Malcolm X knew Islam's History of Slavery, not Racism

Malcolm X knew Islam's History of Slavery, not Racism

An interesting article appeared in the Telegraph, titled "The conversion to Islam of Malcolm X is the wrong model for young black men."

Although the author, David Edward, cites historical events, he makes a serious error that fatally undermines his premise: historic slavery in Islamic territories was not primarily based on race suppression, but rather on prisoners of war. Generally,

  • Many respected companions of the Prophet (peace be on him) were freed slaves and of African descent, including Bilal.
  • Slavery was a substitute for prisoners-of-war, and by this design, it would die out naturally as peace reigned (Annemarie Schimmel and Fazlur Rahman)
  • Slaves could work or buy their way out of slavery
  • Freeing a slave (manumission) was considered an act of kindness an manumission was an expiation for many sins, especially for the rich.
  • A slave who believed in Islam would generally be set free
  • Freed slaves reached the highest ranks of society and government
  • Slaves were allowed regular marriage with the consent of the owner and families were never torn apart. The Quran explicitly prohibits forcing slaves into extra-marital relations and encourages their marriage. Unmarried slave women were the mistresses of their masters and their offspring were not illegitimate
  • Slaves fought in the military and at some point would be set free
  • A slave could lead prayers in the mosque
  • The food, care and clothing of a slave had to be equal to that of the family that owned him or her
  • In the justice system, slaves would receive half the penalty for crimes but their evidence was also deemed less reliable

More information and references available on Wikipedia.

Slavery was an abominable institution and it flourished in every country before the advent of the industrial revolution and large-scale prisons.

Malcolm X, a well-read and thinking man, knew the history of slavery well. The inhumanity and cruelty that was practiced by Americans on the plantations of the South was not the same as the slavery that had been practiced in other parts of the world.

The author writes:

In his popular autobiography, Malcolm X puts the Christian faith of most blacks in the US down to the "white, Christian slave master injecting his religion into this Negro." Later he states that "America needs to understand Islam because this is the one religion that erases from its society the race problem."

By conflating 'racism' with 'history of slavery' -- which most young modern European and American readers would confuse these days -- the author does a disservice to history and to Malcolm X.