Black History Month Blog Series, Part Two
The following is the second of a three-part blog series, which confronts the claims of Black Islam concerning roots, racism, and retribution. We want every African American Muslim to know the Truth about Jesus.
“What factors led you to convert to Islam?” I asked carefully. Our conversation had been cordial but guarded. Abruptly, Abdul’s pleasant countenance wrinkled into a scowl as memories of racism and injustice overtook his thoughts like monsoon winds. “Racism was the factor,” he responded. Sitting across from me in a small restaurant in Southwest Missouri, the lines on this former churchgoer’s face told many tales of a painful past. Though once a committed Christian, Abdul had become a Muslim in a prison cell after reading literature from the Nation of Islam.
Stories like Abdul’s populate the landscape of Black Islam. It was the seed of racism planted in the fertile Jim Crow soil that led to a burgeoning crop of Islamic movements among African Americans in the early twentieth century, the most prominent of which was the Nation of Islam. Today, many African Americans, like Abdul, still enter the Islamic faith through the doorway of this movement.
Black Muslims have rightly confronted Christians on our past prejudices and, at times, outright racism. Sadly, this confrontation has confused the actions of an imperfect people with the ethics of a Perfect Message; the problem has never been with the latter. Writer and professor Esau McCaulley captures this concept when he says,
I did not join the Nation of Islam for a variety of reasons, even when I most despaired of a hopeful future for African Americans in this country. Why? I came to believe that we must ask questions in their proper order. The fundamental question was whether or not the Christian story was true. I believed that the tomb was empty on the third day. White supremacy, even when practiced by Christians, cannot overcome the fact of the resurrection (emphasis added).
In leaving the church for the mosque, Black Muslims have left behind the truth. In a sad twist, they have also forsaken a Message of equality for one of Arab supremacy. Rather than promoting one culture over another, as Islam does, the Christian faith elevates all cultures, and therefore innately eschews the sin of racism.
In Ephesians 2:11-22, the Apostle Paul reminds his Gentile audience that they no longer hold second-class status, but have attained equal footing with their Jewish counterparts (v. 19). This new unity and equality between Jew and Gentile does not extinguish diversity. The Gentiles do not become Jewish, or the other way around. The cross brings them together, yet they retain their cultural identities. This ideal plays out in countless Bible translation projects. Language is intimately wedded to culture, and Christians have understood since the beginning that God wants to speak to His people in their mother tongue. In the Christian faith, a diversity of cultures is truly celebrated.
In contrast, when visiting an American mosque, one will encounter Asians, Africans, Latinos, Whites, and Blacks all chanting Arabic prayers, with or without understanding of what they are saying. Islam lays a heavy yoke of Arabic culture over any people group that embraces it. Arabic dress, gender customs, and language overtake any group of adherents, wherever they live in the world. This means that one cannot truly read the Qur’an unless he or she understands Arabic. For these reasons, Abdul reluctantly admitted, “There’s a lot of Arab-centrism in Islam.” While Muslims promote an air of unity, if anything, it is a unity of uniformity under the banner of Arab superiority.
It is this ethic that gave rise to the Arab Slave Trade, which lasted for more than thirteen centuries, and enslaved roughly 11 million Africans to serve in Muslim harems, households, and armies. This slave trade left many African towns and cities decimated and depopulated. While the flames of this unholy fire raged on, some Muslims in Africa participated in the Transatlantic Slave Trade. Jacob Dorman tells how Muslim theocratic warlords captured many non-Muslim Africans as slaves, and sent as many as half a million of them into the misery of the Middle Passage between 1711 and 1810. Other Muslim groups, like the Fulani, participated in the slave trade as well.
In light of Islam’s elevation of one culture over another, Black Islamic scholar Richard Turner describes what he calls “the myth of a race-blind Islam”: a discourse and an intellectual tradition “that have created and perpetuated ahistorical conceptions of Islam.” In other words, the Islamic narrative that promotes itself as anti-racist disregards centuries of racial injustice and the harmfulness of Arab superiority.
African Americans who have left the church for the mosque because of racism should take a second look at what they have left behind. The Christian message, rooted in an understanding of the value of all human life (Gen. 1:27), does not elevate one culture over another and, therefore, is inconsistent with racist ideology. In Galatians 3:28, Paul states, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” In Christ, there is a new unity that incorporates these three major divisions of humanity: race (Jew/Greek), economics (Slave/Free), and gender (Male/Female). The seeds of equality and unity found in the Bible would lead to a bountiful harvest of abolitionism in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. This message resounds so loudly in the pages of Scripture that Hugh Auld, the slaveowner of the renowned Frederick Douglass, said, “If [a slave] learns to read the Bible it will forever unfit him to be a slave.”
Our prayer is that African American Muslims will return to the roots of their faith and embrace the gospel. This is the perfect Message; in this Truth, people like Abdul can find true equality and unified diversity.
 Esau McCaulley, Reading While Black: African American Biblical Interpretation as an Exercise in Hope (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2020), 72-73.  Jacob S. Dorman, The Princess and the Prophet: The Secret History of Magic, Race, and Black Muslims in America (Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 2020), 34-35.  Dorman, 37.  Edward E. Curtis, IV, Muslims in America: A Short History (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2009), 6. Curtis, 6.  Richard Brent Turner, Islam in the African-American Experience, 2nd ed. (Indianapolis, IN: Indiana University Press, 2003), 55-56.  James D. G. Dunn and John W. Rogerson, eds., Eerdman’s Commentary on the Bible (Grand Rapids: Eerdman’s, 2003), 1380.  J. Albert Harrill, Slaves in the New Testament: Literary, Social, and Moral Dimensions (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2006), 178.