بِسْمِ اللهِ الرَّحْمَنِ الرَّحِيمِ

The Sacrifice of Our African-Muslim Forefathers
Imam Naeem Abdullah
Published on Facebook February 6, 2012

مَن كَفَرَ بِٱللَّهِ مِن بَعْدِ إيمَانِهِ إِلاَّ مَنْ أُكْرِهَ وَقَلْبُهُ مُطْمَئِنٌّ بِٱلإِيمَانِ وَلَـٰكِن مَّن شَرَحَ بِالْكُفْرِ صَدْراً فَعَلَيْهِمْ غَضَبٌ مِّنَ ٱللَّهِ وَلَهُمْ عَذَابٌ عَظِيمٌ

 

Whoever rejects his faith in Allah after having believed in Him - not the one who is compelled (to utter a word of disbelief) under duress while his heart is at peace with Faith, but the one who has laid his breast wide open for disbelief - upon such people is the wrath of Allah, and for them there is a heavy punishment.

{Qur’an 16:106}

 

All praises are due to Allah, Lord of the Worlds; Who has sent His Messenger with the Deen or Religion of Truth so that it may prevail over all of the other religions even though the polytheists hate it it! As to what follows: we have named this short article - The Sacrifice of Our African-Muslim Forefathers. It will be a source of benefit to whoever reads itx, if Allah wills.

Our intention is to inform, inspire and motive those who have returned to Religion and way of life (al-Islam) that was stripped away from them on the slave plantations here in the western hemisphere. It is our hope that after reflecting upon what our ancestors had to endure in order to preserve their Islam that we will [1] reexamine ourselves, [2] begin to abandon the myriad of excuses that we use to justify our miserable compromise of our Islamic way of life and [3] embark on the path of personal and communal tajdeed or renewal. Success is with Allah.

Before we highlight one of our African-Muslim ancestors who was kidnapped and brought to this strange land as a slave and forced to accept Christianity, we first want to examine the Qur’anic verse that is mentioned in the beginning.

This verse was revealed about several early converts to Islam who accepted the call of Prophet Muhammad, may Allah bless him and grant him peace. They embrace d Islam during the early days in Mecca and were tested by the forces of disbelief. Each of them had their unique way of dealing with this pressure which was meant to force them to apostate from their new faith! This verse was directed to all of them.

What concerns us here – for the purposes of this article – is the family of ‘Ammar ibn Yaasir, may Allah be pleased with them all.

The idolaters had taken ‘Ammar away along with his father Yasir, his mother Sumayyah, Suhayb ar-Rumi, Bilal ibn Rabah, Khabbab ibn al-Aratt and Salim - the client of Hudhayfah - and tortured them. As for Sumayyah, she was tied up between two camels and stabbed with a spear in her female organ. She was told: 'You embraced Islam for the men', and was then killed. Her husband Yasir was also killed. They were the first two martyrs in Islam. As for 'Ammar, he was coerced to let them hear what they wanted to hear. The Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, was told that 'Ammar has renounced faith, but he said: 'Never, 'Ammar is filled with faith from his head to his toes; faith is admixed with his flesh and blood!' 'Ammar then went to see the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, crying. The Prophet, wiped his tears with his own hand and said: 'if they return to you, let them hear again what you told them'. Then, Allah, exalted is He, revealed this verse”. The portion of the verse where Allah, ta’ala says:

 

 

إِلاَّ مَنْ أُكْرِهَ وَقَلْبُهُ مُطْمَئِنٌّ بِٱلإِيمَانِ

…not the one who is compelled (to utter a word of disbelief) under duress while his heart is at peace with Faith…

 

is referring to ‘Ammar ibn Yasir, which brings us to our next important point.

            This verse is one of a handful of Qur’anic verses which govern what many refer to as taqiyyah or dissimulation – which is the act of pretending to be a non-Muslim outwardly, while internally still holding on to the beliefs and tenets of Islam.     ``````````````````

            Verily Allah ta’ala says,

 

 

لاَّ يَتَّخِذِ ٱلْمُؤْمِنُونَ ٱلْكَافِرِينَ أَوْلِيَآءَ مِن دُونِ ٱلْمُؤْمِنِينَ وَمَن يَفْعَلْ ذٰلِكَ فَلَيْسَ مِنَ ٱللَّهِ فِي شَيْءٍ إِلاَّ أَن تَتَّقُواْ مِنْهُمْ تُقَـٰةً وَيُحَذِّرُكُمُ ٱللَّهُ نَفْسَهُ وَإِلَىٰ ٱللَّهِ ٱلْمَصِيرُ

The believers must not take the disbelievers as protecting friends instead of the believers. And whoever does that has no relation with Allah whatsoever, unless you (do so) as a protective measure (in order to) save yourself from them. Allah warns you of Himself, for unto Allah is the return.

{Qur’an 3:28} 

 

Imam al-Bukhari - in his seminal hadith collection, while commenting on the above verse, quotes the famous second generation (at-taabi’i) and student of Ali ibn Abi Taalib (may Allah ennoble his face) – Imam al-Hasan al-Basri; who said,

 

 

التَّقِيَّةُ إِلَى يَوْمِ الْقِيَامَةِ

“At-Taqiyyah (i.e., speaking against one’s own belief lest his opponents put one in great danger) will remain until the Day of Resurrection.”

 

In Fathu l-Baari, the famous commentary of Sahih al-Bukhari, the author quotes Ibn Battaal (the other famous commentator on Sahih al-Bukhari whose name is ‘Ali ibn Khalaf and died in the year 444/1054) who said:

 

أَجْمَعُوا عَلَى أَنَّ مَنْ أُكْرِهَ عَلَى الْكُفْرِ وَاخْتَارَ الْقَتْلَ أَنَّهُ أَعْظَمُ أَجْرًا عِنْدَ اللَّهِ مِمَّنِ اخْتَارَ الرُّخْصَةَ

There is a consensus that whomsoever is forced into apostasy and chooses death has a greater reward than a person who takes the license (ar-rukhsah) [to deny one's faith under duress].

 

The West African scholar, statesman, and warrior Shehu ‘Uthman Dan Fodio (may Allah envelop him in His Mercy – Ameen) said in his book called Bayaan ul-Wujub ul-Hijrah quoting Imams as-Suyuti and ‘Ali ibn Ibrahim al-Khazin who said:

 

 

تَخَافُوا مَخَافَة فَلَكُمْ مُوَالَاتهمْ بِاللِّسَانِ دُون الْقَلْب وَهَذَا قَبْل عِزَّة الْإِسْلَام وَيَجْرِي فِيمَنْ هُوَ فِي بَلَد لَيْسَ قَوِيًّا فِيهَا...وَ فِي تَفْسِيرِ الْخَازِنِ : وَ التَّقِيَّةُ لَا تَكُونَ إِلَّا مَعَ خَوفِ الْقَتْلِ مَعَ سَلَامَةِ النِّيَّةِ ... ثُمَّ هَذِهِ التَّقِيَّةِ رُخْصَةٍ فَلَوْ صَبَرَ ... حَتَّى قُتِلَ كَانَ لَهُ بِذَلِكَ أَجْرٌ عَظِيمٌ

“[That means] unless you fear them greatly, in which case you can express friendship to them with your tongue, but not in your heart. This was the rule at a time when Islam had not yet gained strength; and it applies to a place where it may still be weak.”…According to the commentary of al-Khaazin: “Dissimulation (at-taqiyyah) should only be practiced when one is in fear of being killed and then with a sincere motive...Moreover this taqiyyah is only a license (rukhsah), so that if one endured … until one was killed the reward for that would be great.”

 

So to summarize, if a Muslim is being forced to abandon his or her religion – and by force we mean that death is eminent – he or she is allowed to pretend to apostate from al-Islam in order to save their life. However, as we have quoted above, this is only a rukhsah – or license. In other words, it is not the best or highest course of action. The best action and position to take is to die for your beliefs, even though taqiyyah is a permissible alternative.

We thought it imperative to give a complete understanding of the concept of taqiyyah – according to the ‘people of the sunnah and the community’ - before mentioning one of our ancestors – Umar ibn Sa’eed, may Allah have mercy upon him.

‘Umar ibn Sa’eed was born in Futa Toro, which is presently known as Senegal, in or around the year 1770. Most of what we know of ‘Umar ibn Sa’eed is obtained from his own writings. Fourteen of ‘Umar’s Arabic manuscripts have been preserved. One of these manuscripts is an autobiography – the only extant autobiography by an American slave in Arabic. He was born to a father who had six sons and five daughters. At five, when his father was killed in a war, he was taken by an uncle to be raised and was educated by an older brother. In his own words he says (translated into English):

 

 

“O Shaykh Hunter, I am unable to write (about) my life. I have forgotten most of my language as well as the language of Arabic. My brothers, do not blame me. All praises are due to Allah with much praises. He provides from blessings to those who increase in good.

            In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful. All praises are due to Allah the Possessor of good, generosity, bounty, adoration and munificence from before endless time. All praises are due to Allah who created creation for his worship, even the provision of the actions and words.

            It is from ‘Umar to Shaykh Hunter. You asked me to write down my life. Truly I am unable to write (about) my life. For I have forgotten much of my language as well as the language of Arabic. I have studied only a little grammar as well as a little linguistics. Therefore, O brothers, I ask you by Allah, do not blame me. My eyes are weak as well as my body.

            My name is ‘Umar ibn Sa’eed. The place of my birth was Futa Toro (which lay) between the two rivers. I sought knowledge in Bundo and Futa with my Shaykh, whose name was Muhammad Sa’eed, my brother, Shaykh Sulayman Kabah, and Shaykh Jibril Abdaal. I was entrenched in seeking knowledge for 25 years. I came back to my region and after six years a large army came to our land. They killed many people and seized me bringing me to the great ocean. There they sold me and I was sold into the hands of the Christians. They brought me in the enormous ship on the great ocean. We sailed on the great ocean for a month and a half. We came to a place named Charleston (i.e. Charleston, South Carolina) in the language of the Christians. There I was sold and brought by a diminutive, weak and wicked man named Johnson, a serious disbeliever who had no fear of Allah.

            I am a small man and unable to do strenuous work, so I fled from the hands of Johnson. Until (when) the month arrived I came to a place called Fayadil (Fayetteville, North Carolina)…”[1]

 

He was then captured, jailed and released to his new master Jim Owen. He stayed with him until his death. He died in 1864 at the age of 94. He was buried on the Owen Hill plantation in the family burial ground.

            Some people claim that he left Islam and became a Christian. These people make this claim because he wrote the ‘Lord’s Prayer’ in Arabic on a few occasions. However, ‘Umar was practicing dissimilation (taqiyyah) out of fear for his life under the Christians. This option is legally acceptable for any Muslim who is under the jurisdiction of the disbelievers and can find no way to establish his religion nor can he find a means with which to make the hijrah from under their control. This is the legal ruling for a free Muslim who finds himself in a circumstance where he fears establishing the religion. ‘Umar was not free. Thus, taqiyyah was perhaps the only logical option he had. Also, it is through understanding the early education of ‘Umar ibn Sa’eed that insight can be had into the real reasons behind his citing of the ‘Lord’s Prayer’. As ‘Umar claimed, he studied the Islamic sciences intensely for about 25 years. The system of education that permeated western bilad us-sudan (i.e. West Africa) comprised of a deep understanding of the science of the traditions (hadith) of the Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace. This included mastery of the Sihaah (Sound) collections, the Masaaneed (plural of musnad) collections (those collections organized on the basis of the last transmitter before the Prophet) and the Sunan collections. In the Sunan of Abu Dawuud, there is a hadith in the chapter of Tibb or Prophetic Medicine that goes as follows:

 

 

‏‏عَنْ ‏أَبِي الدَّرْدَاءِ ‏قَالَ ‏ سَمِعْتُ رَسُولَ اللَّهِ ‏صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ‏ ‏يَقُولُ ‏مَنْ اشْتَكَى مِنْكُمْ شَيْئًا أَوْ اشْتَكَاهُ أَخٌ لَهُ فَلْيَقُلْ رَبَّنَا اللَّهُ الَّذِي فِي السَّمَاءِ تَقَدَّسَ اسْمُكَ أَمْرُكَ فِي السَّمَاءِ وَالْأَرْضِ كَمَا رَحْمَتُكَ فِي السَّمَاءِ فَاجْعَلْ رَحْمَتَكَ فِي الْأَرْضِ اغْفِرْ لَنَا‏ ‏حُوبَنَا‏ ‏وَخَطَايَانَا أَنْتَ رَبُّ الطَّيِّبِينَ أَنْزِلْ رَحْمَةً مِنْ رَحْمَتِكَ وَشِفَاءً مِنْ شِفَائِكَ عَلَى هَذَا الْوَجَعِ فَيَبْرَأَ

 

It is related on the authority of Abu Dardaa’, who said “I heard the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, say, “When one of you is suffering or when his brother is suffering, he should say, ‘Our Lord is Allah, Who is called on (by the name “Allah”) in the heaven. Holy be Your Name. Your command reigns supreme in the heaven and the earth. As Your mercy is in heaven, make Your mercy in the earth. Forgive us of our sins and errors. You are the Lord of the righteous. Send down mercy from Your mercy and a remedy from Your remedies upon this pain so that it is healed up’.””

 

Further, a part of the fundamentals of education in the bilad us-sudan was a basic understanding of the traditional Islamic medicine called ‘Tibb An-Nabiyy’ (The Medicine of the Prophet). This entailed the student mastering the basic remedies transmitted by the Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace. The bottom line is that the above tradition related by the Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, to his community as a cure is an virtually an exact rendering of the ‘Lord’s Prayer’. This means that given ‘Umar ibn Sa’eed’s level of education, he had to be familiar with the tradition which would entail him not seeing any harm in citing the ‘Lord’s Prayer’ since it too was related by Prophet Muhammad as a chanted formula for its curative qualities. This means that ‘Umar’s citing of the ‘Lord’s Prayer’ as a sign of conversion is definitely inconclusive.[2]

            Another of his very important Arabic manuscripts written around 1857 is the ‘Lord’s Prayer’ given to the daughter of a prominent minister by James Owen in 1857. This “Lord’s Prayer” is actually the 110th chapter of the Qur’an – Surah Nasr.

 

 

When it is transliterated it reads as follows:

 

“Idha Jaaa a nasru minallahi wal fath qareeb wa bashirul mu’mineen wa ra aytan-naasa yadkhuluuna fee deenillahi afwaaja fasabbih bihamdi rabbika wastaghfirhu innahu kaana tawwaaba”

 

Meaning:

 

When the help from Allah and the close victory comes, give glad tidings to the believers. And you see that the people enter Allah’s religion in crowds. Glorify the Praises of your Lord, and ask for his forgiveness. Verily, He is the One who accepts the repentance and forgives.

            He makes a mistake and inserts a portion of a verse from Chapter 61, verse 13 of the Qur’an into that chapter (the portion that is in bold/underlined type). His mistake is even important, because the Muslim knows that the Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, said,

 

 

عَنْ عَبْدِ اللهِ قَالَ : قَالَ النَّبِيُّ صَلَّى اللهُ عَلَيْهِ وَ سَلَّمَ ((بِئْسَ مَا لأَحَدِهِمْ، يَقُولُ: نَسِيتُ آيَةَ كَيْتَ وَ كَيْتَ ، بَلْ هُوَ نُسِّيَ))

 

It was related by Abdullah who said the Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, said, “Why does anyone say ‘I have forgotten such and such verses (of the Qur’an)’? He in fact, is caused (by Allah) to forget.”[3]

 

In other words, “it is not you who forgot, but it is Allah who has made you forget the verse.” Therefore, this mistake is an insight into the psyche of ‘Umar. The chapter is supposed to read as follows:

 

“Idha Jaaa a nasrullahi wal fath wa ra aytan-naasa yadkhuluuna fee deenillahi afwaaja fasabbih bihamdi rabbika wastaghfirhu innahu kaana tawwaaba”

 

Meaning:

 

“When the help and victory of Allah comes. And you see that the people enter Allah’s religion in crowds. Glorify the Praises of your Lord, and ask for his forgiveness. Verily, He is the One who accepts the repentance and forgives.”

 

The addition from Chapter 61, verse 13 of the Qur’an was revealed when the Muslims were in trouble during war and feared that the help of Allah was not near.

            This mistake as well as his comment in his autobiography – “I have forgotten most of my language as well as the language of Arabic.” – has to be understood in light of the fact that in North and South Carolina laws were passed in 1822 which declared it illegal for slaves to read or write. The penalty for doing so was capital punishment – death.[4]

            'Umar died in 1864 – one year before the slaves were freed. He is the only slave - who we know of - that wrote his own biography while still in captivity.

It must be remembered that there are many other slaves whose history has been documented, like Amir (or Prince) Abdur-Rahman, Bilali Muhammad, Job Ben Solomon, Salih Bilali, Lamine Kebe, Muhammad Ali Ben Said, Yarrow Mahmout, Muhammad Baquaqua, and countless others. These are our Muslim-African ancestors whose inspirational stories have been kept out of the collective memory of succeeding Muslim generations, why? These slaves and the traditions from which they were snatched would serve – if known – as a cure for many of the ills that affect us today. It is as Shaykh Muhammad Shareef said, "This (teaching Islam from African scholarship) is actually curing 2 diseases with 1 cure." It cures the sicknesses resulting from being ignorant of Allah's religion. And it provides a cure from what many clinical psychiatrists call "Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome". In other words, all of those social ills that result from a collective form of low self-esteem and a hatred of the self are treated when the student is learning his way of life from his scholarly, Muslim ancestors.

This is why we at Nur uz-Zamaan Institute encourage African-Americans in general and those among them who are Muslims in particular to learn Islam from the route of their ancestors. This is not to say that we should ignore or discredit Islamic scholarship from other ethnicities but the African-American was forcibly cut off from not only his homeland but all of his native languages (including Arabic), his lineage and his history. This severing was not maintained for just one generation but for over four hundred years! Introduce into that equation the systematic breaking of family ties on the plantation, where a child would be sold off to another plantation and have his or her last name changed to that of the new slave owner. Let us not forget about the systematic rape of the male and female slave on the plantation along with all of the trauma accompanying that horrific crime!

We have gone through – and are still going through – a unique and traumatic experience. Therefore, our Islamic teachings have to come from traditional sources by means of contemporary scholars who are intimately acquainted with this unique experience in order for our Islam to affect positive change in our communities! This why Shaykh ‘Uthman Dan Fodio said in his book Najm al-Ikhwaan:

 

 

فَاشْتَغِلُوا يَا إِخْوَانِي بِقَرَاءَةِ تَوَالِيفِ عُلَمَاءِ زَمَانِكُمْ لِأَنَّهُمْ هَمَّ الْعَالَمُونَ بِمَا هُوَ الْأَهَمَّ فِي زَمَانِكُمْ ؛ وَ لِأَنَّ تَوَالِيفِهِمْ تَفْصِيلٌ لَمَّا أَجْمَل مِنْ تَوَالِيفِ الْعُلَمَاءِ الْمُتَقَدِّمِينَ

Busy yourselves, O my Brothers, with reading the works of the scholars of your time period (‘ulamaa zamaanikum) i.e. contemporary scholars)), because they are more knowledgeable about the important matters of your time. And their writings are elaborations on what the previous scholars had summarized.

When we look at the sacrifices of those who came before us like ‘Umar ibn Sa’eed and what they had to go through to preserve their Islam; our excuses for compromising our Islam are pretty pathetic!

How can a Muslim miss or delay their obligatory prayers (as-Salaah) beyond their prescribed times because of work or school? Some of us are scared of getting fired or not even getting hired so we hide our Islam, alter our names and neglect our prayer even though no one is threatening to kill us. ‘Umar hid his Islam while slaves like Muhammadu Bilali not only displayed their deen but proclaimed it and even had the audacity to marry two wives – as a slave!

Nowadays most Muslim dress in such a way that they blend in with the non-Muslims out of fear of being different. The men abandon the kufi, turban, jalabiyya, qamees, and the beard imitating the non-Muslims; while the women leave off the niqaab, khimar, jilbaab, abaya, and loose clothing out of fear - fear of what, death? No – not yet anyway – it is our forefathers who feared death and prayed that we would be able to practice the religion that many of them kept secret or died for! We must remember them and their reality whenever we consider compromising the establishment of Islam in our personal and communal lives.

In conclusion, the reader should remember the well-known hadith where the Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, informed us of the fact that the prayer of the oppressed is mustajaabah – automatically accepted by Allah.

 

 

‏عَنْ‏ ‏أَبِي هُرَيْرَةَ ‏أَنَّ النَّبِيَّ ‏ ‏صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ‏ ‏قَالَ ‏ ‏ثَلاَثُ دَعَوَاتٍ مُسْتَجَابَاتٌ لاَ شَكَّ فِيهِنَّ دَعْوَةُ الْوَالِدِ وَدَعْوَةُ الْمُسَافِرِ وَدَعْوَةُ الْمَظْلُومِ

 

It was reported by Abu Hurayrah, may Allah be pleased with him, who said that the Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, said, “Three supplications are answered (mustajaabaat) without any doubt therein: [1] The supplications of the parent (al-waalidi), [2] the supplications of the traveler (al-musaafir), and [3] the supplications of the oppressed (al-mathluum).[5]

 

These Muslim slaves were not in a state of heedlessness (ghaflah). They were fully cognizant of the serious nature of their kidnapping and subsequent enslavement/imprisonment. With that being said, their hearts and tongues were not only replete and moist with the remembrance of Allah (dhikrullah) but constant in supplication for their offspring and descendants. Not only did these Muslim slaves pray for their personal freedom; they prayed for the freedom of their offspring and descendants and that one day, they would be able to freely practice the religion that was stripped from them. It seems as though Allah has been answering their prayers! How else can you explain the fact that largest growing religion in the United States – and the world - is al-Islam and it is the descendants of these slaves who are swelling the ranks of the Muslims? Let's not disappoint them. And let's not forget to pray for those Muslim slaves who were mentioned and the millions who were not mentioned. It has been related in Sahih Muslim on the authority of Abu Dardaa', may Allah be pleased with him, that the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, said,

 

 

((دَعْوَة الْمَرْء الْمُسْلِم لِأَخِيهِ بِظَهْرِ الْغَيْب مُسْتَجَابَة , عِنْد رَأْسه مَلَك مُوَكَّل , كُلَّمَا دَعَا لِأَخِيهِ بِخَيْرٍ قَالَ الْمَلَك الْمُوَكَّل بِهِ : آمِينَ وَلَك بِمِثْلٍ((

 

“The supplication of an individual Muslim for his brother who is absent is answered. There sits at his head an angel charged with his needs. Whenever he supplicates for blessings for his brother, the angel charged with his affairs says, Amen-and the like for you.”

 

May Allah bless them and us!

 

 

 

[1] Muhammad Shareef, The Autobiography of Umar ibn Said ‘t-Turuudi: As Anthropological Evidence of the Rights for Self-Determination for Enslaved African Muslims (Sankore’ Institute of Islamic-African Studies)

 

[2] ibid

 

[3] Bukhari Vol. # 6, Hadith #559

 

[4] Muhammad Shareef, The Autobiography of Umar ibn Said ‘t-Turuudi: As Anthropological Evidence of the Rights for Self-Determination for Enslaved African Muslims (Sankore’ Institute of Islamic-African Studies).

 

[5] This hadith was collected by Abu Dawuud, at-Tirmidhi and Ibn Maajah.

© 2020 Nur uz-Zamaan Institute

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