The movie Black Panther (2018) has been a tremendous box office success. It grossed an astonishing $218 million on its first weekend. The bold film earned more in its first four days than any movie in history at the North American box office, except for Star Wars: The Force Awakens. After only 10 days, it outgrossed almost all other Marvel films, and this was just the beginning.
As a comic-book superhero, Black Panther debuted in 1966, a few months before the revolutionary Black Panther Party was formed. Politically, however, the hero was already empowered. And now his adventures have moved to the big screen.
Black Panther (T’Challa) is actually the king of Wakanda. He owes his extraordinary strength and agility to a bulletproof nanotech bodysuit and a quasi-magical potion. His sister is a tech genius who plays Q to Black Panther’s James Bond, providing him with a dazzling array of hyper-tech gadgets and weapons.
Sometime around the Christmas of 1996, a man went on the Lesser Pilgrimage to Mecca. After the mandatory part of the Pilgrimage was completed, he spent his days (and nights) in the vicinity of the Kaaba (“the Cube”), praying at times and exploring at others. On one of these days, he was on the upper floor of the structure then surrounding the Kaaba (it has been demolished since and rebuilt differently). The Afternoon Prayer Call was sounded, and as people got ready to perform the Obligatory part of the Afternoon Prayer, two men came up and stood in the same line with him, one on either side.
Because of the great heat, everyone was barefoot. When the time for the first bending came, they bowed in genuflection. The man fixed his gaze on the big toe of his right foot, which was the proper thing to do. However, he could also see the feet of the men adjoining him. What he saw was this:
This is what Islam does to you, my friends. This is what Islam does for you, my friends. Islam makes you racially color-blind, no matter whether your skin is yellow, white, black, brown, or red.
To the outside world, Wakanda may seem like an African country in need of aid. From above, it appears as a dense jungle, but this is a holographic projection. Beneath that façade, its capital, the Golden City, is actually a technotronic utopia of skyscrapers that might put London’s Shard to shame, with mag-lev trains and flying-saucer-like craft as the principal means of transport. Its hidden splendor symbolizes the richness of the African heart. According to one reviewer, Wakanda is the real superhero in this movie.
Coined in 1992 by cultural critic Mark Dery, afrofuturism refers to a combination of African mythologies, science fiction, and hi-tech to empower black people in the future. It is a cultural movement that plays out in art, music, science fiction novels, fashion, and now the cinema. Wakanda is a black utopia: “a place of Afro-futurism, of what African nations can be or what they could have been and still be had colonialism not taken place.” (quoted in the New York Times.) And King T’Challa is a black version of Batman: rich, powerful, tech-savvy, and a fighter against injustice.
Seen in this light, Black Panther is the quintessential Afrofuturist movie of our time. Its immense success will likely inspire sequels, prequels, and spinoffs in the future. Moreover, it does not shy away from political issues, but tackles them head-on.
(Note: possible spoilers in this section.)
Into Wakanda’s paradise steps the revolutionary-cum-villain Killmonger (above left), a special-ops soldier and a relative of the king, a kill list as long as your arm, and a potentially earth-shaking agenda: global revolution. He challenges Black Panther for the throne.
His grievance: hitherto, Wakanda has kept its wealth and its technology to itself. His intention, however, is not to share these with the rest of humanity—which is what Black Panther would do.
Rather, he intends to foment uprisings and revolutions everywhere. There are two billion of our brothers in the world, he says, and he will use the vibranium and advanced weapons of Wakanda to liberate them all. He is going to burn it all down: the brothers will rise up all over the world, kill all the rulers, their children, and anyone who opposes them. He intends to topple the world’s racial order: “The world is gonna start over and this time we’re on top.” White supremacy will be replaced by black supremacy all over the world.
But what then?
One of the leading characters nails it on the head, not only for the present but also for that imagined future, when she tells Killmonger: “You are so full of hatred, you will never be a true king.”
Killmonger represents the temptation of black radicalism. It is to the credit of director Ryan Coogler that Black Panther is not your ordinary superhero movie, but explicitly brings thorny social issues up for debate.
Ultimately, Killmonger is defeated by Black Panther, who, as his speech at the U.N. during the finale bears witness, represents the best that Africa has to offer humanity:
So, let us turn to two scholars who have devoted considerable thought to the question of race in relation to Islam. The first of these is orientalist Bernard Lewis. His initial study on the subject, Race and Color in Islam, was published in 1971. An updated version was published in 1990.*
Lewis explains the position taken in essential sources, that is, in Islamic theology and law. The first go-to source is, of course, the Koran. Lewis states that there are only two verses in the Koran that deal with the issue of color, one of which has already been quoted in the epigraph above. (The other, 30:22, is less relevant to our subject.) He concludes:
As a result, beginning with the Prophet and his Companions—such as the black slave Bilal ibn Rabah of Abyssinia, whose liberation (emancipation) was arranged by the Prophet—racial preference has never been part of Islam. The Prophet also appointed Usama ibn Zayd, a black man and the son of a freed slave, as commander of his army for his last expedition. He thus demonstrated that race and color do not prevent a person from attaining high ranks in society, including the highest: “You should listen to and obey your ruler, even if he is an Ethiopian (black) slave…” (Bukhari, 9.89.256.)
Toynbee on Islam
Arnold Toynbee was a world-famous historian of the twentieth century and the author of the monumental twelve-volume A Study of History. Although he was culturally Christian in outlook (while describing himself as post-Christian), Toynbee praised Islam among the world’s great religions for being fundamentally free of any racist tendencies. Rabbi Jacob Agus has observed that Toynbee regarded the biblical notion of a “chosen people” (the doctrine of divine election) as “the source of the self-aggrandizement of Christian nations in the modern world.” (The Essential Agus (1997), p. 330.) Thus, they commited “the sin of self-glorification—what Toynbee has called ‘the idolization of the ephemeral [in our terminology, the Base] self.’” (Agus, “Toynbee’s Epistle to the Jews.”**)
In the first volume of A Study of History, Toynbee wrote:
At this point, it would not be out of place to look at the opinions of some prominent Afro-Americans.
James Baldwin, the famous author, lived intermittently in Istanbul, Turkey (a Moslem-majority country), for almost a decade in the 1960s. In a documentary, Baldwin said he felt more comfortable as a black man in Istanbul than in Paris or New York. He wrote:
“All of the western nations have been caught in a lie, the lie of their pretended humanism; this means that their history has no moral justification, and that the west has no moral authority.”
“I have a dream”
Almost everyone knows about the famous speech that Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., on August 28, 1963. Some excerpts:
Letter from Mecca
Yet even as MLK spoke those words, his dream was a living reality across vast swathes of the planet. The following year, another famed man, Malcolm X, made the Pilgrimage to Mecca. His impressions deserve to be quoted at length. Excerpts from his letter of April, 1964 follow.
Of course, some things have changed in the ensuing decades. We have come from interracial marriage to a black man as US president. And yet, social justice in America hasn’t really improved. As Suzy Hansen (a journalist who contributes to the New York Times Magazine) remarks, in some ways it has declined. A recent Foreign Affairs article states: “de facto segregation is firmly in place in much of the country.” (Foreign Affairs, Jan/Feb 2018.) The Preamble to the Declaration of Independence doesn’t seem to have sunk in just yet: “We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights…”
White supremacist attitudes still simmer just below the surface, accompanied by their reaction, racial animosity on the part of blacks. These sociological stressors are not quickly or easily dissipated. Black racism, no matter how justified in view of its historical backdrop, emerges as the mirror image of white racism.
The only solution is to renounce racism altogether, in whatever form. And a postracist society can be achieved only if Islam is embraced, as both Toynbee and Malcolm X wisely pointed out.
This is primarily an individual choice. But if enough people make it, it will become a collective choice.
In the end scene of The Flash, S03E20, Flash’s worst enemy, Savitar,
is finally revealed as none other than—the Flash himself.
I know a woman who, above all else, desired to secure a better future for her children. Yet when it was presented to her on a silver platter, she dashed it to the ground with the back of her hand.
I have known a girl who wanted to live in another country. But when she was presented with the opportunity, she wrecked it all by herself. No outside help was needed.
In the movie Doctor Strange (2016), the guru called the Ancient One triggers an out-of-body-experience (OOBE or OBE) for Dr Stephen Strange. Like an astronaut doing EVA (extra-vehicular activity) outside his space capsule, Strange is in for some breath-taking experiences. Click here for a longer video, and expect some psychedelic (mind-expanding) scenes.
Whether male or female, the human constitution comprises three items: the physical body, the spirit, and the self or ego.
The spirit has its own aspirations. It has wings, it wants to soar.
The self, too, has its inclinations, but these are very different from those of the spirit. The ego is selfish. The spirit wants to rise up, the self wants to drag it down.
This is because in its initial condition, the self is in a raw, unrefined state. For this reason, it is called the Base Self (nafs al-ammara) in Sufism.
The solution, however, is not to destroy it, because that is not possible short of suicide, which is a form of murder and hence, forbidden (4:29). What is necessary is to purify the self, to raise it to levels beyond the Base Self, until it reaches a stage where it shows zero resistance to the urge of the spirit to rise.
The Base Self will not miss the slightest chance to make you shoot yourself in the foot. Never side with your Base Self. Rather, step on it when it rears its head. It’s the hardest thing to do, but also the most necessary.
For instance, when your rage is about to boil over, do as the Prophet said: “When anger rises within you, remain silent.” Don’t say a word until it has passed.
Don’t engage in Illicit Gain. And don’t even approach Illicit Lust—extramarital sex with another (“marriage” being confined to a spouse of the opposite sex).
Otherwise, if you allow the Base Self to have its way, sooner or later it will ram you into a tree… or crash you into a wall.
You have been warned.
It is Better to Love than to Hate
Let us not make our hate our religion. Let us not make anger our religion.
As Muhammad Ali (born Cassius) Clay observed, “Hating people because of their color is wrong. And it doesn’t matter which color does the hating. It’s just plain wrong.” (Note: Clay moved from Sunni Islam to Sufism in his later years.)
The Buddhist Dhammapada states: “Hatred does not cease by hatred; hatred ceases by love.” Master Kayhan called this statement the interpretation of Koranic Verses and the Prophet’s Sayings. He said:
In the first of Master Ahmet Kayhan’s “invitations to peace,” we find the following lines:
In this global village that is our spaceship, may humanity finally unite as one tribe, one race—the human race—however hard that might prove to achieve.
* The new version was published under the title Race and Slavery in the Middle East. The change in title would seem to reflect an attempt on the part of Lewis (or his publishers) to shift any blame away from Islam, and ascribe it more to social, historical and geographical circumstances. Racist tendencies may exist in Islamic societies, but they contradict the high ideals of Islam itself.
In addition to the issue of race, Lewis also focuses on slavery, which I have dealt with elsewhere (in “Islam and Democracy”). Some sources, such as this one (pp. 297-99), claim that Lewis’s findings about Islamic slavery are misleading, calling them a gross oversimplification and citing significant achievements by black people in the Maghreb of which Lewis seems unaware. They also point out that some practices in real life violated the egalitarian message of the Koran and the Traditions of the Prophet—the primary sources of Islam: “The moral principles suggested by the Qur’an and Hadith regarding the emancipation of enslaved people and the promotion of human rights and dignity conflicted with the interest of the dominant class and slave culture.” (p. 298.)
What distinguishes American slavery—which is the one we are really familiar with—from other ancient slave systems, is that it is race-based. (Foreign Affairs, Jan/Feb 2018.) In other cases, slaves could be white, black, and so forth, but slavery was not built on white dominance. Thus, slavery and race are ordinarily separate topics for discussion; only in the American case do they merge. (The difference in the case of South Africa is that, unlike the Transatlantic slave trade that exported enslaved people from Africa, it was based on the enslaved society that existed within South Africa.)
Slavery was an entrenched condition in ancient societies, and Islam, while it vastly improved the lot of slaves, did not prohibit slavery immediately, but left it to linger on until it died out of itself. Ideals are not always easy to attain by real people living in an imperfect world.
And not just ancient societies: in the British Empire, slavery was only finally abolished in 1928 (it didn’t end in 1833). As for the United States, an article (by a law professor, no less!) was published there only recently, arguing for the reintroduction of slavery. (“What if you could get your own immigrant?”)
The examples given by Lewis notwithstanding, students of the institution of slavery in Islam have found that in general, what Muslims actually did with their slaves adhered closely to the requirements of the Prophet’s Traditions, Islamic theology and law:
**Agus writes this in a different context, but it sits equally well here.