This was written in response to a New York Times’ article that likened Sh. Adil al-Kalbani’s rise to the imamate of al-Haram (Holy Mosque of Makkah) to President Obama’s story.
Alhamdu-li-llah wa as-Salatu wa as-Salamu ‘ala Rasool-il-llah.
Despite the fact that some may consider this NY Times’ article, about a black imam leading the prayers in al-Haram, positive, I find it inaccurate and problematic.
It is a fact that the practice of the individual Muslims and some Muslim societies may depart from the purity and justice of Islam, at times. However, it remains to be said that this ummah, collectively, has had a much better record with regard to egalitarianism than all others.
Islam, itself, is certainly the religion whose teachings abundantly flow with egalitarianism and equality of man.
The American people, with non-African roots, should get credit for electing Barack Obama to the highest office, and I am sure some of them rose above the filth of racism long before that. However, there is much to be said about that whole affair which I won’t waste your time addressing. Briefly, it is known to most of us that not all the people who elected him believe men are equal. It will not be enough for me to see a Muslim lead the UN, the EU or the US until I see the rights of the Muslim people granted to them and their just rights honored.
Now, with regard to the article, it makes the reader feel that Sh. Adil (may Allah preserve him) is an exception from a long lasting rule of exclusion of blacks. This is not true.
At times of fragile religious commitment, people relapse into various states of ignorance that are reflections of man’s self-centrism, such as tribalism, racism, nationalism…etc. When this happened to our ummah, it was accompanied by other manifestations of impiety such as the abandonment of prayers and other acts of worship, the corruption in transactions as well as moral decay. Neither Islam nor the ummah is to be judged by the doings of such people.
It still remains to be said that the type of racism and racial injustice practiced by some, which included mass killings and torture of even the children, (like those who had their hands cut off by the Belgian Monarch Leopold in Belgian Congo when they refused to work or slacked off!); the burning of villages in Africa and lynching there and here in the New World as well…etc. All of that never happened in our ummah. (Keep in mind that I don’t mean by “some” all Europeans, because that would be injustice to many of them, particularly those who fought for equality. I also don’t mean by our ummah the Arabs or any particular ethnic group, but rather those who were blessed with Islam, whether they are Pakistani, Arab, Albanian or Nigerian.)
As for the prominent blacks in our history, I can’t give a list of them because they are countless. However, I will give quick examples:
Of the Sahabah (Companions):
• Oum Ayman ل: She raised the Prophet , who called her mother (‘ya um-ma’) until he died.
• Bilal (may Allah be pleased with him): the Prophet (peace be upon him) entered the Ka’bah on the day of opening Makkah with Bilal on his one side, while Usmah ibn Zaid (may Allah be pleased with him), another black man was on the other side. That is the moment of the peak of Islam’s victory.
• Usamah (may Allah be pleased with him): The beloved son of the beloved. Not only that the Prophet (peace and blessing be upon him) loved him, but he also sent him at the age of 18 as a leader of an army that contained Abu Bakr and Omar.
• ‘Ubadah ibn as-Samit (may Allah be pleased with him): When he was the head of the delegate negotiating the surrender of Egypt, the Christian Archbishop of Egypt, Cyrus said, “Take away the black man! I can have no discussion with him,” The members of the Muslim delegation said, “you either talk to him or talk to no one, for he is the best, wisest and noblest of us.” ‘Ubadah said, “if you fear from me, be informed that our army has a thousand men who are blacker than me.”
Of the Tabe’een (the generation immediately after the Sahabah):This was called ‘asr al-mawali, because the freed slaves, whether Arab, African or Persian dominated the scene, particularly as scholars and religious leaders.
• Ibn Abza (may Allah be pleased with him)/: he was chosen as the deputy ruler of Makkah during the time of Omar (may Allah be pleased with him), who later took him to al-Madeenah to pray for the people, and was later made by Ali (may Allah be leased with him) the ruler of Khurasaan (Iran).
• ‘Ata’ /: The agents of the khaleefah would announce in Makkah during hajj that no one should give fatwas except ‘Ata’. The khaleefas would go and sit in his class like all the rest.
Of the following generations:
• Muslim ibn Khalid az-Zinji /: the shaikh of Imam ash-Shafe’ee.
• Kafoor al-Ikhsheedi /: Cyrus, the Archibishop of Egypt who didn’t want to talk to ‘Ubadah (may Allah be pleased with him) because of his dark complexion would have not believed that in the fourth century, the ruler of Egypt would be black; that is Kafoor.
• Az-Zaila’ees: Two great Hanafi scholars by this name, Fakhr-ud-deen / and Jamal-ud-deen /. Zayla’ is in the horn of Africa.
As for the current era, Muslims are divided into small countries, and every people rule themselves, so the President of Senegal will likely be black and that of Albania likely white. However, in a country like Egypt where you find all grades of color, As-Sadat’s dark complexion didn’t exclude him from the presidency.
The belief or statement that their little mention about slavery may infer that slavery in the Muslim countries was like slavery elsewhere. That argument is false, for, amongst other differences, slavery in the Muslim history was not a racial practice, but there were slaves of all nations.
For more on slavery in Islam, go to the following site: http://drhatemalhaj.com/qa/index.php/category/misconceptions-answered/
Finally, I hope that President Obama succeeds in improving the realities of the various peoples who suffered from various types of injustice. That is because we, Muslims, would welcome any act of goodness, wherever it comes from. As for Shaykh Adil (may Allah preserve him), I wish for all of us to pray behind him in the most sacred precinct, and be touched by his outstanding recitation and beautiful voice. I am sure the vast majority of those praying behind him will not even notice his African features, because that is not new to the Haram, and it is not what comes to mind there.
Allah knows best.