Black Orientalism is an intellectual movement that can be found in strands of Afrocentric thought. It seeks to associate Islam with the Arab subjugation of black people and posit Islam as an inherently anti-black faith due to the Arab Slave Trade.
This line of thinking has been popularized by books such as The Destruction of Black Civilizations by Chancellor Williams and Afrocentric thinker Dr. Molefi Asante who argues, “the non-African roots of Islam played a role in dismantling The Black Movement.” Black Orientalists portray Islam as a faith mutually exclusive with black self-determination due to the Arab Slave Trade and their belief that Islam is an Arab religion forced upon Africans through conquest.
While the very idea that black and Arab are mutually exclusive is inaccurate, this article,”Black Orientalism: Refutation from the Seera”, will highlight early Arab opposition to Islam and African support of Islam solely to rebut the Black orientalist claim of Islam being an Arab religion designed to subjugate Africans.
Wahsi Ibn Harb: The Living Refutation to Black orientalism.
“Arabs forced Islam upon Black people via slavery,” says the pseudo-Afrocentric brother oblivious to how black slaves such as Washi ibn Harb were actually bribed into opposing Islam by force.
Wahsi’s slave master Jubayr ibn Mut’im at the time of Washi’s bondage was not Muslim, but still subscribed to the Arab pagan beliefs. Completely contradicting the Black orientalist narrative of Islam being a concoction of Arabs to oppress black people, Jubayr gave his black slave a bribe, if he killed either the Prophet(s), Hamza(the Prophet’s uncle), or Ali(the Prophet’s Cousin), that he would gain his freedom as well as gold.
This bribe of Jubayr demonstrates the opposite of black orientalist claims, it demonstrates Arab polytheists opposing Islam and through bribery seeking to get a black slave to violently oppose it. After carrying out the assassination of the Prophet’s(PBUH) uncle Hamza(RA), Wahshi was in fact granted his freedom. Yet he came to have regrettable second thoughts about his actions, narrating in Islam: “I heard that however grave the crime of a person might be, God forgave him.”Later, Wahshi approached the Prophet, pbuh, to both seek forgiveness and convert to Islam.
The Prophet,pbuh, forgave Wahsi and pardoned him for his crime. Wahshi would go on to make numerous contributions to the Muslim community of his own volition in a state of freedom after having been compelled to oppose it in the state of a slavery. As opposed to “Arab slave masters” forcing African slaves to adopt Islam, Jubayr actually forced Wahshi to oppose it! The narrative of Wahsi is most salient in refuting the theories of black orientalist because it actually demonstrates Pagan Arabs actually forcing Africans to oppose the message of Islam.
Though Black Orientalists subscribe to the belief that Islam was imposed upon Africans through Arab slavery, it was slavery which compelled Wahshi to oppose Islam and it was upon acquiring freedom by opposing Islam that Wahshi elected to become Muslim. Wahsi was an African who converted to Islam upon gaining his freedom after being bribed to oppose Islam by carrying out an assassination of the Prophet’s(PBUH) beloved Uncle.
Sumayya: A Black Woman martyred for Islam.
“Arabs forced Islam upon Black people via slavery,” says pseudo Afrocentrics oblivious to Black women such as Sumayya(RA) who actually became Muslim in opposition to Arab elites.
Abu Jahl was an adherent defender of the polytheistic beliefs of Arabian society who persecuted the Ethiopian Sumayaa for converting to Islam. If as black orientalists assert, Islam was an Arab concoction designed to oppress Africans, then obviously Abu Jahl should have been seeking to forcibly convert Sumayya to Islam. Instead the opposite occurred: for her embracing of Islam, Summaya was subjected torture with Abu Jahl seeking to force her to denounce her beliefs.
However, Sumayya stood strong on her faith and adamantly refused to denounce them. In the end, Islam’s first martyr was a Black woman of Ethiopian heritage who refused to denounce,”There is no God but Allah and Muhammad is his messenger.” Black orientalists in portraying Islam as an anti-black religion belonging exclusively to Arabs actively disavow the sacrifices that black women made for the faith.
Bilal and Ummayya Khalif.
Arabs forced Islam on blacks via slavery,” says pseudo Afrocentric, Ummayyah Ibn Khalaf wanted Bilal(RA) to become Muslim?
Once again, according to the logic of black orientalist, Ummayyah Ibn Khalaf should have been seeking to impose Islam on Bilal Ibn Rabah, a black slave. Instead Bilal Ibn Rabah embraced Islam in opposition to Ummayyah Ibn Khalif and tortured Ummayyah Ibn Khalif repeatedly tortured Bilal his conversation to Islam. The plea that Bilal continuously made while being subjected to torture “AHAD” (One God) later became the battle cry used by the Muslim army in the Battle of Badr. The fact that the plea of a tortured black slave was used as the battle cry by the first Muslim army in the Batte of Badr speaks to the liberatory nature of Islam.
The problem With Black Orientalists.
The biography of Wahshi, Bilal, and Sumayya are living refutations to black orientalists. In caricaturing Islam as an anti-black, Arab Religion, black orientalists are actively disavowing the African contributions to Islam. They gloss over the entire prophetic biography in which Arab elites expressed immense opposition to Islam which often resulted in the persecution of Africans who embraced the faith. Since black orientalists are actively obfuscating African contributions to Islam, how Afrocentric are they really?
Africans made numerous contributions to the science of hadith,preservation of Qu’ran and prophetic biography. Instead of examining Islam through the numerous African Islamic scholars through history from Uthman Dan Fodio, Nana Asmau, and Muhammad Bello, these so-called Afrocentricists have actually analyzed Islam from European sources. The same European historical sources that portrayed Africa as a place without history and blacks as primitive savages who merely swung from trees, portrayed Arabs as violent barbarians spreading Islam through the sword. In the next article, we will examine how black orientalists such as Chancellor William’s The Destruction of Black Civilization, has actually inherited racial prejudices about Arabs and Islam from European historical sources.