by Jamil Muhammad
In his new book, Memphis, Tenn.-based Brother Hameed challenges the state of Black Sunni Islam and contends that many Black Muslims are modern versions of Alex Haley’s ancestor in the highly acclaimed book and television series “Roots.”
“Toby Muhammad,” the imaginary composite character named for the tragic “seasoning” process that stripped Mr. Haley’s Kunta Kinte, of his pride and his name, represents those Black Muslims in America who have been compromised and weakened by their willingness to apostatize themselves from their own Blackness.
Brother Hameed avers that the version of Islam being practiced by this group of misguided brothers and sisters renders them useless as change agents in the very Black communities they grew up in. Moreover, he criticizes as profoundly lost the behaviors of those who after returning from their years of studies abroad eagerly try to apply outdated scholarly opinions and fatwas from obscure 9th century Egyptian academics to their own lives, let alone the issues of police brutality, economic disenfranchisement and rampant voter fraud.
Toby has, in effect, squandered the one tool, Islam, which could reinstate his personal and his community’s dignity. How did he do this? By trading one racially and culturally “other” oppressor for another. From the back of the White man’s bus to the back of the foreign Sunni Muslim’s camel.
This happens today, the author contends, because Black American Muslims have engaged in self-negation in the interest of blindly following guidance from Muslims overseas. Brother Hameed asserts that statistically, the numbers of converts/reverts to Islam from Black American backgrounds have not only leveled off, but begun to fall. He also correctly assesses that there are deep dysfunctions within pockets of the Muslim community that threaten the viability of Blacks accepting Islam, which could be seen as more a problem in certain segments of society than a solution. Unfortunately, many Muslim immigrants have joined the oppressors of Black people and become purveyors of filth: they often own the liquor stores in the Black community; they sell pork in their convenience stores; and they worship in the suburbs, refusing to call the poor and needy to the light of Islam. I find it noteworthy that the author does not spare the rod of criticism and takes Blacks as well as Muslim immigrants to task.
The 35-year old author was moved to write this, his first book (published as an e-book, and awaiting production as a paperback), after reflecting on a statement written by renowned Black American Muslim scholar, Dr. Sherman Jackson in his book “Islam and the Blackamerican.” He explained that Sunnism was once a potential solution to the problems of Black America, but it had now become a part of the social problems, especially in some large urban centers for many of the aforementioned reasons.
Chapter titles, which include “What Happened to Black American Sunnis?,” “The Whitewashing of Islam,” “Black Muslim Marriages” and “Analyzing Black Muslims and Polygyny,” send a clear message that little to nothing will be off the table in the discussion of how Black American Muslims (BAMs) must squarely face our problems and solve them by an appropriate application of the guidance of Qur’an and Sunnah. This book, is not always an easy or pretty read. To see the life stories of so many of our family members, neighbors and co-religionists — and possibly, ourselves — splayed out for analysis and correction can be difficult. But, it has to be difficult. And, as a people blessed with the Final Revelation and the Best Guidance, much is required of us.
In addition to Dr. Jackson, Brother Hameed quotes or cites, voices as diverse as Imam Abdul Malik and Imam Luqman Ahmad as inspirations because these brothers subscribe to an understanding of Islam that focuses on service to the poor and Black communities of America. All unite in calling for the cultivation of indigenous scholarship among Black American Muslims, and for the prescription of Islam as a balm for the problems of our people.
One supporter of the ideas put forward in “From the Back of the Bus…” is noted St. Louis Muslim activist Anthony Shahid. Shahid, a childhood convert/revert to the Nation of Islam in 1965, today a leader of Masjid Al-Tauheed and well-known demonstrator in Ferguson, Mo., after the Mike Brown murder, says that Black people in the United States will never see the true power of what our Holy Prophet (PBUH) brought, until we stand up, become personally responsible,and throw off the mental shackles of foolishly identifying ourselves as poor imitations of some of our worst exploiters. Shahid states,
How can we make progress when we are being abused and exploited by our so-called Muslim brothers, in our neighborhoods selling alcohol, pork and poison foods. They even mess with our young girls! But they’ve got the nerve to question the Islam of the Black Man in America. No, Sir!
Imam Luqman Ahmad of Sacramento also endorses the book’s call to unite Black American Muslims. He posits that the only way we can successfully be joined to the whole Muslim world is that we develop scholars who see Islam correctly, as it relates to our own legitimate culture and history.
We must end sectarianism. It cripples us in America and throughout the Muslim world. If we practice unity and self respect, the world will see that just as other Muslim nations in history have had their time to shine in the advancement of Islam, this is our time. I believe that
This reviewer believes it, too. Brother Hameed presents what amounts to a sound and reasonably expressed primer. This is the introduction to a difficult conversation that we must have.
We need not be multi-degreed university graduates of Oxford and Cambridge or certified hafidhs from the religious schools of the Muslim world to see that the personal problems of our “Brother Tobies” in every town could be vastly improved if we demanded personal and family accountability. Similarly, we do not need decades of religious or secular experience to see that it is folly for us to cast ourselves in the mold of foreign Muslims who, at best, are ill-informed about our plight in the West. At worst, some are willing exploiters of a people they see as ignorant and unworthy of due estimation with the rest of the worldwide Ummah.
Brother Hameed is calling on us to unite, qualify ourselves and build a Muslim community in Black America that will solve the wounds of Black Americans with the wisdom of Qur’an and Sunnah. That is a worthy call to action, and this small book is a good place to start the call.
The book can be purchased August 1, 2017. From the Back of the Bus, to the Back of the Camel
Jamil Muhammad is a hard-hitting, inspirational, community organizer. He served as a pioneering Nation of Islam leader in cities as diverse as New Orleans, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Atlanta. In his capacity as National Spokesman for the Nation of Islam, Minister Jamil has had meaningful and productive dialogue with many of America’s key opinion makers on all sides of all issues.