For a full answer to this and other questions, see Journey into America: The Challenge of Islam.
Cemetary in Sapelo where people are buried facing east as in the Islamic tradition
Off the coast of Georgia, in the Atlantic, lies Sapelo Island. Sapelo has an incredible history. Bilali Muhammed was brought to the plantation in the early 19th century from West Africa where he was a Muslim scholar. Bilali’s descendants, some of whom still live on the island, eventually converted to Christianity but maintained some of the Islamic practices.
We were fascinated to find that the Churches still face east, women and men are separated in church, Bilali’s emphasis on the washing of the arms, elbows, and feet would be passed on to the following generations and worshippers take off their shoes when they enter the church.
As Frankie Martin wrote when we visited the island on inauguration day, “The case of Sapelo illustrates some of the deep links between Islam and America going back to the founding of the country itself. Here are Americans talking with pride about their Muslim roots many years before the immigration booms of the late 19th century. At a time when some have dismissed Islam foreign, dangerous, and “un-American” it is a story and legacy worth remembering.”
Order Journey into America: The Challenge of Islam.
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Tagged African American, Akbar Ahmed, bilali muhammed, christian, Islam, Journey into America, mecca, Muslim, Religion, sapelo, slavery
One year ago today we were in the Dearborn/Detroit area in the fist stages of our trip when we heard the news of the passing of WD Mohammed. Madeeha wrote beautifully about it then. We visited the Muslim Center of Detroit that evening for Iftaar and a special prayer for WD Mohammed.
A year later, I am still struck by the man. We asked people throughout the country who their role models were. Many African American Muslims said WD Mohammed. After a year of hearing about the man, his legacy and all that he did for the country, I would put him at the top of my list as well.
Before the trip started, I knew very little about the impact of WD Mohammed. I knew his history and when he died , I knew it would be a big deal. But his cultural import, and the direction and heroic vision he gave to African American Muslims have been staggering to me.
He changed the direction of the African American Muslim community, led them from his father’s Nation of Islam to Sunni Islam, and encouraged Muslims to integrate into American life.
One Imam told me that WD Muhammed is the reason that he and many other African Americans “are not on the street selling drugs, hangin’ with the gangs. People don’t understand what he did for America in taking African Americans to mainstream Islam. We could have been gangbangers; instead we live the best life we can”. We heard this same sentiment over and over—that he saved peoples lives, kept them off the streets, inspired many to work in the community instead of being part of the destruction of the community.
The communities that followed his examples were, to me, the most inspiring that we met. His impact on the Muslim community is rivaled by none as far as I can tell and yet the anniversary of his death is nowhere to be found in the mainstream media while we are on our third month of Michael Jackson memorials. Today, I think we should remember the man and be thankful for his extraordinary legacy.
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Tagged African American, Akbar Ahmed, dearborn, Detroit, Islam, Journey into America, michael jackson, Muslim, nation of islam, Religion, WD Mohammed
Woman praying at Muslim Center of Detroit
When I woke up Wednesday, it seemed like every other morning – the bright blue sky, strong stench of coffee in the hallway, and of course, our super early team meeting. After a visit to Professor Saeed Khan’s classes for questionnaires, I came back to make my routine calls to schedule, reschedule, confirm, and reconfirm meetings of the next few days in Dearborn. After making a few calls, I spoke to Imam Abdallah El-Amin, our host for the dinner that evening (video below). Imam ran the mosque known as the Muslim Center of Detroit which had been predominantly serving the African American community in Detroit for the past 30 years. As usual, I was expecting a powerful, enthusiastic, warm voice to be on the other side of the phone. However, there was something different about the voice this time. There was something somber in the Imam’s tone and that is when I knew at once that something was wrong. After conversing with me for a bit about the schedule for the night, Imam finally broke the heart-wrenching news to me…. The American Muslim superhero, Imam Warith Deen Muhammad had just passed away.