Deconstructing Anti-blackness In Islam
Mohamad Mostafa Nassar
by Shaykh Muhammad Shareef bin Farid
This false idea that Islam is inherently anti-black is a notion that has been made popular by modernist scholars and academics since the 19th century. It has long been weaponized by the enemies of Islam, as a means of prejudicing people of African against lslam.
One of the most famous prophetic traditions that these pundits of colorism in Islam use to justify their misunderstanding, is the unbroken and successively transmitted traditions of the Prophet, upon him be peace where he said:
“Hear and obey even if there is placed over you an Abyssinian, whose head is like a dried raisin.”
This prophetic tradition was related six times by Imam al-Bukhari in his al-Jamee’ as-Saheeh; four times by Imam Muslim in his al-Jamee’ as-Saheeh and once by Imam at-Tirmidhi in his al-Jamee’ as-Shaheeh (also called the as-Sunnan).
This prophetic tradition is thus, a sound and unbroken successive transmission (mutawaatir); which means that whoever rejects this prophetic tradition has in effect rejected an aspect of prophethood and has become disbeliever.
From the time that Imam al-Bukhari narrated this prophetic tradition there have been more than sixty-six commentaries by an intergenerational line of rights acting scholars. As for the Saheeh of Muslim there have been more than twenty-one commentaries on his stellar collection. As for Imam at-Tirmidhi, there have been more than eight commentaries on his work.
These commentaries start from the time of the above authors up until the period of the industrial age of the 18th century; so, this particular prophetic tradition was thoroughly examined by successive generations of scholars.
In none of their commentaries did they insinuate, suggest or openly state that this prophetic tradition is a critique of “blackness’, and where you read a prejorative interpolation of this hadith, it is simply a projection of the racism or xenophobia of the author; not of the hadith or the Prophet, upon him be peace.
So, let’s unpack this prophetic tradition in order to assess whether it is indeed anti-black or racist. I will look at this prophetic tradition as it was related by Imam al-Bukhari, since I have sanad (chain of authority) in it and his al-Jamee as-Saheeh is considered by the consensus to be the soundest book after the Infallible Qur’an.
My teacher, the jurist Shaykh Muhammad al-Amin ibn Adam narrated to me with license; on the authority of his father Shaykh Adam Kari’angha ibn Muhammad Tukur; on the authority of Shaykh Mallam Musa al-Muhajir; on the authority of Shaykh Ali Dinba ibn Abi Bakr Mallami; on the authority of SHEHU
Uthman Dan Fodio;
on the authority of his paternal and maternal uncle Shaykh Abu Muhammad al-Haj Muhammad ibn ar-Raj ibn Modibo ibn Hamm ibn Aal; on the authority of his teacher Abu’-Hassan as-Sindi al-Medini; on the authority of Shaykh Abdullah ibn Saalim al-Basri;
on the authority of Shaykh Abu Abdullah Muhammad ibn Ala’d-Deen al-Balbili al-Misri; on the authority of Abu’n-Najaa Saalim ibn Muhammad ibn Ahmad ibn Ali al-Qeeti; on the authority of the Shaykh’l-Islam Abu Yahya Zayn’d-Deen Zakariyya ibn Muhammad al-Ansaari;
on the authority Shihab’d-Deen Abu’l-Fadl Ahmad ibn Ali ibn Hajr al-Asqalani; on the authority of lbrahim ibn Ahmad at-Tanuukhi; on the authority of Abu’l-Abass Ahmad ibn Abi Talib al-Hijar; on the authority of as-Siraj al-Husayn al-Mubarak az-Zabidi al-Hanbali;
on the authority of Abu’l Waqt Abd’-Awwal ‘Isa ibn Shu’ayb as-Sajzi al-Hawari; on the authority of Abu’l-Hassan Abd’r-Rahman ibn Madhfar ibn Dawud ad-Dawuudi; on the authority of Abu Muhammad Abdullah ibn Ahmad as-Sarakhsi; on the authority of Abu Abdallah Muhammad ibn Yusef ibn Matr ibn Salih al-Farabri;
on the authority of the Amir’-Mu’mineen in the science of prophetic traditions Abu Abdallah Muhammad ibn Isma il ibn lbrahim ibn al-Mughira ibn Bardizba al-Bukhari al-Ja’afi; on the authority of Muhammad ibn Bashar;
on the authority of Yahya; on the authority of Shu’ ba; on the authority of Abu at-Tiyaah; on the authority of Anas ibn Malik [93 A.H.]
Who said the Messenger of Allah may Allah bless him and grant him peace said:
“Hear and obey even if there is placed over you an Abyssinian, whose head is like a dried raisin.”
Imam lbn Hajr said in his Fat’h’l-Baari: “His words, may Allah bless him and grant him peace: ‘Hear and obey..’ means in those matters which there is obedience to Allah. His words, may Allah bless him and grant him peace: ‘… even if there is placed over you an Abyssinian’, means if he is placed Over you as a governor (aamil).
It is related in the al-Ahkaam on the authority of Musaddid on the authority of Yahya, that he, may Allah bless him and grant him peace said: ‘…even if there is placed over you an Abyssinian slave’. This expression is much clearer in expressing the meaning of the narrator.”
The scholars of the Sunna differ regarding the meaning of the expression ‘slave’. Some uphold that it actually refers to the acceptance of the authority of an actual enslaved individual or a prisoner of war, as a governor.
However, this view is obscure, because one of the conditions of the ruler is that he be a freeman (hurr). Some of the scholars interpolate this expression to mean a person who was at once a slave, but was freed, distinguished himself and was then appointed as ruler.
This view is the majority opinion as was actually practiced during the early days of Islam, which prompted Umar ibn al-Khataab to ask the question: “Why have the freedmen superseded the Arabs in authority?” It was said: “It is because they are more knowledgeable of what is permitted and what is forbidden” He then said: “All praises are due to Allah who has elevated some people by means of this Qur’an and humiliated others by means of It.”
Umar ibn al-Khattab was referring to men like Ada ibn Abi Rabah, an ex-slave who ruled Mecca because of his superb erudition in lslam; Ta’us ibn Kaysan, an ex-slave, who ruled the Arabs of Yemen; Yazid ibn Abi Habib, an ex-slave, who ruled the people of Egypt; as well as Makhut al-Damasqi, a Nubian ex-slave, who ruled Syria.
The ruler of Mesopotamia was an ex-slave named Maymun ibn Mahran; and the ruler of Basra was none other than the illustrious scholar and mystic al-Hassan ibn Abu’l-Hassan al-Basri also a descendant of freedmen.
All this occured within a short time after the time of Prophet Muhammad, may Allah bless him and grant him peace and it exemplified a pattern that would continue with the spread of Islam in Africa. The great Soninke/Turudbe ruler of the Songhay Empire, Amir’-Mu’mineen Askia Muhammad ibn Abu Bakr Ture’ was an ex-slave of the Sosso leader Sonni Ali.
The trusted secretary of state of Askiya Muhammad, Ali Fulani, was an ex-slave who had distinguished himself by his erudition and piety among the scholars of Timbuktu.
Some of the scholars hold the opinion that the expression ‘slave’ is not speaking of the social status of the person but to the general attribute of ‘servitude’ to Allah (Abdallah), thus the meaning of the prophetic tradition being: ‘..even if there is placed over you an Abyssinian who is a servant of Allah, that is to say he is considered just and upright.’
Their evidence being what was related by Muslim on the authority of Umm al-Hissein that the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace said: “Hear and obey even if there is placed over you a slave who compels you by the Book of Allah.”
In this tradition there is no referent indicating social status for the expression ‘slave’, but could mean ‘servant’ or ‘worshipper, as in Abdallah (the slave of Allah).
In these days of hyper-racism and ethnocentrisms, the above prophetic tradition could be interpolated to imply denigration of African people on the part of the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace.
This view is far from the truth and is in fact a denigration of the Prophet himself, may Allah bless him and grant him peace because it lowers his status as a Prophet, by attributing unfounded prejudice and racism to him.
I myself questioned several shuyuukh on the meaning of this prophetic tradition and asked if it implied a natural inferiority to the Abyssinian or if it indicated some racial prejudice on the part of the Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace towards them.
Both Shaykh Faraj ‘t-Tayyib and Shaykh Dr. Abdallah at-Tayyib of Sudan, agreed that what the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace was highlighting was the prejudice of the Arabs themselves and was applying a remedial cure to it by ordering them to hear and obey a person that they deemed beneath them in status.
By doing so he was able to eradicate racial prejudice on their parts which is affirmed by the prophetic tradition: “The white is not superior to the black; nor is the Arab superior to the non Arab except by taqwa.”
My teacher, Shaykh Muhammad al-Amin ibn Adam confirmed this interpolation and added that the prophetic tradition is considered by the scholars to be one of the miraculous prophecies of the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace.
He added that the conditional verbal particle ‘even if (in) in the prophetic tradition can be interpolated as a form of prophecy, like when a person is aware that the people in an assembly do not like people who wear red garments, and he was aware that a person wearing red garments would be entering the assembly and that this person should be followed in spite of their prejudice.
He would say: “I advise you to hear and obey the next person that enters this assembly, even if he is wearing red garments.” And then suddenly a person wearing red garments enters the assembly.
This advice indicates that the speaker was aware that the people of the assembly were prejudiced against people wearing red garments, that such garments did not constitute a substandard quality in itself, and that a person wearing such garments could be the cause of benefit for the entire assembly.
Thus, the speaker advises the assembly in such a manner as a prescriptive remedy for their unfounded chauvinism as well as informing them of what will transpire in the future.
Shaykh Muhammad al-Amin, rahimahu Allah, said that the prophetic tradition: “Hear and obey even if there is placed over you an Abyssinian, whose head is like a dried raisin” is a prescription against racism as well as a prophecy regarding the nature and character of the just Muslim rulers in the Last Days before the appearance of the Mahdi.
Shaykh Mahnud Ka’ti said in his Tarikh el-Fattash that the last of the Khulafa before the appearance of the Mahdi will be men of African origin. If we exclude the plebian origins of the Ottoman authorities and examine the character of the rulers of the Muslim lands just prior to the appearance of the Zaman ‘n-Nasaara (the Hour of the European Christians), most if not all of the just rulers were men of African origin.
Among them were Amir Muhammad ibn Abdallah ibn al-Hassan of Somalia; Amir Umar Tall ibn Sa’id of Segou and his vicegerents; Shekhou Ahmadu Lobbo of Hamdullahi and his vicegerents; Amir’l-Mumineen Shehu Uthman ibn Fuduye’ and his 12 vicegerents (including the author Sultan Muhammad Bello ibn Shehu Uthman);
as well as those rulers who made the hijra to the east and settled in the Sudan, such as the descendants of Amir Umar Tall in Galadima and the present Amir l-Mu’mineen and Sultan of Maiurno, al-Haj Abu Bakr ibn Muhammad Tahir ibn Muhammad Bello Maiurno ibn Muhammad Attahiru ibn Ahmad Zaruku ibn Abu Bakr Atiku ibn Shehu Uthman ibn Fuduye’.
Thus, the prophetic tradition, far from being a chauvinistic assessment of African people, it is an affirmation of their humanity and a testament to the role they will play in the future establishment of Islam in the world. And Allah knows best.
Imam Ibn Hajr said that the meanings of his words, may Allah bless him and grant him peace: “..whose head is like a dried raisin’, it is said that this refers to smallness of the head because small heads is well known with the Abyssinians. It is also said that it refers to the blackness’ because most raisins when dried are black in color.
It is also said that it refers to the hair of the head and its resemblance to black pepper. One legal evidence which is drawn from this prophetic tradition, although contrary to the majority opinion is the validity of the imamate of a slave, if he is ordered to by obeyed, as Ibn Bataal said:
‘This is when it is ordered to perform the prayer behind him; since it is the Supreme Imam who either leads the prayer or appoints a representative (naib) to lead the prayer on his behalf.
It is well known that the Supreme Imam is specifically stipulated for a man from the Quraysh, if he can be found. Thus, when the Imam appoints a slave to lead the people in prayer, or appoints him over another sector of the government like collecting the obligatory alms or overseeing the preparation for war, it becomes obligatory to hear and obey him in that.
Our evidence for this and for the fact that this prophetic tradition was apart of the miraculous prophecies of the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace is what was related by al-Hakim, al-Bayhaqi, Muslim and others that when Abu Dharr was exiled to Rabaada, he found the people establishing one of the prescribed prayers and was being led by a slave.
It was said: ‘That is Abu Dharr, step back and let him lead. Then Abu Dharr said: ‘Verily my bosom friend, may Allah bless him and grant him peace advised me to hear and obey even if it is to an Abyssinian slave with mutilated limbs of the body’”
Thus, Abu Dharr establishes that the
objective of the prophetic tradition was to validate the authority and leadership of a slave if he is appointed by a ruler; and as prophetic miracle of the Prophets, knowledge of future events.
The words of the Messenger of Allah, mnay Allah bless him and grant him peace:
“Hear and obey even if there is placed over you an Abyssinian, whose head is like a dried raisin”; is a clear indictment of Arab xenophobia. The Messenger of Allah, is letting his followers know that he is aware of their racism and he calls them out on it; by declaring that leadership and sovereignty is not based upon ethnicity or race. It is also a prophecy about the nature of Islamic sovereignty in the future.
I believe that any African who reads this prophetic tradition as a denigrating of his Blackness of Africanity is projecting their own cognitive dissonance resulting from centuries of white supremacist domestic colonization.
African Muslim scholars and sages who had a healthy sense of historical consciousness never extracted from this prophetic tradition, any idea of denigration or prejudice. On the contrary, they saw this prophetic tradition as an affirmation of their Africanity and their right to sovereignty.
In this prophetic tradition, our master Muhammad, upon him be the best blessings and peace, basically came in on the side of Blackness and Africanity against the xenophobia of the Arabs and others against Blacks.
So be proud of being an Abyssinian whose head is like a raisin; they have been destined to independent sovereignty, as the Messenger of Allah foretold!
Allah knows Best.
Source Islam reigns