Black Liberation: From the Rule of Hateful Men to the Mercy of Allah
On May 25, 2020, George Floyd was arrested by police for allegedly trying to pass a counterfeit $20 bill. According to video footage, he was killed by a white police officer who put his knee on Floyd’s neck for 8 and a half minutes, keeping it on there even after he had passed out and lost his pulse.
This brutal murder of yet another black American at the hands of the police became a catalyst for protests and riots across the country, the likes of which had not been seen in decades. This explosion of pent-up rage is a response to decades of militarized policing targeted towards the black community, along with a biased criminal justice system.
The government has responded with an increasing escalation of violence, including deploying the National Guard on peaceful protesters. How should we, as Muslims understand this unrest, and what should we be advocating?
Why Were African Americans Made into Second Class Citizens?
We need to go back to the 1600’s. During that time, the poor were kept separate from the rich, but poor black and white workers worked, played and prayed together.
Bacon’s rebellion which unified this class against the rich changed that.
The colonialists used a ‘divide & conquer’ approach to control the poor by bringing poor whites to their side by giving them a marginally better social and economic status and inviting them in the enslavement and control of black people.
This system of racialized control was justified through the claim that black people were less civilized, more prone to violence, and incapable of caring for themselves.
After the Civil War, when slavery was abolished, there was hope for African Americans to be treated as equals. But this hope was soon crushed.
Thus, began the Jim Crow era, which implemented laws enforcing segregation, barring interracial marriages, and turned a blind eye to the lynching of black men accused but never charged with a crime.
Blacks were also arrested on trumped up charges, imprisoned, and then leased back to their former masters, only to be worked to death.
This discriminatory environment was the backdrop of the Civil Rights era. Civil rights leaders were able to galvanize a movement to shift public opinion against segregation and explicit race-based discrimination.
The Capitalist elite, faced with the pressure of public opinion, along with the threat of the US losing moral credibility due to the race issue being exploited by the Soviet Union, moved with relative speed to pass the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts. The passing of these acts once again created genuine hope for those who wanted to see true racial equality.
This ended up being yet another brief moment in the sun for black Americans. Republicans, using the ‘Southern Strategy’, exploited the poor white racist voters, who had to bear the costs of desegregation.
They used race-neutral language to support anti-black policies. So, they talked about supporting “state’s rights”, referring to how states had been forced by the Federal government to desegregate.
More importantly, they talked about waging a war on drugs and crime, but the focus of these national campaigns against drugs and criminality were black communities. A top Nixon aide admitted this about the drug war:
“We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders. raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course, we did.”
This disruption of black communities led to the mass incarceration of black men for crimes that were committed in equal scale by both blacks and whites. Most Americans have violated American drug laws, but the police are incentivized to surveil, round up, and incarcerate young black men.
These men are more likely to be pressured to plead guilty, and be given harsher sentences by prosecutors, judges and juries. And even when they have served their sentence, they will never lose their convict status, thus affecting their ability to get a job or secure government assistance.
This system of racialized control operates in plain sight, but the US courts, who are supposed to ensure the impartial application of the law on all Americans, provide no protection to black communities, arguing that prosecutors and police officers must have the ability to exercise discretion in who they apply the law to, and unless the prosecutor or police officer is vocally racist, nothing will be done about it
The litany of horrors inflicted on black people in the US are not the result of bad luck, or historical coincidence. Rather, every time black people have resisted and overcome one system of racialized control, the Capitalist elite have just concocted a new one to keep them in roughly the same relative position. Even electing a black president who appointed a black head of the Department of Justice did not lead to any meaningful change.
The reality is that the Capitalist elite benefit from maintaining these systems of racialized control, as it continues to separate the poor across artificial racial lines. At the end of the day, a poor white person and a poor black person have more in common than a poor white person and a rich white person. The risk of poor people realizing this and demanding fundamental changes to the economy is unacceptable to the Capitalist elite.
The imposition of white supremacy is also not a mistake in the implementation of Capitalism, rather it is a part of its flawed design. Capitalism is an ideology that promotes self-interest, where each man is encouraged to look only after himself, with no responsibility for the broader society that raises and nurtures him.
In such a system, those who are born with more wealth and privilege can rise to the top, with no meaningful restrictions on the amount of power and wealth that they can accumulate. And when a class of immensely powerful and rich people emerge, they can legally and effectively use the system of democracy to buy influence over elected officials and media houses to set public policy as they desire. The whims, biases, strategies, and plots of these individuals translate into laws, court rulings, and bureaucracies.
So, if a group of rich and powerful white men decide to create mechanisms of control that maintain their power, and the relative power of those who look like them, there is no way to stop this. Not through the courts which can only rule by the laws. Not through the media, which are increasingly owned by fewer and fewer of these powerful men.
And not by legislation, which will only be interpreted by the very same courts who have been obstacles to this reform. Even if public pressure forces the establishment to concede to some reforms in the criminal justice system, a reduction in mass incarceration will just be replaced with another mechanism of control.
Liberation from the Rule of Men
Rage is a noble emotion when channeled towards confronting injustice directed towards us or others. It grants the courage needed to move out of social paralysis, and challenge those who have more power than us.
But rage is not enough to tear out this systemic racism from its roots. The Capitalist elite will remain in power unless we can put forth an alternative system that restricts the power and influence of the elite.
This alternative system, rather than being built upon the biased and ignorant ideas of men, should be constructed by the Most Merciful and All Wise Creator, who gave us life, created our bodies, and colored our skins. It is only Allah (swt), the Creator, not money who can unite the people:
“If you had spent all that is in the earth, you could not have united their hearts, but Allah has united them. Certainly, He is All-Mighty, All-Wise.” [TMQ 8:63]
The Capitalist elite could spend a small fraction of their wealth to help deal with the poverty across the racial lines. But they choose not to. And they never will.
Islam, in contrast, has a detailed, fair, and just economic policy that enables all to access wealth. For example, the Prophet Muhammad (saw) would use state resources to help the poor start businesses, through grants. In Islam, there is no interest, so the debt of people does not grow indefinitely.
The economic system of Islam uses asset taxes not income tax. Oil and mineral wealth are commonly owned. They are used to enrich the lives people and not line the pockets of billionaires.
It is only through this egalitarian economic system that both poor whites and poor blacks can have a stake in the system. The natural mixing that would happen would break down the racial lines, as both races would attend school together, work together and eventually live with another.
Nor is this system hypothetical; the system of Islam was in continuous implementation for 1300 years, and ruled three continents, forming a society in which race- consciousness and ethnic identity was replaced with a shared human need to worship the Almighty.
It is this system that was adopted all over sub-Saharan Africa, producing a golden age of scholarship, political and military leaders, and abundant wealth. The Kilwa Sultanate, Dan Fodios Sokoto Caliphate, the houses of learning in Timbuktu, and the immense wealth of Mansa Musa all bear testimony to this fact.
But more important than any anything else is liberation from the chains of men, to servitude to the only One who has the right to ultimately be obeyed. These are the words of an African ex-slave who was a companion of the Prophet (saw) to the general of the Persian army:
“God has sent us to deliver you from worshiping the creation to worshiping the Creator of the creation, and to deliver you from the constriction of this world to the vastness of this world and the hereafter, and from the oppression of the religions to the justice of Islam. God has sent us to save you from worshiping each other.”