Retrieving the African Ideal: A Courageous QuestioningBy Dr. Maulana Karenga
The conception and development of our philosophy, Kawaida, the work and struggle of our organization Us, and the people focus, cultural groundedness and social consciousness of the leadership we seek to cultivate, teach and exemplify, all began with what our ancestors called in the Husia a “courageous questioning”. Indeed, this courageous questioning runs like a red line through our history from Khunanpu, a peasant, who questioned Rensi, a chief judicial official in ancient Egypt, about the concept and practice of justice especially concerning the vulnerable to Fannie Lou Hamer who declared in the midst of the Black Freedom Movement, that she questioned America in its hypocritical claim to be “the land of the free and the home of the brave”.
And this tradition and model of courageous questioning is expressed also in Messenger Muhammad’s commentaries concerning embracing a God and religion of freedom rather than a God and religion of oppression and in Min. Malcolm’s criticism of a racialized democracy that makes us victims rather than beneficiaries. Likewise, it is found in Carter G. Woodson and Mary McLeod Bethune’s critical stress on education for liberation and upliftment rather than vulgar careerism and mindless service to the established order.
The concept of courageous questioning is found in the Book of Rekhmira, a prime minister of ancient Egypt. He lists it among a series of virtues that a Maatian civil servant or activist intellectual possesses. These virtues are being: versed in the texts, clear of vision, insightful, well-mentored, deliberate, patient, courageous in questioning; and wise in listening to the ancestors. He does not explain what he means by courageous in questioning, but from the context of his whole text and related ethical texts like Khunanpu and Khakheperasoneb, and moral self-presentations in ancient Egyptian autobiographies, an idea of its expansive meanings becomes clear.
Indeed, courageous questioning is a rightful and righteous calling into question, seeking answers and offering a severe criticism of the evil, the wrong and the unjust. In addition, it is constantly seeking and speaking truth to the people and to power, demanding justice and bringing Maat (truth, justice, propriety, harmony, balance, reciprocity and righteous order) into being.
And it is especially means doing this without fear of consequences or deference to debilitating and oppressive conventions, customs, hierarchies, or perverse and pathetic calls for peace without justice. It is to speak audaciously, as Khunanpu spoke to Rensi saying “this humble person who returns to make a complaint to you is not afraid of you, the one to whom he makes his rightful claim.” Indeed, he tells him to “speak truth and do justice for it (Maat) is mighty, it is great, and it endures.” As it was in ancient Egypt, so it was with our forefathers and foremothers mentioned here and others, a constant and courageous questioning and quest to end evil and injustice and bring justice and good into being. And Kawaida and Us embraced this tradition from them, even before we recovered and reconstructed the ancient Egyptian Maatian ethical tradition contained in the Husia.
Other Articles by Dr. Maulana Karenga
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