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 II)
Renewing and reorganizing the American Society of Muslims (A.S.M.) was possibly the furthest thing from Imam Mustafa El-Amin's mind, years ago, when he took on the name "Mustafa" which means chosen one. But perhaps it is only destiny that could have called a person to such a monumental task.
Anyone who doubts the grand scale of the work that Mr. El-Amin aspires to should consider the proposal advanced by the Imam to "rebuild" the A.S.M. According to the Volume 29, Number 15, January 16, 2004 edition of The Muslim Journal Imam Mustafa, in his important December 21, 2003 address at Rutgers University's Paul Robeson Cultural Center, before close to 300 people, put forth the following 10-point summary proposal for a new A.S.M.:
1) Promote the need for greater support of The Mosque Cares and other initiatives of Imam W. Deen Mohammed.
2) Identify those leaders and communities that remained in the ASM and those that intend to retract their previous resignation and come into this new ASM; meet with as many of them as possible to discuss the best organization structure of our community plans.
3) Re-establish a National leadership body called the ASM Representative Body/Islamic Affairs Council, consisting of persons from various educational and professional backgrounds and various geographical locations around the country.
4) Establish the ASM Intelligencia/Brainstorming Team, structured similar to the previous Monitoring Team.
5) Establish an ASM Convention Committee.
6) Establish a Criterion for Imams, Masajid and Centers to include demonstrated growth in Islamic knowledge and demonstrated support for Imam W. Deen Mohammed and his initiatives.
7) Establish a Body of Writers who are sensitive to our plight, history and destiny.
8) Establish Respectable Bridges with other Islamic Organizations.
9) Establish more Inter-faith Dialogue.
10) Encourage and Promote the Idea and Concepts of Shura.
In his Rutgers University speech, as reported in the January 16, 2004 Muslim Journal article, Imam Mustafa El-Amin likens his task to how he views the historic changes which took place within the Nation Of Islam nearly 30 years ago. An excerpt from that article reads:
"The American Society of Muslims is the outgrowth of a seed that was planted over 70 years ago. The American Society of Muslims represents that history of the original Nation of Islam, evolved and matured.
"And just as we did not walk away and abandon the original Nation of Islam, but transformed it behind the leadership of Imam W. Deen Mohammed, we will not abandon the American Society of Muslims," Imam EL-Amin related.
"Rather we will transform it and make it better, more appealing and attractive, so that others who are not a part of it now will feel more comfortable becoming part of it or associating with it, as what happened when Imam Mohammed transformed the Nation of Islam."
In this second part of his in-depth discussion with BlackElectorate.com Publisher, Cedric Muhammad, Mustafa El-Amin fills out more of the details of his vision for the A.S.M.; comments on the reconciliation effort of Imam Warith Deen Mohammed and Minister Louis Farrakhan; compares and contrasts the theology of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad and the traditional teachings of the Muslim World; and elaborates on the unique role of Black Americans in spreading Islam in the United States of America. He concludes with his view of the relationship between the West and the Islamic Ummah, post-September 11th.
Part I of this interview is available here:
Cedric Muhammad: Let me now come back now, Brother Imam to the whole issue of Black American Muslims. Please feel free to correct or challenge me at any time with the following synopsis.
Imam Mustafa El-Amin:OK.
Cedric Muhammad: Essentially it is the position, certainly of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad and Minister Farrakhan and I believe it is that as well, of what I have heard and learned of Brother Imam Warith Deen Mohammed, that it is a historical fact that Blacks have uniquely sparked the propagation and teaching of Islam in the Western Hemisphere.
Imam Mustafa El-Amin: Yes.
Cedric Muhammad: The immigrant Muslim community has played a role but from the time of slavery and through the period of time that I know you have written about in your books where there existed a deliberate campaign to keep Islam out of this part of the world; it was not really until Noble Drew Ali came and the Honorable Elijah Muhammad, and a few others, that Islam actually began to gain traction here…
Imam Mustafa El-Amin: Yes, I mentioned this in my talk at Rutgers University, about Noble Drew Ali and exactly what you just said.
Cedric Muhammad: O.K. now accepting that as a premise and in light of that, I wanted to know what your thoughts were about certain parts of the Qur’an - and as we speak, I only have my Maulana Muhammad Ali translation in front of me – like Surah 10 verse 47, which reads in part, “ And for every nation there is a messenger and when their messenger comes the matter is decided between them with justice, and they are not wronged.”
Imam Mustafa El-Amin: Yes.
Cedric Muhammad: Now this area has been somewhat of a sticking point about the role of the Nation Of Islam and the Honorable Elijah Muhammad, and even of Minister Farrakhan and Imam Mohammed if you boil it down to today’s context. Has there been a misunderstanding and perhaps, unnecessary disagreement over 1) this issue of Prophet Muhammad (May The Peace And Blessings Of Allah Be Upon Him) being the last prophet...
Imam Mustafa El-Amin: Yes.
Cedric Muhammad:...and 2) the idea of the United States of America being this final great nation; and Black people in America as a “new” nation having been robbed of their identity through slavery; and 3) that perhaps this group of people; and perhaps one, two, or three or four among them would be messengers to bring Islam to this part of the world?
Imam Mustafa El-Amin: Yes, most certainly. See, in the Qur’an and the theology and understanding of Islam, Muhammad is the last Prophet of Allah; the last Prophet, but not the last messenger in the sense that others will be raised up to bring messages. Many people will continue to come to bring messages so they will continue to serve as messengers. No problem. I have no problem with that at all. It is just that in the language of Islam in the technical sense when we say, “ Ashhadu La ilaha ill-Allah, Ashadu anna Muhamadan Rasulu-llah” it is speaking there more in the definitive sense. We are saying, “I bear witness that there is no god but Allah and I bear witness that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah.” So in the language of Islam and in the Prophethood here is what I understand and the way Imam Mohammed has explained it to us – many of your prophets were not just prophets. They were prophets and messengers. So here the reference is made that he is a messenger and a prophet so his messengership and his prophethood are tied together in Muhammad being a direct prophet, in that sense, from Allah.
Whereas the others would be seen, if we were to say the Honorable Elijah Muhammad or Noble Drew Ali or Malcolm X and others; because they can’t have the title in the Islamic sense of “prophet” than their messengership would be in a smaller sense or role than that of Muhammad, the Prophet, or Jesus or Moses. Those (Muhammad, Jesus, Moses) have brought revelations that have lasted for years – thousands and hundreds of years – as prophets of God, who came with a message, but they were commissioned by God. In the case of those men and women who have come in our history and maybe the history of others to bring messages that will enlighten us, motivate us, and help save us, if you look at the value of their message, it lies in the fact that they are rooted somewhere in the prophets and messengers of God. The Honorable Elijah Muhammad would refer back. He would refer to Jesus. He would refer to Muhammad. He would refer to Moses. That these were your major points of reference. So in that sense these men (The Honorable Elijah Muhammad, Noble Drew Ali etc…) can be seen as messengers but their message is rooted in the prophets and messengers of God who came before them. And for some that does become somewhat of a sticking point to use that language. Now the Bible uses that language - referring to people as prophets and messengers
Cedric Muhammad: Yes, in a different context for Christians...
Imam Mustafa El-Amin:...in a different context, but in the strict sense of Islam and particularly in the Qur’an, that title is usually reserved for Muhammad the Prophet, but Jabril, the angel brought a message to Prophet Muhammad so he was a messenger. The angel brought a message to Maryam, of the birth of Jesus, so there will always be messengers of God constantly coming. So I don’t have a problem with that. It is just that the way we presented the Honorable Elijah Muhammad for the forty years (1935 – 1975) was we would say, and I know it because I used to say it. We would say that he was "the Last Messenger of God; the Last Prophet of God"; and that the Muhammad that the Qur’an is referring to is talking about the Honorable Elijah Muhammad. So we were saying for the longest time that the Honorable Elijah Muhammad was the Last Messenger of God; not Muhammad of 1400 years ago. In fact, I can visualize it now. And I think this is why there was that sticking point because of our use of that kind of language.
Cedric Muhammad: Brother Imam, I would like to isolate a few theological concepts as it relates to this and I think that you, as an Imam; combined with your experience in the Nation and familiarity with the teachings and that of Imam Mohammed, I think you are well-qualified to respond. Now, another word that relates to this point we are on is “warner.” I wanted to get your opinion of the concept that there are warners other than Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). And of course I believe you are familiar with Surah 32 which deals with a warner coming to a people who have not received any warner before that they may be guided aright.
The reason that I am bringing this up is because I want to isolate where there is room in Islam for inspired and commissioned men and women to perform a work today in a way that is not in any way unIslamic, or disrespectful, or theologically not rooted in Muhammad being the Last Prophet of Allah.
Imam Mustafa El-Amin: I understand. I understand…
Cedric Muhammad: So, having said that, in the context of the United States of America or other countries or nations that are new, or it could be argued are “new” – what of that concept, word and title of warner which Muhammad of 1,400 years ago did wear?
Imam Mustafa El-Amin: See, again, I would say, first of all, that warners will be continuous. There will always be warners – warning us of what will happen if we don’t do God’s will. O.K. But when it is said of “a people to whom no warner had come” or “no prophet” or “no messenger”?
In the context of the Arab people at that time, in their ignorance, and darkness that they were in, that (the appearance of a Divine warner among them) had not necessarily happened. But if you follow some kind of logic, you could say that yes, they did have one. Although I am not particularly aware of it.
But even for our people, for example, because many people will argue with some facts to back this up, that certain prophets were from the Black people – the descendants of Africa. So certain people would argue – if you follow the logic (that some of the prophets were Black people) - that you can’t really say that we never received one (a warner or prophet or messenger) because we are people in Africa, and there are scholars and historians and others who verify, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that some of these prophets were Black people. So, therefore we did have prophets from among us, but Allah does say in the Qur’an – and this is the key point – that there are many prophets and messengers and some are named and many are not named ( Imam Mustafa El-Amin is referring to Surah 4:164 - Maulana Muhammad Ali translation). And that’s the key. The point is not so much that you did not receive one or not, because at this point everybody has – the Europeans have and we as descendants of Africa. But the fact that Allah says that there are prophets and messengers that have been named and some that have not been named, would be my line of reasoning that yes, there will always be warners and there will be others that will come – whether they are in America, they are not just named.
Cedric Muhammad: This would bring me to another point. I think you and I could both agree that that subject of what constitutes a “people,” a “warner,” a “nation” – all of these things are more intricate than the theologians have generally acknowledged and indicated…
Imam Mustafa El-Amin: Oh yes, there certainly is…
Cedric Muhammad: Because I have heard of and am aware that Imam Warith Deen Mohammed, while in the Nation Of Islam, gave a powerful talk about how we were a new people by virtue of slavery, as we were stripped of everything.
Imam Mustafa El-Amin: That’s right. That’s right. And even right now he says we are a new people! Yeah, I understand where you are going. Right now he says that this people here (Blacks in America) are a new people. And he says, with authority, that Muhammad was the last prophet, but there will always be other messengers coming and we are a new people so there will be messengers bringing us messages and moving us along. But I know that what Imam Mohammed is trying to do, is in the context of (being mindful) of the usage of certain language that can create a problem for you. You try not to promote and highlight that which will make problems for you and your Brothers, and the Islamic community, and even if you are trying to reach Christians right? There is certain language that I am not going to use - even though I believe that way and support it - if I am trying to appeal to them to look into Islam or just to appeal to them to make their lives better, I won’t necessarily come to them with the page (of a book) that says certain things; or offer my (conviction) that, for example, ‘that White or pale man on the cross (in a photo) is not Jesus!’
That may be all true. But if I am trying to clean this Brother up, or help him and if he is into Christianity, and I am trying to make him see this certain point, I don’t want to make trouble for the Brother. If I am trying to help the Brother or build a relationship with him, we don’t highlight those things. And that is why Imam Mohammed and we are the ones who are advancing Islam in America because we have those sensitivities to the people.
Cedric Muhammad: Now to me personally, one of the things that I think is so beautiful and potentially powerful about the reconciliation process between Imam Warith Deen Mohammed and Minister Louis Farrakhan – and there is a personal aspect to it, because they see themselves as friends – is I think that it is giving us an opportunity to revisit many of these theological points
Imam Mustafa El-Amin: Yes.
Cedric Muhammad: Now, more specifically, I remember, and I don’t know if you were there, in February of 2000. I am not sure if you were there – for the Nation Of Islam’s Saviours’ Day celebration – when the Imam and the family of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad were honored guests at Saviours’ Day.
Imam Mustafa El-Amin: Yes, I was there.
Cedric Muhammad: O.K. you will remember at a certain point Minister Farrakhan went into a powerful thesis about how the job of spreading Islam in the Western Hemisphere, in some sense, uniquely fell upon him and the Imam (Warith Deen Mohammed).
Imam Mustafa El-Amin: Absolutely.
Cedric Muhammad: And it received a wonderful reaction from the audience. I wanted to know if you could give your comments on that, and as it may relate not to those two men being the last Prophets or Messengers – but that they would follow the guidance and example – the sunnah - of Muhammad, in how he established Islam in an unchartered territory of Arabia; and how they, and of course, the Honorable Elijah Muhammad before them, and others, are doing it in the unchartered territory of America.
Imam Mustafa El-Amin: That’s right. Yes, this is so important. I want to make two points on this. First of all, Prophet Muhammad – May prayers and peace be upon him – was a master strategist. That is number one. He was a master strategist. There is a story where he had written some kings and he had stamped on the letter the words, “The Last Messenger Of Allah,” and the kings and Arabs who were rejecting him reacted like, “No, no, no, we are not getting with that! Naw. No.” Prophet Muhammad said, “OK, give me the letter back and we will take it out.” In effect, ‘I know who I am, and you know who I am, but take the seal off of the letter.’ Then he sent it off. It was no big deal, but it was a strategy. The other point pertains to the Treaty of Hudaibiya
Cedric Muhammad: Yes, and Ali took care of that (removing phrases and references to Muhammad's messengership and an atrribute of God that offended the other side) for Muhammad...
Imam Mustafa El-Amin: Right. There was this situation where they (Muhammad and the Muslims) had made a treaty with the Quraish tribe concerning Hajj and other things; and part of this treaty - if you look at it, it was totally one sided, and when I read about it, it almost brought tears to my eyes. Part of the treaty was that if a Muslim left Mecca and was able to escape and come to the Prophet, that the Prophet...
Cedric Muhammad: would have to turn him back...
Imam Mustafa El-Amin: would have to turn them back! But on the other side, if a non-Muslim left the Prophet and went back...
Cedric Muhammad: Once they were gone, they were gone.
[All BlackElectorate.com viewers are encouraged to study the events surrounding Muhammad’s decision and announcement to perform umra (a minor pilgrimage or visit to the Kabbah in Mecca that can be performed at any time) that precipitated intense negotiations, and eventually led to the Treaty of Hudaibiya – written as an agreement between two principals - Muhammad and Suhayl ibn’Amr]
Imam Mustafa El-Amin: That’s right. Once they were gone they could not return.
Now, the people questioned the Prophet about this agreement because it looked so unfair. But the wisdom to be found was, that the Prophet used that time of peace, to reorganize, to grow, and get strong. So this term or condition that the Prophet agreed to, allowed the Muslims to have peace, even though it wasn’t fair. It allowed him to develop and get strong, and then when the time was right when they had grown properly, they could spread Islam easier and further.
So, back to when it comes to Islam in America and advancing it. For one, the American Society of Muslims and the Nation Of Islam, to use their expression, we are 'as American as apple pie,' in the sense that our community and groups began mainly as a result of our negative experience in America - slavery, Jim Crow and the various injustices we have suffered; and as a reaction to White Supremacy. And whether we were Muslims or not our people suffered under White supremacy. So, the birth of our communities – as Muslim, came as a result of that. So we were Muslims and African-Americans at the same time.
So when they were watching us, they were watching us as ‘negroes rebelling against them’ who had this ‘Mohammedan religion' to add to it. But it was basically seen as a ‘negro rebellion’ and now it has a philosophy that says ‘don’t take no stuff,’ so to speak. So over that period they watched us – had us under surveillance and etc... But my point is that they know us. They know us from slavery to now and all throughout that period. They know the teachings of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad. They know what we are about and what Imam Mohammed is all about - those in power and even everyday folks. They are familiar with us. When they refer to Islam in America it is ‘Malcolm X,’ and ‘Elijah’; it’s ‘Farrakhan.’ They know to what extent we will go – they know we are not terrorists and all of that kind of stuff. If we had any reason to be terrorists we most certainly had it from slavery on up. We have no record of trying to be terrorists and killing innocent people to advance our cause. They know that of us.
So, because of that, it puts us in a position, in light of what we have been able to do, to advance Islam in America – from Noble Drew Ali to Master Fard, the Honorable Elijah Muhammad, and Malcolm – all of that, and we have been able to advance it under the most strenuous circumstances and situations and we have been able to break down the wall.
As you know, when the Honorable Elijah Muhammad passed away – and this was kind of a judicious thing on his (Mayor Richard J. Daley Sr.) part – Mayor Daley and the government in Chicago gave all kinds of accolades to the Honorable Elijah Muhammad. And they have done this to others like Muhammad Ali. And that is just their way of doing things, whether it is sincere or not. But my point is that they are more familiar with us in our long struggle as Muslims in America, and in addition to that, because most of us came from a Christian background and our family members are Christian, that puts us in another natural situation because we know the language of Christianity, we know the environment and the Black community knows us, we are closer to our people.
To give you an example, I teach at Montgomery High School in Newark. You know, Brother Cedric, coming through Newark, as you have - the “Big M.” I have been there for fifteen years, and I grew up down there on Broome street. So when the World Trade center was attacked, I will never forget because I was teaching history; and so I was putting up on the board the pictures of the hijackers and I will never forget one of the girls in my class said, after looking at the pictures, ‘those are not no Muslims like they said! They don’t even look like Muslims!’
(laughter from both imam Mustafa El-Amin and Cedric Muhammad)
Cedric Muhammad: Isn’t that something?
Imam Mustafa El-Amin: Yeah, because in her mind the only Muslims there are are us! So what I am saying is that we have been in so much touch with our people in America and for so long that we are in the best position to continuously advance Islam, even under difficult circumstances. So to get to Minister Farrakhan’s statement – he is absolutely right! That Imam Mohammed, himself and us as a community are the best ones to advance Islam in America, and I believe that God has most certainly made it that way. And in my opinion, the immigrant Muslim community’s leadership would be wise to accept that, and many of them are. It is not the ones that they put on T.V., but many of them are accepting this. It is just that there are other factors – economic factors – and you know, many of them look down on us, or maybe we don’t have ourselves together. But I agree with him (Minister Farrakhan) and most certainly feel that we are in that unique position to advance Islam and bring its clarity before America and many of the immigrants – in terms of how to move it in America.
And let me just say this, it is a side note, but it is related, on that weekend (Of the Nation Of Islam’s Saviours’ Day Convention) in February 2000. That Saturday was February 26th; that Friday was the 25th; and that Sunday was the 27th when Minister Farrakhan gave his public address. Well, that weekend the Imam (Warith Deen Mohammed) had invited us to come and be at the Saviours’ Day with Minister Farrakhan, but on that Saturday, we were not over there with the Nation Of Islam and the Community, because Imam Mohammed had called a meeting of his own leadership on that Saturday. He met just with us and he emphasized to us that the Saturday, February 26th – not the Friday or Sunday was the day in which we used to have our Saviour’s Day Convention and honor Fard etc...Well that day – February 26, 2000 – was the day he (Imam Mohammed) put me on the National level of leadership (of the American Society of Muslims), to serve. Let me make this clear.
There was a body that had existed among us, as a shura body. He dissolved that body that day, and he put together a new leadership body. I was not part of the other body. I was still known in the community, though. In this new body, he named initially five people – and he named myself as one. This kind of caught people's attention even though I was known, but I wasn’t over a masjid and I was not over an organization within the community. I have to make note of this because, for me this was the raising up of me on a national level and he is emphasizing February 26th – and actually gave us a lecture on that day. So when you mentioned it, it brought all of that back to mind and so I have made a mental note of this that it was on February 26, 2000 that he put me on the National level. And then we all went over to hear Minister Farrakhan on that day. But I saw that as a special day.
Now, let me go back to that now. I think the Minister's position was that we were the ones chosen, or in the best situation to advance Islam in America – himself and Imam Mohammed and I am sure that is alluding to their communities.
Cedric Muhammad: Yes Sir, but (to refine that point) in a way that is personal to both of them – and I am sure that they don’t think that they can do this by themselves. But, in the 1960s, and this is out of context and needs to be considered carefully, but at a certain point, the Honorable Elijah Muhammad told Minister Farrakhan, “…you and my son Wallace go and mop up the wilderness.” And that, (according to some things in the teachings of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad), can be interpreted as referring to North America. And just the way the Imam was raised, educated, and trained... and the disagreements that he had with the theology of the Nation Of Islam, he has always been “special” and unique. So that, in combination with the popularity and insight of both men, many people can see that this makes for a powerful combination. And so in that sense it (the reconciliation) is personal (pertaining to just the two of them).
Imam Mustafa El-Amin: I understand.
Cedric Muhammad: But absolutely I would agree with you that all of those who help and follow with them would be involved.
Imam Mustafa El-Amin: Yes, I understand. These men as mortal beings won’t be here forever so it has to apply to them and that they would lead with their communities. And that is my concern. My concern is that we as communities - The Nation Of Islam and the American Society of Muslims - if we don’t come into that spirit, knowledge and position that they (Minister Farrakhan and Imam Mohammed) have, to whatever extent, to do what it is that they can do and what they see their roles as; if we don’t come into that then their roles and their efforts will die with them! Now I have no doubt that we will do that but I just need to highlight the importance of us as communities and leaders in our communities having that same spirit. At least the spirit of it!
Cedric Muhammad: They have each spoken about reconciliation and I just wanted to know from you, how you envisioned it and what would it entail and what would be the barriers to overcome?
Imam Mustafa El-Amin: I had a lot of hopes for it when it initially began in 2000. Of course there were always a lot of overtures over the years and events were moving and happening in that direction. But the year 2000 is when it was really highlighted in our respective newspapers and at the Saviours’ Day and when the Imam had us to come to Chicago to attend the Saviours’ Day. I know I had a lot of hope for it then and I still do today and I know that after that (the momentum continued), when (months after) the Imam attended Saviours’ Day; Minister Farrakhan came to our (A.S.M.) convention. And at various levels there is interaction between our community and the Nation Of Islam. For example, in various places we were together for Ramadan during Eid celebrations and I know that there has been work together even on community development projects. So I think at the local level and certain places you are seeing more of that. Here in Newark, you have some of it but it is not to the degree that it could be or that I would like to see it. That would be an effort that I would try to strengthen. I would like to bring about a better working (relationship) between the American Society of Muslims and the Nation Of Islam.
But, it would be done with the hope of us also trying to learn the religion. This is what I see.
I see some of the enthusiasm, spirit and willingness on behalf of the leadership, members and people of the Nation of Islam to involve themselves in the African American community. That spirit and sense of enthusiasm, I would like to see, if we could, in our (American Society of Muslims) working with them – I would like to see that spirit affect us as well. So that we would be more involved in the broader African-American community with more enthusiasm.
And those who see a need on behalf of the members of the Nation Of Islam to learn more of the religion, of the Qur’an, and the life of Muhammad, the Prophet – that there would be a willingness on our part to help them with that.
I think they can serve as an injection and infusion in our community to be more enthusiastic and more active and involved in our broader African-American community. And I think that we are in a good position to help them, those that are interested, to learn the Qur’an, the Arabic, the traditional Islamic teachings. But not only the traditional Islamic teachings but the commentary of Imam Mohammed. The commentary of Imam Mohammed is such that it brings the Qur’an, the life of Muhammad, the Prophet, the reality of our situation, and insights that I believe go far beyond any of the scholars of the traditional Islamic world. And I think it is that way because Allah has put us in this unique situation in America, and you need a leader with that kind of unique understanding – that applies to this unique situation in America. So I would be interested in us learning and helping each other to advance this overall cause. But I would have to say (and place emphasis) on those who are willing to at least understand the seriousness in what may be seen as the traditional understanding of Islam that is practiced by the majority of the Muslims – this is important so that we are not seen as out of line with that, that would be important. The importance of understanding and making the five salats - I am not saying that everybody makes these prayers and there is nobody to watch over them in their personal lives. But to know that has to be done and that has to be established, is what is important; knowing the place of the Qur’an in Islam; knowing the place of Muhammad, the Prophet. Even if you think the Honorable Elijah Muhammad is the Messenger or the Prophet, we should know (the role and place of Muhammad, the Prophet). We don’t necessarily have to have friction, but just knowing the importance where Muhammad’s life fits and what it has meant for over 1,400 years and that it won’t be moved. It can’t be moved. We should know the importance of Ramadan. The basic traditional things that you can find all of us (in the Muslim world, doing and knowing), and which unify all of us.
And of course we can have different schools of thought. But I think that these things can be positioned the right way. We can have our own views and our own schools of thought but that is what we have to see it has, ‘this is this school of thought,’ or ‘this school of thought,’ or 'this school of thought,’ but we are united on this big picture that Allah is God, Muhammad is His Messenger; there is five prayers; Mecca, there is the Kaabah etc… Now, when you start getting into the interpretation and understanding of these things and who advanced what – O.K. then you have the school of thought of Imam W.D. Mohammed; you have the Maliki school; you have this other school. You may even develop a school of thought of Minister Louis Farrakhan. And they could, you know. But we definitely want to develop one for Imam Mohammed!
Cedric Muhammad: I think this ties in with what I wanted to say about the wider Islamic Ummah being reconciled. Now, I wanted to get into this subject of tafsir (the commentary, explanation, interpretation, and exegesis of the Qur’an) as it relates to what you just said about Imam Mohammed’s commentary and of course, the insights of the Minister. And just on that point, Minister Farrakhan just gave a talk, on November 23, 2003, called, “What Is Islam?”
Imam Mustafa El-Amin: O.K.
Cedric Muhammad: Now, what you just mentioned about the two communities (The American Society of Muslims and The Nation Of Islam) being mutually beneficial to each other?
Imam Mustafa El-Amin: Yeah.
Cedric Muhammad: I can see that. But one of the things or areas where I still think there is opportunity, and where there is a little bit of an underserved area is; and this would be in looking again at the Honorable Elijah Muhammad. I think the word “theology.”
Imam Mustafa El-Amin: Yes.
Cedric Muhammad:….is important. And when I say that, I am thinking specifically of Surah 30 verse 30,
Imam Mustafa El-Amin: Ahh yes…
Cedric Muhammad: which reads, “So set thy face for religion being upright the nature in which Allah has created men..” As you know, the Honorable Elijah Muhammad spoke often about nature, faith, and religion (and their differences).
And with the emphasis a lot of times on Islam as a religion, I think, a lot has been lost in what the Honorable Elijah Muhammad offered to all of us as a way of thinking into theology. And just the nature of God, and the nature in which Allah created humans.
Imam Mustafa El-Amin: Right, yeah...
Cedric Muhammad: And so you could present a religion, and people are not able to connect the principles and rituals to the nature of Islam.
Imam Mustafa El-Amin: Right...
Cedric Muhammad:...and the nature of Allah. So I thought that would be another area where the synergy or even the synthesis (the American Society of Muslims and The Nation Of Islam) would be important. And then at that point you are able to speak to a Native American, or speak to those who may have received the nameless prophets or the nameless messengers (which the Qur’an speaks of in Surah 4: 164) and you would have a universal message that would not require a person to get stuck on rituals or stuck on activism.
Imam Mustafa El-Amin: Right, that’s right. See, what I think happened in the development is that the predominant voice for those 40 years (1935 to 1975) in our community was the Nation Of Islam, that “The Honorable Elijah Muhammad is The Messenger Of Allah”; that “Allah came in the person of W.D. Fard,” and those concepts that were not in line with the universal teachings of Islam. And I am just saying that because that went on for such a long period of time and there was a successful effort by Imam Mohammed to bring us in line, I think this is where it gets a little more sticky because the other way was promoted so long; so that when it comes up again, it is like, ‘no, no we have to move away from that.’ And this is where it kind of gets a little sticky in that area.
Because within this community that follows Imam Mohammed, we went through it so we understand and don’t have the same problems that other African-American Muslims have with it that didn’t go through the process. This is where you run into these problems. My sister is in the Nation Of Islam. So, we would disagree on certain points but we would discuss it. But I will still say, “The Honorable Elijah Muhammad” like I did at my talk at Rutgers University. I still call him the Honorable Elijah Muhammad. But other African-American Muslims will say, “…He is not honorable, why are you calling him 'honorable'?” But these people saying this are African-Americans, though.
So we will have a greater relationship between those of us with Imam Mohammed and the Nation Of Islam; but there are those who did not have that experience (being a member of the Nation Of Islam at some point), and if they did, they are not with Imam Mohammed and they think Imam Mohammed and Minister Farrakhan are disbelievers! (laughter)
So, we have to be firm and say, ‘this is us and who we are,’ but we have to make it available for all of us. So if me and a Brother from the Nation Of Islam are fine, and another Brother comes in and begins to work with us, but he did not have that experience, he is not talking about building that kind of relationship (with the Nation Of Islam) because he does not even feel that the Honorable Elijah Muhammad should even be called honorable. So those are situations, depending upon your location and what you are trying to do and apply the wisdom, where you really have to try to juggle this – you really do.
But you know what it comes down to in a lot of cases is, why are we arguing when we collectively don’t have what we should? I am talking about economic growth. Suppose another Brother is right in his particular point. But what is that doing for our development, as a community and as a people? Nothing!
Cedric Muhammad: One of the hadiths (the sayings of Muhammad), that I have heard is that the Prophet (Peace Be Upon Him) said that three generations after him would not be of him. Depending upon how you do the mathematics you could say that would take you to sometime around 900 A.D. And so some people point to the Sunni - Shi’ite split (and subsequent events as clear evidence of this prediction being fulfilled.) In light of that, and the fact that we have so many schools of thought in Islam – whether it is Hanbali, Hanafi, Maliki, we could go on and on to the Deobandis and the Wahhabis. And…
Imam Mustafa El-Amin: And there is probably one forming right now as we are speaking (laughter)
Cedric Muhammad: (laughter) Right! And if somebody is reading this interview they might come up with one…
Imam Mustafa El-Amin:…right.
Cedric Muhammad: And give our names to it. (laughter)
But I just wanted to know from you, how can we reconcile that prediction of our Prophet, with where we are today and the recognition that the tafsir - the full understanding, the interpretation – we still can argue, that we don’t have that yet, of the Qur’an...
Imam Mustafa El-Amin: Right, right. Well, I don’t feel that there is a need for us to try to reconcile that. I think it is too big for us to try and reconcile it because I believe that Allah is moving this thing the way He wants it to go. I think the advice for us to follow would be to find people of like minds and you form relationships and coalitions and you do what you can for the pleasure of God and to help advance people and humanity, regardless to what their religious persuasion is. I think, as Imam Mohammed, has been encouraging us, that we should look at us all as human beings – whether we are Christians, Jews, or Muslims. Of course, naturally our charity begins at home and extends abroad. But Allah says in the Qur’an that He has sent the Qur’an that it may be guidance to all mankind. Muhammad, the Prophet is not described as the Prophet of the Muslims. Allah raised him as a Messenger as a mercy to all mankind. Our religion is not personal, although we do personalize it.
We are in the ummah of Muhammad the Prophet, but before that it was the ummah of Ibrahim, who was recognized by all the people as the “father of the faithful.” And the Kaabah itself was built by Abraham for all mankind so when you quoted Holy Qur’an 30:30 , it says for us to stand up, be upright and turn your face for the din (Din has a very broad significance in Islam with meanings ranging from way, religion, judgment and recompense. It most commonly is used for "religion"). But it refers to the religion as “the nature in which He patterned man.” So the religion is patterned after the excellent nature of the human being. So the din - the religion – is really the nature of the human being, all of us. The man was so excellent, Allah says, that when Allah decided to make his religion, He extracted it or made it according to the pattern in which He made human beings. So really to see all human beings as having this excellent potential and good nature is the key and most important thing. But of course human beings have their communities and that is natural. And this is what we have the opportunity to achieve in America through dialogue. The various communities can speak to one another and they will help each other. You know that. If you establish the right relationships with people in the community – they don’t have to be Muslims – and they will cover your back. But it is how you treat people... The Arabic word is fitr for “nature” - the good nature that is in us. Like Eid al-Fitr.
So, back to the initial part of my answer to your question, I don’t see that reconciliation taking place. I think this world is so big that I see Allah is moving this. Imam Mohammed says that this is the last days we are living in. All of this is coming to a head now and the Believers will be victorious.
Cedric Muhammad: In light of us being in the last days and what you see in some of the hadith and predictions of our Prophet; how do you deal with the issue of the return of Jesus, and the appearance of the Mahdi and Dajal (the Anti-Christ) and the whole end of this world?
Imam Mustafa El-Amin: I see these as concepts, ideals, and as bodies of knowledge. The return of Jesus – Isa ibn Maryam – Allah says in the Qur’an that Jesus is a word from Him, a kalimah, he is a word. And in the sense that the angel came to Maryam in the province of a “word” – kalimah. Jesus is a word, a concept, an ideal. And it also says that Jesus was of the Ruh, the Spirit of Allah. So, it is more of a concept that has life, and spirit. It is more of a spiritual thing than anything else. The Dajal is the materialism, and this whole concept of greed etc…And, at the end of time what will come out more and more to people will be more and more knowledge, wisdom, and understanding. This is more in a metaphysical sense, if you will, than in the real physical sense of a physical person coming as Jesus or Mahdi.
Cedric Muhammad: So in the prediction of the Prophet Muhamamd (PBUH) of the Mahdi, that a man would come from the family of the Muhammad. You see that as...
Imam Mustafa El-Amin: Oh no, because a lot of times the word family is associated with followers...
Cedric Muhammad: And “man” in the sense that you just explained that for Jesus you see that as just the same for the concept of the Mahdi?
Imam Mustafa El-Amin: Absolutely. This is most certainly not a person. No. Not one person. Most certainly.
Cedric Muhammad: And this final question actually shows some of the beauty of our experience as Blacks with Islam in America. In all of our conversation we did not really deal at all with the subject of terrorism. How do you see the Islamic world’s response to September 11th - what has it meant; and what do you think of the idea that there is a clash of civilizations in the “war on terror?”
Imam Mustafa El-Amin: Allah says that He will raise up one people to check another. And He always says, even of the prophets, that He, almost like, assigns a contender – there will always be an enemy here with you. What I see in one way is that the Islamic world had gotten so far from Qur’an, and the message of Muhammad, the Prophet – so far off track that... and I have to say this in a philosophical and spiritual sense because I do not wish to imply in any way that the suffering of Muslims is in any sense justified. I mean this in a spiritual sense.
But, in that sense, the Muslim world had gotten off course so Allah gave another people the responsibility of whipping them into shape. That is what I see happening in what is coming down on the Islamic World. This will benefit them ultimately if they get on track. But Allah is allowing those that are against it to come up and whip them into shape. And this is not to justify the actions on either side, but we are people that are victims of terror – lynchings, terrorism of the KKK and other White supremacist groups that aimed to strike terror and fear in us. But not just in those of us standing in front of them but also our babies and future generations still fear taking risks, advancing themselves because they fear ‘what the Whiteman is going to say.’
You know, (in the lessons of the Nation Of Islam), Mister Fard had put the question of 'Why does he fear, now, since he is a big man?’ The answer was Because the devil taught him to eat the wrong food.
Here, the mental damage that has been done to us from the terror, for generations and generations, was so great that we needed a man like the Honorable Elijah Muhammad to come and help shock us out of that so that when we did come into Islam we would come into Islam as a free-thinking, independent people, having some sense of self and dignity. And Imam Mohammed holds to that same position that we are Muslims in a universal religion, but we are people who are capable of reading for ourselves and understanding The Prophet for ourselves; and we can read and understand the Qur’an and that Allah has given us that. We should always hold to that, and that would be part of my objective and goals. Yes, I support that bridges be built among all Muslims. We should be comfortable in being with all of those whom we can identified as being good Muslims, but at the same time we should maintain our sense of independent thinking and develop a community life for ourselves, and economic development, for ourselves.
And for a moment let me say this on the subject of economics. Imam W. Deen Mohammed has been stressing the importance of economic growth.
On Sunday Jan 4, 2004, he just recently reminded us of his plans to bulid a strip mall there in the Chicago area. We have the land already. This mall will consist of small stores and businesses.
Imam Mohammed is working very hard on economic development through some of his major business efforts like the CPC(Collective Conference Purchase) and Comtrust. The CPC allows us to purchase items as a collective group in order to get the best price for the merchandise that the community has indicated that it needs.
Comtrust deals with food items, mainly meats, chicken, fish. The office and meat plant is in the Chicago area and items are shipped around the country. He (Imam Mohammed) has been trying to get the leaders to support this. While there is great support for it by the people it simply is not enough.
We also have a business effort that deals with manufacturing clothes, suits etc...And Imam Mohammed is also leading an effort that deals with health products. He is really pushing that. Coral Calcium is the biggest item.
All of these business efforts, he was over before he resigned, and he is still over them. In fact the greater part of his energy and time now is probably devoted to that. Many of the leaders did not and are not supporting these things as they should. I am sure that is one of the reasons he left them.
So to repeat, and return to your question, the things that are going on in the Islamic world are serving as a purging. The Qur’an says (in Surah 99: Al- Zilzal, "Shaking") that on a certain day, there will be convulsions, and the earth will be throwing up this and that, and they will say, ‘what is the matter with her?’ So it is not the physical earth, but the people. And this is what I see happening in the Islamic world. They are being checked.
Cedric Muhammad: What is your vision and what is the function of politics in all of this - political Islam if you will, Brother Imam?
Imam Mustafa El-Amin: I think that when you look at the number of Muslims in America – 6,000,000 and of that there are 3,000,000 African American Muslims, or say 2.5 million. Looking at this reality, it would be wise for us in that sense to be more politically active, and certainly, first of all, registered to vote, so we can have some voice when we come to these politicians to get our agenda advanced and our needs addressed. So we most certainly, should be politically astute and politically involved. And that is one thing we have with the American Society of Muslims. We had a political action group that was responsible for making sure that we were in touch, had political knowledge, and had a role in the political arena. Muslims must understand the importance of politics – that it is natural and part of life. So I think politics has a very important role not just for Muslims but in life in general. We have to be realistic, and understand that when you study the history of the Prophet, that they would always associate politics with government. So you have to have government, organization and organizational structure. And this brings us to the A.S.M.
You have to have structure, government, rules, and regulations. And the A.S.M would always have a structure and I know the Imam (Warith Deen Mohammed), and I would not like this top-heavy structure where you have just a main central office that is responsible for everything because the danger with that is that if they can control or corrupt that central spot, they may wreck you everywhere, depending upon how it is set up. Because you don’t want a situation where somebody gets into some kind of legal trouble ion California, and they can sue you in New York. So that is why the American Society of Muslims was really like an association, we had a name for it, for identification purposes, but it was an association of autonomous masjids and centers so that we can avoid the problem that if I am somewhere and I do something illegal or am in a legal bind, or something happens with the tax man – and you know the IRS, boy they are rough (laughter); if I am here in Newark and you are in Trenton, New Jersey; or Washington, D.C. they can get you too!
And this is what the Imam (Warith Deen Mohammed) is against. He is not just against it because he does not like it. And that is why when he came into the Nation Of Islam he decentralized things; because if you get that central spot, you wreck the whole thing!
And that is all part of your politics and the political nature of machines and organizations. And as I say this to you I am moving from the broader political picture to the internal one.
If you work in any kind of organizational structure you are going to have your formal leaders, your informal leaders, organizational behavior and group dynamics. So, you are going to have different people jockeying (for position), that is just the nature of it. There are certain dynamics. You can have the formal leader, the union leader, and your “influential” person. I mean, you could be the formal leader, right? But there could be another Brother who is just more influential, more dynamic and with a personality that causes people to listen more to him. This is in all organizations, religious or otherwise. The same existed in the American Society of Muslims. It exists in churches and it exists in the Nation Of Islam. And so you just have to be realistic and in my opinion, be well-meaning, have good intentions and above all, believe in God.
Cedric Muhammad: Brother Imam, I am so grateful for this opportunity to speak with you, are there any last words that you would like to have or any subject that we did not cover that you would like to cover?
Imam Mustafa El-Amin: Yes, I will say this about one of the books that I wrote. The last book that I wrote is called, Christianity And Islam: Highlighting Their Similarities the Road to Peace. I think one of the important things that I would like to see is that we would see ourselves as a people, and as humans created by God, and that we would try to find ways to find things to build upon, particularly African-Americans, Christians and Muslims – to see what similarities we have and try to build on that. And stress the importance of interfaith - not just tolerance - but interfaith dialogue. We should try to understand and see that as people of faith, our father is Abraham. All of the major religions recognize Ibrahim or Abraham as the father of the faithful. If we see all of us as being children of Abraham, and that we believe in God and although we may call Him by different names and have different interpretations, recognize that the people of faith are better off together than the people who have no faith at all. If we look at ourselves in that way we will be able to defeat the schemes of Satan and make progress for ourselves. And my last word is for us to know the power and place of having economic independence. We have to have that. All of this talk would mean nothing if we don’t have some kind of economic base for ourselves
Cedric Muhammad: Thank You for your time and words and for honoring us with this picture of your mind and your heart.
Imam Mustafa El-Amin: Well you are my Brother, and I am honored. And you are doing great things - positive things. Allah is with you.
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 15, 2004