Race, Islam, and terrorism: Most African-Caribbean men who become Muslims do so because it gives their lives hope and meaning. Robert Beckford The Hindu Wednesday, Aug 17, 2005 - Guardian Newspapers Limited 2005
Introducing the subject of "race" into the analysis of any area of social conflict can enlighten or obscure the real causes of distress. And this perilous pathway has been followed in some of the news coverage of young black men and domestic terrorism. Black men converting to Islam should be placed within the religious context of their communities, where religion still matters. African-Caribbean men and women continue to turn out in large numbers for religious activities. But Islam is able to do what the black church cannot — attract black men.
I have an ongoing dialogue with an artist who converted in the mid-1990s. His journey began when he listened to tapes of African-American Muslim preachers while at graduate school in America. The tapes made a clear-cut link between a commitment to Allah and black liberation from poverty, drugs, gangs, and meaninglessness. His first visit to a predominantly African-American mosque was life-changing. Hundreds of smartly dressed black men full of self-belief, black pride, purpose, and respect immediately became role models.
Many black men were impressed by Islam's Africa-centred preaching and positive association with blackness. After all, one of the most powerful icons of the 20th century, Malcolm X, made the journey from Christianity to Islam in search of black redemption. My artist friend says mainstream Islam provides him with a social awareness and commitment to justice that is mostly ignored in black churches. I have a nephew who recently converted while serving a prison sentence. Spending an inordinate amount of time alone in his cell, he took to reading the Bible and the Qur'an to pass the time.
Intrigued by the notion that Islam was the last testament, God's final revelation, he pursued his interest by attending lessons with the imam assigned to the prison chaplaincy. Convinced, he became a devotee. It was clear to me that the daily regime of Islam provided him with the tools for personal discipline and an interest in intellectual thought. Most African-Caribbean men converting to Islam do so because it is a religion with a capacity to give their lives hope and meaning. This is not a new idea. As long ago as 1888, the Caribbean educator Edward Wilmot Blyden argued that Islam was more respectful of black culture and easier to translate into Caribbean culture than Christianity. (Robert Beckford is a lecturer in African diasporan religions and cultures at the University of Birmingham, U.K.)