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Juneteenth: Celebrating the Greatest Ascent – The Freeing of a Slave

posted on: Jun 19, 2024

Photo: Pexels

By: Nate Fox / Arab America Contributing Writer

The history of the Arab world is one plagued with colonialism and imperialism. African Americans can relate to this struggle against oppressive rule. By acknowledging these parallels, Arab Americans can find deeper connections and solidarity with the African American community, especially in celebrating Juneteenth.

History and Importance of Juneteenth

Before June 19, 1865, America was more an idea than a nation. Yes, it had committed its share of blood to the earth in the name of this idea, and it was a luminous idea, but to call America a nation before the freeing of slaves is an affront to its grand intent. It could only be what its founders envisioned once it was made whole. It could not be made whole without reconciling its original sin of slavery.

The history of Juneteenth begins a few months prior on what is now known as “Freedom’s Eve” on January 1, 1863. This marks the day when the enslaved were officially declared free. While the Emancipation Proclamation had already been put forth months prior via an executive order proclaimed by President Abraham Lincoln, it was not set to take effect until the beginning of a new year. On the night prior, many African Americans gathered in secret and read the Proclamation amongst each other. Union soldiers across America went into cities and plantations reading copies of the Emancipation Proclamation. Despite the clear order in the Proclamation, not everyone in the Confederate territories was free. African Americans in places still under Confederate control, such as the state of Texas, would not see freedom until much later. For those in Texas, liberation came at the arrival of 2,000 Union troops at Galveston Bay on the southeastern shore of Texas, effectively freeing more than 250,000 enslaved African Americans

Connection to the Arab World through the Islamic faith

Juneteenth is about the ascension of a people, “Do you know what the greatest ascent is? It is the freeing of a slave.” (Qur’an 90:12-13) From the Islamic perspective, this marks a significant leap in the civilization of America. Many Africans initially sold in the trans-Atlantic slave trade were of the Muslim faith. While the prominence of the Islamic faith waned amongst the enslaved, its presence is still observable in the folklore and traditions they created. In more modern times, it can be seen revived in movements such as the Ahmadiyya or taken up by prominent individuals in the Black empowerment movement like Malcolm X. There remains a considerable presence of African American Muslims in the United States, with them making up one-fourth of Muslims. It’s essential to acknowledge that many Muslims were also involved in facilitating the slave trade, but this is contrary to the teaching of the Prophet Muhammad, “There is no superiority for an Arab over a non-Arab, nor for a non-Arab over an Arab. Neither is the white superior over the black nor is the black superior over the white – except by piety.”

The history of Arab Americans in the US is deeply connected with the experience of African Americans. America’s true identity is a melting pot, and that is why we must recognize the connections between the diverse cultures and races in our Nation.

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