Saying goodbye to Brother Imam (Imam W. D. Muhammad)
by Sheila Musaji
I was shocked and saddened when I received an email from Imam Ghayth Nur Kashif that Brother Imam, (Imam W. D. Muhammad) had died. I knew immediately that this was a significant, historic moment in the history of Islam in America. One of the most important leaders of the American Muslim community would no longer be here to help our community.
I was fortunate to be able to make arrangements to drive from St. Louis to Chicago to attend the funeral which was held at the Islamic Foundation of Villa Park (where my family had attended when we lived in Chicago). As we came to the entrance to the parking area we were amazed to see so many buses from all over the country that had brought groups of people to pay their respects, and as we were slowly guided through the parking lot to find a place, we read off the license plates on the cars that we passed - Texas, Alabama, Missouri, Mississippi, Arkansas, Illinois, South Carolina, Indiana, Virginia, Maryland, Kentucky, Florida, New York, Michigan, Ohio, Minnesota, New Jersey, D.C., Wisconsin, Oklahoma, California.
My estimate is that there were at least 4,000 people present - so many that the afternoon prayers had to be said in shifts inside the mosque (which holds 2,000), and the janaza (funeral) prayer had to be moved outside to a large grassy field to accommodate such a large crowd.
Some of the faces that I recognized were Sulayman Nyang, Marcia Hermansen, Zaid Shakir, Malik Mujahid, Muzamil Siddiqui, Siraj Wahaj, Sherman Jackson, Louis Farrakhan, and Azhar Usman. But, I am certain that there were many more leaders and scholars present. Even the Naqshbandi “ red turbans” turned out in full force.
Because plans were changed at the last minute the crowd had to wait for some time for the Janaza to begin, but the respectful, quiet atmosphere was noticeable. The Janaza was to begin at 1:45 but did not actually begin until 2:30 p.m.
There was only one speaker before the actual prayer began - Khadijah Sideeq Muhammad, Brother Imam’s wife read excerpts from a notebook belonging to the Imam and recited two verses from the Quran - Surah Tin ( the fig) and Surah Fateha (the opening) in Arabic. Her recital was incredibly beautiful and brought many of the listeners to tears. The passage from Brother Imam’s notebook was about community and unity, probably the two most important things that he had stood for. As Sulayman Nyang (Professor of African Studies at Howard University) has noted: “[He] was able to do two remarkable things. One [was] the re-Islamization of the movement; the second, the re-Americanization of the movement.” And, as Imam Muhammad himself said in his last interview with alt Muslim: “Islam is a religion that directs us to community, to develop community - under God of course. And to be productive. The same message is in Jesus’ teachings. The Muslims that come here, some of them are very intelligent, and they know their religion. They are already doing things. So in 50 years from now, there’s a big hope.”
Establish a community, be productive, and remain hopeful for the future! Key teachings of Brother Imam that we should all remember.
Imam Malik Mujahid made a comment in an article he wrote about his friend W.D. Muhammad that adds an important element, and that is personal responsibility: “His leadership and wisdom leave us with a void impossible to fill. I learned a great deal from his series of articles on individual responsibility from an Islamic point of view. Although his focus on this topic may have been considered a response to the highly centralized organizational model of his father, his articles were deeply rooted in Islamic teachings of individual responsibility for one’s well-being. If some of you have heard my sermons on this topic, they stem from Imam Mohammed’s articles. Although I told him about his influence on my speeches, I don’t think I ever formally thanked him. So thank you Imam for your thoughtful inspiration.”
Laila Muhammad, a daughter of W. D. Muhammad said in a press conference at the Muslim Journal offices: “I ask that we pray for each other and that we stand firm, with not only the African-American Muslims, but with all Muslims. And not only with Muslims but with faith communities—the Muslims, the Christians, the Jews. This is Imam Mohammed’s work.” She said that there would be no successor to her father, “He has given us what we need to be leaders.”
This means that we are all his successor’s in the project of bringing unity to the community of Muslims in the United States. We are all individually responsible to carry on his work.
Aziz Poonawala made another important point: “ It is said that if Mohammed SAW would not come to the mountain, then the mountain must come to Mohammed SAW. Literally, it was WD Mohammed who moved that mountain to the doorstep of the Holy Prophet SAW. It is hard to convey the enormity of the task that WD Mohammed had undertaken in his lifetime.”
Brother Imam has moved us all to the doorstep of establishing a truly inclusive Muslim community in the U.S. and it is now up to us to carry on his work and take the next steps to make that happen.
Azhar Usman in a moving article about Brother Imam and his efforts has summed up all of these key points - community, unity, hope for the future, individual responsibility: “Maybe I am just an idealistic fool, or maybe Pharaoh Sanders was right about the Creator’s Master Plan, but I sincerely believe that all we have to do—all of us together: Black folks, South Asians (Indians, Pakistanis, Bangladeshis), Arabs from every part of the Middle East and North Africa, Southeast Asians (Indonesians and Malaysians), Persians, Turks, Latinos, assorted Muslims of all stripes, colors, and backgrounds, and yes, even our White Muslim brothers and sisters—is live up to a simple promise to one another: No matter what happens, in good times and in bad, we have to be the brothers and sisters no one expects us to be. It is hoped that the passing of Imam WDM will also mark the end of a chapter in our collective American Muslim history, and perhaps now, in earnest, we can all look together toward The Third Resurrection. May God mend our broken hearts, lift our spirits, purify our souls, heal the rifts between our communities, unify our aims, remove our obstacles, defeat our enemies, and bless and accept our humble offerings and service.”
During the Janaza, a flock of geese flew overhead in a V formation, and somehow that seemed significant. It made me immediately think of what can be accomplished when a community works together. None of those geese was likely to get where they were going alone. They (like us) need each other. Brother Imam did his part, now it is our turn to carry on. It won’t be easy, and there are still many issues that we need to deal with in our community, but Insh’Allah (if God is willing) we can do this TOGETHER!
Brief Accounting on The Establishment of the Nation of Islam in the U.S., Ayesha K. Mustafaa http://theamericanmuslim.org/tam.php/features/articles/brief_accounting_on_the_establishment_of_the_nation_of_islam_in_the_us/
Alt muslim published what is thought to be the last interview with Imam Muhammad by Michael Perez and Fatima Bahloul of Islamica Magazine http://www.altmuslim.com/a/a/a/2811/
American Muslim Leader Dies, Niraj Warikoo http://www.iviews.com/Articles/articles.asp?ref=IC0809-3671
CBS VIDEO from funeral http://cbs2chicago.com/local/wd.mohammed.services.2.815324.html
Chicago Tribune article http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/chi-mohammed-funeral-12-sep12,0,5321294.story
Death of Imam W. D. Muhammad: A Colossal Loss, Dr. Hesham Hassaballa http://theamericanmuslim.org/tam.php/features/articles/death_of_imam_w_d_muhammad_a_colossal_loss/
Imam Warith Deen Mohammad: The Imam Cares, Zahed Amanullah http://theamericanmuslim.org/tam.php/features/articles/imam_warith_deen_mohammad_the_iimam_cares/
Imam W. D. Muhammad, Imam Abdullah El Amin http://muslimmedianetwork.com/mmn/?p=2866
In Memorium: W. D. Muhammad Has Passed Away, Sheila Musaji http://theamericanmuslim.org/tam.php/features/articles/in_memorium_imam_w_d_muhammad_has_passed_away/
Mourning a great Muslims death, Mark Lamont Hill http://ny.metro.us/metro/blog/my_view/entry/Mourning_a_great_Muslims_death/13636.html
Muhammad Gone, His Legacy Thrives, Mike Thomas http://www.suntimes.com/lifestyles/religion/1159321,CST-NWS-imam12.article
Muslim Journal site has photographs of the Janaza and burial and other materials http://muslimjournal.webexone.com/
Muslim Leader Built Bridges Between Faiths, Adam Parker http://www.charleston.net/news/2008/sep/13/muslim_leader_built_bridges_between_fait54431/
NPR Interview with U.S. Congressman Keith Ellison from Minnesota’s 5th Congressional District and Imam Dawud Walid, executive director of the Michigan chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, or CAIR on the passing of Imam Muhammad http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=94471553
On the Passing of Imam W. D. Muhammad: An Apology, Azhar Usman http://theamericanmuslim.org/tam.php/features/articles/on_the_passing_of_imam_w_d_muhammad_an_apology/
Remembering Imam W. D. Muhammad, Imam Abdul Malik Mujahid http://theamericanmuslim.org/tam.php/features/articles/remembering_imam_w_d_muhammad/
Thousands, not hundreds pay respect to Imam W. D. Muhammad, Junaid Afeef http://americanmuslimjournal.typepad.com/an_american_muslim_journa/2008/09/thousands-not-hundreds-pay-respects-to-wd-mohammed.html
W. D. Muhammad: A Witness for True Islam, John Esposito http://newsweek.washingtonpost.com/onfaith/john_esposito/2008/09/wd_mohammed_a_witness_for_true.html
W. D. Muhammad’s Spiritual Maturity, David Waters http://newsweek.washingtonpost.com/onfaith/undergod/2008/09/wd_mohammeds_spiritual_maturit.html