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Islam, Colourism and the Myth of Black African Slave Traders

(reposted from Ayanna’s http://www.rootswomen.com/ayanna/articles/10022004.html)

Islam, Colourism and the Myth of Black African Slave Traders

February 10, 2004
By Ayanna


Africans in the Diaspora have the challenge of rewriting a history that has been stained by years of distortions, omission and downright lies. One of the biggest challenges of rewriting this history has been the Atlantic Slave Trade, and one of the biggest sore points has been the idea that “Black Africans sold their own into slavery”. A lack of information, a paucity of expansive scholarship and an unwillingness to have a serious discourse on Colourism as it existed in Africa even before European intervention, has contributed to this. Diaspora Africans are often quite naïve and will do anything to hold fast to the illusion that ” we are all Africans” and ignore the racism that has existed among a group that is far from uniform.

In looking at the issue of Colourism I could not help seeing the links between the role of Islam in Africa and the role of Africans in the slave trade. The book, Islam and the Ideology of Slavery by John Ralph Willis is very helpful in looking at the almost imperceptible link between the enslavement of ‘kufir’ non-Muslims or infidels, and the belief that Black Africans were not only heathens but inherently inferior. This is not a new thought and certainly not one that originated with the Muslims coming into Africa. Several Jewish exegetical texts have their own version of the mythical Curse of Ham being blackness. Given the common origins of these two major religions, it is thus not surprising that both Jews and Muslims played some of the most important roles in the enslavement of Black Africans next to the Europeans.

In an article by Oscar L. Beard, Consultant in African Studies called, Did We Sell Each Other Into Slavery? he says “Even the case of Tippu Tip may well fall into a category that we might call the consequences of forced cultural assimilation via White (or Red) Arab Conquest over Africa. Tippu Tip’s father was a White (or Red) Arab slave raider, his mother an unmixed African slave. Tip was born out of violence, the rape of an African woman. It is said that Tip, a “mulatto”, was merciless to Africans.”

The story of Tippu Tip who is one of the most widely known slave traders has always posed a problem for historians, especially Afrocentric historians in the Diaspora trying to find some way to reconcile themselves to the idea of an ‘African slave trader’. The fact that Tippu Tip was not only Muslim, but ‘mulatto’ is vital. The common ideology of Judaism and Islam where Black Africans are concerned is certainly no secret. While in some Islamic writings we see an almost mystical reverence for Africans, especially an over sexualized concept of Ethiopian women who were the preferred concubines of many wealthy Arab traders and Kings, in others there is distinct racism. Add to this the religious fervor of the Muslim invaders, their non-acceptance or regard for traditional African religions, and the obvious economic and political desires for which religion was used as a tool, and we get an excellent but little spoken of picture of Islam in Africa.

Historians did not often record or think of the ethnicity of these ‘Africans’ who sold their brothers and sisters into slavery. As part of our distorted historical legacy, we too in the Diaspora buy the idea that all Africans were uniform and ‘brothers’, but the true picture, especially at this time was not so. Centuries of contact with Europe, Asia, North Africa produced several colour / class gradients in the continent, divisions fostered by the foreigners. This may have been especially prominent in urban and economic centres. When we combine the converting, military force of Islam sweeping across western and eastern Africa placing a virtual economic stranglehold on villages and trading centers that were Kufir, with the intermixing of lighter-skinned Muslim traders from the North and East Africa creating an unprecedented population of mixed, lighter skinned Africans who began to form the elites of the trading classes we can see how a society begins to change.

Some historians have tended to downplay, or completely ignore the potential for change in scenario. It has even been suggested that one cannot transplant a modern day problem outside of its historical context. However, we see this creeping problem of colourism occurring all over the continent. In the Portuguese colonies of Angola and Mozambique where European traders and administrators were encouraged to intermarry, the elitist, trader class was largely Mulatto and Catholic. If we look at the situation in Ethiopia with the age-old oppression of the original Ethiopians, the Oromo of indigenous Cushitic stock, by the more Arabized Amhara this too has its roots in colour prejudice. There were hints of this occurring in many other instances at crucial points of contact between indigenous black Africans and lighter-skinned foreigners or mixed Africans and the most significant of these were in the areas of severe Islamic incursion.

Many towns and villages converted to Islam because of the protection that the military banner of Islam could offer them in a changing economic, political and social landscape. But the more damaging result was the many light skinned, converted Africans, children of mixed encounters that now felt a sense of superiority over their dark skinned, black African counterparts. Colourism is indeed of ancient vintage. The truth of the matter is that fair skinned Arabs’ racist attitude towards Blacks existed even before they invaded Africa. The evidence for this can be found in how they dealt with the Black inhabitants of Southern Arabia before they entered Africa as Muslims. Discerning readers and thinkers can look at this and many other accounts of this time and get a clearer picture of the inherent racism of this situation. When we combine this with the desire for African slave labour by Europeans it was no large feat for these often lighter skinned, Islamized Africans to enslave the black kufir, whom they barely endowed with a shred of humanity. And of course jumping on their bandwagon would have been those black Africans with deep inferiority complexes, who would have been only too eager to do the duty of the ‘superior’ Muslims in an effort to advance themselves. These facts are certainly not hidden and the patterns are everywhere, even today but it is we who do not like to see. For centuries we certainly have not been conditioned for Sight.

This leads us to another direct way colourism played itself out in the slave trade and this is in the ‘type’ of Africans who were enslaved. The biggest victims of slavery were undoubtedly the darkest Africans of what was called the “Negroid” type. If you look at old maps and documents by early European explorers you can note that the parts of the continent that they explored was divided by their crude definitions of what they saw as different African ethnicities. The regions of West and Central Africa were seen as the place of the “Negroes” which was distinct from Ethiopian Africans and even more so the lighter, more Arabized North Africans. We cannot say that NO Africans we taken from the north, but by and large most slaves that came to the West Indies, Americas etc were of the type mentioned above.

Beard continues, “In reality, slavery is an human institution. Every ethnic group has sold members of the same ethnic group into slavery. It becomes a kind of racism; that, while all ethnic groups have sold its own ethnic group into slavery, Blacks can’t do it. When Eastern Europeans fight each other it is not called tribalism. Ethnic cleansing is intended to make what is happening to sound more sanitary. What it really is, is White Tribalism pure and simple.” But the thing is that this thing we call ‘slavery’ never was a uniform institution. When people speak of slavery they immediately think of chattel slavery as practiced as a result of the Atlantic Slave Trade and apply this definition to indigenous African servitude systems, which bore little or no resemblance to chattel slavery. It is misleading to say, “Every ethnic group has sold members of the same ethnic group into slavery. It becomes a kind of racism; that, while all ethnic groups have sold its own ethnic group into slavery, Blacks can’t do it” as it denies the complexities of that particular colonial, chattel slavery situation that existed between Africans and Europeans.

Servitude systems that existed in Africa, and in other indigenous communities cannot be compared to racist slave systems in the Western world and to this day we attempt to try to see this slavery in the same context. People bring up accounts of Biblical slavery, of serfdom in Europe and yes, of servitude in Africa and attempt to paint all these systems with the same brush. However NO OTHER SLAVE SYSTEM has created the never-ending damaging cycle as the Atlantic Slave Trade. West Indian poet Derek Walcott has stated his feeling that our penchant for forgetting is a defense mechanism against pain, that if we were to take a good hard look at our history, at centuries of victimization, it would be too much for us to handle and we would explode. Well I say we are exploding anyway and in many cases from bombs that are not even our own. We have begun the long hard road of rewriting our ancient history, of recovering our old and noble legacy. Let us not stop and get cold feet now when the enemy now appears to take on a slightly darker hue. We must look at the slave trade in its OWN context, complete with all the historic and psychological peculiarities that have made it the single most damaging and enduring system of exploitation and hatred ever perpetrated in the recent memory of mankind. Until we do we will not escape its legacy.

Continue to: Slave? What Slave? :
A Study of the Traditional Systems of African Servitude

Off-Site Links:

The Forgotten Holocaust: The Eastern Slave Trade

Did We Sell Each Other Into Slavery?
A Commentary by Oscar L. Beard, Consultant in African Studies 24 May 1999

Here we go again – again

Inspired by yet another conversation with a Muslim guy I met on the bus last week (4/8/2015). Not this one, a new guy. 

It all started when my phone suddenly played up. There was plenty of battery life but it didn’t let me make or receive calls, texts, emails, nothing! I still have no idea what happened. When I got on the bus and tried to use it, this guy claimed the CPU processor was damaged. He offered to have a quick look at it, but all he did was turn on & off mobile data, Wifi and Bluetooth. All the while claiming he’d been a computer programmer or something for 5 years. Then he admitted he didn’t know what to do and blamed it on not eating all day.

Whatever.

After that he claimed he knew me from a long time ago. I didn’t know him at all, but he said he’d seen me in various masajid around my area. I thought he could be right so I carried on talking to him. He told me he’d been training to become a hafiz (memoriser of the whole Qur’an by heart) at some special institution, I told him I’d been doing the same except without the institution. Which was true; in my late teens I’d memorised about 32 suwrahs.

All was well until we exchanged names. Mine is so unmistakably Islamic it’s ridiculous, so when I told him I’m not a Muslim he flipped!

God damn it.

The dopey bastard made lots of stupid assertions:

There’s no such thing as ex-Muslims. I told him about the Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain, and he flat out didn’t believe me.

My ethnic background (which I refused to tell him) may have made me misunderstand the religion. Cheeky little shit. As if he (being of Sasian background, who were historically Hindus) had the right to tell me I’d been following it wrongly. Especially after claiming to “know” me and seeing me in the masajid.

I must’ve had some bad experience with a shaykh or family member that made me apostatise, no-one stops being Muslim by choice. Mind simply too weak to handle the possibility of his beliefs being wrong.

I was pretending about my name, and about having ever been a Muslim. At that point the little asswipe pissed me off royally. I made sure to shut him up there and then. I jackhammered it into his head that my name is my name whether I’m a Muslim or not. My new spiritual status doesn’t change diddly-squat on my birth certificate. Fair enough you assumed I’m Muslim when you heard it, I told him, but don’t ever – and I mean bloodclaat EVER! – say I’m pretending about having been one. He then claimed he didn’t say that, which I corrected him on straight away.

At one point throughout the argument we discussed contradictions in the Qur’an. Needless to say he said there were none. I gave the example of the number of “days” Allah is said to have created the world in, Qur’an says 6 in one place and 2 in another. He asked for a specific chapter & verse number. I said “Why would I bother remembering that if it’s not part of my life anymore?” He then made out that without a reference I can’t back up my argument. I told him he could easily check the internet for the reference, at which point he got scared and said he doesn’t have a robotic or encyclopedic mind like that.

Remember he said he’d trained to become hafiz. There is no way you can be hafiz without having an encyclopedic/ robotic kind of mind. My mind was exactly like that when I was memorising Qur’an. What kind of hafiz was he?

Worse, throughout the discussion he was trying to drown out my voice by constantly talking over me. I told him he wasn’t listening, he said (and I quote) “Why should I listen to you?”

Y’what? 👹

I pointed out that he’s carrying on like a typical Muslim. He got offended and said, “Like a typical Muslim?” Bear in mind there were 2 Muslim women sitting right next to him listening to the whole thing, and a 3rd well within earshot, and I replied, “Yes like a typical Muslim, because most Muslims I’ve told about my irtidad carry on exactly like you. You’re all the same.”

Admittedly that’s not quite true. None had to date been as bad as him, though the difference is only in degree. The type of response was identical.

Provocative, yes. Offensive, arguably. Wrong, no.

Good Lord, what’s wrong with these religious people why they can’t even accept that apostates exist? I admit, when I was a Muslim I used to believe they only existed from other faiths not my precious Islam, but then I read enough ahadiyth to know that couldn’t be true.

And the dopey bastard still didn’t sort out my phone. It sorted itself out after dying and recharging.

SMH.

Oh, and:

I need to come to the masjid with him. Why? Am I supposed to drop my own plans, my own life, for a guy I don’t know? Besides, with a mouth as unreliable as his, he’d probably take me to a Saudi strip club instead. 😆

Poem: Too much diyn, too little dunya

Looking down on Earth as I wandered on the clouds

Yet forbidding myself the high of feeling proud

Not running the rat race of ordinary life

Never engaging too long with stresses and strife

Tredding the straight and narrow path of righteousness

Denying legitimacy to all the rest

Wealth? Unimportant! Fame? Just a fad

Friendship? Don’t need it! Back then I had

No interest in dunya, I was all about the diyn,

Probably the purest young Muslim you’ve ever seen

I loved the diyn and tolerated the dunya,

Sat on my ass memorising the “words of Allah”!

Didn’t fear disapproval from anyone else

But always felt guilty for just being myself

Just glancing a nice woman could make me a rapist!

Torn between guilt & shame – was I self-racist?

Our relationship with God is meant to be mixed

Between love, hope &… what, fear? Fuck that shit!

Scared of hell, scared of sin, always begging for pardon,

Viewing life as just a phase before I enter the Garden

No interest in dunya, I was all about the diyn,

Probably the purest young Muslim you’ve ever seen

I loved the diyn and tolerated the dunya,

Sat on my ass memorising the “words of Allah”!

Apparently loving the world and yourself is a sin

And don’t get me started on that bollocks about jinn

Quran says don’t worry, they’re no big deal

But Muslims are batshit terrified – for real!

These mullahs, shaykhs & ‘ālims don’t know fuck-all

Quran, ahādiyth, nothing else – I’m appalled

Prophet said this, prophet said that – change the recording

4 schools of thought? You mean 4 schools of boring!

No interest in dunya, I was all about the diyn,

Probably the purest young Muslim you’ve ever seen

I loved the diyn and tolerated the dunya,

Sat on my ass memorising the “words of Allah”!

Getting married – yes. Dating – blasphemy!

Keep your natural desires under lock and key!

Islām’s full of mixed signals. Check this:

Don’t like your life? Sabr, Allah willed this

Yet! Allah only wants to make things easy for you.

5 daily prayers and fasts are easy? Get a clue!

Why Muhammad and Ibrahim’s names in prayers? Dunno.

Isn’t Islām against blind following? Bloodclaat no!

No interest in dunya, I was all about the diyn,

Probably the purest young Muslim you’ve ever seen

I loved the diyn and tolerated the dunya,

Sat on my ass memorising the “words of Allah”!

At least once you must go to Saudi Arabia,

Not Ghana or Ethiopia, Egypt or Mauritania.

Only Muslim history matters, screw all the others

Despite the fact all humans are sisters and brothers!

The left hand’s unclean – yeah, when you wipe your ass with it

Bare handed. With paper & water where’s the harm in it?

That shows Islām isn’t against superstition

And most Muslims blindly follow blind tradition.

No interest in dunya, I was all about the diyn,

Probably the purest young Muslim you’ve ever seen

I loved the diyn and tolerated the dunya,

Sat on my ass memorising the “words of Allah”!

Ahādiyth were compiled by big-shot scholars,

More needless rules to wring our necks like collars.

Chronicling Muhammad’s life down to every detail,

The “perfect human” – good luck if you’re female!

The 4 schools explain all, we just need to obey.

Think for yourself? You’re not a scholar so NAY!

Come on Muslimiyn, give up that fuckery!

Grow the balls and the brains to forge your own destiny!

No interest in dunya, I was all about the diyn,

Probably the purest young Muslim you’ve ever seen

I loved the diyn and tolerated the dunya,

Sat on my ass memorising the “words of Allah”!

Don’t get me wrong, I still believe in miracles

But no supernatural shit, it’s all scientifical.

And no, that doesn’t kick the beauty or the wonder out.

In fact you might see it better when you stop being devout.

Souls only grow by making their own decisions.

Nothing wrong with cherry-picking & ad-libbing religions,

Chuck out old myths, stick with what’s tested and true.

What, only Allah has that right? Let him fucking sue!

No interest in dunya, I was all about the diyn,

Probably the purest young Muslim you’ve ever seen

I loved the diyn and tolerated the dunya,

Sat on my ass memorising the “words of Allah”!

But by embracing the dunya and abandoning the diyn,

I’m the spiritually healthiest I’ve ever been.

Making my own diyn that lets me get on in the dunya.

Praise be to us humans – Al-hamdu lina!

© One Tawny Stranger, June 2014

Discussion with a muslim

This post is inspired by an incident last night (7/4/2015).

My gf and I were in central London and we passed by a masjid (mosque), the London Central Mosque Trust Ltd. and the Islamic Cultural Centre to be exact. Coming from a Christian background, she had never been in a masjid before and it sparked her curiosity. If she wanted to see inside this was a perfect chance. So we went in and watched the prayer – from the time of day it would’ve been ‘ishā.

As we neared the prayer room, standing in the part where they keep their shoes, one of the guys – an elderly guy of what I presume is Nafrican background – started telling us to separate! In a “holy place” a couple holding hands is indecent. My gf pointed out there was a ‘white’ couple almost right beside us. I think the ‘white’ guy was muslim explaining the prayers to the woman. Though they weren’t touching (as far as I could see) they were well within touching distance of each other, and the Nafrican guy didn’t even look at them. So I asked why he was telling us to separate and not them, and he carried on with his “holy place” rant. Then he tried to make me step back because I had my shoes on, even though we weren’t standing in the prayer room itself.

A security guard came and intervened, telling the guy to calm down – but agreed that our behaviour was indecent. He explained that what we were doing was private and children’s minds are pure.

Shouldn’t this be impure/ indecent/ private too? Even if they’re not gay and this is just an Arab custom, why would man-man or woman-woman contact in public be OK but woman-man contact isn’t?

He (the security guard) then asked if I’d want my children to see people snogging in the streets, totally ignoring the fact we were just holding hands. As I got exasperated I said “Listen, I used to be a muslim so I know all these conditions.” That REALLY got the ball rolling; “You used to be a muslim?” That evolved into a new discussion:

  • First he didn’t believe me, which is no surprise. It’s no exaggeration that most Muslims don’t know that ex-muslims exist!
  • He assumed I’d been ignorant of the religion and proceeded to tell me what Islam is,
  • I showed him that not only was I not ignorant but more knowledgeable than him (I told him a Qur’anic verse about abrogation that he didn’t know*) and challenged him to show me a single verse that gave believers permission to stand up to verbal abuse and bullying – which he couldn’t. Back when I was reading the whole Qur’an I never found it; the closest was just giving the oppressed the right to armed resistance against physical violence,
  • He got scared and admitted he’s not a shaykh or scholar (do you have to be to know your own faith?), then referred me to the masjid’s shaykh.
* Suwrah 2 verse 106: “What we abrogate from a sign or cause to be forgotten, we give better or similar. Don’t you know that indeed Allah has power over everything?” Abrogate = cancel out, so Google’s translation of duplication/ reproduction makes no sense

And the shaykh had just gone home.

The best the security guard could do was tell me to come back during one of their talks on Saturdays & Sundays, and bring my gf if she wanted to come too. That way I could have my questions answered – which I never asked for since most of my questions about Islam have been answered, just by using my own brain and searching for myself. We refused the offer as we were just passing through the area for the day.

Oh well, at least she got to see the inside of a masjid – a rare chance since most masajid in London don’t let women in at all.

Min ka Muslimiyn li Muslimiyn (from like Muslims to Muslims)

This poem is a lesson I learned from personal experience, primarily to Muslims but it can apply equally well to other religious groups too. The lesson is that in order to follow your religion properly, you have to experiment with it. You have to adapt it to your life, not blindly follow it just because that’s how you’ve been raised. You should question it, understand it in unconventional ways, follow the spirit rather than the letter of the law, even go against tradition & culture regardless of who may hate you for it. Only when you’re living the religion in a way YOU TRULY enjoy, as the characters in this poem have done, will your faith be true and pure.

How did it all go so wrong?

They were raised since very young to be so good, so devout,

So God-fearing, so religious.

He’d have never imagined having a girlfriend, nor she a boyfriend.

Marriage would be the only time they’d dare dream of the opposite sex!

She used to wear all-black khimar and jilbab and niqab,

He used to wear full shalwar kameez and topi and fist-length beard.

That was their fashion, no need for hairdressers or mirrors.

They used to do all 5 salawat (fard, sunnah and nafl) on time every time, no lates,

They used to try to memorise Quran every day, only befriend same-sex Muslims,

Her eyes never looked at non-mahram men nor his eyes at non-mahram women,

They only ate & drank with the right hand, and going masjid was his only entertainment

While she wouldn’t even look outside the house if she didn’t need to!

How did it all go so wrong?

Now she wears bright colours! And make-up! And jewellery!

He wears shirts! And trims his beard! And leaves hair uncovered!

It looks so shameful!

Now they do just the fard of salat, and even sometimes do them late!

It looks so shameful!

They’ve stopped memorising Quran! And start questioning it and the ahadeeth!

It looks so shameful!

They look at non-mahrams!

It looks so shameful!

Now they don’t care about eating with right or left hand!

It looks so shameful!

Now she goes outside! And he stops going masjid! Instead they both hang out with non-Muslim friends!

It looks so shameful!

But worst of all, an absolutely unforgiveable sin: they date each other!

A Muslim woman going out with a Muslim man? Astagfirullah!

How shameful!

How did it all go so wrong?

_          _          _          _          _

 

How did they get it so right?

They used to follow the dictates of their parents, their families,

Their home countries’ culture, or their shuyookh.

Now they make up their own minds, live their own lives!

They no longer fear Allah – they love and abide by HIS guidance too much for such immaturity,

And no longer do they fear interacting with the opposite sex – they can conduct themselves responsibly.

Where they were restricted and stunted by their faith, they are now liberated and empowered by their faith.

How did they get it so right?

Now she wears bright colours, and make-up, and jewellery.

He wears shirts, and trims his beard, and leaves hair uncovered

Yet they still cover up Islamically!

Now they do just the fard of salat, and even sometimes do them late

Yet they still pray the full 5 and make up missed ones!

They’ve stopped memorising Quran, and start questioning it and the ahadeeth,

Because they now prioritise understanding & applying it to daily life!

They look at non-mahrams,

Yet they’re following the sunnah of courtesy & sociability!

Now they don’t care about eating with right or left hand

Yet their hands are clean and the food’s still halal!

Now she goes outside, he stops going masjid. Instead they both hang out with non-Muslim friends

Yet they avoid pubs and clubs and drugs and drink!

But best of all, an absolutely revolutionary blessing: they date each other!

A Muslim woman going out with a Muslim man? Al-hamdu lillah!

They’re following the sunnah of gaining familiarity & attraction before marriage!

How beautiful!

How did they get it so right?