In responding to Imam Talib Abdur-Rasheed’s comments, leader of Harlem’s Mosque of Islamic Brotherhood (MIB) and Deputy Amir of MANA, regarding my series Why Blackamerican Muslims Don’t stand for Justice, I should like to first of all extend my fullest appreciation for his positive feedback and encouragement. Not long after posting the series, the Imam got in touch with me to express a few of his concerns regarding statements I made about the 1974 shootout at the Ya Sin masjid in Brooklyn, and the role that his MIB predecessor, Imam Tawfiq, played in that gruesome incident.
In fairness to Imam Talib, I said that I would post whatever statement he wanted to make in order to honestly record his position on that blood-stained history. Additionally, the Imam felt that I had failed to recognize a number of national jamaats that in his view, enjoyed a track record of “standing for justice”. Now I would like to share my thoughts on his comments.
With all due respect to the Imam, it seems to me that perhaps he has not read the entire series, or if so, has completely missed the point. His views, proffered no doubt to correct some perceived oversight on my part, not only fall far short of accomplishing that objective, but actually confirm and indeed validate the underlying thesis of the series. And completely separate from this initial observation, I found some of the Imam’s views extremely troubling, especially for someone who represents religion and fashions himself a staunch worker for justice. I will address what I found most disturbing in his comments last.
In the first place, the point of the series was not to assert something that could never be true, namely, that there are NO Blackamerican Muslims, anywhere or at any time, who stand for justice. I clearly said in part five:
So in conclusion, its important to say that the title of the series was in no way to imply (God forbid) that there are no Blackamerican Muslims fighting for justice, or trying to make a difference in their communities. To say such a thing would be an injustice in itself. The scores of sincere Muslims involved in Imam Jamil Al Amin’s case would immediately disprove that thesis. One such brother that comes to mind is long time human rights advocate El-Hajj Mauri Salakhan, who heads up the Peace and Justice Foundation in Maryland. But what we’ve attempted to do was examine the larger question of why Blackamerican Muslims failed to develop a national presense in matters related to social justice and community involvement in America.
The idea was to come up with a title that would intrigue the potential reader and draw him in for a closer look at what we had to say. The title was only meant as a provocation, not a literal statement. I thought that would be obvious, but apparently not for everyone.
The series was in fact an attempt to answer the much broader question of how Blackamerican Muslims (in general) failed to establish a concerted, well organized national agenda for social justice, and why do many of us feel this is somehow against our religion. Why have we never, for example, produced a national headquarters or spokesman to answer the desperate social ills of the Black community? The objective of the series was never to assert that African American Muslims, whether as individuals or small jamaats, don’t at sporadic times and places work for justice, but only that the effects of those initiatives are very ineffective for the reasons that I pointed out (immigrant group dominance and inferiority complexes). So for the Imam to point out that the MIB has existed since 1967 and works for justice is really besides the point, because it is so small compared to the immigrant program that its impact is almost non-existent.
Secondly, by listing all of the various jamaats, he actually makes my point as he says:
Not only the M.I.B.(under first Shaykh Tawfiq’s leadership, and then mine), but other Muslim communities like the National Jamaat (under first Imam Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin, and now under Imam Aasim Abdur-Rashid of Philadelphia), the Jamaat of Shehu Uthman Dan Fodio (as organized under the leadership of Amir Muhammad Shareef), the As-Sabiqun Movement (under the leadership of Imam Musa Abdul-Alim), and others , do in fact stand for justice.We are outnumbered or have been marginalized by the larger Muslim community, because of exactly the factors you wrote about. There are also organizations and activists like the group Women in Islam based in NYC, and individual activists like (Washington, D.C. based) Mauri Saalakhan of the Peace and Justice Foundation, as well as perhaps the MAS Freedom Foundation under brother Mahdi Bray. Collectively we up-hold the torch of justice in the Muslim community. I hope that you will make reference to these efforts and realities in your excellent commentary.
Does he really make his point or my point? In part two of the series I said that one of the main reasons the previous movements were unable to establish a national agenda was a function of their refusal to work together, with each jamaat viewing itself as a self contained unit. I ask the Imam, has anything really changed? The three jamaats he cited in his response even today cannot manage to work in concert. I ask the Imam, don’t all three of those groups view themselves as completely independent and of no need of the other? Of course they do, and that is one of the problems I tried to address in the series.
Also, can anyone say with a straight face that MAS Freedom stands for Blackamerican Muslim Justice just because its spokesman, Brother Mahdi Bray, happens to be an African Amereican. When was the last time they ever did so, and how does it stack up to the hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions of dollars they’ve spent defending Palestinian defendants on terrorist related charges, or visa violations?
Now, turning to the issue of the Ya Sin Masjid shooting, I did some research and found the following article written by John T. McQuiston February 5, 1974 in the New York Times which I have partially reproduced below:
4 Die In Brooklyn Mosque In Shootout by 2 Factions
Four men, including a Muslim minister, were killed and a fifth was critically wounded last night in what police described as an “apparent shootout between two rival Muslim factions” in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn.
The slain minister was identified by police as Bilal Abdullah Rahman, leader of the mosque, situated on the upper two floors of a three story brick building at 52 Herkimer Place, near the Norstrand Avenue business area.
Minister Abdullah and two mosque members were on the second floor. According to the police, the two intruders burst through the entrance shortly before 11:00PM. A group of mosque members were said to be praying on the third floor at the time.
There was a brief exchange of gunfire, the police said, in which Minister Abdullah and two of the three assailants died. One mosque member later died at Brooklyn Jewish Hospital, where a second was in critical condition.
The police said, they had found a shotgun, rifle and several shells on the floor of the wood-paneled room and a .25 caliber automatic handgun in a trash can near the door. They arrived at the mosque after an anonymous caller dialed 911, the police emergency number, and said there had been a shooting at Ya Sin, and gave the address.
The Police identified the two intruders slain in the gun battle as Peter Jeffries, of 274 East 171st Street, and Ed Mason, of 1241 Fulton Avenue, both of the Bronx. Muhammad Ahmen (Ahmed), one of the mosque members, the police said, died at Brooklyn Jewish Hospital where Jamil Haqq, the second mosque member, underwent surgery.
For the last for years, the Ya Sin Mosque has been the gathering place of worship for a growing number of Brooklynites who have converted to orthodox Islam and become Sunni muslims.
The Ya Sin, along with the larger Dar-ul-Islam Movement of which it is a part, is one of the many, mostly black groups of converts to Islam exhibiting sharp differences that are partly mirrored among the Brooklyn groups.
Attention was focused on the mosque a year ago after its ministers were invited to the scene of a 47 hour seige of a sporting goods store on the border of Bushwick and Bedford-Stuyvesant sections. They were asked to translate the Arabic spoken by one of the four gunmen who professed to be a Sunni Muslim.
The ministers said the four men may have prayed at their mosque.
A policeman was killed and nine persons were held hostage in the shootout..
The shooting at the Ya Sin Mosque follows recent slayings that law enforcement officials have attributed to warfare between dissidents within the Black Muslim movement in the United States.
The article then continued for another paragraph talking about the murder of an NOI minister in Newark, New Jersey the previous year. I want to address a matter that is not entirely clear to me that was reported in all the various newspaper accounts of this incident. All of them list Bilal Abdullah Rahman (affectionately known as “Big Bilal”) as the “Minister” or “Leader”, when it is a well known fact that Imam Yahya Abdul-Kareem was the Imam. Perhaps Big Bilal was a deputy Amir or served in some similar capacity, but I plan to get to the bottom of that insha Allah.
What I find so troubling about Imam Talib’s comment:
Regarding the tragic conflict between members of the M.I.B. and Darul-Islam movement three decades ago, as El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz once stated, “Those who know don’t say. Those who say don’t know.”
…is that on the one hand he insists upon his commitment to justice, yet on the other he advocates silence regarding the cold-blooded murder of two Muslim brothers in the very house of Allah!
The statement, which the Imam attributes to Malcolm X, “those who know don’t say, and those who say don’t know” was a clever response NOI officials always gave to deflect reporter’s questions on the size of the organization’s membership. But how does that statement apply here? The case of the Ya Sin shootout was not some trite matter related to census figures, but rather, a horrific crime for which no statute of limitations exists. Nevertheless, certain facts surrounding the killing remain indisputable:
1 – Imam Tawfiq and a small squad of his followers, entered the Ya Sin masjid armed to the teeth
2 – As a result of some dispute with Imam Yahya Abdul Kareem (Imam of the masjid) the MIB brothers drew weapons killing two Dar brothers.
I have spoken to brothers with vivid memories of this tragedy and none of them have ever offered a counter narrative to the facts presented above or the account that I presented in part 2 of the series. Also, they rarely if ever mention the two assailants who were killed, and always framed their accounts in terms of “the two good brothers that got killed that night”. In other words, there is a clear implication in their accounts that the two assailant brothers basically got what they deserved.
If the Imam challenges this account – one which has now become the standard history of the incident – he should take the opportunity to set the record straight or offer some counter narrative, rather than the criptic implication that he “knows (something about this case that would clear Imam Tawfiq) but won’t say”. I only mention this point because Imam Talib seems to suggest that there is some doubt surrounding the actual facts of this case, without offering any new information that may perhaps exonerate his leader and teacher.
Again I appreciate Imam Talib responding to the piece even though he didn’t have to do it. I want to emphasize that I love Imam Talib, that he is my brother in Islam and I recognize and appreciate the good work that he has done with the MIB over the years.
Finally, it is important for my readers to know that if they have any concerns with this, or any topic that I have discussed, I am more than willing to entertain them in light of the merit of existing sources.