any other Afrocentric ideologue). Bro Mukasa is a beautiful Brother, with a good heart and spirit. I have tremendous respect and admiration for him as a Black Man, as a Father, and as a lover of African people. My respect for him as a participant in this particular discourse on Islam, however, has significantly diminished since our discussion in Baltimore. I wish my brother the best in all his righteous endeavors.