In this edited excerpt, from Hakeem Muhammad’s blog by the same name, the author gives a historical account of what he provocatively describes as the “Islam of Black Revolutionaries.” He argues that Black revolutionary Islam is a long tradition rooted in a deep history of Black Muslim resistance to white supremacy. His position is that this is the work Black Muslims need to return to today.
“You don’t have a revolution in which you are begging the system of exploitation to integrate you into it.” — Malcolm X Speech at the Congress for Racial Equality in Detroit. [Apr. 12, 1964]
The Islam of Black revolutionaries rejects the domestication of Islam within the US Empire and instead roots Islam as the spiritual centre of larger Pan-African struggles. The Islam of Black revolutionaries was born from African resistance to the transatlantic slave trade, colonialism and global white supremacy. The Islam of Black revolutionaries does not concern itself with the white gaze nor appeasing white fears about Islam. Its primary focus is the liberation, concerns and aspiration of Black people. A return to Black revolutionary Islam necessitates the end of apolitical khutbas; gives spiritual guidance informed by Black political thought, and seeks to continue the unfinished theological project of Malcolm X via the production of Islamic content for oppressed Black communities.
The Islam of Black revolutionaries is exemplified by Pacifico Licutan (hereafter Licutan), one of the suspected masterminds of the 1835 Islamic slave revolt in Bahia, Brazil. During his trial for conspiring to revolt, in February 1835, when the judge asked his name, court documents revealed that he continuously referred to himself as Bilal in honour of Bilal ibn Rabah, the famous Black companion of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). By linking himself to Bilal ibn Rabah, Licutan affirmed the right of Black people to be freed from the judicial system of white supremacy.
Although Licutan was flogged for his contributions to the revolt, the mantle of Black revolutionary Islam continued. For example, through Imam Jamil Al-Amin (formerly known as H. Rap Brown) who, upon being brought to court on trumped up charges (a government backlash for his involvement in the Black liberation struggle of the 1960s to 1970s), refused to grant the court legitimacy and used it for a dawah opportunity. Imam Jamil Al-Amin told the jury and judges, “I invite you to Islam. Be Muslim and receive two rewards.” Like Licutan, Imam Jamil Al-Amin refused to submit to the judicial system of white supremacy.
Even as we sought to escape from slavery, we as Black people sought to maintain our salah (obligatory prayers). Detailing his escape from slavery, Omar Ibn Said stated, “I fled from the hand of Johnson and after a month came to a place called Fayd-il. There I saw some great houses. On the new moon, I went to a church to pray.” As a fugitive fleeing bondage, Omar ibn Said strived to maintain his salah even though he could be captured at any time.
A Return to Black Revolutionary Islam
“It’s undeniable that Muhammad [pbuh] was a revolutionary who turned a society upside down.” — Pan-Africanist, Thomas Sankara
Rooted in Islamic critiques of neoliberal economics and its usage of interest banking, the Islam of Black revolutionaries necessitates struggling against the International Monetary Fund’s and World Bank’s structural adjustment programs that has created and sustained poverty and destruction in Africa. Similarly, the Islam of Black revolutionaries vehemently opposes the white supremacist capitalist economic system that has led to racial wealth disparities that are so large it would take over 200 years for Black families to have wealth equal to white Americans. The Islam of Black revolutionaries seeks to turn global white supremacy upside down and eradicate it from the face of the planet.
The Islam of Black revolutionaries does not oppose the travel ban because “Muslim immigrants deserve the American dream,” but because we are under no obligation to respect the arbitrary borders of European settler-colonialists on land usurped from indigenous First Nations. Nor do we believe that these borders inhibit refugees who are fleeing the United States government’s imperialistic wars. Furthermore, the Islam of Black revolutionaries recognizes Saudi Arabia for what it is: a white supremacist proxy state. It problematizes the Islamic institutions where Blacks went to study the deen for detaching Islam from the Black liberation struggle. Black revolutionary Islam centres disenfranchised Black communities at the centre of global Islamic revival.
The Islam of Black revolutionaries is reflected within Safiya Bukhari’s pivotal chapter “Islam and Revolution Is Not a Contradiction,” from The War Before where she provides an analysis for the bankruptcy of the political system of the United States to address Black suffering. The Islam of Black revolutionaries recognizes that just as Allah enabled Moses to overcome Pharaoh and all the oppressive structures he laid out, Allah can enable them to overcome modern Pharaohs and all the oppressive structures that they lay out.
This is true whether the Pharaoh be Nixon who initiated the war on drugs on Black ghettos; Reagan whose neoliberal “trickle-down economics” devastated Black communities; Bill Clinton who cut back on social services to the Black poor and expanded Black mass incarceration; George W. Bush who presided over mass Black death during Hurricane Katrina; Barack Obama who represented white power in a Black face; or Donald J. Trump who has promised to bring backstop and frisk and a litany of other social policies working to oppress Black people.
Malcolm X, a student of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad, embodies what this worldview of belief in God can do. He said, “the religion of Islam had reached down into the mud to lift me up, to save me from being what I inevitably would have been: a dead criminal in a grave.” Reis, João José. Slave Rebellion in Brazil: The Muslim Uprising of 1835 in Bahia. Trans Arthur Brakel. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1993, p. 131-132.
Hakeem Muhammad is a Black Muslim Public Intellectual, Law Student and Scholar-in-Residence with Muslim Empowerment Institute (MEI). His work is dedicated to Islamic revival in the black community. Follow him at @muhammad7hakeem