NPR Asks How & Why Blackamericans Are Drawn To Islam

National Public Radio recently did an interview of Imam Anwar Muhaimin of Masjid Quba here in Philadelphia as well as yours truly, asking how and why Blackamericans, despite the phenomenons of 9/11 and more recently, the FBI raid in Detroit, are drawn to Islam. I spoke at some length with the gentleman from the Associated Press, as did my wife, about the continuing evolution of Islam in the Blackamerican experience. You can read the article here. Even though AP did mention the part about Blackamericans being drawn to Islam for many of the social reasons, it did leave out some of the points I tried to elucidate concerning the breadth of reasons why Blackamericans come to Islam: social, spiritual, and otherwise. In other words, the reasons are as vast as there are people coming to it. Perhaps in the future this point can be discussed further at length.

Hat tip to Safiya for putting the AP in touch with us.

Update: Since the article seems to not be on NPR’s web site any longer, I’m going to insert it directly here.

JESSE WASHINGTON, AP National Writer

By now, Sekou Jackson is used to the questions: Why does he need to leave a work meeting to pray? Don’t black Muslims convert to Islam in jail? Why would you even want to be Muslim?

“It’s kind of a double whammy to be African-American and Muslim,” said Jackson, who studies the Navy at the National Academy of Science in Washington. “You’re going to be judged.”

Jackson’s struggle may have gotten harder when the FBI on Wednesday raided a Detroit-area warehouse used by a Muslim group. The FBI said the group’s leader preached hate against the government, trafficked in stolen goods and belonged to a radical group that wants to establish a Muslim state in America. The imam of the group’s mosque, a black American named Luqman Ameen Abdullah, was killed in a shootout with agents.

Although the FBI was careful to say those arrested in Detroit were not mainstream Muslims, it has accused other black Muslims of similar crimes, most recently in May, when four men were charged with plotting to blow up New York synagogues and shoot down a military plane.

Yet the Muslim faith continues to convert many average African-Americans, who say they are attracted by Islam’s emphasis on equality, discipline and family.

“The unique history African-Americans have faced, we’re primed for accepting Islam,” said Jackson, 31, who grew up in a secular home and converted to Islam when he was about 18.

“When someone comes to you with a message that everyone is equal, that the only difference is the deeds that they do, of course people who have been oppressed will embrace that message,” Jackson said. “It’s a message of fairness.”

It was a message of black pride in the face of dehumanizing prejudice that launched Islam in America in the 1930s.

Created by a mysterious man named Wallace Fard, the “Lost-Found Nation of Islam” strayed far from the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad, but its mixture of self-reliance, black supremacy and white demonization resonated with many blacks. Some 30 years later, Malcolm X began the African-American movement toward traditional Islam when he left the Nation of Islam, went on a pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia and proclaimed that all whites were not evil.

In 1975, the Nation split into two factions: a larger group that embraced orthodox Sunni practices, and another, led by Louis Farrakhan, that maintained the Nation’s separatist ideology.

Today, it is difficult to determine the number of Muslims in America. A 2007 Pew survey estimated 2.35 million, of whom 35 percent were African-American. Lawrence Mamiya, a Vassar College professor of religion and Africana studies and an expert on American Islam, said Muslim organizations count about 6 million members, a third of them black.

Most African-American Muslims are orthodox Sunnis who worship in about 300 mosques across the country, Mamiya said. The second-largest group follows Farrakhan’s Nation of Islam, which has about 100 mosques in America, abroad and U.S. prisons, Mamiya said.

He said the third-largest group is the Ummah, founded by Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin, the black activist formerly known as H. Rap Brown. The group has about 40 or 50 mosques. The organization targeted in the raid near Detroit was part of the Ummah, the FBI said.

“The vast majority of African-American Muslims are using the religion to strengthen their spirituality,” said Mamiya, who has interviewed many black Muslim leaders and congregants. He said the number of black Muslims is growing, but not as fast as before the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Few white Americans convert to Islam “because the tendency is to view Islam as foreign,” he said. “For African-Americans, it’s part of their African heritage. There’s a long tradition (in Africa). … It moves them away from the Christianity they saw as a slave religion, as the religion that legitimized their slavery.”

Margari Hill was a California teenager seeking an antidote for nihilism and widespread disrespect of black women when she found Islam in 1993. A few years ago she began covering her hair with a hijab, or head scarf.

“I wanted to be thinking about humility and modesty,” said Hill, a 34-year-old teacher in Philadelphia. “I decided it would help me be a better Muslim and a better person.”

She also is attracted to Islam’s family values and the egalitarian message embodied by the prophet Muhammad’s “last sermon,” which according to Muslim scriptures says that no Arab, white or black person is superior or inferior to members of another race.

Hill’s ex-husband, Marc Manley, said that many blacks who have struggled with crime, drugs or alcohol are drawn to Islam’s regimented lifestyle, which includes prayers five times a day.

“Especially in the urban context, it provides a vehicle for African-Americans to deal with those ills,” he said. “It provides a buffer or a barrier.”

Muhaimin was born into a Muslim family after his parents embraced Islam in the 1950s. He grew up in Saudi Arabia, “but was very clear from a young age that I was and am an American citizen.”

“America is my country, I love the United States,” he said. “I don’t agree with everything our politicians do in our name, but that doesn’t mean I’m not a citizen of this country.”

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On the Net:
Margari Hill blog: http://www.azizaizmargari.wordpress.com
Marc Manley blog: http://www.manrilla.net
http://www.qubainstitute.com
(This version CORRECTS that FBI raid was on warehouse, not mosque.)

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On the Net:

Margari Hill’s blog: http://www.azizaizmargari.wordpress.com

Marc Manley’s blog: http://www.marcmanley.com

The Quba Institute: http://www.qubainstitute.com

(This version CORRECTS that FBI raid was on warehouse, not mosque.)

My Blind Date With The Federal Bureau of Investigations

 

We live in a tumultuous world were fantastic events can impact the daily realities of ordinary citizens. Events unfold before our eyes that can forever tarnish our sense of perception if we’re not careful. These are the words that come to mind as I had my interview with the FBI this afternoon. From their side, they may see an incident that raises suspicions, whether they’d like them to be raised or not. On my end of the deal, being scrutinized by the government can be a very uncomfortable situation to be in. Fortunately for both parties involved, we had a few laughs and then went on about our ways. If only all such encounters between divergent parties could be so humorous.

The back story to this short and simple. Recently, for a class assignment, I had photographed some public transportation installations belonging to SEPTA, including a trolley, the trolley tunnel, and the trolley tracks. I can imagine I hear chuckles already – as well we should all chuckle! The following day, I exited the same trolley stop [the same stop I use every day to go to work] only to be greeted by three separate law enforcement agencies: SEPTA, UPenn police, and the Philadelphia Police Department. My initial thought was that they were, “really after someone”, as they were out in force. Little did I know they were looking for me. A brief search ensued, in which I was searched, my contents were searched and then I was questioned by the officers present. After about 15-20 minutes, my story was confirmed and cleared that I was simply a student doing class work and that my appearance had, “raised some red flags”. The officer in question nearly blushed as he apologized, fully aware of what his words were implicating. I laughed with him to diffuse the situation and informed him I understood and that he was only following his procedures. I was discharged there shortly thereafter and thought that the incident was behind me. Little did I know I had popped up on an even bigger radar.

The story unfortunately does not get much more intense from here. The following day, I received a phone call from a detective at the FBI asking if he might schedule an interview with me. Slightly alarmed, I asked what it was he was curious about, at which he explained that he had been informed by the local authorities of the “SEPTA incident”, and that he would like to gather some more information. I agreed and proceeded to seek advice as to how to proceed. It’s not every day that one has a blind date with the FBI.

Through the help of a friend, I contacted the ACLU [of which I would urge other Muslims to consider supporting as this is a wonderful institution], who graciously provided me with an attorney from one of Philadelphia’s top law firms. I spoke with my attorney, who gave me sound counsel and with his advice in hand, we prepared for our meeting. The interim time between the phone call and the interview was filled with nervous speculation. What was it they could want from me? I lead a boring life of blogs and books. Yes, I’ve traveled to Saudi Arabia but so do many other people. Could that be it? Are they fishing for something? Soon enough I would have my answers.

I met with my attorney an hour before the interview and went over various points in detail to prepare myself for any questions they FBI might have. We were prepared for a full-court press. My tie was ironed, my blazer pressed. I was ready. At 11am sharp my phone rang. It was the detective. He said that “they” were ready to meet me. “They”, I thought. There was no mention of more than one officer. Despite this surprise, I put on my poker face and proceed to the interview.

From here, the story concludes with a small chuckle and then fizzles out. Both detectives were courteous and cordial. In the span of about three or four minutes, they asked me much of the same questions the local law enforcement officials had asked: what was I taking pictures of? Why? I provided proof of student ID and explained my course work. The next part was the most uncomfortable part and yet the most humorous – and in that order for the agent and myself. He asked where I was born and then my nationality. I informed him I was born in the United States and that I was African-American. Our eyes met for a moment and then I burst out with a short laugh and said, “I’m not from the Middle-East”. The detective, who seemed exceedingly happy to have made it over this uncomfortable hump replied, “Well, I wasn’t trying to imply anything but you know…, these days. We get a lot of phone calls about Middle-Eastern guys. It takes up a lot of our time”. Myself, my attorney, and the two agents all shared a laugh at how uncomfortable this post-9/11 situation has made people and the types of social avenues it can force us to go down. In short, the detectives were nice people who were only following Bureau procedures and in no time flat I was seeing them and my lawyer to the door.

In conclusion – cooperate. We live in times where many may feel that their liberties are being infringed upon and that’s why we have organizations like the ACLU. And yet, there are realities on the ground, whether we like them or not, and only but talking with one another can we hope to understand each other’s goals and objectives better. And yes, I am glad I’m a black guy! What a civil liberty that’s turning out to be.