Recently, watching the events unfolding in Egypt, we have witnessed peaceful protesters being beaten, harassed, doused with water while praying, whipped by horse riding men, and murdered by thugs of the Mubarak regime. If you were able to transport yourself back in time, via a time machine, a couple of decades ago in the United States you would witness a similar scene. The only difference is that the violence that took place then on American streets was being perpetrated against Black Americans. Let us Muslims never forget that beside through the mercy of Allah, we enjoy the freedoms we do today in this country because of the struggles and fierce bravery of African Americans, who withstood the cruelest forms of oppression, long before any immigrants entered this country. February is Black History Month, and its hard to miss the striking similarities between the fight for freedom being waged by Middle Eastern peoples, in light of recent developments, and those waged by African American civil rights leaders. Some of the civil rights leaders most people are familiar with include Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, and Malcolm X. But there are others who receive much less attention. Fred Hampton is one of those leaders. He mobilized the Black community in Chicago, and for that he payed the ultimate price.

In the late 60′s, Fred Hampton became chairman of the Illinois Black Panthers Party. The Black Panthers believed in empowering the people and they believed that Blacks should pool their resources as a community in order to free themselves of dependence on Whites.  Although many in the Black community joined the Black Panthers movement, some were skeptical and afraid at the beginning because they felt that the Panthers were very direct and militant. The Panthers organized community-empowering activities such as breakfast feeding programs. Under this program many Black children were given the chance to eat breakfast for free – a luxury many of them did not have. Soon, the FBI became aware of this program and they claimed that the breakfast feeding program was a nefarious activity and that it was meant to indoctrinate young minds. From the very beginning of the Panthers movement, the FBI were actively intent on dismantling such an organization that could provide unity for the Black community.

Everyone in the Panthers understood that they could be subject to wiretappings and that they could be followed by the FBI. Besides the FBI, even the Chicago police directed a campaign of covert action against the Panthers and Black gangs. The FBI and the Chicago police saw Fred Hampton as such a threat that they put him in jail.  As a trend through out the civil rights movement, the incarceration of leaders was commonly used in order to diminish the power of Black grass roots movements. Soon, FBI director Hoover designated the Panthers as the greatest threat to the US at the time. The FBI employed informants to be embedded among the Panthers, and one of them was William O'Neal. The task of O'Neal was to implicate and keep track of Fred Hampton. Hampton was a charismatic leader who instilled pride, dignity and self-determination within the Black community. But with the help of this covert agent, Fred was killed at the age of twenty one.

I'm so amazed at how Hampton managed to galvanize a community at such a young age. If Hampton had lived, I'm sure he would have had tremendous potential to affect change in the civil rights movement. I look to myself and ask: I'm twenty two, what has held me back from affecting change in my community? I'm so shocked at how the FBI was actively engaged in dismantling the Black community. The set up that led to Hampton's death was a brutal murder, and the informant who was involved in the case will have to live with the pain forever.  The highest levels of government were involved in targeting the Black Panthers. Obviously, police brutality has a long history in this country. No one in the Chicago police department was ever prosecuted for the crime of setting up Hampton's murder. It pains me when I realize that MLK and Malcolm X had suffered the same tragic end. In both of those cases also, the government was deeply involved in eliminating the two men. The Black community of this country has had to repeatedly face the pain of having their leadership taken from among their midst. All of them were vibrant and effective leaders, and that's what made them the perfect targets.

In this month, insha'Allah I plan to dedicate future posts to highlight the lives and achievements of civil rights leaders, so stay tuned.

For more on civil rights leaders, check out this khutbah by imam Khalid Latif titled “Islam, Nonviolence, & Dr. Martin Luther King Jr”.

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References:

Eyes on the Prize: America's Civil Rights Movement 1945-1985. (1987). PBS.

16 Responses

  1. Anonymous

    I know this is random, but I am finding very conflicting information about the situation in Egypt. Some are saying that, in relation to the size of the crowd, the violence has been at a minimum, and that Army personnel have actually helped protesters in some situations. Some are saying that it is lawless and dangerous, some are saying that it is better than it has been for the past 30 years. I think everyone is sort of confused about the Egyptian situation.

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    • Safia Farole

      The source where I get the most reliable information is at aljazeera.net/english. Check it out; they update the website frequently, and its in English. Hope that helps.

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    • ummousama

      It all depends on which area you are talking about:

      1. If you are talking about the streets in general and where you live in particular, it is safer than it was.

      2. If you are talking about Tahrir, it depends. During the day, there is usual no problem. If the crowd is huge, there is no problem. The problem is at night and the violence is always started by the Mubarak forces and thugs.

      3. If you are talking about journalists, they are in a war zone. It is very dangerous but they want the truth.

      4. If you are talking around the square, it depends if the Mubarak forces and thugs are around or not.

      When it is not safe, it is because of a new tactic from the government.

      Your sister living in Egypt

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    • Lana Lockhart-Ezzeir

      ASA, I think much of the confusion – for me anyway – was cleared up when I understood who the Army was and who the Police Force were.
      The Army is not controlled by Mubarak and are NOT the “thugs” that are being referred to in the Media. The Army is composed of everyday Egytians… the common man’s sons, uncles, fathers, neighbor…
      On the other hand the Police Force is controlled by Mubarak and have been the ones that have tortured, harassed, and bullied around the common Egyptian. THEY ARE THE THUGS along with many escaped prisoners (I think) and others that are being paid to attack the Peaceful Protesters.

      I was hoping the other night that when I heard that the Police have been snipers and it is a fact b/c of the green laser marker kind of guns were being used. But today English.AlJazeera.net/watch_live showed a video and the Green Laser was clearly seen on the backs of Protesters. I saw one man trying to help another when he was shot down. God Reward the Martyrs that were so brave and never should have been targeted in this manner.

      Mubarak and his thugs shooting at unarmed men from afar. cowards.

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  2. Ify Okoye

    I’m heartened by the recent scenes in Tunisia, Egypt, and elsewhere as well as strengthened by the knowledge of the lessons of history. Zaid Shakir mentioned here that real change has always started in the streets. Boston Tea Party, anti-slavery movement, women’s suffrage, civil rights, anti-Vietnam, etc. Change so rarely happens by waiting docilely for those in power to deign to give you more freedom and rights, one must demand and take their rightful place at the table. And so it is with Pray-In protests, to highlight the inequity and injustice of not only poor prayer spaces, which devalue women as sentient spiritual beings worthy of full consideration but also the poor treatment of women in the wider Muslim community as well. Those who quibble about the methodology are like those telling the protestors that what they are doing is not sanctioned within the religion. Every human being has the right to seek redress for injustice and you don’t need a fatwa for that.

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  3. Ameera Khan

    This was such an interesting post… Jazaakillah Safia. I don’t know much about America’s history with racism except for the very superficial idea I’ve got from various sources over the years. This young man’s story puts a face to the whole movement and what it must have meant to people. And yes, it does sound like whenever people rise up against injustice, there is a common underlying theme. societies cannot thrive or even survive for long if there is injustice… there comes a tipping point eventually. May Allah have Mercy on us and guide us to take the right steps to bring positive change, ameen!

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  4. Student

    I’m sorry, but I really feel it inappropriate to mention the name of someone like MLK on the muslims’s pulpit and the minbar of the Prophet salAllahu ‘alaihi wa sallam..

    this supposed “man of God” and “great revolutionary” was an adulterer who cheated on his wife, and his status in the civil rights realm has always been buoyed above and beyond the status of Malcolm – we shouldn’t “put aside” these type of things when it comes to maintaining some honor for our Minbar.

    Allahul musta’an.

    This has become such an often occurrence that the pulpits have become places where people talk about things like “movie characters and how they liken to the sahabah” and other nonsensical issues in the false pretense that we need to “be more relative.” To the extent it’s become not the exception but the rule, and khutbah has become a joke fest, instead of mentioning ayat and ahadith – we’re mentioning people who were non muslim adulterers and movie titles.

    Just drawing some attention to this point, since apparently these days the concept of advising and enjoining the good and forbidding the evil or just some sincere advice

    has also been pushed aside – and the person is deemed “just a hater.”

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    • Ify Okoye

      You know what they say, “every sinner has a future and every pious person has a past.” Excess in anything can be blameworthy. Don’t forget to check one’s own intentions and biases, the religion is not just limited to reciting ayat and ahadith, it’s a comprehensive and practical way of life and there are many ways to call others, one way may appeal to you and perhaps another way doesn’t but give the same allowance for those who may differ. One key to public speaking is to meet people at their level and some people may need some light-hearted joking or whatever to be receptive to the message and I don’t see any harm in that.

      I remember I attended an Islamic class with one sister and reflecting on her experience she said what really brought her in and broke down a lot of misconceptions in her mind was some off-hand remark, maybe a joke or a reference to popular culture from the teacher that resonated with her. Because in her mind Islam had been associated with boring and dry and irrelevant and impractical information that is sometimes how the religion is taught.

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      • Student

        The aspect of “meeting the people by referencing what’s relative” is not what I’m criticizing here.

        It’s the excess as you’ve mentioned, and there isn’t a “my way is the right way and your way is wrong” attitude that’s at least not being attempted, intentionally, to be directed when giving the advice.

        It’s a simple message: let’s understand and think about the sanctity of the minbar for those who are giving khutbahs.

        Because I think honestly people recently who’ve told the laity what is being taught from the Ayat and ahadith are being done “impractically” is what is set in people’s minds. ‘Oh when i’m told just an ayah or hadith, it’s impractical.”

        This notion of “we need things to be made relative, everything is subjective, this is too dry – yawn -” etc etc, like you said sister, can be done simply by breaking down barriers and delivering in a pragmatic manner. Does it mean we start splitting some singer’s lyrics and cracking jokes about “justin bieber” so the audience knows we’re up-to-date on what’s mainstream?

        Honestly shows how far we are, if from anything, from the Qur’an.

        There’s a balance here we’re trying to call to, and again, the sanctity of one’s position that has to be constantly on the mind of the person who stands in such a location, delivering. That’s simply my message.

        And not every single advice needs to come with some kind of disclaimer, if we can just take something “for what it’s worth.”

        Otherwise, we have to now – give advice., and then follow it up with a 2 page response on what that advice did NOT mean…

        Allahu ‘Alam

        may Allah rectify us all.

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  5. Nayma

    Jazak Allahu Khairan for your informative post. JAK also for posting Imam Khalid Latif’s khutba. Mashallah I find him a great visionary. Attended his NYU conference this weekend and the choice of speakers at the University setting and topics were superb!

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  6. Jeremiah

    As salamu alaikum,

    Thanks for writing this article. Jazakillahu khairan.

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  7. abu Rumay-s.a.

    Coincidence that I graduated from the same university as the author of the article!!

    Political Islam is here to stay — US must accept and adjust

    http://news.yahoo.com/s/csm/20110209/cm_csm/361254;_ylt=Ahk_khsgYIPACcTNExF0L5Os0NUE;_ylu=X3oDMTFlcTJtNTRsBHBvcwMyMTgEc2VjA2FjY29yZGlvbl9vcGluaW9uBHNsawNwb2xpdGljYWxpc2w-

    Reza Sanati is a graduate fellow in the Middle East Studies Center and a PhD student in the School of International and Public Affairs at Florida International University.

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  8. joel

    I think Americans are doing everything to decline the muslim world by use of civil society and also distorting the whole world in fact that there economic power has gone down and they cannot confront China so they want to distort they trading markets in muslim worid

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