My uncle cannot speak his own language.
He does not know that he is my uncle.
He likes the devil because the devil gives him nothing.
Why does he like the devil?
Because the devil put fear in him when he was a little boy.
Why does he fear now, since he is a big man?
Because the devil taught him to eat the wrong food.
Does that have anything to do with the above question?
Yes, sir! That makes him other than his own self.
What is his own self?
His own self is a righteous Muslim.
~Supreme Wisdom Lesson, Master Wallace Fard Muhammad
“Starting to feel okay with my American-ness, I hoped that American Muslims had something to offer the rest of the ummah: Islam as the answer to white supremacy, or the developing feminist theology of Progressive Muslim scholars. But in the same breath, I gave up. There’s no ummah. American Islam will just have to speak to its own experience, Islam as understood by Americans, praise Allah and sab ki choot (“fuck everybody”).
~Michael Muhammad Knight, “Journey to the End of Islam”
It was three o’clock in the morning, way past my bed time, and everything about a dark night on the interstate reflected the brillance of the half moon: the fog, the trees, the safety reflectors on the roads and the barricades, even the dark sky itself. We were four all together in a car headed south, three Brown and one Black. Guess which one I was. C’mon, it’s not that hard to figure out. You don’t even need your Thinking Caps for this one. And if you do, well, you’re probably not thinking at all.
I had in my right hand the pilgrimage of Malcolm X to the Holy City of Mecca, the inspiration of many Muslim converts and even those born into Islam. Most Muslims love his story, especially the Hajj part, since that’s all they ever mention. And I love his Islam, the one emancipation and validation, not the other one, which I think he might not have known about.
And I also had some words of the Prophet Muhammad’s Khuṭbatu al-Wadā, his Farewell Sermon, the ones he made way before Martin Luther King, Jr. and the other Civil Rights activists were even zygotes in their mother’s womb. Muslims of today love these words, myself among them:
All mankind is from Adam and Eve, an Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab nor a non-Arab has any superiority over an Arab; also a white has no superiority over black nor a black has any superiority over white except by piety and good action. Learn that every Muslim is a brother to every Muslim and that the Muslims constitute one brotherhood. Nothing shall be legitimate to a Muslim which belongs to a fellow Muslim unless it was given freely and willingly. Do not, therefore, do injustice to yourselves.
Remember, one day you will appear before God and answer your deeds. So beware, do not stray from the path of righteousness after I am gone.
But in my left hand, the hand that Muslims use for the unsavory aspects of life such as cleaning yourself after you defecate, the Hajj pilgrimage which nobody ever talks about – that of Honorable Elijah Muhammad, the crazy Black supremacist no one really likes to talk about. His experiences weren’t so flattering. The traditional religious establishment in the Middle East among the Arabs and among the Desis in the Subcontinent essentially turned their backs on him and the rest of America’s “proto-Muslims,” even after enduring the acceptance crucibles of mainstream Muslims: praying in Arabic and in the correct form, circumambulating the Ka’ba, etc. In truth, the Middle East has always lagged behind in the issue of racism with many states not abolishing slavery until the last quarter of the twentieth century. Years after his pilgrimage, countries like Yemen (1962), Oman (1970), United Arab Emirates (UAE, 1963), and of course, the prime of producers and advocates of cheap, exsanguinated “Wal-Mart” Islam, Saudia Arabia (1962), were still in the business of trafficking Black human contraband. In fact, Saudia Arabia was known to continue the trafficking up till the mid-1970s even after it supposedly banned in 1962. In a sense, countries of the Arabian Pensinula still uphold slavery with their treatment Filipinos and the Desis servants. And as for the Desis, just look at a Bollywood film: even today, I seldom doubt I could become a Bollywood superstar, unless of course I played a villan. (I’d make a damn good villan though). Michael Muhammad Knight, a White Muslim convert and author, makes a good point about this episode in his book Journey to End of Islam: “But the moral authority of correct belief had been shot to hell, and Elijah realized that he owed the Sunnis nothing – no apology, no conformity, no submission to ‘true’ Islam if true Muslims were still enslaving, mutilating, and castrating black people…People talk about the ‘ten thousand roads to Mecca’ but never mention Elijah’s road, where he witnessed the gaps between a religion’s promise and its reality.” Why not teach Islam as he did, given the hypocrisy of Arabs and Desis at that time? Who cares about orthodoxy if it doesn’t amount to any substantive change in behavior? What good is the tradition if it doesn’t speak to the realities of the people? None, according to Elijah, so he said, “to Hell with the tradition.”
My brothers in the East were never subjected to conditions of slavery and systematic brainwashing by the slavemasters for as long a period of time as my people here were subjected. I cannot, therefore, blame them if they differ with me in certain interpretations of the Message of Islam. In fact, I do not even expect them to understand some of the things I say unto my people here.
~the Honorable Elijah Muhammad
Crammed in my hand was also some Foods of the Devil, a few bottles of “Fair & Lovely” I saw earlier that day in the skin care section of an Indian Bazaar. Now, I never thought I’d see it in the States. I took a picture of it just to be sure my eyes weren’t deceiving me. I guess it’s presence indicates a market, albeit a niche one probably. You know about that this thing, right? It’s the carcinogenic cream that lightens the pigmentation of the skin. You see it everywhere in the Desi World, Pakistan, India (probably more so in the north India than the south I’d reckon), and Bangladesh, where apparently “the White man is still God” and where “fair” and “beautiful” are practically synonymous. Don’t believe me? Think I’m just another angry Black man ranting over race and color? (Which I’m not, please believe me). Ask any dark skinned Desi girl, and they’ll tell you what’s up. Ask them how many marriage proposals they get vis-a-vis someone who’s fairer; or, should you not be able to find one to ask, consult the wedding photos of any Desi guy: chances are he’s married to someone fairer than him; or, ask any honest, non-bias non-Desi person who’s been to the Desi World. It’s like clock work orange; it almost never fails.
I can already see the commercials now:
“Mirror, mirror, on the wall, who’s the fairest of them all?”
“Not you! But you can be – like your favorite Bollywood superstars – if you rub this poisonous cream all over your body! Simply apply the toxin two times daily and you’ll be getting marriage proposals in no time flat! Guaranteed! Available now at your local Indian Bazaar, next to the chole and the rotti!”
I mean, people here give themselves cancer trying to make themselves darker – right? – with UV tanning beds and those stupid orange-looking spray-on tans and fake melanin injections and all that garbage. Why shouldn’t people also be able to give themselves cancer in making their skin lighter? Thus is balance achieved and the Middle Path established. All is right with world. Al-hamdu’ilah.
While on the trip, I juggled these things, the promise of Islam and the Foods of the Devil, being surprised about how easily and how wholly Muslims forsook the promise and allowed themselves to succumb to the foul cuisine, to be lost in its partaking without even realizing it. I begin to inquire whether it was a symptom of Westernization and Europeanization or something more. One of the brown girls in the car, a darker one about my complexion, told me that the predilection for lighter skinned girls is in most cases totally unconscious. If that’s so, what is she to do? How do you battle the collective conscious – or this case, subconscious – of an entire culture? Dr. Khalid Blankinship of Temple University, in his lecture entitled “The History of Islam in the Middle East, Central Asia, and Europe,” openly and honestly admits that while there is not and nor has there ever been a color bar in Islam as opposed to Western (read: “European”) Christianity, the scholarly discourse in Islam nevertheless has always favored lighter-skinned people. What am I to say about that? Does that the fact that the African people have appropriated Islam for themselves assuage this reality? Not really, not for me anyway. Malcolm X went to Hajj in 1964, so it’s highly likely that while he was sitting with blue-eyed, fair-haired Muslims, other dark skinned Muslims were still being enslaved or much worse by those selfsame people. If he had lived longer, would he have put the Arabs and the Desis and all the other Eastern cultures guilty of this predilection and prejudice and injustice under his eloquent fire? I like to think he would.
So much for Islam erasing the problems of race. Sorry Malcolm, but Elijah Muhammad and Master Fard may have been right…even when they were wrong. Let’s not even discuss gender for right now…
And what of the ummah? Really, what of the so-called transcendental, meta-ethic, trans-national brotherhood and sisterhood? How can one take such a concept seriously with these demons free to lurk in the background unchecked, unchallenged, unbounded? Their existence isn’t the problem; it’s the fact that nobody questions them, nobody talks about them, as if they in fact do not exist. Everybody assumes the ideal already exist – Malcolm X’s Hajj experience is their proof – so there’s nothing to discuss; or, they “just don’t see it” – maybe because they’re looking in the wrong places or they don’t know how to look at all. So how do you take a concept like the ummah seriously? My honest answer: you can’t, not really; it’s another broken ideal. Whenever something is universalized, somebody inevitably gets left out of the equation or overlooked to the auspices of the ideal. Usually, those left out tend to be at the fringes. This happens with every universalist ethic it seems, Islam included. An ummah isn’t an ummah if people are left out for one reason or another, be it gender or race or even physical disability. In that case, you’re better off sticking to your own guns and doing what you can, a lesson Elijah Muhammad surely learned after his Hajj experience. In a world where there seems to be no moral authority in the hand of traditional Muslims whatsoever, who cares if the solutions are heterodox, especially when the orthodox are just as screwy? What claim against the heterodox can they make? One of the Hajj rituals is the stoning of an idol, a false god, a false regime of validation, a Devil, but what good is it to stone the Devil when you’re still eating His damn food? What good is Islam if it operates in the service of the Devil instead of challenging him outright? Not much. Throwing the baby out with the bath water. So much for tawhīd…
“Even though, to the pious, drinking wine is a sin,
Don’t judge me; I use it as a bleach to wash the color of hypocrisy away.”
People call me negative, pessimistic, and cynical; people say my recognition of these things holds me back. (From what, I don’t know). They say it keeps me away. (Again, from what, I don’t know). But honestly, just given what I’ve seen all my years in Islam, I think I’d rather be kept away. When I hear and see these things like this, I’m reminded of what the Prophet said, that if you cannot change something with your hand, you should at least try to change it with your tongue, i.e. your words. I’m not sad or angry, though I admittedly used to be. I’m just not afraid to speak my mind is all. And Allāh always knows Best.
The weight of this sad time we must obey,
Speak what we feel, not what we ought to say.
The oldest have borne most; we that are young
Shall never see so much, nor live so long.
~Shakespeare, King Lear
In any case, love your lighter-skinned brothers and sisters, wives and husbands, sons and daughters. But just – please stop eating the Foods the Devil. Don’t forget your own self, and don’t forget us dark-skinned ones. Do it for the next generation at the very least.
…So this is up to you to make your country what? God. It’s up to you and if you don’t teach the young right, you not hurting me, you hurting yourself…
~Clarence 13X, ALLAH (not الله or Allāh) the Father