African American Muslims: A Possible Future

February 21, 2008 § 6 Comments

In past posts I have discussed the importance of heritage, culture and history as they relate to various peoples all over the world. But the severity of this issue may not be understood by all. In fact some of us may just think, heritage, culture and a person’s historical lineage are interesting but benign facts that have little meaning in today’s world. I know this is the feeling of many African Americans as a result of the disconnection felt from a complex history that surrounds their arrival into America. I have a number of family members that feel this way, but nevertheless it is for this reason, the complexity of their history, that heritage, culture and history become even more important.

Imam al-Habib ‘Abdullah al-Haddad, a saint from a long line of saints and descendant of the Holy Prophet (may Peace and Blessings be upon him) said in his treatise called Union of Kinship,

“For Allah Almighty said in the order of connecting bonds with them: Give the kinsman his due” [17:26]. And in an elucidation of honour for the nation He chose and was delighted with, He said: “And those who join that which Allah has commanded to be joined and fear their Lord, and dread the terrible reckoning” [13:21], from what Allah ordered as per “to be joined“: kinship bonds.”

Kinship means a relationship by connection of blood, marriage, or adoption; some kind of family relationship in nature or character. The bond mentioned refers to something such as a fetter, cord or tie that works as a uniting force as in a familial situation. So it seems this “kinship bond” is really speaking of something quite specific with respect to familial relationship and that this is something we have no control over it is completely out of our hands, placed wholly in the authority of the Supreme Authority. Therefore it is something we must respect. But I think the question I would like to ask African Americans is how much of this obligation, “Give the kinsman his due” are we actually fulfilling? And how much of this obligation is enough? It says in the Qur’an al-kerim,

O mankind! Lo! We have created you male and female, and have made you nations and tribes that ye may know one another. Lo! the noblest of you, in the sight of Allah, is the best in conduct. Lo! Allah is Knower, Aware.” (49:013)

This is explaining that Allah Almighty has created an order to mankind in the form of nations and tribes. Are we honoring that order or are we accepting an order of a condition other than the binding obligation of “kinship” commanded by Allah Almighty? It seems that African Americans are stuck on color when in fact ones color may or may not be a factor related to one’s actual kinship. And a person’s blood ties is a true bond of kinship that we have no choice but to accept or ignore and unfortunately this aspect of our Creator’s instructions to us is largely being ignored or handled with weak attempts of self aggrandizement. Imam al-Haddad continues his treatise saying,

“And Allah Almighty said in anticipation of breaking kinship bond as well as (acting as) a warning from that: “And those who break the Covenant of Allah, after its ratification, and sever that which Allah has commanded to be joined and work mischief in the land, on them is the curse; and for them is the unhappy home.” [13:25] And He, the Almighty, said: “Would you then, if you were given the authority, do mischief in the land, and sever your ties of kinship? Such are they whom Allah has cursed, so that He has made them deaf and blinded their sight.” [47:22-23] Hence the severer of ties is damned as per the script of the Book (Qur’an).”

The item above is heavy and should not be taken lightly. The curse of Allah Almighty is far from what we are looking to acquire as Muslims. Therefore it is incumbent upon us to follow Allah Almighty’s commandments to ensure our happiness in this life and the hereafter. So what are we supposed to do? The command is to, “Give the kinsman his due”, which first means to acknowledge the familial bond. And then to identify with that bond and since it is a commandment of Allah Almighty, treat it as such and value that bond of kinship. I once asked Shaykh Abdul Kerim, “What is faith?” and he said,

“What is faith… ::with a half smile:: faith is putting high what Allah ta ‘ala puts high and putting low what Allah ta ‘ala puts low.”

This familial bond is indeed something Allah Almighty is putting high therefore we must place value on this thing and not dismiss it because of embarrassment or bewilderment of its complex history. In the end we will just harm ourselves. By putting high the things that Allah Almighty loves we find the result of wisdom that brings satisfaction and happiness to our hearts. Such wisdom is expressed by one of those whom Allah Almighty loved, the martyr, ‘Ali ibn Husayn (RA) who said to his sons,

“Beware of the companionship of the severer of ties, for certainly I have found him to be cursed on three occasions in the Book of Allah ta ‘ala.”

But what should be more eye opening, especially for African American Muslims is what was expressed by the Messenger of Allah Almighty when he said,

“The severer [of ties] will not enter paradise; Indeed mercy does not descend on a community which has a severer of ties,”

It is safe to say that the person who cuts off blood ties is hated by Allah Almighty. But what about those that join or rejoin those blood ties? Imam al-Haddad continues saying,

“Upon you then is Allah’s mercy by joining kinship bonds. Beware of severing ties with them for this is an abhorrent crime, chastisement of which readily reaches one in this world along with dreadful anticipation for what Allah ta ‘ala has prepared for the severer in the next world from among the gravest of sanctions and most painful of punishments. Equally, readily does the reward fo benevolence and joining (ties) reach one in this world along with what awaits the one who joins (ties) from among the greatest rewards and generous gifts. The Messenger of Allah ta ‘ala said: “Hastening of good and reward lies in benevolence and joining kinship, hastening of evil and chastisement lies in malevolence and severing of ties.” The Messenger of Allah ta ‘ala said: “There is no transgression more deserving in Allah making for that companion (person) chastisement in this world along with what is left awaiting for him in the next world than malevolence and severing ties.

I was discussing this with a woman I have a great deal of respect for and she remarked on how Islam was sustained for hundreds of years in West Africa by the Sufis and that the Salafi position which was once strong within the African American Muslim community is now waning. Suggesting that African American Muslims seem to have exhausted the staying power of “Salafi dawah” finding themselves unsatisfied. This dissatisfaction however is not progressing into a return to the Islamic origins of the African Americans instead it is becoming a clone of the former authored by American born narrators. This dissatisfaction is real and can be understood from real expressions like that of an unknown commenter on Tariq Nelson’s blog,

“Maybe it is time for AA’s to come in mass to traditonal Sunni Islam meaning the four well known Sunni mathabs, the two schools of Sunni aqeedah and Ihsan/Sufi’ism instead of jumping from one movement to the movement and do it your self Islam. This is what I think and I have been on the “salafi dawah” for 5 years now and have had more fitnah then I had when I was a kuffar, my eman has dropped In lost contact with good SunniMuslim over the years for what? There is no magic sect or masjid that is going to poof make you pious or resolve all of your issue’s, AA Muslim like me need to grow up.” (UNKNOWN)

This was such an impressive statement because it really hit on much of what needed to be said in a brief statement. And I believe it is essential for the success of African Americans Muslims to develop a kinship of religious character with the ‘Ahl Sunnat wal Jama’ah, as Tariq’s unknown commenter has mentioned, as well as an acknowledgment of blood ties and familial identity with the numerous nations from which the multitude of African Americans originate. It seems to me that this resonates with the proper Islamic manner. I have discussed this before with African Americans and they often say that they cannot relate to West African people or culture. And as a response I would merely cite Imam al-Haddad saying,

“Admirable it is for man to join kinship if they don’t bond with him, to be courteous towards them if they are rude with him. The Messenger of Allah Almighty said: “The one who joins kinship bonds is not the one who merely reciprocates, nay, the one who joins is he who keeps kinship ties when he is cut off (from them).

Allahu Akbar, what more is there to say! The Holy Prophet (may Peace and Blessings be upon him) has provided for mankind all solutions to improve our lives. But it is up to us to heed the warnings. And make his instruction a part of our lifestyle. All prophets have been sent to the world to teach people how to live. How to live in the world and what to expect and how to prepare themselves for the hereafter. Holy Prophet (may Peace and Blessings be upon him) has been sent to this world to complete the good teachings, the good living, learning the good lifestyle and to complete the good manners. Shaykh Abdul Kerim is saying,

“The reason Holy Prophet (may Peace and Blessings be upon him) was sent by the Divine Order is to complete good manners.”

Which means up until the Holy Prophet (may Peace and Blessings be upon him) all other prophets have been sent to teach manners to people, because if there is no manner then there is no religion; if there is no manner then there is no respect; if there is no manner then there is no friendship, no business, if there is no manner then there is no progress. Giving the kinsman his due, is a commandment from Allah Almighty and a manner; a protocol of the Holy Prophet (may Peace and Blessings be upon him) and I’m not going to think that I can live my life as I like, the way that fits to me, and be satisfied. Like the unknown commenter said, eventually I have to grow up.

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§ 6 Responses to African American Muslims: A Possible Future

  • dawudwalid says:

    As-Salaamu `Alaykum,

    Good post, as usual.

    It is a shame that this topic even needs discussion among Blackamerican Muslims.

    The Salafi da’wah truly exasperated the sentiment among us that our non-Muslim family members aren’t “our people.” Never mind that the Qur’an says that Nabi Salih (AS) said to Thamud, “Oh my people!” or that the Qur’an says, “And to Thamud we sent their BROTHER Salih.”

    BarakALLAHU feek.

    Wassalaam.

  • Saifuddin says:

    BismillaharRahmanirRahim

    wa ‘alaikum as-salaam. Alhamdulillah! Dawud Walid it is a shame, but something I feel can be handled by the Grace of Allah ta ‘ala. What I am looking to impress upon the minds of myself, Muslims and specifically African Americans is the commandment to value blood ties, without exceeding the limits of course. I think that African Americans have somehow come to the conclusion that they are an entirely different entity than the ancestry left behind on the Western Coast of the African continent. This is a big fitnah. And something that the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.s) would not have accepted.

    Our Grand Shaykh, Sultan AwliyaAllah Maulana Shaykh Nazim gave a sohbet, a talk, at Masjid al-Aqsa in Harlem August of 2000 saying to a room of nearly 3000 Africans (From Senegal, Guinea, Nigeria, Mali, Somalia and others) that they are,

    “the flag-carriers of Islam to this nation, particularly to the African-Americans, and that the zakat for their money is 2.5% of their wealth, but the zakat on their faith is to bring one person to Islam.”

    There is a Divine Secret in this sohbet. Indeed, I believe it is essential for the success of African American Muslims to develop a kinship of religious character with the ‘Ahl Sunnat wal Jama’ah, as well as the knowledge of blood ties and familial identity with the nations from which African Americans are originating. This is because a person’s skin color is not an acceptable marker of identity according to Islamic tradition and reason. And I will be frank here, this position confuses most Muslims on the outside looking in, that is to say a reference to a “African-American Identity” which completely excludes an individual’s ethnic origins, tribal identities and associated blood ties.

    -Saifuddin

  • Great post. Thanks for sharing. I stumbled it. Keep up the wonderful writing.

  • I think you make some interesting points, however I think you simplify the divisions within the Black American and African immigrant community in America. In truth, many of us spent the entire 90s trying to relate to African culture, even to the places that are our historical roots Ghana and Senegal (being two major outposts of the slave trade). I have had Africans (living in America) yell at me saying I had no right to call myself African American. I was not African. I also know from a white Fulbrighter who went to Senegal who said that her Senegalese host family and teachers noted the Black Americans have the hardest time in Senegal (compared to white students). They mentioned that is because Black Americans expect for there to be a cultural connection, they hope to be embraced as brethren by their West African counterparts. But the cultural practices in Senegal are different, as are the systems of social stratification. It is also a society was based on a caste system, black smiths, griots, etc. There lineages from former slaves are still looked down upon. So, me being African American, it is clear that I am from a slave lineage. But a white American can be accepted because of her relationship with power. Don’t get me wrong, Senegalese are really amazing wonderful people. And I know Black Americans who have developed strong ties in Ghana and Senegal. But they are still American in people’s eyes and that has a whole lot of baggage.

    I wonder have you been to West Africa? I guess when we are encouraging people to make kinship ties and identify with the people who reside in the lands of our distant origins, we should try it out ourselves and see how that goes.

    Just a thought….

  • Saifuddin says:

    BismillaharRahmanirRahim

    as-salaamu ‘alaikum Margari Aziza Hill. You wrote,

    “I have had Africans (living in America) yell at me saying I had no right to call myself African American.”

    Does this experience supersede reason? Imam al-Haddad suggests,

    “Admirable it is for man to join kinship if they don’t bond with him, to be courteous towards them if they are rude with him. The Messenger of Allah Almighty said: “The one who joins kinship bonds is not the one who merely reciprocates, nay, the one who joins is he who keeps kinship ties when he is cut off (from them).

    But are you suggesting not to value and identify the kinship with African-American’s ethnic origins, to be indifferent to ethnic origins or something else entirely? Perhaps, you are saying to celebrate Black American Culture? I am, however, not suggesting to discount Black American Culture, in fact I think what is considered “Black American Culture” would be more richly enhanced with a legitimate knowledge and connection to an individual’s ethnic history. Despite what some observers have suggested, though complicated, it’s not an impossible mash-up, for lack of a better phrase.

    As for the experiences of others which you have given an account of saying,

    “They mentioned that is because Black Americans expect for there to be a cultural connection, they hope to be embraced as brethren by their West African counterparts.”

    Again, what is the alternative? It is my prayer that one of the points that you found “interesting” was the suggestion to develop,

    “a kinship of religious character with the ‘Ahl Sunnat wal Jama’ah, as well as the knowledge of blood ties and familial identity with the nations from which African Americans are originating.”

    Perhaps the intention to please Allah ta ‘ala, rather than satisfy a need for social acceptance, will send different results to us. I remember the first time I sat with Shaykh Abdul Kerim, we were having a private talk… our first real private talk. And I was complaining about a shaykh that I was following when I was in my teens (about 15 years ago). To make a long story short I inadvertently called the shaykh a “fake-shaykh” expecting Shaykh Abdul Kerim to share my sentiments. But instead, he looked at me sternly and said,

    “How do you know he is a fake-shaykh, do you have a tester?”

    I paused. He finished,

    “Maybe you were a fake-murid?”

    I was stunned. He then asked,

    “Be honest with yourself. Did you receive more good from him than bad or more bad than good?”

    And the honest answer was that I received so much more good than bad, in fact the more I’ve looked at it since that day, I realize that I was creating the trouble that I had been complaining about… that is… if I’m really going to be honest and sincere with myself. Thank you for your thoughts.

    -Saifuddin

  • hassan says:

    Asalaamu ‘alaykum,

    Jazakallahu khairan for the much needed introspection. There is so much wrong with the very basics of our Islam and Iman that we really don’t have much of a reason to complain. We’re too focused on group glory and yet forget to save our own souls and uphold Allah’s commands.

    All of our problems our nothing compared to the true and time tested solutions that the Messenger of Allah brought as a mercy. Unfortunately, we think too highly of ourselves and stray confused and dumbfounded. May Allah give us the tawfiq to uphold his commandments and strengthen kinship ties.

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