Answering Islam - A Christian-Muslim dialog

Which Roots ?

Rev. Richard P. Bailey

Some people claim the Black Man’s roots are in Islam and that being Muslim is as natural for him as breathing. They also say Christianity is the White man's religion, which took away the African's true Muslim identity through the forced imposition of the slave master's name and religion.

If Islam is the Black man’s true identity, why do African Americans who convert to Islam have to pray in Arabic to "Allah" (Arabic name for God), recite the Quran in Arabic and repeat many Arabic religious terms and phrases? If they change their name, why is it always an Arabic name?" Why Arabic and not Swahili, Hausa, Sango, Zulu or any of the other ethnic African languages? African Americans who convert to Islam are encouraged to wear the long flowing Arabic style of dress natural to living in a desert climate rather than one of the African styles of dress developed for living in the tropics or the savanna. Many women are told they must wear the Arabic "hijab." It seems that being a Muslim means being Arabic, not African! How can becoming an Arab be "as natural as breathing" for an African?

In contrast, African Christians pray and read the Bible in their own African languages and wear their own African clothing styles. Messiah Jesus said Almighty God wants to hear the language of our spirits, words spoken in truth,1 not just the religious words we repeat with our mouths. Why would He require us to memorize and repeat to Him words of a language foreign to us?

The African continent contains several racial groups. The original Berber inhabitants of north Africa were conquered and "Arabized" by invading Arab Muslim Bedouins from the Arabian Peninsula. European colonialists conquered most of south Africa and still maintain some influence there. Likewise thousands of workers and traders from India settled in east Africa. But the African American traces his ancestry not to the Arab, European or Indian invaders of Africa, but to its original black inhabitants - the true Africans.

Because the Islamic religion had begun to spread into west Africa, perhaps as many as 20% of the slaves brought to America were Muslims. Nevertheless, there is no doubt that most of the slaves were animists (those who worship spirits) since animism was the predominant religion of the African people at that time. The Islamic religion has been growing in Africa, but so has Christianity. In fact, Christianity in Africa goes back to the Ethiopian eunuch mentioned in the book of Acts, six hundred years before Islam began! In 1900 76% of sub-Saharan Africa was animistic, 15% Muslim and 11% Christian. Today 16% of Black Africans are animists. 48% are Christians and only 32% are Muslims!2 Ask yourself, is Islam the major religion of ethnic Africans? Has it ever been the major religion of the Black man? Today being Christian is more African than being Muslim or anything else!

As for Christianity being "the white man's religion," it was born in Asia and spread to Africa before it spread to Europe. Although it grew faster in Europe for many centuries, it is now growing much faster outside of Europe. African, Asian and Latino Christians have doubled in the past 25 years and now number 980 million. This compared to only 730 million "white" (European & American) Christians! Numerically at least, Christianity is no longer just the white man’s religion.

It is true that slaves brought to America were forced to take European, "Christian" names and some were pressured to become Christians. It is also true that the millions of African slaves sold into the Muslim Middle East were forced to accept Arabic names and the Islamic religion. Slavery is evil and this practice of forced conversion always seems to be a part of it.

Some folks have gone too far in trying to appreciate the dignity of their African roots and have fallen into the self-deceiving trap of denigrating all other peoples. They teach that "the white man is a devil" (something never taught by historic, orthodox Islam!), and that "Jesus and all the prophets were black." Recent archeological research reveals that Jesus, a Semitic Jew living in the land half way between Europe and Africa, was a man of color, half way between "white" and "black," who belongs to all of us!

We all need to take pride in our own ethnic roots and appreciate the history and culture of our ancestors. But if we become too exclusively impressed with the greatness of our own ethnic background, we begin to see others as not being one of the "brothers."

If we are really honest with ourselves, we will recognize our roots are nothing more than a long line of dead people, who made many mistakes, and whose true character is clouded in missing information. In fact if we trace our roots back far enough we will find that we are all children of Adam, who got us thrown out of paradise and introduced death to us3 by his rebellion against God.

There is an alternative! We can find our identity in the Lord Jesus who conquered death and has the power to give us meaningful lives today. As believers in Christ, we are children of God first4 and members of a certain family and racial group second. When I find my real identity in Christ, I put myself on an equal level with all other people because no racial or ethnic group is excluded from receiving the free gift of salvation through Jesus.5

The roots of the Lord Jesus the Messiah are clear. He said, "before Abraham was born, I am!"6 He was present in the beginning of creation,7 and in fact was present before the creation of the world!8 He is the One who said, "I am the Alpha and Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End."9 That is why He is called "the Root of David."10

God’s people today are from every people, race, language and nation on earth. We are finding our real roots in Jesus, who has made us his own special people.11

Which roots are you trying to find? Those who have never accepted their position as sons of God through the salvation He has provided for each one of us in Christ are doomed to try to find some meaning and comfort in identity with their imperfect human ancestry.



1 "A time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth." (John 4:23,24)

2 Data from almanacs and world books.

3 "Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned." (Romans 5:12)

4 "To all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God - children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God." (John 1:12,13)

5 "And they sang a new song: ‘You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation.’" (Revelation 5:9)

6 (John 8:58)

7 (see John 1:1-3)

8 Jesus said, "And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began." (John 17:5)

9 (Revelation 22:13)

10 (Revelation 22:16)

11 "But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy." (I Peter 2:9,10)

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