MY STAR, MY CRESCENT
Mahmoud Andrade Ibrahim
It was right after Jummah prayer, at the Islamic Center in Manhattan, whereupon finishing my nawfal rakah’s I decided to go downstairs and check to see if any new books of interest would catch my eye. I gazed around the tiny shop filled with curious shoppers surprised that so many people could fit in such a small space. I walked over to a shelf with tiny glass ‘nick-nacs’ with Allah’s name on one and Prophet Muhammad’s name on the other and both acid etched in beautiful Arabic calligraphy. As I picked one up, a brother who had been eyeing me for a few minutes came over to me and gave his salaams, he then leaned close to my ear and whispered, “I notice you are wearing a star and crescent ring a’khee, that symbol has nothing to do with Islam.” My first thought was ‘aren’t we past that 1980’s 1990’s bidah-craze?’ That was a very destructive period and I had hoped that we wouldn’t have to re-live any of that nonsense. Lives were destroyed, families decimated and a lot of people left Islam. Riding on the heels of that thought was the Qur’anic admonition to ‘give ignorance an honorable avoidance’. And so in keeping with that last idea, I said to my well-intentioned but poorly mannered co-religionist, ‘Shukran, jazakhullah’, and I walked away.
Now, I am well aware that in the Qur’an Allah mentions both stars and moons, whether speaking about His creation or in the calculations of the Sacred months, but never as a unitary symbol of Islam. Not in the Qur’an or in the various hadiths are both the star and crescent moon singled out as a symbol of Islam. But, so what ? I don’t care that there is no source material isolating the star and crescent as a symbol of Islam.
It has been estimated that of the earths’ population of more than 7.3 Billion people alive today, that if shown the three major symbols of Religion, i.e. Judaism, Christianity and Islam , that over 75% of the people would identify the star and crescent as a symbol of Islam. That is over 5.5 Billion people would associate this icon as either Muslim or related to Muslims.
The crescent moon symbol predates Islam, but it became associated with the Muslim world following the conquest of Constantinople in 1453 when the Turkish nation added the crescent moon and the star to their flags of occupation. The flag was originally green with an eight pointed star , but this was changed in 1793 to red by decree of the reigning Caliphate. This red flag had become ubiquitous by the reign of Selim III. The five pointed star didn’t appear until the 1840’s and during that time the Ottoman Empire occupied of a third of the known world. As a matter of fact, when discussing world politics at the time, the metaphor for Muslim dominance was ‘The Star and Crescent’ and this referred to the imperialistic reach of Turkish and Persian rule.
The representation of the star and crescent has different cultural interpretations depending upon in which countries it appears. It is also a pervasive element in the construction of mosques around the world as an accent to many of those domes .
Americans of every stripe identify the star and crescent as being related to Islam and Muslims. The U.S. military uses some form of this symbolism in its uniform for Muslim chaplains.
As a BlackAmerican Muslim, I am only concerned with what this symbol means in America.
The 1887 publication of Edward Blyden’s book: CHRISTANITY, ISLAM AND THE NEGRO RACE, is pivotal in understanding the attachment that African descendants have had for Islam. This book is a study of the impact that two ‘extra’ African religious traditions, Christianity from the West and Islam from the East have had on the Black Continent. In America, the Star and Crescent emerges in the Black American Imagination after the glowing depiction of Islam by Blyden as the primary civilizational glue that sustained Muslim Africa and elevated African-Islamic scholarship to heights not imagined on the Arabian Peninsula and which was in direct opposition to the dysfunction he witnessed among the Christian and other pantheistic tribes.* This book was circulated and praised by the Black Intelligentsia and these elites made the necessary connections between the Ottoman/Persian superpowers and the ‘progressive’ religious and cultural influences that held sway on the African sub-continent. Within 30 years of its publication, Black centrists such as Drew Ali, Marcus Garvey and Elijah Poole all employed the Star and Crescent as: 1) an identifier of Islam or variants of Islam, and: 2) a symbol of anti-white racism (supremacy), closely linked to the aspirational objectives of Freedom, Justice and Equality in the face of continued racial oppression and humiliation. Both of these arenas of interest begin with the Black American’s explorations into different ways to counter ‘whiteness’ as a measuring stick for a Dignified Black Life in the early 20th Century.
The star and crescent, throughout contemporary Black America is recognized as an symbol of Muslim identity and of Black Pride, much of this owed to the popularity of Malcolm X and Muhammad Ali. It boldly stands for American-Islam’s overall love of humanity and the quest for justice and equality coupled with a commitment to uphold the Dignity of Black Life. And for these reasons I proudly wear MY STAR, MY CRESCENT.
* “Mohammadism in Africa counts in its ranks the most energetic and enterprising tribes. It claims as adherents the only people who have any form of civil polity or bond of social organization. It has built and occupies the largest cities in the heart of the continent…It produces and controls the most valuable commerce between Africa and Foreign countries; it is daily gaining converts from the ranks of Paganism; and it commands respect among all Africans wherever it is known, even where the people have not submitted to the sway of the Koran.”
Quote by Edward Wilmot Blyden from : Christianity, Islam and the Negro Race pub. 1887
Publishers note :
Christianity, Islam and the Negro Race by Edward Wilmot Blyden was a book circulated widely among black intellectuals. Having just been abandoned by the U.S. Federal gov’t. in what is now call the Period of Reconstruction, I imagine the content of his book peaked the interest of a people looking for something to hold on to, to aid in this new enterprise called freedom. So people gravitated to what little information they had and defined what they thought was Islam and rolled with it. What they knew was that the Ottoman and Persian Empires were superpowers and Islam was their religion. They also knew, based on the information that was provided to them by Edward Blyden, that Islam was the religion and culture of the most prosperous and influential African societies in Sub-Saharan Africa, and so these Black Elites readily identified with Muslim Africa.
What these early African-American post-Reconstructionist social pioneers were NOT looking for was a culture or belief system that would lock them into a 7th or 12th century paradigm, indeed the imagination of Elijah Poole saw Islam well into the future with space-ships and technologies well beyond the scope of all of our contemporary Muslim organizations.
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