The rapper Talib Kweli, comedian Dave Chappell and 30 percent of incarcerated African-American men all have one thing in common, they all practice the faith known as Islam. Practiced by 2.1 billion people globally, Islam is the world’s fastest growing religion and the second most popular following Christianity. It is estimated by the year 2023, that Islam will be the dominant religion of the world. According to the 2000 U.S. Census Bureau African- American Muslims make up 30 percent of the 6 to 7 million Muslims in the U.S. Islam like most religions, has always been a hot political topic, but not until September 11, 2001 did Islam or Muslims gain so much attention from mainstream Americans.
To be a Muslim means literally to “submit to the will of God.” A Muslim believes that God (Allah) revealed to the prophet Muhammad his final word known as the Quran. They do not regard Muhammad as the founder of a new religion, but as the restorer of the original monotheistic faith of Abraham, Moses, Jesus, and other prophets.
Muslims also practice five basic pillars or tenants of Islam; the Shahadah which is a basic statement of faith similar to John 3:16 is to Christians, the Salah or praying five times a day toward Mecca in Saudi Arabia, the Zakat or giving a portion of wealth the way many Christians give a tithe or offering in church, the Saw or fasting during the month of Ramadan, and lastly the Hajj which is an honored pilgrimage to Mecca to pray.
Islam often misunderstood when compared with Judaism or Christianity is more like these religions than different. Muslims believe in the virgin birth of Jesus (Isa) along with the belief that he ascended into heaven and will one day return to his people. However Muslims view Jesus as a prophet similar to the way Jews might.
Generally Muslims use two books of reference the Quran and the Hadith. The Quran is the exact words of God; its authenticity, originality and totality are intact. The Hadith is the report of the sayings, deeds and approvals of the Prophet Muhammad. The Prophet’s sayings and deeds are called Sunnah. The Seerah is the writings of followers of Muhammad about the life of the Prophet.
Salaam is a greeting meaning peace in Arabic this may be heard often outside a Mosque (Masjid) or Islamic Center on fridays the meeting day of prayer for Muslims. Before prayer, a Muslim must perform a ritual washing called a Wadu in which hands and feet are cleansed. Islam allows its followers to eat everything which is good for the health. It restricts certain items such as pork and its by-products, alcohol and any narcotic or addictive drugs. One unique trait of Islam is that followed by Muslim women the wearing of the headscarf or Hijab it has been the subject of religious controversy but is worn for modesty purposes, Muslim men also wear a small hat called a kufi during prayer.
Islam is divided into two main factions Sunni and Shia. Sunni is seen often as a lax version of Islam as more American Muslims are of this sect Black Americans often discover Islam as a rejection to the “Whiteman’s Christianity” or injustice they may find in other religions. “On campus we used to have all kinds of Muslims, noted Grambling Alumni Rico Rivers, “we had members of the Nation of Islam, Orthodox Muslims, The Five Percenters everyone was represented.” The majority of Black American Muslims are Orthodox Muslims who follow mainly Sunni traditions.
GSU has a small presence of Five Percenters a branch of the Nation of Islam that follows leader Clarence 13x. The Nation of Islam popularized by Elijah Muhammad and Malcolm X during the civil rights era still has stronghold in Black politics, while dwindling in members of its religious community. This is also evident in the Black American community where Islamic leaders such as Louis Farrakhan and Keith Elliot have become political leaders as well.
Being that most American Muslims are students and 30 percent of all Muslims are African American according to the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), one wouldn’t expect it to be difficult being a Muslim at an HBCU.
This is not true according to Akeem Obe a freshman here at GSU, “it is hard to get food. There are little arrangements made for Muslim students.” Since the Muslim Student Association has recently dissolved, the nearest accommodations for Grambling students is at the Islamic Center in Ruston. Hopefully, as the demographics at GSU change Muslim students can feel more at home.