A brother named Dawud Walid is fighting Muslim color prejudice by telling the stories of dark-skinned Islamic heroes. According to the project’s Facebook page’s ‘About’ section, “This page was started for Black History Month to share blog entries about prominent black figures in the early history of Islam.”
I commend the brothers and sisters involved, but I do have one criticism: They missed all the big fish. As far as early Muslims go, we don’t have to stick to the tired slave narratives of freed slaves and sons of “black” slave women. We can start from the top:
The Rightly Guided Caliphs
Yousef ibn Al-Zaki ibn Abdel Rahman Abu Al-Hajjaj Al-Mizzi said in his book Tahdheeb Al-Kamaal:
“He (Umar ibn Al-Khattab (RAA) was black-skinned (very adam), tall, thick-bearded, bald, ambidextrous, and he dyed his hair with henna and katim…Zarr ibn Hubaish and others described him this way – they described him as very adam complexioned (black-skinned). This is the way that he was described by most scholars knowledgeable of the biographies and the stories of the people of the past and their news.”
Ibn Saad and al-Hakim have recorded a description of Umar as Abu Miriam Zir, a native of Kufa described him. Zir said:
“I went forth with the people of Madina on a festival day, and I saw Umar walking barefoot. He was advanced in years, bald, of a tawny colour-a left handed man, tall, and towering above the people.”
“He was not tall or short. He had a handsome face, a long beard, dark skin, wide shoulders, and he would dye his hair with saffron. He would cap teeth with gold.”
‘Abdullah bin Hazm said: “I saw ‘Uthman, and I never saw a man or woman more beautiful than him.”
as-Sa’ib said: “I saw him dying his beard yellow, and I never saw an old man more handsome than him.”
In his book Tarikh Al-Khulafaa (The History of the Caliphs), Imam Al-Suyuti described Ali ibn Abi Talib as follows:
و كان علي شيخا سمينا أصلع كثير الشعر ربعة إلى القصر عظيم البطن عظيم اللحية جدا قد ملأت ما بين منكبيه بيضاء كأنها قطن آدم شديد الأدمة
Ali was a heavyset, bald, hairy man of average height which leaned toward shortness. He had a large stomach and a large beard which filled all that was between his shoulders. His beard was white as if it was cotton and he was a black-skinned man.
* َAl-Hafidh Al-Dhahabi describes Ali ibn Abi Taalib as shadid al-udma (black-skinned) here in his book Taarikh Al-Islaam:
وعن الشعبي قال: رأيت علياً أبيض اللحية، ما رأيت أعظم لحية منه، وفي رأسه زغبات. وقال أبو إسحاق: رأيته يخطب، وعليه إزار ورداء، أنزع، ضخم البطن، أبيض الرأس واللحية. وعن أبي جعفر الباقر قال: كان علي آدم، شديد الأدمة، ثقيل العينين، عظيمهما، وهو إلى القصر أقرب.
* Ibn Jawzi describes Ali ibn Abi Taalib as shadid al-udma (black-skinned) in his book Safwat Al-Safwa.
* Al-Balaadhari describes Ali ibn Abi Taalib as shadid al-udma (black-skinned) here in his book Ansaab Al-Ashraaf:
وكان علي آدم شديد الادمة، ثقيل العينين، ضخم البطن، أصلع ذا عضلات ومناكب، في أذنيه شعر قد خرج من أذنه، وكان إلى القصر أقرب
* Al-Suyuti describes Ali ibn Abi Taalib as shadid al-udma (black-skinned) here in Taarikh Al-Khulafaa:
”و كان علي (بن ابي طالب )شيخا، سمينا، أصلع، كثير الشعر، ربعة الى القصر، عظيم البطن، عظيم اللحية جدا، قد ملأت ما بين منكبيه، بيضاء كأنها قطن، آدم شديد الأدمة”.
* Ibn Abdel Barr describes Ali ibn Abi Taalib as shadid al-udma (black-skinned) here:
وسئل أبو جعفر محمد بن علي بن الحسين عن صفة علي رضي الله عنه فقال: كان رجلاً آدم شديد الأدمة، مقبل العينين عظيمهما ذا بطن
أصلع ربعة إلى القصر لا يخضب
* Ahmed ibn ‘Amru ibn Al-Dahhaak Abu Bakr Al-Shaibaani describes Ali ibn Abi Taalib (RAA) as shadid al-udma (black-skinned) here:
ومن ذكر علي بن أبي طالب
ابن عَبْد المطلب بن هاشم بن عَبْد مناف بن قصي بن مرة بن كعب بن لؤي يكنى أبا الحسن رَضِيَ الله تعالى عنه واسم أبي طالب عَبْد مناف بن عَبْد المطلب واسم عَبْد المطلب شيبة بن هاشم واسم هاشم عَمْرو بن عب مناف واسم عَبْد مناف المغيرة بن قصي واسم قصي زيد بن كلاب بن مرة بن كعب بن لؤي وكان آدم شديد الأدمة ثقيل العينين عظيمها وقد قالوا أعمش ذا بطن سمنا أصلع دون الربعة عظيم اللحية رضوان الله عليه
* Al-‘Allaama Mohamed ibn Talha Al-Shaafa’ie describes Ali ibn Abi Taalib as shadid al-udma (black-skinned) here:
كان عليه السلام آدم شديد الادمة، ظاهرة السمرة، عظيم العينين، أقرب إلى القصر من الطول لم يتجاوز حد الاعتدال في ذلك، ذا بطن كثير الشعر، عريض اللحية، أصلع أبيض الرأس واللحية
* Al-Safadi describes Ali ibn Abi Taalib as shadid al-udma (black-skinned) here:
وكان رضي الله عنه رجلاً آدم شديد الأدمة ثقيل العينين عظيمهما، ذا بطن أصلع ربعة إلى القصر لا يخضب
Ibn Asaakir says in Taarikh Dimisq:
وقال زهير بْن معاوية : كَانَ علي يكنى أبا قاسم ، وكان رجلًا آدم شديد الأدمة ، ثقيل العينين عظيمهما ، ذا بطن ، أصلع ، وهو إلى قصر أقرب ، وكان أبيض الرأس واللحية ،
Zuhair ibn Muawia said: “Ali had the kunya Abu Qaasim and he was shadid al-udma (black-skinned) with big, heavy eyes, a big belly, bald, leaned toward shortness, and he had white hair and a white beard.”
The Companions (Sahaaba) in General
Most of the people living in Arabia were Arabs, the original Arabs (as opposed the the Arab diaspora of Arabized مُستَعرَب peoples) were related to Sub-Saharan Africans in appearance and every other way. So, in general, it’s safe to assume that any Arab Sahaaba was “black” unless sound traditions prove otherwise.*
Conclusion: Islam is neither colorblind nor racist. It’s real.
Color does matter. It does exist. If not, it would not have been mentioned in the Qur-an. If not, it would not have been mentioned in the ahadith. It’s a perfectly valid subject, and like every subject, it must constantly be revisited, “dusted off” as it were, to prevent misconceptions from creeping in. Think about it, if there were valid conversations about skin color all along, would there be so much racism in the Ummah now?
*Read below for descriptions of the Pre-Islamic and early Islamic Arabs:
“The original inhabitants of Arabia…were not the familiar Arabs of our time but a very much darker people. A proto-negroid belt of mankind stretched across the ancient world from Africa to Malaya. This belt…(gave) rise to the Hamitic peoples of Africa, to the Dravidian peoples of India, and to an intermediate dark people inhabiting the Arabian peninsula. In the course of time two big migrations of fair-skinned peoples came from the north…to break through and transform the dark belt of man beyond India (and) to drive a wedge between India and Africa…The more virile invaders overcame the dark-skinned peoples, absorbing most of them, driving others southwards…The cultural condition of the newcomers is unknown. It is unlikely that they were more than wild hordes of adventurous hunters.”
“(Regarding) [t]he origin of the Arab race…the first certain fact on which to base our investigations is the ancient and undoubted division of the Arab race into two branches, the ‘Arab’ or pure; and the ‘Mostareb’ or adscititions…A second fact is, that everything in pro-Islamitic literature and record…concurs in representing the first settlement of the ‘pure’ Arabs as made on the extreme south-western point of the peninsula, near Aden, and then spreading northward and eastward…A third is the name Himyar, or ‘dusky’…a circumstance pointing, like the former, to African origin.A fourth is the Himyaritic language…(The preserved words) are African in character, often in identity. Indeed, the dialect commonly used along the south-eastern coast hardly differs from that used by the (Somali) Africans on the opposite shore…Fifthly, it is remarkable that where the grammar of the Arabic, now spoken by the ‘pure’ Arabs, differs from that of the north, it approaches to or coincides with the Abyssinian…Sixthly, the pre-Islamitic institutions of Yemen and its allied provinces-its monarchies, courts, armies, and serfs-bear a marked resemblance to the historical Africo-Egyptian type, even to modern Abyssinian.Seventhly, the physical conformation of the pure-blooded Arab inhabitants of Yemen, Hadramaut, Oman, and the adjoining districts-the shape and size of head, the slenderness of the lower limbs, the comparative scantiness of hair, and other particulars-point in an African rather than an Asiatic direction.Eighthly, the general habits of the people,-given to sedentary rather than nomad occupations, fond of village life, of society, of dance and music; good cultivators of the soil, tolerable traders, moderate artisans, but averse to pastoral pursuits-have much more in common with those of the inhabitants of the African than with those of the western Asiatic continent.Lastly, the extreme facility of marriage which exists in all classes of the southern Arabs with the African races; the fecundity of such unions; and the slightness or even absence of any caste feeling between the dusky ‘pure’ Arab and the still darker native of modern Africa…may be regarded as pointing in the direction of a community of origin.”
The dark-skinned South Arabian today is short and “extremely round-headed (brachycephalic)” but he was no doubt originally much taller and dolichocephalic (long-headed) like the so-called Hamites of East Africa.In the 13th century CE the Muslim traveler Ibn al-Mujāwir described the Mahra as “tall, handsome folk” in his Tārīkh al-mustabsir, 271.1.17 and early pre-Christian skulls found in Hadramawt were markedly dolichocephalic.It has been suggested that the ‘definite change’ in the racial constitution of the people of Hadramawt resulted from the invasion and inbreeding of brachycephalic whites such as Armenoids or Persians.Henry Field suggested that Arabia’s current ethnography is the result of the mixing of two distinct basal stocks: The dolichocephalic (long-headed), dark-skinned Mediteranean/Eur-African and the brachycephalic (round-headed) fair-skinned Armenoid. See his “Ancient and Modern Inhabitants of Arabia,” The Open Court 46 (1932): 854 [art.=847-869].
These findings are corroborated by Persian sources describing their first impression of their Arab Muslim conquerors.
“When Fredon (mythical hero) came, they (the black people) fled from the lands of Iran and settled on the coast of the sea. Now, through the invasion of the Arabs, they (the Zing-i-Siak posht (i.e. the black skinned negroes)) are again diffused through the country of Iran.”
[Note: in these last sentences allusion is made to the Blackness of both the original inhabitants of Iran, and of the Arabs.]
You’re saying that the real Arabs are Black?! What do these historians know anyway? They’re not Arab or Muslim. They’re colonialists and Orientalists out to distort Islamic history.
True. Who better to ask than the Arabs themselves? How did the Arab historians, grammarians, linguists and pre-Islamic poets describe themselves? Let’s see:
“Red (al-hamra’) refers to non-Arabs due to their fair complexion which predominates amongthem. And the Arabs used to say about the non-Arabs with whom white skin was characteristic, such as the Romans, Persians, and their neighbors: ‘They are red-skinned (al-hamra’)…” al-hamra’ means the Persians and Romans…And the Arabs attribute white skin to the slaves.”
(Ibn Manzur [Lisan al-arab IV: 209, 210]) http://blackarabia.blogspot.com/2011/09/in-islam-does-color-of-prophets-matter.html
Al-Mubarrad (d. 898), the leading figure in the Basran grammatical tradition, claimed: “The Arabs used to take pride in their brown and black complexion (al-sumra wa al-sawād) and they had a distaste for a white and fair complexion (al-ḥumra wa al-shaqra), and they used to say that such was the complexion of the non-Arabs.”
Ibn Abī al-Ḥadīd, Sharḥ nahj al-balāghah, V:56.http://www.blackarabia.blogspot.com/2013/04/his-daddy-was-black-his-momma-was-black.html
Lisan El-Arab (an old Arabic dictionary) mentions Shamar’s explanation of the hadiths that say that the prophet Mohamed (pbuh) said that he was sent to the blacks and the reds. Shamar explains the hadiths as follows:
قال شمر: يعنـي العرب والعجم والغالب علـى أَلوان العرب السُّمرة والأُدْمَة وعلـى أَلوان العجم البـياض والـحمرة،
“He means (by the blacks and the reds) the Arabs and the non-Arabs and the complexion of most Arabs is brown and jet-black and the complexion of most non-Arabs is white and red.”
Shams El-Din Mohamed ibn Ahmed ibn Othman El-Dhahabi (died1374 A.D.) explains the hadith that mentions that a man was “red-skinned as if he was one of the slaves” as follows:
يريد ألقائل أنه في لون ألموالي ألذين سبوا من نصارى ألشام وألروم و ألعجم
“The speaker means that the man was the color of the slaves who were captured from the Christians of Syria and from the Romans and the Persians.”
Thus, it was common for the Arabs of the past to describe a light-skinned person as having the color of the slaves. This is a known fact. Ibn Mandhor (1232-1311 A.D.) says in his book Lisan El-Arab:
سبوطة الشعر هي الغالبة علـى شعور العجم من الروم والفرس. و جُعودة الشعر هي الغالبة علـى شعور العرب
“Non-kinky hair is the kind of hair that most non-Arabs like the Romans and Persians have while kinky hair is the kind of hair that most Arabs have.”
The Arabs of the past also used the word green to mean black. El-Fadl ibn El-Abbas ibn ‘Utba El-Lahabi said:
وأَنا الأَخْضَرُ، من يَعْرِفُنـي؟ أَخْضَرُ الـجِلْدَةِ فـي بـيتِ العَرَبْ
I am the green one. Who knows me? My skin is green. I am from the family of the Arabs.
Ibn Mandhor, the author of Lisan El-Arab says this about the verse:
يقول: أَنا خالص لأَن أَلوان العرب السمرة
“He says that he is a pure Arab because the color of the Arabs is brown (dark).”
In Lisan El-Arab, Ibn Mandhor also quotes the author of El-Tahdhib, Saad El-Din Masud ibn Umar El-Taftaazaani (1312-1389 A.D.) as saying the following about the verse:
فـي هذا البـيت قولان: أَحدهما أَنه أَراد أَسود الـجلدة؛ قال: قاله أَبو طالب النـحوي، وقـيل: أَراد أَنه من خالص العرب وصميمهم لأَن الغالب علـى أَلوان العرب الأُدْمَةُ،
“There are two sayings about this verse. One is that he meant that he had black skin. This is what Abu Talib El-Nahwi said. It is also said that he meant that he is a pure unmixed Arab because most Arabs are black-skinned.”
Abdella ibn Berry (1106-1187 A.D.), the “King of the Grammarians” as he was called, said the following about the verse:
قال ابن بري: نسب الـجوهري هذا البـيت للهبـي، وهو الفضل بن العباس بن عُتْبَةَ بن أَبـي لَهَبٍ، وأَراد بالـخضرة سمرة لونه، وإِنما يريد بذلك خـلوص نسبه وأَنه عربـي مـحض، لأَن العرب تصف أَلوانها بالسواد وتصف أَلوان العجم بالـحمرة. وفـي الـحديث: بُعثت إِلـى الأَحمر والأَسود؛ وهذا الـمعنى بعينه هو الذي أَراده مسكين الدارمي فـي قوله أَنا مسكِينٌ لـمن يَعْرِفُنـي، لَوْنِـي السُّمْرَةُ أَلوانُ العَرَبْ
“El-Jawhari attributed this verse to El-Lahabi and he is El-Fadl ibn El-Abbas ibn ‘Utba ibn Abi Lahab and he meant by green the brownness (darkness) of his complexion and he meant by that the purity of his genealogy and that he was an unmixed Arab because the Arabs describe their color as black and they describe the color of the non-Arabs as red. Like the hadith says, ‘I was sent to the red and the black. And this is exactly what Miskeen El-Darimi meant when he said: ‘I am Miskeen, for those who know me. My color is brown (dark), the color of the Arabs’”.
Ibn Mandhor says in his book Lisan El-Arab:
والعرب إِذا قالوا: فلان أَبـيض وفلانة بـيضاء فمعناه الكرم فـي الأَخلاق لا لون الـخـلقة، وإِذا قالوا: فلان أَحمر وفلانة حمراء عنوا بـياض اللون؛
“When the Arabs said that a man or a woman was ‘white’, they meant that the person was honorable. They weren’t talking about his/her complexion. When they (the Arabs) said that a man or a woman was ‘red’, they meant that his/her complexion was white.
The famous, old Arabic dictionary Lisan El Arab also quotes the author of El-Tahdhib, Saad El-Din Masud ibn Umar El-Taftaazaani (1312-1389 A.D.) as saying:
التهذيب: إِذا قالت العرب فلان أَبْـيَضُ وفلانة بَـيْضاء فالـمعنى نَقاء العِرْض من الدنَس والعيوب… لا يريدون به بَـياضَ اللون ولكنهم يريدون الـمدح بالكرم ونَقاءِ العِرْض من العيوب، وإِذا قالوا: فلان أَبْـيَض الوجه وفلانة بَـيْضاءُ الوجه أَرادوا نقاءَ اللون من الكَلَفِ والسوادِ الشائن
“When the Arabs said that a man or a woman was white, they meant that the person had a faultless honor…they didn’t mean white skin. What they meant by this was to praise the person for his/her generosity and faultless honor. When they said that a man or woman had a white face, they meant that the person had a complexion free of blemishes and free of an unattractive blackness.”