Archive for the ‘Blackamerican Islam’ Category

Imam Wallace Warith Deen Mohammed (1933-2008)

September 10, 2008

The Anointed Son

The story behind W.D. Mohammed’s momentous break with his father and his alliance with Malcolm X. By Taylor Branch

Reprinted from “Pillar of Fire” with permission of Simon & Schuster.

Malcolm X’s one kindred ally within the Muslim hierarchy-destined to succeed where he failed, as quietly as Malcolm’s notoriety would be loud-had been locked away in the federal prison at Sandstone, Minnesota, since his twenty-eighth birthday. This was Wallace D. Muhammad, who, since being named by and for the founder of the Nation of Islam, W.D. Fard, had been marked as the seventh and most religious of Elijah Muhammad’s eight children.

In the 1950s, when federal prosecutors denied Wallace Muhammad the military draft deferment due legitimate clergy, Chicago lawyers William Ming and Chauncey Eskridge arranged for him to serve medical duty as a conscientious objector but Elijah [Muhammad] unexpectedly rejected the plea bargain with white law. Much against his will, thinking that his father meant to keep him cloistered and useless, Wallace dutifully entered Sandstone, where taught Islam to inmates in the prison laundry room or on nice days in the baseball bleachers.

For the first time he felt responsible for his own thoughts, and although he attracted a large following of Muslim converts, which excited the fears of most prison authorities, the Sandstone warden became so convinced of the salutary effects on inmate rehabilitation that he invited Wallace to write an article on the Islamic concept of sacrifice for the 1962 Christmas issue of the prison journal..

Turmoil threw Wallace Muhammad together with Malcolm X late in February [1963, after Wallace had been released from prison], when some four thousand Muslims gathered by bus and motorcade for the annual Savior’s day convention in Chicago. As always speakers chanted the words “the Honorable Elijah Muhammad” as a practiced mantra, but apprehension ran through the submissive crow because Muhammad himself was absent for the first time, wheezing from asthma at his retreat in Pheonix. Although not a few Muslims believed Muhammad to be immortal, anxiety for him was so intense that cries went up for reassurance from the chosen son, who was observed and hailed upon his return from prison.

Wallace refused to speak. Having received no response to his letters of criticism [about corruption within the Nation of Islam] he was half convinced that his father was avoiding or testing him. Besides, he considered Savior’s Day the embodiment of his father’s most egregious blasphemy from the 1930s: proclaiming founder W.D. Far as the Savior Allah incarnate, much as Jesus was called the incarnation of the Christian god. More than once, Wallace had asked how his father could demand worship of a human being-Fard-in light of the Q’uran’s clear definition of “one god, the everlasting refuge, who begets not nor is he begotten,” and Elijah Muhammad said he would not understand.

Malcolm X, who presided in Muhammad’s absence, made excuses for Wallace by prearrangement. Very privately, the two men met during the convention as the two most likely successors-friends but possibly rivals-each of whom threatened the top officials at headquarters. When Wallace disclosed his determination to resist his father’s bizarre, unorthodox religious teachings, Malcolm defended Elijah’s adaptations such as the assertion that white people were devils by creation, saying they fit the experience of black people closely enough to gain their attention, and Elijah could correct come-on doctrines once the “lost-found” people were ready. In a related complaint, Wallace confessed that several of his own relatives prospered off the Nation without knowing the first thing about Islam. His stories about power struggles over jewelry and real estate touched a nerve, and the two men fell into collusion…

[Malcolm X later told Wallace that,] at Elijah Muhammad’s home before Savior’s Day, two former secretaries appeared on the lawn with their babies and shouted that they were going to stand there in the cold until Mr. Muhammad comforted his abandoned children. The household had reacted strangely, said Malcolm, who told Wallace he rebuffed such rumors until the two frightened and shunned women petitioned in person for help. Wallace replied uncomfortably that he would seek out the secretaries who he knew personally, and he soon confirmed to Malcolm that he believed their confessions. Elijah had told them that his wife, Clara, was dead to him, like Khadijah, the wife of the original Prophet Muhammad, and likewise Elijah felt divinely sanctioned to seek out virgins to produce good seed.

Wallace Muhammad felt the revelations as cruel injustice to his spurned mother, and raged against Elijah as an imposing but distant icon. Wallace scarcely knew his father, who had vanished into hiding for seven years after rival heard to Fard offered a $500 bounty for his death in the 19430. Although disciples arrived with daily tributes and breathless word of the aspiring Messenger, Wallace saw Elijah only a few times throughout his childhood-most notably in 1942 when he watched his mother and brothers roll the newly arrived fugitive under the bed in a rug, in a vain attempt to evade arresting police officers.

Now, as a young man just out of prison, desperate to hang on to something from the bizarre omens of his past, Wallace interpreted the enormity of his father’s sins as the price of strength that was implanting a new religion on the continent, allowing people of African descent first to define themselves by their own deity. He steeled himself to face facts, and to recognize that religious births in history tend to spread unseemly trauma over many decades. This became his anthem to Malcolm..

[Wallace Muhammad was frozen out of the Nation after he persisted in his criticism. After Malcolm X’s assassination, he sought greater involvement.] On Friday, February 26, 1965, Wallace Muhammad appeared in dramatic submission before the Nation of Islam’s Chicago convention. He did not justify or endorse Malcolm’s death, as Malcolm’s own brothers were required to do publicly. He did not repeat vows of holy war upon heretics who doubted the infallibility of Elijah Muhammad, as did the presiding minister, Louis X [Louis Farrakhan] of Boston.. Wallace Muhammad in a short speech begged reinstatement-“I judged my father when I should have let God do it.”

The convention cheered him as the prodigal, anointed son. He was obedient. But because he considered the nation to be blasphemous and corrupt, and refused to teach its concoction of Islam, Elijah Muhammad consigned him to unpaid obscurity. Wallace worked as a baker, welder, painter, and rug cleaner.

In 1974, after a hiatus of nine years, Elijah Muhammad allowed his son Wallace to resume teaching. His adversaries within the Chicago headquarters confiscated tapes of his sermons, eager to prove he was deviating again from the Nation’s dogma into Islamic scripture, but the old man said inexplicably, “My son’s got it right.” When Elijah died in 1975, delegations arrived in limousines to find Wallace, the chosen heir, living like hermit, with a rope tying shut his broken refrigerator door. The next day, February 26, 1975, the ministers swore fealty to the new Supreme Minister on the first day of the national convention, ad did Muhammad Ali. “I was born for this mission,” declared Wallace Muhammad.

He survived plots by entrenched officials who accused him of crying “crocodile tears” over this father. Within a year, he renamed New York No. 7 [mosque] for his former ally, Malcolm, saying, “What we should see in Malcolm is a turn for the Nation of Islam from fear and isolation to openness, courage.” By 1977, Wallace Muhammad dismantled the Nation’s corporate empire, confessed the scandals that Malcolm was killed to hide, and openly renounced his father’s claim to divinity. He extracted some purpose from every error and ordeal. “If he hadn’t hurt me,” Wallace said of his father, “I don’t know if I really would have come to Allah like I did.”

From PILLAR OF FIRE by Taylor Branch. Copyright (c) 1998 by Taylor Branch. Reprinted by permission of Simon & Schuster


Alternative Visions — Part I (Introduction)

May 18, 2008

Anyone who is even marginally active in the Muslim community here in the United States and who has been so for even just 15 years (as I have) would probably notice the following. The Muslim community in the United States is an incredibly diverse one, in terms of ethnicity, in terms of involving both immigrants and indigenous, in terms of socio-economic class and income levels. Especially before the events of September 11 and what has followed, it was not at all unusual to see “radical” religio-political understandings of our current situation and what Islam has to say about it in ‘mainstream’ Muslim fora, even where such views would not normally be seen in mainstream fora outside the Muslim community (with the possible exception of the Black American community — about this more later in the series if not in this post).

Although a diversity of views can still be found amongst the Muslims for the one who desires to search, it would seem that as a certain segment of Muslim leadership has moved to try to join the mainstream political discussion and processes of the country, that Muslim leadership has coalesced (or is at the least beginning to coalesce) around a certain vision of the role of the Muslim community here in the United States. I will try to identify certain statements that I find representative of this consensus in the process of this series but for the purpose of this introductory post let me state that the Vision promoted by this leadership seems to focus around the following major themes:


Michael C. Dawson: Is Obama Wrong About Wright?

March 18, 2008

I encourage people to read Michael Dawson’s piece about how Reverend Jeremiah Wright’s views are actually mainstream in the Black community. As a student of African American history, I admire Dawson’s work in the area of political science, in teasing out the various Blackamerican political attitudes and doing work on determining the popularity of different strands of ideology in the Blackamerican community today. See his work “Black Visions.”

“March 17, 2008 — Senator Obama is mistaken. The problem with Reverend Jeremiah Wright, the Chicago minister who is the Obama family’s pastor and the subject of recent fierce attacks in the media, is not, as Obama has stated, that “he has a lot of the…baggage of those times,” (those times being the 1960s).

The problem is also not, as one paper characterized Obama’s position on his minister, that Wright is stuck in a “time warp,” in a period defined by racial division.

No, the problem is that Wright’s opinions are well within the mainstream of those of black America. As public opinion researchers know, the problem is that despite all the oratory about racial unity and transcending race, this country remains deeply racially divided, especially in the realm of politics.

Most white people and the mainstream media tend to be horrified (in a titillating voyeuristic type of way), when they ‘look under the hood’ to see what’s really on blacks folks’ mind. Two thirds of whites believe that blacks have achieved or will soon achieve racial equality. Nearly eighty percent of blacks believe that racial justice for blacks will not be achieved either in their lifetime or at all in the U.S. In March 2003, when polls were showing strong support among whites for an invasion of Iraq, a large majority of blacks were shown to oppose military intervention.”

Read the whole article here.

UPDATE: You can also read Michael Dawson’s post-Obama speech reaction here.

I actually have a similar attitude towards the preaching of Jeremiah Wright as I do towards that of Minister Farrakhan. I am tremendously excited by what I often hear in their preaching of the true Prophetic tradition, that which is exemplified most clearly in the Qur’an and the Old Testament. It is precisely this element that is most often missing from white Christians, where the liberals and progressives often lack the deep faith which is intrinsic to the Prophetic view of reality and where conservatives believe in what Cornel West calls “Constantinian Christianity” which is a Christianity wedded to embracing and justifying empire and the ruling elites. Of course, because I am a Muslim I have some theological issues with the specifically Christian teachings of Mr. Wright and I take those issues seriously. Also, I think that one sees in Rev. Wright and Minister Farrakhan, at least on occasion another phenomenon which I think can be rightly condemned and which is sometimes not separated out from the true Prophetic teachings that they may also express. That phenomenon is the over simplification of complex realities into charges that are false. Rather than a complex analysis of how the “war on drugs” and the “war on crime” are designed to serve the interests of certain groups and with the knowledge that immense harm will result to other groups, sometimes in the midst of giving a speech such analysis is truncated to specific claims which may be not entirely verifiable or which condemn an entire group as a whole. This is closely related to the type of conspiracy thinking which seeks succinct explanations for complex phenomenon. Many times the fact of a conspiracy is actually real but because it is complex and impossible to understand in all its aspects, it gets boiled down to a simpler conspiracy which distorts reality and may scapegoat certain groups which are vulnerable themselves.

The real point of going through all this is to state that despite the specific aspects which I refer to above which sometimes make me uncomfortable, I would be a million times more uncomfortable listening to a sermon of Constantinian Christianity or its Islamic equivalents. (I hope to outline what I see as being Prophetic Islam and what I see as the equivalent of Constantinian Islam in a future post, inshAllaah). Which is why, in America today, I am most comfortable among Blackamericans and Muslims.

The challenge for Obama is to try to condemn the specifically problematic aspects of Rev. Wright’s sermons without condemning the “Prophetic Christianity” aspects. What most people are actually calling for condemning and what he would probably have to do to become President is to condemn the “Prophetic Christianity” aspects as a whole. But then he would be losing his soul.

Allaah knows best.

William Kunstler on Jamil Al-Amin (H. Rap Brown)

February 22, 2008

William Kunstler and Rap Brown, 1968

Brief excerpts from “My Life as a Radical Lawyer” by William Kunstler.  This book was published in 1994.  William Kunstler returned to the Creator in 1995.  Imam Jamil Al-Amin was continuously harassed by COINTELPRO style policies until he was arrested and wrongly convicted for the killing of a police officer in 2000.  Imam Jamil is now 64 years old and is currently being held at the SuperMax Prison in Florence, Co.  (State side Gitmo).  See this link for current info on the conditions under which the Imam is being held and how to contribute to the International Committee to Support Jamil Al-Amin. 

Update on Imam Jamil Al-Amin

“During 1966 and 1967, I met two men who would always be important in my life, Stokely Carmichael and H. Rap Brown.  Both quickly fell victim to the government’s methodical destruction of dissent through borderline lawful, though unjust, means –repeated arrests, prolonged court battles, never-ending legal entanglements.  These tactics deprived both Stokely and Rap of significant time and energy.  Each man handled the harassment differently; Stokely eventually left the country, while Rap fought it out for years, then quietly retreated to a different way of life…..” (more…)

Letter From Malcolm X (Al-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz)

February 22, 2008

Without a doubt, the greatest and most effective single act of da’wah in the history of Islam in the U.S.  May Allaah have mercy on him and accept his martrydom.   

Letter from Malcolm X
by Malcolm X

What follows is a letter (in part or in whole) from Malcolm X, known here as Al-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz, to his followers in Harlem. It was reprinted in The Autobiography of Malcolm X by Alex Haley.

Never have I witnessed such sincere hospitality and overwhelming spirit of true brotherhood as is practiced by people of all colors and races here in this ancient Holy Land, the home of Abraham, Muhammad and all the other Prophets of the Holy Scriptures. For the past week, I have been utterly speechless and spellbound by the graciousness I see displayed all around me by people of all colors.I have been blessed to visit the Holy City of Mecca, I have made my seven circuits around the Ka’ba, led by a young Mutawaf named Muhammad, I drank water from the well of the Zam Zam. I ran seven times back and forth between the hills of Mt. Al-Safa and Al Marwah. I have prayed in the ancient city of Mina, and I have prayed on Mt. Arafat.There were tens of thousands of pilgrims, from all over the world. They were of all colors, from blue-eyed blondes to black-skinned Africans. But we were all participating in the same ritual, displaying a spirit of unity and brotherhood that my experiences in America had led me to believe never could exist between the white and non-white.America needs to understand Islam, because this is the one religion that erases from its society the race problem. (more…)