Tuesday, August 24, 2010


August 17th marked the 123rd memorial birthdate of Marcus Garvey. In honor of that occasion, I release the following from my future book, Reclaimed Legacy:Muslim Indigenous And Immigrant Peoples, And The True History Of Al-Islām In America.

Muslim Influence on the U.N.I.A.
“Father of all Creation
Allah Omnipotent,
Supreme o’er every nation
God Bless our President”

These are the words of one of the “hymns” of the Universal Negro Improvement Association (U.N.I.A.), founded by the late Marcus Mosiah Garvey, often described as the most influential leader of African descent in the West, during the 20th century. Garvey, considered by many to be the “Father of Black Nationalism”, had been taught African history, topology and politics while residing in Egypt, by a Muslim Egyptian named Duse Muhammad Effendi (see photo above left) Amongst Garvey’s followers were many African Americans, who viewed themselves as Muslims struggling for the liberation of their people from oppression.These men and women had been influenced by an Ahmadiyyah Muslim da’ee (missionary) named Mufti Muhammad Saadiq, who came to America from India in 1920, to propagate Islam as he understood it.
Bayoumi writes[1], “Originally conceiving of his work as broad-based, ecumenical, multiracial missionary activity, Sadiq soon realized that Whites were bitter and fearful of his message and African Americans interested and open. Early reports indicate that several Garveyites attended his lectures and were among his first converts…”
Journalist Roger Didier wrote of some of these self-proclaimed Muslim Garveyites [2], “…all the audience has adopted Arabic names…There is the very dark Mr. Augustus, who used to belong to St. Marks church in this city [Chicago], but who now sings a pretty Arabic prayer and acts rather sphinx-like. Half a dozen Garvey cohorts are counted, one in his resplendent uniform...”
Tony Martin[3] states that at the 1922 U.N.I.A. convention, “several delegates suggested that the association should adopt Islam as its official religion since three-quarters of the black world were Muslims and Muslims were better Christians than Christians”. The discussion was lively and occupied both the morning and afternoon sessions, under the topic “The Future Religious Faith and Belief of the Negro.” Garvey himself presided over ther afternnon session, declaring the subject to be “of vital interest and importance, in that it struck at the strongest side of the Negro, it being conceded that the Negro was more religious than anything else”.
Garvey further stated that dictating religion was not the desire of the UNIA, but rather to give African people “a scientific understanding of religion”. He then advocated inter-religious dialogue and meeting. Although the resolution to adopt Al-Islam as the UNIA’s official religion, and indeed the future religion of all black people in America was not passed, its serious introduction into the discussion spread out over hours indicates the receptivity that was present in the ranks of that organization, to the Islamic faith (as it was understood according to Ahmadiyyah teachings).One of its hymns was even named “Allahu Akbar”.
In Detroit, Michigan, Mufti Sadiq himself spoke at five Garveyite meetings in 1923, and 40 more U.N .I.A. members converted to the faith. One was another Christian leader, Reverend Sutton, who was renamed Sheik Abdul Salaam, and placed in leadership over the congregation in that city. Ahmadiyyah appeals to the followers of Garvey, hammered a message tailored to them. Knowing that many Garveyites, or at least those inclined to Islam read its pages, The Moslem Sunrise contained an article with what must be the world’s longest title[4]. Its text included these words:
“Apart from confederation of the African tribes or peoples of African origin, the possibility of which is a nightmare to the white man, he lives in fear and trembling that El Islam may become the religion of the Negro. And why should it not be? ‘El Islam’ would be a wonderful spiritual force in the life of the colored races, uniting us in a bond of common sympathy and interest. We could then add to our motto of one God, one aim, one destiny, the words one language which would be arabic. It could easily be made the universal language of Negroes and would remove the barriers which now face us in the intercommunication of the different tribes in Africa. Arabic is already spoken by millions of Negroes..”
Garvey and Al-Islām
Garvey, who was himself the student of a Muslim, was obviously listening to this message. He posed the question, ostensibly to Christians who were American, and other peoples of European descent in positions of power, when he stated:
“…You white men, have taught us the love of God, you have had us to see Him in all goodness and perfection; is He a mockery to you? He must be something real. Must we by your actions deny His goodness and love for us, and seek and search for the God of Africa, The Allah most High, Noble and Almighty?” [5]
Further he mentioned The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) several times in his speeches, as an inspirational figure whom he considered to be a great black man. He declared before an audience at Liberty Hall, in Harlem, New York on September 17, 1922 “…everybody knows that Mohammed was a Negro…Negroes on this side of the river had accepted Christ, while on the other side, many of them, had accepted Mohammed. The administration was not endeavoring to bring Mohammed into the Western world. Mohammed was not in need of change. He was a colored man, anyhow. [6]
“The fight that has centered around me is the same kind of fight that will be centered around any other leader, any other idealist who sets out to lead the people into a new vision, into a new light. It was the same kind of fight that was centered Around Mohammed when he enunciated his doctrine; it wsas the same kind of fight that was centered around Martin Luther when he delared the reformation; it was the same kind of fight that was centered around the great political leaders of Ireland who sought to arouse the people for Irish freedom; it was the same kind of fight that centered around the Man of Nazreth who attempted to assemble the multitude and teach them the new doctrine of salvation, it is the same kind of fight that will be centered around any man or woman who seeks to place an ideal among the people….”[7]
“The great Mohammed, the leader of the Mohammedan faith-the man who swept the Asiatic world with that new cult, the new religion of Allah- he counted the cost and in his lifetime paid the price. Mohammed suffered many reverses; Mohammed suffered many defeats at certain times; half of the people, two-thirds of the people; nearly all of the people, forsook Mohammed, but Mohammed stuck to his faith and ultimately triumphed and Mohammedenism was given to the world. And as Mohammed did in the religious world, so in the political arena we have had men who have paid the price for leading the people toward the great light of liberty.”[8]

[1] East of the Sun (West of the Moon): Islam, the Ahmadis, and African America
[2] “Those Who’re Missionaries to Christians: Prophet Sadiq Brings Allah’s Message Into Chicago and Makes Proselytes”, reprinted in The Moslem Sunrise, October 1922
[3] author of Race First: The Ideological and Organizatiuonal Struggles of Marcus Garvey and the U.N.I.A. (1976), see Chapter 4, also see the minutes from the UNIA annual convention held in August, 1922, specifically those from the 25th day, Friday morning and afternoon sessions, The Marcus Garvey Papers, Vol. 4, pp. 991-992
[4] “”Crescent or Cross? A Negro May Aspire to Any Position under Islam without Discrimination: The Teachings of the Prophet are being Profitably Imbibed –with Millions of Moslems the World over, Pressure Can be brought to Solve the Race Question”, The Moslem Sunrise, April 1923, pg. 262
[5] The Philosophy and Opinions of Marcus Garvey, pg. 412
[6] U.N.I.A. Convention, August 5, 1924
[7] Liberty Hall speech, Nov. 5, 1922
[8] speech, January 29, 1922, The Marcus Garvey and UNIA Papers, sponsored by the Univ. of California, LA

Sunday, August 8, 2010


The political right-wing, Tea Party based or influenced media has taken up the effort to build a mosque and Islamic community center near NYC’s ground zero, as its latest cause célèbre. In so doing they have been using the same tactics successfully employed during the “Stop the Madrassa” campaign to destabilize the Khalil Gibran School in Brooklyn. The outcome of their skillfully designed and executed work was described by the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission in its decision published last March.

The EOEC wrote that the Dept. of Education (as part of the Bloomberg Administration) “…succumbed to the very bias that creation of the school was intended to dispel and a small segment of the public succeeded in imposing its prejudices on D.O.E. as an employer."

Implicit in the arguments put forth in the case of both the Gibran School and the mosque near ground zero, have been disguised, racist, anti-immigrant, anti-Islam and anti-Muslim sentiments. Call them “stealth, white supremacist crusaders”. A key undercurrent of the public denunciation by these right-wing Tea Party mentality people, of the Cordoba Center’s construction, is the “Us vs. Them” theme well-digested in the underbelly of American life, since the birth of the nation.

The Center’s opposition (i.e. the crusaders) asserts that “they” (i.e. Muslims) attacked either “us” (i.e. Americans or non-Muslims ). This implied “they” visits guilt by association of faith upon all Muslims and their religion – Islam, because of the terroristic acts of political extremists. Yet extremists and terrorists exist that claim various faiths, or none. One simply cannot blame all adherents of a faith or way of life for the acts of an extremist fringe minority.

An article published in today’s New York Times ( Across Nation, Mosque Projects Meet Opposition , Sunday , August 8, 2010) exposes the truth – that across the country far from ground-zero in NYC, people ( and is there any doubt that they are predominantly white folk, who are vulnerable to manipulation because they lack knowledge of Islam, and also fail to put a human face on the Muslims they hear about unceasingly in the media?) – are fighting the building of mosques and exercise of freedom of religion by Muslims. When one reads or listens to their concerns it is obvious their their opinions are influenced by the same forces who falsely characterized both the Khalil Gibran School and its creator, Debbie Almontaser, who lost her job and suffered greatly because of the injustice directed against her.

The “us” of the right-wing Tea Party mentality dismisses the presence of 7-10 million Muslims who are just as American as anyone else. Two-thirds of American Muslims are themselves of immigrant origin, like most other Americans. The other third are African Americans. Seven-eighths of all Muslims in the land are people of color, of so-called third world origin. Does anyone realistically doubt that this is a factor –consciously or unconsciously in the opinions of those who mouth and shout racist epithets at public gatherings, as the wave their Bibles and call for Muslim “unbelievers” to worship a god who by the way, looks like the same right-wing Tea Party folk?

The second “us” also overlooks a critical fact of the September 11th attacks, largely un-covered by mainstream media until this day. It is that the 9-11 attacks perpetrated by extremist Muslims, killed many people who were themselves Muslims, as well as people of other faiths, or none. In other words, Muslims are part of “us” too.

Imam Izak El-Pasha of Masjid Malcolm Shabazz (named after Malcolm X) spoke at the 9-11 Memorial Service held in the old Yankee Stadium days after the death and destruction. There was a room in the Twin Towers that served as a musalla (prayer space) for Muslim employees in the World Trade Center complex. Muslim West African immigrants working as waiters in the Windows on the World Restaurant were killed. As a local imam, I attended memorial services held by members of Local Union 32 B-J (Building and Maintenance workers) for slaughtered Muslim relatives and loved ones; the majority of them Arab and Southern-Asian immigrants. Imam Sulaimane Konate (of Masjid Al-Aqsah, in Harlem) – an immigrant from the Ivory Coast in West Africa, lost 3 members of his family in the destruction.

Imam Umar Abdul-Jail (of Masjid Sabur, also in Harlem) - an African American who has been much maligned in local tabloids like the NY Post, supervised the make-shift morgue set up on the West-Side highway, ministering with great compassion and sensitivity to members of grieving families, on an inter-faith basis. The administration of then NYC Mayor Rudolph Giuliani granted permission to the Majlis Ash-Shura (Islamic Leadership Council) of NY to hold a funeral prayer service in closed off Warren Street, right in front of Masjid Manhattan – a large loft utilized for many years as a mosque, just a short walk from Ground Zero. At that time the street reflected the devastation common to the surrounding area. The Muslim mourners arrived in buses provided by the NYPD.

Further, Muslim police officers, firemen, EMTs and relief workers too, were amongst the heavy-hearted responders to the disaster. Undoubtedly they shared the feelings experienced throughout time by people of various faiths, when crimes have been committed by those claiming exclusivity on righteousness in the name of God or religion, while committing evil deeds.
During the after-math of the attacks, Muslim religious leaders both male and female, in New York City and across the country, participated in inter-faith prayer services for healing, reconciliation and comfort. Imam Faisal Abdur-Rauf was one of them, offering a communal mea culpa (which I disagreed with incidentally) for something he had nothing to do with, and in fact denounced.

This is significant, because the Imam is a co-founder of the Cordoba Initiative, which is an interfaith endeavor. Again, mainstream media has not mentioned this. The right-wing, Tea Party catering media insists on painting Imam Faisal as a sort of “stealth-jihadist” with ties to terrorists. Locally, Congressman Anthony Weiner has said so. So has Fox News and WABC talk radio commentator Monica Crowley of T.V.’s The McLaughlin Report , and others.

These are deliberate distortions of the truth. Imam Faisal is the author of the book What’s Right with Islam is What’s Right About America. He is a gentle, moderate toned voice amongst imams, whose father was the imam of both the Islamic Cultural Center of New York, and the Islamic Center in Washington, D.C. for many years. Although I loathe such labels, he is a “Sufi”, not a so-called “fundamentalist” or “jihadist”. But the right-wing media Tea Party folk mis-characterize Imam Faisal by design, in order to manipulate public opinion.

The Cordoba Initiative’s members are Christian, Jewish, and Muslim. Support for the mosque and center is religiously (and ethnically) diverse, including September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows, J Street, The Arab American Family Support Center, Auburn Seminary, American Jewish Committee, Cause New York, Chautauqua Institute, Congregation B'nai Jeshurun, Faith House Manhattan, Friends of the Arava Institute, Interfaith Youth Core, Intersections, Interfaith Center of New York, The Interfaith Alliance, Jewish Community Center in Manhattan, Lutheran Seafarers and International House, New York Buddhist Church, Odyssey, New Seminary, Out of Cordoba Averros and Miamonides, NY interfaith Disaster, One Voice, One Spirit, St. Bartholomew's Church, Same Difference Interfaith Alliance, The Church of St. Paul and St. Andrew, Tanenbaum Center, The Foundation for Ethnic Understanding, Trinity Wall Church, The Healing of the Nations Foundation, The Migration Policy Institute, Union Theological Seminary, St. Peters Church, UN Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS in Asia and the Pacific, UJA Federation of New York.

As a Muslim leader and social justice activist, I was present at many of the above 9-11 related events, and as noted on the recording Restoring Faith: America’s Religious Leaders Answer Terror with Hope, I walked the streets of NY when they looked like a war zone. Many people of different faiths and ethnicities grieved. Personally, I encountered little wholesale recrimination of Muslims or assignment of guilt by association of faith. Students from Yeshiva University in Upper Manhattan called our Harlem-based mosque offering assistance if needed. Women from a local church did the same. Christian, Jewish, and Muslim members of A Partnership in Faith in NYC - a pioneering coalition born of gun-related street violence during the years of the Dinkins administration, huddled and then fanned out throughout the city and on the airwaves, as a multi-faith pastoral crises response team.

Mainstream media was so absorbed with the events of 9-11’s grievous aftermath that the identity of Muslim victims and responders to 9-11 was obscured. It still is. Consequently too many otherwise well-meaning people don’t even know that we exist, and this fuels the “Us vs. them” mentality that fear-mongers shamelessly exploit and manipulate.

The Cordoba Center’s stated purpose is to foster the good and combat the evil – to provide a space where people can learn to be good neighbors. Don’t we need more of that nowadays? Many New Yorkers apparently believe so, including our Mayor. Perhaps if the truth were to be told about “Us and them”, we’d all comprehend the importance of such endeavors as the building of the Center, and dispel the darkness of extremism, fear, and recrimination, with the light of moderation and hope.

Imam Al-Hajj Talib ‘Abdur-Rashid is the religious and spiritual leader of The Mosque of Islamic Brotherhood Inc. 2nd Vice President of The Majlis Ash-Shura (Islamic Leadership Council) of New York, and Deputy Amir/General Secretary of MANA (The Muslim Alliance in North America). In November, 2009 the Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding at Georgetown University, listed him as one of the world’s “500 Most Influential Muslims”.