Thursday, May 8, 2008

Slavery in Islam

I am surprised by the levels of dishonesty that Muslims use when they talk about everything from Islam's treatment of gays and women to the issue and the history of race in Islam. It is one thing to say that today all (non-gays) are welcome or that today all are equal in Islam (not true, but anyhow): it is another thing to misrepresent history. Here I would like to present the reasons for my respectful disagreement with Nation of Islam members and sympathizers. Many NoI converts are African Americans with very strong racial and anti-American political views, who see Islam as an alternative to Christian and White racism.

My main point of argument has to do with the idea (prevalent in the Nation of Islam) that former slaves should turn to Islam, that it is their ancestral religion, not Western Christianity. While it's true that Islam was the religion of the Malian empire during the 14th century, none of these two religions are ancestral to Africans. This argument makes Islamic and Arabic civilizations look like they do not have a history of exploitation of blacks and slavery. To this day, many or most countries where slavery is still practiced are predominantly Muslim. In the African country of Sudan, where there is a very big slavery problem even today, it is the Arabs from the north who go on slave raids in the Black south and engage in human trafficking.

But let's begin from the beginning: Muhammad had slaves. In his Qur'an, he recited verses where he not only approves of slavery as an institution, but approves of the practice of raping slaves (Muslims believe that he was channeling the word of Allah). We have to imagine he and his associates engaged in this behavior, if he believed Allah made it lawful to them. Most Qur'an translators either avoid or are embarrased by these verses. Browsing through the various translations of the Qur'an I found that M. Asad's translation is the most dishonest and misleading version of the Qur'an in this regard:

23:1 TRULY, to a happy state shall attain the believers ... 23:5 ... who are mindful of their chastity, 23:6 [not giving way to their desires] with any but their spouses - that is, those whom they rightfully possess [through wedlock]: for then, behold, they are free of all blame

No mention of slavery. But Yusuf Ali's translation is a bit more plain:

23:6 Except with those joined to them in the marriage bond, or (the captives) whom their right hands possess,- for (in their case) they are free from blame

And the sixth verse is made even more clear by Picktall's translation, even if it still places the word (slaves) in parenthesis:

23:6 Save from their wives or the (slaves) that their right hands possess, for then they are not blameworthy

Most people in the Americas who are descended from slaves probably have female ancestors who were raped by their masters. The Qur'an considers this not only legal, but entirely appropriate. Black Muslims, particularly the Nation of Islam brand of Black Muslims, need to understand this. Had America been a Muslim country during the 400 years of slavery, black women would have still been raped, even by the mullahs, with Qur'an in hand, and Islam teaches that no crime would have been committed.

Is it not fair to surmise that the same thing happened in Mali, Sudan, Morocco and elsewhere in Africa where Muslims colonized the local populations?

Furthermore, anyone who has read 1,001 Nights knows that the history of Arabic anti-Black racism goes back to the dawn of Islam, where black slaves were castrated for fear that they would rape Arabic women. African sexuality, in medieval Arabic literature, ellicits both fascination and distrust, with Black slaves in particular being objectified and denied their full humanity.

Even to this day, in East Africa, there is still the perception that it is somehow wrong for a Black man to marry an Arabic woman, but it is okay for an Arabic man to possess a Black wife. There is a clear correlation between racial, cultural, and gender domination in the mindset and culture of the Islamic-influenced people of East Africa.

The Gnawa people of Morocco are yet another testimony of the presence, and the harsh realities, of slavery under Islam. The Gnawa are descendants of enslaved Blacks who were taken to Morocco, where they developed a distinct Afro-Moroccan culture and spirituality. Much of their ancestral music deals with the bitterness of slavery.

What better example of the irony, the absurdity and the madness that is the racist ideology of Nation of Islam, than a living, vibrant community of Black survivors of slavery in Morocco who are as bitter as they are?

For a more enlightened instruction on how to deal with the spiritual problems that arise out of of racism, I say look to the holy man of Nazareth who said:

For if you forgive men when oppress you, your Creator in heaven will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Creator will not forgive your sins. - Matthew 6:14-15

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