al-Sawād al-A’dham: Extracts from Ibn Jawẓī and Suyūṭī (May Allāh have mercy on them) Part 1

قال قال رسول الله صلى الله عليه و سلم إن الله خلق آدم من قبضة قبضها من جميع الأرض فجاء بنوا آدم على قدر الأرض جاء منهم الأبيض و الأحمر و الأسود و بين ذلك و السهل و الحزن والخبيث و الطيب

The Messenger of Allāh (Peace and blessing be upon him) said,”Certainly, Allāh created Ādam from a handful taken from the entire earth, thus the children of Ādam come in accordance with the earth, some being white, red, black, and in between…”1

Introduction


We begin in the name of Allāh, Who created the father of mankind from clay and caused his progeny to have different languages, complexions and temperaments. May the best of peace and blessings be upon His beloved, our prophet, who demolished the customs of the Days of Ignorance and called humanity to the justice and mercy of Islām.

Africa is a vast continent and the first contacts it has with Islām are varied. In East Africa, it first appears in the form of refugees when the Companions, may Allāh be pleased with them, sought asylum with the Christian king, Aṣḥamah, may Allah have mercy on him. Islām enters North Africa militarily, dislodging the grip of the Byzantine Empire and cultivating not only a native army that carried Islām into Spain, but cities of knowledge like Qayrawān.

During the trans-Saharan2 trade Muslim scholars and traders would enter bilād al-sūdān (West Africa) and contribute to the peaceful spread of Islām; places like Timbuktu, and Djenné3 would become central points in the transmission and growth of Islām.

When Ibn Baṭūṭah recorded his travelogue he remembered the following good qualities of the people inhabiting West Africa: their diligence in the performance of ṣalāh, especially in jamācah; their wearing beautiful white clothes for jumcah; as well as the care they took with ensuring their children memorized the Qur’ān and not tolerating shortcomings in this regard.4

From the pure spring of this concern and diligence people like Sheikh Aḥmad Bābā, Uthmān Dan Fodio, Abū Bakr, Bilāli Muḥammad, and countless others were nourished and given the strength to raise the banner of Islām for succeeding generations.

In short, people of African descent have a long and illustrious history with Islām but we sometimes forget this. Furthermore, much of that information, indeed, majority of our Islamic heritage, is in Arabic, and despite this the desire to learn the language in order to access that knowledge does not seem to be present. Who can we blame but ourselves?

In the pages that follow, the issue of honor, racial superiority, and the lives of 18 Muslims of African descent will be discussed. This is my attempt to appease some people who have asked me time and again about translating Ibn Jawẓī’s book, Ṭanwīr al-Ghabash, since I cannot seem to find the time to embark on that project, despite the clear need for it, especially in today’s climate.

Majority of the names and sayings of the Companions and pious people of the past, with the exception of a few individuals who were brought to my attention during the writing of this paper or during previous readings of other books, have been taken from the Dār al-Sharīf print of Imām Ibn Jawẓī’s Ṭanwīr al-Ghabash (T) and Imām Suyūtī’s Rafc Sha’n al-Ḥabshān (R) which was edited by Muḥammad cAbd al-Wahhāb Faḍl. This information has been  cross referenced in other books which I have listed in the footnotes.

The first book in the footnotes after I mention (T) and/or (R) has an explicit mention of the individual’s African origins, while the books mentioned afterwards may or may not mention it.


Ibn al-Jawẓī:

Imām Abū Al-Faraj cAbdur-Raḥmān ibn cAlī al-Qurashi al-Ḥanbali al-Baghdādī (509/10-597 AH). This great sheikh is a descendant of Abū Bakr, may Allāh be pleased with him. He studied with around eighty scholars. He was well versed in Ṭafsīr, Ḥadīth, etc. He is the author of Ṭalbīs Iblīs (The Devil’s Deception) and other books. About him Al-Dhahabī has written, “I don’t know anyone who has compiled what he compiled.” Someone once asked him, “Which is better, glorifying Allāh or seeking His forgiveness?” The Imām replied, “Dirty clothes are more in need of soap than perfuming.”He had three sons and a number of daughters. His grandson, a Ḥanafī scholar named Shamsuddīn Abū al-Mudhaffar Yūsuf, wrote a massive book of history called Mir’āh al-Ẓamān. Imām Ibn al-Jawẓī is the first person known to have written a book on this specific topic.6

There are two interesting things about Imām Ibn al-Jawẓī’s Tanwīr al-Ghabash. He included a section near the beginning where he listed beneficial things in nature that are black. Some of the things mentioned were: the black part of the eyes, black hair,  the Black Stone, Ithmid (a particular type of kohl), cŪd (the perfume), and black seed. While the list was by no means exhaustive, Imām Ibn al-Jawẓī stated that what he had listed will indicate towards other things that hadn’t been mentioned. In other words, if you think about it you will find many other things in nature that are black which have positive properties and are looked at favorably. Secondly, at the end of his book he included a chapter on adhkār (pl. of dhikr) and supplications, essentially turning the servant’s attention back to Allāh, the only controller of affairs.

Jalālludīn al-Suyūtī:
Ḥāfidh Jalālluddīn Abū Al-Faḍl cAbdur-Raḥmān ibn Abī Bakr Al-Suyūtī al-Shāficī (849-911 AH). He memorized the Qur’ān before he reached 8 years of age, then memorized other Islāmic books including cUmdah al-Aḥkām. He was the most knowledgeable person in his time with respect to ḥadīth and the sciences connected to it. One of his students mentioned that al-Suyūtī had fifty-one teachers and had compiled five hundred books. In Ḥusn al-Muḥādharah, Imām Suyūtī lists Rafc Sha’n al-Ḥabshān amongst the books he wrote on history. He also mentions  that he had traveled to Shām, Hijāz, Yemen, India, the Maghrib, and Takrūr.

Hafidh Jalālludīn came across Imām Ibn Jawẓi’s book [i.e. Tanwīr al-Ghabash ] and saw that it had room for increase so he wrote another book on this topic. He subsequently produced an abridgment entitled Aẓhār al-cUrūsh Fī Akhbār al-ḤubūshIn Micrāj al-Ṣucūd (The Ladder of Ascent Towards Grasping The Law Concerning Transported Blacks), Ahmād Bābā and the person whom he was corresponding with quote from Rafc Sha’n al-Ḥabshān. In one place Aḥmad Bābā states: “I came across it myself in his book entitled Rafc Sha’n al-Ḥabshān.” The Sheikh also quotes Imām Suyūti’s abridgement Aẓhār al-cUrūsh Fī Akhbār al-Ḥubūsh: “And your statement concerning the name of the book Aẓhār [al-cUrūsh], I came across it in the land of Darca, but I am now uncertain whether it was the book itself or [it’s] abridgment[:] Nūr al-ghabash fī akhbār al-Ḥabash.7

Finally, Muḥammad Ibn Yūnus, may Allāh have mercy on him, said, “I haven’t seen anything more beneficial for the heart than the mention of the righteous people.8

May Allāh give us the ṭawfīq (Divine assistance) to follow in the footsteps of His Messenger, the noble Companions, and the pious predecessors, resurrect us amongst them, and enter us into Jannah with them. Āmīn.


References:

[1]Sunan Abū Dāwūd. Qadīmī Kutub Khānah. 2:300 
[2]  Not to be confused with the trans-Atlantic slave trade, the trans-Saharan trade occurred across the Saharan desert between indigenous West Africans, Berbers, and Muslims.
[3] 
Djenné is a city in modern day Mali that was founded by disbelievers two centuries after the Prophetic migration. At the end of the sixth century A.H., the ruler of Djenné made up his mind to accept Islām. He then gathered the culamā present in his lands, who amounted to 4,200 individuals, and took his shahādah at their hands, whereupon the rest of his subjects also embraced Islām. (Tarīkh al-Sūdān. N.P. Page: 13)
[4] 
Riḥlah Ibn Baṭūṭah Tuḥfah al-Nadhār Fī Gharā’ib al-Amṣār Wa cAjā’ib al-Asfār. Dār Iḥyā al-cUlūm. Page: 703-704
[6] 
Taken from the introduction of Ṭanwīr al-Ghabash (T); Sīyar cAlām al-Nubalā. Mu’assas al-Risālah. 21:368, 367, 366, 365, 371, 379 #192; Bidāyah wa al-Nihāyah. Hijr. 16:710; Wafayāt al-’Acyān. Dār Ṣādir. 3:142
[7] 
Taken from the introduction of Rafc Sha’n al-Ḥabshān (R); Shadharāṭ al-Dhahab Fī Akhbār Man Dhahab. Dār Ibn Kathīr. 10:74, 75, 76; Ḥusn al-Muḥādharah. Dār Iḥyā al-Kutub al-cArabī. 1:338, 344; Mi’rāj Al-Ṣu’ūd Ahmad Bābā’s Replies on Slavery, Annotated and Translated By John Hunwick and Fatima Harrak, and Published by the Institute of African Studies. Pages: 60 & 33
Takrūr: A land connected to the black people in the farthest southern portion of the Maghrib, its people are the ones who most resemble the Ẓanj. [Mucjam al-Buldan 2:38] For an example of the usage of the word Takrūr, see the following exert from Bidāyah wa al-Nihāyah concerning Mansa Mūsā’s Ḥajj journey: “On the 25th of Rajab in the year 724 A.H., the king of Takrūr, a handsome young man named Mūsā ibn Abī Bakr, came to Cairo along with approximately 20,000 west Africans and servants, and such a large amount of gold that the price dropped.”(18:240)
[8] Ṣifah al-Ṣafwah. Dār al-Kuṭub al-cArabī. P: 33

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