Mixed reactions from black Muslims to Gadhafi death
Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan has publicly condemned what he describes as the “great assassination” of Muammar Gadhafi.
In his first major interview since the death of Gadhafi, Farrakhan says the “Nation of Islam mourns the loss of a great brother leader,” and he personally feels as if he has, “lost a very important member of my own family.”
Speaking on a Chicago radio talk show on Tuesday, the controversial Muslim leader warns “the western world and its collaborators” they will face the consequences of their support for the unrest which led to Gadhafi’s death.
Farrakhan says, in the 2-hour interview with Cliff Kelley on WVON-AM, that in the months leading up to Gadhafi’s death he was portrayed as a villain but in reality he did much for Libya and Sub-Saharan Africa.
He describes Gadhafi as the “lion of Africa” who promoted African unity.
Speaking in a studio packed with journalists, Farrakhan says Gadhafi used the Libyan oil reserve to benefit his people, raised the health system to one of the best in the Third World and credited Gadhafi for increasing life expectancy in Libya from 44 years to 75 years.
His comments illustrate the close relationship between the Nation of Islam and Gadhafi since the 1970s, when the Libyan dictator gave a loan of $3 million to the then leader Elijah Muhammad to build the Nation’s headquarters in Chicago.
Farrakhan and Gadhafi, who was killed on Thursday, were allies for decades. Their friendship developed in 1996 when the Minister traveled to meet the Libyan leader in Tripoli.
For black nationalists, Gadhafi, unlike other Arab leaders, had Pan-African ambitions and focused on Sub-Saharan Africa, which he pumped with money to build schools, mosques and hospitals.
His supporters say he was interested in the struggle of black people. Though critics say he meddled in the politics of African countries, giving support to unsavory dictators.
Despite media interest in Farrakhan, not all black Muslims are affiliated with the Nation of Islam. In fact the reverse is true. Many black American Muslims have turned their backs on the “extremist” ideologies of the Nation and instead choose to embrace orthodox Islam.
No one knows exactly how many black American Muslims there are but a Gallup poll estimates 2 to 3 million in the United States, of those 33 percent are African-American. The Nation of Islam membership, around 20,000, is a fraction of the figures.
The Masjid al-Islam, or mosque, in East Atlanta is a one of the largest and most active black American Muslim communities in the United States. It has 3,000 members and regularly attracts up to a thousand for Friday prayers.
“The Arab Spring as a moral coup of a young generation that wants to see change. They haven’t been able to command their future under a dictator. We should encourage them to have a moral civil society”, says Mansoor Sabree, who is the imam at the Atlanta masjid.
Sabree, still only his thirties, is keen to forge inclusive and progressive ideologies and says the mosque is going through a cycle of passing on the baton to young and dynamic leaders.
Although he respects a divergence of ideologies, he says the, “Nation of Islam has a small following but a big voice”. They are a “splinter group” that does not represent the “majority views of Muslims in the United States.”
The members of the Atlanta masjid are part of a large group of black American Muslims in America who have embraced mainstream Islam, loosely described as Sunni Muslims.
Ihsan Bagby, a professor of Islamic Studies and board member of the Muslim Alliance of North America, admits Gadhafi poured substantial amounts of money into Sub Saharan Africa.
“On the surface he has an image of championing the causes of African nations but the Libyan leader is better known as a tyrant in our circles, a person who oppressed his people,” says Bagby, a black Muslim convert.
Bagby’s work with the Alliance has given him unique access to Muslim communities across the United States. “Many of the people I work with are of Libyan descent because the US was one of the few countries that would shield them from Gadhafi,” he says. “When you come into contact with these Libyans, especially those who had been opponents of Gadhafi, you hear stories of oppression.”
“I would think African-American Muslims would be very supportive to those liberation movements” says Richard Brent Taylor, professor of African-American Religious History at the University of Iowa. “Many are supporters of Barack Obama who is supportive of the liberation efforts coming out of the Arab world since last spring.”