In a talk titled “Taking the Middle Way: How Muslims should navigate Western society polarised between right and left” Abdullah Al Andalusi describes unconvincingly why he feels that serious analytical approaches to understanding racism from critical race theory are a waste of time and only adds to the problem. Andalusi relates the story of Bilal (r.a.) being insulted by Abu Darr (r.a.). Abu Darr (r.a.) told Bilal, “You son of a black mother.” Bilal (r.a.) complained of this to the Prophet (r.a.) who chastised Abu Darr (r.a.). Overcome with shame, Abu Darr (r.a.) humbled himself to Bilal (r.a.) by offering his head for Bilal (r.a.) to put his foot on top. Andalusi uses this story to challenge the contemporary analysis of racism by critical race theory by stating:
“Was it because there was a conspiracy or structured racism whereby Arabs just hated people of darker skin color? Well, no, because Arabs have a variety of skin colors amongst themselves. No. It was just common everyday asabiyyah tribalism. That’s all it was. But what the Critical Race Theorist will try to do is say, “Look, you see his hatred between this person of this color of skin and this person of another color of skin. Is it because of the color of the skin? No, it’s because of jahiliyyah. They don’t see each other as one tribe.”
This is anachronistic, analytically shallow, and dare I say, adds to the race problem. The utter ridiculousness of this statement is astonishing. For starters, Critical Race Theory was coined in 1989 to address the modern problem of race in the United States of America. For Andalusi’s statement to even make sense, we would have to assume as he does that American racism is identical to the tribalism of the seventh century. Of course, anyone with common sense knows this is absurd and that to conflate the tribalism of the Arabs with the scientific and systemically entrenched anti-black racism of America is to say that seventh-century Arabia is the same society as the twentieth-century of the USA. It’s insane.
To take off from this story that there is no need for contemporary analysis that peels back the layers which conceal racial discrimination today because racism was deemed bad 1400 years ago is an ironic perversion of this story. Abdullah al Andalusi is using the Prophet’s (s.a.w.s.) condemnation of racism to prevent us from fighting against racism. Critical Race Theory is designed to examine the behavior of institutions and systems which simply didn’t exist in the seventh century.
He says that Critical Race Theorists would misrepresent this incident in the seera between Bilal(r.a) and Abu Dar(r.a) when in actuality, Critical Race Theory isn’t even concerned with this. Critical race theory emerged to analyze defacto structural racism in the United States. Critical race theory would not anachronistically go into the ancient past, presuming that its theories are applicable because, unlike Abdullah al Andalusi and others, we recognize the uniqueness of American racism. Arabs in the seera never erected laws based on race. There was never any Jim Crow, lynchings, or anti-black policies inscribed in the governments’ rule of law. Racism in the West is wholly unique because it is the first time in history where anti-black racism was given statutory support, and this is what critical race theory is concerned about. Not the moral quality of racism.
The actions of Abu Darr (r.a.), the unequivocal denunciation of racism by Prophet (s.a.w.s.), and the humility Abu Darr (r.a.) showed after being told that he was wrong has nothing in common with America. America has never ceased being racist (or anything else for that matter) because it was pointed out to them that it was wrong as there is no hint whatsoever of Abu Darr (r.a.) in America or the West.
The self-accusing spirit that led Abu Darr(r.a) to quickly recognize his error and take the dramatic step towards rectifying the offense is something that is not in the DNA of the United States or European empires. Andalusi’s argument is akin to saying that because no one used modern medicine to treat a disease in the seventh century, then no one is allowed to use modern medicine. Secondly, he points out that the Arabs were a variety of skin colors themselves and that the slight towards Bilal (r.a.) was not based on skin color but tribalism. He nullifies his argument.
Critical Race Theory is not concerned with the tribalism of ancient societies. It is only concerned with the contemporary practices of racism in modern systems and institutions. He attacks a straw man by bringing this up. Critical race theory addresses racism. Not tribalism, so his point is moot. Also, unlike the Arabs, whites are not of many different skin colors, and the antipathy they’ve historically and continue to express towards blacks is racism. Not tribalism. One of the distinct features of America is that it replaced a tribe with race. He also mentions how the origins of racism began with Iblis. This has become a common deceptive tactic of those who do not wish to talk about racism in any sophisticated way. The disingenuousness of this argument is that it is not used to explain away other evils.
The oppression of Palestinians, Syrians, Yemenis, and Kashmiris are never dismissed as simply the machinations of Satan. It is indicative of the latent anti-blackness (or capitulation) of these speakers that only on the subject of racism against African-Americans do they reduce the problem to a mere spiritual disease. This is done to divorce racism from socio-politico-economic and historical factors and invalidate anti-racism responses that address those factors.
These same hypocrites will pretend to be urbane when discussing matters of kalam familiarizing themselves with Heidegger and Jung but deny the importance of social analysis brought to us by Derrick Bell, Carter G. Woodson, Amos Wilson, Francis Cress Welsing, or Joyce Degroy. Like the story of Bilal(R) & Abu Darr (r.a.), the story of Iblis was not intended to be a substitute for understanding the operation of structural racism in western society and the various ways it manifests itself.
Abdullah al Andalusi’s other fallacious argument is that Critical Race Theory politicizes skin color. So, what were race and skin color before critical race theory?
Who was responsible for segregation laws, jim crow laws, black codes lynchings, church bombings, and redlining before the word critical race theory was coined in 1989? And what would he call the methods used to overturn many of these racist laws and to seek compensation for damages caused by them?
Read the rest of the article titled’ Four Muslim Public Speakers Who Should Stop Commenting on Race on Professor Shareef Muhammad’s personal website here.
Professor Shareef Muhamad is an African-American Islamic thinker based in Atlanta, Georgia. He is the current Director of Research for Black Dawah Network. The son of a prominent African-American defense attorney, Mr.Muhammad’s intellectual work is dedicated to defending and uplifting the Black Muslim Tradition. He has written books such as an Invitation to Islam For Black Marxists, A Black Muslim Critique of Afrocentrism and the Black conscious community, and numerous other articles on the importance of Islam in the Black community. Mr.Muhammad has taught Introduction to Qu’ran at Spelman College and courses in the area of African-American studies at Georgia State University.