For more on this topic, see Black Heritage

We’re anti-evil, anti-oppression, anti-lynching. You can’t be anti- those things unless you’re also anti- the oppressor and the lyncher. You can’t be anti-slavery and pro-slavemaster; you can’t be anti-crime and pro-criminal. In fact, Mr. Muhammad teaches that if the present generation of whites would study their own race in the light of true history, they would be anti-white themselves.

-El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz (Malcolm X)


As with many of Malcolm’s statements before he left the Nation of Islam, most Muslims would find a way to extract the benefit of his words minus the Islamically objectionable portions and mention of Mr. Muhammad. Many Black American Muslims would find no objection to the substance of brother Malcolm’s words. Many American Muslims who find their roots connected more directly to Muslim-majority countries might ponder what it meant for their existence and longevity in this racialized space. And many White Muslim converts might walk away perplexed, trying to decipher their own representation and entanglement in his words. We reflect more deeply on such communal differences in this article, but there is something deeply profound about what Malcolm has placed on full display—indeed, his ability to indict White America based on deep knowledge of how racial oppression operated in his era, his ability to disentangle and recombine White racial identity and technologies of Colonial oppression, and perhaps most astutely, and certainly most notably, his unabashed articulate critiques of White supremacy, are all indicative of the presence of what we will refer to as “Ancestral Knowledge.”  
In this article, we discuss Ancestral Knowledge, and what it means for Muslims in the US. Generally speaking, Ancestral knowledges (AK) are systems of knowledge comprised of the ontologies, epistemologies, and written, oral, cultural ways of knowing, and spiritual traditions of indigenous peoples. As we work to define and share examples of the use of AK, we first draw a brief portrait of aspects of knowledge production in the context of Colonization. Contextualizing this history is necessary because of the wretched history of Western European Colonization, and in particular, their inferiorization of all other knowledges by describing them as primitive, anti-modern, and eventually obscure and invisible. Indeed, this includes minoritized people who have been relocated through either Colonization or Enslavement. Here, we consider ways in which hegemonic, Eurocentric ontologies and epistemologies marginalize those of minoritized peoples.  
As we push Ancestral Knowledge to the forefront of our own epistemological considerations and navigational needs, we use this article to emphasize several other points. One, that both the textual scriptures and historical practices within Islam have always maintained a deep tolerance, if not encouragement, of Ancestral Knowledge. Two, in the US, some public Muslim spaces (such as mosques and Islamic conferences) have been led by ethnocentrists (despite good intentions), who have been unable to understand (or unwilling to consider) how they hegemonize space by placing their own unique Ancestral Knowledges at the center of these spaces, generalizing the particular. So, in much the same way that White racial knowledge was invisibilized and thus became normal or standard knowledge, immigrant-based Ancestral Knowledge entered and became the standard in those Muslim spaces. “This is how we were taught” comments were often productions of local knowledge, based on unique histories, yet have been passed off as “Islamic knowledge.” Here, we suggest that immigrant-based Ancestral Knowledge is in and of itself not a problem, so long as it is identified and localized as a particular type of Ancestral Knowledge that may or may not be useful or even noteworthy in diverse Muslim public spaces. And three, we note that at a basic level, the Ancestral Knowledge of Indigenous Americans (African Americans, Latino Americans, and Native Americans) should be valued much more than they currently are in Muslim spaces. This can serve as a call to take a much deeper look at the community-based epistemologies and Ancestral knowledges that these Indigenous groups possess and could help us navigate oppressive American arrangements—such as Coloniality, White supremacy, and Islamophobia. This is not a suggestion to exoticize or even appropriate indigenous Ancestral Knowledge, but more to elevate tremendous yet mostly unrecognized sources that have historically allowed these communities to survive and thrive.

Cultural knowledge and lived experiences within Islam

A contemporary example on education

Is Western knowledge sufficient?

Is one culture superior?

Ancestral Knowledge

Ancestral knowledge is transported, hybridized, and appropriated

Centering ancestral knowledge: A centerpiece for all students

Our Islam, our full experiences, and our full potential