Black, Radical and Christian. But How?
Many of my radical friends give me the side-eye for not being down with the Yoruba religion or other forms of ancestral worship, and my Christian/religious acquaintances didn’t understand my Black nationalist “un-Christian nonsense” until viral videos of police killings became regular occurrences. I have spent years ignoring and sometimes trying to reconcile the side-eyes (and often contradictory cultures) from both sides, but I found the final piece of my spiritual studies recently, which provides the clarity I’ve been searching for for ages.
I was born into this world as a Muslim. My parents’ families on both sides had been muslim for at least a few generations, likely due to 19th century Muslim migrations from Northern into Southern Nigeria. Though we were Muslims culturally, I didn’t attend a Quranic school or anything like that as a child, so I was not indoctrinated in the teachings of Islam. When my brother and I arrived in the US, I still identified as a Muslim, but my mother had remarried and our stepfather was then and is now a practicing Catholic. I remember my first friend in the US was a Hausa Muslim from Nigeria, the only other Nigerian girl my age. We’ll call her Halima. We met other Nigerian children shortly after arriving. I would say approximately half were Muslims–some Hausa, some Yoruba. The other half were either Christian or non-religious Yorubas.
Halima was a year or two older than me, very confident and very beautiful and I very much looked up to her. In the early days, we socialized more with their family than with others. But she and I went to different schools, so her influence on me was limited. It was when we later attended the same middle school that I had my first bout with religious confusion. Halima was then and is now a proud Nigerian, proud Hausa and staunch Muslim. I was very much indifferent. I knew God existed and prayed independently at times, but I got nothing out of the Catholic church service we went to on Sundays except maybe a song or two that occasionally struck a chord with me. My mother prayed five times a day, but I didn’t.
I did fast during Ramadan with my mother, and I believe that may have been what inspired the conversation I had with Halima in middle school in which she asked me outright, “Are you a Christian or Muslim?” I had honestly never had to decide before since I was ok going to church on Sundays and identifying culturally with the Muslim children when we hung out. I wanted very much to identify with Halima, especially in the context of a very alienating middle school experience. I quickly said “Muslim,” but she could tell I was unsure. She said, “If you believe that Muhammad is a messenger of God,” then you are a Muslim. She explained that Muslims do not believe that Jesus is the son of God, but that he was also a messenger of God. The tense conversation with Halima left me knowing that I did not have a religion.
Halima and I stayed friends and I befriended many of the Libyan, Palestinian and other Arab Muslims in my schools through high school. I no longer felt that I had to claim to be Muslim, but I continued to fast during Ramadan because I liked the culture of my Muslim friends, appreciated the solidarity of Ramadan and the bonding with my mother and brother. Eventually my mother was forced to choose and she stopped fasting and was baptised in the Catholic church. This was about the time I was transitioning from high school to college and moving out of my parents’ home. I began to attend a Baptist church which I felt was more alive, and where for the first time I began to learn in about the doctrine and history of the Bible. All my years in the Catholic church, I had simply tried to get through the service without falling asleep. I’d learned almost nothing.
With the Baptists, I became a staunch believer and was Baptised twice, but my belief was more in God and the culture of Christianity. I didn’t have as much of a relationship with Jesus as I did with the Holy Spirit, and I knew very little scripture. When I became politicized by the stories and writings of Malcolm X, Che Guevara, Nelson Mandela, Patrice Lumumba, Thomas Sankara, Assata Shakur, Marcus Garvey and so many others, Christianity began to feel like a polarizing religion of colonization and Black oppression. My politicized friends taught me about the evidence of Black Egyptians and that Jesus was Black, and I accepted these beliefs, but it became harder to attend my Nigerian church with pictures of White Jesus adorning the walls and the minds of members.
I left the church for a few years. I was mostly non-religious, but explored the teachings of many other religions including Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism and Yoruba traditional religion. None of them “entered” as Yorubas would say. They just didn’t get in there where I could accept them as my spiritual practice. I had known since childhood that I could speak directly to God, and hear from God, so the intermediary structure of many religions was off-putting. At a certain point I looked at my unhappy life and remembered that the only times I had been fruitful and fulfilled was when I was in the church, so I returned. My pastor had grown tremendously, and there were no more pictures of White Jesus on the walls, though many, of course, still had that mentality.
I continued to struggle to reconcile my radical Black nationalist beliefs with my belief in Christianity, but I began to do my own research. Research convinced me that rather than a book of myths, the Bible is actually a historic account, albeit with omissions and edits by White supremacist leaders. The available scholarship on Black Christ, Black Egypt, Black African Hebrews is overwhelming. Most of this scholarship is substantiated by early written accounts of Greeks (Homer, Herodotus and others) and Africans. This shows that rather than a White-man’s religion, as believed by nearly all of my American-raised pan-African friends, Christianity was historically a Black religion. For most of these people, the only reason they discredit Christianity as a potential spiritual practice is this simple falsehood of White-origin Christianity advanced by White supremacist leaders, scholars and institutions.
Understanding that the Bible actually is about my people and my history completely changes the game. My spiritual practice deepened with knowledge of African Christ and African Israelites and has enabled me to move mountains I still can’t believe. Everyday, I see prayers answered before my eyes that I never thought possible. Someday I’ll write my story.
One thing I learned in my days steeped in communities of radical Black thought and African traditional religious is that it will be through our superior spiritual abilities that Black people will eventually be capable of casting off our chains. I still believe this. Black religious history is rife with evidence of the supernatural. No matter what religion we practice, we show evidence of supernatural meditative, proclamative and prophetic powers that some would argue surpass those of other races. But the Bible predicted everything we have experienced, and is heavily substantiated by written historic accounts dating back thousands of years. If it’s predictions are indeed true, the four hundred years of slavery (including the last hundred years of the prison industrial complex) is about up, and we could see some unbelievable supernatural occurences during our lifetimes. I’d rather subdue my flesh, channel my supernatural powers and follow the Christ of the Bible than search for short-term solutions in every other practice.
A Few Sources to Read More about the African origins of Christianity
Hansberry, William L., and Joseph E. Harris. 1977. Africa and Africans as seen by classical writers. Washington: Howard University Press,
Joseph J. Williams S.J. 1930. Hebrewism of West Africa: From Nile to the Niger with the Jews. Binghampton, NY: Vail Ballou Press.
Knudsen, Christiana Oware. 2010. The Theologian Slave Trader. United Kingdom: Pneuma Springs Publishing.
Hunwick, John. 2006. Jews of a Saharan Oasis: Elimination of the Tamantit Community. Princeton, New Jersey: Markus Wiener Publishers.
Haidara, Ismael Diadie. 1999. “Les Juifs à Tombouctou, or Jews of Timbuktu”, Recueil de sources écrites relatives au commerce juif à Tombouctou au XIXe siècle, Editions Donniya, Bamako, page 31.
Lobban, Richard. Jews in Cape Verde and on the Guinea Coast, Paper presented at the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth, February 11, 1996.
Ilona, Remy. 2004. “Igbos, Jews in Africa?,” (Volume 1), Abuja, Nigeria: Mega Press Limited.
Meek, Charles K. 1925. Northern Tribes of Nigeria, Volume 1, Oxford.
Moghalu, Odi. 2015. Igbo-Israel: A Comparison of Igbo and Ancient Israels Culture.
“The Jews of Timbuktu, by Rick Gold, Washington Jewish Week, December 30, 1999″. Archived from the original on 2012-10-19. Retrieved 2012-03-15.
Other Black Christian Radicals
There is tons more out there if you google. I’ll try to add some more links soon. x