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Thursday, November 30, 2023

An Independent African-American Religiosity

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To each is a goal to which Allah turns him; then strive together (as in a race) towards all that is good. Wheresoever ye are, Allah will bring you together. For Allah has power over all things. – 

[Qur’an 2:148]


Accusations have been hurled against African-American Christians that they follow a “white man’s religion.” Similarly, African-American Muslims have been charged as being people following an “Arab religion.” The “Black Jew” is often considered an outsider in their faith especially as they try to make a life for themselves in Israel. In each of these cited examples the African-American Muslim, Christian or Jew is accused of “adopting the religion of the slave master.” Whether these accusations are fully true or not these charges do obligate religious African-Americans to seriously study our respective religiosities to see if our expressions of faith are truly independent and not merely copy-cat versions — with an Afrocentric tinge — of the religious mores and values of white Americans? 

Rather one is a Muslim, Christian, Jewish or otherwise, if you are an African-American who descends from American slavery, you have an obligation to review the originality and development of your religiosity. Religion is a major part of the African-American socio-religious life. It is a strong G_d-consciousness that continues to resonate throughout most areas of the African-American life, but the point of this writing is to ask the question. “Have we discussed the importance of having independent religious thought and thinking?”

The ugliness of slavery created a marvelous brand new people on Earth commonly called “African-Americans” or “Blacks.” This new group of people even while oppressed, and to much greater degrees as they acquired more and more freedom, gave to humankind many inventions too numerous to mention in this writing; creations such as the lawn mower, stoplight, gas mask and myriad benefits from the peanut, and the list goes on. Oppression creates in the oppressed strong human appetites for new inventions and expressions that hence before were unknown to mankind. Allah made all human beings to naturally resist oppression and also to strive to have an independent mind, culture and religiosity.

Have we followed the better religious thinkers that our African-American struggle has produced, men such as Dr. Howard Thurman, Imam W. Deen Mohammed and his father the Honorable Elijah Muhammad? Dr. Benjamin Mays and many others — both male and female thinkers — have contributed to the creation of an independent African-American religiosity. Women such as Dr. Mary McCloud Bethune built institutions of higher learning. All of the noble efforts are powerful contributing factors to African-Americans having an independent religiosity that is a composite of our struggles to be free and independent of being mere followers of the hegemony of other people’s religious thought, cultures and values. Once we have our own identifiable independent religiosity we can — as a people — truly engage the world on an equal religious footing.

Never should we seek independence to be segregated or isolated. Those two negative qualities rob all people of having G_d’s Kingdom here on earth. African-Americans having an independent religiosity must be done because of a debt we owe to our Creator; a debt derived from acknowledging that we too are created with “certain inalienable rights.” Natural G_d-given rights that we do not need to ask any man for, not even the highly respected Abraham Lincoln. Then and only then can we sit at the table of humanity in the spirit of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. who boldly reminded us in his famous last sermon, “I’m not fearing any man! Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord!” We have to pass this type of independence on to our next generation who will inherit the mantle of African-American leadership.

We have not yet “arrived” as a people. Still too many African-American religious folks seem to labor under the burden of living mentally and religiously in the shadows of another people’s religious development while denying our own religious development according to the teachings and guidance of our best leaders from the past.

The Qur’an says, “To each is a goal to which Allah turns him …” The individual person as well as each individual community is first given an independent focus or purpose from our Creator so that we can strive, compete for a good life. After that independent competitive spirit is well established then Allah says that He will bring us all together as one human family

Applying the Moses method the development of Islam among many African-Americans included a mental and spiritual “exodus” that allowed the establishment of independent thinking. This exodus was initiated by a public denouncement of every remnant of slavery that could be condemned. Other African-American religious groups to various degrees made similar rejections in their development. These rejections of a negative past are no more than what the English done when pursuing the socio-religious freedom from the British Crown and the Church of England. Surely we, the descendants of slaves have every right to do the same. To pursue an independent African-American religiosity is a debt we owe to our Creator, our ancestors and our individual souls.

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