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Islam, the ‘natural religion’ of Black folk, is growing

By Nisa Islam Muhammad

Washington: Vonda Feazell had gotten to a point in her life when she had lost all hope and faith in God.

“Christianity wasn’t making a difference in my life. My finances weren’t changing, my children weren’t changing, nothing in my life was getting better. I said to myself I’m going to try Islam as my last resort and if this doesn’t work, I give up and will accept whatever consequence I may face on the Day of Judgment as I was taught in Christianity,” she told The Final Call.

“I grew up with Muslims in my family but they always seemed so strict. I asked one of the brothers what to do and he said go to the Nation of Islam’s Muhammad Mosque No. 4 in Washington, D.C. From the first time I went, everything made sense. I can see the benefit of what I do in my life. Now I know fornication is wrong and I will be held accountable for what I do. In Islam, even when I say something out of order, I remember Allah and put myself in check. This didn’t happen before.”

Vonda Feazell soon rejected her slave master’s name, accepted her own and became Vonda X. She joined the growing numbers of Black people that continue to accept Islam at the fastest rate in the country.

Black Muslims1According to a new Pew Research Center study, released Jan. 17, about half of Black Muslims (49 percent) are “converts” to Islam, a relatively high level of conversion. By contrast, according to the research, only 15 percent of non-Black Muslims are converts to Islam, and just 6 percent of Black Christians are converts to Christianity.

Black people (not including those of Hispanic descent or mixed race) make up 20 percent of the country’s overall Muslim population, according to a 2017 Pew Research Center survey. This number seems low to many Muslims who feel the researchers missed many Black Muslims for various reasons, either because some Black Muslims don’t have Muslim names, or like the Census everyone doesn’t want to get counted or any number of other reasons.

According to the research, Black Muslims are like other Black Americans overall in that they have high levels of religious commitment. Large majorities of both Black Muslims and Black Christians say religion is very important to them (75 percent and 84 percent respectively). This is a higher level of commitment than for non-Black Muslims (62 percent). Black Muslims are also more likely than other Muslims in the U.S. to perform Islam’s five daily prayers (55 percent vs. 39 percent).

“In the early 1900s, some Muslim religious leaders in the U.S. asserted that Islam was the natural religion of Black people, broadly drawing upon the narratives of African Muslims captured centuries ago and sold as slaves in the Americas. Most prominent among the groups saying this was the Nation of Islam, which was originally founded in 1930 and is currently led by Minister Louis Farrakhan. Today, just two of every 100 Black Muslims surveyed say they currently identify with the Nation of Islam. Instead, most Black Muslims say they are either Sunni Muslims (52 percent) or identify with no particular Islamic denomination (27 percent),” the survey authors noted.

“However, it is worth noting that the 2017 survey did not ask Muslims if they had ever previously identified with the Nation of Islam—an important point because many Black Muslims, including prominent American Muslim figures such as Muhammad Ali, Malcolm X and Imam W. Deen Mohammed, were members of the Nation of Islam before coming to associate with other types of Islam.”

Black Muslims2In January 2018, the Pew Research Center estimated “that there were about 3.45 million Muslims of all ages living in the U.S. in 2017, and that Muslims made up about 1.1 percent of the total U.S. population.

“Muslims in the U.S. are not as numerous as the number of Americans who identify as Jewish by religion, according to our estimate. At the same time, our projections suggest that the U.S. Muslim population will grow much faster than the country’s Jewish population. By 2040, Muslims will replace Jews as the nation’s second-largest religious group after Christians. And by 2050, the U.S. Muslim population is projected to reach 8.1 million, or 2.1 percent of the nation’s total population— nearly twice the share of today,” the center noted.

The January 2018 estimate combined information from a 2017 survey of U.S. Muslims—which reported on the prevalence of Muslims among immigrants and other demographic groups—with official Census Bureau data on the number of people in these groups, Pew said.

“Muslims are not evenly distributed around the country. Some metro areas, such as Washington, D.C., have sizable Muslim communities. Likewise, certain states, such as New Jersey, are home to two or three times as many Muslim adults per capita as the national average. But there are also states and counties with far fewer Muslims,” according to Pew researchers.

“Islam holds a religious authenticity for Black people looking for the truth,” Ieasha Prime, executive director of Barakah Inc., told The Final Call. Barakah, Inc. is an organization dedicated to educating and empowering women and youth with Islam. She is also a frequent presenter on a yearly Ramadan Prayerline. Ramadan is the annual Muslim month of fasting and special prayers and an important part of Islamic life.

“Within Islamic texts are the answers to questions about Jesus and the divinity that people are searching for that many can’t find anywhere else. Islam is empowering for Black men and women to their very nature. It offers hope with practicality. It has spiritual guidance and instructions with steps on how to get where you want to go,” she said.

Hakeem Muhammad grew up Muslim with a Christian mother. When his parents divorced, he drifted away from Islam into socialism during high school. It wasn’t until he was at a debate camp that he learned Islam had a superior way of dealing with wealth inequality than both capitalism and socialism. What he learned as a child came rushing back.

“I spent the entire summer reading more about Islam from books on Islamic economic and political thought, the prophetic biography, Islamic philosophical thought. I even spent the entire summer watching just about every lecture I came across on YouTube about Islam including, believe it or not, Hamza Yusuf,” he told The Final Call.

Years later, he’s a second year student at Northeastern Law School in Boston and has started the Black Dawah Network to continue impressing upon young people the importance of Islam as the solution to White supremacy.

“We live in a social media age. I want youth to know the value of Islam. I also want to combat the Afrocentrist ideas that say Islam is not right for Black people. So the Black Dawah Network creates content in a way that reaches young people and is relevant to Black people,” he said.

When the rapper MoneyBags Yo took his shahadah (Islamic declaration of faith), Mr. Muhammad wrote him a letter.

“In your video you attested to the fact, ‘Muhammad is Allah’s last Prophet and Messenger.’ One of the things which our Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, taught us is that, ‘None of you will believe until you love for your brother what you love for youreslf.’

“We would like to invite you to join the Black Dawah Network and to use the platform you have to call the disenfranchised Black communities of South Memphis to Islam.”

Islam has always been highly attractive to young people. From the young jazz musicians who converted to Islam in the 1940s to the poetry of a young Sonia Sanchez in the 1960s to the lyrics of rap music to the over one million social media followers of Ben X, Islam and young people go hand in hand.

Ben X accepted Islam and has taken the message of Islam given today by the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan of the Nation of Islam and spread it far and wide. He’s a YouTube influencer, someone that gets paid to make YouTube videos.

In just three years he’s built a following of young, old, Black, White, Muslim, Christian and the Nones, those with no religious affiliation. In addition to being on YouTube, he’s also an author, musician and can be found doing speaking engagements all over the country.

“I’m sharing things of value that people want to hear. I’m speaking truth. I’m teaching Islam,” he told The Final Call. “I’m youthful, I do music, I make things relatable. I live Islam. I show the results that Islam produces. I show them how Islam is relevant to their every day lives as youth.”

Abdul Akbar Muhammad, international representative of the Nation of Islam, believes Islam is in the DNA of Black people. He told The Final Call, “After reading books of Muslims that were brought over during slavery, Islam is in their DNA and once they hear it, they become attracted to it. Lothrop Stoddard wrote about it in his book “The Rising Tide of Color.” He has a whole chapter on this.”

“Islam is the way to serve God and Black people find they can have a decent lifestyle, they find peace with it,” said Min. Akbar Muhammad.

(Courtesy: The Final Call)

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