Islam Today

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

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