Islamic Center Hamburg
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NewsID : 73941
Date of publication : 5/1/2015 1:59:39 PM
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Black people’s paths to Islam

Black people in the West form one of the biggest cohorts of converts to Islam. Rashid Rose considers some of the contributing factors which have encouraged black people to embrace the faith


Black people in the West make up a disproportionately large proportion of converts to Islam. The reasons for this are manifold. The vast majority of those embracing Islam come from a Christian background and have often had no previous exposure to a religious tradition besides Christianity. The colonial Christian concept of Jesus being of white complexion was and is still to some extent the bedrock of the belief system of many Christians. For example blacks in the Caribbean were led to believe their place was in ‘the back’, to coin a phrase, and they were forced by the Churches of Europe, to accept someone other than their own as a godlike figure. The image of white folks presented as God’s chosen race in European Christianity was further reinforced by Hollywood productions such as The Ten Commandments and Ben Hur. Hollywood has been instrumental in perpetuating this concept and the philosophy that God is white. The concept has caused many black people from different races to feel inferior and less significant than whites. It has also contributed to the inferiority complex seen in many blacks, especially women, who try and adopt an ‘European’ look by bleaching their hair. The prominent Black-American figure, Malcolm X, talked repeatedly about the phenomenon of the ‘White god’. Islam played a pivotal role in shaping Malcom’s perceptions of world affairs and his ideas subsequently had a profound impact on the lives of many black people in the West, especially in the USA. He was politically astute and was able to transcend the racially confined boundaries of the ‘Nation of Islam’. His conversion to mainstream Islam brought him recognition and acceptance in the global Islamic community. For those blacks who identified with Malcolm X this recognition inspired a new sense of self-confidence and the determination to be seen and treated as equals. Another contributing factor to the rise of Islamic consciousness among the Black community was the release of Alec Haley’s ‘Roots’ in the 1970s. This television series showed the masses for the first time that churches were complicit in the maintenance of white supremacy and perpetuated the perception of God as a white European. Before this series, there had been no graphical illustration of the methods used to Christianise Muslims and other non-Christians. One such method was the ‘Whip or the Bible’ and in most cases the Bible was chosen for fear of punishment. Roots also showed the Bible being used as an instrument of indoctrination and it also became a significant instrument in helping to colonise the world. The European grip on global power was further enhanced with the introduction of Christianity to many cultures around the world. Roots, without realising it, helped to unpick some of the contributions made by Islam in Africa. This awareness gave rise to Islamic consciousness and trigged a reaction between Church leaders and their congregations in Africa. The clergy were left with the task of explaining why the Christian Church had concealed the fact that it had played a key role in the eradication of their African heritage. Of course, being unable to answer the questions they lost many of their congregants. Some turned to other religions, mainly Islam, while others explored the concepts of Pan Africanism or Marxist- Leninist theories. More recently the events of 9/11 have also contributed to an increased interest in Islam in western communities. The coordinated attacks against US targets generated much curiosity among the general public; people began to ask questions about Islam and in some cases embraced it as they saw through the media’s distorted presentation of the faith and its followers. These thought-provoking episodes have certainly contributed to the process of conversion and allowed seekers of truth to start thinking outside the box and encouraged discussions about Islam. Along with the various liberation struggles such as the Palestinian conflict they have been instrumental in shaping the minds of the public and creating exposure to Islam. There appears to be no single reason for conversion. A combination of theological, social, economic and cultural reasons, together with the provision of a sense of meaning and direction in life has helped many Black young men and women, who otherwise would have been marginalised in Western societies, convert to Islam. The decisiveness of Islam on religious and socio-cultural matters has given these newcomers a sense of focus. The growing influx of women into Islam – white as well as black - suggests that Islam’s emphasis on modesty, far from discouraging women from converting to Islam, has in fact liberated them from the rampant fashion related consumerism that objectifies women for sexual pleasure. Islam has also gained a reputation for cleaning up the lives of those involved in crime, drugs and gang violence. The rate of conversion is particularly high in deprived communities and socioeconomically marginalised groups where such problems are rife. Many of those coming to Islam see the religion as an antidote to their predicament. Often their conversion triggers a virtuous circle as they themselves become role models and ambassadors showing others a way out of the ghetto. On a social level, some newcomers to Islam find it disconcerting to be defined by their race even though they regard themselves as part of the worldwide Muslim community of believers. However race and racism have become a hindrance to the progress of many converts. Racism does exist among Muslims, but it is never discussed and is left to fester, often with devastating results. Unfortunately it has been observed that in some cases new Black Muslims are made to feel uncomfortable when attending specific mosques, while at the same time White converts are more warmly welcomed into the community. This obvious discrimination is forbidden in Islam and needs to be eradicated, but cultural and tribal customs prevent the issue from being properly addressed. New brothers and sisters coming into Islam have great difficulty in finding a community that will embrace them entirely; at times they are treated as outsiders. These practices have caused many new Muslims to leave Islam altogether. What traditional Muslim communities should recognise is that embracing all aspects of Islam may be difficult for new Muslims and the support of the community is vital to help them as they adapt to a new way of life.


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