With the anti-Arab sentiment rising among black Africans on the heels of the inhumane treatment and enslavement of black Africans in Libya and across the Middle East, the debate has taken a new turn on social media, at least among Gambians (surprise!). The new narrative is the stance of Islam on slavery, the history of the contact between sub-Saharan Africa and the Arabs, the spread of Islam and the force-feeding of religious dogma and indoctrination of blacks to submit to the God(s) of the Arabs and subsequently that of the Christians from the western hemisphere.
Won’t do much help to invoke historical facts to debunk the claims of Islam’s spread by the sword to sub-Saharan Africa and beyond; the proponents of such a narrative have already made up their minds as to what to uphold and what serves their narrative. So the argument to be had now is whether those adhering to Islam today are under any duress to uphold the belief or not. So respecting people’s individual choices and values is the hallmark of a democratic and civilized society. Labeling, insulting, denigrating people’s beliefs or those they hold in reverence degenerates into a nasty situation fast and averting damage control is prudent; live and let live!
For those so called African idealists, the narrative that “African Spirituality” has been kicked to the curb in favor of “foreign doctrines” imposed on us is always a prominent presence. But what is African Spirituality? A lot of them will fall short of giving you a coherent answer to that effect; so are you really sincere about your pan African stance or you’re just projecting disdain for others using the shield of a “proud descendant” of great forebears with little to no insight as to what they stood for or believed in?
Let’s employ some logic here; logic may not always be true but truth always stands on logic.
There are two distinct narratives as to who we are; Creation vs Evolution – Faith or a lack of it. What category do you fall under?
If you are truly for African Spirituality then you believe in Creation; shocked? Then you’ve been a hypocrite all along.
See our ancestors believed in the “Supreme Being”, the creator of the universe and all life. They further believed that when we die, our souls are in fact returning to that Supreme Being. One other thing to take note of is that African Spirituality is all encompassing; spirituality informs every aspect of human life, from culture to the environment and especially the public sphere (governance) so let go of your separation of church and state mantra. Even sickness has spiritual significance.
This by no means encompasses all of the various versions of African Spirituality. The point here is that our ancestors believed in a Supreme Being and a life beyond death; which is why the spirits of the ancestors are invoked and the reason why shrines are built for them. Death is not the end but rather it is an ascension to the spiritual realm, a return to the Supreme Being Whom we invoke through those ancestors who have returned to be with Him.
You see the logic in this belief system? You and I are direct descendants of the ancestors; the Supreme Being is the giver of bounds and the healer, since our ancestors are with him it makes sense to call on them to intercede on our behalf, what if that is what the shrines are for? In fact that is the concept in some traditional African religions. Islam teaches that you and I are good enough and worthy enough to ‘face’ the Supreme Being and ask directly from the source and not use intermediaries like our ancestors or anyone else to intercede on our behalf. All that is required is to submit to His Majesty and be humble.
Beyond that African Spirituality is pluralistic and flexible; it does not see other spiritual belief systems as mutually exclusive but rather as a means to strengthen its own spirituality. When I was in tourism, I use to tell this joke when tourists asked me; “why are there many more Muslims than Christians?” I’d reply thus; “Africans have always been polygamous, the Christian missionaries came and said a man can only have one wife; the Africans rejected their call. Then came the Muslims and they preached polygamy of up to four wives and no more, the Africans listened and opened up to receive some more of the message of Islam.” That was a joke but it speaks to the all-embracing nature of African spirituality, which further explains why traditional belief systems are still upheld even with the adoption of Islam and Christianity, are you wearing a Juju? Exactly!
So, now that we can agree that African Spirituality upholds the belief in a Supreme Being, if you truly share that view then we move on to the logic of conventional religion – Islam and Christianity. I’ll lean more towards Islam since I know a little about that. The logical question to ask then is why were we created? What is the purpose of our existence, who is our creator?
How do we know our creator and our purpose?
Our purpose has to be communicated to us somehow, through some medium. From the Islamic perspective, if not that of others this is where the concept of Messengers and Prophets come in. Islam teaches that from Adam, to Muhammad (peace be on them both), the mission was the same, the message was the same; remind us of our purpose and who our maker is; worship the one true God – the Supreme being. So those of you claiming plagiarism understand the mission of the messengers; they come from the same source with the same message; One God – worship Him.
It’s not that simplistic, but you get the gist of it. The first man in this tradition was Adam, to whom was given guidance as to how to live this life; that guidance was passed down from him to his children. Like us today, after a few generations we deviate from the traditions of our forebears and every so often a reminder is sent to get us back on course, and on and on it went through the ages. In that long line of Prophets and Messengers were blacks as well, who are all considered Muslims by the way. When the Rastafarians claim that His Imperial Majesty Emperor Haile Selassie descended from the royal bloodline of King Solomon and David, they are unto something. According to Islamic scholars, Solomon (Sulayman – the greatest king that ever lived) and David (Dawood) peace be on them both were black. So too was Moses and Jesus; peace be on them all. In fact through scientific research, which caused some uproar recently, scientists concluded that the people who inhabited the region that Jesus was said to have emerged from at the time he emerged were of dark skin complexion. Before them, the last Prophet of Islam described him as having dark skin. The Islamic Scripture gives further evidence to this;
“And verily We have raised in every nation a messenger, (proclaiming): Serve Allah and shun false gods. Then some of them (there were) whom Allah guided, and some of them (there were) upon whom error had just hold. Do but travel in the land and see the nature of the consequence for the deniers! (Quran 16: 36).
Nation here does not mean our current nation states as can be spotted on the map, just for note.
So how would you feel if those ancestors and their messages were rejected because of their ethnicity?
See it is absolutely okay to not believe in what these various scriptures call to; but the people who adhere to them are not all just blind followers. If you do not consider yourself as being full of blind hatred or blind pride, then accord the same respect to those who adhere to different beliefs than you do. Ridicule and open contempt is a direct attack on an individual as our beliefs are an extension of who we are as humans. By all means if someone tries to impose their beliefs on you, repel them any which way you know how, but until then live your life and respect your fellow man.
If on the other hand you do not believe in the Supreme Being as the originator of the universe and life as did our ancestors; if evolution is what speaks to your rationality; then stop come off your liner that faithful people are subjecting themselves to foreign doctrine. Simple reason is that the concept of evolution is also a foreign doctrine to Africans which begs the question; how different are you in that case? If truth be told, the faithful are more African than you and your evolutionary theory, at least they are upholding the faith and teachings of some of those great ancestors sent as Prophets and Messengers; whose teaching are you holding on to?