[A student interviewed me on Islam in the African-American community. Here are his questions and my responses.]
Q. Who are some African American Muslims that youâ€™ve heard of, what did you learn.
A. Warith Deen Mohammed (one of the handful of powerful people in history to voluntarily give up power for the sake of his people), Hajj Malik El-Shabazz ([a/k/a Malcolm X] a figure of such charisma and integrity that people of radically different backgrounds and views seek to co-opt his legend), Hisham Tawfiq (an actor whose authentic articulation of Islam is so compelling that the non-Muslim creators of â€œThe Blacklistâ€ incorporated the backstory he developed for what was originally intended to be an unidentified body guard of no particular religion into a Sudanese Muslim refugee character that was so compelling it became a part of the story so popular that fans are calling for a spin-off centered on him), Omar Ibn Said (the slave whose “autobiographical manuscript has been translated from its original Arabic and housed at the Library of Congress, where it ‘annihilates’ the conventional narrative of African slaves as uneducated and uncultured”), Muhammad Ali (at one time the most popular athlete in the world, and forever to be remembered for courageously standing up to the American War machine). There are way too many others to mention, but I will mention the chief case manager at the Islamic-American Zakat Foundation who is also Treasurer of our Masjid, and my friend Br. Yusef Amin (who not only evaluates the applications for assistance and provides them with practical advise for attaining self-sufficiency, but counsels them spiritually with sensitive Islamic guidance.
Q. Who are some people who have influence you in a good way, what did they do?
A. Warith Deen Mohammed was a member of the board of advisers for the non-profit think tank I founded (Minaret of Freedom Institute) and spoke on the Importance of Liberty to Muslims at our fourth annual dinner.
Q. What teachings of Islam resonate with you most and why?
A. Above all, that there is NOTHING AT ALL worthy of worship except the Creator of all things who is not only the God of Abraham but also the Lord of all the worlds. After that, its corollaries that the rule of law applies equally to all and that aggression against anyone is prohibited.
Q. Can you speak to why many African American Muslims who grew up in poverty converted to Islam?
A. There are multiple reasons. The two that I think are most pronounced are: (1) the realization that they had been stripped of their historical identity and a reversion (rather than conversion) to Islam is an important step in reclaiming that identity and (2) a desire to take pride in the spirituality of their culture while at the same time embracing and promoting the intellectuality and rationality that was actually part of their heritage as well, but of which they had been deprived by the stereotypes imposed upon, and the discrimination against, them.
Imad-ad-Dean Ahmad, Ph.D.
Minaret of Freedom Institute