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?

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Tagore, Rabindranath. “The Conclusion,” in The Longman Anthology of World Literature. Trans. Krishna Dutta and Andrew Robinson. David Damrosch, ed. 1st edition. 2004.

Tagore, Rabindranath. “The Conclusion,” in The Longman Anthology of World Literature. Trans. Krishna Dutta and Andrew Robinson. David Damrosch, ed. 1st edition. 2004.

Like other colonies of Britain, India was left in a woeful mess. The psychological and physical scars left by years of colonialism can only be imagined by outsiders. This paper will attempt to take a peek at those scars and one individual’s manner of dealing with it through an exert of one of his works: ‘The Conclusion’. It will consider the social and quasi-political background of the author and ultimately the educational argument that rather glaringly leaps forth from the written word of Tagore’s writings when the historical background is considered, specifically as depicted by the couple described in the story.

Utilizing the “keys…[of] superior weaponry, a strong profit motive, and Eurocentric confidence[,]”(“Learn About British Rule in India“) Britain managed to subdue an entire nation with its own rich history spanning centuries. The author, Tagore, was born ”three years after Britain took over the government of India.”(949) That is, the Bengali, Tagore, was born three years after rumors, if we are to believe this explanation of events, “…that the cartridges [of the Indian Army] had been greased with pig and cow fat, an abomination to both major Indian religions [caused the “Indian Mutiny”, which was started by] mainly Bengali Muslim troops.”(“Learn About British Rule in India“)

After this mutiny, the British Raj started, and along with controlling the government of the Indians, Britain began “educating them in British modes of thought, and stamping out cultural practices…”(“Learn About British Rule in India“) Though Tagore “benefitted… from the early example of the Bengali reformer Ram Mohan Roy (1772-1833) who, offered an early synthesis of European enlightenment with brilliantly reinterpreted Hindu tradition[,]”(949) we find that “he found his outside formal schooling to be inferior and boring and, after a brief exposure to several schools, he refused to attend school.”(“Rabindranath Tagore on education“) One may well wonder what it was about the education system in India at the time that produced such a dislike. Shades of this dislike can be found in his work.

Briefly, The Conclusion is the story of Apurba Krishna, a hindu who has just passed his BA exams in Calcutta and no longer has an excuse for warding off marriage. Instead of marrying right away though, he goes to see the girl, a meeting that is disrupted by the village “pagali”, Mrinmayi, whom he finds intriguing. Upon returning home he announces his intention to marry this rebellious madwoman and digs in his heels in the face of his mother’s opposition. The marriage gets off to a rocky start, appears to smooth out when the couple visits Mrinmayi’s father, hits a roadblock once they return home, and then finally comes to a “blissful” end once Mrinmayi realizes she loves her husband.

The work itself cannot be mistaken for anything but Indian, steeped as it is in that culture. Mouth watering references to “rice pudding, curds, and rui fish,”(951) and “dal and rice”(956) flesh out a story punctured with descriptions of clothing that is distinctly Indian in name. Apurba sets out to see his bride-to-be, decked out not in his “usual dhoti and chadar”(951) but in a “long silken chaplain, a puggree on his head…”(951) and finds her “trembling…painted and polished, tinsel round the bun in her hair, and wrapped in a fine colourful sari…”(951)

However, there appears to be a certain subtext running underneath it. Considering the fact that Tagora disdained formal education, as we have mentioned earlier, it is impossible not to view Apurba’s refusal to marry until after passing his BA “in keeping with the slogan of the day”, as something viewed in a positive manner. This is compounded by the fact that instead of being a dutiful son, Apurba refuses to marry the woman picked out for him by his wise mother and chooses a “pagli”(950) tomboy “bone-burning good-for-nothing”(950) who, “[i]n the ranks of biddable children […,] was regarded as a scrouge(sic)”(950) and who had the village woman in “a constant state of alarm at her wayward behavior.”(950)  Clearly, cultural practices are being undermined by formal British education, it being assumed that Apurba would have dutifully submitted to his mother’s wishes had he not been polluted by outside influences.

It is rather noteworthy that these two mismatched people are Other in the face of an organic and wholesome social structure. They both stick out like sore thumbs. Apurba causes trouble in his family, arguably due to his formal education, while Mrinmayi’s agitation seems due to a lack of proper upbringing, her father’s utter fondness for her preventing “her mother from imposing too strict a discipline.”(950) Thus we see that Apruba’s descision to marry Mrinyamayi is not due to love, but due to a revulsion at his mother’s choice. “The more he thought of the dolled-up kind of girl, the more repulsive became the idea of marrying one.”(953) This choice of his, and here one may wonder if it was not caused by exaggerated romances studied during the course of gaining his BA, can be contrasted by Mrinyamayi’s response.

In spite of the fact that she is “mad”, and had orally refused to marry: “I’m not going to get married,”(953) we find that she does get married, and we are not led to believe that she did so because she was forced to, the picture having already been painted of a free-willed individual who will not bend. In fact, she runs away multiple times after she is married, however, and quite unlike Apurba, she takes her rightful place in society, becoming the epitome of her father’s words, “Let no one find fault with my Minu.”(956)

Thus we find that though Minu is Other she is redeemable, whereas no such indications are given in the case of Apurba. Certainly he comes to love Minu, but do we ever see him change from the arrogant man-child just returned from exams who finds fault with his mother’s match? Does he mature over the course of the story? It is hard to tell from this brief excerpt, but from what we are given, very little about him changes and he never appears to integrate fully back into society in spite of the impressive alphabet soup he is acquiring at the end of his name, and that, it would seem, is the problem Tagore has with formal education.


Works Cited


“Learn About British Rule in India.” About. Web. 8 Dec. 2014. <http://asianhistory.about.com/od/colonialisminasia/p/profbritraj.htm&gt;.

“Rabindranath Tagore on Education.” Infedorg. Web. 8 Dec. 2014. <http://infed.org/mobi/rabindranath-tagore-on-education/&gt;.

Tagore, Rabindranath. “The Conclusion.” The Longman Anthology of World Literature. Trans. Krishna Dutta and Andrew Robinson. 1st ed. Vol. E. N.p.: n.p., 2004. 949-60. Print.

Charles Chesnutt’s The Passing of Grandison

Read on its own it is a delightful, intriguing story with a twist at the end that leaves one pleasantly surprised. However, if one knew the background behind the story, the suspense would be much stronger. If one knew that Chesnutt was a member of the NAACP, that he had tried to write in order to bring about positive change in the society and fight against racism, when you see the words flowing from the mouths of both slaves and masters in the story, one will more easily detect the sarcasm dripping from every letter like thick strands of green slime. When Grandison returns with his outlandish tale of escape from the brutal hands of the abolitionist, one’s suspicions will be aroused, and when the final act plays out, one will read it with appreciation for what the author was trying to do, and not sit there wondering “where did that come from”.

War’s Horror

I believe attention should also be payed to the effect that the Civil War, and war in general, has on society. Literature, as a professor put it, was a form of entertainment for the people of the past, akin to movies and TV shows for us. The Civil War was so traumatic that there was a shift in literature, from Romanticism, looking at the word through rosy glasses, to Realism, a depiction of life as it is. This professor, who happens to be in the English department, while going over Realism, said that the loss of human life in the Civil War was so high that there was no one who had not lost someone in it.

We can fast forward to the so called “Great War”, and again we find the same horrifying reaction. Society is so aghast at what has happened it calls the war, the “Great War” because it hasn’t seen anything like this death and killing, but then it becomes inured and we see civilian casualties shooting through the roof in the Second World War. In the documentary, Fog of War, it is mentioned that civilian casualties became acceptable. They even coined a new term for this, a nice little euphemism to cover up cold blooded murder, “collateral damage.”

My mother has often mentioned that “they” tried to get rid of her generation, and very few of them survived with their minds intact. The ones who didn’t lose it because of drugs, lost it because of Vietnam. My theory is that there is something about modern warfare that is inherently wrong and the soldiers know this deep down in themselves. This, I believe, is one of the reasons we see them so disturbed, and it is a shame that we don’t take care of them properly when we bring them back.

I am not saying war is evil or bad in and of itself. War has its place in society and benefits, like warding off harm or protection. However it must be done within certain boundaries. I think it interesting that societies claiming to be at the height of “progress”, instead of enforcing laws to prevent the murder of civilians, have deemed this an acceptable loss. How can you kill innocent people?

Aphra Behn’s Oronooko: Cognitive Dissonance and The Noble Savage

Aphra Behn’s Oronooko: Cognitive Dissonance and The Noble Savage

Despite being a powerful means of criticizing society, the “noble savage” strips its subject of humanity and keeps it at a distance. Our first introduction to that faceless mass to which Oroonoko supposedly ‘belongs’ describes them as being able to swiftly pass “through those almost impassable places and by the mere activity of their feet run down the nimblest deer and other eatable beasts”, a statement bringing to mind not some human being but a two footed beast on par with a lion in its ability to run down prey. Behn goes on to make the calculating claim that since these people are so useful to them and “their numbers so far surpassing ours” they “find it absolutely necessary to caress ‘em as friends, not treat ‘em as slaves”.

In stark contrast to the above, Oroonoko is painted as a rarity, much like the Muslim (an adherent of the religion of Islām) slaves in the Americas whose erudition and ability to read and write in multiple languages caused people such cognitive dissonance that they labeled them Arabs despite their clearly African origins, because surely no one that intelligent could come out of Africa, or end up enslaved.

Oroonoko may be jet-black in complexion but he is clearly not African with his nose that is “rising and Roman, instead of African and flat” and a mouth that is “far from those great turned lips which are so natural to the rest of the Negroes”. The reader might be forgiven for suspecting that Oroonoko possessed his multi-lingual skills, bravery, leadership abilities, and powerful love, not because it was something innate to his people, but due to his close resemblance to Europeans. After all, Behn takes up two whole paragraphs comparing the hero of her story to Europeans, and then blithely describes his lover as a “beautiful black Venus, to our young Mars”.

This ‘unAfrican’ is depicted as something of a bridge, too good to be African but not enough to be European, and it is probably because of this that he is able to “begot so good an understanding between the Indians and the English that there were no more fears or heart-burnings during [their] stay”. It is this same quality that allows Oroonoko to rouse the slaves, reminding them of “the first principle in nature that was to be obeyed”.

While the readers are given a figure that is close enough to their reality that they might be able to sympathize with him, he is deliberately cut off from Africa and its people diminishing his value as a symbolic representative. And it is this distance that causes his actions to rouse the real African who “suffered not like men, who might find a glory and fortitude in oppression, but like dogs that loved the whip and bell, and fawned the more they were beaten” to ring hollow. How can one sympathize with the real African when they are content being enslaved? How can one sympathize with their descendants in the present when they are naturally thuggish, belligerent, and lazy?

Liberty or Death: “Slavery” in a Meritocracy

Liberty or Death: “Slavery” in a Meritocracy
Adapted from Mufti Muḥammad Shafīc’s critique of Capitalism, Socialism, and Communism in Aḥkām al-Qur’ān, and Mufti Taqi cUthmani’s introduction to the chapter of slavery in his commentary on Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim, Takmilah Fatḥ al-Mulhim

عن النبي صلى الله عليه و سلم فيما روي عن الله تبارك و تعالى انه قال يا عبادي اني حرمت الظلم على نفسي و جعلته بينكم محرما فلا تظالموا

Allāh, Blessed and Exalted is He, said in a hadīth qudsī, “O, My slaves! Indeed, I have made oppression unlawful for Myself, and have made it unlawful amongst you, so do not oppress one another.”[1]

Imām Ṭabrī relates that when the Prophet ﷺ was deputed, the Arabs protested, saying, “Allāh is too great to have a messenger who is a human being.”[2] So Allāh revealed, “Is mankind amazed that We send revelation to a man amongst them,” and, “We only sent men as messengers before you.”[3] Once Allāh repeatedly established these proofs against them, they objected, “If it was a human being then someone besides Muḥammad is more deserving of messengership,” and “If only this Qur’ān was revealed to a great man from the two cities.”[4] The Quraish thought it farfetched that the Qur’an should be revealed on Muḥammad, a poor orphan, and brashly demanded that it should descend on a mighty leader due to their presumption that people of honor and wealth were great.[5] Mufti Shafīc details their thought pattern like this, “Messengership is a great status which is only fit for the great”[6] but while they were measuring greatness by means of wealth and honor, which is the opinion of ignorant people in every time and place, they failed to see that great people are only those whom Allāh considers great.[7]

Ibn Kathīr states that Allāh refutes this opposition of theirs, saying, “Do they distribute the mercy of your Lord?”[8] This āyah calls them stupid, rebukes them, and expresses amazement at their opinion, enquiring how they could consider themselves so great as to want to be entrusted with the distribution of prophethood, messengership, and spiritual blessings in spite of the fact that Allāh, Pure and Exalted is He, has not deemed them fit to be entrusted with measuring out their own material livelihood, something which is less significant and more base than spiritual favors, especially prophethood and messengership.[9]

Allāh continues the āyah, stating, “We distributed their livelihood amongst them in the life of this world, and elevated some over others in stages,” in accordance with Divine wisdom, thus amongst them are the weak, the strong, the poor, the rich, the servant, the served, the ruler, and the ruled, “so that some might take others as laborers.” One benefit in this distribution is that if everyone was tasked with taking care of all of their own concerns they wouldn’t have the strength to do so and would waste away and die.

Mullā cAlī al-Qarī explains, “We caused differences to occur between them in sustenance and other matters so that some might make use of others in [the fulfillment of] their needs and thus a harmony that gives order to their actions and states is established; [these differences are] not due to some perfection on the part of the one experiencing expanse, nor deficiency in the one experiencing restriction.” In His wisdom He has not left the system of the world to our short-sighted and whimsical selves, but has kept it in His control and bound the needs of individuals to one another so that there exists amongst the human beings fluid social classes whose importance has nothing to do with a person’s true worth or eternal salvation.

In sūrah Yusuf we read that the son of a prophet was sold by his brothers to people who took him to a foreign land and sold him to the state treasurer. This man “instructed his wife to provide good lodging for [him], not to treat him like [a] common [slave] and see that good arrangements [were] made for him.” In spite of these kind instructions, this pious individual was confronted with such an environment that he desired prison over being on the outside. How many times have we read this story and thought about the resilience of this prophet and his staunch attachment to the commands of Allāh in a state considered, in our minds, to be the worst condition a human being could face?

In spite of our perception of slavery, a word that causes blinders to come down over our senses, our Prophet ﷺ described Prophet Yūsuf, peace be upon him, as, “The noble one, son of the noble one, son of the noble one, son of the noble one: Yūsuf, the son of Yacqūb, the son of Isḥāq, the son of Ibrāhīm, may peace and blessings be upon them all,”[10] and Allāh, Most High, calls his story aḥsan al-qaṣaṣ [the best story][11].

Similarly, the Nubian wiseman, Luqmān, peace be upon him, has an entire sūrah named after him, and is remembered not for his social status as a man who was enslaved but for his words of wisdom. A thousand some odd years after the sūrah bearing his name was revealed we still benefit from his advices, and as long as the Qur’ān is recited his wisdom will continue to be repeated.

In his Oxford Union address, Malik al-Shabbāz, may Allāh have mercy on him, cited America as an example of extremism and noted, “Old Patrick Henry said ‘liberty or death’-that’s extreme, very extreme.”[12] Some of us have swallowed this extreme notion hook, line, and sinker, and assume that freedom is the pinnacle of an individual’s life. In fact, the idea of freedom and being free to do as one pleases that underlies this sentiment does not exist; one is either a slave to Allāh or they are a slave to their lower desires and Shayṭān.

One of our spiritual forefathers, Ayuba ibn Sulaimān ibn Ibrāhīm Diallo, a multilingual ḥafidh from Senegal who was forcibly brought to this country, managed to escape the plantation he was on. He was eventually caught and thrown in jail until they could figure out where he came from. On inquiry he informed his captors that he had escaped because of a number of complaints he had against his owner, one of which was his inability to perform ṣalāh.[13] That is, one of his reasons for running away was his inability to implement one of the most important commands of his true Master, Allāh, in his current state. In case this appears to be making light of the oppressive system of chattel slavery practiced in the Americas or institutional racism, reread the ḥadīth qudsī quoted at the beginning of this section: “O, My slaves! Indeed, I have made oppression unlawful for Myself[14],and have made it unlawful amongst you, so do not oppress one another.”

The point being made here is that just as the aforementioned examples are not defined by slavery or having been in a social class considered “inferior” to some, but rather by their spiritual worth, which is really the only status that matters, we should move beyond the false notion that (1) all slavery is the same, and (2) the intrusion of chattel slavery, or the mere mention of slavery in connection to a black person, is a blot on our history. As the poet says, “With respect to their outward form, humans beings are all equal/ Their father is Adam and their mother Ḥawwā’/ If, in their origin, there was some honor to boast by/ then it is clay and water.”[15]

The stark contrast between the slavery condoned under Islamic law, which was more akin to indentured servitude, as opposed to that practiced in non-Islamic law, specifically the transatlantic slave trade, is noteworthy. The transatlantic slave trade stripped human beings of all rights and treated the one enslaved like merchandise to be disposed of by the owner in any way they pleased. It was accompanied by novel explanations for the cruel, degrading, and inhuman treatment of the human beings they had under their control, and it ended in racism and a permanent stigma on the enslaved as well as their descendants.

Contrary to this model of slavery, Allāh orders kind treatment to the human beings who are in bondage: “Worship Allāh, do not associate anything with Him, and be good to parents, kinsmen, orphans, the needy, the close neighbor and the distant neighbor, the companion at your side, the wayfarer, and what your right hands possess. Surely, Allah does not like those who are arrogant, proud.”[16]

In a hadīth reported by Ṣāḥīḥ Bukhārī, the Messenger of Allāh commands those given authority to feed their bondsmen and women from what they eat, clothe them from what they wear, not to burden them with such things that will overpower them, and if they do so then they should assist him.[17] In Sunan Abū Dāwūd we are told that the compensation for merely slapping one’s slave is to free them.[18] Another hadīth mentioned in Sunan Ibn Mājah, contains the strong wording, “The one who is harsh to his slaves will not enter paradise.”[19] As the historians, John Hope Franklin and Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham, correctly point out: “[S]laves where viewed as inhabiting a temporary state of legal exclusion and as having the same spiritual value as a freeborn person. Muslim slaves were allowed to marry, to have a family, and independent income, and to purchase their freedom.”[20]

Furthermore, the slavery sanctioned in Islām was not on the basis of race, meaning no one particular race was singled out, nor did it carry the stigma of the European model. Under the merit-based society brought about through the justice of Islām’s Divinely sanctioned laws, slaves, former slaves, and descendants of slaves became highly respected scholars, rulers, poets, and cawliyā. Consider Zayd Ibn al-Hārithah, may Allāh be pleased with him, the freed slave of the Prophet ﷺ and his adopted son, about whom it is mentioned that the Prophet ﷺ didn’t send any dispatch with him in it except that he made him the leader, and who is the only companion mentioned by name in the Qur’ān.[21] Look at the lineage of the shaykh of the people of Baṣrah, Ḥasan al-Baṣrī, may Allāh have mercy on him, whose mother was the freed slave of one of the Mothers of the Believers. Contemplate the background of the great interpreter of dreams, Ibn Sīrīn, may Allāh have mercy on him, whose father belonged to Anas Ibn Mālik, may Allāh be pleased with him.[22]

Seven hundred eighty-one years of Muslim rule in what is now Spain and Portugal, starting from 711 and lasting until 1492 of the Christian Era, was started by the arrival of an ex-slave turned general, and the governor of Tangiers, Ṭāriq Ibn Ẓiyād, after whom the Straits of Gibraltar are named.[23] The Imām, Shaykh al-Islām, and scholar of his time, cAbdullāh Ibn al-Mubārak, may Allāh have mercy on him, was the son of a Turkish man who used to be the slave of a merchant from Banū Handhalā. The Khalīfah’s concubine once saw a large crowd gathered behind cAbdullāh Ibn al-Mubārak and commented, “By Allāh, this is power and kingship, not the authority of Hārùn which can only gather people by means of the police and servants!”[24]

Allāh states in the Qur’ān, “Without a doubt, Allāh has favored the believers by sending amongst them a Messenger from themselves who will recite His āyāt to them, purify them, and teach them the book [i.e. al-Qur’ān] and the wisdom [i.e. the sunnah], while before they were in clear misguidance.”[25] Ibn Kathīr, may Allāh have mercy on him, explains that this āyah means that Allāh has favored them by deputing a human like themselves so that they would be able to speak with him, ask him questions, and benefit from him, when before this Messenger they were in such error and ignorance that it was clear and apparent to everyone.[26] Allāh has indeed blessed and favored us by granting us Islām. It is through the lens of Islām that we understand how to navigate this world, not the concocted delusions of philosophers and so-called intellectuals whose worldview has no grounding in Divine guidance, nor is it illuminated by the nūr of prophetic teachings.

National affiliation, family connections, and race do not have any value beyond being aids to assist us in carrying out our duties to Allāh. Love the people Allāh has chosen to place you among if you want, but love the righteous more, and never make the mistake of turning a blind eye to the wrongs committed by an individual solely because you share the same racial, ethnic, national background, nor make the mistake of thinking that your race makes you superior to another human being. Remember that our Prophet ﷺ proclaimed: “Certainly, your lord is one and your father is one; there is no superiority for an Arab over a non-Arab, nor a non-Arab over an Arab, nor a red over a black, nor a black over a red, except by means of taqwā.”[27]

In conclusion, Allāh says in the Qur’ān, “Say: O Allāh, the Owner of Dominion, You give dominion to whomsoever You wish and take dominion from whomsoever You wish; You give honor to whomsoever You wish and abase whomsoever You wish.”[28] When we say that Allāh is the Creator, this is not limited to the tangible. It includes emotions, states of being, etc. He is the creator of movement. He is the creator of stillness. He is the creator of wealth, poverty, respect, honor, dishonor, etc. Like all of His creations they belong to Him and He disposes of them as He wills and there is none who can question Him.

May Allāh cause the author and readers to benefit from this work, and save us from any harm contained in it. May Allāh revive our hearts with the mention of His righteous slaves, and give us the tawfīq to follow in their noble footsteps. Āmīn.


  1. Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim. Qadīmī Kutub Khānah. 1:319  ↩
  2. Sūrah Yūnus, Āyah: 2  ↩
  3. Sūrah Nahl, Āyah: 43  ↩
  4. Tafsīr Ṭabrī. Hijr. Taḥqīq: al-Turkī. 20:583–584  ↩
  5. Ṣafwah al-Tafsīr. Dār al-Qur’ān al-Karīm. 3:156  ↩
  6. Aḥkām al-Qur’ān. Idārah al-Qur’ān wa cUlūm al-Islāmiyyah. 4:174  ↩
  7. Ṣafwah al-Tafsīr. Dār al-Qur’ān al-Karīm. 3:156  ↩
  8. Tafsīr al-Qur’ān al-cAdhīm. Dār Ṭaybah. 7:226  ↩
  9. Aḥkām al-Qur’ān. Idārah al-Qur’ān wa cUlūm al-Islāmiyyah. 4:175  ↩
  10. Saḥīḥ al-Bukhārī. Qadīmī Kutub Khānah. 1:480  ↩
  11. Sūrah Yūsuf, Āyah: 3  ↩
  12. Malcolm X at Oxford Union: Racial Politics in a Global Era. Oxford University Press. Page: 180  ↩
  13. Muslims in American History: A Forgotten Legacy. Amana Publications. F. 20  ↩
  14. Imām al-Nawawī explains His statement, “I have made oppression unlawful for Myself,” in the following words: “The culamā say it means He is free of it: oppression is impossible with respect to Allāh, Pure and Exalted is He. How can He, Pure is He from every defect and flaw, exceed boundaries and limits when there is none above Him whom He should obey? How can He use the possession of another when the entire universe is His property and dominion?”(Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim bi Sharḥ al-Nawawī. al-Miṣriyyah al-Qadīmah. 16:132)  ↩
  15. Mirqāh al-Mafātīḥ. Dār al-Kutub al-cIlmiyyah. 9:124  ↩
  16. Sūrah Āli Imrān, Āyah: 36  ↩
  17. Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī. Qadīmī Kutub Khānah. 1:9  ↩
  18. Sunan Abū Dāwūd. Maktabah Rehmāniyyah. 2:362, #5168  ↩
  19. Sunan Ibn Mājah. Dār al-Risālah al-cĀlamiyyah. 4:648, #3691  ↩
  20. From Slavery to Freedom: A History of African Americans. McGraw-Hill. Page: 10  ↩
  21. al-Iṣābah. Taḥqīq: Turkī. 4:83, 85  ↩
  22. Sīyar ‘Aclām al-Nubalā. Mu’assas al-Risālah. 4:565, 4:606  ↩
  23. Sīyar ‘Aclāmal-Nubalā. Mu’assas al-Risālah. 4:500  ↩
  24. Ṣifah al-Ṣafwah. Dār al-Kutub al-cArabī. Page: 768; Sīyar ‘Aclām al-Nubalā. Mu’assas al-Risālah. 8:381, 384; Wafayāt al-’Acyān. Dār Ṣādir. 3:33  ↩
  25. Sūrah Āli cImrān, Āyah: 164;Tafsīr al-Qur’ān al-cAdhīm. Dār Taybah. 2:158  ↩
  26. Tafsīr al-Qur’ān al-cAdhīm. Dār Taybah. 2:158  ↩
  27. Mucjam al-Awsat. Dār al-Ḥaramayn. 5:86, #4749  ↩
  28. Sūrah Āli cImrān, Āyah: 26  ↩

 

In The Field of Education

The purpose of this paper is to look at some of the reasons individuals join the education profession, and the importance of education in general, and from an Islamic perspective. Some of the “dissatisfactions” of the professions, as well as a few benefits related to the profession will also be discussed.  Finally, the author’s own reasons for wanting to be in this profession will be explained. It should be noted from the outset that the author has a degree in Islamic studies and Arabic, having graduated from a madrasah in Trinidad, and will be approaching this topic from that angle.

Teachers are like second parents. They, along with parents, help to mold children into the adults of tomorrow. They act as “the real makers of history” (Webb, Metha and Jordan). With this in mind, it is essential that teachers have good intentions when joining the profession.  The responsibility that they are undertaking is not a light one, nor should it be taken lightly. Parents are entrusting their vulnerable children into the care of complete strangers with the hope that they will shape them into a shining star, able to navigate the rigors of life with success. Selfish reasons like:  “job security, or something as forthright as the fact that their first career choices were blocked” (Webb, Metha and Jordan) should not be the prime motivation for engaging in this momentous task. They definitely should not be the primary reason. Far better reasons are those mentioned in Foundations Of American Education: “(1) a caring for and desire to work with young people, (2) a desire to make a valuable contribution to society, and (3) an interest in a subject matter field and an excitement in sharing it with others” (Webb, Metha and Jordan).

Without a doubt, education is the foundation upon which society is constructed. Man, in the Old English sense of the word, is born ignorant. He cannot speak the language of those around him, nor is he capable of walking, cleaning himself, putting on clothes, etc. The most simple of tasks are difficult.  With reference to this, the Qur’an mentions: “And God took you out from the wombs of your mothers in such a state that you knew nothing” (16:78). It is only as an individual grows that they begin to acquire knowledge. This process of acquiring knowledge is by means of a teacher, as one hadith mentions “Knowledge is only by learning” (Al-Asqalaani).  In some cases the teacher might directly impart the knowledge to an individual, for example in a school setting, while in other cases the knowledge is picked up by observation, as in the case of an infant acquiring their “native” language.

Education is something highly prized in Islam, for both men and women. When we look at the Qur’an we find that the first revelation that came to the Prophet Muhammad (May peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) commanded him to read, even though he was illiterate.  Explaining those first ayah, the Muslim scholar, Ismail Ibn Umar Ibn Kathir (May Allah have mercy on him), stated the following: ‘The first verses of the Qur’an that were revealed were these blessed verses… In these verses it is pointed out that He created mankind from a clot, and that, out of His generosity, He taught mankind what they did not know. Thus the honor of mankind is because of knowledge, an ability that distinguished the father of mankind, Adam, from the angels…’ (Kathir) One hadith, loosely translated into English, states: “Seeking knowledge is obligatory upon every Muslim.” (Ghuddah)

Unfortunately, the society we live in does not seem to value teachers. CNNMoney put teachers, specifically high school teachers, as number fifteen on a list of the most underpaid jobs. They also claimed that 65% of teachers said their job was stressful. [Teachers] have to deal with meddling parents (some of whom do their children’s homework and put in ‘mistakes’ to make it look authentic) (Cnnmoney.com), and students who have no respect for authority. Another issue faced by teachers is a lack of funding for much needed teaching resources, something that has been exacerbated by “the nationwide recession which [sic] began at the end of the first decade of the twenty-first century” and “has resulted in cuts in public school budgets” (Webb, Metha and Jordan). Private institutions also face this lack of funding.  I have been teaching at a private institution for the past four years, and have seen first hand the extent to which money has to be stretched to fill the needs of teachers and students.

Another challenge faced by teachers is the modern trend of multitasking. Using Information Technology mentioned that there is evidence that “multitasking degrades short-term memory and possibly affects areas of the brain…Multitasking depletes the cognitive ability and [there is more] frequent need for recovery time… They [students] expect that services will be available 24×7 in a variety of modes (web, phone, in person) and that responses will be quick” (Williams and Sawyer). Faced with low funds, meddling parents, and students who expect instant gratification as well as a lack of understanding that knowledge cannot be gained when one is disrespecting the instrument through which that knowledge is being gained (whether it be teacher, book, classroom, etc.) the ability to discharge the trust of educating future generations has become more challenging. As the poet said: “A teacher and a doctor cannot advise you correctly when they are not respected/that person who is disrespectful to his doctor will remain sick forever and a student who is disrespectful to his teacher will remain ignorant forever” (Ahmad).

Despite this, teachers should not give up, nor look for another profession. Forbes.com listed teaching as one of the ten most happiest jobs and says: “Teachers in general report being happy with their jobs, despite the current issues with education funding and classroom conditions” (Denning). Foundations of Education states that when asked if  they would choose another profession if given the chance, “90% of teachers said they would choose teaching again and only 8% said they would leave teaching before retirement” (Webb, Metha and Jordan). No value can be placed on the ability to better the life of even one person. That person may go on to do something great, or help millions of other people. Alan Newland, a teacher for twenty years, said, “One day in 1984 a boy with learning difficulties is [sic] painting. It’s home-time and I ask him to pack-up. He says: ‘Can I stay here forever? I want to pain for the rest of my life!’ Twenty-eight years later, he invites me to his one-man show at a gallery in west London.” (Newland)

One of Douglas Carey’s sixth-graders, Kenneth Peoples, was an 11-year old with mild autism and a 7-year old’s behavioral patterns. Carey taught him to play chess and gave him one-on-one math help. Kenneth, who had never earned better than a D in math, earned a B. “There wasn’t a light there before, and when the light clicked on, then we had a different child,” said Kenneth’s mother, Dawn Ringo. “I appreciate that more than anything a person could give me as a gift.” (Dawsey)

Some satisfactions from teaching go beyond monetary compensation, and far outweigh tangible rewards that will eventually vanish. As the poet, Abu Baqaa’ Al-Andalusi said: “Where are the kings wearing crowns from Yemen…A matter that could not be repelled came to all/Until they were annihilated, then it was as though they had never existed”( At-Talmasani). A single life changed is worth more than a world full of gold.

The desire to help society by sharing beneficial knowledge is something that was impressed upon me constantly during the time I spent studying in Trinidad, especially towards the end of the five-year course. Particular stress was placed on reaching out to the younger generation. I remember one particular class where the principal of the Madrasah explained that the purpose of our studying was so that we would go back to our countries and teach, not stay in Trinidad. This is one of the main reasons I chose the teaching profession.

In addition, when we look at classrooms across the country, we see that they are multicultural, composed of students from varying backgrounds. “By 2050 the United States Census Bureau projects 50 percent of the U.S. population will be African American, Hispanic, or Asian. Given these steep demographic shifts, the performance of students of color and the characteristics of the schools they attend are important factors that must concern all Americans” (Alliance for Excellent Education). In such an environment it is essential that the teachers not only understand how to interact in this setting, but also that they reflect it in their makeup. For a student who may be a minority to see their selves represented amongst the teaching staff at their school would be a great source of confidence and inspiration.

I was homeschooled, and my first experience with the public school system in America was a college setting. I was extremely shocked to find that things I thought common knowledge were completely unknown to my fellow students. An example of this is the following incident. In my freshman year I was attending an English class. The teacher asked one of the students why Native Americans were discriminated against in ways that African-American’s would not stand for. The student replied that it was because they did not have any Martin Luther King or Malcolm X. I promptly interjected that this was not true, and that when we had the Black Panther Party they had AIM which was just as active, if not more, in trying to eradicate inequality.

This is only one example of the lopsided ‘me-centeric’ views that I have run into in college. I could quote others, but the basic point being drawn from this is that I believe that teachers have a responsibility to their students to prepare students for the rest of their life, so that they can face it with confidence and a skill set that will prepare them for success. “And when at last their work was done,/They were proud of what they had wrought./For the things they had worked into the child/could never be sold or bought!/And each agreed she would have failed/if she had worked alone./For behind the parent stood the school,/and behind the teacher stood the home!” (Swarat)