An Islamic Look into Black History Commemoration

Introduction[1]

In 1926 in the second week of February, the great historian and thinker, Dr. Carter G. Woodson and his Association for the Study of Negro Life and History, established what was known as “Negro History Week.” He chose this week as two men of American History who greatly influenced the lives and conditions of African-Americans were born: Frederick Douglas and Abraham Lincoln. It was Woodson’s hope that this event would be totally embedded within the complete framework of American history. Met with enthusiasm, many throughout the United States adopted the idea in some form or another; it prompted the creation of black history clubs, an increase in interest among teachers, and interest from progressive whites. Negro History Week grew in popularity throughout the following decades, with mayors across the United States endorsing it as a holiday. In 1976, the US’s bicentennial, “Negro History Week” was expanded to the entire month of February; then President Gerald Ford encouraged American citizens to take advantage of this month by recognizing the accomplishments and contributions that Black or African-Americans have offered to American society. In 1987, the United Kingdom adopted October as their observance of Black History month; while in 1995, Canada adopted February. Despite some calls for such an event to not be restricted to one month, the concept has been embraced in many places such as predominantly-Black Churches, predominantly-Black school systems, and historically Black colleges and universities.

African Diaspora and Black History[2]

“Diaspora” is a Greek word meaning “scattering and dispersion.” Diaspora as it relates to African people has three possible meanings:

  1. “the movement, migration, or scattering of people away from an established or ancestral homeland”
  2. “people settled far from their ancestral homelands”
  3. “people dispersed by whatever cause to more than one location”[3]

God knows best; but I tend to think that if the first and third definition were combined, there would be a more accurate definition for African people. Thus, I propose that African Diaspora is “the movement and scattering of African people away from their established and ancestral homeland to another land due to a particular reason.”

Beginning in the 16th century C.E., African Diaspora is considered to be one of the largest in history as millions of Africans from North, West, West-Central and Southeast Africa were removed from their homelands and scattered in various parts of the Western Hemisphere. Unfortunately, their movement was not voluntary; instead, it was based on inhumane slavery[4]. Consequently, many European countries benefitted from this inhuman labor in some form.

Throughout history, numerous Blacks from the United States and other parts of Europe have been major contributors to their societies. Through research, one is able to find pioneers in education, politics, economics, science, medicine, and other aspects of indicating that Blacks were not simply commodities, but people who used what God has given them to make the most of what was available to them.

Thus, an objective of Black History commemoration is for people, especially Blacks, to commemorate a remembrance of important people and events in the history of the African Diaspora. This remembrance and commemoration is an opportunity for current and future generations to reflect on past generations’ struggles, sacrifices, and contributions that have helped Blackamericans and others in our time. In addition, Black History commemoration is a time for people to renew their quest in searching about their ancestors and how they possibly shaped and molded American society.

Islam’s viewpoint

I always encourage us to look at things from the principles of Islamic Law or ask those who may have a good understanding of them. Looking at things in another way opens the door to chaos and an unsettling approach to any and every issue. A muslim’s commemoration of Black History has two opinions:

First Opinion

Observance of Black History is impermissible. The argument is that most of these people were not Muslim. So, why should a Muslim reflect on the acts of non-Muslims?! Secondly, Muslims commemorating Black History supports afrocentricity which can lead to Black Supremacist thought which is racist; and Islam forbids racism.

Second Opinion

Observance of Black History is permissible. Those that take this position base it on the following narrations:

Ibn Abbas (may God be pleased with him) said, God’s Messenger (may He bless him and grant him peace said): “Be aware of your ancestry, for you will adjoin kinship ties….”[5]

Abu Hurayrah (may God be pleased with him) said that God’s Messenger (may He bless him and grant him peace said): “Learn about your ancestry, for you will adjoin kinship ties….”[6]

Az-Zuhri stated that Jubayr b. Mut`im informed Muhammad b. Jubayr b. Mut`im that he heard Umar b. al-Khattab (may God be pleased with all of them) say on the minbar: “Learn about your ancestry, for you will adjoin kinship ties….”[7]

Ibn Abbas (may God be pleased with him) said, God’s Messenger (may He bless him and grant him peace) said: “Preserve your ancestry, for you will adjoin kinship ties….”[8]

Those that say Black History commemoration is legislated state that each narration uses the word (ansaab) which is plural for the word (nasab). The following dictionaries define this word:

  1. Maqaayees al-Lughah: “connecting something to something.” [9]
  2. In Tahtheeb al-Lughah: “it is related to forefathers, a place, or vocation.[10]
  3. Most scholars of Arabic say it refers to family kinship and ancestry.

In the aforementioned narrations, what is meant is knowledge of family kinship which is having knowledge of one’s ancestry. Hence, it is legislated for Muslims to know their ancestry due to the aforementioned narrations stating “to learn”, or “to be aware”, or “to preserve” one’s ancestry.

Secondly, the general wording of the Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) did not specify the religion of ancestry. It is well-known that many of the companions’ ancestors were pagans. Nonetheless, he encouraged them to learn about their lineage and ancestry regardless of their religious beliefs.

Conclusion

The second opinion is the strongest for the following reasons. The presented evidences supporting the second opinion are all authentically narrated. Furthermore, the wording is explicit in knowing about one’s ancestry being legislated and Black History commemoration falls within this knowing of one’s ancestry. In addition, we see that each narration supports one another in the sense that if one learns or is aware of one’s ancestry, then that person is more likely to preserve it for future generations. Black History commemoration is a means of learning about one’s ancestry wherein this encourages one to learn more about his or her specific lineage.

Black History commemoration is an important means of knowing one’s true origin as this encourages preservation of lineage which is one of the Eternal Lawmaker’s universal objectives.

Black History commemoration encourages Muslims of all ethnicities to understand and respect the contributions to American society from those of the past. Blackamerican Muslims would develop a sense of positive pride and respect that people, Muslim and non-Muslim, who looked like them contributed to their land in all aspects – not simply entertainment – despite the obstacles endured; immigrant Muslims will develop a sense of new found respect and look at Blackamericans in a more respectable prism and not in a disrespectful prism dictated by the current European/Western media.

With respect to Blackamerican Muslims, Black History commemoration is a means of preserving one’s mind which is another universal objective of the Eternal Lawmaker. Because of the many means of brainwashing negatively affecting Blackamerican minds, learning about one’s ancestry via commemoration and the like replaces this with a realistic and positive viewpoint of one’s ethnicity. Specifically, if a Blackamerican Muslim were to not try to learn about his ancestry such as Black History commemoration, then this leads to him or her having a sense of psychological unease about his or her ethnicity which leads to an erosion of one’s identity. Islam does not encourage this. On the contrary, it encourages one to know one’s identity as indicated in the aforementioned narrations.

Parting Comments

  1. It is encouraged for Blackamerican Muslims to know about their lineage to the best of their ability. Perhaps throughout research one will discover if others were Muslim which may encourage further research of those people; or the researcher may discover that he or she is a trailblazer establishing Islam in one’s lineage. Both, in my opinion, lead to good.
  2. I do not encourage Black History commemoration to be limited to only one month. It is a part of American History and should be treated as such.
  3. It is recommended that families do family activities focusing on Black History like going to museums, watching documentaries, etc.
  4. In the month of February, it is recommended that Muslims who deliver khutbahs to remind the listening audience of the importance of this month and its affect on the American Muslim.
  5. It is recommended that Islamic schools make it a graduation requirement for students to have taken a certain amount of classes or credits focusing on Black History.
  6. Learning Black History for the intent of seeking to make Blacks superior or anything that may lead to racist thoughts is impermissible.

 

God knows best.

 

References

  1. Al-Azhari, Abu Mansour Muhammad b. Ahmad, Tahtheeb al-Lughah, ed. Abdusalam Muhammad Haroun, al-Mu’assah al-Misriyyah al-`Ammah, 1964 edition.
  2. al-Bayhaqi, Abu Bakr Ahmad b. al-Husayn b. Ali, al-Sunan al-Kubra, First Edition, 1344 A.H., Egyptian Trust Foundation.
  3. al-Bukhari, Abu Abdullah Muhammad b. Isma`il, al-Adab al-Mufrad, ed. Muhammad Fu’ad Abdul-Baqi, Rechecked by Muhammad Nasir al-Din al-Albani, Dar al-Basha’ir al-Islamiyyah, Third Edition, 1989.
  4. al-Hakim, Abu Abdullah Muhammad b. Abdullah, al-Mustadrak `ala al-Sahihayn, ed. Mustafah Abdul-Qadir `Ataa’, Dar al-Kutub al`Ilmiyyah, First Edition, 1991.
  5. Ibn Zakariyyah, Abu al-Husayn Ahmad b. Faris, Mu`jam Maqaayees al-Lughah, ed. Abdusalam Muhammad Haroun, Itthad al-Kitab al-Arab, 2002 edition.

 

 


[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_History_Month.

[2] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diaspora.

[3] Merriam-Webster Dictionary, electronic version.

[4] There are so many articles and essays on slavery. Consider this link as a starter: http://www.britannica.com/blackhistory/article-24156.

[5] Collected by al-Hakim (vol. 4, pg. 178, narration #7283) and al-Bayhaqi (vol. 10, pg. 157, narration #21091).

[6] Collected by al-Hakim (vol. 1, pg. 166, narration #302).

[7] Collected by al-Bukhari in his “al-Adab al-Mufrad” (vol. 1, pg. 16, narration #72)

[8] ibid (vol. 1, pg. 17, narration #73).

[9] Ibn Faris, Maqaayees al-Lughah, (vol. 5, pg. 339).

[10] Tahtheeb al-Lughah Al-Azhari, (vol. 13, pg. 15).

 

2 Responses to An Islamic Look into Black History Commemoration

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