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Many influential scholars cite Bernard Lewis in their treatments of racial prejudice in the Arabic speaking world. They do not consider how categories of race in Africa and the Arabic speaking world were altered by colonization, Euro-American slavery, and the rise of Western imperialism.

For example, precolonial historical chronicles reveal that Turkish slaves could be purchased in the West African city of Timbuktu, and Europeans faced the threat of being enslaved in North Africa until well into the nineteenth century. These realities are inconsistent with the historical narrative offered by Orientalist scholars like Bernard Lewis and Afrocentric scholars like Chancellor Williams alike, both of whom would have us believe that African Muslim societies subjugated African people.


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By obscuring this history and the transformations that led to the increased association of Blackness with slavery during the trans-Atlantic slave trade, these authors paint a picture that gives the impression that anti-Blackness is primordial—anachronistically locating its origins in the ancient world. Conversely, Afrocentricity and Islam can be easily reconciled through the more accurate historical narratives of scholars like Diop and Snowden, as well as more recent historians of Africa like Humphrey Fisher and Rudolph Ware among others.

These scholars recognize that Euro-American slavery and colonization changed how Africa and its people were perceived and treated around the world. Before these shifts, Islam was simply one of the various religions that African people freely embraced, finding it both compelling and affirming. This is the historical perspective that gave rise to the anti-colonial Pan-Africanism articulated by Malcolm X and other Black American radicals who built solidarity with people of the Third World.

Black History, Islam, and the Future of the Humanities Beyond White Supremacy

In light of this historical perspective, Afrocentricity and Islam need not be at odds. This is how I have encountered the term in non-academic circles, though it is often defined more narrowly than this by academics. Chicago, Ill: Third World, Chicago: Lawrence Hill, New York: Harper and Row, Middle East Research and Information Project, n. His research interests include Muslim movements in 20th century America and their relationship to Black internationalist thought and West African intellectual history. Thank you so much for your comment.

You raise some important points that I am happy to engage further. The constraints of space did not allow me to be as nuanced as I would have liked here, and I can see how you might come away with the notion that I am trying to conflate the works of Bruce Hall and Chouki El-Hamel with those of Bernard Lewis. This was not my intention.

The African Origins of Islam

In reading their works, it seemed to me that this was something they both did, to varying degrees. In A History of Race in Muslim West Africa, Bruce Hall quite explicitly applies the category of race to precolonial African societies, and cites Bernard Lewis repeatedly in an attempt to justify the suitability of the idea of race in analyzing West African Muslim societies. This was the point I was trying to make.

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However, he too superimposes anachronistic notions of race on precolonial Africa. And Ahmed Baba, the iconic West African critic of Moroccan imperial domination, appears to be guilty of anti-Black racism due to his aversion for a singular African ethnic group, and his failure to critique slavery in the kind of categorical way that modern, liberal audiences would find satisfying. Race is a modern construct. It was born out of that peculiar confluence of Western imperialism, plantation slavery, and emerging notions of biological rather than cultural, religious, or linguistic difference that helped to bring about and define modernity.

Applying the idea of race to premodern, precolonial African societies obscures the processes that brought it into being. This does not, of course, mean that scholars cannot or should not discuss the nature of notions of difference and systems of slavery and oppression that existed in the premodern world. And there are many historians who do examine those issues. However, to conflate these with the modern regime of racialization and white supremacy that exists today is, in my opinion very dangerous.

It often leads people to abandon the task of challenging or resisting Western, Eurocentric, neoliberal hegemonies and, instead, reproduce these hegemonies in an attempt to police non-Western and non-white people. And this conflation is only made possible in the wake of scholars like Bernard Lewis and Chancellor Williams, who helped to popularize the idea that notions of race and practices of enslavement in the trans-Atlantic context were comparable to those of premodern Africa and the Muslim world.

Thank you for cordially engaging, I really appreciate it. If one pre-defines race as being the 19th and 20th century American manifestation of race, then by definition it will never exist elsewhere and will never have existed elsewhere. Was it ever grounded in wider social ideas of inherited lesser-ness that were related to religious texts? How do social concepts such as nasab which el Hamel discusses help us to understand non-Western notions of social hierarchy e.

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Are we discussing personal-level xenophobia, cultural ideas, the history of religious legal institutions, or the possibilities of religious primary sources? Mamdani and others do a great job of discussing how colonialism shapes places such as Sudan in the global Western discourse about race and the power structures of foreign policy, but they do a lot less to explain pre-colonial notions of social hierarchy which could often become easily racialized as Ennaji pointed out in his own discussion of racial sentiment amongst medieval Moroccan jurists.

I love this analysis, however your premise can be answered with simplicity. The answer is no, Islam is not anti Black. The Koran clearly illuminates Black people if you understand what you are reading. Arabs on the other hand are very raciest backward people.


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While there are exceptions, they are generally ill mannered malcontents. I accepted Islam before i had even met an Arab.