Black Life in The Arab World

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Black Muslims in Yemen

A Legacy hidden In Plain Sight

By Theola Labbe

Washington Post Staff Writer

Sunday, January 11, 2004

BASRA, Iraq — The word was whispered and hurled at Thawra Youssef in school when she was 5 years old. Even back then, she sensed it was an insult.

Abd. Slave. “The way they said it, smiling and shouting, I knew they used it to make fun of me,” said Youssef, recounting the childhood story from her living room couch. “I used to get upset and ask, ‘Why do you call me abd? I don’t serve you,’ ” Youssef said.

Unlike most Iraqis, whose faces come in shades from olive to a pale winter white, Youssef has skin the color of dark chocolate. She has African features and short, tightly curled hair that she straightens and wears in a soft bouffant. Growing up in Basra, the port city 260 miles southeast of Baghdad, she lived with her aunt while her mother worked as a cook and maid in the homes of one of the city’s wealthiest light-skinned families. Dark-skinned complexion Iraqis say the word may or may not be considered an insult, depending on how it is used and the intent of the speaker.  “We use the word abd in the black community,” said Salah Jaleel, 50, one of Youssef’s cousins. “Sometimes I call my friend ‘abd.’ Of course he knows that I don’t insult him, because I’m black also, so it’s a joke. We accept it between us, but it is a real insult if it is said by a white man.”

In the United States, Youssef’s dark skin would classify her as black or African American. In Iraq, where distinctions are based on family and tribe rather than race, she is simply an Iraqi.

The number of dark-skinned people like Youssef in Iraq today is unknown. Their origins, however, are better understood, if little-discussed: They are the legacy of slavery throughout the Middle East.

Historians say the slave trade began in the 9th century and lasted a millennium. Arab traders brought Africans across the Indian Ocean from present-day Kenya, Tanzania, Sudan, Ethiopia and elsewhere in East Africa to Iraq, Iran, Kuwait, Turkey and other parts of the Middle East. “We were slaves. That’s how we came here,” Youssef said. “Our whole family used to talk about how our roots are from Africa.”

Though centuries have passed since the first Africans, called Zanj, arrived in Iraq, some African traditions still persist here. Youssef, 43, a doctoral candidate in theater and acting at Baghdad University’s College of Fine Arts, is writing her dissertation about healing ceremonies that are conducted exclusively by a community of dark-skinned Iraqis in Basra. Youssef said she considers the ceremonies — which involve elaborate costumes, dancing, and words sung in Swahili and Arabic — to be dramatic performances.

“I don’t complain about being called an abd, but I think that’s what provoked me to write this, perhaps some kind of complex,” said Youssef, who began researching and writing about the practices of Afro-Iraqis in 1997, when she was studying for a master’s degree. “Something inside me that wanted to tell others that the abd they mock is better than them.”

“By the 9th century, when Baghdad was the capital of the Islamic world, we do have evidence of a large importation of African slaves — how large is anyone’s guess,” said Thabit Abdullah, a history professor at York University in Toronto.

In a country that revolves around religion rather than race, the term “Abd” may be used by light-skinned Iraqis in a matter-of-fact way to describe someone’s dark skin.

In many ways, the low visibility of dark-skinned Iraqis has been a blessing. During his 35 years in power, Saddam Hussein and his Baath Party government killed and tortured thousands of people based on ethnic and religious affiliations. Ethnic Kurds in the northern reaches of the country, and Shiite Muslims — particularly the so-called Marsh Arabs — living in the south all suffered. The dark-skinned Iraqis were spared Hussein’s wrath.

Her mother was disappointed in her choice. Her husband’s mother objected to the union. Sabty said Mousa’s family even tried to intimidate her with threatening phone calls. Now she shakes her head and dismisses it all as long-ago history. “Objections and barriers exist, but in the end it’s all solved,” she said in her soft voice, smiling.

Her middle-class home in Basra’s Abbasiya district has painted concrete walls and two televisions and is immaculate. Sitting on a couch draped in white protective cloth, Sabty explained that intermarriages like hers are common in Iraq: “We don’t have a problem with color, and we don’t deal with someone based on color.”

For instance, she said, her older sister married a light-skinned Iraqi and has a daughter with blond hair. Her brother married a dark-skinned woman and their child is dark-skinned. Sabty’s two young children have olive complexions and straight, shiny hair, showing no trace of Sabty’s caramel coloring.

Suddenly she paused. “In the coming generations we will have fewer dark-skinned children, and this pains us,” she said. “We are proud of this color because people of this color are a minority in Iraq. Maybe DNA will bring us the color again.” 

Hashim Faihan Jimaa, 78, is more concerned with survival than color. He has no income and lives with his ailing wife, Dawla Shamayan, 68, who recently had gallbladder surgery. Jimaa says he believes in the African-inspired healing ceremonies. He used to participate many years ago when they were more frequent; the number of ceremonies has decreased since the start of the U.S. occupation because of fear of performing outside. 

“These came from Africa and they are very important to us, the abds,” he said. Just as he used the Arabic word for slave to refer to himself, Jimaa sometimes referred to light-skinned Iraqis using the term for a free person.

His wife, sitting across from him with about a dozen of their children and grandchildren, gingerly suggested that perhaps his grandfather or another relative had been slaves from Africa.

Jimaa glanced down at the back of his dark-brown hand. “You can’t depend on someone’s color, because maybe a black man married a free woman and the children will come out lighter than me,” he said. To seal his argument, he pointed to his caramel-colored daughter and then his granddaughter, who was darker than her mother.

Jimaa’s wife and others continued to probe Jimaa’s answers. He grew exasperated. “I have nothing to do with Africa, I don’t know where it is or even what it is,” Jimaa said. “But I know that my roots are from Africa because I am dark-skinned.”

Few local government leaders in Basra, some of whom were selected by the U.S.-led occupation authority, are dark-skinned. In Hakaka — a poor neighborhood of 600 families, about 100 of them dark-skinned — town council members elected last August vowed to make changes. All of the eight council members are light-skinned. “People applied to be members, and no one black applied,” said council President Abdullah Mohammed Hasan, 54, in the narrow sandwich and snack shop that serves as the council’s headquarters. Hasan has two wives, one of them dark-skinned. “They have good manners and are very easy to deal with,” Hasan said of dark-skinned Iraqis. “It would be better if they were members.”

Youssef, the doctoral candidate, grew up in Hakaka. When she was a child her family did not have much money, but the modest neighborhood was clean. Now it lacks a septic system and reeks of waste because there is no garbage pickup.

Youssef goes back at least once a month to see her 74-year-old father, who sometimes needs her help because of his failing eyesight. She also visits with her brother, Sabeeh Youssef, and his family.

Sabeeh Youssef, 47, dropped out of school early to help support the family. He works fixing broken lighters since losing his job at an oil company in 1989. But he is a self-taught carpenter, capable of carving elaborate antique cars and miniature ships. He proudly showed the objects lining the walls of his modest home, which lacks running water. He would love to have his own shop, “but I don’t have the materials and I don’t have the money to buy them,” he said, as his daughter Duaa Sabeeh, 5, grew restless in his lap.

“I’m very happy and proud of my sister,” he added. “She did the things that I couldn’t do, or that my father couldn’t do. She did it.”

“I don’t feel like a stranger here,” she said one day, stepping carefully to avoid the sewage as eager children followed her. “I have something deep inside of me that is connected to the local Basra ceremonies. I can’t abandon them.” The practices, she said, came from “the motherland where we came from: Africa.”

In her dissertation, Youssef mentioned seven open fields in and around Basra where ceremonies take place. The field in the Hakaka section is a dusty, hard-packed courtyard with houses clustered around it. Drums, tambourines and other instruments are stored in a closet. Youssef said that only a local leader named Najim had a key. Youssef had to seek his permission to write about the ceremonies. Najim declined to talk about them.

In her dissertation Youssef describes a song called “Dawa Dawa.” The title and words are a mix of Arabic and Swahili. The song, which is about curing people, is used in what Youssef calls the shtanga ceremony, for physical health. Another ceremony, nouba, takes its name from the Nubian region in the Sudan. There are also ceremonies for the sick, to remember the dead and for happy occasions such as weddings.

“The ceremonies are our strongest evidence of our African identity,” she said.

Youssef said she was raised to be a proud Iraqi and Muslim, but that her mother also stressed the family’s roots in Kenya. Her grandfather and his relatives came from Africa through slavery, her mother said. “I knew that the word abd was used to refer to black people, and I know that it was something embarrassing that my mother was working in a white person’s house,” Youssef said. “I remember that if their son hit me, I couldn’t even push him. So that hurt me, that stuck in my mind.”

When she was 9, her mother sent her to stay with an aunt, Badriya Ubaid. She lived in a more upscale neighborhood and was the lead singer in the nationally acclaimed band Om Ali.

“My aunt, she was the first one pushing me to study,” Youssef said. “She said, why do we let them say that black people can only do dance and music? Why don’t we show them that they can be an important part of the community, that they can study? She wanted me to answer this question.”

In college and graduate school, as she studied theater and dance, Youssef also sang with Om Ali. If someone said that the dark-skinned Iraqis were only good for entertainment, Youssef said, her aunt was quick to point out that her niece was in graduate school studying for an advanced degree. When Ubaid died, Youssef sang regularly in the band but quit in 1999 to pursue her doctorate full time.

Youssef also danced with a local arts troupe. She found the moves reminiscent of the dances in the ceremonies. She wrote her master’s research on body movement, and when it was time to pick a topic in 2000 for her dissertation, she decided to look at her community’s healing ceremonies.

“It’s not only going to give ideas about dark-skinned people, it will give an idea about our inherited ceremonies, which we have to protect,” said Youssef. She wants to teach and to publish her work in a book. “The most important thing is that I started it,” said Youssef. “People will come after me, God willing.

Being Black In Yemen

RNW Archive

This article is part of the RNW archive.  RNW is the former Radio Netherlands Worldwide or Wereldomroep, which was found as the Dutch international public broadcaster in 1947.  In 2011, the Dutch government decided to cut funding and shift RNW from ministry of Education, Culture and Science to the ministry of Foreign Affairs.  More information about RNW Media’s current activities can be found at

Many Africans from war-torn Somalia and Ethiopia seek their luck across the sea in Yemen.  Luck can be hard to find – but racism is not

By Judith Spiegel in Sana’a A black man on the bus.  They pat him on the head and shove him in the back.  They make jokes about his pronunciation of the name of the market he is going to.  The black man doesn’t.  He sits still and waits for the humiliation to pass. Probably he has experienced it many times before.  The Somali man who is beaten at the bus station because he allegedly stole somethin doesn’t fight back.  he cries.  Passers-by look the other way.  A few minutes later, a woman is ignored by the bus driver because he doesn’t wANT aFRICANS IN HIS BUS.  She patiently waits for a next bus.

Everyday racism

A day or two using public transport in the Yemeni capital Sana’a makes it clear just how widespread anti-African  feeling is.  There are no official numbers, but Yemen is home to hundreds of thousands of African immigrants (refugees and non-refugees).  Most of them come from Somalia, Ethiopia and Eritrea, and racism is an everyday part of their life. 

“Its is a cultural thing in this region to treat non-citizens who are poor like this.  People think they bring, although this has never been proven”, says Fouad Alalwi, head of the Sawa’a Orgganization for Anti-Discrimination. “They see them as a burden on society, and for Ethiopians there is also an historical explanation.”

The history Alawi is  referring to dates back to the early Christian era when Yemen was invaded a number of times by Ethiopians who tried to convert the Yemenis.  Eventually, Yemen was one of the first countries to adopt Islam, and the Ethiopians were kicked out. Those who remained behind were enslaved and, explains Alawi, “until today, some Yemenis still believe they can use Ethiopians as slaves”. 

Foreigners to blame

“Almost every day people call me a dag. They ask what I’m doing here, and say we’ve changed their country”, says Tiggist Addisi. She is Ethiopian and has been living in Yemen for 18 years working long hours as a cleaner. After all these years she has not a single Yemeni friend, and she sends her daughter to an Ethiopian school. “They say that women now go out, smoke shisha   (waterpipe, ed) and war pants because of us”, Addisi says, making Ethiopian coffee in her small room in the basement of an apartment building in Sana’a.  On Fridays, she dresses up in white to go to her orthodox church.  “I hurry through the streets.  When people ask me where I am going, I say I am going to school.”

Mixed welcome

Oddly enough, Yemen is actually more open to foreigners than other, much richer countries in the region.  Churches are accepted as long as they are not publicly visible, and Yemen has a generous attitude towards refugees. Somalis refugees are automatically given asylum status.  But once in the country, the streets turn out not to be so welcoming. Racism is not often discussed in yemen.  Organisations like Sawa’s mainly deal with discrimination against minorities by the government but don’t tackle everyday racism on the streets.  The country faces a huge array of problems, and some of these – such as endemic unemployment – feed resentment against immigrants.  it’s easy for people to blame foreigners for taking jobs even when this is not the case.

“What you see in the street are reactions from people who are frustrated they do not have jobs or a good house”, says Alawi.  But he wants to emphasise that it is only a small percentage of Yemenis who behave like this.  “Educated people wouldn’t do this.  it is against Islam, which teaches us that all are equal, black or white.”

In her basement room Al Addisi shrugs; her experience is different.  “They always ask me why I am a Christian.” She is used to it, sticks to her own people and prays in front of an enormous poster of  Jesus Christ every day.  And, she admits, “In Ethiopia we do not treat the Arabs very well either.”


From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Al-Akhdam, Akhdam or Achdam (singular Khadem, meaning “servant” in Arabic; also called Al-Muhamasheen, “the marginalized ones”) is a minority social group in Yemen. Although the Akhdams are Arabic-speaking Muslims just like any other Yemeni, they are considered to be at the very bottom of the supposedly abolished caste ladder, are socially segregated, and are mostly confined to menial jobs in the country’s major cities.According to official estimates, the Akhdam numbered between 500,000 to 3,500,000 individuals.

generally shorter and darker than typical Yemenis, and can also be distinguished from the majority by its members’ Veddoid-like physical features and stature. The exact origins of Al-Akhdam are uncertain. One popular belief holds that they are descendants of Nilotic Sudanese people who accompanied the Abyssinian army during the latter’s occupation of Yemen in the pre-Islamic period. Once the Abyssinian troops were finally expelled at the start of the Muslim era, some of the Sudanese migrants are said to have remained behind, giving birth to the Akhdam people. This belief, however, was denied and described as a myth by Hamud al-Awdi, a professor of sociology at Sanaa University.

Another theory maintains that they are of Veddoid origin. The Akhdam are Genetic studies by Lehmann (1954) and Tobias (1974) further noted the sickle cell trait at high frequencies amongst the Akhdam. According to Lehmann, this suggests a biological link with the Veddoids of South Asia, who also have a high incidence of the trait.

Anthropologists such as Vom Bruck postulate that Yemen’s history and social hierarchy that developed under various regimes, including the Zaydi Imamate, had created a hereditary caste-like society. Till today, the Al-Akhdam people exists at the very bottom of Yemeni social strata. The Al-Akhdam community suffers from extreme discrimination, persecution, and social exclusion from the mainstream Yemeni society.  The contempt for the Akhdam people is expressed by a traditional Yemeni proverb:

“Clean your plate if it is touched by a dog, but break it if it’s touched by a Khadem.″

Though their social conditions have improved somewhat in modern times, Al-Akhdam are still stereotyped by mainstream Yemeni society; they have been called lowly, dirty and immoral. Intermarriages between the conventional Yemeni society with the Akhdam community are taboo and virtually prohibited, as the Al-Akhdam are deemed as untouchables. Men who do marry into the community risk banishment by their families.

Many have settled in Sana’a hub, and claim that participation in the 2011 uprising, among other factors, has given them a level of acknowledgment—or at least indifference—by the country’s lighter-skinned citizens.

Yemen’s society has traditionally been divided into highly endogamous social groups that are mainly based on genealogical factors. Until today, the group of sayyids (who claim lineage to the Prophet), judges, sheikhs, and even the “lower” social groups like butchers and ironworkers, continue to play an important role in Yemeni society. Similarly, Yemen’s labor market remains highly stratified and linked to geographic criteria. Intellectuals are believed to come from Taiz, those who work with hand-carts come from Raima governorate, whereas painters are known to be from Al-Baida governorate.

The term “akhdam” began to be used almost 1,000 years ago to describe dark-skinned people in Yemen. “However, their ethnic origins are still unclear and there is no indisputable evidence which proves their lineage,” says Mohammed Saeed Aref, a sociology professor at Aden University.   

When the term “akhdam” is used by Yemenis, it is not directed towards everyone darker than a certain shade. It is specifically directed at the Muhamasheen. A tourist or migrant with a similar skin color is not likely to be addressed by the derogatory name.  However, the lines are blurred, as it is often impossible to tell whether a black person is a visiting foreigner or businessman, a refugee, or a citizen.

Appearance and occupation tend to be important determinants of whether a black Yemeni is seen as a “khadim,” the singular of “akhdam,” or not. A black Yemeni with a “respectable” job—i.e. high paying—who is well-dressed will often be treated much better.

While “akhdam” refers specifically to black Yemeni citizens. Another racist term, “zinji,” is commonly used by Yemenis when referring to black people, whether tourist, migrant or refugee. One of the narratives explaining the term’s origin can be traced back to the region’s slave trade between the seventh and the ninth century. At that time, the argument was, slaves were brought to the Arab world from slave markets on the island of Zanzibar (Zinjibar in Arabic), hence the name “zinji.”

Human Rights Investigations

evidence-based, independent and rigorous investigation of human rights abuses

Ethnic cleansing, genocide and the Tawergha

Human Rights Investigations has been following the situation of the Tawergha closely and here we draw the information together and find, based on the reports of witnesses, journalists and human rights workers, the situation of the Tawergha is not just one of ethnic cleansing but, according to the legal definition, genocide.

HRI has grave concerns, not only for dark-skinned people in Libya generally, but also for pro-Gaddafi tribes including the Gaddafi and al-Meshashyas. We also have particular concern for the Tuareg of southern Libya who are being accused of being ‘mercenaries’ and under attack from NATO and rebel forces. But the greatest concern is perhaps for the Tawergha.

The Genocide Convention

Article 2 of the United Nations issued Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide states:

“any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group as such:

  1. Killing members of the group;
  2. Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
  3. Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
  4. Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
  5. Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.”

Article 4 states:

Persons committing genocide or any of the other acts enumerated in Article 3 shall be punished, whether they are constitutionally responsible rulers, public officials or private individuals.

The Tawergha have been ethnically cleansed

The main town of the Tawergha region, Tawergha itself (aka Tawergha, Tawergha. Arabic: تاورغاء), was a town of an estimated 31,250 people (United Nations Environment Program, 2005).  It has been emptied of its entire population: its people having either been killed or fled, amidst reports the remaining population in the area are being picked off as they try to find water and food. The town of Tawergha lies about 30-40 miles south of Misrata/Misurata,  along the western coast of the Gulf of Sirte. Areas of Misrata occupied by the Tawergha have also been ethnically cleansed, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Amnesty has  reported on the allegations ‘that members of the Tawargha tribe’ have fled their homes and:

Tens of thousands are now living in different parts of Libya – unable to return home as relations between the people of Misrata and Tawergha remain particularly tense. Residents of makeshift camps near Tripoli, where displaced people from Tawergha are sheltering, told Amnesty they would not go outside for fear of arrest. They told how relatives and others from the Tawergha tribe had been arrested from checkpoints and even hospitals in Tripoli.

On 29 August, Amnesty delegates saw a Tawergha patient at the Tripoli Central Hospital being taken by three men, one of them armed, for “questioning in Misrata”. The men had no arrest warrant. Amnesty was also told that at least two other Tawergha men had vanished after being taken for questioning from Tripoli hospitals…

Even in the camps, the Tawergha are not safe. Towards the end of last month, a group of armed men drove into the camp and arrested about 14 men. Amnesty spoke to some of their relatives; none knew of their fate or whereabouts. Another woman at the camp said her husband has been missing since he left the camp to run an errand in central Tripoli, about a week ago. She fears he might be have been detained.

Tawergha who fled to refugee camps have been chased down by rebel groups, taken away and disappeared. There are credible reports of Tawerghans being raped, disappearing and being killed. Tawerghans have even been witnessed being dragged out of hospitals in Tripoli to unknown fates.

Human Rights Investigation

September 26, 2011

The early genocidal threats to Tawergha

In a June 21 article in the Wall Street Journal, Sam Dagher described Tawergha as a  town inhabited mostly by black Libyans, a legacy of its 19th-century origins as a transit town in the slave trade. He quoted one of the rebel commanders from the rebel Misrata brigade:

Ibrahim al-Halbous, a rebel commander leading the fight near Tawergha, says all remaining residents should leave once if his fighters capture the town.  “They should pack up,” Mr. Halbous said. “Tawergha no longer exists, only Misrata.”

Other rebel leaders are reported as: “calling for drastic measures like banning Tawergha natives from ever working, living or sending their children to schools in Misrata.”

In addition, according to the article, as a result of the battle for Misrata:

nearly four-fifths of residents of Misrata Gohoushi neighborhood were Tawergha natives. Now they are gone or in hiding, fearing revenge attacks by Misratans, amid reports of bounties for their capture.

The demonization of the Tawergha

An important part of any genocide is the demonisation and dehumanisation of the victims and this continues to be the case for the Tawergha. As part of the information war NATO and the rebels have described all loyalist black fighters, guest workers from sub-Saharan Africa and even black skinned inhabitants of Libya as ‘mercenaries’ [Arabic:  مرتزقة Romanisation:mertezqhor ‘murtazaka‘].

The Tawerghans have been accused of mass rape, of being collectively responsible for the battle of Misrata and are invariably described in racist terms. As Sam Dagher reported:

Some of the hatred of Tawergha has racist overtones that were mostly latent before the current conflict. On the road between Misrata and Tawergha, rebel slogans like “the brigade for purging slaves, black skin” have supplanted pro-Gadhafi scrawl.

It is worth noting that this demonisation of black people has led to widespread atrocities including lynchings and beheadings in which the highest echelons of the National Transitional Council have been complicit.

Tawergha is captured by the rebels

As we reported at the time, the town of Tawergha was taken by the rebels on 13 August in an assault which was closely coordinated with NATO and featured the use of aerial bombing and of heavy weaponry against the town. A report of the fall by Andrew Simmons for Al Jazeera, unfortunately lacking context, shows at least one of the large residential blocks in Tawergha alight, prisoners packed inside a freight container (who the rebels didn’t want filmed), an injured man in civilian clothes and the rebel fighters evicting an Egyptian woman who has lost her 9 children under 12 who ran away during the attack from her home.

At this stage the last remaining civilians and defenders of the town were reportedly surrounded.

The attack on Tawergha was also reported by Orla Guerin of the BBC who also, disgracefully, failed to give the ethnic cleansing context despite actually interviewing Ibrahim al-Halbous, the very commander who had earlier threatened to wipe the town off the map.

NATO air support for the assault on Tawergha

The NATO bombing in support of the attack is recorded in the NATO press releases from the time:

10 August: In the vicinity of Tawergha: 3 Command and Control Nodes, 2 Military Storage Facilities.

12 August: In the vicinity of Misrata: 1 Military Facility, 1 Ammo Storage Facility.

13 August: In the vicinity of Misrata: 4 Anti-Aircraft Guns.

13 August: In the vicinity of Tawarah: 2 Military Vehicles, 1 Anti-Aircraft Guns.

The actual assault was from 10-13 August so we can see NATO played an important role in the ethnic cleansing of this town, an ethnic cleansing of which they had been forewarned and in which they decided, nonetheless, to participate.

Reports indicate the rebels were ordered by NATO to paint their vehicles red and yellow just prior to the assault.

The ethnic cleansing of Tawergha

It is highly likely many black refugees from Misrata fled to the town of Tawergha. Many of them and the original residents may have moved on prior to the actual assault, especially as the Misrata brigades were firing Grad rockets at the town. It also seems likely some of the fighters may have escaped to Sabha, Sirte or Bani Walid, where they are currently making a last stand, sure in the knowledge that they are unlikely to survive capture.

However, a report by David Enders, reporting from an empty Tawergha, indicates ethnic cleansing occurred after the rebels took full control:

According to Tawergha residents, rebel soldiers from Misrata forced them from their homes on Aug. 15 when they took control of the town. (Our emphasis)

This would have been 2 days after the fall of the town and after Orla Guerin and Andrew Simmons had left. The fate of the prisoners loaded into the shipping containers, as well as the population as a whole remains unknown.

Following the trail of the last of the Tawerghans

To his great credit David Enders follows up on the story of the Tawerghans, (17th September) trying to trace their current location:

The residents were then apparently driven out of a pair of refugee camps in Tripoli over this past weekend.

“The Misrata people are still looking for black people,” said Hassan, a Tawergha resident who’s now sheltering in a third camp in Janzour, six miles east of Tripoli. “One of the men who came to this camp told me my brother was killed yesterday by the revolutionaries.”

The evidence that the rebels’ pursuit of the Tawerghis did not end with the collapse of the Gadhafi regime is visible, both in the emptiness of this village and that of the camps to which the residents fled.

At one, in a Turkish-owned industrial complex in the Salah al Deen neighborhood of southern Tripoli, a man looting metal from the complex simply said that the Tawerghis had “gone to Niger,” the country that borders Libya on the south where some Gadhafi  supporters, including the deposed dictator’s son Saadi, have fled.

It is worth noting that to get to Niger, any refugees would have had to make an extremely hazardous journey to Sabha first. From there it would have been a further week’s journey by bus into Niger, across the Sahara: another very dangerous journey which it is highly unlikely any of the refugees would have even attempted let alone survived.

David Enders report continues:

Lafy Mohammed, whose house is across the road from the complex, said that on Saturday a group of revolutionary militiamen from Misrata, 120 miles east of Tripoli, had come to the camp and evict its tenants.

“They arrested about 25 of the men,” Mohammed said. “They were shooting in the air and hitting them with their rifle butts.”

“They took the women, old men and children out in trucks,” he said.

Mohammed said that it was not the first time the revolutionaries from Misrata had come after the people in the camp.

“A week ago they were here, but (the people in the neighborhood) begged them to leave them alone,” Mohammed said.

Mohammed said some of the Tawerghis may have been taken to another nearby camp, in a Brazilian-owned industrial complex. On Tuesday, that camp was empty as well, with the gate locked.

Reached by phone at the camp in Janzour, Hassan, who did not want his last name used, said he had escaped from the Brazilian company camp on Saturday, when it, too, was raided. He said about 1,000 Tawerghis were now at the Janzour camp.

“They arrested 35 men, but they let me go because I was with my family,” Hassan said. He blamed a brigade of fighters from Misrata.

In Tawergha, the rebel commander said his men had orders not to allow any of the residents back in. He also said that unexploded ordnance remained in the area, though none was readily apparent.

Most homes and buildings in the area appeared to have been damaged in the fighting, and a half-dozen appeared to have been ransacked. The main road into the village was blocked with earthen berms. Signs marking the way to the village appeared to have been destroyed.

On the only sign remaining “Tawergha” had been painted over with the words “New Misrata.”

On one wall in Tawergha, graffiti referred to the town’s residents as “abeed,” a slur for blacks.


Prophet Muhammad, the Arabs and the Many Shades of Blackness

By Wesley Muhammad, PhD

Muhammad b. Ahmad al-Minhaji al-Asyuti (d. 1475) in his Jawahir al-’uqud wa-mu’in al-qudat wal-muwaaqqi in wal-shuhid (II:574), whis a two volume composition of principles and models to be followed by judges, notaries and witnesses in drafting legal decisions, has a section on human complexions in which he reports about the many shades of blackness (and whiteness) and their technical legal descriptions:

“If a person’s complexion is intensely black (shadid al-sawad), he is described as halik.  If his/her blackness has a red hue, he/she is daghman.  If his complexion is lighter than that, he is asham.  If the blackness has a yellow hue, he is ashum.  If his complexion in dark (kudra), it is described as arbad.  If the complexion is lighter than that (i.e. arbad), it is abyad.  If there is less of a yellow hue and the complexion inclines toward black (al-sawad), it is adam.  If it is lighter than arbad and darker than adam, it is shadid al-udma.  If it is lighter than adam, it is shadid al-sumra (‘intensely dark brown”).  If lighter than that, it is asmar (dark brown).”

In Classical Arabic Tradition several shades and hues of blackness, several shades of brownness, and several shades of whiteness were distinguished.  There are very black complexions with red hues (e.g. daghman) and very black complexions with yellow hues (e.g. asham).  Both of these complexion-types exist in Africa today, as elsewhere.  The most extreme degree of blackness is halik, ‘pitch-black’.  The last stage of blackness is asmar, which is actually a brown.

The question is thus not whether or not the ancient Arabs, and thus the Arab Prophet, were black or not.  They clearly self-identified as black.  The question is: which shade of black were they?

The Arabs generally self-identified as akhdar, adam, and asmar which range from very dark brown to normal brown (which is a much darker color than tan).  They tended to disparage and distance themselves from extreme pitch-blackness like halik and attributed this to certain African groups.

Regarding the prophet Muhammad, Al-Tirmidhi, in his Jami’ al-Sahih (VI:69 no. 1754), reports on the the authority of the famous Companion of the Prophet, Anas b. Malik:

“The Messenger of Allah was of medium stature, neither tall nor short, (with) a beautiful, dark brown-complexioned body (hasan al-jism asmar al-lawn).  His hair was neither curly nor completely straight and when he walked he leant forward.”

Al-Tirmidhi reports in his al-Sham’il al-Muhammadiyyah (#1), also on the authority of Anas b. Malik:

“The Messenger of Allah (s) was neither tall, such that he would stand out, nor was he short.  He was not albino-white (al-abyad al-am haq), nor was he deep dark brown (adam).  His hair was neither very curly nor completely straight.  Allah commissioned him towards the end of his fortieth year.  he remained in Mecca for ten years and in Medina for ten years.  Allah caused him to pass away at the turn of his sixtieth year and there was not found on his head and beard (as much as) twenty white hairs.”

This report does not stand in contradiction to the other reports according to which the Prophet was dark brown-skinned, because asmar is not adam.  According to classifications of the Arabic linguists such as al-Tha’labi, adam is a more excessive blackness than asmar.  What is therefore denied is that Muhammad was one of the more excessively black Arabs, like the Banu Sulaym maybe.

Hālik African

Ādam Arab

An Asmar Arab (right) as depicted in Michel Ocelot’s animated feature film Azur & Asmar, telling the story of an Arab boy named Asmar, representing the Arab World, and a blond-haired, blue-eyed boy named Azur, representing the West. Posted by Black Arabia

How Did the Black Arabs Become White?

Lucien Herault, writing about the white slave-trade into North Africa in the 17th century, observes: In the first half of the seventeenth century, the number of (white) captives held itself around a fluctuating population figure of around 20,000, that, joined to the 20,000 renegades (i.e. European converts to Islam) and to the numerous contingents of Albanians and Bulgarians serving in the militia, made of Algiers a white city, approaching closer (in terms of ) blood and of race to various European ports on the other bank of the Mediterranean) than to all the other Moorish or Turkish cities. This is no doubt the significance of the Prophet’s words:

Zayd b. Aslam related that the Prophet (s) saw a vision and told his companions about it.  He said:  “I saw a group of black sheep and a group of white sheep then mixed with them (until the white sheep became so numerous that the black sheep could no longer be seen in the herd of sheep).  I (or Abu Bakr with angelic approval) interpreted to mean that ( the black sheep are the Arabs.  They will accept Islam and become many.  As for the white sheep, are the non-Arabs (i.e. Persians, Turks, Byzantines, ect.) They will enter Islam and then share with you your wealth and your genealogy (and become so numerous that the Arabs will not be noticed amongst them.)”  

Just to be clear, the Black Arab shown above is a Mahra Arab.  The Mahra are indigenous Arabs of southern Arabia who are believed to be the living remnant of the Banu Ad Arabians who likely built the fabled but recently discovered Imran civilization in south-east Arabia some five thousand years ago.  

The family of King Abdullah, of Saudi Arabia, is from Banu Murad, from Anaz b. Wa’il, which in pre-Islamic and early Islamic days was a tribe of black-skinned like the Mahra.

Image result for images of king abdullah saudi arabia

The indigenous peoples of Arabia, including the Arabs, are African peoples.  The Encyclopedia Britannica (9th Edition) correctly points out:”(Regarding) the 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 adscititious … A second fact is, that everything in pre-Islamic literature and record… concurs in representing the first settlement of the ‘pure’ Arabs as made on the extreme south-western point of the peninsular, near Aden, and then spreading northward and eastward… A  third is the 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… Fiftly, it is remarkabke that where the grammer 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-Islamic institutions of Yemen and its allied provinces-its monarchies, courts, armies, and serfs-bear a marked resemblance to the historical  Africao-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.  Eightly, the general habits of the people,-given to sedentary rather than nomade occupations, fond of village life, of society, of dance and music; good cultivators of the soil,toerable 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 exist 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 in the direction of a community of origin”

The Pure Arabs and the East Africans are indeed kith and kin.  Bertram Thomas, historian and former Prime Minister of Muscat and Oman, reported in his work ‘The Arabs’:

“The original inhabitants of Arabia… were not the familiar Arabs of our time but very much darker people.  A proto-negroid belt of mankind strected 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 peopl inhabiting the Arabian peninsula.  In the course of time two big migrations of fair-skinned peoples came from the north… to break through and tranform 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 conditions of the newcomers is unknown.  It is unlikely that they were more than wild hordes of adventurous hunters.”  

The Mahra Arabs, like the other northern and southern Black Arabs, are descendents of the aboriginal Africoid Arabians or Afrabians. they are not, as some would like to believe, descendents of “slaves and concubines.”

Wesley Muhammad, “Anyone who says that the Prophet is black should be killed”: The De-Arabization of Islam and the Transfiguration of Muhammad in Islamic Tradition.  http;//


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