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W. Deen Mohammed Weekly Articles


World Muslim News

Muhammad Speaks

Imam Warith Deen Muhammad


QUESTION: Regarding the American Muslim Mission's adoption of the term "Bilalian" as an ethnic identity, why shouldn't we identify ourselves as black?

IMAM: Actually, I do identify with black: that is, with black Africa, with people of African descent; it's impossible for us of African descent not to identify with blacks in that sense. However, I have found in my discussions with Muslims and non-Muslims that they share my sense of need for a term that is richer in meaning than the term "black."

For us, black can mean everything ethnical, ethnically speaking, but only for us and only in our definition of black the dictionary will say something else. We may think of black as being a word that includes the thought of us being descendants from our African ancestors, and we might think black means the rise of the slave from slavery to the kind of participation we have now in the life and mainstream of America, which is not satisfactory.

But I am sure some of us do feel a sense of pride in the achievements we have made because of our leaders and because of the support we have gotten from members outside of our race. I think for many of us black means that, and I think more than anything else black means racial pride, it means a kind of healthy and sober militancy that came out during the early '60s.

But still when we begin to think as students of history and we begin to compare our terminology with the terminology that other groups use then we begin to feel the need for a term with more meaning, a term that we associate with black that is richer in meaning. But black in its dictionary definition just doesn't carry those meanings.

So we believe that the term "Bilal" identifies us with a person in history. We know that the name Bilal itself really refers to the soul; and Bilal was a person who was highly spiritual. He was very human in the sense of being humanly sensitive. He was at times sentimental because of his love for Prophet Muhammad (PBUH); he would shed tears sometimes thinking on the loss of Prophet Muhammad Prophet Muhammad's passing from the world, from our world.

Bilal even in his days of physical slavery was a devoted person; he wasn't a radical, he was a person who preferred to be quiet, to be at peace. He served his master well but he was a person of conscience, and that's what caused him to reject slavery. When he heard the call of Al-Islam, he rejected slavery because the same sensitivity that made it necessary for him to be at peace with himself, no matter what the situation, was that same consciousness that was in Bilal that I identify with the name Bilal. I think the name Bilal actually means that — it means that deep inner sensitivity.

Our race has become a race that is characterized by consciousness, by a strong consciousness, by inner, deep sensitivity. We have tolerated, too, very cruel situations during physical slavery and very cruel or unbearable situations after slavery, during the Jim Crow years and even after that.

We have found that we have an inner life, an inner source to rely on, and though the world was just one big furnace of fires of hell, we would still find peace and we could still smile. We could still be happy in the church or at home with the family, or at a musical recital, or at the ball park. While we were in the worst conditions we would still find some way to enjoy life. In spite of the absence of human life all about us, we would still find a way to enjoy life.

So this  inner sensitivity  is what we identify with in  Bilal.  We call ourselves soul brothers and call ourselves a soul race, but to say we are soul brothers doesn't sound as nice as Bilalian.

I find that history shows us that many races have taken their name from personality, from legendary figures and from real figures in history.

One of their great leaders of the Asians was named Asheeah -- Hecheeah or Asheeah. Now the whole continent is Asia and the people are called Asians, which includes Chinese, Japanese — all those people over there.

So now we have, a term "Bilalian" that goes back in history to an African person called Bilal, who was a Muslim. But I think what is more important for us to understand in my choosing the name Bilal is that not only does it identify us with that person and the African people and that continent, but it identifies us with an inner sensitivity that has enabled us to survive; a consciousness that once it knows what is right, it will make the right move or the right stand.