I passed on the Grammy Awards last Sunday to go see 12 Years a Slave. When I got home from the movie, I turned to my phone—first to call my mother, who had already seen the film, and then to play the gospel music stored there in the hopes that it would make me feel better.
Even though the music and a little conversation did their job for the night (I felt much worse in the morning and lied in bed staring into darkness for nearly 40 minutes), I found a bitter irony in turning to gospel music to relieve my heaviness. I had just watched scenes in which white men purchased human beings they called “fine black beasts” and read the Bible to them to save their animals’ souls and subdue their rebellion—and to humanize themselves.
Neither misuse of the Bible to promote oppression nor black Christian folks’ conflict over worshiping a God forced on them are novel revelations. I know this. And I wasn’t going to write about them until I saw Amina Wadud’s post, “Slavery and God/dess” on the Feminism and Religion blog. She writes:
“Recent area studies about Islam in America estimate that one third of the Africans forced to the Americas were Muslim. My first African relative on US soil identified as Moor (another term used for “Muslim”). But Islam did not survive slavery.”
Islam did not survive slavery. I had never thought of this. When I think about the religions and other aspects of culture that were left on the shores of Africa’s West Coast, drowned in the Middle Passage or beaten to death in the U.S., I think of the Orixa, family, and healthy food. I’ve never thought about Islam as part of what was lost, and I’ve never heard anyone suggest that it was.
Which makes me wonder, what else didn’t survive?