Much of the early history of African-American
Muslims is discussed by Y. N. Kly in the article "The
African-American Muslim Minority: 1776-1900."
One of the causes of the continuing
conversion of African-Americans to Islam is the contrast between their brutal
and racist enslavement at the hands of Anglo-Americans in the United
States, on the one hand, and the relative absence of racism in Islam, on the
other. Although one dimension of the current anti-Islamic polemic in the West
is the highlighting of the occurence of slavery both in Islamic history and
today in Sudan and Mauritania, this has failed to turn away many
African-Americans from Islam.
There are a number of
reasons for this:
Given the clear opposition of Islam to
injustice, the Islamic virtue of not practicing slavery, and the relatively
recent horrors of African-American slavery, why have Muslims not put an end to
slavery in the Muslim world?
- the Qur'an repeatedly
- the Qur'an exhorts
people to free their slaves;
- while slavery has
occured in the Muslim world, it has not been racist;
- slavery in the Muslim
world was largely a way of dealing with prisoners of war who were then
ransomed back to their own people.
I suspect that the answer to this lies
in the fact that in most areas of the Muslim world, Muslims are themselves not
free to act politically, that they are preoccupied with other local struggles
against injustice, or are constrained by poverty. If my suspicion is correct,
in the future as Muslims gradually emerge from the bondage of neocolonial
dictatorships and/or poverty, we should see Muslims at the forefront of those
activists who are striving to end all forms of slavery.
On the other hand, if Muslims do not
actively work to end slavery, Islam will no doubt lose much of its appeal to
people for whom oppression is a reality.
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