The urban experience for some African Americans in Buffalo, New York mirrors the harsh reality of other major cities throughout America. ‘Hoods’ are ghettos where talented young Americans often fall victim to guns and drugs. The Habeeb brothers are the exception to this case though. They are the fortunate few that had a strong family and the tenants of Islam to keep them from falling victim to the temptations on America’s inner city streets.
I had the chance in Buffalo to befriend the Habeeb brothers at the Islamic Society of Buffalo. They are fifth generation Muslims and descendents of American slaves. They grew up in an old whorehouse in what Quadir described as not just ‘the hood’ but ‘the hood hood’ – giving it the sour title of ‘the most dangerous street’. Old drug dealers and prostitutes would frequently knock on their door looking to score on some bad old habits. As if this were not bad enough, Quadir noted that four of his friends died as a result from the various aforementioned problems within the last year. I was impressed with their wisdom, their ability to persevere, and their passion for Islam. So how did the Habeeb brothers successfully make it out of ‘the hood’?
Growing up, the Habeeb brothers were fortunate to have hard working parents that emphasized the continuing importance towards their family’s long Islamic American tradition. When their friends would tempt them with roaming the streets mischievously, their parents would encourage the boys to visit the mosque so their mental focus and life structure functioned around the tenants of Islam. Practicing Islam regularly kept them away from the temptation of drugs and alcohol and into the realm of knowledge, hard work, dedication, and education. What impressed me most was not their musical or business skills but their strong moral character. Despire all their success, I thought Quadir and Arleym were humbled and modest young men. I also think this serves as a testiment to their upbringing as good Muslims.
Quadir was especially lucky because he also had another ‘father figure’ in his older brother Arleym. He made sure Quadir made proper use of his massive 6’10 frame to his advantage on the basketball court. After receiving a Division one scholarship to Howard University, Quadir tested his intellectual mind in the entertainment business as a lyrical poet and hip-hop artist. Today he is working with the renowned DJ Green Lantern. On February 2, 2007, Quadir performed on ABC World News Now in a tribute to Black History Month. The wise and humbled Arlem is a successful business entrepreneur. He focuses on giving back to the community with educational programs and initiatives to insure that the under privilege have adequate role models in an environment where there are few.
I felt a strong connection to the Habeeb brothers because they shared my vision of America. We all see America as the land of oppurtunity despite its dark historical periods. As Quadir left us, he was so proud of our effort to seek understanding and to work towards providing the American Dream to all citizens – he even called our project the New Revolution. It was a great honor to hear those words. I assured him that our New Revolution was one which will make America a better place for all peoples. That I promised him.
Many American citizens see Islam as a serious threat to mainsteam American culture in the post 9-11 world. But what I learned through the Habeeb brothers is how practicing Islam can relieve young American from the threats of violence, guns, drugs, and gangs. Instead of watching and believing in the media’s negative portrayal of Islam, American citizens should be aware of the ‘Habeeb case’. Many Americans associate Islam with terrorism and the killing of innocent lives. The Habeeb brothers are living examples of how Islam saves lives.