Tuesday, January 16, 2007

1 Chron 12:32 Report, 22: On the Afroz thesis and the Islamist claim to the Caribbean and Africa

First, a note: Over the past few days, I took occasion to visit with Mr Totten at his excellent blog, Middle East Journal, which regularly features first hand reporting from that troubled region. The exchange with Hezbollah Lover, apparently a troubled Lebanese teen, should be of interest in revealing the inner thought-life of many in that turbulent corner of the globe. Let us not forget to pray for him, and for many others like him. (NB: MEJ, for excellent reason, joins this blog's list of links today.)

Now, back on topic: understanding our times, to know how to act in good time with wisdom. For, we need to look at how the patterns of claims and agendas revealed on Friday last regarding Israel, and on Thursday last regarding the foundations of Islam, also extend to Africa and our region.

For that, a paper from the 2003 Conference on Islam, the Gospel and the Caribbean that critically analyses historian Dr Afroz's claims and revisionist history of Jamaica, and Professor Warner-Lewis' devastating Gleaner rebuttal, together, are an excellent place to begin.

In essence, Dr Afroz:

[I: Argues:] “Of the three Abrahamic religions, Islam was the faith of the Black African slaves brought to Jamaica and to the other West Indian Islands from West and Central Africa.” [1995, p. 30.]

[II: Thus also] . . . [she] claims[21] that the Spanish settlement from 1494 on was predominantly Moorish, and that “Moor”: (1) implies Islamic – true, and (2) includes Black African (misleading[22]).
[III. Further:] . . . the majority of Jamaicans are descended from Islamic Moors, who were brought here as slaves by the Spanish or the British, so that: “[c]ontemporaneous to the autonomous Muslim Maroon ummah, hundreds of thousands of Mu’minun (the Believers of the Islamic faith) of African descent worked as slaves on the plantations in Jamaica.”[23] Specifically, the Maroons are viewed as resisting the British invaders of 1655 by jihad, as Saladin resisted and finally defeated Richard the Lion Heart and the other Crusaders in the Middle East. Slave revolts, similarly, are reinterpreted by Dr. Afroz as jihads, especially the 1831/2 “Baptist War” rebellion:
Jihad became the religious and political ideology of these crypto-Muslims, who became members of the various denominational nonconformist churches since being sprinkled with the water by the rectors of the parishes.[24] Despite the experience of the most cruel servitude and the likelihood of a swift and ruthless suppression of the rebellion, the spiritually inspired Mu’minun collectively responded to the call for an island-wide jihad in 1832. Commonly known as the Baptist Rebellion, the Jihad of 1832 wrought havoc of irreparable dimension to the plantation system and hastened the Emancipation Act of 1833. [Afroz, p. 227. NB: This claim is most improbable .]
[IV: thus, Islamic advocates conclude:] . . . that the Caribbean’s ancestral and cultural roots are largely Islamic. Islam, then, seeks cultural legitimacy in the Caribbean as being linked to our predominantly African identity, which is specifically tied to an emphasis on jihad as military struggle. On this basis, Caribbean peoples are in effect invited to turn away from both secularism and the Christian religion of our oppressors, and “return” to Islam.

At first glance, this general claim of an Islamic past may seem very plausible [especially if one is ignorant of the copious evidence of a predominantly Animist past for the Caribbean's slaves], as Islam has been present in North Africa ever since the 600s, and spread south over the next several centuries. However, it is in fact fundamentally misleading. For, as Professor Warner-Lewis aptly concludes, with sadness but in light of abundant evidence:

. . . lack of proper supporting evidence undermines the validity of her discovery. In general, then, it is to be lamented that Afroz's effort to throw new light on Caribbean history and culture is discredited by constant slippage from probability to bolder and bolder assertions, by misapplication of terminology, and disconcerting manipulation of evidence.

Some explanation is in clearly order, and can be given not only through Professor Lewis' article [which should be carefully read!] but also in a list of points drawn from the above linked 2003 Conference paper:

It is evident that Dr Afroz has correctly highlighted definite evidence of Islamic presence among the slave populations in Pre-Emancipation Jamaica. However, it is also necessary to assess whether the evidence warrants the further claims that the Maroons constituted an ummah, and that the slave population contained hundreds of thousands of Muslims and Crypto-Muslims.

Of these wider claims, it is at once evident that there are substantial problems with the links between the evidence presented and the conclusions inferred, as well as some problems with some aspects of the evidence cited (and even more with what has NOT been cited but would be easily accessible to a Historian working in the History Department of UWI Mona Campus).

These concerns may be highlighted as a set of key unanswered questions:
a] The Oxford English Dictionary describes Moors as being of a mixed Arab and Berber stock, the latter being a Caucasian people native to North Africa. Further to this, the infusion of Negro stock reflects the trans-Sahara slave trade. Why then is there an equation: “a Moor being an African is a Negro or a black person.”?

b] Dr Afroz notes that: “Pork, which is restricted in Islam, seemed to have been a common protein for the slaves.” But, if the Spanish slaves brought to Jamaica were predominantly Muslim, so that the core of the original Maroon communities – identified as an autonomous ummah -- was Islamic, why then has the Windward Maroon culture been traditionally and closely identified with Jerked Pork, from Spanish and early English settlement times?

c] If “many Qur'anic terms . . . have become part of the vernacular in non-Arab Muslim countries, and in most cases the populace is often not aware that they are Arabic words having Islamic significance” then what is the evidentiary value of such linguistic survivals, beyond showing some contact with Arab culture?

d] Similarly, if West and Central African peoples becoming Islamised and thus part of dar al Islam includes that “in some cases the chiefs remained pagans but employed Muslims as officials, traders and advisors” or keeping a “cultural orientation which synthesised Islamic rituals and festivals with pagan customs and ceremonies” [1995] then in which sense could the Maroon communities and plantation slaves in Jamaica be meaningfully distinguished as Muslim rather than Animist?

e] If the black Baptist missionaries were actually Muslim teachers and were able to teach and practice Islam in their non-conformist chapels in the years leading up to Emancipation, why is it that a Muslim presence on the order of 3/5 or more of the slave population would vanish by the time of Emancipation? Especially, as both non-conformist Christian Faith and traditional religions thrived under the same circumstances, despite suspicion and persecution?

f] The set of identified Muslim slaves cited from their own writings or in the accounts of others follows a clear pattern: male, educated Mandinkas; often serving as domestic slaves. What basis is there for projecting such a pattern across the range of tribes and regions , and to the far more common field hands? What of the consistent reports that the vast majority of the slaves were adherents of Myal and/or Obeah?

g] Similarly, why is it more credible that Nanny/Sarah was a Sufi saint rather than (as the contemporaries & subsequent traditions describe) an Obeah adept, i.e. a practitioner of traditional African religion?

h] Further, from the 1810’s, the British Baptists sent out men such as Burchell, Knibb and Phillipo to further the Baptist work in Jamaica. If George Liele was in fact more Islamic than Christian in his beliefs and teachings, why did he appeal to the British Baptists for assistance with the Jamaica work? [Indeed, why did his Church Statement of Faith explicilty identify itself as [Ana]baptist, as is documented by Gayle's biography?]

i] Why did these men speak of facing a major theological challenge of syncretism with Myal and Obeah rather than Islam?

j] If baptisms were largely by force and under the control of the Anglican Colonial Church Union, why did the Baptists and other dissenters become the dominant Christian churches of the black population?

k] As Professor Warner-Lewis has pointed out, if Sharpe et al were Islamic leaders, why did they not use the occasion of their trials and executions to bear testimony to their true faith?
Thus, it is fair comment to conclude that although Islamic influence and presence are highlighted in the papers surveyed, the overall thesis that “Islam was the faith of the Black African slaves brought to Jamaica and to the other West Indian Islands from West and Central Africa” [1995] has not been demonstrated. Further to this, the force of several of the above questions is such as to make the thesis at least improbable.

But also, these are not just Seminar-Room debate points. For, as Nehls and Eric summarise, the claim to an Islamic past is subject to the assertion that where the Ummah was, the Ummah must be restored, by force if necessary.

In short, the Afroz thesis is an implicit territorial claim, essentially similar to the concept that once the Ummah has been imposed in the Land of Israel, it is to be restored at all costs. (Indeed, let us note: radical islamists have not surrendered their claims to Al Andaluz, i.e. Spain and Portugal!)

So, it is sobering to read Nehls and Eric's comments concerning Africa:

"Africa is to be the first Islamic continent" is a well-used Islamic slogan . . . . The ISLAM IN AFRICA ORGANISATION was founded by representatives of 24 African states at Abuja in Nigeria in November 1989. In its founding communiqué we are informed about its aims and purposes. It expresses very understandable and to them legitimate desires, such as the unification of all Muslims throughout Africa, the putting away of 'artificial boundaries', and re-instating a strong and united 'Umma' (= congregation of all Muslims) with the purpose of fulfilling the commands of Allah.
We will have to consider, however, the little syllable 're-'. It keeps on occurring in this document: 're-instate the Umma' in Africa, 're-store the use of Arabic script in the vernacular', 're-instate the application of the Shariah'. This means that what was there before, will have to be instated again, implying that there was an Umma in Africa, within which the local languages were written in Arabic lettering, and that Africans were under the Shariah law. All this is not true, excepting North Africa and some very isolated cases in which e.g. Ki-Swahili was written in Arabic script. Let us look at some of the statements:
'The Conference notes the yearning of Muslims everywhere on the continent who have been deprived of their rights to be governed by the Shariah and urges them to intensify efforts in the struggle to reinstate the application of the Shariah'.
The arising question certainly is, how any country can be administered when two sets of laws are applied to different people? The Muslims in Britain are pushing for the same. This can only lead to either confrontation or disintegration.
While we understand and have to accept the effort to establish Islamic Da'wa (mission) centers and to promote Da'wa work all over Africa, we find unacceptable the 'establishment and application of the Shariah to all Muslims', if this is done while Muslims are a minority, and if such action leads to Christians being disadvantaged, which will, no doubt, be the case.
Unacceptable also are the following objectives:
* 'To ensure the appointment of only Muslims into strategic national and international posts of member nations'.
* 'To eradicate in all its forms and ramifications all non-Muslim religions in member nations (such religions shall include Christianity, Ahmadiyya and other tribal modes of worship unacceptable to Muslims)'.
* 'To ensure that only Muslims are elected (!) to all political posts of member nations'.
* 'To ensure the ultimate replacement of all Western forms of legal and judicial systems with the Shariah in all member nations before the next Islam in Africa Conference'
Among the disclosed names of the member nations we find Nigeria and Tanzania which have no Muslim majority. A number of other nations have not been made known. These are likely to have an even lesser Muslim presence. It is indeed noticeable by now that these aims are being implemented and not only in Islamic states, but also in those with Muslim minorities . . . .
Again I like to persuade the reader not to blame this on the Muslims he comes in contact with. I compile this report not to blame any person, but to expose a religious system which is power-hungry, oppressive and deeply anti-Christian.

Thus, again, we see a clear, sobering pattern of intent to subjugate others, among a significant group of Muslims acting in the name of Islam -- and with significant precedent in Islamic founding teachings and examples. So, the points of concern and call to action laid out in the 2003 Conference Declaration are plainly very relevant to our day. Excerpting:

We express concern that certain Islamic scholars have distorted and consequently failed to provide a fair, objective and balanced presentation of Jamaican and indeed Caribbean history . . . . We express concern that Caribbean Governments are becoming susceptible to Islamic overtures without thoroughly examining the possible social, cultural, political and religious implications for the Caribbean’s peoples . . . . We express concern that Islam is subtly infiltrating the Caribbean culture by manipulating our core cultural issues . . . .

We call the leaders and members of the church to educate and equip themselves with the Word of God, return to Biblical values and be prepared to contend for the faith through the truth in love . . . . We call the church to research and thus to inform, educate and counsel the region about Islam: its history, claims, teaching and evident intent in the Caribbean . . . . We call the church to embrace the full implications of the gospel of Jesus Christ so that we can effectively relate the truth of the gospel to core cultural issues . . . . We call the church to identify, examine and embrace the core cultural issues facing their communities and so better meet the intellectual, social, cultural and spiritual needs of our peoples . . . . We call the church to better express love and concern for the Muslim people through appropriate ministries . . . . We call the church to discern and oppose potentially destructive agendas hidden beneath cultural, economic and political overtures . . . . We call the church to learn, pray and take appropriate action regarding international issues and especially issues concerning our suffering sisters and brothers in the global church . . . . We therefore, finally, call the church to be alert; to pray without ceasing; to try the spirits; and, most of all to in all things act by the truth in love.

So, now, have we come to the kingdom for such a time as this? END

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