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They Said We Put Each Other on a List: Adama Bah’s Ordeal

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This article is based on original reporting as well as content from the documentary film Adama which will be broadcast nationally Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2016 at 8/7c (check local listings) on WORLD Channel’s America ReFramed series.

Adama and her father

Adama Bah’s story begins at Fajr time on March 24, 2005.

That morning, agents from the FBI, the New York Police Department and immigration authorities knocked on the door of her family’s apartment in Harlem. Adama was 16, the oldest of five children of Guinean immigrants.

“They woke us up. They pulled our blankets off,” Adama recalls. The agents assembled the family in the living room.

“Sitting in the living room with strangers with guns and logos on their uniforms – for a 16-year-old that was very traumatic.”

She and her father were led handcuffed out of the apartment into a black SUV. For years after their arrest she would panic at the sight of a black SUV.

“What are they going to do? What are they going to do?”

Her mind repeated that thought as she and her father were driven to an unknown place for unknown reasons.

How Long Am I Going to Be Here?

Adama is now a 25-year-old wife and mother of two small children. She speaks about that morning calmly and factually as she has done many times before in interviews but even 11 years later she cries when describing seeing her father in handcuffs. She talks about the experience as she saw it then, looking through the eyes of a 16-year-old.

The voice of that 16-year-old can be heard in a documentary entitled simply Adama, directed by David Felix Sutcliffe. In the film we see much of her story in real time.

It is a story of naiveté and perseverance, of family and freedom and of the post-September 11 view of immigration and religious freedom.

An Empty Place

Adama was detained with another 16-year-old girl, a Bangladeshi national named Tashnuba Hayder. Both had been brought here as young children by immigrant parents. Adama says that until the day she was detained she had no idea that her parents – and thus she – lacked legal resident status.

According to a New York Times report from April 2005, a government document provided to the newspaper stated that each girl was “an imminent threat to the security of the United States based on evidence that they plan to be suicide bombers.” No evidence was provided and federal officials would not comment to the Times reporter, Nina Bernstein, who followed the cases of Adama and Tashnuba closely.

Adama and her father were taken to a federal detention facility in lower Manhattan, where they sat and waited, still handcuffed on a bench. Within a few minutes Tashnuba joined them and Adama watched as her father was led away, to where she did not know.

The two girls were driven to a federal juvenile detention facility in Pennsylvania. Adama did not know where she was being taken.

She had started that day with an arrest in the early morning, then watched as her father was taken away in handcuffs, then driven in a dark van to an unknown destination, and now was delivered to an unknown building in an unknown place.

“I wanted to scream to the officers don’t leave me here,” she says, recalling the irony of turning for help to the officers who had driven her to this place, as though they had become her companions as they rode together in silence. Perhaps she was thinking of her father. She had no way of knowing when she would see him again. However, she expected to return home herself that day.

“I was fingerprinted and had photos taken, so I figured I am going home now,” she says.

She was wrong, just as she was wrong in thinking that having done no wrong would spare her from the next trauma, the strip search.

In the film, she describes the strip search as “the worst thing in the world.”

“They took our clothes one by one off,” she says. “They had to search through them. Stand and turn around. All this stupid stuff. Spread your b#%t cheeks. Let me see between your toes. Lift your b##bs up, do this, do that. It’s disgusting.”

Next came a lecture about the rules of the detention center.

“Keep your hands down at all times, keep your eyes forward, strip searches, no fighting, no this, no that. We had to take off our hijabs because we weren’t allowed to have the scarves in the room,” she says.

“The next morning we saw all the other inmates, the other area. It was an empty place.”

She began to think: I’m going to be here forever. They’re not going to let me out.

She describes that moment as the most religious she has been in her life.

“I was just praying praying praying that this was over,” she says.

Only the FBI and Allah Know Why

There are many theories from many sources as to why she was taken – perhaps because she briefly wore niqab, whom she associated with, which masjid she attended, fallout from other immigration cases; there was even speculation that a simple salaam exchanged between Tashnuba and Adama led to suspicion.

However it happened, Adama ended up answering FBI agents’ questions without an attorney or parent present. She describes them as very friendly, but they asked open-ended questions that she did not know the answers to. She reports they asked if she knew people whose names weren’t familiar, and they asked her about Tashnuba, the other teenager who was detained with her.

The FBI agents told her Tashnuba had signed Adama up for a “list” of likely suicide bombers.

“I was like, is there a list?” she says.

In the film Adama reports that she asked Tashnuba if she signed her up.

“Tashnuba said they told me you did. That’s when I knew everything was bullshit.”

Tashnuba and her family returned to Bangladesh, which appeared the only remedy to her case.

Adama was released from the detention center with orders to wear an ankle bracelet and maintain a 10 p.m. curfew. When she returned, her father remained in Guinea.

“When I got home I took the longest shower ever and cried because I felt like I could cry now,” says Adama. “You could tell my dad wasn’t there. It was home but it wasn’t home. With my dad gone, there’s no food, no money, no nothing,” says Adama.

Her mother spoke little English and had to rely on Adama to be the head of the family.

“I don’t have a job,” her mother says in the film. “I don’t have any relatives here to help. My husband always handled the bills, the phone. Everything.”

Adama became the family’s support, in virtually every way her father had. She left high school and took work as a babysitter. In the film you see her again and again returning home smiling as she embraces and jokes with her younger siblings, now her wards, the people for whom she holds responsibility.

Adama also reveals the chaotic nature of her family’s life. There is a series of scenes where her siblings count down the time till 10 p.m., her curfew, frantic that she will be late and face another detention or, like their father, deportation. They don’t all seem to understand what exactly will happen if she doesn’t make it on time; they only know that they will be lost again. She arrives barely in time to dial a number and hold the phone to her ankle bracelet, which makes a loud electronic beeping noise to acknowledge that she has checked in.

During this period, Adama’s role was relieved to great extent by Maryland activist Mauri Saalakhan.

“Because the oldest boy was not going to school – there were a lot of pressures on him and the little brother and sister and on the mother of course – he was on the verge of being taken out of the family home,” says Saalakhan. “They asked if I would take him with me. He stayed with me for a couple of years. During that period I would get his little brother and sister from time to time and we were doing what we could to help the family make ends meet.”

Saalakhan also worked to bring her case to the attention of the public and press. Adama remains grateful for his help.

“I’m telling you he was sent for a reason,” Adama says.

Adama had seven immigration hearings before she was granted asylum on the basis of her likely undergoing female genital mutilation on return to Guinea. While they were waiting in federal detention her father warned her of this and said she couldn’t allow herself to be deported.

“When we were first arrested my father and I were sitting on a bench in the federal building and my dad said don’t go back to Guinea because they’re going to circumcise you there,” says Adama. “He said you can’t go back. There’s nothing for you there.”

She says in the film that she attended one immigration hearing without wearing a head scarf.

“I changed myself so the judge can let me stay in the country, so I can prove I look like you guys – normal – but after I took it off I was still treated like shit,” she says. “This time I knew why and it’s never coming off again. It’s not me. I am a Muslim woman.”

Upon receiving asylum, her ankle bracelet was removed. In the documentary she passes her new ID card around to her friends and family, reveling that at last she is free.

“Only the FBI and Allah know why I was detained,” says Adama.

What seems clear is that as a teenage girl she was compelled to become the head of her family because she was detained on the basis of her immigration status, and quite possibly because she is Muslim.

“If they don’t have proof they can’t touch you but if you’re an illegal immigrant they can,” says Adama in the documentary.

Everyone is Collapsed Into a Single Identity Bloc

For the film’s director, David Felix Sutcliffe, Adama’s case gave him an opportunity to express his passionate opposition to anti-Muslim bigotry and the type of injustice he sees in Adama’s case.

Adama was the first extended film he made upon completing graduate school, and it gave him the opportunity to highlight through her story what he sees as a chronic disparity in justice.

“Without a specific accusation there will always be this cloud over Adama. She was never given a chance to tell her story,” says Sutcliffe.

He points to cases such as that of Robert Doggart, a Tennessee man who made savage threats of violence against a community of Muslims in New York state. He was released on bail and his crime was not described as domestic terrorism. He also cites the takeover of a federal facility by extremists in Oregon, which was not met with immediate force and not characterized as terrorism, as another example of what he describes as a “separate system of justice.”

“It’s disgusting and it’s shocking to see what’s happening in terms of Islamophobia we see occurring right now,” says Sutcliffe.

He points to a lack of accurate representation of Islam in the mainstream media. Terrorist imagery fills the void.

Current media coverage reinforces the unrealistic expectation of the larger community.

“Everyone is collapsed into a single identity bloc,” Sutcliffe says.

He says there is no access to stories like Adama’s and that it behooves the media industry to compensate for that. He also notes that the media needs to be more inclusive.

“The mainstream media is saturated with white males, making a sort of patriarchy,” says Sutcliffe he points to a series of media analyses which demonstrate the racial makeup of newsrooms as low as 5% non-white staff.

He calls for proactive changes among media professionals including filmmakers like himself.

“We need storytellers of our society,” Sutcliffe says.

He often went home and cried after filming with Adama and her family. During a scene from Adama, her younger brother takes over the camera to share his opinion about his sister’s upcoming immigration hearing.

“If 9/11 never, ever happened, never, ever happened, no one would take our family, we would’ve had a better life,” he says. “And that’s what I want: a better life.”

Those are a child’s words, not analysis of the state of anti-terror activities, but the way in which those policies impact families. That’s the kind of story Sutcliffe seeks to tell in his films.

Sutcliffe says the media industry needs to be inclusive and more diversified, and that those of us in the narrative business need to tell stories like Adama’s, those that put a human face on issues of the day, such as immigration, FBI surveillance and extremism.

“The young sisters did nothing wrong,” says Saalakhan. “It was an issue of guilt by association and then a manipulation of fears and anxieties around the threat that Muslims are supposedly becoming.”

Trumpism In The Wings

At the time of this writing the possibility that Donald Trump will become the Republican presidential nominee strengthens and nears inevitability.

Make no mistake: Trump is a dangerous man, for minorities, for Muslims, for our foreign policy and for basic standards of civility.

He has proposed banning Muslims from entering the United States and enthusiastically shared a myth about a general who shot his Muslim enemies with bullets dipped in pig blood. He demonizes the media. He is narcissistic, unkind and vulgar. It has been quite some time since anyone approaching his level of danger has come so close to the presidency.

Adama shares pictures from her smart phone of her small children. She worries about them, she says. She feels Trump is dangerous to her and her kids.

“Now you’re not talking about just me but my children too. He’s going to destroy our country and I can’t let that happen,” she says. “He’s against blacks, against Latinos, everything our country is. I hope, and I’m making a lot of dua, that he not win. It is the responsibility of every black, every Latino, every Muslim, every color to vote.

Adama shows what fear can do to you. They put my family thru this ordeal for what?”

Filmmaker Sutcliffe has a similar take.

“With Trump a segment of the American population has become emboldened,” he says.

Eleven years after Adama’s experience, Islamophobia is reaching unprecedented levels. She knows well where it can lead when people are not given the chance to defend themselves.

“There needs to be a forum of all of us, different colors, different nations,” says Adama. “I think it’s our responsibility.”

Adama should know. She has known since the moment she was led handcuffed into a black SUV how it feels to be a victim. She knows how strongly people of conscience have to fight.

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bVKsPq4Sbzs[/youtube]

15 Comments

15 Comments

  1. Avatar

    cheikh

    February 23, 2016 at 8:49 PM

    how to get adama’s contact

  2. Avatar

    Ruth Nasrullah

    February 23, 2016 at 8:53 PM

    She is on twitter.

  3. Avatar

    cheikh

    February 23, 2016 at 9:32 PM

    thank you, ruth

  4. Avatar

    Z.

    February 24, 2016 at 10:40 AM

    This is a truly heartbreaking story that more people need to know about … Thank you for sharing , Adama and her family are in our prayers x

    • Avatar

      Ruth Nasrullah

      February 24, 2016 at 11:33 AM

      The good news is that Adama is now married with children, has citizenship, and her father finally was allowed to return from Guinea in 2011.

      The photo above is especially poignant because she describes herself as a “daddy’s girl” and really suffered in his absence. When he returned she was also relieved to no longer be essentially the head of the household and to turn that responsibility back to her father.

      However, she does still worry about similar injustices being visited on her husband and kids. It’s kind of like PTSD. She has little reason to think the system ensures her and her family’s safety.

      I brought up Trump (as I always do) because his rhetoric and threats, which have become more violent, increase the possibility that her experience could be repeated among others in the Muslim community, especially Hispanic Muslims.

  5. Avatar

    M.Mahmud

    February 26, 2016 at 7:50 PM

    Got enraged when I read they did a strip search.

  6. Avatar

    AF

    March 2, 2016 at 1:40 AM

    Do Muslims believe in being honest and obeying the laws of the country they are in? Adama’s father lied and broke laws to bring in his family illegally.

    Muslims, would you like it if I went to one of your mosques and lied about who I was because it was convenient? Perhaps I could dress up in a hijab and pretend to be Muslim to fit in. Perhaps I could spin a tale of being a Bosnian immigrant widow who needs money or help from the mosque. Would you like to be treated like that? Shall I go to Mecca pretending to be a Muslim because I want to see what it looks like and they forbid non-Muslims from going?

    If Muslims think it is okay to lie and deceive the United States immigration services, then when else is it all right to lie?

    • Avatar

      Ruth Nasrullah

      March 2, 2016 at 10:31 AM

      Yes, of course deception and breaking the law are wrong no matter who does it.

      Not sure, though, of the logic in posing your questions to all Muslims.

      • Avatar

        AF

        March 3, 2016 at 8:16 PM

        I’m posing my questions to Muslims on this site who clearly view the Bah family as victims to be sympathized with.

        I don’t sympathize with liars and frauds of any religion, because it is my moral belief that one should be an honest dealer as much as possible. The Bah family got in trouble for entering the USA illegally and using resources and infrastructure illegally, a form of theft from the US taxpayer.
        At least three of the children now have US citizenship rights and privileges based on the father’s fraud.

        The story of Adama Bah is the story of deception, and lawlessness perpetrated on the United States by a Guinean man and his family. I am trying to figure out why they are tragic heroes to the Muslims of Muslim Matters.

    • Avatar

      Maurizio

      March 4, 2016 at 12:11 PM

      I am afraid you will not like what I am about to say but it is the absolute truth.
      1) A good 80% of Muslims in Europe are illegal immigrants who flee the Police when they see them approaching; they often claim citizenship based on stolen or forged passports (made in Turkey) and live on the system for the first 6 months of theis stay in Europe; but if their application for asylum is rejected (false passport means you are lieing; else, most come from nations NOT at war) they flee and become fugitives, and are often enlisted into local gangs of organized crime;
      2) These “gentlemen” (a mere 55 of immigrants are women) are known for their “after dark” drinking sprees; I have never seen young men ingurgitate so much beer as the young North Africans or alleged Syrians (it turns out they are mostly Turkmenis, Pakistanis or Bangladeshis) They WILL pimp cocaine or marijuana on occasion.
      3) At the time of writing, (3 march 2016) some 40% of Jail space in Italy is occupied by these gentlemen. NOT a good example of coexistence.
      4) Having said all the above, take the opening story, switch “Muslim” with “Christian” and you have the idea of what goes on in Pakistan or Egypt. Christian communities date back to 300 years before the Prophet Muhammad (read that again, 300 years) yet they are persecuted for the only reason they are “different”.
      Again, not a good example of coexistance.

      You have a nice Forum and I like to read of your issues and matters BUT if you wish to coexist you ought to find a way to coexistence: calling people of an Abramitic faith “unbelievers” is not a good way to start.

      We have far more in common than you would believe.
      Europe has lòearned Wars of Religion are not good for either side, the hard way.
      And the USA are hardly the ideal choice to use as an example.
      Trust me, I’m European, and they are “Europeans from across the Ocean” ;)

    • Avatar

      Ibrahim Farrier

      March 29, 2016 at 4:17 PM

      So…the process these guys went through was ok? They were clearly not treated as illegal immigrants, but as torrorists. Check the process is you don’t believe me. I guess it’s ok for the US govt to break the law? They were lied to by the US govt, about the girls putting each other on a list, is that ok?
      Reasons; he decided that the unstable govt of Guinea was no place to raise a family. His daughter was going to be mutilated. Maybe his reasons are wrong, however, if it were me, I’d try to do it the “right way” but in the end I will do whatever it takes to make a better life for my kids. In any case, right or wrong, his reasons for doing what he did are, no doubt, better than the govt reasons for handling things the way they did…Islamophobia.

      Adam IS a hero in her amazing level of perseverance, her father is a hero for doing WHATEVER it took to get his kids a chance at a better life, the family are hero’s as well for the support they provided which I am sure had a price to pay, as well.

      I support legal immigration, and I support deportation of illegals, but it is vital when deciding the deportation of an individual that one has compassion. Only a MONSTER would deport someone knowing that person would be mutilated, tortured or killed, and clearly even the govt agrees with that.

    • Avatar

      Abu

      June 21, 2016 at 6:03 PM

      You guys do it already… don’t need to ask us whether we like it or not.

  7. Avatar

    Ruth Nasrullah

    March 4, 2016 at 10:54 AM

    Thanks for clarifying. The documentary and this article are about Adama’s experience. Hopefully the article didn’t seem to support her parents’ choices. It wasn’t intended to be an analysis of immigration policy.

  8. Avatar

    Kandr

    December 14, 2016 at 1:24 AM

    The story touched me. I am a minority woman and i can relate. I experience this every day.

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#Culture

Book Review of Revolution by the Book by Imam Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin (Formerly known As H Rap Brown)

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Imam Jamil Al-Amin’s magnum opus, Revolution by the Book, is a paradigmatic Islamic liberation theology manifesto. It gives an outline of spiritual cultivation specific to the experience of the marginalized who are advocating for freedom from structural oppression, particularly Black Americans in the context in which Imam Jamil is writing. In his book, Imam Jamil Al-Amin argues that Islamic religious practice, which he refers to as “the Muslim program” provides a successful guide to revolution, specifically for Black Americans who have been marginalized, dehumanized, and oppressed in the United States for over 400 years. This revolution is not to be understood in the context of the masses suddenly rising up and overthrowing the ruling class. Rather, it is a suttle and spiritual revolution of the hearts. Imam Al-Amin argues that only through the revolution of self can a person be able to revolutionize the community around them. He writes that “It is said in Islam that the greatest struggle is the struggle against the evil of self. The struggle against the evil of self is the great Jihad, the foremost holy struggle,” alluding to a hadith of the Prophet Muhammad(Peace be upon him). The book’s quotations are almost completely from two sources: the Qur’an and ahadith, which are sayings of the Prophet Muhammad. Revolution by the Book is adorned with these two sources of Islamic knowledge. It is seldom impossible to find a page of the book without either a hadith of the Prophet Muhammad(Peace be upon him), or a verse of the Qur’an. Imam Jamil Al-Amin’s book begins with Surah Fatihah, the opening chapter of the Qur’an. Following them come the 10 chapters of the book all deal with a particular aspect of this program. Each chapter begins with a particular set of verses of the Qur’an.

The first chapter, “God Alone” stresses the importance of belief in God in transforming society. Without this belief, society cannot move forward in improving itself. It is followed by a chapter entitled “Born to Worship” which emphasizes the importance of prayer. Thereafter comes a chapter titled “Holy Money” which speaks of the importance of charity, which morphs into a discussion on the sociopolitical imperative of investing one’s money in the community. Then comes “God’s Diet” which speaks of the importance of fasting and eating healthy food. The fifth chapter is titled “Pilgrim’s Progress” and mentions the Hajj, and how Islam connects Muslims to a broader community of brothers and sisters around the world. The book is then followed by a chapter titled “God Natured” which speaks of the importance of the fitrah, or original nature of submission to God that all human beings possess, described in a hadith by the Prophet Muhammad(Peace be upon him). The book then presents a chapter titled “Turn Right at the Light” which emphasizes the importance of repentance when one commits a sin. Chapter 8, “In Your Family” emphasizes the importance of the nuclear family, and is followed by a chapter titled “Everybody Can Fight But Everybody Can’t Win” which emphasizes the importance of practicing the program and living by an Islamic epistemology, as opposed to ascribing to secular ideologies such as nationalism and Marxism. The book ends with a chapter titled “Finish Lines” which accents how death can come any day for a human being, and how the Muslim must prepare for it, each and every day. The book then culminates with Surah Asr, a three verse chapter of the Qur’an dealing with the importance of time, and making the most of the limited time that man has on Earth. Revolution by the Book serves as a call to action, intended to resurrect the soul of the reader, so that they can ultimately resurrect a broken society. The text reads in the voice of a powerful figure. In order to understand just how powerful of a figure the author is, one must understand both his contributions as both an Imam and leader of American Muslims as Imam Jamil Al-Amin, as well as his contribution to the freedom struggle of Black Americans as H. Rap Brown.

Imam Jamil Al-Amin is a leader within the Dar Al Islam movement, a Sunni Muslim, predominantly Black American, Islamic movement in the United States. Founded in 1962, the Dar Al Islam movement was the single largest Sunni Muslim organization in the United States until Imam Warith Deen Mohammed transitioned his father’s formerly pseudo-Islamic Nation of Islam to Sunni Islam in 1976. The Dar Al Islam movement’s ideology can be seen in the sources that Imam Jamil Al-Amin cites. He uses very few sources outside of the Qur’an and ahadith of the Prophet Muhammad. This is because the Dar Al Islam movement overall did not affiliate itself to any particular madhab, or school of Islamic jurisprudence, nor did it affiliate itself to any Sufi order. However, the organization is distinct from Salafis in the sense that they are not anti-madhabb or anti-Sufism. But one can see the ideology of not following a particular Sufi Shaikh or school of thought in this work of Jamil Al-Amin. Rather, he focuses on preaching to people the Qur’an and authentic sayings of the Prophet Muhammad. This is not necessarily an issue as he is preaching very rudimentary and basic Islamic teachings, and means of purifying oneself in this book.

The title of the book may also seem strange to some. As opposed to a revolutionary manifesto, the book seems to rather be a book on how to change one’s own self and how to restructure society from there. Before his conversion to Islam, Imam Jamil Al-Amin was known as H. Rap Brown, a charismatic and nationally-known leader within the civil rights movement. He would be mentored by now-Congressman John Lewis, who was then Chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. At the young age of 23, H. Rap Brown became Chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, succeeding Stokely Carmichael. Under Brown’s leadership, SNCC entered into a working relationship with the Black Panther Party. Brown took the nonviolent out of the name of the organization, and renamed it the Student National Coordinating Committee, lamenting that “violence is as American as cherry pie” and that they would “use violence, if necessary” and fight for freedom “by any means necessary.” 

While chairman of SNCC, Brown simultaneously was appointed Minister of Justice of the Black Panther Party. In 1971, Brown was sentenced to 5 years in jail for “inciting a riot”, a crime that many suggest came out of the Cointelpro program that specifically had the goal of “neutralizing” him. It was in jail that chaplains from the Dar Al Islam movement invited him to their weekly Friday prayers. Familiar with Islam because of Malcolm X, H. Rap Brown attended Friday prayers without becoming Muslim. After a few Friday prayers, H. Rap Brown converted to Islam and took the name Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin. Upon leaving jail, Imam Jamil Al-Amin studied the classical Islamic sciences in West Africa, India, and Pakistan. Following that, he became Imam of a community of around 400 Muslims in the West End neighborhood of Atlanta. The title Revolution by the Book comes from Imam Jamil Al-Amin’s credentials as a revolutionary. He is alluding to how he feels that his Islam is the culmination of his revolutionary days in the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and Black Panther Party, and that he has now finally found a means of making this revolution possible. He says in the prologue of the book that becoming Muslim did not mean a shift from his revolutionary lifestyle. Rather, he says that Islam was a “continuation of a lifestyle” of the struggle for freedom for Black Americans.

Imam Jamil Al-Amin writes that:

It became evident that to accomplish the things we had talked about in the struggle, you need a practice. Allah says He does not change the condition of people until they change was is in themselves. That is what Islam does, and it points out right from wrong. It points out truth from falsehood.

He continues on to say that:

It is criminal that in, in the 1900’s, we still approach struggle…sloganeering saying, “by any means necessary,” as if that’s a program. Or “we shall overcome,” as if that’s a program. Slogans are not programs. We must define the means which will bring about change. This can be found in…[what] Allah has brought for us in the Qur’an and in the example of the Prophet. Our revolution must be according to what Almighty God revealed…Successful struggle requires a Divine program. Allah has provided that program.

The remainder of the book outlines the ingredients for successful struggle. Imam Jamil Al-Amin claims that the most important aspect of revolution is belief in God. Without this, none of the other objectives such as prayer, fasting, charity, repentance, and pilgrimage to Mecca can be actualized and implemented. He also goes on to argue a divine command morality. If a person does not have belief in God, they lack an objective morality to base their lifestyle on. As a result, they fall into a subjective morality that makes it very easy for them to stumble and constantly reinterpret their values in accordance to their whims and desires when faced with pressure to compromise their values. To successfully mount a revolution, a person needs to be solidly grounded and not constantly reinterpreting what is right and wrong. Such an action could jeopardize the struggle and place the one engaging in the revolution in danger of selling out his or her values. Divine command morality serves as an anchor for the person revolutionizing society. This is why Imam Jamil Al-Amin believes that Imaan, or faith in God is the single most important ingredient to successful struggle. It is also interesting to note that the Arabic word “imaan” which means faith comes from “Amaan”, a root word that means safety or security. Through faith, believers are strongly anchored and have safety and protection from being misled by their whims and desires.

Imam Jamil Al-Amin writes that:

Iman is an essential ingredient to success, for a fearful, doubtful person is unable to struggle; he gives up easily, submits to every oppressor, compromises his integrity, acquiesces in injustice, and accepts enslavement. In contrast, a person who has taqwa, God-consciousness, fears only the Ruler of the Universe, Almighty Allah; he perseveres against the greatest of challenges, maintains his integrity, resists injustice, refuses enslavement, and fights oppression without regard to man-made standards.

Next, Imam Jamil Al-Amin claims that the most important aspect of this struggle is prayer. He says that prayer is the center of the community. He quotes the hadith of the Prophet Muhammad that prayer is what separates a believer form a disbeliever. He also quotes verse 11 of Surah Raad which states that “God does not change the condition of people until they change was is in themselves.” This is the most quoted verse of the Qur’an in his entire book, emphasizing the change in self that is required for the revolution that SNCC and the Black Panther Party imagined. He asserts that prayer is the key to this change, and that prayer is also what binds his mosque together.

Imam Jamil Al-Amin writes that:

Any building is just an edifice. The mosque is built to make prayer. Prayer is the key to the community, not buildings…Prayer is a practice, a program, that begins to make you aware, that makes you conscious of the Creator; it makes you fear Allah, and that brings about within you a transformation, a change that is necessary to throw off that whole system that you have become accustomed to. It is the beginning of a revolution in you which expands to other aspects of you reality.

Following his emphasis on prayer as the foundation of successful Islamic practice, Imam Jamil emphasizes other very important aspects of Islam, cemented with verses from the Qur’an and ahadith. Aside from just emphasizing the religious obligation of the action, Imam Jamil Al-Amin connects the idea to a sociopolitical imperative. It is not just his goal to explain to the reader why the action is religiously mandated. But he also seeks to connect it to why it is important for the social resurrection of the community in which a person resides. For example, he presents many hadith and the verses of Qur’an on the importance of charity. But beyond that, he connects the idea to the spiritual and social resurrection of Black Americans. 

Charity — you cannot have an effective social struggle, a successful movement, if you don’t have charity. You cannot have a successful revolution if people don’t have charity, if you are not willing to sacrifice. Sacrifice deals with giving, with sharing those things that Allah places in your trust? 

Beyond just laying out religious obligations, Imam Jamil Al-Amin points out many flaws in modern society, particularly those of materialism and corporatism. In his view, modernity is filled with many diseases that have deprived people of who they really are. People just go around consuming food, drugs, and entertainment, and are unable to cultivate their souls, or even ponder the fact that they have one. He writes about how society is devoid of values and how Americans have become a people who just go from one holiday to another without contemplating their existence. Americans have become a people not just intoxicated by drugs. More prominently, they have been intoxicated by holidays and entertainment.

We talk about intoxicants. We reduce the problem to cocaine and crack. But indeed, it is more than cocaine and crack. In fact, the problem is not crack and cocaine, the problem is that we live in a society that has made a virtue out of being high. This society arouses within you desires and passions that make you seek to escape reality by being high. Everything is geared toward keeping you in a state of euphoria. One holiday follows the next: Christmas to New Years, to Easter, to Mother’s Day, to Father’s Day, to the NBA playoffs, to the Superbowl, to championship fights, to Olympics. Everything keeps you high. Everything is geared towards keeping you away from encountering reality, everything is geared to keep you from remembering God.

He advises parents on the dangers of this corporatism also. Imam Jamil writes that: 

Your child must stop eating what the media sells; the television, radio, comics, magazines, recordings, etc. You must help them control their lives; you must take control of your children’s lives away from their enemy. You strive hard to teach your children right, then you turn the television on and allow everything that is against your religion, against your Lord, to be propagated in your house. You lock your doors and windows then turn on the TV.

One weakness in this text comes with regard to who Imam Jamil Al-Amin’s audience is. One review referred to it as “A valuable text for new Muslims and an excellent introduction to the fundamental teachings of Islam for non-Muslims.” So perhaps it is a text aimed at introducing non-Muslims to Islam, while also allowing Muslims to review the basic teachings through the context of his unique life experience. But which non-Muslims is he specifically speaking to? Is he speaking to Black revolutionaries who are not yet Muslim? He could be speaking to past colleagues of his from SNCC and the Black Panther Party. Is he making the case to them that Islamic practice presents a necessary program for them to actualize what they want in regard to this revolution?  Is that the purpose of this book? Or is he is referring to Islam as the continuation of the struggle in a rhetorical way. He is saying to his people that they do not need to wage revolution through protests and the ballot box. Rather, by the practice of Islam, each and every person transforming themselves will transform society. After all, society is merely the summation of a bunch of individuals. If all parts of the whole have revolutionized themselves, the whole too should revolutionize itself.

I also question if it weakens Islam or sells the deen short to present it as a means of good revolutionary praxis as opposed to salvation. The objective of Islam is to get close to God, not to restructure society. But establishing justice and ridding the world of this oppression is a result that comes from closeness to God. One begins a Muslim out of belief in God, and out of realization that the Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) is the messenger of God, the last of prophets, and the greatest human being to ever walk this Earth. It is obvious that Imam Jamil Al-Amin understands. He emphasizes that the self must be transformed before anything else and that it is important to be aware of one’s close proximity to death. I wonder if maintaining the notion of a revolutionary self is to essentially say to those from his past days in the freedom struggle that he has not changed as a person. The H. Rap Brown who asserted that “violence is as American as cherry pie” has discovered what real revolution is all about—the greater jihad against the nafs. It is a sign that he has not committed some sort of political apostasy towards the freedom struggle, or cultural apostasy towards Black people. Rather, he has discovered that this materialism and lack of spiritual ethic guiding the freedom struggle can be purified and best applied when put into Islamic guidelines. 

For Muslims, this is an especially important text. It reminds them to fulfill the basic obligations of their religion and the evidence from the Qur’an and Sunnah for fulfilling these basic obligations. It also connects to a figure who is seldom forgotten. Many know of Malcolm X and Muhammad Ali, but few know of the Imam Jamil Al-Amin. In addition, the Dar Al Islam movement which he was a leader in provides a model for dawah and Islamic institution building. But moreover, Imam Jamil Al-Amin’s book exemplifies to the reader that purification of the self does not have to take place in a vacuum of political quietism. Rather, in purifying themselves, the reader too can purify the community around them. Revolution by the Book is a seminal text representing a seminal figure.

Both Imam Jamil Al-Amin and his manifesto will be etched in the American Muslim imagination for years to come as symbols for purification of self, and the purification of society, insha Allah. 

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Ten Reasons You Should Support MuslimMatters This #GivingTuesday

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With so many amazing #GivingTuesday campaigns running, why should you choose to support MuslimMatters?

1. MuslimMatters publishes Islamic news and perspectives not given voice in mainstream media, and we do it for free.

2. We bring awareness to the issues otherwise sidelined by mainstream media, like refugee rights, Palestinian self-determination, the oppression of the Rohingya, mass internment of the Uighur, and government lockdown and repression of the Kashmiris.

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7. Our content has been cited by media outlets like CNN, ESPN, Buzzfeed, and the Washington Post.

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8. Articles published on MuslimMatters have appeared in Supreme Court Briefings, reading requirements for College Classes, and Interfaith Education events, granting their authors reach beyond what micro-blogging could ever accomplish.

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A Letter From The Executive Director

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AssalamuAlaikum Dear MM Fam,

Alhamdulillah in 2007, I was fortunate to be a part of the team that started up a little website called MuslimMatters.org. It’s hard to believe it’s been over a decade. In that time MM has grown from a group blog into a full-blown media entity giving an independent and authentic Islamic voice to contemporary spiritual, social, and political issues that we face.

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With 2020 around the corner, we are at a critical juncture. Traffic has grown beyond our current capacity – yes, we’re basically the masjid that now has an expansion project lol – and we have to grow in order to meet our community’s media needs.

Your help is needed to invest in the MM infrastructure so we can not only keep up with our current growth but also develop new content such as podcasts and videos to continue to reach more readers all across the globe.

Your contribution on #GivingTuesday is particularly vital as it will count as double with a Facebook match. We need your help to make vital improvements that will enable MuslimMatters to continue being a voice for the voiceless and a platform for mainstream Islam in the media.

This #GivingTuesday I’m raising money for Muslimmatters Inc and your contribution will make an impact, whether you donate $5 or $500. Every little bit helps. And on GivingTuesday Dec 3, Facebook will match a total of $7 million in donations first come, first served. Thank you for your support.

Contribute what you can, and please share this post to help us hit our #GivingTuesday target to keep MuslimMatters strong for 2020.

JazakAllahuKheiran,

Omar Usman

Executive Director

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