Islam is growing rapidly among Africans and African-Americans. Today, African-American Muslims represent one of the fastest-growing segments of Islam, accounting for more than 30-percent of American Muslims. In Africa, Islam is growing twice as fast as Christianity, according to Frontline Fellowship, a Bible-based African Mission.
I wonder, though, how many of these new Muslim converts realize the role Islam played in promoting race-based slavery. Over the past several weeks, I’ve been researching slavery and religion for a documentary I’m producing for Moody Radio. This study has made me face the unsettling role Christians played in the promotion of the trans-Atlantic slave trade. But, it’s also opened my eyes to how Islam institutionalized racial slavery in Africa – and how some Islamic countries continue to practice race-based slavery today.
As part of my research, I interviewed Dr. John Azumah, a native of Ghana, West Africa, who holds a PhD in Islamics. Azumah claims that because of Islamic political pressure, very few Westerners and Africans alike know the truth about Islam and race-based slavery.
Yet, Mohammadan Arabs were the first to enslave black Africans, beginning in the early 8th Century. According to Azumah, Arabs developed a highly-organized system of slave-raiding and trading. And, this eventually provided the supply chain for Europeans who began the trans-Atlantic slave trade in the 16th Century.
Though so-called “Christian” Europe shamefully participated in slavery for about 300 years, Christians eventually spearheaded its abolition. Yet, in Islam, no corresponding abolition movement has ever existed. In fact, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates outlawed slavery relatively recently – in the 1960s. And, in Mauritania, though slavery was outlawed in 1981, it persists today. According to the United Nations and human rights groups, tens- and perhaps hundreds-of-thousands of so-called “black Moors” remain enslaved by their “white Moor” masters today.
Azumah says slavery persists among Muslims because they’re encouraged to live in the way of Muhammed, and Muhammed owned and traded slaves. The Koran itself encourages the taking of slaves as spoils of holy war, or jihad. “Enjoy what ye took in war,” the Koran states. “Allah gave you mastery over them.” To this day, Azumah says, the word in the Arabic language for slave – “abid” (ah-BEED) – literally means dark-skinned person. Though used commonly in Arabic language, “abid” is analogous to the N-word in American vernacular.
Many people of African descent have embraced Islam because people like Malcolm X have portrayed the religion as color-blind. But, that’s simply not the case. And, though I admit that some Christians through the ages have displayed despicable racism, there’s not a hint of racism in the Bible nor in Jesus.
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