As we are now in the traditional holiday season in America and in the sacred month of Muharram on the Islamic calendar, some African-Americans are preparing to recognize the days of Kwanzaa. I, however, will not be one of those who observe Kwanzaa this year, nor have I ever seen it to be a legitimate holiday.
My primary reason for not recognizing Kwanzaa is because it has elements of shirk (associating partners with the Divine) in it. Shirk is the greatest sin and worse form of oppression according to the Qur’an (Surah Luqman, ayah 13). During Kwanzaa, there is a ceremony of pouring libation from a cup and calling the names of the ancestors. This is copying a pagan ritual in which people would call upon Mother Earth, lesser gods and ancestors to intercede on their behalf. Such ceremonies are clearly outside of the bounds of what is proper in Islam and are imitating the era of Jahiliyyah in Africa. How ironic that an observance, which is suppose to help African-Americans recapture their roots and self dignity after negative effects of slavery and Jim Crow has hidden elements of the greatest form of oppression.
My secondary reason is that Kwanzaa being a newly invented observance is a hodgepodge of rituals that are not truly authentic to the area of my and most African-Americans’ ancestors, which is West Africa. What in the world does lighting a menorah and using a bunch of terms that are Swahili have to do with reconnecting with our roots? Our ancestors weren’t lighting menorahs 400 years ago, nor were they using Swahili terminology. Menorahs are used by Jews for Hanukkah (which isn’t even a high holy season for them by the way), and Swahili is an East African language. This pseudo-holiday would have been a little more authentic if it would have used purely Arabic terms since it is well established that many slaves brought to the Americas were Muslims that could read, write and speak Arabic. It would have made even more sense to use Hausa, Mandinka or Wolof terms!
This smaller, secondary issue actually is lesser to my last point, which is my issue with the founder of this bogus holiday named Maulana Karenga. It is documented that Karenga was an FBI dupe during the COINTELPRO era, who was used as an equalizer against the Black Panther Party. That African-Americans are actually observing a celebration instituted by an FBI tool that helped destablize the Black community is beyond me.
The bottom line for me is that I’m not down with Kwanzaa, and it has nothing to do with my identity as an American Muslim, who is a New African. I can better spend my time observing sacred Islamic days such as ‘Aashoora or recognizing days that are authentic cultural markers such as Juneteeth or Malcolm X Day.