Myth of the Hametic Curse, by Omar Abdul-Malik

HARVARD APPLETON CHAPEL-Morning Prayers/Church Talk-The Consequences of the Myth of the Hametic Curse-Delivered on Saturday, February 28, 2009, 8:45 am by Omar Abdul-Malik-FINAL VERSION

The reading for this morning’s lesson comes from the holy Koran

Surah 114- entitled an-nas or mankind

Qul a-uzzu bi-rabbin-nass




Allazil yuwas-wisu fil suduurin-naasi

Minal-jinnati wan-naas

1.     Say: I seek refuge with the lord and cherisher of mankind

2.     The ruler of mankind

3.     The judge of mankind

4.     From the mischief of the whisper of evil, who then withdraws after his whisper?

5.     Who whispers into the hearts of mankind?

6.     Among the jinn’s and men

Here ends the lesson

According to Webster a myth is a popular belief or story that has become associated with a person, institution or occurrence, especially one considered to illustrate a cultural ideal or that forms part of an ideology. The philosopher Joseph Campbell penned several books on the power contained in myths.

One of the most widely held and destructive myths of the western world in general and the us in particular was the so-called hametic myth that associated dark skin and other africoid features with the old testament “curse” upon Noah’s youngest son ham and his grandson Canaan who was condemned to be the eternal servant to the rest of mankind represented by Shem and Japheth.

This concept laid the psychological and moral basis for the modern ideology of racism and the legal codes and social norms which evolved from it centuries later.

This being the last day of black history month, I thought that I might

Take a few moments to examine the origin of this unfortunate notion.

We are all aware of how Noah’s wine tasting aboard the ark resulted in his loss of both clothing and consciousness   and how his son ham is said to have laughingly related his father’s state to his brothers. When Noah came to his senses, he cursed ham’s son Canaan to, “be a servant to his brother and their offspring”. Since there was no textual mention of race, ethnicity or any physical markers; how did this legend get attached to black people?

Historians Bernard Lewis and Harold Brackman point to a 6thcentury ad rabbinical commentary on the torah known as the Babylonian Talmud as the primary source of racialized hermeneutics.

The authoritative Babylonian Talmud states that ham not only saw his father naked and inebriated, but raped and castrated the patriarch as well. And that when Noah awoke and realized what had been done to him he stated the following:

1.      Since you have disabled me from doing ugly things in the blackness of night, Canaan’s children shall be born ugly and black!

2.      Moreover, because you twisted your head around to see my nakedness, you grandchildren’s hair will be twisted into kinks, and

3.     Because your lips jested at my misfortune, their lips shall swell;

4.      And because you neglected my nakedness, they shall go naked, and their male members shall be shamefully elongated.

5.     It continues…men of this race are called Negroes; their forefather Canaan commanded them to love theft and fornication, to be banded together in hatred of their masters and to never tell the truth.

The hametic myth not only negatively affected Christian and Jewish exegesis of scripture but Islamic as well.

In American secular society, this fabrication contributed to the loss of millions of black lives and trillions of dollars in potential income over nearly four centuries through slavery, discrimination and diminished fiscal and social capital.

Today, following a protracted  moral, legal  and physical struggle, we Americans live in a time of change where dark skin is a sign of vitality, thick hair is desirable, large lips are appealing and those males  endowed with  ample instruments  of human re-production are considered…..fortunate.

Today, America’s heavily melinated first family is our nation’s universal symbol of intelligence, leadership, civility and hope.

The original intentions of the creators of the hametic myth are unknown, but history and scripture illustrates that truth always triumphs over falsehood and curses often bring forth blessings.

In 1951, the noted author   James Baldwin, referring to U.S. racism,

Predicted that “out of what has been Americas greatest shame…would…come …our great opportunity… for good.

The biblical Joseph echoed this sentiment as he addressed his repentant   brothers declaring, “you meant this for evil, but god meant this for good… in order that a great nation could be saved.”(Gen. 50:20)

Let us pray…Al-Fatiha and the Lord’s Prayer


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