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Afrocentricity, Islam, and El Hajji Malik Shabazz (Malcolm X).

There are two hopeful, exciting trends among young African Americans today, especially on the college campuses. These two trends are Afrocentricity and a resurgent interest in El Hajji Malik Shabazz, better known as Malcolm X--especially so on the heels of Spike Lee's epic film. This article is an attempt to analyze the connection between these trends and how they inform and impact our understanding of African and African-American history.

Dr. Molefi Asante, chairman of the Temple University Department of African American Studies and considered by many to be a leading figure in the Afrocentrism movement, writes in his book, Kemet, Afrocentricity, and Knowledge that: "Afrocentricity, as an aspect of centrism, is groundedness which allows the student of human culture investigating African phenomena to view the world from the standpoint of the African."

This means that African people, i.e., people of African descent, have the right and the responsibility to view the world through their own eyes, to interpret the world via their own analysis, to study and teach world history from their viewpoint as subjects and not objects of history, and to approach the study of history as makers of history, not victims of history.

According to Dr. Asante, "Multiculturalism in education is derived from several cultural perspectives; Afrocentricity is one of those perspectives, and it is one of the simplest and fastest growing ideas to have been developed in the African-American intellectual community. If you are African American, placing yourself in the center of your analysis so that you are grounded in an historical and cultural context is to be Afrocentric. Without Afrocentricity, African Americans would not have a voice to add to multiculturalism."

The view of ourselves as helpless victims of circumstances beyond our control must end. I believe that we must replace this view with the conviction that we are members of Allah's greatest creation, humankind, submissive to but one entity--the will of Allah. We must become proactive strugglers for what we believe is right and good. Continued growth and tempering our analyses of our world's condition using the yardstick of truth and righteousness are the major lessons that we can learn from the life of El Hajji Malik Shabazz. This is the legacy he left for us.

The history of African people is as old as time and as wide as the planet. The African man and woman are considered by numerous authorities to be the mother and father of all humankind. The research of countless archaeologists, anthropologists, and historians point to Africa as the birthplace of the common ancestor of all humankind.

Within this understanding, all people on the planet are children of Father and Mother Africa. And if we share the same mother and father, then surely we are all brothers and sisters.

The Holy Qur'an, Sura 49, verse 13, reads: "O mankind! We created you from a single pair of a male and a female, and made you into Nations and Tribes, that ye may know each other (not that ye may despise each other). Verily, the most honored of you in the sight of Allah is (he who is) the most righteous of you."

That understanding places Afrocentricity in a special framework. Afrocentricity is not the end point of our study and struggle; rather, it is a necessary, crucial step along the path to universal brotherhood. Afrocentricity is crucial in that effort because we, as a people, must know and love ourselves before we can truly know and love others--on both an individual/personal level and on a collective level. Also, Afrocentricity is crucial because others must know us in order to fully know themselves. All of our destinies are interconnected; we all share the same planet.

But, our true story, a truthful history of Africa and the continent's many diverse and dispersed sons and daughters, has yet to be taught and studied by the masses of our people or by the masses of other people. We're only beginning to scratch the surface of the great and glorious African past that is impacting our lives today and will tomorrow.

Dr. Ivan Van Sertima, linguist, anthropologist, and professor of African Studies at Rutgers University, author of They Came Before Columbus, and considered to be one of the world's preeminent authorities on African and African-American civilizations, documents in his books and lectures many outstanding accomplishments of African people, many of them often hidden and unknown to most of us.

For example, Dr. Van Sertima tells of the Banyoro surgeons in East Africa who were performing Cesarean sections with a 100 percent success rate back in the 1800s. Yet, in the mid 19th century, in Europe, whenever the Cesarean section was performed, the mother almost invariably died. The British learned of the Banyoro surgeons and sent a team of doctors under a Dr. Felkin to study how the African surgeons performed the operation. To the British's surprise, they found that these Banyoro surgeons had superior antiseptic solutions to what was being used in Europe. They found that the Africans could seal off bleeding points with minor tissue damage with the use of hot iron. They studied how the Banyoro surgeons collapsed the abdominal wall and drew the stitches. After this encounter, the C-section was performed with much greater success in Europe and in other parts of the world.

Dr. Van Sertima lectures about the Dogon people who live in the mountains in the area of Africa that is now called the Sahel, about 200 miles from Timbuktu. A Frenchman, Marcel Griaule, encountered the Dogon and found that for 500 years the Dogon had plotted and ceremoniously danced the orbit of a star that is now called Sirius B. This star is impossible to see with the naked eye. NASA only found out about its existence within the last decade or so.

The Dogon pointed out that there was an object flashing and darkening in space near Sirius B. NASA only discovered this six years ago. The object turned out to be a dwarf nova, only recently discovered by the NASA Einstein orbiting satellite. The Dogon said it was an extremely heavy star. It has since been found that it is the heaviest type of star in our galaxy. The Dogon said that the star had an elliptical orbit of 50 years around its parent star Sirius A. NASA has only recently confirmed that orbit as accurate.

I wonder how many of us, when we study astronomy at the world's prestigious centers of leaning, get to study the Dogon people, or even hear about the Dogon.

These are only a couple of examples of the kind of legacy that Africa has bequeathed to the world. The list is endless.

Yet, Noah Webster, the great dictionary maker, wrote in 1843 that: "of the wooly haired Africans who constitute the principal part of the inhabitants of Africa, there is no history and there can be none. That race has remained in barbarism from the first ages of the world." Poor Mr. Webster. Surely, this is a classic case of willful ignorance.

But, unless we continue to struggle to lift the veil of ignorance, which forces us to view ourselves as "minorities," as bit players in the world's drama, as mere victims of circumstances beyond our control, we will forever ride on the back of the bus of history.

Also, on another level, Afrocentricity may have some other benefits for us.

Kwabena Faheem Ashanti, a staff psychologist and researcher at North Carolina State University, conducted a study to determine the possible impact of an Afrocentric curriculum on African-American students. Black Issues in Higher Education reported on the study in December 1990. The report states: "Struggling Black students who enrolled in an Afrocentric study program improved their college average by almost a full grade point.... In one of the largest Afrocentric studies to date, 147 students at NC State participated in a Black history and culture program for at least one full year. After a year in the program, students raised their grade point average from 1.8 to 2.6, and 40 percent earned grade point averages of 3.0 or better.... While Black scholars have touted Afrocentric studies for some time, the research at North Carolina may be the most revealing yet about the potential effectiveness of such a curriculum."

So, the move toward Afrocentricity is good, is liberating, and, when addressed honestly, can lead us along the path to the goal of universal brotherhood. But, there are dangers along the path.

There are negative critics of the Afrocentric movement who imply that Afrocentrists merely plan to substitute a dishonest "Afrocentric" version of history to replace European history. They fear that Afrocentrists will attempt to erase the European contribution to world history, just as the Eurocentrists did to much of African history.

As Dr. Molefi Asante has said, "Afrocentricity is not about valorizing your position and degrading other people. Whites must not be seen as above anyone; but by the same token they've got to be seen alongside everyone."

Dr. Vesta Daniel, associate professor in the Department of Art History at The Ohio State University, writing in Baraza, the newsletter of the Black Cultural Center, notes: "Unlike the pervasive Eurocentrism, which is monocular and teaches that all contributions of value to the history of the world are European based, Afrocentrism encourages the side by side placement and interweaving of all cultural and/or ethnic groups in the construction of world history and culture."

Another danger along the path is the possibility of an "Afrocentric backlash," if you will. Last year, Emerge magazine termed it "melanin madness."

There's a growing rumbling of Afrocentricity being characterized as anti-whiteness, which seems to attach a hierarchy of acceptability among our people based upon the amount of melanin in the skin. This madness tries to intimate that skin melanin has neurological and spiritual properties that elevates Black-skinned men and women above the less Black-skinned. This, I believe, is a dangerous step backwards that makes no sense.

If skin melanin is the criterion for judging African acceptability, then how does one justify El Hajji Malik Shabazz (Malcolm X), a true African champion, who was red-skinned, with light-colored eyes and red hair? Despite Spike Lee's choice of Denzel Washington to portray Malik Shabazz in his film, the truth is Malik Shabazz would probably fall near the "bottom" end of the melanin scale.

Emerge, in its February 1992 issue, profiles the controversial Dr. Leonard Jeffries, of the Black Studies Department at City College of New York, who is considered by many as a leading figure in the Afrocentric movement.

Dr. Jeffries, in one of his classroom lectures is quoted as saying: "This course is for people of African descent only |my emphasis~. And if you're a light-skinned Black person, be prepared to fight for your rights and prove your ancestry |my emphasis~."

Since when is knowledge the exclusive property of just one segment of the population? That sounds like what we're fighting against now. Besides, the average African American, dark, light, or in between, can't trace his or her ancestry back past his or her great grandparents. In fact, our lack of knowledge of family lineage is one of the continuing, cruel byproducts of the slave trade that, perhaps, may never be fixed--the complete severing of family lineage beyond the Middle Passage.

The late Alex Haley, the author of Roots and collaborator with Malik Shabazz (Malcolm X) on his autobiography, is one of the blessed few to have been able to trace his family lineage back to Africa.

Maybe one day science and technology, perhaps through advanced DNA analysis, will allow us to discover these lost connections. Otherwise or until then, millions and millions of people of African descent may never be able to "prove their ancestry."

If I would dare to be so bold, I would ask Dr. Jeffries one question: What great ancient African civilization had families with the last name of Jeffries?

Another danger along the path is the failure of many of the proponents of Afrocentricity to acknowledge the pervasive, positive, and enlightening impact and influence of the religion of Islam on our African personality, culture, and history.

Imam W. D. Mohammed, who is known as the Muslim American spokesman for Human Salvation, son of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad, in the December 20, 1991 issue of Muslim Journal is quoted as saying: "Afrocentricity minus Islam is a cheat."

W. D. Mohammed (known in the mid-'70s as "Wallace" Muhammad) is the man who was chosen to assume leadership of the old Nation of Islam when his father passed away in 1975. El Hajji Malik Shabazz (Malcolm X) in his autobiography tells of how, after his break with the Nation of Islam, he was contemplating learning more about the religion of Islam, of how he was thinking about making the Hajj (pilgrimage) to Mecca, the once-in-a-lifetime duty of every able-bodied Muslim.

Malik Shabazz said: "Once in a conversation I broached this subject with Wallace Muhammad, Elijah Muhammad's son. He said yes, certainly, a Muslim should seek to learn all that he could about Islam. I had always had a high opinion of Wallace Muhammad."

And now, Imam W. D. Mohammed writes: "There is a new influence being promoted in the African family of people, especially here in America, called 'Afrocentricity.' I am not against Afrocentricity, if it is honest and straight... "|Afrocentricity's~ promoters say we should make Africa the center, and all of us of the African family should look to Africa as the center. But their Afrocentricity ignores Islam that has become the center and has been the center for that continent for many centuries...Evidence of mighty people, mighty civilizations influenced by Islam and that were Islamic civilizations, is the history of Africa."

Many of the great historians and Afrocentrists bubble over with pride at some of the great, rich civilizations and empires of our African past. They speak of the magnificent Ghana, Songhay, and Mali empires and some of the great leaders and statesmen like Askia Mohammed Toure' (Askia the Great), Mansa Mussa, Sundiata Keita, among others. This magnificent flowering of civilization in Africa was Muslim, was Islamic.

They speak and write about that great centers of learning and scholarship like the University of Sankore at Timbuktu, and some of the great scholars like Ahmed Baba and Ibn Khaldun. These men were Muslims. The University of Sankore at Timbuktu was an Islamic center of learning.

Dr. A.S. Toure, in his magnificent book, The African Intelligentsia of Timbuktu, documents beautifully Islam's pervasive and positive influence on science, the arts, architecture, and scholarship in Africa and other parts of the world.

For nearly a thousand years before the European colonialists entered Africa, Islam was an intricate and irresistible part of the fabric of African life and culture. Islam has been at the center of far too much of African life for far too long to be dismissed or ignored.

Don't be fooled into thinking that Islam is just an "Arab thing." Arab people make up only about 18 percent of the world's Muslims, according to the Saudi Arabian Embassy. The Saudi Arabian Embassy publishes and distributes a booklet entitled Understanding Islam and the Muslims. It informs us that Africa as a whole makes up almost one fourth of all the Muslims in the world. Nearly 30 percent of Muslims live in the Indian subcontinent, 17 percent in Southeast Asia, 10 percent in the former Soviet Union and China, 10 percent in Turkey, Iran, and Afghanistan. There are significant Muslim populations in Latin America, Australia, the Caribbean, and in Europe. And, there are some six million Muslims in the United States--42 percent of whom are African American.

Dr. Allan Austin of the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, has written an exciting book entitled African Muslims in Antebellum America, published by Garland Publishing. It offers undeniable documentation that a large portion (some sources say almost 50 percent) of the Africans who were captured and sold as slaves and brought to America were Muslims and that their peoples and families had been Muslims for centuries prior to the Atlantic slave trade.

In Dr. Austin's preface to his book he states: "This volume is the result of a quite specific attempt to better understand the Old and New Worlds of Kunta Kinte, the hero of Alex Haley's novel Roots...|In 1977 and 1978~ I began to gather notes on historical Africans who had left behind stories of lives on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean. Fragments of such stories, those of Job Ben Solomon, Abdul Rahaman--two men who had sailed from the Gambia River as had Kunta Kinte--Venture, Omar ibn Said, and Olauda Equiano (called Gustavus Vassa in the West) were already familiar...But I found that their lives had not yet been related to one another nor to fascinating fragments of information about similar lives...As the overwhelming majority of the lengthier pieces told of Africans who were, like Kunta Kinte, Muslims, and as the Islamic part of the African diaspora had clearly been neglected by scholars, and as, finally, the Africaness of most of these men had been disputed, the scope of my inquiry had been settled."

Dr. Austin's book tells how many African Muslims, in slavery, were forced to sublimate their true religion, Islam, or give it up altogether and forced to accept instead the slave master's religion, which was for the most part Christianity.

Islam was frowned upon by the slavemasters because one of the major directives and obligations of Muslims is to free slaves and fight against oppression.

But some African Muslims who were enslaved secretly maintained their religion. And there is evidence to suggest that it was African Muslims who were often at the forefront of the slave revolts and insurrections.

Dennis Walker in his work, Black Islamic Slave Revolts of South America writes: "Brazil was shaken by a series of Islamic uprisings amongst the Black slaves in 1801, 1809, 1813, 1826, 1827, 1830, and culminating in the great Bahia uprising of 1835.

"Black discontent in Brazil had been channelled by the underground Islamic movements into an organized and widespread challenge to the whole social, religious, and economic foundations of the racist system of slavery."

"The Black man registered by armed revolution his refusal to accept either the whip or the Christianity of white Western culture.

"The clarity and beauty of Islam (and the Muslims') religious-political consciousness, their qualities and skills fitted them to take the role of leadership, to which the oppressed masses of Black people, determined to smash their chains, eagerly responded."

Historian and author, Clyde-Ahmad Winters, a former professor of African and Islamic Studies at Iowa State University, in his manuscript, "Afro-American Muslims--From Slavery to Freedom," concurs. He writes: "Many of the earliest slave 'revolts'/jihads in the Americas, even when they involved both Africans and Indians, were led by Muslims from Senegal. In 1531, the Spanish declared that the Wolof |Senegalese~ were 'haughty, disobedient, rebellious, and incorrigible.' From 1753 to 1757, Mackandal, an imam or religious leader of Haiti, led numerous raids against the plantation owners."

Islam, as a liberating force for Africans in the diaspora, is very much a part of our history, very much a part of our Afrocentric reality.

Malik Shabazz, via his Hajj and conversion to Islam, has taken us full circle back to a key aspect of our true ancient African reality. As a student of our history and as a spokesman for our future, he was constantly growing; he was always eager to add on new knowledge.

Malik Shabazz was a self-taught genius. He didn't have diplomas and degrees, but he could hold his own in debate with anybody. He was a "no sell out" fighter for the rights of his people, and he was both a Pan-Africanist and an Internationalist.

Malik Shabazz was a sterling example of African-American manhood. He was unafraid to speak his mind, unafraid to die for what he believed in. He was clean, articulate, strong, no-nonsense. He had a sense of humor--he smiled easily and often.

Malik Shabazz was a husband, father, and family man. He didn't drink liquor, eat pork, or chase women. He believed in one God, Allah, and he prayed five times a day.

Malik Shabazz could talk to the bloods on the corner as well as the academicians in the universities. He was, as Ossie Davis eulogized him, "Our Black Shining Prince."

On February 16, 1965, just five days before his death, in a speech at the Corn Hill Methodist Church in Rochester, NY, he made clear his position. He said: "I'm a Muslim, which only means that my religion is Islam. I believe in God, the Supreme Being, the creator of the universe. This is a very simple form of religion, easy to understand. I believe in one God. It's just a whole lot better...I believe that God had one religion, has one religion, always will have one religion. And that God taught all the prophets the same religion, so there is no argument about who was greater or who was better: Moses, Jesus, Muhammad, or some of the others. All of them were prophets who came from one God. They had one doctrine, and that doctrine was designed to give clarification to humanity, so that all of humanity would see that it was one and have some kind of brotherhood that would be practiced here on earth. I believe in that."

He goes on to further state: "We don't judge a man because of the color of his skin. We don't judge you because you're white; we don't judge you because you're black; we don't judge you cause you're brown. We judge you because of what you do and what you practice. And as long as you practice evil, we're against you. And for us, the worst form of evil is the evil that's based on judging a man because of the color of his skin. And I don't think anybody here can deny that we're living in a society that just doesn't judge a man according to his talents, according to his know-how, according to his possibility...This society judges a man solely upon the color of his skin. If you're white, you can go forward, and if you're black, you have to fight your way every step of the way, and still don't go forward."

In his autobiography, Malik Shabazz wrote: "On the American racial level, we have to approach the Black man's struggle against the white man's racism as a human problem, we had to forget hypocritical politics and propaganda.... Both races, as human beings, had the obligation, the responsibility, of helping to correct America's human problem. The well-meaning white people...had to combat, actively and directly, the racism in other white people. And the Black people had to build within themselves much greater awareness that along with equal rights there had to be the bearing of equal responsibilities.

"I've had enough of someone else's propaganda, I'm for truth, no matter who tells it. I'm for justice, no matter who it is for or against. I'm a human being first and foremost, and as such, I'm for whoever and whatever benefits humanity as a whole."
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Title Annotation:African World History
Author:Kazi-Ferrouillet, K.
Publication:The Black Collegian
Date:Jan 1, 1993
Previous Article:A king raised by wise men: the student days of Martin Luther King Jr.
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