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 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. 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 .
But as a BlackAmerican Muslim, I am only concerned with what it means here 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. Within 10 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) an icon of anti-white supremacy, closely linked to the aspirational objectives of Freedom, Justice and Equality in the face of racial oppression and humiliation. Both of these concepts 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.
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.
The star and crescent, throughout contemporary Black America is recognized as an icon 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, justice and equality coupled with a commitment to uphold the dignity of Black Life. And that’s why I proudly wear MY STAR AND MY CRESCENT.
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