Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Report: The Black Arabian Origins of the Yoruba and Ifa

By Wesley Muhammad, PhD 

The below is only a summary. The full, 41-page report is here:

(The ideological dogmatists will judge the conclusions here presented on the basis of reading this summary alone. The true Truth-seekers will reserve judgement until afterreading the report in full and weighing the evidences presented and arguments proffered.)

Conclusion: Islam is as African a religion as is Ifá.

“Status quaestionis” is a Latin phrase meaning “the state of the investigation” and refers to scholarly presentations of the up-to-date accumulated data relevant to a particularly controversial and unresolved topic. Truth of God Institute (TGI) publishes Status Quaestionis Reports on various debated Religious Studies topics. This Report concerns the origin of the Yoruban magico-religious tradition called Ifá and its relationship to Islam. This Report is an extract from my upcoming book that treats the subject more fully: Aḷḷāh and Olódùmarè: Islām and Ifá as Sibling Rivals (Atlanta: A-Team Publishing, 2014).    

Professor Razaq Olatunde Rom Kalilu of Ladoke Akintola University of Technology, Ogbomoso, Nigeria, observed in 1997 that there exists “a paradoxical relationship of love and hate between the Yorùbá culture and Islam”. He says further: “That paradoxical relation itself was a result of some similarities and contrasts in the cultures which both the indigenous Yorùbá religions setup and Islam radiated.”

In my forthcoming book, Aḷḷāh and Olódùmarè: Islām and Ifá as Sibling Rivals, I argue that this “paradoxical relationship of love and hate” between Ifá and Islam is most aptly described as a sibling rivalry. A sibling rivalry is competition or animosity among siblings, particularly (though not exclusively) siblings that are close of age and of the same gender. Because they are siblings, there is naturally love between them (unless something egregious is done to change that). But their rivalry also produces animosity and hate at times.

Islam was founded in Mecca by Black Arabs and Ifá was founded in Ifẹ (Nigeria) by Black Arabs too. As siblings, Ifá and Islam have the same father (the magico-religion of ancient Black Arabia) but different mothers (Egyptian tradition/Qurʾānic tradition). In ways, both Islam and Ifá are developments from the ancient magico-religion of Black Arabia. This means, among other things, that, just as we cannot fully understand Islam without a sufficient knowledge of pre-Islamic religious tradition in Arabia, we equally cannot fully or even adequately understand Ifá absent that same knowledge.

Nigerian linguist and exegete Modupe Oduyoye collected data for a yet unpublished work entitled, African Words in the Bible and the Qur’an. Oduyoye maintains that “there arecruces interpretationis (i.e. passages very difficult to interpret) in the Hebrew Bible and the Arabic Qur’an which can be resolved only by resort to comparative linguistic data from African languages.” Oduyoye very ably demonstrated this for the Hebrew Bible in his 1984 publication, The Sons of the Gods and the Daughters of Men: An Afro-Asiatic Interpretation of Genesis 1-11.  Unfortunately, any similar work that Oduyoye has done on the Qurʾān has, to my knowledge, not been published. In Aḷḷāh and Olódùmarè, I intend to fill this lacuna. I illustrate that, not only does West African religious and linguistic tradition, Yorùbá in particular, illuminate some parts of the Qurʾān and Islamic tradition in general, but also that the Qurʾān and Islamic tradition can shed light on some Yoruban tradition.

The late Dr John Henrik Clarke has stated:

From the great Nile Valley religions came Judaism, Christianity, and the elements that went into Islam. Islam came out of the Nile Valley. All these great religions are derivative religions…If I wanted a great religion I would bypass all of them and go to the original…Judaism, Christianity and Islam are all carbon copies of African religions. We need to go back and take the original and deal from the original rather than the carbon.

The first part of this statement by our great teacher Dr. Clarke is factually correct, as far as it goes. That some of the substantive elements of the Judeo-Christian (Biblical and extra-Biblical) tradition derived from the Nile Valley, Kemet in particular, has been well documented. That substantive elements of Islam have parallels in Kemet has also been documented and I have argued that the peoples of Arabia who are likely responsible for the religious tradition that later morphed into Islam ultimately derived from the Nile Valley regions (though not necessarily from Kemet).

So there is nothing historically problematic about Dr. Clarke’s claim. His judgment that seems to derive from these facts, however, warrants reconsideration, especially in the light of the foregoing. Is Islam, which originated with Africans in Arabia who migrated there from the Nile Valley area and which shows such remarkable similarities to Ma’at, to be rejected as a “carbon copy” religion? If we applied this same logic to Ifá we would have to discard it as a “copy-cat” religion, for it shows direct derivation – by way of Egypt – from the magico-religious tradition of Black Arabia. If we modified Dr. Clark’s words slightly, this is what we are asked to consider:

From the great [Black Arabian] religions came [Ifá], and the elements that went into [Ifá]. [Ifá] came out of [Black Arabia]. All these great religions [of the Yorùbá] are derivative religions…If I wanted a great religion I would bypass [Ifá] and go to the original…[Ifá is] carbon cop[y] of [Black Arabian] religions. We need to go back and take the original and deal from the original rather than the carbon.

While the first half of this statement is factually true, who will follow the judgment of the second half of this statement? Ifá does derive in part from Black Arabia and in part from Kemet. Is this a good reason to “bypass” it and go back instead to the original Black Arabian religion? I don’t think so. Yet, if we enforce Dr. Clark’s judgment of Islam then we must enforce this judgment on Ifá, lest we are guilty of an unjustifiable double standard.   

Continuing to deny Black Arabia and its products (e.g. Islam) their rightful place within the Africa-centered paradigm has serious consequences. For example it renders our Ifá-practicing Yoruban family a leg short: to deny Black Arabia is to make Ifá stand and hop about on one leg only. 

If Islam is to be denied its Africanity, if you will, because it originated with Black people whose home was east of the Red Sea in Black Arabia, then Ifá’s Africanity is to be similarly denied, for it similarly originated with Black people whose home was east of the Red Sea in Black Arabia.