Ali A. Mazrui, Islam and the African American Experience?By Professor Sulayman S. Nyang
Ali A. Mazrui, the great African intellectual who travelled across oceans and deserts on the planet to project the voices of Africa, is gone from this earth.
Like all of us who are destined to have a rendezvous with God some day, he has joined the ranks of those he honored and celebrated in his own writings. Hence he has gone to what he called “After-Africa” – a term used in his review and appreciation of the late Nigerian poet, Christopher Okigbo
Not only was Ali communicating and cooperating with Black American Muslims, he also kept close and friendly contacts with famous and lesser known African Americans. Many African American boys and girls who entered the American academy 30 or 40 years ago benefitted from his viva voce or the reverberation of his words in the firmaments of Black political and cultural debates.
Truth be told, this author could testify to the fact that Ali and a number of us engaged Imam W.D. Mohammwd and Minister Louis Farrakhan after the successful conclusion of the Million Man March. The idea was brought about by Abdurahman Al-Amoudi, now serving a prison term because of political complications between himself, his organization, the American Muslim Council (AMC), and the U.S. government.
He, Al-Amoudi, called upon the Muslims to take full advantage of Min. Farrakhan’s success. In his view, that moment in American history was the moment of destiny. If Muslims are going to be recognized by the leaders in America, through political activism, then it was imperative for them to seize the time and demonstrate their skills in learning and earning in American society.
Islam and the Creation of Global Consciousness:
In writing this brief review on Ali A. Mazrui and his consciousness about the impact of Islam in Muslim life in the United Stares of America, it would be helpful if the following points are noted here. First of all, Mazrui had shown in his lifetime that he was courageous and unflagging in highlighting what Africa was all about.
A large number of the African American people learned from and definitely profited from his book and video on the Africans. Truth be told once again, Ali Mazrui added a foot note to the long debate about Africa, the Middle East and political engineering in America.
His decision to project the triple heritage as his point of departure in the telling of our story as part and parcel of American civilization was deliberate. Unless and until his background and Afro-Arab identity were taken into account, he would not offer his services to the interested parties.
As a result, we now learned about Africa from three sources that provided platforms for debates among interested parties. His Africans had a counter parallel in The Wonders of Africa, written by Dr. Henry Lewis Gates at Harvard University.
Though unintended, Ali who once served as an advisor to Gates at the beginning of the enterprise, eventually cross swords with his former protégé. Their rivalry and differing readings and interpretations of race, color and religion put them at loggerhead in the domain of American cultural approval.
In the words and images of this African American scholar at the W.E.B. Dubois Institute, much ought to be said about the confusion in the self-definition of certain people in Africa. For Gates, the persons he interviewed in Zanzibar were mistaken in calling themselves Afro-Shirazians. Rather than embracing a clear-cut black identity, as Gates expected, these individuals projected themselves differently.
That was why he told one of them that he looked more like Michael Tyson than an Iranian trapped in African pigmentation. Being born and grounded in that phenomena of cultural mixing and inter-civilization, by all encounters, Mazrui took issues with Gates.
That was the root cause of the verbal combat between Ali and his friends on the one hand and Gates and Wole Soyinka, the distinguished Nobel laureate from Nigeria, on the other.
There is much to be examined by scholars and writers on the Black Experience. Apart from Mazrui and Gates, who in the old lingo of W.E.B.Dubois were colored intellectuals at work, there was also a White English author of distinct and fame.
Known to many of us, Basil Davidson was a supporter of Africa with numerous books and scholarly articles to his credit. Thus, in concluding this narrative, we can say that Mazrui used his pen to generate words to serve as his errand boys, while simultaneously doing psychological judo to the purveyors of violence and mischief in Africa and beyond.
Ali Mazrui and his consciousness of the American Experience:
Regardless of what people say or write about the “Man from Mombassa,” the fact remains he is someone who went to his grave knowing fully well where America started and what lessons to be learned from that experience.
A Third Truth be told, Ali was seriously concerned about Blacks and their American experience. Three issues affected him in his lifetime: The battle for civil rights; the battle against global racism; and finally, the battle for climate change and progressive action against the humiliation and marginalization of violated and culturally deprived peoples.
A bibliography on Professor Mazrui would serve as a “Guide for the Perplexed” who embraced his vision. Those who are Muslim from any part of the planet, who treasured what we know as his Mazruiana Body of Knowledge, will join the struggle for justice and freedom.
These are people who will eternally remember the man from Mombassa through scholarships and fellowships in his name. Ali's commitment to racial equality was evidence in his local and international activism.
Before Mandela came out of jail, Ali Mazrui and his friends and colleagues in town and gown participated in the dismantle of the stones of apartheid. When Abdulrahman Al-Amoudi ran the AMC, he championed the idea of mobilizing American Muslims against apartheid.
The late Professor Ali A. Mazrui was asked to give the keynote address at a Washington hotel. Historically speaking, the drama of that moment was significant in a variety of ways. Ali spoke well to connect the dots which created a line of meaning for those who aspired to bring down this shameful institution.
On that particular occasion, the late Imam Warith Deen Mohammed and Imam Jamil Al-amin, before his imprisonment, shared space together with the leaders of the AMC and other Muslims sufficiently shaken by this pain in the “black neck.”? The third issue of marginalization and humiliation of the weak and vulnerable minorities played an important part in Ali's role as public intellectual. Ironically, Ali’s liberalism in support of victimized, humiliated and marginalized minorities put him at loggerhead with Salman Rushdie.
Much ink was expended during the controversy between Rushdie and his Western Liberal supporters, on the one part, and Mazrui and his supporters on the other hand.? In concluding this side of the story about the man and his impact on American, African and world history, one must put Ali A. Mazrui into the Obama legacy. If he is not in the footnotes to Obama's post presidential narrations, chances are someone might well write at that moment history that the old man from Mombassa wrote profusely about President Obama, who was 5 years old when his Kenyan father shared the joy and glory of coming to America at that moment in history.
Ali went to Columbia and Obama's father attended a university in the Hawaii. Interestingly enough, Ali's children will be identified with the legacies of the Kennedys and the great airlift, even though he was not a recruit of Tom Mboya.
It would be a clear case to make that America gave the gift of the American Dream to a wide range of Africans during the Cold War. At a final point in this conclusion, one could speculate about the wishes of the belated and now departed Ali A. Mazrui.
Certainly, he would have asked the President to grant clemency to Jamil Al-Amin to please the African American pressing his claims because of his severe illness. Similarly, he most probably would have begged for Abdulrahman al-Amoudi, who worked with him during heydays of the AMC.
Ironically, the man with whom Ali A. Mazrui worked so hard to bring Mandela out of jail is now languishing without any indication of release. This is certainly mysterious and intriguing because Al-Amoudi was the first Muslim organizer to take the average group of Muslims to the White House, where First Lady Hillary Clinton gave Muslims their first Eid celebration in American history.
Ali A. Mazrui and his commentary on Islam and the African American Experience:
In writing this part of the Ali story, it is important to identity the manner in which African American came to know Mazrui in American society.
As I stated above, his personal encounter with Malcolm X was a moment that opened his eyes to American racism and its impact on countless African Americans. Like many Muslims who met and conversed with Malcolm, Ali certainly was not someone who would lend support to the “racist voice” of Malcolm X at the time. However, in retrospect, one could now argue here that, as a colonial subject in whose country the color bar remained effective, Ali's Sunni Islam understandably sympathized with the pangs of Malcolm X, the Nation of Islam, and the Black community.
Yet, in saying so, we should hasten to also argue here that Ali was strong in asserting the legacies from his father and family. Those African Americans who took time out to read his works on culture and interracial relations worldwide will certainly see how he and his nephew Al-Amin together addressed the impact of language in the field of human communication.
Both of them challenged us in their book appropriately named as the biblically metaphor, the Tower of Babel. Ali is gone but his nephew should now pick up the baton and much is expected from him.? Again, in exploring Ali’s relations with the African American Muslims, another observation that deserves immediate attention revolves around Ali and the memories of multiple people who knew and made positive gestures of friendship and love.
There should be three types of people in this group: Those who knew him from the class room; those who learned about him through the media and Internet; and finally, those who are locally and globally engaged and definitely share their mental world with people from far and wide.
Ali Mazrui was a cultural timber much in demand among young Muslims in search of inspiration.
Ali A. Mazrui, Islam and the African American Experience?By Professor Sulayman S. Nyang