Theology Thursdays: Exclusive Q & A With Imam Mustafa El-Amin Re: The American Society of Muslims, Theology, and The Role Of Blacks In Spreading Islam In The United States (Part I)
Imam Mustafa El-Amin was already known and respected in Black America as a Muslim religious leader and intellectual. But when Imam Warith Deen Mohammed created shockwaves by resigning as leader of the American Society of Muslims (A.S.M.) late last summer, a chain reaction began that would lift the name of Imam Mustafa El-Amin to international prominence. The Imam of Newark, New Jersey’s Masjid Ibrahim, high school teacher at Newark’s Montgomery High School, with a B.A. Degree in Community Development and a Masters Degree in Public Administration from Rutgers University, and author of nine books – Mustafa El-Amin garnered mainstream media attention in the New York Times, Chicago Tribune and Los Angeles Times; when the word spread that he had announced his intention to follow Imam Warith Deen Mohammed as leader of the A.S.M. The articles written about the A.S.M. framing the reasons for the resignation of Imam Warith Deen Mohammed; Imam Mustafa El-Amin’s intentions; and the implications it all would have on the state of Islam in Black America contained a mixture of truth and falsehood, insight and confusion, as well as contradictory analysis. The more that was written and speculated about the A.S.M. leadership controversy; the more unanswered questions were raised. This only intensified when Imam Mustafa delivered his heavily anticipated December 21, 2003 address at Rutgers University, "The American Society of Muslims: A New Beginning."
On December 25, 2003, for three hours; and again, on January 6, 2003; Imam Mustafa El-Amin granted BlackElectorate.com an exclusive interview in order to get a better understanding of what has transpired regarding the A.S.M. as well as his own intentions and motivations regarding that Muslim community. In a wide-ranging in-depth conversation with BlackElectorate.com publisher Cedric Muhammad - the longest interview he has granted any publication - Imam Mustafa El-Amin elaborates on his background as a registered member of the Nation Of Islam; his relationship with Imam W.D. Mohammed; his thoughts on the reconciliation effort underway between Minister Louis Farrakhan and Imam Mohammed; the unique role of Black Americans in establishing and propagating the Islamic faith in America; and his view of the relationship between the West and the Islamic world in the post-September 11th environment.
Today we begin with the first part of this interview which deals exclusively with Mustafa El-Amin’s background, the details and chronology surrounding the resignation of Imam Warith Deen Mohammed as leader of the A.S.M.; and Mr. El-Amin’s vision and intentions for a "new" A.S.M.
Cedric Muhammad: As-Salaam-Alaikum Brother Imam.
Imam Mustafa El-Amin: Wa-Laikum Salaam, Brother.
Cedric Muhammad: Imam, please answer this as broadly and/or succinctly as you like - what was your reaction to the resignation of Imam Warith Deen Mohammed; and what has been your experience with the American Society of Muslims (A.S.M.)?:
Imam Mustafa El-Amin: First of all, I have to say I was a little surprised. I wasn’t shocked because when Imam Mohammed does things of this magnitude or similar to this magnitude I always think that there is more to it. So when he announced that he was resigning, I wasn’t totally surprised. I was more inclined to see what does this really mean and why was he saying what he was saying? I was waiting to see what unfolded. Before he resigned, he had been talking about his dissatisfaction with the leadership over a period of time – over the last couple of years. They weren’t making the progress that we needed to make. They were working against him. So, I was looking for something big to happen but not the resignation. But I was looking for something big to happen. I was not prepared for it but I was not knocked off my feet, so to speak. And the other part of your question?
Cedric Muhammad: Well, just in essence, if you could, give us some background on when you joined the A.S.M. and...
Imam Mustafa El-Amin: Yeah, good that's what I would like to get into and start with my background as this helps (you to understand where I am coming from), important things like when I joined the Nation Of Islam.
I was born and raised in Newark, New Jersey and I was born Robert King. I joined the Nation of Islam in the early 1970’s – 1972 – somewhere around there. And I joined the Nation Of Islam in Temple # 25 in Newark. And when I did, I received an "X" and I became Robert 105 X. (laughter). And as you may know that meant that I was the 105th Robert to have joined the Temple in Newark; which means that in other cities like New York or Detroit there also could have been another Brother called Robert 105 X. When I joined the Nation I worked at the various "steak-and-take" business that we owned. And I used to go to F.O.I. (Fruit Of Islam) class and attend the meetings; but my family reacted negatively and it was rough joining the "Black Muslims" as they were called. I was only about 16 years old at the time. My family actually knew more than I knew about what had happened with the Nation and Malcolm and that whole ugliness there and how the media covered that period, so they had that stigma regarding it. And also at the time I came in, at Newark, Minister James Shabazz – the Minister of the Nation Of Islam in Newark – he was assassinated. So you had a lot of violence going on in the area. So for me as a young person coming into the Nation Of Islam in that kind of climate; as I look back I can understand my family’s reaction. But still, it never deterred me. So, when I joined the Nation Of Islam, we were taught that the Blackman was God and he only needed about 5 hours of sleep you know? (laughter) So I used to work in all of the steak and takes into late night and think that I could go to school and would be alright. Well, I would go to school and fall asleep. But I also had certain attitudes about education – the Whiteman’s education – because we were taught that the Whiteman’s world was going to be destroyed. So I kind of developed this attitude that their education wasn’t important because their whole world was going to be destroyed. My grades weren’t that great but I can remember in 1975, saying that, "If I don’t graduate this year, I am going to drop out of school." Well, when the Honorable Elijah Muhammad passed away and Imam Mohammed became the leader of the Nation Of Islam in 1975; I immediately embraced what he taught. For instance he explained that 'man' means 'mind' and brought a whole different view. And it gave me a different outlook on life right away. So, as a result I began to rush and get my schoolwork together. But I still wound up not graduating and walking across the stage with everyone. I had to make up two classes and I had to go to summer school in the summer of ’75 and make up two courses. Then I was able to get my diploma and then I went to college. I went to Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey; the Livingston campus. In the meantime, Imam Mohammed is teaching and we are growing and he would have what we called the "fourth-Sunday hook-up" – a telephone hook-up; where I would leave New Brunswick and go to Newark to hear Imam Mohammed.
Now, I had gained an interest in freemasonry when I was in the Nation Of Islam because the Honorable Elijah Muhammad taught, in some of the lessons we had gotten on freemasonry - and from what some of the Ministers used to teach – 'look the White man knows about Islam; but he practiced it in secrecy, so what I am giving you Black man is not something that they don't know about. They know this is your answer and that this is your religion'. So in hearing that, in trying to help at a young age spread the word and bring in Believers, it struck me that if I could show our people that the White man practices Islam, boy I could probably get more of our people to join the Temple Of Islam. Because you know we were told that a lot of our people love the White man more than they love themselves so I remember hearing a Minister one time saying, "yeah you know, if a Black man is on one side of the street selling ice; and a White man is on the other side of the street selling ice; you know that we are going to buy from the White man because we gonna’ think his ice is colder than the Black man’s ice"!
(laughter from both Imam Mustafa El-Amin and Cedric Muhammad)
That was my thinking – to try to use the teaching on freemasonry (to attract Black people to Islam by showing Whites were already familiar with it and practicing it in secret). But I didn’t have any information and then Elijah Muhammad passed away. But I went away to college in New Brunswick and during that time heard Imam Mohammed mention how Christianity, Masonry and Egypt were connected and, at that time, I had met a Brother who used to go to New York to a bookstore in Harlem; and he took me there with him one day and I found a book on freemasonry – a big thick book of about 300 pages, in 1977. I took it back to campus and stayed up all night Brother, reading this. Now mind you, I am still looking for this in the time after Elijah Muhammad had passed away. I stayed up the whole night reading this 300-page book; but I still did not find what I was looking for but I was learning a lot about Freemasonry. I wound up buying over 100 books looking for what Elijah had said. And that is how I learned so much about masonry; and eventually I found it, but by then we are well into the new way (with Imam Mohammed).
Now what happened is I graduated from Rutgers in 1979 but I still have this interest. In 1985, I finally wrote the first book on masonry, which actually was the 10-year anniversary of Imam Mohammed’s leadership. Two years later we had a dialogue with the African-American Masons. The Prince Hall Masons in Washington, D.C. So what I was doing at this time was writing Imam Mohammed. I used to write him on a yellow piece of paper and send him questions on masonry. I never really got a response. Then we had the dialogue with the Masons and I sent him a video. Now, I am not aware of whether or not he is receiving these things. In August of 1987, I travel down to Hattiesberg, Mississippi where we had some land and were having a program under his leadership. At that time we were called the American Muslim Mission or something like that. So although the name of the place was Hattiesberg, Mississippi, we were calling our land "New Medina." And that is the very first time I met Imam Mohammed in my life.
The reason I gave you that background is because it was a result of the books I had written on masonry. I wanted to talk to him about that. And how we met was very strange.
He was speaking out in an open field on the farm, and while I am there for the program, I am there on a hope and a prayer trying to get a response to what I had been writing to him. And I was about 25 or 26 at that point. So, a Brother from Newark, New Jersey who was on security knew what I desired and he told me "Mustafa, the best I can do for you is let you stand over here, in the security area; so if he comes off the stage and you can get him then, Praise Be To Allah!" because he knew the security was so heavy. So, I will never forget this – he (Imam Mohammed) comes down and gets into a van and so I did not get the first chance to get to him. But a Brother who may have been from Pakistan, along with some other Brothers, walked the Imam up to the van and said to the Imam, "Brother Imam this Brother here has some pictures for you." So as they are passing the pictures into the van; I had the book I had written , Al-Islam, Christianity, and Freemasonry, and placed it on top of the pictures. So my book went in with the pictures. And all I could say was, "As-Salaam-Alaikum Brother Imam!"; and I was feeling dejected as I walked away. And as I am walking away a Brother from Philadelphia, who now lives in Detroit said, "Mustafa, Mustafa, the Imam says 'he will meet with you,'" and all of this is on tape recorder because it happened in an open field! So I come back to the van and the security Brothers say "you can get into this car in the front." So I run across the field excited and to make a long story short; we go to the house of the Imam who lived in that area and Imam Mohammed and I had our first conversation. One of the first things that the Imam said to me was, "I never wrote you back, because I knew we would meet each other one day." And so after all of this time he is indicating to me that he got the letters and things I had been sending him. And so he gave me some advice that he asked me to keep between us, and he also said, "but you can publish that I met with you and that I wished you well." That changed my whole life.
And so, we took out an ad in the Muslim Journal or it may have been called, Bilalian News at the time. And you would see the statement included from Imam Mohammed, "I met with Mustafa and wished him well" and I also had that the Imam had told me to stay in touch. And from that point on, I have written more books and been on the Hajj and just had that extra enthusiasm. And our relationship I consider to be a special and strong one. And he said then when he met me that he felt I was very sincere. Our relationship is now 17 years old. And at one point, he said that when he met me, he felt "our spirits came together as one." So, I consider us having a long and special relationship. And so I stayed in touch with the masonry but he never dealt with it directly. It was kind of indirect how he dealt with it. He kind of let me go ahead and do what I had to do and whenever I needed some advice, I could always get the advice.
Now before I met him I was working at the Newark Board Of Education. I was working in the grants office and I worked a 9-to-5. And I made a certain amount of money. But when I met him, I desired some way to free myself up a little more and also to get involved in the community. And I always liked school in that sense. My mother is a school teacher, my sister is too, so it kind of runs in the family. So since I worked in the budget office of the Board of Education, I saw certain things and I figured that I would go into education because one, I knew it would put me directly in touch with the students and also, as it relates, to this mission, it gave me time to free myself up because I would have summers off and we get off at 3PM so I pretty much had a half-a-day. So I did that. I changed jobs and I will let you know I took a ten thousand dollar cut in compensation. I went back to school and got a certification in special education and I began teaching that same year in 1987 – once I met the Imam it was "boom-boom" – within a matter of months I went into teaching in the Newark school system where I teach now. Then I wrote the other eight books after that.
Cedric Muhammad: So, if I could Brother Imam, I would like to isolate on those books.
Imam Mustafa El-Amin: Sure, sure...
Cedric Muhammad: You had the interest in the subject matter of masonry - sparked from being in the Nation in the early '70s and you keep moving with it and you actually meet the Imam and you keep going with it.
Imam Mustafa El-Amin: That’s right. Absolutely. But it was one thing to have the interest, but I did not consider myself a writer. What sparked the interest (in writing books) was two things: Imam Mohammed in a particular lecture said, "we need to write our own history...and even if you are not a good writer we need to stumble through it and later Allah will bless us with the professionals to fix it up." So that was one thing. The other thing was that I got so tired of writing those term papers (laughter from both) I said, "I can’t wait until I get out of college so I can write my own books the way I want to write them!" That is what sparked it.
So we wrote the first book, even though I did not consider myself a writer. I consider myself more of a research person, having a knack to search, and search, and who will stay in the library for ten weeks without stop and dig and dig. I was a research person, into uncovering things. Now we did the first book, and after I met Imam Mohammed, he gave me some advice. We continued with the dialogue and went to the next book and then we wrote the last book on freemasonry, which was African-American Masons Why They Should Accept Islam and at the top it had a statement, "Last Written Appeal." And that was because it was just an effort to help Imam Mohammed and help our community, and as I am growing into it I am meeting Brothers who are masons and I am getting a slightly different perspective on it. And as a result, my mission with it is starting to become different. First I was saying that we should not have this secrecy because our people should know this knowledge. Then it reaches another point and you will see the other book, Freemasonry, Ancient Egypt, and the Islamic Destiny. So now I am starting to connect it a little more to our people and I am toning down the idea of whether or not a secret order should exist or not, because the Qur’an says that under certain circumstances it is O.K.; versus giving the knowledge. And in the last book we are saying that we have appealed to you all to take some of the planks and mockery out and accept an invitation to Islam. And so we closed it out. And one of the reasons why I closed it out is because my intent was not to promote it in any way; and my intent was not to fall in love with it, even though I enjoyed the subject matter. I was more trying to help the community. We knew we had done what we could. And just listening to Imam Mohammed I noticed that he would do certain things up to a point and then he would shift. Just imagine if I had not shifted we would probably still be talking about Freemasonry to this day. Then, as you know, the next book, was The Religion Of Islam and The Nation Of Islam - What Is The Difference? because at that time, there was not the reconciliation.
Cedric Muhammad: Now, I saw that book, what year was that Brother Imam, when that came out?
Imam Mustafa El-Amin: that was 1990, well – the copyright is 1991. What had happened was, at the time, there were a lot of questions from people who wanted to know ‘what is the difference?’; ‘who is W.D. Mohammed?’; ‘who is Minister Farrakhan?’; ‘what is the difference between Islam and what the Nation Of Islam…?’ So it was all of these questions being raised, and believe it or not the idea for it had come to me a while ago. But it was just the timing and I decided to help people understand the difference. And I wrote it that way. I did not write it in any type of way to condemn anyone. We just laid out what Islam teaches versus what we were taught in the Nation Of Islam based on the Message To The Blackman, How To Eat To Live, Fall Of America etc... and when we did this book we sent a copy to Imam Mohammed. Imam Mohammed immediately responded and said, "this is excellent." We spoke on the phone and he gave me a direct quote that I could always use. I have a June 7, 1991 issue of The Muslim Journal and the quote from Imam Mohammed reads, "This book by Mustafa El-Amin is an excellent contribution to the Muslim community and the broader community. This new publication helps to preserve the history of our progress as Muslims in America." It is on the back page with the book. Not only that, he took the book and advertised it under his publishing company – W.D. Publications - and he ran that for several years. And he would take it and give it to people. He was speaking at Princeton University in 1996 and someone asked him a question about the difference and he said, “Boy I wish I had that book with me, it would save me a lot of trouble, by Mustafa El-Amin – ‘What’s the Difference…?’” He said, "Mustafa El-Amin wrote this book, he was very young. He came in under my father at a very young age. He studied my father and he studied my language too, and he has written a book on the difference. I would just give that to you." Then he went on and tried to answer that question. And that was in Princeton. So, he thought very highly of the book and directly pushed it and sold it himself. And that was another indication of his satisfaction with the work that I was doing.
Cedric Muhammad: Now, Brother Imam, if you don’t mind I want to put a pin in that part of our discussion, as I want to end on it, and get a little more narrow and focused on the theological teachings that would possibly be involved in the reconciliation (between Minister Louis Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam; and Imam Warith Deen Mohammed and the American Society of Muslims), as well as how it relates to those parts of the Qur’an that relate to messengers, warners and prophets.
Imam Mustafa El-Amin: Yes, sir.
Cedric Muhammad: So let me jump into something else. Now, you made an announcement recently and then you gave an address recently at Rutgers University that more publicly laid out your vision for the A.S.M. Could you give me, in chronological order, everything that has transpired regarding this since around Labor Day?
Imam Mustafa El-Amin: Although Imam Mohammed made the public address on that Sunday, August 31st, that he was resigning, that Saturday he had addressed us, as a group of Imams, in Chicago. Now, before he addressed us, he asked the former Supreme Captain (of the Nation Of Islam) Raymond Sharrieff, who just passed away - to address us, which is interesting. He addressed us and encouraged us to support Imam Mohammed and encouraged us to be more productive and love the Qur’an. After his statement, Imam Mohammed came up and told us that he was resigning from the A.S.M. because in a nutshell he was tired of the leadership pretending to be with him when they were not really with him. He was tired of them smiling in his face and leaving him and doing other than what they said they were going to do – doing things behind his back. And he said to them, he said, "you can do what you want to do"; he said "you can go back to the Nation Of Islam"; he said, "you can join Minister Farrakhan"; he said, "you can do what you want to do, but I am no longer the leader of the American Society of Muslims." This is what he said in the Imams’ meeting. And he gave some advice, he said, "I suggest you take your time, don’t rush, you can try to get together, if you can, with the Imams, that can work together"; he said, "if they can’t then don’t get with them. Get together with the ones who can"; and he said, "the ones who are not with you they are going to come but don’t worry about them, they are not gonna do nothin’ any way." So, he advised that we try and get together and try and put together some kind of plan or something for the community - to help the community. Then I remember him saying that he hoped they would put together some kind of agenda that he would hope would be somehow in line with his agenda for the community as well, even though he wasn't the leader over the A.S.M...
Cedric Muhammad: Was he giving what could be described as departing guidance?
Imam Mustafa El-Amin: He was just giving us some advice. And he said this. He said, "you can look at all that I have done up to this point. All that I have done. The changes I have made and the things that I have said"; and he said, "you can look at all of it and what you are not comfortable with and what you don’t like or you can’t support – just leave it out. Just take what you can use. Leave it out."…And then he said, "because I am tired of you all pretending that you are supporting it, when you are not supporting it." So in other words, if you can get with 50% of what I am doing, say you can get with 50%; say you can get with 10% or 5%. But don’t tell me that you can get with 100% when you are really getting with 5%…So that was the gist of what was said on Saturday. And the word spreads throughout the community that he has resigned and there is a lot of talk about it. And on Sunday he makes the public statement before the media and everyone that he is resigning to free him up to do more. So he gave it in that context. Now there was another part to your question…
Cedric Muhammad: Yes. Now the Chicago Tribune, The Los Angeles Times, and I believe there was an Associated Press (AP) article on what took place that essentially reported some apparently contradictory things. Among what was reported was the line that Brother Imam Mohammed was frustrated with the refusal of the Imams, basically to study...
Imam Mustafa El-Amin: That’s true...
Cedric Muhammad: ...and become more theologically strengthened.
Another line was that somehow there was some tension over the integration of the immigrant Muslim community and the African-American Muslim community and that the Imam was not pleased with these things?
Imam Mustafa El-Amin: Yes it is all of these things. For a long time there has been talk at least at our conventions about us having a joint convention with the immigrant Muslim community. Because some times we will be in the same city and yet we are having separate conventions but we are all Muslims. So there was some talk about at least having one or two together to build bridges and have some kind of relationship with them. And Imam Mohammed, in his wisdom and experience, has been a guide on how we can have this relationship and still maintain our ethnic concerns etc... This is what he wanted, and I think there were a few efforts made but there were some in the top-level leadership that had made it clear to him that they didn’t want that. The Imam told us this at our convention in Newark in 1997. There was a shura (a shura is a consultative body in Islam) at that time. They had indicated, members from that, that they did not want that. I mean they clearly told him that. So you had some in the leadership who, for whatever reason, were against that working relationship.
The other thing which he mentioned was the refusal to learn the Qur’an like Muhammad the Prophet; the refusal to learn the basic and fundamental teachings and beyond that, of the religion of Islam - to study and learn the religion so that they can better live it and demonstrate it, but also to help better educate the masses of the following better. And you still have a level of leadership there that basically operate off of the principle that I am the leader, you are a follower, and you do what I say, period. This is how we are doing things. Now, a lot of that is the carry-over – this group that is doing this – I envision, are a carry-over from the Nation Of Islam. And they were Ministers or officials in the Nation Of Islam. And they got things done not because of this great knowledge, but because of a process, a procedure, a structure – a command structure – that you move people based on command and control. So they didn’t associate the progress that could be made, with the theology, the Islamic education, the knowledge. They associated it more with the structure and getting Brothers together and you go out in the community and you do A, B, and C. And you collect a certain amount of money, etc... and this is how we made progress before; so this is how we should make progress now. So they didn't see the value of the Islamic knowledge, the Islamic education. So yes there are those who didn’t see the importance of it, wouldn’t do it and haven’t done it.
Cedric Muhammad: Now, this would lead us up to your announcement and the full-page ad you took out?
Imam Mustafa El-Amin: Yes, alright good. Now, when the Imam resigned, he didn’t say to the Believers that we should resign. He said what I said to you earlier. He said stay and do what you can do to make it work. Now, some of the things that he said about the A.S.M. leadership – some of the things that I just mentioned – I could understand some people saying, "well if it is not good enough for the Imam it is not good enough for me." So you had some of that. But he had an interview which appeared in the September 26th issue of The Muslim Journal, addressing that issue of the A.S.M. A front-page interview. And in this interview he said that "those Imams that are with me, and that really support me, if they want to stay in the A.S.M., that would make me happy – for they should want to see the A.S.M. made better." He said, "but to make it better they have to be made aware of that bad element among them so they won’t be defeated by that element. But just be aware that it exists." He says, "are we going to name them and go on a witch-hunt? No, don’t do that. That would be disastrous for the A.S.M." and he said some other things.
Now before the interview came out on the 26th you start seeing a few people writing letters of resignation, resigning from the A.S.M. but not many. After the interview, for some reason, the next thing you know, every week there are ten, twenty, fifty resignations – everybody is resigning, leadership resigns. I was on the Islamic Affairs Council, which was the highest level of leadership body within the A.S.M. directly below Imam Mohammed, answerable only to Imam Mohammed. There were about 16 of us. The resignations were coming in from other masjids and other people. The leader of that group? Just call him a facilitator, I don’t want to call his name – he resigned. Then a few others resigned. Then the body itself – the Islamic Affairs Council – through a consensus dissolved itself. And it no longer existed in the A.S.M.
Now I am here in Newark. We have a small masjid called Masjid Ibrahim. Our position and my position based on that interview and my understanding that I quoted to you, from The Muslim Journal was that the Imam was not saying he wanted everyone to resign, not even saying anybody. So our position was...we gave lessons on Sunday, we showed what The Mosque Cares meant what the structure looked like. Imam Mohammed's ministry is now called: The Mosque Cares. It use to be called W.D.M. Ministry until a couple of years ago. The function is basically the same. He does his propagation efforts through The Mosque Cares. It means just that, "the mosque cares" for you. And we showed people what the structure of the ASM looked like. And we were explaining it to people in Newark as they were coming through. We were telling them "This is this and this is this – we don't see that the Imam is saying resign and at the very least we should wait," you know? So we didn’t resign. We waited and waited.
Well, he was scheduled to come here and be honored here in Newark, on the 31st of October, in Newark – the day after his birthday. We hadn’t resigned yet. People were calling and saying "Mustafa...that we needed to resign and put it in the paper." And I was like, "No, I don’t see it that way." But what I noticed, which made me resign, was that Imam Mohammed had written a letter, which was in the center of the paper, a letter of resignation to the American Society of Muslim Board Of Directors. But it said American Society of Muslims, Inc. and to their board. And I said, "Incorporated? What is this? When did this happen?" I mean I was a part of the naming process. There was a process to picking the name. Imam Mohammed had picked the name American Society of Muslims, but let me go back to make a point and if I forget bring me back because this is all connected.
The Islamic Affairs Council – the top level of leadership, we went through a process of picking the name, because as you know our name was “MAS” - Muslim American Society. What had come out was that there was another community – mainly comprised of immigrants who had that name. And they had it before us and had registered it. So, we had to change the name and after working on it going back and forth with that community the Imam decided to drop the name and get another one. So prior to the convention the Islamic Affairs Council was discussing names because we had to come up with one for the community. So we each came up with quite a few names. So at the convention of 2002, some of us met and we narrowed those names down to five names for our community, with the clear understanding that these names would be given to Imam Mohammed and he would select one of the five or give us his own name. This was 2002. That was done. Before the end of the year, Imam Mohammed had given to this group the name – American Society of Muslims. It was submitted to the Muslim Journal. I just wanted to give you a picture of this body and how we did get the name, American Society of Muslims, but there was a process, but Imam Mohammed ultimately picked the name.
Now we come back to everybody resigning. So I said all of that to say that I knew the name wasn’t incorporated because it would have been our responsibility to incorporate it. We would have had to have been the ones to incorporate it, as far as I knew. So when I see this letter to the ASM Board Incorporated, I said this has to be something that I don’t know anything about, so whoever incorporated this name I don’t know if they have me under it, or the Masjid here. I mean, I doubted it but it was a serious thought. So I said to the Brothers here that we were going to submit the letter of resignation. It won’t hurt but we will go ahead on and submit the letter. So a week or so before he came to Newark, the letter of resignation ran in The Muslim Journal of myself and Masjid Ibrahim. Imam Mohammed comes to Newark and I am part of the program and this is my chance to speak with him. We are together most of the time. And I said to him, "Brother Imam, I submitted a letter of resignation did you receive it?" Now by this time he has received about a thousand letters of resignation, you need to know this (laughter); so he says to me, "Mustafa, I did not ask anyone to resign. I resigned. But I did not ask for that. I don’t know why they wouldn’t stay there, make it better, and correct things…" I said, "Brother Imam, no problem. I will retract mine. It is just a matter of how I am going to do it." He said it is just as easy to do as it was for me to do the letter (of resignation). So I indicated to him that “Yeah, that’s what we thought! That’s what we were saying at Masjid Ibrahim, that you had wanted us to stay and try to make it better and give it an effort. But what made me do it was when I saw ‘A.S.M., Incorporated.’” He said, "Well, it is not incorporated anymore, so you can retract it and go ahead back in and try to make it work.” But he mentioned a Brother’s name, I won’t mention his name. He (Imam Mohammed) said, "Like I told Brother so-and-so, I didn’t ask anyone to resign from the ASM." You know, he (Imam Mohammed) went so far as to say, "How could I have asked them to? When I resigned I had no jurisdiction over the A.S.M. anyway."
This is what he is saying to me. And I understand the emotional and the other aspect too (in the minds of some), that you (Imam Mohammed) don’t have to say it, if the leader says he is going to leave something than the people are going to leave. I understand that myself.
But technically speaking this is what he was indicating – the point was, "I haven’t asked anyone to do this, so why wouldn’t they stay and make it better?" He was very serious and adamant about that. And later on that day it came up again, and we discussed it some more and I told him that I was going to retract the statement. I wrote it up and I indicated to him what I would do. He said "Fine, that’s good." And I said to him, "Brother Imam, I am willing to accept responsibility and I will do this. But I need to know I have your support."
I mean, I didn’t want to do any guessing, you know what I mean?
Cedric Muhammad: Exactly.
Imam Mustafa El-Amin: He said, "You have my support. I would have supported any Brother who would have stepped up." And then I asked him, “OK, when I do this, should I tell people to contact me? Should I say we accept responsibility?" He said, "Well, I can’t tell you that. You will have to decide that when you all reorganize." And that was fine with me. I was just innocently asking. And then after that we wrote it up and ran this full-page retraction and the reaction (to it) was, "What is Mustafa doing? Is he going against the leader?" Because right now you have the momentum of everybody resigning. Now mind you, except for certain people, the overwhelming group that is resigning is thinking this is what the Imam wants because somehow people are spreading this. They are doing this thinking this is what the Imam wants. So when I stop mine (resignation) it looks like I am going against the Imam.
Cedric Muhammad: They don’t know about the conversation.
Imam Mustafa El-Amin: They don’t know about the conversation and the conversation was held with me and him. But he had already mentioned it to someone else. He told me, "Like I told Brother so-and-so..." And then as we discussed it he (Imam Mohammed) said, "No Mustafa everybody didn’t resign." He said, "Yes, I know some strong Brothers who didn’t resign." Now, and this is me talking, the difference is this – them not resigning or even retracting (their letters of resignations) would not have had the impact – they were not national leaders like I was. They were strong Brothers that didn’t leave and I know they probably caught opposition in their local areas. But I didn’t know of them and the ones that I did know of it just did not have any impact on the community. So by me being at the national level and people knowing about me as being loyal to the Imam and just knowing me, when I did the retraction it carried much more weight, but what it also did was it helped those who had not left - anyone who may have been struggling in their areas with pressure from people saying, " why won’t you leave (the ASM)?" So when I came out it gave them even greater support and I guess enthusiasm. So when I did it, it drew all of this attention. And then after that we had the Ramadan session – the same week as my birthday – my birthday was November 13th and the Ramadan session started the 14th – that Friday, Saturday and Sunday. So I come down to Chicago and the paper is out and people are talking about it and I guess some are just waiting for the Imam to say something. But he never said anything. And I didn’t expect him to say anything.
Now, I thought to myself that after we did that - the Imam doesn’t want this situation so we have to do something about it. This is me coming to this conclusion. Now, remember, when he and I had talked and he indicated to me, "It is not incorporated anymore…it can start anew, it can start anew." So in my retraction, there is a statement that appears that says "Now that the American Society of Muslims does not exist as a registered organization, we can start anew."
Now this is important, those who know about it being registered and however it became incorporated knew that I knew something by that language. Most people didn’t catch that language. They just caught the big headline of the ad, "Imam Mustafa El-Amin Rejoins The American Society Of Muslims, Retracts And Withdraws His Previous Resignation." That is in the big bold print. That is all that they caught. That is all that they saw - some of them. But those who read the whole thing and understood the language. They know that the only way I would have known that is from Imam Mohammed. I thought it (the A.S.M.) was registered, but I would not have known that it was not registered anymore unless he (Imam Mohammed) told me. So some of them know the 100% (support). Some of them know I got the support (of Imam Mohammed).
But anyway, after that, I said we need to call a meeting to let the people know, because even though they have the retraction they do not know that the Imam and I talked so this was the purpose of us initially saying that we were going to set up this talk, at Rutgers, and tell the people what this is all about. But between that time and the talk, more momentum comes and it is building - the talk that "he (Imam Mustafa El-Amin) is going to try to lead it"...or "he (Imam Mustafa El-Amin) is going against the leader (Imam Warith Deen Mohammed)."
And the Tribune picks it up because a picture had been taken of the Imam and I sitting together, with him with the Qur’an in his hand; so he is pointing to his Qur’an and he is talking to me, sharing some information with me. But it is a nice shot. I mean it is one of those classics – like of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad and Malcolm or the Imam (W.D. Mohammed) and Malcolm (in a photo). It was nice. But I did not even know the photo existed until I got to Chicago and a Brother showed it to me. I said "Wow this is nice." And he said, "You can have it. I have to show it to the Imam first."
He showed it to the Imam and he indicated that the Imam liked it and said, "send it to him (Imam Mustafa El-Amin)" and he gave it to me. So when we took out the ad announcing me talking at Rutgers there was the picture - to indicate - to all of the people wondering - that there was a conversation (between Imam Mustafa El-Amin and Imam Warith Deen Mohammed). And that was fine for some because they know " Mustafa would not do that unless the Imam told him." I mean, a lot of them gave me the benefit of the doubt and they understood it. Because look, I resign one week, the next week the Imam is in Newark, and the next week I got a retraction. So I mean put two plus two together, you know?
But you have to understand that is a heavy one to swallow.
Because if I was wrong, for example, that is one person that was wrong – me. But if I am right, then you have hundreds of them that made a wrong call, which consequently affected thousands of people. So that is where you began to get some of the controversy, still. This (talk at Rutgers University) now serves as a signal because Imam Mohammed had asked for someone to step up.
In the Muslim Journal interview that I mentioned dated September 26th; it says “an exclusive interview with Imam W. Deen Mohammed conducted Wednesday, September 10th, 2003.” It says, “the following interview was conducted by Brother Nathaniel Omar with Imam Mohammed for Muslim Journal.” O.K.? Now I am going to read to you, here, one aspect concerning the leadership, in terms of stepping up. Here it is. The Brother had asked Imam Mohammed a question about the convention, but anyway, here is what Imam Mohammed says: “I hope that the A.S.M – The American Society of Muslims’ leadership will identify first of all, a new spokesperson for the A.S.M. whether they call him their leader, or an Imam or not. They should have a national spokesperson or representative. If they don’t then I don’t know where they can go.” Do you hear that? That has nothing to do with dissolving it. So he said in order for us to go anywhere somebody needed to step up. It never happened. All you saw was this mass resignation.
So now, as a result of our conversation, me retracting and stepping up and saying, "Hey, we need to renew this," now it comes that ‘Mustafa is leading the effort. Mustafa is becoming the leader. He is endorsed by Imam Mohammed to go back in. And he is leading the effort.'" And so, I think for some, they realize what has happened. And here is another paragraph. Imam Mohammed says, “Once they establish that…” He is talking about that spokesperson. Then he mentions a Brother so-and-so. I won’t mention his name in this interview. Then he says, “It may not be an individual, but at least a body – a council – that will represent them and the members of the A.S.M. If they establish that I would like to see them, have their convention." Now, does that sound like he wants this to be dissolved? For everybody to leave?
Now he (Imam Mohammed in the September 26th Muslim Journal interview) goes on and says, "I foresee there being two conventions – their convention and our convention – the A.S.M. and the Mosque Cares. As I am willing to work with ISNA (Islamic Society Of North America) and the Islamic Circle of North America and all good organizations here in Chicago area, I am also willing to work with the good Imams of the A.S.M.; they are invited to discuss how we can interact and maybe have their guest in some of our work shops...and they will have some of us in their workshops, maybe. There is no problem with that." Now here is a key point here, Brother, (Imam Mustafa continues reading the words of Imam Mohammed) "if I want to have that with Pakistinians and others you know I want to have that with African-Americans. That also includes members of the Nation Of Islam, Minister Farrakhan’s group. We can all have some kind of interaction that benefits us all." Period.
Cedric Muhammad: Now off of the heels of that, your understanding, and the context that you have given, what was your message at Rutgers University?
Imam Mustafa El-Amin: Well, you can imagine that I read that (laughter).
My message at Rutgers University – one of the main points – was that Imam Mohammed did not want us to abandon the A.S.M. so that it would just dissolve. And I used as a point what he said to me and I quoted statements from this interview, that I just read to you – about five or six quotes from there. The main part was that we can start anew. Now that it basically dissolved and the bad elements, so to speak, have left too, because they wanted to make it look like they were following the Imam. So when he left, he left. So now, we can recommit ourselves. And that I am 100% committed to leading, I said, and reviving, renewing and reorganizing the A.S.M. but it is a new beginning so it will be a new A.S.M. in a sense that we will have a greater chance to start out new without the bad element, and a chance to bring in new people. I also emphasized the importance of learning Islamic knowledge and more community involvement and I listed and read to them my plans and my proposals, which were about nine altogether. I have to say, I challenged those who have been calling for the abandonment of the American Society of Muslims and I emphasized again my commitment to leading this A.S.M. with the clear support and endorsement of Imam Mohammed.
So, leaders lead by example and step forward and that is where we are at right now. Once we move and get some reorganization then we can set bodies in place, then we can have elections, then we can go through the process of picking people to represent this aspect and that aspect. But right now, someone has to take the bulls by the horn and go forward with it and draw the interest and attention back to it, lay out the fact that the leader did not want this to happen, and let’s get to building, and I am that person right now.
END OF PART I.
Part II (January 15, 2003): Imam Mustafa El-Amin speaks with BlackElectorate.com Publisher Cedric Muhammad, about the reconciliation effort of Imam Warith Deen Mohammed and Minister Louis Farrakhan; comparing and contrasting the theology of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad and the traditional teachings of the Muslim World; the unique role of Black Americans in spreading Islam in the United States of America; and the relationship between the West and the Islamic Ummah, post-September 11th.
Note: Imam Mustafa El-Amin’s December 21, 2003 address at Rutgers University, "The American Society of Muslims: A New Beginning", is available on audio and video and can be purchased through El-Amin Productions; p.o.box 32148; Newark NJ 07102. The Audio is $5.00 plus $2.00 for shipping. The Video is $25.00 plus $5.00 for shipping.
Imam Mustafa El-Amin is available for speaking engagements. To learn more about booking arrangements e-mail: MELAmin43@aol.com
Thursday, January 8, 2004