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Radical Islam In Black America

by David Nailo N. Mayo


A gray-haired man, about 5'8", heavy-set, and seemingly in his late fifties was descending the stairs of the huge University Center building at Cleveland State University. He was accompanied by more than half a dozen young men, most of them dressed like the mullahs of Iran.

This was Sheikh Al-Hajj Daud Abdul Malik, a Black American who leads the Universal Islamic Brotherhood (UIB) organization in Cleveland, Ohio. This organization has close links with the Sudanese National Islamic Front (NIF), the ruling party in the Sudan. Sheikh Malik had apparently learned of a well-publicized symposium on "Slavery and Genocide in Sudan", and brought his followers to protest against the symposium. He publicly denied the existence of slavery and genocide in Sudan.

Sheikh Malik and his group frequently travel to Khartoum. In the recent past, the UIB sheikhs and imams had been invited by the NIF. They were accommodated for weeks in a lavish Hilton Hotel in Khartoum at the government's expense. They were taken for tours everywhere the Islamic fundamentalists wanted them to go. The UIB saw what the NIF wanted them to see, and heard what they wanted them to hear. The UIB sheikhs and imams were specifically told that the rebellion in the South was anti-Islamic. One of the sheikhs, however, admitted seeing desperate situations in the camps of the displaced people around Khartoum. But they were also told (by Islamic fundamentalists) that the government had benevolently saved those people (in the camps) from being butchered by John Garang, the leader of the freedom fighters (Sudan People's Liberation Movement) in the South.

Young African Americans come back from Khartoum diametrically opposed to the American separation of church and state.

The UIB leaders came back to Cleveland apparently convinced that the Islamic fundamentalist system in the Sudan was working perfectly, and that it was the Sudanese rebellion that obstructed the attainment of its "pure" Islamic state. Meanwhile, the Universal Islamic Brotherhood granted many scholarships to African American youths in Cleveland, to study in Khartoum - surprisingly the new international center of Islamic fundamentalist jurisprudence.

African Americans had embraced Islam in the 1960s because many saw Islam as a liberating theology, as opposed to the Christian faith, which has been associated with White domination and racism. But now radical (political) Islam from Sudan, which many Black Muslims in the 1960s didn't know of, may counter the very tenets of liberation so far achieved hitherto.

The young African Americans trained in Khartoum come back with hostile attitudes which are generally diametrically opposed to the American ways and modalities of the separation of church and state. Consequently, this could lead to frustrating lifestyles and anguish for radical Islamic militants. This was already demonstrated in the symposium. When time for questions was allowed, the UIB sheikhs and imams castigated panelists, accusing them of being agents of the imperialist West. They distributed their literature which overwhelmingly blamed what they called "United States imperialism" against the Sudan. Many behaved in disorderly ways but their behavior, fortunately, helped many in the audience to understand the Sudanese situation.

The UIB members rejected the avalanche of literature compiled either by the U.S. State Department or by Non-Governmental relief Organizations (NGOs) working in the Sudan. They also refused to listen to the explanations by Sudanese themselves, who are victims of the system in Khartoum. Instead, the UIB members accused the Sudanese of propagating "erroneous information, contrived/fabricated facts ... to gain sympathy to [sic] unjust cause."

The UIB had the audacity to prescribe for us, the Sudanese, how we should live in our own country, what laws and religions we should obey and adhere to, and what to say. It was shocking to hear Malik's group charging us with being agents of imperialism. How could we be imperialists? Our native land has been ruled by Arab-Islamic and European invaders against the best wishes of our ancestral spirits.

We Sudanese don't need these organizations to tell us about our suffering - we know it so well.

Their blunt rhetoric supporting the outrageous human rights violations committed by the coterie in Khartoum is reflected in their literature. They claimed that the Sudanese Islamic fundamentalist regime, led by Lt. General Omer Hassan al-Beshir, has a clean human rights record, aside from the Western imperialists who have branded it the worst violator of human rights. "Do you believe the CIA's and State Department's reports?", questioned one of the fanatics. "Don't you know that those fools are tools of imperialist operations?", another questioned a panelist.

But we Sudanese don't need these organizations to tell us about our suffering - we know it so well.

Most Africans in the Diaspora are bitter about slavery because of the dehumanization that generations had to undergo. Unfortunately, the UIB members are too blinded by Islamic faith to think otherwise. They seem unaware of the Islamic philosophy and jurisprudence, and they are not aware of Sudanese history and politics. As a result of sheer rhetoric and confusion, they have wandered into limbo. Generally, when one has a point to make, the point should be backed up by honest and clear evidence, rather than a total denial of the existence of the terrible situation in Sudan.

The Sudanese rebellion is not about the conflict of religions - Islamic faith vs. Christianity and African traditional beliefs - though religion has been utilized as a justification. Rather it is a number of factors: the racial factor; the need for a fair distribution of power and socio-economic resources; the need to separate (Islamic) religion from the state, and the need to have a secular constitution with legislation derived from secular norms. Here, Islam, as a religion, is an irrelevant factor. Instead, "Islamism," the use of Islamic faith as an ideology to maintain economic and social privileges, is a new but critical phenomenon emerging during the revolution of power from colonialists to the local elites. And we certainly contend against the use of religion to legitimate injustices in society.

Becoming a Muslim in Sudan does not automatically entitle one to socio-economic privileges. One has got to be an Arab too.

The racial element between the Arab and the African ethnic groups should not be discounted either. Becoming a Muslim in Sudan does not automatically entitle one to socio-economic privileges. One has got to be an Arab too. For instance, almost all the tribes in Darfur, the Hadendawa of the Red Sea Coast, the Beja, and the Nuba and Ingessena of Central Sudan profess the Islamic faith. But they are much more marginalized and abandoned than the peoples of the Christian South, simply because they are non-Arabic. In the Sudan today, the Muslims are equally intimidated, tortured, killed or forced to flee the country as are other non-Muslims. The Nuba people, for instance, suffer what Hugo D'Auburry, a French film maker, called "ethnic clearing," even though the majority profess Islam. Again, Islamic faith is irrelevant, as Muslims are not spared from persecution. Is Sheikh Malik aware of these facts?

Sheikh Malik seems unable to discern between the true values of Islamic faith and piety and militant Islamic politics. His occasional visits to Khartoum have not helped him to tell the difference. Certainly he must not be aware that those people who hosted him in the Hilton were in fact the grandsons of the slave owning lords who attacked the Upper Nile tribes to seize slaves during the previous century.

The term abid (slave) is commonly used in the Sudan to refer to a person of African origin (non-Arab). If Sheikh Malik can be used in the "let a slave fight a slave" tactic, that certainly works well for the master, whom he came to protect at the symposium.

Nevertheless, there were many other African Americans who cautioned the UIB not to underestimate the Sudanese leaders who, in appearance, are brown and similar to African Americans, but strongly identify themselves as "Arabs." For instance, Dr. Wells of the Afri'Caribbean organization in Denver, Colorado, told the audience that "there's no doubt that Mauritania and Sudan have a poor record of race relations, nor can we question the existence of slavery. But the question is whether we have the interest to become part of the solution instead of denying it." And Dr. Ayitteh, a Ghanaian professor at a university in Washington, D.C., said "We are from Africa." He then asked furiously, "and we tell you (Americans) about what's happening in Africa and you don't believe us?" He continued amid applause from the crowd, "I want this conference today to request the congressional Black Caucus to send a fact finding mission to Sudan, and bring the facts."


Editor's note: Minister Louis Farrakhan, who has close ties with the Sudanese regime, has visited Sudan and requested that Sudan's president send a representative to Ghana for the Nation of Islam's annual Saviour's Day event, to be held in Ghana this October.


David Nailo N. Mayo is a writer/activist with Pax Sudani Network, a group of Sudanese students in the U.S. and Canada. The above article is an essay that appeared in the Autumn 1993 issue of the Sudan newsletter.


[*] AAH Examiner Selected Articles


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