Lessons:  God Bless the Child That's Got.....

By Mahmoud Andrade Ibrahim

In 1816 Black worshipers at St. Georges Methodists Episcopal Church in New York were tired of being discriminated against by the white congregants and decided to separate from the main body and they initiated what would become the African Methodist Episcopal Church or simply The AME Church. The African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church or AMEZ formed in 1821 for the same reasons. Both of these churches functioned earlier than 1800, however their off charters were recorded  in 1816 and 1821 respectively.  

These church members did not change the theology of the  Episcopal Church, they maintained all of the rituals and liturgies of the Episcopal Church but they carried these out among themselves in a nourishing and restorative  environment that did not devalue their race or their personhood.  They created an religious atmosphere that was wholesome for themselves.

They didn’t sit around and ‘kavech’ about their maltreatment and complain that ‘Christianity is for everyone, why can’t we all just get along’.  They didn’t have seminars or discussion groups and start committees to investigate the inequality of access.  No, what they did was take the intelligent option and handled their own business and by doing so, created an institution that has lasted for over 200 yrs. They validated themselves.

Islam in America was seen over the last 80 yrs as a religion that poor and black people gravitated towards primarily because of the high principles of brotherhood, social justice and equality contained within it . Yes there were some exceptions that saw Islam as exotic, but for the most part it was carried on the shoulders of black folk for the promise of an egalitarian world. Those who were fortunate enough to practice this deen in communities such as The  Dar ul Islam Movement, The Islamic Party, and The Mosque of Islamic Brotherhood, established by Black and Latino Americans, were never made to feel that the color of our skin was somehow not good enough to be considered Muslim or Muslim enough. However after 1965 with the new immigration laws that were enacted, there began a constant stream of Muslims coming from all around the world with attitudes that are not consistent with our understanding of the ecumenism of Islam and the places and spaces that they occupy are the very places in which we seek to practice our religion, socialize with friends and educate our young. The kicker is that the ‘steady stream’ of immigrants, whether Arab, South Asian or African  is just that, steady. People are always going back and forth with these attitudes from ‘home’ that devalue our worth.

The practice of Islam in the academy, in the various university settings across America may feel differently, more open and less hostile to the potentialities of blackness, but away from the campuses, in the actual organizations and places of worship which is where the immigrant cultural luggage is most apparent, these are the spaces in which our devaluation is felt the most.

When we look around at the resources of our community we find elements that were absent 40 yrs ago. We have true scholarship among us in both the religious and secular sciences, we have human rights activists, writers, video-producers, programmers, educators, architects, lawyers, doctors and social scientist, and with all of this human wealth our only remedy is to go on Youtube and talk about how 'unfair' all of this is. This sounds a lot like low self esteem.  

Our spiritual and cultural revolution started with our shahadah, we stepped away from everything that we knew and said ‘this is what I am now, a Muslim’. We changed everything around us, dealt with our jobs, our blood relatives, our friends. We changed the way we looked, covered ourselves, we learned a new language, and we were brave.  But what happened, after this deluge of immigrant scorn, was that we continued to frequent places that have no respect for us and all we can do is talk about the way other people should change their attitudes about us. 

The lessons we should collectively draw upon is in our history.  

Our circumstances are not new. Others have faced the same situations, and given our numbers have, not surprisingly, come to the same conclusions. It is better, wholesome, nurturing and smart to establish BlackAmerican spaces for religious and social interaction. Not to exclude anyone but to establish our own or in some cases, re-establish our own.

We should mention the Moorish Temple and the Nation of Islam in the 1930’s. Those who came before us, often with less resources than we have, had the courage to step away and organize their own ‘safe places, nurturing places’. 

The Muslims of Ezzaldeen Village did it in the 1930’s and 40’s, The Dar ul Islam Movement did it in the 1960’s along with The Mosque of Islamic Brotherhood and the Islamic Party did it in the 1970’s. 


My momma used to say, 'it's a poor dog that doesn't wag it's own tail.'


A companion to this piece written by Carol Chehade, an Arab activist, can be found here (click)