“Every king springs from a race of slaves, and every slave had kings among his ancestors.” -Plato
It is reported that the Prophet Mohamed (pbuh) said, (In a dream) I saw myself following a herd of black sheep. Then a group of white sheep came (and mixed with the black sheep) until they (the white sheep) became so many that the black sheep could no longer be seen in the herd of sheep.” Abu Bakr, the companion of the Prophet (pbuh) and the interpreter of dreams, said, “Oh Messenger of Allah. As for the black sheep, they are the Arabs. They will accept Islam and become many. The white sheep are the non-Arab Persians, etc. They will accept Islam and become so many that the Arabs will not be noticed amongst them.” The Prophet Mohamed (pbuh) then said that an angel had interpreted the dream the same way.
Zaid ibn Aslam related that the prophet (SAWS) 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 the black sheep. I interpreted it to mean that the non-Arab Persians will enter Islam and then share with you your genealogy and your wealth.” The companions became surprised by what he (SAWS) said. Then one said, “The non-Arab Persians will enter our land, Oh Messenger of Allah?!” The Prophet (SAWS) then said, “Yes. By He Who Has my soul in His Hand, if the religion was hanging on the distant star, men from the non-Arab Persians would reach it and the luckiest of them would be the people of Faris.
(Reported in Suyuti, Jalal ad-Deen. “Tareekh al-Khulafaa (d. 1505). (http://blackarabia.blogspot.com/2011/07/aryanization-of-islam.html, http://savethetruearabs.blogspot.com/2010/04/black-sheep-white-sheephow-it-all.html)
Do the above narrations and interpretations really prophecy a change in the phenotype (physical appearance) of the people of Arabia? Do they really imply that today’s Arabs are a foreign people who have overwhelmed the original populace?
Historians seem to think so:
“The original inhabitants of Arabia…were not the familiar Arabs of our time but a very much darker people. A proto-negroid belt of mankind stretched 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 people inhabiting the Arabian peninsula. In the course of time two big migrations of fair-skinned peoples came from the north…to break through and transform 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 condition of the newcomers is unknown. It is unlikely that they were more than wild hordes of adventurous hunters.”
“(Regarding) [t]he 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 adscititions…A second fact is, that everything in pro-Islamitic literature and record…concurs in representing the first settlement of the ‘pure’ Arabs as made on the extreme south-western point of the peninsula, near Aden, and then spreading northward and eastward…A third is the name 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…Fifthly, it is remarkable that where the grammar 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-Islamitic 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.Eighthly, the general habits of the people,-given to sedentary rather than nomad occupations, fond of village life, of society, of dance and music; good cultivators of the soil, tolerable 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 exists 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 pointing in the direction of a community of origin.”
The dark-skinned South Arabian today is short and “extremely round-headed (brachycephalic)” but he was no doubt originally much taller and dolichocephalic (long-headed) like the so-called Hamites of East Africa.In the 13th century CE the Muslim traveler Ibn al-Mujāwir described the Mahra as “tall, handsome folk” in his Tārīkh al-mustabsir, 271.1.17 and early pre-Christian skulls found in Hadramawt were markedly dolichocephalic.It has been suggested that the ‘definite change’ in the racial constitution of the people of Hadramawt resulted from the invasion and inbreeding of brachycephalic whites such as Armenoids or Persians.Henry Field suggested that Arabia’s current ethnography is the result of the mixing of two distinct basal stocks: The dolichocephalic (long-headed), dark-skinned Mediteranean/Eur-African and the brachycephalic (round-headed) fair-skinned Armenoid. See his “Ancient and Modern Inhabitants of Arabia,” The Open Court 46 (1932): 854 [art.=847-869].
These findings are corroborated by Persian sources describing their first impression of their Arab Muslim conquerors.
“When Fredon (mythical hero) came, they (the black people) fled from the lands of Iran and settled on the coast of the sea. Now, through the invasion of the Arabs, they (the Zing-i-Siak posht (i.e. the black skinned negroes)) are again diffused through the country of Iran.”
[Note: in these last sentences allusion is made to the Blackness of both the original inhabitants of Iran, and of the Arabs.]
You’re saying that the real Arabs are Black?! What do these historians know anyway? They’re not Arab or Muslim. They’re colonialists and Orientalists out to distort Islamic history.
True. Who better to ask than the Arabs themselves? How did the Arab historians, grammarians, linguists and pre-Islamic poets describe themselves? Let’s see:
“Red (al-hamra’) refers to non-Arabs due to their fair complexion which predominates amongthem. And the Arabs used to say about the non-Arabs with whom white skin was characteristic, such as the Romans, Persians, and their neighbors: ‘They are red-skinned (al-hamra’)…” al-hamra’ means the Persians and Romans…And the Arabs attribute white skin to the slaves.”
(Ibn Manzur [Lisan al-arab IV: 209, 210]) http://blackarabia.blogspot.com/2011/09/in-islam-does-color-of-prophets-matter.html
Al-Mubarrad (d. 898), the leading figure in the Basran grammatical tradition, claimed: “The Arabs used to take pride in their brown and black complexion (al-sumra wa al-sawād) and they had a distaste for a white and fair complexion (al-ḥumra wa al-shaqra), and they used to say that such was the complexion of the non-Arabs.”
Ibn Abī al-Ḥadīd, Sharḥ nahj al-balāghah, V:56. http://www.blackarabia.blogspot.com/2013/04/his-daddy-was-black-his-momma-was-black.html
Lisan El-Arab (an old Arabic dictionary) mentions Shamar’s explanation of the hadiths that say that the prophet Mohamed (pbuh) said that he was sent to the blacks and the reds. Shamar explains the hadiths as follows:
قال شمر: يعنـي العرب والعجم والغالب علـى أَلوان العرب السُّمرة والأُدْمَة وعلـى أَلوان العجم البـياض والـحمرة،
“He means (by the blacks and the reds) the Arabs and the non-Arabs and the complexion of most Arabs is brown and jet-black and the complexion of most non-Arabs is white and red.”
Shams El-Din Mohamed ibn Ahmed ibn Othman El-Dhahabi (died1374 A.D.) explains the hadith that mentions that a man was “red-skinned as if he was one of the slaves” as follows:
يريد ألقائل أنه في لون ألموالي ألذين سبوا من نصارى ألشام وألروم و ألعجم
“The speaker means that the man was the color of the slaves who were captured from the Christians of Syria and from the Romans and the Persians.”
Thus, it was common for the Arabs of the past to describe a light-skinned person as having the color of the slaves. This is a known fact. Ibn Mandhor (1232-1311 A.D.) says in his book Lisan El-Arab:
سبوطة الشعر هي الغالبة علـى شعور العجم من الروم والفرس. و جُعودة الشعر هي الغالبة علـى شعور العرب
“Non-kinky hair is the kind of hair that most non-Arabs like the Romans and Persians have while kinky hair is the kind of hair that most Arabs have.”
The Arabs of the past also used the word green to mean black. El-Fadl ibn El-Abbas ibn ‘Utba El-Lahabi said:
وأَنا الأَخْضَرُ، من يَعْرِفُنـي؟ أَخْضَرُ الـجِلْدَةِ فـي بـيتِ العَرَبْ
I am the green one. Who knows me? My skin is green. I am from the family of the Arabs.
Ibn Mandhor, the author of Lisan El-Arab says this about the verse:
يقول: أَنا خالص لأَن أَلوان العرب السمرة
“He says that he is a pure Arab because the color of the Arabs is brown (dark).”
In Lisan El-Arab, Ibn Mandhor also quotes the author of El-Tahdhib, Saad El-Din Masud ibn Umar El-Taftaazaani (1312-1389 A.D.) as saying the following about the verse:
فـي هذا البـيت قولان: أَحدهما أَنه أَراد أَسود الـجلدة؛ قال: قاله أَبو طالب النـحوي، وقـيل: أَراد أَنه من خالص العرب وصميمهم لأَن الغالب علـى أَلوان العرب الأُدْمَةُ،
“There are two sayings about this verse. One is that he meant that he had black skin. This is what Abu Talib El-Nahwi said. It is also said that he meant that he is a pure unmixed Arab because most Arabs are black-skinned.”
Abdella ibn Berry (1106-1187 A.D.), the “King of the Grammarians” as he was called, said the following about the verse:
قال ابن بري: نسب الـجوهري هذا البـيت للهبـي، وهو الفضل بن العباس بن عُتْبَةَ بن أَبـي لَهَبٍ، وأَراد بالـخضرة سمرة لونه، وإِنما يريد بذلك خـلوص نسبه وأَنه عربـي مـحض، لأَن العرب تصف أَلوانها بالسواد وتصف أَلوان العجم بالـحمرة. وفـي الـحديث: بُعثت إِلـى الأَحمر والأَسود؛ وهذا الـمعنى بعينه هو الذي أَراده مسكين الدارمي فـي قوله أَنا مسكِينٌ لـمن يَعْرِفُنـي، لَوْنِـي السُّمْرَةُ أَلوانُ العَرَبْ
“El-Jawhari attributed this verse to El-Lahabi and he is El-Fadl ibn El-Abbas ibn ‘Utba ibn Abi Lahab and he meant by green the brownness (darkness) of his complexion and he meant by that the purity of his genealogy and that he was an unmixed Arab because the Arabs describe their color as black and they describe the color of the non-Arabs as red. Like the hadith says, ‘I was sent to the red and the black. And this is exactly what Miskeen El-Darimi meant when he said: ‘I am Miskeen, for those who know me. My color is brown (dark), the color of the Arabs’”.
Ibn Mandhor says in his book Lisan El-Arab:
والعرب إِذا قالوا: فلان أَبـيض وفلانة بـيضاء فمعناه الكرم فـي الأَخلاق لا لون الـخـلقة، وإِذا قالوا: فلان أَحمر وفلانة حمراء عنوا بـياض اللون؛
“When the Arabs said that a man or a woman was ‘white’, they meant that the person was honorable. They weren’t talking about his/her complexion. When they (the Arabs) said that a man or a woman was ‘red’, they meant that his/her complexion was white.
The famous, old Arabic dictionary Lisan El Arab also quotes the author of El-Tahdhib, Saad El-Din Masud ibn Umar El-Taftaazaani (1312-1389 A.D.) as saying:
التهذيب: إِذا قالت العرب فلان أَبْـيَضُ وفلانة بَـيْضاء فالـمعنى نَقاء العِرْض من الدنَس والعيوب… لا يريدون به بَـياضَ اللون ولكنهم يريدون الـمدح بالكرم ونَقاءِ العِرْض من العيوب، وإِذا قالوا: فلان أَبْـيَض الوجه وفلانة بَـيْضاءُ الوجه أَرادوا نقاءَ اللون من الكَلَفِ والسوادِ الشائن
“When the Arabs said that a man or a woman was white, they meant that the person had a faultless honor…they didn’t mean white skin. What they meant by this was to praise the person for his/her generosity and faultless honor. When they said that a man or woman had a white face, they meant that the person had a complexion free of blemishes and free of an unattractive blackness.”
Whatever. If the original Arabs were black, then how do you explain the predominance of light brown and white Arabs of today?
There are different ways that non-Arabs changed the dark-skinned, Negroid/Dravidian appearance of Arabia and the Middle East:
1. Intermarriage between non-Arab converts and slaves with Arabs.
“increasing intermarriage (between Arabs and non-Arabs) served to submerge the original distinctions, and increasing numbers of the conquered, having adopted the religion and language of the conquerors, took to assuming the identity as if Arabs themselves” (Segal 2001:22)“In one important way … (the second caliph) Omar was unable to prevent the Moslems from mingling with the subject peoples … Since they were forbidden to own land, they used their wealth (from booty) chiefly to buy women … All the children born of these unions – and there were many thousands of them – called themselves Arabs, in order to identify with the ruling class. When they grew up and married, their offspring in turn called themselves Arabs. Thus it came about that the people of the Moslem world, many of them without a drop of Arab blood in their veins, became known as Arabs.”Such ‘conversion to Arabism’ is illustrated by the words of the Iranian poet Bashshar b. Barb (d. 783-4), who responded to the caliph al-Mahdi’s question, “Of whom do you reckon yourself, Bashshar”: “As for my language and dress, they are Arab; but as for my origin, it is non-Arab (ajam.)”” (Suskind 1972:37)
Ninth century poet Abu Al-Hasan Ali ibn Al-Abbas ibn Jurayj, known as Ibn Al-Rumi, wrote a long poem to the Abbasids blaming them for the way that they treated the family of the Prophet Mohamed (SAWS). It should be understood that at that time, the Abbasids had become very mixed with the Romans, Greeks, and Persians. Here is part of what Ibn Al-Rumi said in his famous poem called Al-Jeemia:
“You insulted them (the family of the Prophet Mohamed) because of their blackness while there are still pure-blooded black-skinned Arabs. However, you are blue (eyed) – the Romans have embellished your faces with their color.”
2. Assimilation (Arabization) and Empowerment of Non-Arabs
In the passage quoted below al-Maqrīzī discusses the influence on Islamic tradition of the Abbasid caliph al-Maʿmūn (reigned 813-833) and his successors al-Muʿtaṣim (r. 833-842), al-Mutawakkil (r. 847-861) and al-Mustaʿīn (r. 862-866).
“This fellow al-Maʿmūn …left one of the worst possible reputations in the whole history of Islam. This arose from the fact that he had books on philosophy translated into Arabic, to such a pitch that heretics and deviationists used them to pervert Islam and to trick the Muslims…He removed from the pay-registers the Arabs, the Messenger of God’s people, the race through whose agency God had established the religion of Islam…In their place, he relied on the Turks. He abandoned Arab dress and clothing, put a crown on his head and wore the dress of the Persians, that race which God had sent his prophet Muhammad to slay and to combat. With al-Muʿtaṣim, and through his deliberate agency, the rule of the Arabs came to an end; henceforth, during his reign and under his political regime, the Turks, upon whom the Messenger of God vowed to make war, assumed power. After him, they (viz. the Turks) secured an ascendency in all the lands. God gave the Turks dominion over al-Muʿtaṣim’s son, Jaʿfar al-Mutawakkil, so that they eventually murdered him. They also murdered al-Muʿtaṣim’s grandson, Aḥmad al-Mustaʿīn. They treated the religion of God as a plaything and established a reign of terror throughout all the provinces of the caliphate.”
Slave girls were favored as concubines, and certain of the wives of ʿAbbasid caliphs who gave birth to princes and future caliphs, being of the status of omm walad, are mentioned as being Iranian, e.g., Marājel, the concubine of Hārūn-al-Rašīd, said to be from Bāḏḡīs in northwestern Afghanistan, and the mother of the future caliph al-Maʾmūn, born in 170/787, and also Māreda, born in Kūfa but of Sogdian stock, slave of Hārūn al-Rašīd, who bore him the future caliph al-Moʿtaṣem, born in 179/795 or 180/796.
3. The changes the last two brought are minor in comparison to the next one. And this one’s going to be a huge shocker, because it’s a bit of covered-up history:
There was a massive white slave trade between Europe, Central Asia and the Middle that lasted over 1,000 years. This brought an enormous number of white Western and Eastern Europeans into the Middle East.
(The focus on African slaves in Arabia only came after access to white slave trade routes was lost.)
“In the Viking era starting c. 793, the Norse raiders often captured and enslaved militarily weaker peoples they encountered. In the Nordic countries the slaves were called thralls (Old Norse: þræll) The thralls were mostly from Western Europe [i.e. Far West Asia], among them many Franks, Anglo-Saxons and Celts… There is evidence of German, Baltic, Slavic and Latin slaves as well. The slave trade was one of the pillars of Norse commerce during the 6th through 11th centuries.”
“Slavery during the Early Middle Ages had several distinct sources. The Vikings raided across Europe, though their slave raids were the most destructive in the British Isles and Eastern Europe. While the Vikings kept some slaves for themselves as servants, known as thralls, most people captured by the Vikings would be sold on the Byzantine or Islamic markets. In the West the targets of Viking slavery were primarily English, Irish, and Scottish, while in the East they were mainly Slavs. The Viking slave trade slowly ended in the 1000s…”
“The Middle Ages form 1100 to 1500 saw a continuation of the European Slave trade, though with a shift form the Western Mediterranean Islamic nations (Andalusian Spain, modern day Morocco) to the Eastern, as Venice and Genoa, in firm control of the Eastern Mediterranean from the 12th century and the Black Sea from the 13th century sold both Slavic and Baltic slaves, as well as Georgians, Turks and other ethnic groups of the Black Sea and Caucasus, to the Muslim nations of the Middle East. The sale of European slaves by Europeans slowly ended as the Slavic and Baltic ethnic groups Christianized by the Late Middle Ages. European slaves in the Islamic World would, however, continue into the Modern time period as Muslim pirates, primarily Algerians, with the support of the Ottoman Empire, raided European coasts and shipping form the 16th to the 19th centuries…”
“Genoese merchants organized the slave trade from the Crimea to Mamluk Egypt.”
“For a long time [from declaring independence in1441] until the early 18th century, the [Crimean] khanate maintained a massive slave trade with the Ottoman Empire and the Middle East. In a process called the “harvesting of the steppe”, they enslaved many Slavic peasants.”
“The Byzantine-Ottoman wars [in or near modern Turkey] and the Ottoman wars in Europe brought large numbers of Christian slaves into the Islamic world too.”
In early Islamic times, parts of [Arab-ruled] Iran itself remained unislamized, and these infidel regions could be raided for slaves. This was the case with Daylam in northwestern Iran up to the time of the appearance there of the ʿAlid dāʿī Ḥasan b. Zayd b. Moḥammad (second half of the 3rd/9th century); while slaves were captured from the mountainous region of Ḡūr in central Afghanistan, a pagan enclave there till the early Ghaznavid period.
Slaves came into the Iranian world as captives of war from the Arab campaigns in the Caucasus against the Ḵazars and from the campaigns in central Asia against the local Iranian peoples and the Turks of the steppes beyond, from the end of the lst/7th century onward. Thus Naršaḵī mentions how in 87/706 the Arab governor Qotayba b. Moslem slew all the males in the town of Baykand in Sogdia and enslaved all the women and children.
From early in the Abbasid period the caliphs instituted a tradition of forming army contingents composed of slaves, mostly taken as captives in the course of frontier wars and raids into Central Asia, the Caucasus, and India, among other regions. There were also slave markets where young male slaves, along with female ones, captured as booty or procured by other means, were sold. The preferred slaves were Turkic ones, admired for their handsome features, their valor, and their martial gifts. The Samanids, who originated from Sogdiana and were neighbors to the Turkic khanates of Central Asia, adopted the practice of enlisting slaves in their army—a practice which continued under the succeeding dynasties, chiefly the Ghaznavids, the Seljuks, and theKʷārazmšāhs.
[Note: The Abbasids ruled Arabia, Iraq, the Levant (Sham) and North Africa for 500 years, from 750 to 1258. The Seljuks ruled Oman, and parts Iraq and the Levant from 1037-1194.]
The love poetry of these periods is generally addressed to such adolescent soldiers or pages. That these Turks were ‘white’ or pale-skinned is made clear in these poems:
- They are of musky facial hair, sweet of speech, with perfumed tresses / Silver-bodied, gold-girded, and narrow-waisted( Kāfi Ẓafar of Hamadān, cited by ʿAwfi in his Lobāb al-albāb (pp. 210-13))
- I love silver-bodied, ruby-lipped children. / Wherever you see one of them, call me there (Farroḵi, Divān, p. 5).
- O beautifully clad child, silver-bodied and ruby-lipped, / the substance of charm and gaiety, envious houries in pain from you! (Anvari, apud Šamisā, p. 80).
- Attar (ʿAṭṭār [d. 1221] uses in his ghazals, which vibrate with profound and passionate, amorous feelings, the imagery developed by earlier poets: he sings of the beloved’s moon-like face, ruby lips, narrow, hair-like waist, cypress-like figure, the lasso of the beloved’s tresses, the chain of his curls…
Of course there were slaves of other origins as well, e.g., Indian and Slav (generally termed bolḡār “Bulgarian,” known for their fair skin).
There were many other dynasties of Turkic or Persian origin that ruled over what is now considered the Arab world. Here are a few examples:
- The Fatimids (909-1171, Arabian Peninsula, Levant, North Africa, Sudan) imported Turkic and Armenian soldiers into their armies. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fatimid_Caliphate#Military_system)
- The Seljuk Turks ruled parts of Iraq and the Levant from 1037-1194. The settlement of Turkic tribes in the northwestern peripheral parts of the empire, for the strategic military purpose of fending off invasions from neighboring states, led to the progressive Turkicization of those areas. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seljuks
- The Oghuz Turkic Zangids ruled the Levant from 1127-1250.
- The Kurdish Ayyubids ruled the Arabian Peninsula and North Africa from 1171-1341.
- The Mamluk Sultanate ruled the western Arabian Peninsula, Egypt and Libya from 1250-1517. The sultanate’s ruling caste was composed of Mamluks- soldiers of predominantly Kipchak Turk, Cumans, Circassian, and Georgian slave origin. By the late fourteenth century, Circassians from the North Caucasus region had become the majority in the Mamluk ranks. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mamluk_Sultanate_(Cairo)
On top of being “white”, all of these dynasties, and the many others not mentioned here, were involved in trading and capturing white slaves, in addition to settlement of peoples of their respective ethnicities. Who can doubt the enormous changes this would have brought to the phenotype and color of these Arab lands? And as all of these people would be in some degree Arabized (particularly in language) they are now known as Arabs.
Thus it seems that the Black & White Sheep” Prophecy would indeed come to pass, and that it was a reference to skin color and phenotype.
The view of the ancient Arabs holds true today: visible European features or ancestry is a sign of foreign, slave ancestry.
This shouldn’t be a problem. African-Americans, Afro-Caribbeans and Afro-Latinos openly acknowledge slave ancestry as an explanation of their presence in the Americas, and they are expected to. Why shouldn’t white and light-skinned Arabs feel comfortable doing the same? Why shouldn’t they be expected to? Why not anybody?
It’s not as if slavery is the only way that white and light-skinned Arabs came to occupy Arabia, just as slavery not the only way that Africans came to be in America. And whites were not the only slaves in Arabia, just as Africans weren’t the only slaves in America.
White people everywhere, including in Arabia and the Middle East, need to acknowledge that slavery is part of their history. They need to because it’s true.
After all, as the famous philosopher Plato reportedly said
“Every king springs from a race of slaves, and every slave had kings among his ancestors.”