By Nation of Islam Research Group
In 1845, the great Black abolitionist and orator Frederick Douglass explained that these so-called holidays were “one of the grossest frauds committed upon the down-trodden slave.” He saw right through the false religious piety to the real economic motive of the celebrations: “I believe them to be among the most effective means in the hands of the slaveholder in keeping down the spirit of insurrection. These holidays serve as…safety-valves, to carry off the rebellious spirit of enslaved humanity.”
The Most Honorable Elijah Muhammad forthrightly challenged the Black man’s adoption of the white man’s holiday in his 1974 book Our Saviour Has Arrived, and no one has remarked more plainly on the hypocrisy of Christmas celebrants, who “pretend to love worshipping the prophet on the 25th day of December”:
“They stagger drunkenly all over the streets, campuses, and most of the homes and churches, with card games, dice and other games of chance and all kinds of whisky and beer — to celebrate that great prophet; with fighting and killing and eating swine flesh. Such is the day which they call the birthday of Jesus.”
But today Blacks ignore this sage advice and follow the commandments of Macy’s and Wal-Mart, Target and Toys ‘R’ Us and fall further and further into debt and credit card subjection. In fact, it seems that Black people walked off the plantation and into the department store. We went from standing on an auction block waiting to be sold to standing in the checkout line waiting to be fleeced.
Before the merchants cynically snatched Jesus from the Christians and exiled him to the North Pole, Blacks were at the forefront of truly celebrating Jesus’ life as a freedom fighter and revolutionary. Once upon a time our brothers and sisters suffering the physical chains of slavery had a different type of “yuletide” spirit. And on Christmas, they asked themselves a question rarely asked in America: “On His birthday, what would Jesus do?” If He returned today would He be swiping a credit card, or, as the Scripture says, fighting for the freedom of all human beings.
On Christmas Day in 1701, fifteen Blacks on the tiny Caribbean Island of Antigua celebrated by rising up and giving the caucasian sugar planter who enslaved them a present to remember: they hacked him to pieces—killed because of the manner he treated his female slaves. The dead Major Samuel Martin was also the Speaker of the Antiguan Assembly. Their rebellion was short-lived, however; they were overpowered by the island’s well-armed militia. And though their dreams of freedom were frustrated, their spirited yuletide example permeated the colonial Caribbean.
Our Jamaican brothers and sisters weren’t waiting for Santa either. In 1831, under the command of a Black “house slave” named Samuel Sharpe, they rose up against the white oppressors. A true believer in Jesus, our Baptist Brother Samuel used his insider position to secretly organize a peaceful Christmas strike among his fellow captives in order to win better working conditions. Word leaked out to the whites, who violently responded, turning the peaceful action into a full-scale Christmas rebellion. Sharpe’s forces grew steadily in number—some say to 40,000—and they traversed the island burning down nearly 160 large sugar plantations one by one. Within a week the rebels controlled the entire western interior of Jamaica, including the mountainous regions.
The rebels targeted property and not people, as shown by the fact that only 12 whites were killed. But the British responded with both their militia and their navy, and they massacred more than 200 of the freedom-seeking Blacks. 300 more Africans were systematically executed in a horrifying manner, along with Bro. Samuel Sharpe. Now known in Jamaica as the 1831 Christmas Rebellion, it sent shockwaves through Britain, which ultimately decided to abolish slavery—not because of any awakened sympathy or morality, but because the Baptist Bro. Sharpe and his freedom-fighting rebel forces had made slavery too costly and thus unprofitable.
In 1492, Portuguese slave trader Christopher Columbus landed on Hispaniola (now Haiti and Dominican Republic), bringing with him slavery, disease, death, and destruction. He sailed off to his next indigenous victims but left his son Don Diego Colon in charge of the island, where he owned a major sugar plantation. On Christmas day of 1521, twenty Africans of the Muslim Wolof people launched that island’s first slave rebellion. Taking advantage of the holiday lull, the Muslims gathered twenty more to their cause and tried to effect their escape. They killed and captured those who tried to stop them and burned plantations as they made their way. The Europeans quickly responded in force and in a few days the rebellion was thwarted. The rebels were hanged along the roadway, their dead bodies serving as a warning to other Africans.
But as the Quran says [2:154] of those who are slain in the way of Allah, do not speak of them as dead. Because from 1521 onward, plantation owners ended the importation of Muslims to the island. The strength and bravery of those Muslims in Hispaniola struck so much fear in the white man that their actions very likely saved untold numbers of Muslims back in Africa from becoming victims of the slave trade.
Much of what is under our Christmas trees is the result of handing over $20 dollar bills etched with the portrait of President Andrew Jackson. But think over the irony of that holiday exchange. In the 1830s Pres. Jackson was in a full-scale war with the Seminole Indians in the territory now known as Florida. Our Indian Brothers and Sisters provided a refuge for escaped Africans and Jackson intended to end that Black–Red Alliance. On Christmas of 1835, Africans and Seminoles launched the St. John Rebellion against the region’s sugar plantations. One caucasian official sounded the alarm: “If a sufficient military force…is not sent…the whole frontier may be laid waste by a combination of the Indians, Indian negroes, & the Negroes on the plantations—It is useless to mince this question.”
A Jewish soldier named Myer M. Cohen was a leader of the force sent to destroy the Seminoles and return the Africans to slavery. He reported that the freedom fighters were so rapid in their movements that within five days they had burned and destroyed several plantations, freeing 45 slaves from one; 180 from another; 80 and then 300 from the two others. The Seminole wars lasted for many years and ultimately succumbed to defeat. That mighty Black–Red alliance is one of the only authentic alliances Blacks have ever had in America, and it is one that is sealed in blood.
Harriet Tubman was not waiting for Donner or Blitzen. On Christmas Day, 1854, she was in Dorchester County, Maryland, in secret assembly with seven enslaved Africans whose captor was considered “the worst man in the country.” Two of those were Sis. Harriet’s own blood brothers and she came to lead them out of bondage—she would eventually lead 300 Africans out of American slavery. Hundreds of miles they traveled, hiding in ditches and caves in the day, sneaking through forests and fording through streams in the night. She was ever watchful of the roving bands of whites—called paddyrollers—who with their bloodhounds watched out for escapees and sought to earn the bounties the captured runaways would bring. Frederick Douglass described his own escape from slavery: “At every gate through which we were to pass we saw a watchman, at every ferry a guard; on every bridge a sentinel and in every wood a patrol. We were hemmed in upon every side.”
But Harriet Tubman, even with a reward of $12,000 on her head (that’s $300,000 today!), kept asking herself, “What would Jesus do?” and she persevered northward. The isolated network of houses of free Blacks that made up the Underground Railroad provided some respite, but the abhorrent Fugitive Slave Law deputized every white citizen—North and South—making them into legal slave catchers.
Ultimately, Sister Harriet and her companions crossed the bridge at Niagara Falls and made it into Canada, where the law gave Blacks a measure of freedom. Their Christmas song was true:
Glory to God and Jesus too, One more soul is safe!
Oh, go and carry the news, One more soul got safe!
Every year on Christmas—indeed, every single day—we must continue to ask ourselves that profound question, “On His birthday, What would OUR Jesus do?” Our Jesus is The Most Honorable Elijah Muhammad who taught that spending ourselves into debt to serve a false holiday will never be in our interest. On every Christmas Day the Muslims must be found working hard to unite our people to pool our resources to build something for self, and educating and qualifying ourselves for independence. “Come follow me,” He said in Message to the Blackman, “and I will show you how to do this without having to shed a drop of blood….This chance can be had if you go about it in the right way.”
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