Islamic leadership change in America

Category: Faith & Spirituality, Life & Society Topics: Islam Values: Integrity Views: 7010

The recent resignation of Imam W. D. Mohammed, arguably the nation's most influential African American Islamic leader, marks a defining moment for the group he had headed for nearly 30 years.

Some analysts fear that Mohammed's surprise resignation as leader of the American Society of Muslims could set that movement adrift, with no one to unify the 300-plus affiliated mosques across the nation.

"It will be a devastating loss," said Imam Saadiq Saafir of Masjid Ibadillah, a Los Angeles mosque on West Jefferson Boulevard. "The danger is that the community could become fragmented, where you have so many leaders taking the people in so many different directions. Some people may wonder if the community can actually survive."

Others, however, said Mohammed's resignation could encourage African American Muslims to take more individual initiative to advance their religion, improve blighted communities and become a powerful showcase for Islamic values in America.

"For African Americans, we're going to see the beginning of a renaissance for Islam in America," predicted Najee Ali, Mohammed's son-in-law who heads Project Islamic Hope, a Los-Angeles based social service organization.

Imam Fahim Shuaib, a Mohammed follower and leader of Masjid al Waritheen in Oakland, said the resignation could help the African American Islamic community grow beyond what he called a "victim-savior complex."

"It's recognized that this has been one of our crippling conditions: We've been too dependent on a charismatic figure to bring home the bacon while we sit on the sidelines," he said.

Mohammed, 69, has a mild-mannered mien that can mask his stature as one of the most pivotal figures in the history of American Islam. In 1975, he startled the world when he rejected the black nationalist vision of the Nation of Islam -- which was founded by his father, Elijah Mohammed -- and brought his community into orthodox Islam. The Nation of Islam was later resurrected by Louis Farrakhan, with controversial doctrines considered heretical by mainstream Muslims.

W.D. Mohammed said last month that he would continue to guide followers through his Chicago-based ministry, the Mosque Cares, but would no longer oversee daily operations of his association of mosques. He is still scheduled to inaugurate a new school at the Bilal Islamic Center in Los Angeles on Friday and next Saturday.

How his American Society of Muslims will fill its leadership gap remains unclear. Many imams say no single leader can replace Mohammed and are advocating a leadership council to make decisions collectively. Others are promoting individuals such as Imam Earl Abdulmalik Mohammed, the group's national spokesman, or leading imams in New York, Atlanta and Oakland to lead.

Ali said he was planning to poll followers nationwide to find out their top concerns.

Accurate statistics on the number of African American Muslims are not available. But according to Ihsan Bagby, who helped conduct a 2001 study for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, about 27% of the nation's 1,200 mosques were predominantly African American. Among those mosques, Bagby found, 67% were affiliated with Mohammed's American Society of Muslims.

According to Lawrence Mamiya, a specialist in African American religions at Vassar College, W.D. Mohammed moved his followers into both the Islamic and American mainstream. Although his father's Nation of Islam took an antagonistic stance toward the U.S. government, for instance, the younger Mohammed encouraged Muslims to join the military, run for political office and cooperate in interfaith activities.

His followers now comprise the largest presence of Muslim prison chaplains in the nation, and his affiliated mosques are the most active in providing social services to the homeless and hungry, to drug addicts and former prison inmates, Mamiya said. The Vassar professor is currently completing a study with Bagby on Muslim programs to help ex-offenders.

"They've had a tremendous impact on American life," Mamiya said. "You just don't hear about them because they're not controversial and they work in an unsung but very efficient way."

In Los Angeles, such social services are provided by both Project Islamic Hope and the Ilm Foundation -- a philanthropic organization directed by Saafir of Masjid Ibadillah. The Ilm Foundation, for instance, runs feeding programs, distributes free clothing, provides annual health checkups, works with ex-offenders and offers youth leadership training.

Despite those contributions, Mohammed expressed deep frustration with his movement's progress soon after his Aug. 31 resignation at the annual convention of his American Society of Muslims in Chicago.

In an interview with the Chicago Tribune, Mohammed said that 80% of the 1,000 imams in his group opposed his mission to integrate African American Muslims into mainstream Islam and refused to tackle the rigorous training in Arabic and Islamic studies needed to authentically convey the tradition. He was not available for an interview for this article.

Mohammed's resignation threw open long festering concerns. Shuaib of Oakland said too many imams had "exploited" their leader, using his name to raise funds while failing to provide Islamic services in return. Others said too many imams failed to support his attempts at community economic development.

Sherman Jackson, a University of Michigan associate professor of Arabic and Islamic studies, said many African American Muslims outside Mohammed's movement regarded it as "nouveau Islamique" -- insufficiently grounded in Islam's vast scholarly traditions. That impression grew, he said, as more Muslim teachers from the Mideast and South Asia immigrated to the United States, displacing African Americans as the main locus of Islamic authority in this country.

But Jackson said a new generation of African American Muslim intellectuals has tackled the requisite training in Islamic classics and could be poised to re-energize the movement. His forthcoming book, "Islam and the Black American: The Third Resurrection," lays out what he calls "a new vision for black American Islam.''

Meanwhile, other organizations to advance the interests of African American Muslims are springing up but insist they are not rivals to Mohammed's Society of Muslims. The most prominent one is the new Muslim Alliance of North America, which targets the needs of American-born Muslims: blacks, Latinos, whites and the children of Muslim immigrants from South Asia, the Mideast and elsewhere.

Imam Talib Abdur-Rashid, the alliance's deputy amir who heads the Mosque of Islamic Brotherhood in New York's Harlem, said that priority will be given to domestic issues such as community development, education, civil rights and social justice. Some of the first issues the group may take on include inmate rights, domestic violence and African American reparations, group members said. Foreign affairs, such as the Israeli-Palestinan conflict, will take a back seat, he said

Even with such efforts, many African Americans agree that Mohammed's resignation represents a turning point.

"If within the black American community there emerges an intelligentsia who can get the great tradition of historical Islam to speak effectively to issues of black Americans, the movement will be inspired," Jackson said. "If not, the movement will be set adrift."

Source: Los Angeles Times

  Category: Faith & Spirituality, Life & Society
  Topics: Islam  Values: Integrity
Views: 7010

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Older Comments:
am a christain but i want to become a true islam but i dont like the way nigerian pratice it
so i want someone who can link me up
i need your advice
am ready to sacrifice my life for it'
am call kingsley
but my name i normally address myself is abdul

InshaAllah brother warithdeens resignation should be an eye opener for some of his followers that its about time for afroamerican muslims to shed off the remaining vestiges of their"jahiliya christian afro-centric"baggage,sit down,make a genuine attempt to learn the Quran and the hadith and practice real islam as taught by the prophet Muhammad(on whom be peace).

one man cannot lead a group of men that are unwilling to learn the true teachings of islam.
arabic is the key to a true understanding of self and the reality of the spiritual essence that allah speaks of through his messenger.
the messenger of allah once said {that there is a reality behind every truth}.although the times have changed,the fitra of man remains the same.
allah says in the quran that if we dont know that we should ask those who the question of the day would be,how many of the so-called imams know this truth and are able to teach this truth in the same manner that our messenger {s.a.w} taught
it?please keep in mind that an imam cant really
teach the people if he is unable to teach from the arabic sources that the first three generations of muslims taught from.
without the arabic language there can be no true teachings of islam and all of the people would be lost.the english language has nothing to do with the quran nor does any other language.
this is not the speech that allah used and therefore we as an african people should strive to learn the language that allah decided to use in order to bring mankind back to the jannah.
please keep in mind that it is forbbiden to interpret the quran from ones own mind.
this is why we have the tafsir of ibn abbas and the many others whom have taken the time to learn the deen of islam from the arabic sources.
imams that dont want to learn the arabic language
and have no true understanding of the tafsir in arabic but wish to teach the quran from the english language are wrong and they are setting the african american muslim population whom they are in charge of up to fail in this life and
they will be held accountable for this in the next life.this too is also taught to us by way of the quran. as salamu alaikum.

Its time for the true (Beliver)to standup.Allah know best.thank Seifuddin El-Amin

Assalam Akalium,
When I first heard he resigned I said Ahumdulillah
I would like to tell my story about dealing with a masjid under Warith D. Mohammed leadership. I went to a masjid in 1989 where I took my shadada, it was black amer. predominatly w/ a few brothers and sisters from the Mideast. I later came back to that masjid in 2003 w/ a frend who was white american. This new Iman (but an older member of 1989) basically said we were different from those muslims of the east. He was learning the Arabic alphabet at the time. I felt uncomfortable and embrassed at the time. I returned a month later by myself. At that time the Iman, was looking for assistance for rebuilding the masjid from the government instead from the Mideast because "it came with strings". He stated that God was not really the correct name to call Allah(swt), that we were "Gods" and Allah(swt) was greater. He talked about Freemasnory, he talked about we were different than the muslims from the Mideast and that "they" tried to tell us that we are not practicing Islam properly. He basically taught SHIRK. This is an example of the idealogy of W.D. Mohammed and his group. I never returned to this masjid.W.D.M. never went mainstream in Islamic teaching. He has a pride of race all to common to black americans, that is the reason why blk. amer. aren't successful today including blk. amer. muslims. W.D.M. said in an article of postdispacth for a St. Louis paper (website) titled "Leader of Muslims Urges Race Pride" Mohammed said no one should be condemned for wanting "race pride and racial distinction." This doesn't sound like a muslim. Imam Talib Abdur-Rashid in the article states "the first issues of the group may take.....Afr. Amer. reparation" again another Imam on the issue of race. This is a victimhood mentality that is crippling for blacks. Blk. Amer. muslims are to busy worrying about unbeliever blacks instead of muslim brotherhood. W.D. Mohammed and his Imams and group is disgraceful.

I am saddened that the Imams of African American origin refused to allow the Imam Warith Deen Muhammad's effort to integrate the community into the rigorous Arabic training needed. Its a tragedy, unfortunately in America too much emphasis is made on ethnic background. If you look at the Islamic history all the science and math books upto the 18th century were written in Arabic and its from them that the European doctors and scientists used to learn. It should be remembered that Arabic is the language of heaven and also the language of religion, if one goes to china's muslim provinces, the imam will be using Arabic terminology in his khutba so its essential to learn it.I agree that some Arabs may be outdoing the christian 'whites' in their ignorant attitudes towards the African American muslims, this has come about due to colonization of the Arab lands by the 'white' christians. In Islam there is no such thing as a white man or a green man!! And generally the mosques say to the new African American reverts that some things muslims do is "culture" and should not be followed, but the African Americans also have culure, its the non Muslim culture. e.g. paying your children to do some work for you, muslims in muslim countries will never do that. And if there is a family dispute, the muslim culture is to go each other's family or at least the imama not the cops!! Or the man cleaning the house but never cooking! A man in Islam if he helps his wife won't differentiate in cleaning and cooking. These are just a few examples I could think of.

Asalamu Alaikum brothers and sisters,

It is quite a sad situation to see Mr. Mohammed leave the scene, but again the occasion has called for it. Obviously, he did so much for the organization given his impressive record. Now, it is time for other brothers or sisters to assume the responsibility. Muslims do not need a leash with all due respect. God with his personal constitution and guidance in the Koran has showed us the way already. All we need to do is assume personal responsibility first and the responsibility to lead others second.

If all Muslims set an example by leading themselves by the way of our holy book, then the rest should be less complicated. It is us who have made a mockery of God, his scriptures, and our Prophet (Peace Be Upon Him). We always tend to agree to disagree. If only our unrelenting selfishness could be rejected, we can lead the way to those who truly deserve to lead. Let the spirit of Islam, love, harmony, understanding, and care lead all of us before any one could venture to steer our ship. If we do this, by God's will everything will lead itself. All we need once again is one's will to lead oneself in the right path. Enough of division and enough of egotism.
Asalamu Alaikum.

As a Muslim who happens to be African American in America. I think it is a shame an huge mistake for the WD Muhammad community not to integrate into mainstream Islam. I believe that because of the lack of Islamic Education in USA many African Americans would not be in leadership position in many Masjids. I think this is the biggest reason why many leaders refuse to integrate into mainstream Islam. In addition the Muslim Community will only be successful if we are United, not by race, but by deen. If we can Unite by deen an all work together (all of us). Then we will be successful.


I believe the Imam's resignation is and should be a wakeup call for those of us who follow his leadership, especially those in leadership roles, to shape up. There are too many Imams who just have a "surface" knowledge of Islam and Arabic. This should not be the case if we have been in leadership for over 5 years. Islam teaches us to acquire knowledge and the first knowledge we should acquire is the knowledge of the Quran and Sunnah.

We should seek ways to reach out and dialogue with our brothers from the East and elsewhere. I understand the "baggage" that we both carry, but the time is too important now for us to look at what bags we have, we must allow Islam to unite our hearts. The world is waiting for Islamic leadership and we must rise to the task.

Imam W. D. Mohammed will always be viewed as the spiritual leader/guide of the community, but it's time for us to really grow up and not be afraid to face the world. Furthermore, with correct knowledge of Islam and Quranic Arabic we can face the world not as timid Muslims but as equals.

We should look at this time as an opportunity, an opportunity to move forward. We must stay focused and not allow ourselves to become distracted with those whose only purpose is to bring doubt and confusion.

May Allah (swt) protect the believers and help us as a community to serve humanity through the excellence of Islam and the shining example of our beloved Prophet Muhammad (saaw).

As second-generation Muslim have tremendous repect for the mission and life of this Muslim leader.
I also strongly do believe that a vibrant indigious Muslim North American culture does need must more vigorious training and understanding of Arabic language for it to thrive.
One of best ways to do this is as Muslims and parents getting more mobilized to push the public schools in their regions to offer Arabic courses as credit electives, same way that Chinese, Spanish, French, etc...are becoming so.
I know I would be working towards this in Toronto, Canada.
Kashif Shaikh