This is a timely work. With black people in the US beginning finally to emerge from the centuries of degrading slavery and the false start of the Civil Rights movement, and with Africa itself increasingly looking to be the continent of the future for Islam, nothing written in this area is without politics. Thus, it has been vital for orientalists, themselves often faithful servants of powerful oligarchic elements in world finance and corporatism, to back-project modern racism and the horrific history of Judaeo-Christian slavery into Islam. But make no mistake about it, this is entirely a political issue, or rather we should say an economic one, since today academia serves politics which in turn serves economics.
One should not, in defending against this attack, resort to a rose-tinted and romantic view of the history of the Muslims, for, unsurprisingly, Muslims have had their tyrants, murderers, adulterers, drunks and thieves just as have others. And Muslim culture itself has suffered tremendous low-points in its cyclical history, a history which comprises an initial exuberant bursting forth, a high point with its cultural achievements, gradual decline into decadence, followed by renewal, a cycle best exemplified by Mad?nah al-Munawwarah itself and often but not exclusively illustrated by the Islam of the West and Africa in particular, of which this book has splendid examples.
The reader needs no other discrimination while reading this book than the one the author strives to make clear throughout: the d?n of Islam is not only free of racism but is utterly opposed to it as the most aberrant form of j?hiliyyah. This is clear in the Qur’?n, the Sunnah and in the extensive hadith literature. Indeed, Muslims today are themselves surprisingly free of the gross racism that the average American lives with as his quotidian reality, as people like Malcolm X found. Anyone who has travelled in the Middle East cannot have failed to observe the indissoluble mixing of races and colours that has produced the inextricably multi-racial Muslims of today.
Leaving aside this zone of contention, where the book is utterly fascinating is in its vignettes of whole African civilisations and ‘empires’ – one uses that term advisedly – that rose and sank, and the fierce resistance mounted against colonialism and its imperial projects, and also of the luminous scholars from an often forgotten tradition that sustained that history. This is a revelation of a kind for those who think of Islamic history exclusively in terms of the great Arab ‘empires’ of the Middle East and their long decline into decadence and and finally extinction. Perhaps few things are more damaging for Muslims’ sense of identity today than this spurious identification of Islamic history with that of the Arabs, who are, after all, only a small percentage of the Muslims, neglecting in the process the sultanates of the Far East such as in Nusantara (Indonesia and Malaysia), the Mughals of the Indian Sub-Continent, the numerous Turkic Stans that were absorbed into the USSR, the glorious Osmanli dawlah, and the huge and inadequately explored history of Islamic Africa. The book’s extensive bibliography contains enough pointers for the reader to pursue that line of enquiry.
Just as the constituency of modern Muslim societies is clear evidence of the absence of racialism and colourism from Muslim hearts at their best, it contains then a sign for the future. As globalisation increasingly mixes peoples up all over the earth, and once-subject peoples impoverished and often made refugees by it flee to the West whose own subject peoples, its indigenous peoples, are bewildered by the modern age and, misled by the media servants of high oligarchic finance, allow their rage to be deflected from the usurious monetary order of the age onto the flood of the bereft from the once-Third World, it is only Islam that offers a multi-racial brotherhood for the people of the future. Indeed, it is only Islam that has successfully allowed peoples of different races and religions to live together, as in Andalus and the Osmanli dawlah. When the Muslims themselves wake up from their slumbers and emerge from ghettoes, both physical and intellectual, they have foolishly allowed themselves to inhabit, they will have to take their place as generous hosts of humanity in an increasingly alien and predatory age. In having given us resources for that, the author has done us a tremendous service.