Monopolies & Poverty

“The prohibition of economic collusion by businessmen is another law. This collusion also places the arrangement of prices in the hands of oligopolies and upsets the natural order. The fuqahā clearly state that businessmen will not be left to enter into partnerships amongst themselves so that they can control prices. See the chapter of division in al-Hidāyah.

Whenever these [individuals] control prices it will be permissible for the Islāmic government to intervene in the market by fixing prices until it returns to its original [state]. [This is] mentioned by the fuqahā in their books.

Other laws are that of ẓakāh, charity, udhiyah, the expiations, maintenance [of those in ones responsibility], and inheritance. [By means of these] excess riches are directed away from the wealthy towards the destitute in society. This is how the door of stockpiling and monopoly are blocked in Islām, while the doors of spending are opened. Its wisdom has been indicated to in the Noble Qurān when it states, “So that wealth does not exist solely amongst the rich.”

In general, Islām respects the freedom of the individual up to a certain limit, however it gives preference to the freedom of society. It wants the natural force of supply and demand to be operative. It wants to make the market free to follow its natural course, and [stands as] an obstacle in the way of monopolies which place the reins of the market in the hands of a special class and cancel the effectiveness of supply and demand.

For this reason, it has enacted laws such as the prohibition of various commercial activities and permitted the Islāmic government to intervene in the market whenever it sees monopolies appearing.”-Ṭakmilah Faṭḥ al-Mulhim


Waves of Light

قال الله تعالى: و تلك الايام نداولها بين الناس

“And those are the times which We rotate among the people.”

(Sūrah Ālī cImrān, Āyah: 140)

We begin in the name of Allāh, the Mighty, to Whom belongs all praise, and Who gives dominion and power to whomsoever He wishes. We ask that He send blessings and mercy in abundance upon the leader of the Children of Ādam, and upon his family, his companions, and those who follow them in goodness until the Day of Judgement. 

One of the special characteristics of the Prophet ﷺ is that he was sent, not just to his people, or his family, but to every single human and jinn to come until the Day of Judgement. To this end, he trained his companions, may Allāh be pleased with them. Lit up with the nūr obtained from spending time with the beloved of Allāh, those blessed individuals went forth into the world in order to show humanity how to live in such a manner that would be of benefit to them in this temporary life as well as the everlasting one to come after death.

Fourteen years after the Prophet ﷺ migrated from Makkah to Madīna, Ribcīy ibn cĀmir, may Allāh be pleased with him, would inform Rustum:

“Allāh deputed us to bring out whomsoever He wishes from the worship of other slaves to the worship of Allāh, from the narrowness of the world to its vastness, and from the tyranny of other ways of life to the justice of Islām. Thus, He sent us with His dīn to His creation so that we would call them to Him.”

From the lands of the Persians and Romans, from France to China, from India to Italy, from Spain to Sumatra, spiritual and worldly benefit gushed forth as the radiance of Islām and the Muslims spread into the world. Deeply concerned with the worship of Allāh, they built masājid that were hubs in which worship took place alongside spiritual reformation and teaching.

Many of these old masājid, despite being far from the Kacbah, have been found to point towards the qiblah, something which is due, in part, to the Muslim’s development of Trigonometry, all of which was done in order to ensure they were praying in the correct direction no matter where they might find themselves. From their ranks emerged people of piety like Ḥasan al-Baṣrī, people of justice like Shurayḥ al-Qādhī, and brilliant minds like Abū Ḥanīfah (May Allāh have mercy on them all).


This same dispersal of benefit occurred when merchants and traveling scholars crossed the Sahara into West Africa, spreading Islām as they moved into Senegal and other areas of sub-Saharan Africa. During the course of their business transactions they impressed the inhabitants of West Africa by their manners and trustworthiness due to which many entered Islām. Furthermore, amongst those merchants were Muslims who were also learned, and when these individuals settled somewhere they would establish halaqah where they would teach Qur’ān, etc. and invite people to Islām; because of this Islām spread out from trading centers and cities into the more distant areas of West Africa.

These merchants intermarried with the local women, brought more culamā to teach, especially as the number of Muslims increased, and sponsored the best students amongst the locals to go study in the famous schools of North Africa and Egypt so that they would return to be the leaders in their land.

Amongst the states and lands which the merchants spread into was the kingdom of Ghana which Ibn Khaldūn says was the greatest kingdom they came across. The capital of this kingdom consisted of two cities [i.e. al-Ghābah and Kūmbī Ṣāliḥ] situated on the banks of a river. At its height, the Muslim section of this twin city would house imams, mu’adhdhin, as well as jurists and scholars. Within its walls sat twelve masājid, one of which was used for jumcah. Around the Muslim section were sweet wells which they drank from and used to water their crops. Houses made of bricks and the wood of the acacia tree occupied the six miles of intervening space between the two cities.

The non-Muslim section also possessed a masjid that was situated not too far from the king’s court of justice. Even though the king was a non-Muslim, his interpreters, the official in charge of his treasury, and majority of his ministers were Muslim. Along with this, the king had exempted the Muslims from the customary greeting of kneeling before him and throwing dirt on their heads as his other subjects did. Unfortunately, when the Ṣūṣū invaded a weakened Ghana in 1240 C.E. (circa 637/638 A.H.), the Muslims of that kingdom were forced to flee.


The Ṣūṣū under the leadership of Sumanguru (Soumangourou), would  in turn be defeated by the founder of the Empire of Mali, Mārī Jāṭah (the Lion King; Soun Diata Kéita). Though, Ibn Khaldūn does not mention whether Soun Diata Kéita was Muslim, he does state that the succeeding king, Mansā Wālī performed Ḥajj. The author of Masālik al-Abşār Fī Mamālīk al-Amşār described this new empire as the mightiest of the black Muslims dominions, the most vast in terms of land, the largest in terms of military, the wealthiest, the most beautiful, the most dominant over the enemy, and the most capable of distributing copious favors. At the height of its power, under the rule of Mansā Mūsā, this new dynasty would become so massive as to rival the kingdom of Ghana. Within the shadow of Malī’s just authority, which stretched to the shores of the Atlantic Ocean, sat cities like Jenne, Gao, Niani, and Timbuktu.

Mansā Mūsā’s patronage of the culamā encouraged the growth of indigenous Muslim scholarship. The wealth of Islamic knowledge in Mālī can be highlighted by the following anecdote. On Mansā Mūsā’s return from ḥajj, there was an Arab scholar who accompanied him back to his empire and settled in Timbuktu, a place described in Tarīkh al-Sūdān as “the lodging place of the culamā and worshippers, the abode of the righteous and the ascetics”. This scholar found that the indigenous legal experts knew more than him, so he left for Fez, devoted himself to the study of law, and only then returned to settle once again in Timbuktu.

During that same pilgrimage to Makkah in the year 724 A.H. [circa 1324 C.E.], while in Egypt, Mansā Mūsā was asked how he acquired his empire. In reply, he mentioned that his predecessor did not believe the baḥr al-muḥīṭ (Atlantic Ocean) was uncrossable and had dispatched four hundred ships of men and supplies with an order not to return until they reached the other side. After a long time had passed, one ship returned, having been separated from the rest, whereupon Mansā Mūsā’s predecessor prepared two thousands ships and set out himself to cross the Atlantic Ocean. That Muslims had crossed the Atlantic long before Columbus, is also supported by the 1559 C.E. map of Ḥājī Aḥmad which details “surprisingly modern” shapes of North and South America.


Yesterday they were kings in their dwellings
And today they are slaves in the land of disbelief
-Sāliḥ Bin Sharīf Ar-Randī Al-Andalūsī

Despite assurances given to the Muslims who stayed behind after the fall of Andalūs that they would be able to retain their faith, serious attempts were made to suppress Islām in Spain, one edict going so far as to make it an offense to wear clothes cleaner than one’s normal clothes on Friday, face the east and say ‘bismillāh’, tie the leg of any livestock before slaughtering it, or abstain from eating things that weren’t slaughtered Islamically, amongst a number of other practices that were considered to be habits of Muslims. In the face of this and other horrific acts of oppression, the Muslims tried to pass the dīn on to their children in secret, and some even managed to reach America as soldiers, explorers, and laborers, where they began to openly practice their Islām and spread it amongst the Native Americans. The Grand Inquisitor of Spain is reported to have “complained that Islām was being practiced openly in the Americas, especially by Moriscos [i.e. Andalusian Muslims forced to accept Catholicism, and the descendants of such Muslims].” This movement of Muslims into the Americas continued with the trans-Atlantic slave trade which forcefully brought a conservative estimate of somewhere between 3-6 million Muslims to the Americas, and just like the preceding groups, these Muslims, some of whom where huffādh and culamā, continued to practice, and attempted to pass on, Islām.

Physical Revolt

In 1835 C.E., during one of the most visible Muslim uprisings, hundreds of enslaved Africans dressed in white with turbans on their heads revolted and took over the streets of Bahia, Brazil. When they were finally defeated and an investigation was launched, it was discovered that they had created masājid and schools, and were secretly teaching Islām, Arabic, and the Qur’ān to their youth and others. Pierre Verger considered this and other revolts to be “the direct repercussion of the warring events in Africa”, and claimed that Shaykh Uthman Dan Fodio’s reformist movement “continued in Bahia in the form of slave revolts…”

In response to the barbarity perpetuated by the Atlantic slave trade in the power vacuum left by the fall of Songhay, the culamā became involved in combating the scourge of kings who were engaged in the slave trade. Roughly seventy-six years before the Emancipation Proclamation, two Tukulor culamā, Sulaymaaan Baal and Abdul-Qādir Kan, established an independent state in West Africa where the transportation of slaves was forbidden and slavery abolished.

One of the root causes of Shaykh Uthmān’s reform movements, and possibly that of al-Ḥajj cUmar Taal, was the trading of slaves. Shaykh Uthman Dan Fodio’s Wathīqah lists a number of items which he claims were unlawful by consensus. One of those items was: “To enslave free men among Muslims, whether they reside in the domain of Islam or in the domain of war.” The Shaykh’s poem, Tabban Hakika, which his daughter, Shaykha Nana Asma’u translated to Hausa, also admonishes, “…do not enslave free men…”

Spiritual Revolt

A Qur’ān teacher from Guinea, Lamine Kebe, was kidnapped while traveling to purchase paper for his school where he taught between fifty-five to fifty-seven students. During interviews with an American of European descent, Lamine listed thirty books studied in the schools back home which covered topics such as Arabic grammar, fiqhhadīth, and aqīdah.  After three decades of slavery, he managed to return to West Africa in 1835.

Bilālī Muhammad, originally from Futa Jallon, was the leader of a community of Muslims on Georgia’s Sapello Island that included his wife, Fatima (Phoebe), and seven daughters. He is described as regularly wearing a fez and long coat; possessed a Qur’ān, dhikr beads, and a prayer mat, and wrote a 13 page manuscript in Arabic that reproduced parts of Ibn Abī Ẓayd al-Qayrawānī’s treatise on Mālikī fiqhal-Risālah. During the War of 1812, Thomas Spalding, the owner of the plantation, gave Muhammad eighty muskets to defend the island from the British, while he hid somewhere else. It is reported that at this time, Bilali Muhammad had told his master that he would, “answer for every Negro of the true faith,” but not for the Christian slaves.

Imām Yunus/John Mohammed Bath who was described as always appearing “in public in the dress of a Moslem priest” was the leader of the Free Mandingo of Trinidad, a group of Muslims who had brought their freedom and established schools in Port of Spain. This group’s numbers were bolstered around 1815 by members of an island near Sapelo where another Muslim named Salih Bilālī resided. May Allāh have mercy on them and the countless others who held onto Islām despite the obstacles. May He keep their descendants firm in His dīn, and return those who have been led astray.

America 1.2

Evening Sentinel (Santa Cruz, California) June 3, 1902

Aside from the Muslims forcibly brought to this country during this time, there were others who willingly came to America, and European Americans who were drawn to the light of Islām. Reverend Norman, a Methodist missionary to Constantinople whom Allāh blessed with hidāyah is one of them; he returned to America circa 1875 in order to spread Islām. Another example is the Reverend James Laurie Rodgers (d. 1902), may Allāh put light in his grave, the former pastor of Gonzales Baptist Church in Santa Cruz, California, who wrote a letter to an acquaintance in which he announced his acceptance of Islām and expressed concern that his burial should be conducted properly.

In 1888, President Cleveland’s Consular Representative to the Philippines, Alexander Russel Webb, his wife, and three children accepted Islām. Four years later, Muḥammad Alexander Russell Webb returned to America where he started the American Muslim Propagation Movement which at one point had a school, newspaper, and a number of study circles across the country; he was the only Muslim to give an official speech on Islam at the 1893 World Parliament of Religions in Chicago.


Star-Gazette (Elmira, New York) Dec. 12, 1893

Commenting on the āyah of sūrah cĀlī Imrān in which Allāh mentions to the nearest meaning in English, “And those are the times which We rotate among the people,” Mufti Shafīc writes, “In this mortal world, the customary practice of Allah Almighty is to cause the days of hardship and ease, pain and comfort, suffering and peace [to] occur among people by turns. If, for some reason, a falsely motivated power succeeds in getting a short-lived upper hand, the group motivated by the truth should not lose heart and come to think that, from this point onwards, they are always doomed to nothing but defeat. Instead of taking this negative attitude, they should rather go find out the causes of that defeat, and once they have discovered those, they should take corrective measures and eliminate all possibilities of repeating those mistakes. In the end, the group motivated by the truth shall emerge as the ultimate victor.” The main reason behind studying history is to learn: where did past individuals acquire success so we can follow in their footsteps, and where did they go astray so we can avoid their mistakes. Ibn Mascūd, may Allāh be pleased with him, once said, “The fortunate individual is the one who takes a lesson from others.”


Abdullah Hakim Quick. Deeper Roots: Muslims in the Americas and the Caribbean Before Columbus to the Present. (Check location): Ta-Ha Publishers, 1996.

cAbdullāh cAbdur-Raẓẓāq & Ibrāhīm Shawqī cAtallāh al-Jamal. Tārīkh al-Muslimūn Fī Afrīqiyyā Wa Mushkilātihim. Cairo: Dār al-Thaqāfah, 1996.

cAbdur-Raḥmān ibn cAbdullāh ibn cUmrān ibn cAmir. Tarīkh al-Sūdān. Paris: Librairie D’Amerique Et D’Orient, 1981.

Abū cUbayd al-Bakarī. Masālik Wa al-Mamālik. Qartāj: Dār al-Arabīyyah lil-Kitāb, 1992.

Allan D. Austin. African Muslims in Antebellum America: Transatlantic Stories and Spiritual Struggles. New York: Routledge, 1997.

Carol Bargeron. Lecture notes for HIS 1121-03H Global History to 1500, Central State University, Wilberforce, Ohio, August 2015.

Cheikh Anta Diop. Precolonial Black Africa. Translated by Harold J. Salemson. Chicago: Lawrence Hill Books, 1987.

Firas Alkhateeb. Lost Islamic History. N.P.: C hurst & Co. Pub. Ltd, 2016.

Ibn Khaldun. Tārīkh Ibn Khaldūn. Beirut: Dār al-Fikr, 2000.

Ismācīl ibn cUmar ibn Kathīr. Bidāyah Wa al-Nihāyah. N.P.: Dār Hijr, 1997.

Ibraheem Sulaiman. The African Caliphate: The Life, Works and Teaching of Shaykh Usman Dan Fodlo (1754-1817). London: Diwan Press, 2009.

J. F. P. Hopkins, Nehemiah Levitzion, eds. Corpus of Early Arabic Sources for West African History. Translated by J.F.P. Hopkins. Princeton, N.J.: Markus Wiener Publishers, 2000.

Muhammad Shafi. Maariful Quran. Translated: Muhammad Shamim. Editor: Muhammad Taqi Usmani. N.P. N.D.

Nuh Ha Mim Keller. Port in a Storm: A Fiqh Solution to the Qibla of North America. (Check Publication location): Wakeel Books, 2001.

Patrick D. Bowen. A History of Conversion to Islam in the United States, Volume 1: White American Muslims before 1975. Boston: Brill, 2015.

Rāghib al-Surjānī. Qiṣṣah al-Andalūs. Cairo: Muassasah Iqra, 2011.

“Rev. J. L. Rodgers Found.” Evening Sentinel, June 3, 1902.

Robert Dannin. Black Pilgrimage to Islam. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002.

Rudolph T. Ware III. The Walking Qur’an: Islamic Education, Embodied Knowledge, and History in West Africa. Chapel Hill, N.C.: The University of North Carolina Press, 2014.

Shihābuddīn Aḥmad ibn Yaḥyā. Masālik al-Abṣār Fī Mamālīk al-Amṣār. Beirut, Lebanon: Dār al-Kutub al-cIlimiyyah, 2010.

Sylvan A. Diouf. Servants of Allah: African Muslims Enslaved in the Americas.  N.Y.: New York University Press, 1998.

Toyin Falola. Key Events in African History: A Reference Guide. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 2002.

Umar F. Abd-Allah.  A Muslim in Victorian America: the life of Alexander Russell Webb. New York: Oxford University Press, 2006.

Umar F. Abd-Allah. “Turks, Moors, & Moriscos in Early America: Sir Francis Drake’s Liberated Galley Slaves & the Lost Colony of Roanoke.” Nawawi Foundation (2010).

Light On The Side of Mt. Uhud

In the darkness, the sun rose
A cool breeze blew in the heat
And soft rain woke dead earth
Can you hear the cry of ahad
Lingering like his sweet scent
Here is the whispering of light
And blood soaked swords
Crouched about a blessed cave
This is the echo of the lion’s roar
Ringing in the mountain shade



In the darkness [of the pre-Islamic times], the sun [the Prophet صلى الله عليه و سلم] rose [was deputed];

A cool breeze blew [the prophet صلى الله عليه و سلم was described as being as generous as the blowing wind] in the heat [of the desert];

And soft rain [the message of Islām] woke [revived] dead earth [humans lost in the darkness of ignorance];

Can you hear the cry of ahad [a reference to Bilāl رضي الله عنه who would utter this (i.e. ahad, the one Allāh) as he was dragged through the streets of Makkah];

Lingering like his sweet scent [the Prophet’s sweet scent would linger in the streets he walked through due to which people would know that he had passed that way];

Here is the whispering of light [the first revelation of Qur’ān];

And blood soaked swords [the polytheists who tracked the Prophet صلى الله عليه و سلم and Abu Bakr رضي الله عنه to the cave in which they were hiding on their way to Madinah];

Crouched around a blessed cave [referring to (1) the cave where revelation started, and (2) the cave that was covered by the spider during the hijrah];

This is the echo of the lion’s roar [a reference to the Lion of Allāh and His Messenger, Hamẓa رضي الله عنه who was martyred at the battle of Uḥud];

Ringing in the mountain shade [the shade of Mount Uḥud]

Realism in Charles Chesnutt’s The Marrow of Tradition

Realism in Charles Chesnutt’s The Marrow of Tradition

Realism with its emphasis on the ordinary, mundane life of the middle class and depiction of the individuals struggle for an ethical responses to life arose as an ‘-ism’ in “the period of time from the Civil War to the turn of the century” and may be considered a response to the rapid changes in society during that period.(Campbell) It is this idea of change and the question of how one should respond correctly to it that tinges Chesnutt’s The Marrow of Tradition. Chesnutt, who passed the bar in 1887, has written a story that is the quintessential expression of Realism.

Through his careful crafting of events and characters drawn from a historic incident, he manages to depict the horror of immoral responses and the monstrous consequences that ensue from the aforementioned. Set in the south, The Marrow of Tradition has as its main characters, not senators and congressman, but a doctor, a housewife, employees of a newspaper, etc. That is, it is set squarely in the mundane.  These characters are then depicted going about their daily life. We are witness to a birth. We watch as Tom Delamere woos Clara, and fights his gambling addiction. We see Dr. William Miller navigating the strictures of an unjust law as he returns from the North. Chesnutt drags his reader through the quotidian routine of Southern life, deliberately building up his “individuals” before confronting them with “the struggle for ethical responses to life”.

The climax of this novel may be said to be the riot, a fictionalized version of the Wilmington Race Riot of 1898 in which a mob went on a rampage causing the death of between 6 to 100 people. The original riot, like the fictional one, is not squashed by the government. It runs its course under the raging power of ordinary citizens in the grip of unyielding prejudice. We then have three points of “life” in the novel. There is the first one, which is the riot itself, and then the response to the riot’s aftermath. The riot, itself, is a point in relation to the white Southerners who are faced with a choice between giving into the prejudices unleashed by Captain McBane and his co-conspirators or leaving the individual accountable for the individual. That is, they have a choice between seeing individuals as responsible for their own actions, or blaming an entire group. Chesnutt depicts them as having made the wrong choice at this critical point. They give into emotions and cast reason to the winds.

The second point is in relation to Dr. William Miller, who may be seen as a symbolic representative of a specific class of blacks, ones who have not had to bear the harsh sting of racism in the form of loved one lost and who may still hold a favorable opinion towards the whites. His test comes in his response to Major Carteret’s request to aid his child. Having just lost his own child to the blind fury of rampaging mob who share commonality with Major Carteret, should Dr. William rush to aid this child? Is it ethically wrong to run his back on an innocent babe in need? Chesnutt answers this question in a unique way, reinforcing the Realism in his novel. He, again, shows us a regular, middle class individual giving into his emotions.

Perhaps, had Chesnutt ended the novel there, on such a dark note, it would have been, at the very least, cathartic. However, still working within the framework set out by Realism, he adds a third point: the reunion of the sisters. Janet, having just lost her own child and having born humiliations at the hands of Clara, chooses to forgive her half-sister, and urges her husband, Dr. William, to save the child. Chesnutt anchors this response in reality, acknowledging the pain born by this woman while at the same time allowing her to take the high ground as he writes: “…that you may know that a woman may be foully wronged, and yet may have a heart to feel, even for one who has injured her…”(195) It may be worth noting that Chesnutt makes the character who takes the moral high ground, the one who makes the right and ethical decision, a woman. Perhaps, he is toying with Realism and stereotypical European ideas of womanhood in his time, or perhaps he is hinting that “masculine”, rather than chivalric, codes of revenge will tear the world in two, leaving its burnt husk for none to enjoy.

Bless you, child

Bless you,
busy handful,
bubbling joy,
giddy as the bright rays of morning.

Rambunctious bundle of delight,
medicine prescribed for the heart
worn threadbare by life’s worries.

Bless your soothing giggle,
chubby cheeks,
and two-teethed smile,
a balm for sundry pains.

Bless your silly head tosses.
And your fatty legs,
wobbling beneath you as you shriek
and squint wide-eyed mischief at your mother.

Bless you, chubby child,
miracle sign among a million others;
all proof of the One.

Perdue, Theda, and Michael D. Green. The Cherokee Nation and the Trail of Tears. New York: Viking, 2007. Print. 189 pp. ISBN: 978-0-14-311367-6

Themes of Empowerment and Victimization

The Cherokee Nation and the Trail of Tears was written by Theda Perdue and Michael D. Green,  professors of history at University of North Carolina and the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill respectively, and edited by Professor Colin G. Calloway of Dartmouth College. Both Perdue and Green have written other books. In the case of Perdue, she wrote  Cherokee Women, in which she “examine[d] the roles and responsibilities of Cherokee women during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries,”(“Cherokee Women – University of Nebraska Press.”) and Sifters, a “rich collection of biographical essays on Native American women”(“Sifters”).  Green is the author of The Politics of Indian Removal, a book about the Creek Indians that is “ based heavily on a wide variety of primary sources” (“Politics of Indian Removal – University of Nebraska Press.”). It sounds like a powerhouse combination, one author steeped in Cherokee history, the other apparently knowledgeable about the politics involved in the subject. One would have hoped to be informed through first-person narratives and vivacious prose, since this is not the authors first try at writing a book and you can only get better with practice.

The Cherokee Nation and the Trail of Tears starts in the fourteenth century and ostensibly ends in 2005, though really it stops in the nineteenth century with a brief overview of events occurring after that point. Its focus is not on the horror of the Trail of Tears, as the title suggests, but on the politics and events leading up to this event. It utilizes a full 115 pages doing this, sparing the last 49 pages for the Trail of Tears and its aftermath. It does little to draw the reader’s attention, an appalling lapse when dealing with such an important topic, especially when it claims it is an “American story” and that “ we should make sure that it is a lesson well learned”(P. 164). If it is as important as they claim, and it is, they would have done well to make it more accessible and engaging. This is, after all, the history of the very foundation of this country and therefore the tale of where we all have come from, and, if we are not careful, the tale of where we are also heading. The point of looking into the past is not to merely spectate, it is to take admonition and learn lessons. However, as any teacher worth their salt will tell you those lessons must be made accessible to the students.

A dreary monologue on the land and its people frames the story, probably meant to draw the reader in by dropping them down in the middle of the Cherokee cosmology. It reeks of fluff, seeming more an attempt at showing the authors’ deep knowledge of the subject as opposed to the offering up of useful information. If it was meant to engender sympathy and humanize the victims portrayed later on, they would have been better served opening up with a firsthand account of the aftermath of the Trail of Tears, and then backing up to the causes leading up to what had been described. Or if they found it important to show the deep connection the Cherokee had to the land and a first-person narrative was not available, a reader might excuse them if they started off by writing “Farming in the Southeast probably began about 3000 B.C.E.”(Page. 8)

Although it does a good job at pointing out the injustices being heaped upon the Cherokees, it has an undercurrent that seems to whisper, ‘but it was their fault’. Take for instance the “group of Lower Town chiefs led by Doublehead”(p.37) who “ceded the last Cherokee hunting grounds.”(p. 37) One may well argue that  this was just a “legacy perhaps of the individualistic ethos of warriors.” However, it should be noted that in doing so blame is shifted from those trying to get their grubby hands on the land in the first place. While it is a known fact that Africans didn’t get into massive boats bound for the New World without a little help from their fellow Africans, it is something altogether different to say that the European who bought those people did so with pure intentions and clean hands, having done nothing to instigate and help along the exchange of flesh for commodities. In a similar manner, to point out the greed of certain chiefs who stupidly sold off lands their people had lived on for centuries cannot so nicely sweep under the rug the fact that the people trying to get their hands on the land did not have ‘pure hearts’. It may have been far better to point out that the people buying the land at times purchased it from short-sighted chiefs. Wording is everything.

In the end, while the information contained in the book is interesting enough, pointing out the Cherokee’s consolidation in an attempt to fight off the encroaching Americans, the publishing of their own paper, one that had “a very salutary & happy effect” (P. 76), and the humorous way they adopted what suited them when it came to “civilization”, to get to it one must wade through prose as lively as a mummy, and paragraphs whose bare starkness assault the eye. When held up to the likes of Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, Where White Men Fear to Tread, Mankiller, or Crow Dog this book withers. Where they paint a harsh picture of reality through vivid first-person narratives, and, yes, sometimes pictures that tugs at ones heart and makes one think, wonder, and gasp in horror, this book falls short. This could be excused as the constraints of an academic work more concerned with portraying facts, but its epilogue is a travesty. To end a tale of genocide and forced exile with the upbeat speech of some chief proclaiming, “We are not a people of the past. We are a people of the present, and for many centuries, we will be a people of the future,”(P. 164) smells like a large paint brush being brought down over the reader’s mind. “Forget what passed before,” it whispers. “They live on!”

It would be in the readers best interest to ask what kind of Nation survived into the present century? In what areas have they been completely cut off from their traditions? Where they were cut off was the loss compensated by a gain of, at least, equal proportions? How have their children’s worldview been shaped, and to what extent will that mold the future of this once proud tribe? Are they bitter, self-hating drunkards who root for the cowboys as they chase down Mexicans masquerading as Native Americans? Was this the best way to treat the themes of empowerment and victimization that it deals with?

Islām in Birago Diop’s Tales of Amadou Koumba

Islām in Birago Diop’s Tales of Amadou Koumba

This paper will consider the historical account of Islam’s spread in West Africa, pedagogical structures, ritual worship, the social institute of marriage and the place of women. It concludes with a meditation on the need for an interdisciplinary approach to Tales of Amadou Koumba.

Islam in West Africa: A Nonviolent Model of Expansion?
The character Narr the Moor in “Fari the She-Ass” is a devout Muslim, but we are not supposed to be surprised or impressed by this “since it was his duty to show himself worthy of his ancestors who had introduced Islam into the country by force”.(B. Diop 99) Similarly, in “Mother Crocodile” we are told that Islām was  spread by a bloody sword when she speaks “of the red colour of the water after the passing of the white men, who had taught the black men to bow down like them to the rising sun…”(B. Diop 47) These apocryphal accounts of Islām’s dispersal in West Africa fly in the face of historical fact. Indeed, Cheikh Anta Diop attributes the success of Islam in West Africa to “the fact that it was propagated peacefully at first by solitary Arabo-Berber travelers”.(163) This paradigm is reinforced by Sylviane Diouf, who writes that “the spread of Islam in sub-Saharan Africa followed a mostly peaceful and unobtrusive path… [being] diffused not by outsiders (except in the early years) but by indigenous traders, clerics, and rulers.”(4)

Preparatory to detailing this invasion-conversion model, Mother-Crocodile informs us of Ghanian merchants, past kings and a glorious empire, of ”Soumangourou… Soun Diata Kéita and… the empire of Mali”.(B. Diop, “Mother Crocodile” 47) One of the great Empires of West Africa was that of Mali, which had a great muslim ruler who deflated the value of gold in Egypt when he went for Ḥajj. Toyin Falola writes, “Under Mansa Musa (ca. 1312-37), Mali attained the height of its power … adding areas twice the size of the former kingdom of Ghana.”(95) Further, Stride and Ifeka credit Mansā Mūsā with being “responsible for establishing islam as the official religion of Mali cities,” and attributes his patronage of the culamā with encouraging the growth of indigenous Muslim scholarship.(52)

The Marabout: Pedagogical Structures in West Africa and Scholarship
In “The Deer and the Two Huntsmen” we are told of a marabout by the name of Serigne who “had a greater mastery of literary Arabic than any scholar of timbuktoo”(B. Diop 34). The task of preserving and disseminating knowledge (
cilm) in West Africa, as in the rest of the Muslim world, was the job of the culamā. Rudolph Ware III asserts that culamā was not the preferred term in West Africa and that a more widely used Arabic term was “mrābiṭ and its Europeanized equivalent, ‘marabout’”(78-79). The word mrābiṭ is derived from ribāṭ which has the meaning of being consistent in something, as well as guarding.(Ibn Manthūr 1561) Perhaps, this connotation is how the word mrābiṭ/marabout is to be understood. That is, these are individuals guarding the intellectual tradition of Islām, as well as its practical implementation.

In “The Deer and the Two Huntsmen” we are told of a marabout by the name of Serigne returning from Makkah who “had a greater mastery of literary Arabic than any scholar of timbuktoo”.(B. Diop 34) Timbuktu (timbuktoo), “the lodging place of the culamā (scholars) and worshippers, the abode of the righteous and the ascetics,” was the residence of “the elite amongst the culamā, pious people, and the wealthy from every tribe and land”.(Al-Sacdī 22) That Serigne is described as having more knowledge of literary Arabic than the inhabitants of this city is no small matter. Cheikh Anta Diop records the incident of an Arabian scholar who returned to Mali with Mansā Mūsā:  “He settled in Timbuktu and found this city full of Sudanese legal experts. As soon as he realized that they knew more than he in legal matters, he left for Fez, devoted himself to the study of law there, then returned again to Timbuktu to settle here.”(181)

We are further told that Serigne, who had just come back from Ḥajj, spent his time at his host “[intoning] litanies and verses of the Koran”.(B. Diop, “The Deer and The Hunstmen” 33) Serigne is a walking example of the verse: ata’murāun al-nās bi al-birr wa tansawna anfusakum wa antum tatlūn al-kitāb afalā ta
cqilūn [Do you command mankind with righteousness and forget your own selves, while you are reading the book, do you not have intellect?]. (Qur’ān 2:44) One exegete of the Qur’ān, Ibn Kathīr, records Ibn Juraij as saying about this āyah (verse), “So whoever commands good should be the severest of people in hastening to it.”(1:246)

We also find in Tales of Amadou Koumba references to the small schools scattered across the continent of Africa where foundational cilm was covered. These Qur’ān schools were run by marabout and attended by “little talibés… who beg their morning bread, their midday meal and their evening provender.”(B. Diop, “The Excuse” 27) The act of begging mentioned in “The Excuse” is termed “yalwaan (begging for food) [and] was an important part of the Qur’an school experience”(Ware III 46). Dorte Thornston writes that “education in Daaras often is free or almost free but implies that pupils –Talibés– may beg for alms”(3). Ware  III explains, “Because it was thought to produce humility and good character, yalwaan was esteemed by some teachers who did not require or even use the proceeds of the children’s quest for alms.”(47) Qur’ān schools were geared towards making functioning adults with upright morals and character.

“A Judgment” describes the importance which West African Muslims placed on their children’s education: “…in Maka-Kouli, as soon as a child could say to his mother, ‘Mama, carry me on your back,’ he was sent to school to learn the Fatiha and the other teachings of the Koran.”(B. Diop 13) This is little wonder, as one ḥadīth says: afdhalukum man tcallam al-qur’ān wa callama [the most virtuous of you are those who learn and teach the Qur’ān]. (Ibn Mājah 1:199)

Besides covering the Qur’ān, the curriculum also included “elementary education instruction in the obligatory rituals”(Reichmuth 424) Such studies would have covered basic beliefs, ritual purity, prayer, fasting, and other subjects. The concept of ritual purity is alluded to in “A Judgement”  when it describes the detrimental nature of dog’s urine which “if it touches the slightest part of the body…reduces the most fervent prayers to nothing.”(B. Diop 12) One of the preconditions of prayer (salāh), as opposed to ducā (supplication), is the body being free of ritual impurity which can take a corporeal form (e.g. urine, blood, wine, etc.) or be intangible.

Faith In Practice: Ritual Worship
One of the main pillars of Islām is ṣalāh (prayer). We can see this form of worship in several stories, though most clearly in “A Judgement”. In that story we are told of how Madiakate-Kala leads the faithful in prayer after the muadhdhin “had already launched the izan on to the evening wind”.(B. Diop, “A Judgement” 14) Congregational prayers in particular are proceeded by an ordinary individual calling out adhān (i.e. the call to prayer) to let everyone know that the time for prayer has entered. The particular prayer being described here is more than likely the
cAṣr prayer (the other prayers being, respectively: Maghrib, cIshā, Fajr, and Dhuhar). As is seen in  “A Judgement” the men pray together in the masjid, an act which is deemed to be more rewarding for them, whereas it is more rewarding for women to pray in their homes.

Another pillar, the Ḥajj is presented in “Fari the She-Ass” which informs us about a moor who “had departed on the pilgrimage to Mecca”.(B. Diop 101)  We are told that the story may have turned out better if the poor man had remained “for the rest of his days near to the Kaaba, to be closer to paradise”.(B. Diop, “Fari the She-Ass” 101) The Kaaba, which is a brick structure erected by the prophet Ibrāhim (Abraham), peace be upon him, in Mecca is the direction towards which Muslims are directed to face when performing prayer, just like they are asked to point the palms of their hands towards the sky while making ducā (supplicating), and is not strictly speaking consider to be closer to Paradise than any other place in the world.
In “The Bone” after Mor Lame is shrouded we find that “holy words were spoken” before he was “carried to the cemetery”.(B. Diop 133) Salāh in the graveyard is prohibited because it gives the impression that one is grave worshipping. The reference to holy words refers to the funeral ṣalāh prayed before the deceased is taken to be buried in which the congregants pray for forgiveness for the deceased and all Muslims. They then take the body to be buried and, as we are told in “The Bone”, put the body into the grave “lying on the right side”.(B. Diop 133)

The Institution of Marriage and Women
“A Judgement” deals with the case of a marriage that turns sour. It tells us of a husband who vents his ire at some outside problem on his wife, subtly critiquing this behavior by chastising the husband’s choice “to pass his annoyance on to his wife.”(B. Diop, “A Judgement” 9)  Marriage in Islām is not, to borrow a term,  a morganatic construct, by which I mean that it is not a union between people of unequal social status.

With his mind clouded by anger, Demba, the husband eventually “…began to beat Koumba…”(B. Diop, “A Judgement” 9) Unsatisfied with physically abusing her, he utters the following words: ”Go back to your mother, I repudiate you.”(B. Diop, “A Judgement” 9) In Islamic jurisprudence, a man may not mentally, verbally, or physically abuse his wife. The ḥanafī madhab (i.e. the school of law founded by the Persian, Nucmān bin Thābit) takes the stance that this is grounds for a wife to annul the marriage.(Ibn cĀbidīn 6:131) This odious behavior of Demba’s exceeds the limits of Islamic decorum. He violates the aȳah of the Qur’ān which commands: wa cāshirūhunna bi al-macrūf [And live with them with macrūf].(4:19) Imām Tabrī (May Allāh have mercy on him) explains that this āyah means: “O Men, socialize with your women utilizing good manners…”(6:538)

Later, Koumba refuses to return to Demba when he comes to regret his rash actions and there is a distinct lack of social pressure compelling her to acquiesce to his demands. Furthermore, her apparent status as a divorcée has not caused her to drop in social standing, nor to be considered damaged goods, rather she is swarmed “by the many suitors who invaded her hut every evening, from the first day of her arrival.”(B. Diop, “A Judgement” 10) In this she resembles Awa, the widow in “The Bone” who is remarried soon after losing her husband. In these two episodes the  critique of a commonly held notion that Muslims prefer virgins is scathing.

Nevertheless, the legality of Koumba’s refusal eludes the village elders and the couple are sent off in search of a verdict. They eventually arrive in the village of Maka-Kouli. In this village ḥijāb (i.e. separation of marriageable members of the opposite sex) is practiced as proven by the following: “Koumba dined in the company of the women and Demba shared the men’s meal.”(B. Diop, “A Judgement” 13) Furthermore, when it comes time to sleep, Koumba refuses to join Demba because she does not consider herself his wife, and Madiakate-Kala staves off an argument, ordering one of his own wives, “Take Koumba to your hut with you…”(B. Diop, “A Judgement” 13)

Recognizing the natural attraction of the sexes to one another and the ensuing harms that unmarried sexual relations bring to society, Islām has prohibited unnecessary interaction between members of the opposite sex, termed ghair maḥram, who can marry one another. Such individuals are the polar opposites of another category, labeled maḥārim (i.e. people whom one may never marry due to blood ties or marriage). This prohibition is one of the reasons why we see that the narrator informs us in “The Bone” that “[woman] do not accompany a burial to the cemetery, any more than they go into a Mosque.”(B. Diop 133) Such strictness does not, however, preclude interactions that occur due to some valid legal reason. An example of this is the interaction between Demba, Koumba, and Madiakate-Kiala.

As an aside, this story also highlights the practice of polygny. The priest, Madiakate-Kala has more than one wife and, it would appear that, in keeping with Islamic law, they have separate houses. The Islamic allowance to take up to four wives is qualified in the Qur’ān with a stipulation that one be just when it sternly states: fankiḥū mā ṭāba lakum min al-nisā’ mathnā wa thulātha wa rubac fa in khiftum allā tacdilū fa wāḥid […then marry what pleases you of women: two, and three, and four; but if you fear that you cannot be just, then one…]”(4:3) Additionally, this is not a command to marry up to nine wives, as Ibn Kathīr explains, “Marry whatever one of you wishes of women besides them; if one wishes two, and if one wishes three, and if one wishes four.”(1:598) That is, if the husband fulfills the conditions he can marry up to four women, but not more than that at one time.

To return to Koumba and her failed marriage, Madiakate-Kala tricks Demba into admitting that he has divorced his wife, thus allowing Koumba to move on to  a new phase detailed by Serigne-the-Marabout in “The Bone” when he states “As soon as the period of a widow’s mourning is over, you [i.e. Moussa] will take her [i.e. Awa] for your wife.”(B. Diop 134) Due to shortage of space and time the legality of giving away a matron without consulting her will be left to others. Nonethless, Serigne-the-Marabout is correct in delaying any marriage until after a certain period, termed an ciddah, has passed. The ciddah is defined as: “muddah manc al-nikāh li faskhihi aw li mawt al-ẓawj aw li ṭalāqihi [the period in which marriage is forbidden after its annulment or the death of the husband or his divorce]”(al-Ẓarqānī & al-Bunānī 4:354) This period does not include locking a woman in a room, and is only a period during which it is forbidden for her to marry, though suitors may make chaste hints of their intentions.

From the above we see that men and women have certain rights and responsibilities. We also see that Islām has a robust legal system derived from jurisprudential principles that take years to master. A grounding in the classical law schools is needed to understand and expound on certain legal aspects in the
Tales of Amadou Koumba. Furthermore, conflation of European models of expansion in pre-Colonial and Colonial Africa with the growth of Islam in West Africa will lead to the propagation of historic untruths. Readings of Tales of Amadou Koumba should be strongly rooted in the history of West Africa to avoid such interpolations. While acknowledging the painful truths of history, we should also celebrate the contributions of autochthonous Muslim laymen, scholars, and rulers to the social-intellectual health of the region.

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