(Editorial note: Black August commemorates the Black revolutionary history of resistance to white supremacy. It is a time when Black Marxists, following in the footsteps of Black revolutionaries like George Jackson, founder of the Black guerilla family, and Huey Newton, founder of the Black Panther Party for self-defense, were active and organizing within Black communities.
This Black August, in anticipation of the forthcoming publication “An invitation to Islam For The Black Marxists,” Black Dawah Network will be both celebrating the contributions of Black Muslims to the Black Liberation Struggle and Offering an Islamic Response to Common Black Marxists objections to religion and faith. In this article, Professor Shareef Muhammad responds to an article by the Revolutionary Communist Party titled “The Oppression of Black People, The Crimes of This System and the Revolution We Need.”)
Do Black people need religion? Is religion a trap for Black people? Would Black people be better off if we abandoned religion? In the article, The Oppression of Black People, The Crimes of This System and the Revolution We Need, the Black proponents of Marxism posit that religion is a dead-end when it comes to addressing the oppression of Black people.
They write “If praying to Jesus, or Allah, did any good, then the past 20 years would have been decades of great advance for African-American people-because Black people have been praying like never before!”
Instead of progress, the Revolutionary Communist Party indicates that Black people have been enduring “two decades of horror and despair: the pumping of crack into the ghettos and the promotion of the fratricidal drug trade as the way for the youth and, with that, the nightmare imprisonment huge numbers of African-American youth, along with the pervasive, never-ending harassment and brutality, and the constant threat of murder, at the hands of the police: the further rotting out of the inner cities, drained of jobs and resources.” For these reasons, the Black proponents of Marxism declare that religion is simply a dead-end for Black people.
We the Black Muslims, say in response to this that the evil in the world cannot be taken as objective proof that God does not exist or even that prayer does not work. By extension, the condition of Black people is not proof that God does not exist or that the prayers of oppressed Black people were futile. Trying to conceive of God and his behavior outside of theology would have to be done based on your own desires and personal whims and beliefs. In essence, the person who makes this argument is really saying that God doesn’t exist because if I were God this is what I would do.
This is the Marxian critique of a supreme being whom Marx described as made in the image and likeness of man. At the heart of this thinking is the implicit attempt to create God and thus have Him obey us. This is why they judge prayer based on getting exactly what you asked for from God.
It is a genie-magic lamp and Santa Clause concept of prayer that removes any existential obligation to submit to Allah. On the surface, this makes sense as any sophistry would but upon examining the syllogism deeper we see that it is intellectually lazy as are all atheist arguments. Subjecting any theory, religious or secular, to positivist criteria would invalidate socialism as well. The materialist world view of socialism proves itself a failure.
All their attempts to rectify the paucity and exploitation they claim are endemic of capitalism have been present in every self-proclaimed socialist country since the inception of the Soviet Union. So, there has to be a more genuine way of assessing the practical impact of ideas but nonetheless, when we compare the welfare of religious communities with that of communist countries we find that the religious communities have more praxis.
Since, Islam teaches that evil and suffering are a necessary condition of this world, that this life is temporary and there is a true reality beyond death, it exempts itself from creating a utopia on earth.
The Black Communists moves to attack religion scientific grounds. They note that religion “tells people to put their faith in make-believe non-existent saviors-instead of understanding the world as it is, struggling to change it, and building unity on that basis. ”
This is highly contentious in its mischaracterization of faith. There was never any actual dichotomy inherent to theology or in the interpretation of scripture by believers that links belief in the unseen spiritual realms to leaving off the political struggle. Islam transformed the world starting with the Arabian Peninsula with just La illaha illah la ‘There is no God but God.’ It was the Muslims that established their own civilizations based on their religious worldview and in the history of this process brought an end to the Byzantine Empire.
Sensing this problem with the statement the article tries to tackle what it poses as the exception by saying “Religion, even the most “progressive” type of religion which includes a call to people to stand up against oppression, nevertheless in the end preaches to people that they cannot really understand reality and overcome oppression and win liberation on their own, but must ultimately rely on some none-existent god (or gods) to lead them to salvation, if not in this world, then in the next. In short, religion is a chain of people’s thinking.” The author is trying to establish their own false contingency for liberation based on secularism which has no historical evidence to back this claim.
The secular revolutions belong to the modern period only and they are capitalist-democracy, Marxist-socialism, and military-totalitarianism or fascism. The revolution of Muhammad (saws) existed before all of these and continues to this day. So, the assertion that religions “seek to make-believe cause (“straying from the path of God”) for the real problems people face and to fight to make- believe enemies (“the devil”) instead of the real-live ones who must be defeated” is untrue. The Quran directs us to fight physical flesh and blood human beings who are responsible for injustices in the world. Since Marxism has lost its edginess the Red Scare has been replaced by the Green Peril. Islam embodies the revolutionary praxis associated with Marx but offers more comprehensive change because it is not blinded by matter. Telling a materialist to look beyond matter is like pointing to the stars and the person saying that all they see is your finger.
Their revolution based on economic determinism will never deliver the social justice necessary for a nation to feel whole because economics is determined by the state of the souls of the people creating and maintaining it. The Islamic revolution is from the inside out and deals with the totality of the human being as a spiritual, psychological, and physical creature.
The Revolutionary Communist Party continues ““And why, today are the churches being given all kinds of money to set up “prison ministries”-while the educational opportunities in prison are being cut?”
Karl Marx had no interest in the people who are found in prison whom he called the lumpenproletariat. He called them “social scum” who act as the “bribed tools of reactionary intrigue.” The Black Muslim tradition has centered the social development of Black people on the very people orthodox communism rejects. Malcolm X, most notably, would have been considered by Marx, Lenin, and Trotsky as irredeemable. Mao believed they had revolutionary potential but needed proper leadership and Fanon and Huey Newton took a similar view. However, what leadership can materialists offer someone whose outlook is already materialistic?
Any program aimed at transcending their present material condition will require that they see beyond materialism itself. Marxists, including the Black ones, have no working theory on the soul. Without having a concept of the essence of the human being or with a concept that reduces the human being to physical appetites then how can any leadership based on such an impoverished humanism lead the human being to discover their revolutionary potential? This is why black revolutionaries who led rebellions or actually transformed black life were by and large spiritual if not outright religious. It is the reason that Islam had more success with transforming members of the Black lumpenproletariat than all the Marxists, Black or otherwise, have had since being on the scene.
The way the Revolutionary Communist Party discusses socialism reflects a dogmatic belief in Marx’s words “religion is the opiate of the masses.” This is not a scientific approach to religion. It attacks religion’s status in the Black community to bring itself out of obscurity and to the center of black political thought while never dealing critically with the question of what has been religion’s role in the history of black people, really.
When we examine this question we will see that resistance to oppression has always been spiritual and never based in absolutist notions of materialism. Dialectical-materialism is conceptually alien to black people. If we are to exact sustainable change then it must be based on a holistic transformation of the black condition that is actualized first on the interpersonal level starting with each individual. Change the condition within yourself and Allah will change your condition. This will require building new institutions and repairing old ones starting with the household that produces quality black people who understand their end of the divine contract they’ve inherited from their Creator.
Professor Shareef Muhammad
Shareef Muhammad (Frank Beane) is a content curator and historian who teaches history and Islamic Studies as an adjunct within the college and university system in Georgia. Shareef currently works with the Black Dawah Network as the director of the theological department of Black Dawah Network. Shareef believes that Islam is a force for change as well as spiritually transforming and that the religion can serve as the bulwark for ameliorating the social conditions of African-Americans. In 2015 Shareef was chosen to be a chief consultant on the After Malcolm Project which is a digital oral history archive that conducted interviews with African-American Muslims from the Civil Rights Era and collected artifacts. Their work was featured in exhibits at both Kennesaw State University and at the Center for Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta Georgia. In 2018 the project project was adopted by George Mason University. Shareef holds a Bachelor of Arts and Sciences in History from Central State University and a Masters degree in History from Kent State University where his thesis entitled The Cultural Jihad in the Antebellum South which details how enslaved African Muslims preserved their religious and cultural identity in bondage.