by Shaykh Muhammad Shareef bin Farid
I say, and success is with Allah, that history is the balance principle against which human endeavors are measured, critiqued, revised, and changed. No social reform, social transformation or social regeneration can be had without access to one’s authentic history.
The struggle for self determination will be futile without first knowing the ethnic, linguistic, religious and cultural markers which distinguish a people from those that dominate them.
It is for this reason, that all nations and religious communities universally acknowledge the advantages of the science of history.
Allah ta`ala says: “I have created you from a single male and female and made you into nations and ethnic groups so that you may know yourselves and others. The most noble of you with your Lord are those who are most fearfully aware of Him.” [Quran 49:13]
The Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace once said: “Learn from your lineage that which will connect you with your family heritage.”
Many of the scholars have left for us many wise sayings concerning the necessity of the study of history and the importance that this science has with the other religious sciences.
Shaykh Hassan ibn Yazid once said: “There is nothing that can help in warding-off the lies of the fabricators more than the science of history.”
Shaykh Muhammad ibn Muhammad Makhluf said: “Studying the lives of the grandfathers educates the character of the children and grandchildren in mature excellent wisdom and brilliant discourses.”
The Imam Ibn as-Shaakir said in his `Uyuun at-Tarikh: “History is among the greatest of the sciences with regard to education and the easiest of the sciences to utilize. Its lights are evident and its pleasantness arises within the hearts.”
The Mansa, of twelfth century Mali, Maghan Kon Fata, advised his son, the great Mansa, Sundiata Keita regarding the importance of the oral historian (belen-tigi): “From his mouth you will hear the history of your ancestors. You will learn the art of governing Mali according to the principles which our ancestors have bequeathed to us.”
Waziri of Sokoto, Shaykh Junayd ibn Muhammad al-Bukhari, may Allah be merciful to him once said: “Knowledge is universal and eternal but it has a social and cultural stamp. It also has a purpose and a commitment to a particular worldview. It therefore cannot be neutral.”
He also cited a poem in his work concerning the lineage of his great grandmother, Nana Asma’u, the daughter of Shehu Uthman Dan Fuduye’; quoting from a 15th century Timbuktu scholar describing the deep psychological harm a people can face when they lack the self-knowledge which history bequeaths. He says:
“Whoever does not inform his children of his grandparents has destroyed his child, marred his descendants, and injured his offspring the day he dies.
Whoever does not make use of his ancestry, has muddled his reason.
Whoever is unconcerned with his lineage, has lost his mind.
Whoever neglects his origin, his stupidity has become critical
Whoever is unaware of his ancestry his incompetence has become immense.
Whoever is ignorant of his roots his intellect has vanished.
Whoever does not know his place of origin, his honor has collapsed.”
By definition, the preservation of the cultural identity of any people can only be maintained through history.
Thus, its preservation is the function of its people. No one else can tell a people’s story except themselves. They must speak for themselves.
The great Senegalese intellectual, Cheikh Anta Diop in his seminal work called Civilization or Barbarism, later underscored this idea when he said: “The historical conscience, through the feeling of cohesion that it creates, constitutes the safest and the most solid shield of cultural security for a people.
The essential thing for a people is to rediscover the thread that connects them to their most remote ancestral past. In the face of cultural aggression of all sorts, in the face of all disintegrating factors of the outside world, the most efficient cultural weapon with which a people can arm itself is this feeling of historical continuity.”
This, statement of Diop, in the context of the struggle for self determination, becomes an axiom and theorem which should be a given for any people striving to preserve, maintain or regain their self-hood.
Cultural regeneration, thus is essentially an act of self-determination, and self determination is a required ingredient of one’s authentic culture.
Our ‘Shining Prince’ and the ‘Laughing Lion’ of our struggle, al-Hajj Malik El Shabazz, rahimuhu Allah, said on the eve of the establishment of the Organization of African American Unity:
“We assert that we Afro-Americans have the right to direct and control our lives, our history, and our future, rather than to have our destinies determined by American racists. We are determined to rediscover our true African culture, which was crushed and hidden for over four hundred years in order to enslave us and keep us enslaved up to today.
We, Afro-Americans, enslaved, oppressed, and denied by a society that proclaims itself the citadel of democracy, are determined to rediscover our history, promote the talents that are suppressed by our racist enslavers, renew the culture that was crushed by a slave government and thereby, to again become a free people.”
Thus, the very act of reviving the vital elements of one’s culture is a political act, be it the active utilization of one’s own language, the personal and private practice of one’s religion, or the demarcating of one’s cultural boundaries by dress and attire.
Every minuscule expression of one’s own collective uniqueness is a major advancement in the liberation of people dominated by forms of oppression and colonization.
Therefore, it must be intergenerational, transmitted from the most remote ancient past in an unbroken chain into the Present Moment.
It is not surprising, then that the great Muslim jurist, Imam at-Thawri said: “The uninterrupted chain of authority (al-isnaad) is the weapon of the believer. For if he has no weapon with him, then with what can he fight?”
In other words, the transmitted narrative which is passed from generation to generation in an unbroken fashion constitutes, is not only a defensive mechanism, as Diop defined it, but is also an offensive weapon.
This is in essence the role and function of the historical consciousness, which is not only conscious of the narrative behind history, has its own view of history, but also projects this view and narrative in order to advance the interest of its group.
Thus, the historical consciousness is a political tool, and in some sense, an effective political weapon, especially in the face of a decaying oppressive racist society, which by the nature of its dysfunction dumbs down its citizens in order to maintain its power.
As oppressed groups are obligated to revive and maintain their historical consciousness in the process of becoming and realizing self determination; similarly oppressive groups are forced to lose their historical perspective and become completely alienated from their own past.
Historical consciousness provides those who were oppressed with an accurate or positive image of whom they were prior to their encounter with the oppressor; allows them to adjust their present spiritual, social and political realities in accordance with such image, and finally it gives them an accurate picture of the historical role that they played in the formation of the polity under which they are oppressed.
The dominant racist culture on the other hand is left with a limited understanding of the people, and events that shaped their own polity, and when it is known, it is overly simplified, erroneous and marginalizes the importance of those national minorities they oppressed.
Drowning in a sea of intellectual apartheid, they then sink into a state of collective historical amnesia, a kind of social senility, where they can no longer recognize the kith and kin of the core values which gave them their genesis.
Being blinded by the ‘blood lust’ of maintaining their false narrative of racial superiority they then end up eroding and eventually devouring the very principles that lay at the core of their own history.
Like deathly white social vampires they desparately mis-appropriate the vibrant culture and living values of the people they have been hosting upon – hoping to gain for themselves a future.
But the one who has no past, has no future.
The one not in control of his past has no control over his future.
The one who knows his past but takes no lessons from it, is doomed to replicate it in the future.
The one who is trapped in the past will not be prepared for the future.
Only the person who knows his past and is an existential example of it in the Present Moment is the master of his future.
As Allah ta`ala says: “…no fear on them nor do they grieve”; that is to say they do not fear what is to come nor do they grieve over the past.
They are the offspring of their moments (ibn waqt), astonishingly present, and in a constant state of astute awareness (muraqqaba) of who they were, are and must be.
Their mere existence is the Sign that the civilization that repressed them has come to an end.
Just as the moon cannot surpass the sun, nor the day outstrip the night; the presence of a cadre within an oppressed group who have historical consciousness is the definitive evidence that the system which subsisted like a succubus off of them is dead.
Opposites cannot occupy the same space at the same time. One must succumb and the other must prevail.
One is in a state of dynamic continuity and the other in stagnant discontinuity.
As the oppressed are strengthened and enhanced by the genesis of their historical consciousness, the oppressors are weakened and debilitated by the severance from the vitality of their false historical narrative.
Shaykh Abdullahi ibn Fuduye` said it best, in his Tazyeen ‘l-Waraqaat:
“Nothing can destroy what the Hand of Allah has constructed,
Nothing can overthrow the Command of Allah when it comes.
Clarify for them that evil customs are worthless,
And that light illuminates our Sunna.
The market place for the amusement of youth has this day perished,
While preservation has been established for the bazaar of the righteous.
This day the shadowy influence of the people of this world has shrunk,
And lofty trees cast their cooling shade over our Sunna.
The scale of the one who rejects this religion has become light
While the scale of the one who manifest it has become heavy.
The one who helps the religion has become exalted among the people
While the one who rejects it has become humiliated to the elite and common, alike.
Verily the God of the Throne has showered favors
Upon us, he who is grateful is the one who prospers.
Whoever denies blessings and follows passions
For in this world, and in the Judgment, he will perish.
This is because He made the religion clear to us, by a person
Who is related to us, we are elevated by him and ennobled.
If we are receptive to him assisting his teachings
We will succeed, garner his blessings and all will prosper.
However, if we neglect him he will benefit others,
For the misfortunes of one people are the advantages of another.”
What Shaykh Abdullahi described in this ‘victory song’ was the decomposition of one social structure and the genesis of another. He depicted the disintegration of the social institutions, the psychological framework and mythical spiritual traditions of the once dominant society as ‘youthful’.
Not in a vibrant animated sense, but as a childish adolescent society which never came to full growth and development, in spite of its manifold powers.
On the other hand he portrayed the emerging Islamic polity as the resurgence of a primordial timeless tradition an Ancient Way which like the Sun, the Moon, and the earth, is natural, biological, tender, pulsating and vibrant, in spite of its lack of imperial power.
He gave inference to the historical consciousness in his poem when he made reference to: ‘our Sunna’. That is to say, we have become the conscious living heirs of this Way. It is our historical consciousness inherited from generation to generation in a ‘dynamic tradition’ going back to the well spring of the Living Sunna of our master Muhammad, may Allah bless him and grant him peace.
This is the fundamental meaning of the Living Sunna (the vital tradition) which is bequeathed to the present generations through the prism of one’s own righteous ancestors. For the Absolute Being did not merely speak to our master Muhammad, 14 centuries ago in the historical past. Allah ta`ala always addresses the Muhammadan Reality in the Present Moment, eternally to men and women who embody this sacred tradition generation after generation.
It is only when the Living Sunna is embodied, and people become the vessels for the Muhammadan Reality that they hear that address and inherit his mission as those before them did, generation after generation, in the Present Moment and in the future. This is the impetus which historical consciousness conveys.
Cultural regeneration, tajdeed (social reformation) and historical consciousness are vital elements of the Living Sunna. As Shaykh Ibn Ajiba said in his commentary upon the al-Hikam of Ibn Ata`illah al-Askandariya, may Allah be merciful to both of them, that gratitude to Allah ta`ala also comprises showing gratitude for the secondary causative factors which Allah ta`ala create in order to convey His countless blessings to us.
Thus, gratitude for the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, by adhering to and reviving his Sunna, is in effect gratitude to Allah. Gratitude to one’s parents by adhering to and reviving the righteous, virtuous and high culture that they bequeathed to us, is in effect gratitude to Allah. Gratitude to one’s teachers and the purveyors of one’s historical consciousness is in effect gratitude to Allah.
The Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace said: “The most grateful of people to Allah are those who are most grateful to people”; that is to say, those who demonstrate their gratitude by reviving and adhering to the virtuous values they have bequeathed to us.
One of the best means of showing gratitude to Allah ta`ala is by knowing and reviving the legacies of those who embodied and transmitted the upward paths of our Islamic culture.
Shaykh Mustapha ibn Abdullah has mentioned in the introduction of his Kashif ad-Dhanuun that the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace is reported to have said: “Whoever composes a history of a believer is as though he has given life to him.”
So let us give life to the values and principles of our culture and heritage because this will be the essential element in formulating the identity construct needed by the resurgent indigenous African Muslim communities in the west as they rise from the dust of the present crumbling dominant culture.