Birth of a Savior

Today, tens of thousands of devout believers will be commemorating the birth of their Savior.

And I’m not referring to Jesus Christ.

This man is arguably the most elusive figure in American history. No one knows where he was born. No one knows where or when he passed away. His legacy is glossed over by high school history textbooks. Nevertheless, in a span of few years, this man managed to drastically impact the consciousness of American Blacks and forever change the course of American racial relations.

In 1930, there wWallace_Fard_Muhammadas a mysterious, beige-complexioned man walking through the streets and alleys of Depression-era Black Bottom in Detroit, selling silk cloths to Black residents who couldn’t even afford to dream of wearing such exquisite items. He introduced himself as Wallace Fard Muhammed. Handsome and charismatic, Fard was often invited into the meager dwellings of those residents, who were enticed by his stories on the origins of those silk cloths in their “homeland”. 

Assuming the role of some type of religious preacher, Fard spoke of how his poverty-stricken hosts were descended of kings and warriors who were kidnapped from their “homeland” and stripped of their ancestral heritage. Fard implored his hosts to reconnect with their history by abandoning the religion of their former masters. 

He introduced the religious concept of Tawhid (oneness of God) and discouraged pork at their dinner tables. After adopting the dietary restrictions, those Black ghetto residents observed significant improvements in their health and concluded that there must be something to Fard’s teachings. 

During his sales runs, Fard gradually evolved from a silk salesmen to a leader of a new religious movement.

Fard branded himself as a prophet and constructed a version of Islam unrecognizable to mainstream Muslims. The theological tenets of Fard’s religion involved a mad scientist named Yakub who created White people as Devils to reek havoc and destroy humanity. Therefore, the White man is innately evil and responsible for the burdens Black people are forced to endure.

To most of us today, Fard’s teachings sound nothing more than a racist crackpot theory promulgated by a dark-skinned version of L. Ron Hubbard. However, to poor Black residents of 1930s Detroit, Fard didn’t make less sense than church sermons revolving around a man who supposedly rose from the dead after three days.

It is also worth mentioning that the early 20th century was the heyday for racially-based eugenics. Today, eugenics is solely entertained by a small number of basement-dwelling shiteaters, as race is considered to be a meaningless concept by anthropologists and “biological determinism” has been discredited by the medical community. However, in the 1930s, eugenics was espoused by renowned academic journals, taught in public schools and was influential in US immigration policy. Madison Grant’s Passing of a Great Race (which profoundly influenced Adolf Hitler’s perspective on race) was on the best-sellers list.

Given those circumstances, you can see why Fard’s followers were so keen on accepting his bizarre theology.They were  consistently bombarded with “scientific” studies denigrating them as subhuman degenerates. They were mocked with the “curse of Ham” by White Christian preachers. Accepting Fard’s teachings was their way of turning the tables and asserting respectability for themselves.

Coinciding with the independence anniversary of the United States, Fard and his followers formed the Allah Temple of Islam on July 4th, 1930. The mission of this new organization was to “teach the downtrodden and defenseless Black people a thorough Knowledge of God and of themselves, and to put them on the road to Self-Independence with a superior culture and higher civilization than they had previously experienced”.

Fard was hailed by his followers as the Mahdi, replacing Jesus as their personal savior. Fard was adamant to instill Islamic practices in his followers. He admonished the consumption of pork, which, as you would know from dining at a Soul Food restaurant, is replete in American Black cuisine. He established Muslim schools as an alternative to the public school system. He authored a book entitled Secret Rituals of a Lost-Found Nation of Islam which elaborated on his religion’s tenets. As the year went by, the Nation of Islam became more organized. Fard has even handpicked a young man named Elijah Poole as his protege in 1931. He rechristened the young man Elijah Muhammed and appointed him as his successor.

In 1932, a Detroit resident named Robert Kharraim (born Robert Harris), a member of the ATI, performed a human sacrifice to “bring himself closer to Allah”. Kharraim had cited a passage from Fard’s book Secret Rituals of a Lost-Found Nation of Islam, which stated “The believer must be stabbed through the heart.”. This caught the attention of the Detroit Police Department. Driven by anti-Muslim hysteria and racism, the police sought to charge Fard with murder.

Kharraim was later found to be insane and was committed to a psychiatric institution. Fard was forced by the police to disband the ATI and leave Detroit. Fard complied, as he would have faced legal charges, and left for Chicago on December of 1932.

Although the ATI was ostensibly disbanded, the organization actually remained in tact under a new name: The Nation of Islam.

The following month, Fard returned to Detroit. However, he was identified by the police and ordered to leave. Yet, in 1934, Fard was back in Detroit, but not for long.

Facing non-stop police harassment, Fard had Elijah Muhammed drive him to the airport. After bidding his protege adieu, Fard left to board his flight, never to be seen again.

To this day, no one knows where Fard went following his departure from Detroit. Upon leaving the organization he single-handedly built, Fard passed the mantle to Elijah Muhammed, who assumed leadership of the Nation of Islam for an eventful forty years.

Under Elijah Muhammed, the Nation of Islam garnered incredible recognition and respectability among Black Americans. The organization attracted the likes of Malcolm X and Muhammed Ali. It played an influential, though notoriously controversial, role during the Civil Right Movement.

However, certain aspects of Elijah Muhammed’s reputation caused many, including Malcolm X and Muhammed Ali, to leave the organization. To this day, there are rumors accusing Elijah Muhammed of orchestrating Malcolm X’s assassination as punishment for his departure from the Nation of Islam.

Following the death of Elijah Muhammed, his son, Warith Deen Muhammed assumed leadership of the Nation of Islam. Warith repudiated his father’s racist ideas and that bizarre tale of Yakub. Instead, he introduced Sunni Islamic practices to the organization, hoping to forge connections with mainstream Islamic group.

However, Warith’s reforms resulted a schism within the Nation of Islam. The oppositional faction was led by young firebrand named Louis Farrakhan, who aspired to reintroduce the teachings and theology of Wallace Fard Muhammed and Elijah Muhammed. Warith’s faction went on to adopt the name “American Society of Muslims” while Louis Farrakhan’s faction retained the name “Nation of Islam”.

Meanwhile, the whereabouts of Fard remain unsolved. Of course, numerous hypotheses have been proposed to unravel this evasive character.

In the late 1950s, the FBI conjured a theory linking Wallace Fard Muhammed to Wali Dodd Ford, a New Zealand-born White restaurant owner who lived in California during the 1910s and 1920s. This theory was propagated in newspapers as a tactic to discredit the Nation of Islam through some crazed Rachel-Dolezalesque fashion.

South Asia had been pinpointed as the possible birthplace of Fard. After all, he had the generic features of a typical North Indian: silky black hair, beige complexion, sharp, chiseled facial features, and a caucasoid bone structure. The fact that he reportedly expressed contempt for Hinduism is also indicative of his South Asian origins.

Turkey, Palestine, and Saudi Arabia have also been proposed as his possible birthplace. In fact, he had once claimed to have served as a diplomat for the Kingdom of Hejaz (located in present-day Saudi Arabia).

You’re probably wondering why a man with no African roots would go as far as to establish a Black supremacist organization!

Perhaps, Fard was seeking an opportunity to propagate Islam (well his unconventional version of Islam) while he was selling silk cloths. Seeing neighborhoods of destitute, marginalized Blacks in need of a savior, he took his chances with them. The affirming doctrines preached by a man who presented himself as a “high-yellow” Black man from the East would have been receptive to early 20th century Black Americans.

We will possibly never know the true origins of Wallace Fard Muhammed. We will possibly never know his true ethnicity or even his real name. We will never know who he truly was.

Nevertheless, we cannot deny the profound impact he had on the cultural milieu of America. Despite possibly lack a drop of African blood, Fard instilled in Black Americans a sense of self-respect that motivated them to fight for equality.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not defending the ideology he propagated. Nor am I a supporter of the Nation of Islam. However, in studying Fard’s ideology and the Nation of Islam in relation to the mores of early 20th-century America, we can have a more comprehensive perspective on Black American history, which will give us insight into the state of modern-day race relations.

Kali Yuga and Memberberries

The ancient Sanskirt texts divide history into four epochs (or yugas). The first epoch is termed as Sathya Yuga, or the era of truth. This was the golden age of mankind, which lasted a good 1,780,000 years(of course, science says humans have only been around for 200,000 years but let’s ignore that)! The goddess Dharma, depicted as a bull, stood on all four legs, representing the triumph of morality and ethics. Humanity strived for the purest ideal and goodness reigned supreme.

However, as life has taught us, all good things must come to an end. Sathya Yuga was succeeded by Treta Yuga. The Dharma bull stood on three legs. Humanity started to favor materialism over spirituality. After three thousand years, Treta Yuga gave way to Dwapara Yuga. Now, the Dharma bull stood on two legs. By this time, humanity had divided itself in classes and the aristocrats discarded spiritual pursuits for fleshly pleasure and lavish wealth. 864,000 years passed before the death of Krishna, marking the advent of the current age, Kali Yuga.

Kali_yuga

The Dharma bull has now been reduced to one leg. Our moral framework has disintegrated. Humanity is drowning in the cesspool of amoral nihilism. According to the Mahabharatha, the sage Markandeya predicted that our age would be rife with despotic regimes, scarcity of food and resources, unbridled wrath, widespread drug addiction, unregulated lust and even the normalization of murder!

In other words, the marginal minority of virtuous souls will find it intolerable to live in this current age. They will futilely long for the days of Sathya Yuga, when humanity was guided by the deities and Dharma reigned supreme.

I’ve noticed that religions have this inexplicable proclivity to idealize the past. The Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity and Islam) recall the Garden of Eden, a botanical paradise where Adam and Eve, our alleged ancestors of humanity, roamed carefree. Yet their regrettable consumption of the forbidden fruit, an unforgivable deviance of God’s commands, cursed Adam and Eve, along with their descendents, into a life of pain and hardship in the cruel, outside world.

Let’s face it. Life sucks. The world is unjust and we rarely get what we want. Somehow, we come to the conclusion that the past was this idyllic period where we weren’t burdened with the troubles of today.

We long to return to that blissful golden age. Many Christians believe the inevitable apocalypse will reel in the glorious Kingdom of Heaven. Muslims believe the Mahdi will rid the world of evil. Even Hindus believe that a golden age of one thousand years will commenced during Kali Yuga.

I’ve always regarded nostalgic idealizations to be unhealthy. However, these religions seem to intensify our yearning to return to the golden age that never was. They brew a collective psychosis that prevents us from dealing with reality.

We have to stop romanticizing those good ol’ days! Life has always been shitty. Rather than pining for some nonexistent golden age, we should just focus on the issues of the present day and hope for a better tomorrow.

Perpetual Student of the Kwan

Calling myself a martial artist would be a gross exaggeration. I’m certainly no match for Ip Man! However, my obsession with anime aroused my fascination with oriental martial arts techniques. I had even dreamt of achieving super-saiyan level!

…To this day, I still cherish that dream

When I was eight years old, my parents enrolled me in a karate class after hearing about my brief encounter with a bully during recess. This particular course taught a Korean varient of Karate called Tang Soo Do.

hwangkeeIn 1937, a 23-year-old Hwang Kee returned to his native Korea after two years working at the Manchurian railroads in China. During his stay in China, Hwang Kee allegedly learned Kung Fu, complementing his training in Subak during his high school years. Upon returning to Korea, Hwang Kee had hoped to continue his martial arts education. Unfortunately, his aspirations were limited by the Japanese Occupation of Korea during World War II.

The carnage of a global battle didn’t prevent Hwang Kee from pursuing his life-long passion. During the early 1940s, Hwang Kee spent the majority of the time at the library, burying himself in books and articles about Okinawan Shotokan Karate.

In 1945, Hwang Kee opened his first kwan, which he christened Hwa Soo Do (flowering gmckickhand way) Muk Do Kwan. Five years later, he renamed his school Tang Soo Do (empty hand) Muk Do Kwan to emphasize the empty-handed techniques derived from Shotokan Karate.

Unlike most martial arts, the envied black belt does not exist in Tang Soo Do. In Korean culture, the color black symbolizes perfection. However, every Tang Soo Do practitioner is fully aware that perfection is unattainable. The highest rank a student can achieve is a humble 10th degree midnight blue belt. Although not as edgy as its black counterpart, the midnight blue reminds a practitioner that he will always be a student.

This is true in every field. Whether you’re a professor, a doctor, a CEO or even the president of the United States, you will always remain a student.

I was enrolled in Tang Soo Do for only two years, before the demands of middle school assignments and extracurriculars occupied the majority of my free time. However, my years in Tang Soo Do instilled in me the importance of humbleness. If we perceive ourselves as experts, we’ll lack the incentive to pursue knowledge. If we lack that incentive, we hinder our own personal growth.

Book Review: Revival

Stephen King is renowned for his epic horror novels. Since the publication of his debut book, Carrie, King has spent the last three decades reveling in fame and literary recognition. His prose is simple and meant to appeal to a middlebrow readership. Nevertheless, King is able to write in a way that captures the imagination and invites the reader into the depths of his world.

Revival was published in 2014. Similarly to most of King’s books, the story is set in his 51vNbL-8w0L._SX320_BO1,204,203,200_home state of Maine (at least during the first half of the novel). The novel chronicles the life of Jamie Morton, from age six to his late fifties, and highlights his encounters with a charming, yet eccentric preacher named Charles Daniel Jacobs.

Although the story is written from the first-person perspective of Jamie Morton, Jacobs could qualify as the lead protagonist as well. This tale is just as much about him as it is about Jamie.

Charles Daniel Jacobs is introduced as an young, enthusiastic Methodist preacher who arrives in tiny Maine town of Harrow with his wife and son for his first pastoral assignment.  In Harrow, Jacobs meets six-year-old Jamie and immediately takes a liking to him. Jacobs exposes Jamie to the bizarre, yet fascinating world of electricity, of which Jacobs exhibits an infatuated obsession.

One fateful day, Jacobs’ wife and son fall victim to a car accident. Unfortunately, they didn’t survive which tears Jacobs apart. On the following Sunday at the local Methodist church, Jacobs delivers a heart-wrenching diatribe, later termed by the parishioners and townspeople as “The Terrible Sermon”. Jacobs lashes at God and derides religion as nothing but an insurance fraud. Unsurprisingly, Jacobs leaves town. However, that wouldn’t be the last time Jamie sees him..

The novel effectistephen-kingvely touches on numerous themes that are all intertwined, including religion, tragedies, death and the esoteric potential of electricity. Although the story drags into numerous irrelevant subplots of Jamie’s life, it leads towards a bone-chilling, Lovecraftesque climax, and unveiling the mysteries of death and the afterlife.

Revival, in echoing Stephen King’s own perspective, exposes the covert manipulation of tent revivals. In one passage, Charles Jacobs cynically chides the enthusiastic attendees as “rubes” who only “want to be healed”.

I’m reminded of the numerous charismatic retreats I was dragged to as a child. Although the majority of the congregation were seemingly rejuvenated by the spirited ambiance, I was disturbed by the exaggerated displays of emotion and the complete surrender to blind faith.

A priest (or lay minister) would spew a series of half-baked Christian platitudes, ending every two sentences with “Praise the Lord”, and the congregation would cling to his every word. Yet numerous of my fellow parishioners flocked to these retreats, even if they regularly fail to attend Sunday mass. As Charles Jacobs said, people just want to be healed. And with life’s innumerable burdens and calamities, who could blame them?

This is where the esoteric secrets of electricity come in. As a young preacher, Jacobs devoted himself to studying electricity as a hobby and often used it as a teaching tool for the church youth group.

When Jamie’s brother, Connie, lost his voice, Jacobs riskfully harnessed the powers of electricity to heal Connie of his affliction. That was the first time Jacobs utilize electricity behind its typical application of lighting a bulb.

After the terrible sermon, Jacobs was driven into obsession over electricity. He would discover that the healing potential of electricity could ignite a new type of “revival”. However, in his old age, there was one mission that was left to be accomplished. And he would need the assistance of a fifty-something year old Jamie Morton.

Despite the handful of irrelevant subplot, this novel is worth reading. If you’re a lapsed Christian, this story will make you reflect on your own religious upbringing and give you further insight on the inner-workings of religion

“Manushyan Mathanale Shrishtichu….”

Below is a link to a timeless Malayalam filmi song called “Manushyan Mathanale Shrishtichu”.

Written by Vayalar Ramavarma and sung by KJ Yesudas, this song was released in Achanum Bappayum, a 1972 Malayalam film directed by KS Sethumadhavan and written by the lauded Malayali playwright, KT Muhammed. 

The song decries over the futility of religion. The singer starts by pointing out that humans created religions and gods are a product of religions. Throughout the course of human history, we have created a myriad of religions. The singer laments that by dividing ourselves into “Hindus”, “Muslims”, and “Christians”, we’ve become blinded of our own humanity. The world has turned into an insane asylum and as we drown ourselves in a bloodbath, the devil laughs at our misery.  

At first, I was perplexingly surprised on finding out that this song was released in 1972. My parents, both of whom were raised in religious Catholic households in rural Kerala, were only in primary school at that time! How was this song tolerated in those days? 

Of course, I shouldn’t be so shocked. Kerala is notorious for being a left-leaning state. And in addition to dominating the political scene, the communists were also influential in the creative arts arena. The Kerala People’s Arts Club (KPAC) was originally a Marxist-leaning troupe that propagated communistic ideals through theatre. The first hit Malayalam movie, Neelakuyil, was directed by a left-leaning sympathizer who was exiled from Travancore by orders of CP Ramaswami Iyer a decade previous. Communism was the cultural milieu of the Malayalam film industry. Even though the  Malayali Reds weren’t overtly anti-religious, it shouldn’t be any surprise that their atheistic ideas would creep into a film. 

I can’t help but wonder what the public reaction would be if this song was released today? We all remember the politicized frenzy that brewed upon the release of Rajkumar Hirani’s PK in 2014. The fiery rage that arose from the Hindu Right-Wing was unquenchable. In fact, Hindutva poster boy (and rape apologist) Rahul Easwar was practically foaming at the mouth during his hysterical outcry (despite failing to see the movie). And it should be noted that PK was only an indictment of the antiquated superstitions that continue to prevail in India. In the movie, the existence of God was still asserted to be undeniably true. 

Although filmmakers and actors have been burdened with increased pressure and harassment from religious fanatics, they have yet to meet the fate of some of India’s most notable anti-superstition activists. In 2013, Narendra Dalbokar, a medical doctor and founder of the Maharashtra Andhashraddha Nirmoolan Samiti (Committee to Eradicate Superstition in Maharashtra), was shot by two gunmen. In response, BJP politician Subramaniam Swami stated that Dalbokar should have been careful before insulting the religious sentiments of Hindus. In 2015, activists Govind Panare and MM Kulburgi were also murdered. 

Despite being religious minorities, Muslims and Christians have also wielded their political leverage in harassing atheists. Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses remains banned in India. Unfortunately, in India, appeasement politics takes precedence over civil liberties. Despite seeking refuge in India from persecution in her home country, Bangladeshi novelist Taslima Nasrin continuously faces harassment from Islamic clerics over her religious criticisms. 

Over the course of four years, anti-superstition activist Sanal Edamaruku has had to miss the birth of his first grandson and the funeral of his late mother in order to avoid a lawsuit launched on behalf of the Catholic Secular Forum. His only crime was disproving an alleged miracle at Our Lady of Velankanni Church in Bombay. The comedy trope All India Bakchod was forced to apologize to the archbishop of Bombay for alleged anti-Catholic jokes during the taping of their Roast, or risk facing a lawsuit. 

Over the past forty years, religious groups have gain considerable political tractions. The rise of the Hindu Right had come into fruition in the formation of its own political party, the Bharatiya Janata Party. Through so-called vote banks, the Muslims and Christians have now garnered an impressive amount of power. 

Meanwhile, freedom of speech and expression is at risk. In today’s India, Vayalar Ramavarma would have been lynched and hanged! Riots would have erupted on the release date of Achanun Bappayum. India is on a dreadful path to becoming a draconian state, on par with Singapore. Meanwhile, the world’s religions lavishly bath in the pool of appeasement politics.