The Call of Bilal

The Call of Bilal: Islam in the African Diaspora

Edward E. Curtis
Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 248
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    The Call of Bilal
    Book Description:

    How do people in the African diaspora practice Islam? While the term "Black Muslim" may conjure images of Malcolm X and Muhammad Ali, millions of African-descended Muslims around the globe have no connection to the American-based Nation of Islam.The Call of Bilalis a penetrating account of the rich diversity of Islamic religious practice among Africana Muslims worldwide. Covering North Africa and the Middle East, India and Pakistan, Europe, and the Americas, Edward E. Curtis IV reveals a fascinating range of religious activities--from the observance of the five pillars of Islam and the creation of transnational Sufi networks to the veneration of African saints and political struggles for racial justice.Weaving together ethnographic fieldwork and historical perspectives, Curtis shows how Africana Muslims interpret not only their religious identities but also their attachments to the African diaspora. For some, the dispersal of African people across time and space has been understood as a mere physical scattering or perhaps an economic opportunity. For others, it has been a metaphysical and spiritual exile of the soul from its sacred land and eternal home.

    eISBN: 978-1-4696-1813-5
    Subjects: Religion, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
    (pp. xi-xv)
    (pp. 1-19)

    After a band of Muhammad’s followers left Mecca in 622 c.e. for the Arabian town that would come to be known as Medina, the city of the Prophet, the community of Muslims grew to include not only the Prophet’s followers from Mecca but many from Medina as well. These Muslims would gather at the appointed times—sunrise, midday, midafternoon, dusk, and after sundown—to perform thesalat, the Muslim prayer that includes the prostration of the body in the direction of Mecca. According to the stories in the hadith literature, which chronicles the words and deeds of the Prophet Muhammad...

  5. 2 THE HEIRS OF BILAL IN NORTH AFRICA AND THE MIDDLE EAST Healing, Spirit Possession, and Islam in the Village
    (pp. 21-51)

    In contemporary Essaouira, Morocco, Muslim members of the Gnawa, a spiritual and ethnic community associated in Moroccan history with Sudanic or black African culture, experience trance, healing, joy, and sadness in night ceremonies calledlila. These rituals are conducted in azawiya, or lodge, named after Bilal ibn Rabah.¹ Many Gnawa trace their Islamic identity to the very origins of Islam via their ancestor and patron saint, Bilal. Calling themselves the “children of Bilal,” they claim that they converted to Islam even before the Quraysh did.² One Gnawa man told religious studies scholar Earle Waugh in 1995 that many Arabs...

  6. 3 AFRICAN MUSLIMS IN EUROPE Mandinga, Murids, and British Black Muslims
    (pp. 53-83)

    Toward the end of the first decade of the twenty-first century, London-based hip-hop group Mecca2Medina, founded by British rappers Rakin and Ismael, recorded a song about Bilal ibn Rabah. “Descendants of Bilal” draws from the traditions of both Afrocentric historiography and Islamic piety to proclaim pride in both Muslim and African diasporic identities. One section of the song features African and Africandescended Muslim leaders: Cheikh Anta Diop, the mid-twentieth-century Senegalese historian and politician who argued, among other things, that black history, including that of ancient Egypt, can inspire black political self-determination; Uthman dan Fodio, the Sufi master andshariʿascholar...

  7. 4 SIDDIS AND HABSHIS IN SOUTH ASIA Shrines of the African Saints and Life-Cycle Rituals in the Village
    (pp. 85-109)

    Sufi Muslims of African descent in Gujarat, a state in western India, are known for their abilities to performdhikr(jikrin Gujarati). Literally meaning “remembrance,” an Islamic dhikr is spoken or sung to meditate on the presence of God, to praise the Prophet Muhammad, and, for some Muslims, to evoke the blessings of Muslim saints or the family of the Prophet. In the Qurʾan, God directs human beings to remember the one who created and has sustained them. As we have already seen, Muslims around the world—both Sunni and Shiʿa—have a variety of methods for remembering God....

  8. 5 ISLAMIC JIHAD OR JUST REVOLT? African Muslims in Latin America and the Caribbean
    (pp. 111-133)

    Pacífico Licutan, a Malê or Muslim religious teacher of Yoruban descent, was a beloved figure in Salvador, Bahia, Brazil. Muslims from his community had twice attempted to purchase his freedom from Antônio Pinto de Mesquita Varella, a physician who made money from Licutan’s work as a tobacco roller on Dourado Wharf in Salvador. Varella refused, and when the doctor could no longer service his debts, this esteemed preacher was confiscated as a piece of property to be sold to pay off Varella’s creditors. Pacífico Licutan awaited his imminent sale in prison during the month of Ramadan, the month in which...

  9. 6 AFRICAN AMERICAN MUSLIMS IN THE UNITED STATES Making Physical and Metaphysical Homelands
    (pp. 135-166)

    The answer is Bilal. For a period of time in the 1970s, Bilal ibn Rabah not only was the object of historical pride among members of the Nation of Islam but also was seen as a moral exemplar whose name might provide a new ethnic label for people of African descent. When W. D. Mohammed took the reins of the Nation of Islam from his father, Elijah Muhammad, in February 1975, he sought new ways of recognizing the contributions of people of African descent to Islam. Mohammed suggested that his followers and all African Americans call themselves “Bilalians” instead of...

  10. CONCLUSION Echoes of Bilal across the African Diaspora
    (pp. 167-176)

    Bilal’sadhan, or call to prayer, and the sound of his footsteps in heaven, first heard by the Prophet Muhammad in one of his dreams, still resonate across Africa and the African diaspora. In Essaouira, Morocco, Gnawa practitioners, the “children of Bilal,” play a musical instrument, made from the soles of shoes, to evoke his presence in their night ceremonies. In London, the hip-hop group Mecca2Medina records a video for its song “Descendants of Bilal,” and one of its members, cupping his hands next to his ears, acts out of the part of Bilal calling the believers to prayer. In...

  11. NOTES
    (pp. 177-192)
    (pp. 193-208)
  13. INDEX
    (pp. 209-228)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 229-229)