Why Black American Muslims Don’t Stand for Justice - Part 2
by Abdur-Rahman Muhammad
By the middle of the 1970’s, American racial politics had undergone sweeping changes. The strident, urban street protests had given way to a strategy of “working within the system”, allowing movement leaders and activists (those who were not killed or imprisoned) to take full advantage of the hard-fought successes of the previous decade. Many went back to college and qualified themselves to take cushy jobs in academia and government, but there were other reasons for the change in strategy as well. Movement workers witnessed with horror the cold-blooded, ruthless tactics of the government to crush what it called “urban rebellions”. Most illustrious of this type of brutality was the vicious police slaying of Chicago Black Panthers’ Fred Hampton and Mark Clark while they slept. Blackamerican Muslims, like Blacks in general, realized the times were changing and simply sought a new direction.
It must be remembered that throughout the ten year period which had elapsed between Malcolm’s assassination and Elijah Muhammad’s death, the NOI not only stayed in business but experienced a surge in membership. Louis Farrakhan, after having assumed the position of National Spokesman, worked tirelessly to rehabilitate the image of the group after its being reviled in the Black community as “the killers of Malcolm”. It was during this same period that there began to emerge a number of Islamic organizations which would come to play a significant role in the African American Muslim story.
Headquartered along the north-east corridor of the United States; New York City’s Darul Islam Movement (known as “The Dar”), Mosque of Islamic Brotherhood(MIB), and the Islamic Party of North America and Hanafi Movement of Washington, DC attempted to present a true and correct picture of the Islamic religion to their people. (I plan to do a series of posts about those movements separately, Insha Allah) Many of the brothers and sisters who joined these organizations were searching for a viable alternative to the excesses and contradictions they saw in the broader Blackamerican struggle. Drug use, womanizing, and criminality were just some of the more negative elements of the militant Black Power initiatives, and a time had arrived for some to turn inward and address matters of the soul. These new Muslim formations afforded them an opportunity to do just that.
However, returning to the question of why Blackamerican Muslims don’t stand for justice, a number of points must be kept in mind when reviewing the history of these groups.
1) The religion of Islam itself was still something exotic in the Black community. By this time of course Black people (especially on the East Coast) knew that there were other Black people who were “Mooslems“, but their numbers relative to the Christian church were simply too insufficient to inaugurate a new mass movement, assuming even that they were inclined to do so.
2)In order to distance themselves from the Black Nationalist rhetoric of the NOI (whom they viewed with suspicion and still blamed for the murder of Malcolm X), and wanting to be seen as “authentic Muslims”, these groups tended to de-emphasize the issue of race. The universality of the Islamic message became the primary focus. Later however, some groups would come to view the other with suspicion on precisely this point, a net result being a failure to formulate a long term strategy for social justice. In other words, too must energy was expended with regards to questions of ideological/theological purity (not to mitigate its importance)
3) Each of these groups understood themselves to be a self-contained outfit that was not in need of the others. Additionally, it cannot be denied that although brilliant in their own right, the leaders of these groups suffered from exaggerated notions of themselves and required repeated demonstrations of loyalty from their followers. This type of mentality precluded any one of them from attaining sufficient stature to organize the entire Muslim community on a collective agenda, social justice or otherwise.
4) Although well organized and disciplined - and for reasons that I’m not entirely clear about - these pioneering Muslims assumed a hyper-sensitive, militaristic, indeed very aggressive posture.There were uniforms, martial arts training, and military drills, infusing in the brothers (and sisters) a desire for conflict and even martyrdom. All this built up aggression required an outlet, usually finding one in the form of theological/ideological disputation, both with the NOI and even with each other. Sadly, as a result of this kind of aggressive posturing and mutual recrimination, things inevitably turned deadly.
In response to a series of incendiary letters from Hanafi Muslims in Washington DC, the NOI committed the most horrific crime in U.S. history by brutally killing almost the entire family of the group’s leader, Hamas Abdul-Khalis in 1973. Another tragic incident occurred at the Yasin Masjid (a Darul Islam facility) in Brooklyn, N.Y. in 1974. After a dispute a arose between MIB Imam, Tawfiq, and Yah Yah Abdul-Kareem, leader of the DAR, two MIB men drew weapons which led to the death of two brothers from the DAR.
During the entire aforementioned period, immigrant Muslims were very quietly and deliberately building their own Islamic infrastructure in America. Beginning on the college campuses with the founding of the Muslim Student Association (MSA) in the early 60’s, up through the formation of the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) in 1980, they had their own ideas of the role Islam would play in this country. Better educated, more affluent, and not burdened by the ghosts of slavery like their African American brethren, the immigrant Muslims thrived in this country, but still lacked the legitimacy to back up their claim of representing all Muslims in”North America”. How could they possibly make that claim when Blackamerican Muslims were here since the days of slavery? Imam W.Deen Mohammed had, by Allah’s permission, overseen the largest mass reversion to Islam of any westernized people, and they all happened to be Black.
It was at this precise juncture in history, 1981, that Imam Siraj Wahhaj of Brooklyn, N.Y., broke away from Imam Mohammed’s community and formed Masjid At Taqwa. He was a God-send to the immigrant community in as much as he is a brilliant orator and a master fundraiser. He also gives them legitimacy to speak for all Muslims in America, and in return they give him a national platform never before achieved by an Blackamerican Imam. Now there was a chance to finally built a nation-wide agenda for racial and social justice.
Visit Abdur-Rahman Muhammad’s site “A Singular Voice” at http://singularvoice.wordpress.com/