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Obesity in the Ummah – The Struggle For Wasat

obesity

Let’s talk about overeating.  It’s a touchy subject, so I’ll start.  Over the span of 13 years I gave birth to 5 children and I also gained quite a lot of weight.  I’d like to blame the extra pounds completely on my pregnancies and the stress of motherhood, but that would be disingenuous. The truth is, I became overweight primarily because I turned to food — which is supposed to be healthy fuel for my body — as a source of comfort, happiness, stress relief, and indulgence. I consistently consumed more calories than I burned off, and I ate too many foods that were high in sugar and fat, but low in nutrients.  It wasn’t that I had zero willpower; every Ramadan, I could summon up the necessary self control to fast from dawn until sunset, like billions of other Muslims. Yet somehow, for the rest of the year, I couldn’t stop myself from saying “yes” to every chocolate chip cookie I met. 

Why couldn’t I control my eating on a consistent basis? Why did my willpower go out the window as soon as Ramadan was over?  I have always understood that our deen is one of wasat, or balance, and that we should not go to extremes in anything, including how much we consume.  Our Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) famously said, “The son of Adam does not fill any vessel worse than his stomach. It is sufficient for the son of Adam to eat a few mouthfuls, to keep him going. If he must do that (fill his stomach), then let him fill one third with food, one third with drink and one third with air.” (al-Tirmidhi). 

Was I lacking faith? Was there something inherently wrong with me that made me overindulge?  Would I ever reclaim the fit, trim body of my youth and reestablish a healthy relationship with food?   

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It turns out that Muslims like me who have struggled with overeating and/or obesity are certainly not alone.  According to a 2018 report by the World Health Organization, worldwide obesity has nearly tripled since 1975. Muslim-majority countries have the dubious distinction of leading the pack. Currently nine of the twenty most obese nations on earth are, ironically, countries where the majority of residents spend an entire month of each year fasting!  Kuwait, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Libya, Turkey, Egypt, Lebanon, and the United Arab Emirates all share undesirable positions among the highest ranks of the world’s fattest nations.  

One 2013 medical study claims, “Adolescent obesity has reached a critical level in the Arab countries. Therefore there is an urgent need to establish programs to prevent and control obesity among schoolchildren in these countries.” In Pakistan, the outlook is similarly grim, according to a medical review undertaken in 2016 which concludes,  “Pakistan is currently suffering from an emerging epidemic of obesity. Effective interventions are required at population level to prevent and control this emerging public health issue.”

For most Muslims who grew up in the West, unhealthy food has been around for as long as we can remember.  Those of us who are currently middle aged have been surrounded by junk food — or at least images of it — since we were born.  If we watched TV, we grew up seeing thousands of clever, seductive commercials for Coke, McDonalds, Doritos, Oreos, and dozens of other processed and highly addictive foods. We have been exposed to these temptations nearly everywhere we have gone: school cafeterias, supermarket checkout lines, shopping malls, parties, sporting events, movie theaters, and even book stores. 

Isra Hashmy sees the ramifications of this lifestyle in her position as a Board Certified Family Nurse Practitioner at Massachusetts General Hospital where she has managed the diabetic patient population in a primary care clinic. Hashmy says, “The Muslims in the West, whether born and raised or immigrated, have adopted the fast food culture. They get food from drive-thrus, donuts before work, and order pizza at night. Due to the busy, fast-paced life of living in the West, they eat out more, which means more fried foods, high fructose, saturated and trans fats.” 

obesity

“Their lifestyle,” Hashmy adds, “does not lend itself to burning all the extra calories and fat they are consuming. They sit for eight or more hours and then get into a car, sit in traffic, and go home only to eat, and go to bed soon after. The issue is there is no movement and no nutrient-dense foods.”

The problem of fast food is not limited to people in the West, Hashmy says. “Having traveled to Morocco, Turkey, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, UAE, there is a common thread among them that I’ve seen which is food delivery services are incredibly popular. Families will order food from restaurants around town to bring the food home, and now there is not even a need to go out. The lifestyle also does not help to burn the extra calories. The weather has made it such that people sleep very late, eat at late hours, and then wake up late.” 

And yet, East or West, not all people are obese.  Why is this? Do some people just have stronger willpower?  A higher level of imaan?  Good genes?

Though weight loss programs have been trying to unlock that secret for nearly six decades (one of the first, and most famous, Weight Watchers, was founded in 1963), obesity is still on the rise in most parts of the world.  Every year new trends tap into the weight loss niche and promise results, but few seem to deliver lasting solutions. Some fads are difficult to follow and others have questionable health benefits. For people hoping to lose weight, it can be very hard to know which plan will actually work, and which one will be sustainable in the long run.  There are also stigmas attached with being overweight that make some people afraid to seek help for their problem.  

In an article called “Are physicians biased against overweight patients?,” author Rita Rubin, MA, asserts, “A 2015 review of literature on weight bias in healthcare found considerable evidence that negative attitudes and stereotypes about people with obesity influence physicians’ judgment, behavior, patient perceptions and even decision-making. Research has found doctors show less respect for overweight patients, spend less time with them in the exam room and feel justified to address excess weight ‘every chance they get.’”

Hashmy believes that Muslims face some additional challenges: “One stigma I find in Muslims who want to lose weight is they feel they are being vain, and it’s not in the religion to care about looks. A lot of education is needed to let them see, this is basic health. This is not about being vain, it’s about taking care of yourself, which is a requirement of our deen.”

Shabana Haxton, a Registered Nurse, Certified Diabetes Educator, and Certified Cognitive Behavioral Therapist who works with patients with diabetes as well as bariatric surgery candidates, agrees that Muslims might have to overcome some extra obstacles.  In her profession she has worked with numerous Muslim clients who want and need to lose weight. “I believe emotional eating is very common in our community,” Haxton says. “We show love via food. If you go to someone’s house and do not eat a lot, it is an insult to the host. The host keeps putting food on your plate, etc.”

It’s clear that Muslims tend to love and treasure their native cuisine.  Whether it’s biryani, maqlooba, kebab, bastilla, roti, or shawarma, the traditional food of a Muslim’s heritage is usually cherished, shared, and enjoyed with gusto.  While Allah SWT has forbidden recreational drugs and alcohol, most foods are halal. Therefore at almost every Muslim celebration — from Eid and iftaar parties to weddings to aqeeqas — food is always present, in abundance, taking center stage.  With cultures that celebrate primarily with food, plus a religious tradition that might seem to downplay the importance of physical appearance, plus the other stigmas that overweight people in general face, Muslims are in a particular bind.  What is the first step they should take, if they need to lose weight?

Hashmy suggests, “My first advice is to switch your meals. Generally, most people have their biggest meal at night, at dinner. I tell them to make lunch their biggest meal and dinner something lighter. Due to the fact that they are most likely less active at night, there is a greater chance of burning the calories consumed from lunch than a dinner they had at 9:00 pm or later.”

Haxton asserts that first — and crucially — overweight people must “Admit that they have a problem. Seek help. Over-consumption of food is not just a physical problem. It is a biological, social and emotional problem. Until we all get to the root of the problem we will not be able to succeed.”  She warns, “If we do lose weight by a fad diet, it will come back because the root cause is not fixed.” 

My own experience confirms Haxton’s opinion.  Over the years I’ve tried several diets, but none addressed the core issues — my addiction to sugar and my emotional dependence on food.  Alhamdullilah, last May, a friend told me about a book that would change my life and my way of thinking about food: Bright Line Eating:  The Science of Living Happy, Thin, and Free by Susan Peirce Thompson, Ph.D.  

Bright Line Eating (known as BLE) is based on the science of addiction and was developed by Thompson, a former professor of Brain and Cognitive Sciences who focused her doctoral studies on the elusive topic of weight loss.  In her book, Thompson describes how sugar and flour act like drugs in our brain, causing some people — particularly those who are highly susceptible — to be addicted to them in the same way others are hooked on heroin or cocaine. Thompson lists concrete steps we can take to overcome food addiction and to reclaim our health. Her four “Bright Lines” are clear boundaries we must not cross, and by following them diligently we rewire our brain to help us eat in a healthier way, with less cravings, less stress, and less reliance on fickle willpower.    

It is no exaggeration to say that Bright Line Eating has transformed my life.  I now understand why I overindulged for many years, and why the temptation to eat unhealthy foods was so great. “Moderation” is nearly impossible for an addict. One bite of an addictive food makes your brain crave more.  I had gained weight not because I was weak, lazy, or uncommitted to my faith or my health. It was because of the two drug-like substances — sugar and flour that were making my brain beg me for the next “hit.” 

Alhamdulillah, as of this writing I have followed Bright Line Eating for nearly eight months. In that time I have lost a substantial amount of weight, healed many weight-related health problems, and improved my relationship with food so that I no longer feel desperate for unhealthy options. I now enthusiastically recommend Thompson’s book to everyone who questions me about my very visible, very positive transformation.

To my overweight brothers and sisters, I send encouragement and hope.  There are solutions to your problems, professionals who are willing to help with compassion and knowledge, and weight loss plans that do work. Do not feel that you are a weak Muslim or an unworthy person if you struggle with overeating.  Scientists and doctors are still discovering what causes unhealthy eating patterns, and they increasingly realize that obesity is not due to laziness or any other character flaw.  If you are struggling with your weight, know that your Creator gave you a body as an amanah and that seeking help to improve your health is a sign of gratitude to Him.  

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For over a decade, Laura El Alam has been a frequent contributor to various Islamic magazines. In her work she frequently addresses issues related to converts' experiences, women's right in Islam, racism, and Muslim-American identity. You can follow her on Facebook at her page The Common Sense Convert and read her blog on her website Sea Glass Writing & Editing.

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Raised by Converts

Note to the reader:  Some Muslims debate which term we should use for someone who has chosen to accept Islam. Is it supposed to be “convert” or “revert?”  In this article, I choose to use the word “convert.”  Before I start receiving comments from individuals who are convinced that the term “revert” is the only correct one, I would like to share this superb article on the issue written by Ricardo Peña, who says it better than I ever could.  

Nuha* thought she had found her soulmate and future life partner in Joel*, her co-worker. He was kind, hardworking, and charming, and the young couple wanted to get married.  Nuha’s father, however, would not give his blessing to the union because the potential groom had recently converted to Islam.  Nuha’s dad wanted his daughter to marry a man who had grown up in a Muslim family and therefore, presumably, had years of Islamic experience and fairly solid religious knowledge. He speculated about some of the things Joel might have done before embracing Islam and whether he had any habits that would be hard to break. He also thought it would be wiser for his daughter to marry someone from the same background; he doubted a white guy would really know how to relate to a Pakistani-American girl and her desi family. Most of all, he worried that Joel would not know enough about Islam to be a good husband, father, and imam of his family.  

Was Nuha’s father justified? Do converts make good spouses and parents? Can they ever truly move on from any un-Islamic aspects of their past and adhere to their new deen

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How do converts attain the knowledge necessary to raise children with Islamic knowledge, taqwa, and adab?

To answer this question I spoke with six Muslims who grew up in a household where one or more parents were converts to Islam. Their answers give insight into the true dynamics of what happens when converts raise children.  

Khadijah is a freelance writer, editor, and writing coach from the United Kingdom. Her mother, a white British woman, converted when Khadijah was eight years old.  When she and Khadijah’s father had divorced, she had felt a need to find a deeper meaning in life. This searching led her to Islam.  

“My mum taught me Islam in stages,” explains Khadijah. “As she learnt things, she passed them onto me. We went to study circles together, and we learnt to pray together as well. She wrote the transliteration of the prayer on little blue cards for us to hold whilst we prayed. I wouldn’t say her knowledge was sufficient at the time, but whose knowledge is? I learnt valuable lessons as I watched her do her own reading, leaning, and questioning. I felt like we stumbled through together. As I grew up, this taught me Islam is a constant journey, and it’s ok to ask questions.”

Shaheda, a freelance writer from North Carolina, grew up in different circumstances than Khadijah, but the women’s stories have definite parallels. Shaheda’s parents are African Americans who were both raised in traditional southern Christian families. The pair converted to Islam in the 1960s when they were college students who were active in the Civil Rights movement. They began to learn about Islam after their introduction to leaders like Malcolm X.  

As different as her parents’ life experiences were from Khadijah’s mum’s, Shaheda enjoyed the same benefit of being able to see her parents growing and changing due to the love of Islam. “My parents were learning Islam as they were raising us,” explains Shaheda, “and so their increase in knowledge was tangible to us. We grew up in a community where you would see the physical manifestations of knowledge acquisition. The style of dress of the sisters became more modest, the separation of women and men became more pronounced in social gatherings, social gatherings took on a more religious tone, we began to attend Sunday school to learn Quran and Arabic.”

Though it may come as a surprise to some, in families where one spouse was a born to a Muslim family and the other is a convert, the convert is often actually the more knowledgable and practicing parent. Aliyah is a family counselor from the Midwestern United States whose Indian mother and white American father met when they were partners in pre-med.  “My dad had read about ‘Mohammedans’ and would ask my mom lots of questions about them,” explains Aliyah. “My mom was raised in a home that was only culturally Muslim. Plus, back then most immigrants just wanted to assimilate. She didn’t really know the answer to my dad’s intensive questions. One day she suggested he ask her father the same questions. My grandfather took him to the ISNA convention where he could ask more knowledgeable people. Alhumdulilah he got all his questions answered and converted!”

 She continues, “As a little kid we always looked at my dad as the sheikh of the house. We all agree that he’s the reason my family is even practicing. He would always patiently entertain and answer my questions, read me stories about the Prophets and Seerah, and really focus on aqeedah and comparative religions.  When I grew up and both our levels of knowledge needed to grow, we learnt together. As a teen, my dad and I would walk to the masjid together and attend the Friday night halaqa. In college, our favorite thing to do was attend al Maghrib classes. I would ditch my friends and discuss with him what we had learned during the lunch break.”

For Iman,* a stay at home mom who grew up between the United States and the Middle East, it was her convert mother — not her Arab father — who was her main Islamic influence.  “I was about 6-7 years old when my mom converted,” she explains.  “I grew up celebrating Christmas and Eid. We had a Christmas tree in our living room for the first several years of my life. My mother, who was raised a Southern Baptist, embraced Islam when my youngest brother was a baby, so for most of his life she was a practicing Muslim. We learned most of what we know from her.  I remember as a child seeing stacks of books on the dining table that she would check out of the masjid library to read and learn. She was a very intelligent woman who knew more about Islam than lots of born Muslims.”

Based on her own experiences, Iman asserts, “Generally speaking, I think converts are more knowledgeable than born Muslims. It can be challenging,” she adds, “when the convert is more serious about deen than their born-Muslim spouse.”

Anisa, a former teacher from Missouri, agrees with Iman.  “In some ways, I feel converts may have more Islamic knowledge than born Muslims because they have had to search for the knowledge themselves as opposed to growing up with it. Also,” she adds, “many born Muslims have grown up with so much culture mixed with the religion that the difference between the two can get blurred.”

Anisa’s mom, a white American woman who was raised Christian, met some Muslims at Oklahoma Baptist College back in 1970.  She started conversations with them in the hopes of converting them to Christianity, but ended up intrigued by their faith. She took an Islamic History class and read whatever books she could find at the library. She decided to become a Muslim at an MSA conference and made her shahada in 1973. “By the time my mother was raising my sisters and me, she definitely knew all the basics of Islam and was able to teach us,” says Anisa.

“She was the main parental source of knowledge for us, although we also attended Sunday school.”Click To Tweet

Mustafa is the child of an Egyptian dad and an American mom. He was born in the U.S. but raised primarily in Egypt where he was surrounded by Muslims, and yet his convert mother was a huge inspiration to him in his faith. “I know that I loved my mom so much,” Mustafa says.  “I felt that she had done the decision-making process for us. That if someone so smart, clever, and precise figured out Islam was the Truth, it must be.” 

“My mom became Muslim in the early 80s,” explains Mustafa. “She learned about Islam from her students while completing her Masters at the University of Illinois-Champagne. She was teaching English as a second language to Malaysian exchange students. She also ended up living with them and learning about Islam from them. People always assumed my mom converted for my dad,” muses Mustafa. “She didn’t even know him when she converted!”

As positive as their experiences were, overall, with the guidance of their convert parents, life was not always easy for the children who grew up with one born-Muslim parent and one convert. Many times, stereotypes about race, ethnicity, and cultural differences complicated their relationships with extended family members and outsiders. Both as children and as adults, many of them had to cope with people’s misconceptions and tactlessness.  

“I was always teased,” confides Aliyah.  “I’ve been called ‘half Muslim,’ ‘zebra,’ and ‘white girl’ in a derogatory way. Aunties always questioned if I was taught Islam properly. People would assume my dad converted for love (the pet peeve of my whole family). I would hear talk in Urdu in the masjid kitchen that I couldn’t cut an onion because I’m white. It was hard for us when we were getting married to find someone that clicked with us because we were so culturally different than everyone we knew.”

“Kids are rough,” adds Mustafa.  “Muslims can be ignorant, stereotypical, and not know what is offensive. Someone asked my sister, ‘Did your dad marry your mom because she wore a bikini?’ We were oddities at school in Egypt when people would see my mom pick us up from school. I was actually embarrassed to be seen with her for a while growing up, just because of all the attention it got me.”

I was “the white girl” in a Muslim school,” explains Khadijah, “and whilst that made the other girls very aware of who I was, there was always an element of separation there. I didn’t feel white. I didn’t feel Pakistani or Gujarati. I don’t feel like it affected me in either a negative or positive way. I got used to not completely belonging and forged my own ‘culture.’ I married an Afro-Caribbean brother, so my children have such a mix of cultures around them and I think it’s pretty beautiful. Whether my upbringing influenced this or not, I don’t know!”

While Shaheda did not feel any religious tension within her extended family, (“I understand from firsthand experience how people of different faiths can coexist in love and mutual respect,” she says), she does experience some difficulty from her brothers and sisters in Islam.  She reports “having to repeatedly validate my identity as an actual Muslim to those who don’t have the same experience. The assumption that there may be something missing or not quite Muslim enough is troublesome.” 

Wisdom to Share

These children of converts with their unique experiences and courageous dedication to their faith have excellent wisdom to share with the Ummah.  

Aliyah, whose work as a counselor focuses especially on Muslim families, has advice for Muslim parents whose marriage is mixed, either culturally or racially. “To youth,” she says, “identity matters SO MUCH, especially in this day and age when that’s all anyone ever talks about. If you’re a white convert parent of brown/black kids, identify your privilege that comes with that. If your kids are brown or black…learn about what that means in America. When I was with my non-Muslim relatives they would just make me feel so ‘other.’ They would focus on my exotic look and beliefs and just make me feel like an alien.” 

She continues, “Research things to consider when you are raising a child that is a different ethnicity than you. Ask your kids how they feel about it. Have an open conversation. Teach them about valuing both their cultural backgrounds.”

Khadijah’s advice to Muslim parents is,

“Learn WITH your children. Let them see that you’re still learning and struggling as well. Let them experience the journey with you. They’ll learn more that way than through lectures. You don’t have to act like you have everything figured out.” 

I believe the constant cycling in of converts into Muslim communities is a great blessing,” offers Shaheda. “And with that blessing comes a responsibility. We owe them our support, wisdom, and love, and I think we should take that responsibility very seriously. We should create bonds. These individuals who Allah has chosen as believers among disbelievers are special, and they keep us on our spiritual toes. There are multitudes of blessings when a community gains a new convert.”

When I asked them if they would have any concerns about their own children marrying converts, all of the interviewees answered a firm “no.”  They realize that a person’s dedication to Islam is not guaranteed by being born into it, or even raised with it. 

Converts — people who chose Islam as mature adults after a great deal of research, soul-searching, and personal transformation — are among our Ummah’s most passionate, educated, and sincere members.  

*Names have been changed

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30 Khawaatir in 30 Days- A Parent’s Guide | Day 15: Fruit Out of Season

Now that we have learnt about making our intentions big, let’s now talk about fruit out of season.

Who can tell me who Maryam raḍyAllāhu 'anha (may Allāh be pleased with her) is

Yes, she was the mother of ‘Isa 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him), and also the best woman to ever live. Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) says in the Qur’an that He chose her over all the women in the world.

Question: Do you know that she was also the niece to a Prophet? Does anyone know her uncle’s name? 

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His name is Zakariya 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him), good job! Do you know that Prophet Zakariya  'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him)  was actually inspired by something he saw in Maryam’s raḍyAllāhu 'anha (may Allāh be pleased with her) room? It’s unusual for adults to admit that they learn from younger people, but we actually do, all the time! 

One day, Prophet Zakariya 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) went inside Maryam’s raḍyAllāhu 'anha (may Allāh be pleased with her) room and he saw fruit that was out of season. 

Question: Can anyone tell me what fruit would be out of season in the spring, but we love to eat it in the summertime? Can we get that same fruit in the wintertime?

Well, Maryam raḍyAllāhu 'anha (may Allāh be pleased with her) would get fruit that was supposed to only grow in the summer during the wintertime too! This was a gift that Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) would give her. Zakariya 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) was so amazed by this! He asked Maryam raḍyAllāhu 'anha (may Allāh be pleased with her) how she came upon the fruit and she replied:

 هُوَ مِنْ عِندِ اللَّـهِ ۖ إِنَّ اللَّـهَ يَرْزُقُ مَن يَشَاءُ بِغَيْرِ حِسَابٍ

“It is from Allah. Indeed, Allah provides for whom He wills without measure.” [Surat Ali ‘Imran; 37] 

Now, by this time, Zakariya 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) was very old. And when you get to be very old, it is very unusual to have any more children. Zakariya 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) and his wife never had any children at all. But, he was so inspired by what his niece said that he raised his hands in dua’ and asked Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) for a child. Even though having a child seemed  impossible because it was “out of season” for Prophet Zakariya 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) he asks anyway knowing that Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) can grant us anything- even if it is not “in season!”

Question: Can we get that same fruit in the wintertime?Did Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) answer Prophet Zakariya’s 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) dua’? 

Yes! Prophet Zakariya 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) was blessed with Yahya 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him), who too became a Prophet and was the cousin of Prophet ‘Isa  'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him)!

This shows us that it’s never too late or too early to ask for what our heart desires. Maybe Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) will grant you something that is out of season too!

 

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The Beginnings Of The Darul Islam Movement In America

I was raised in the Darul Islam movement; my father Shaykh Abdu-Karim Ahmad, was one of their Imams for a time in Philly. So was my cousin Shaykh Ali Ahmad. Both who are still alive today. There are many narrations yet to be told, that shed a little light and context, about Muslim America today.

Much of the history about Islam in United States of America and of the pioneering Muslims upon who’s shoulders we stand, has never been told. Some of them unfortunately may never be told and may die with the death of those who were there. When it comes to American Muslim history, the narratives of those who lived it is more poignant than that of those who only heard about it. As in the hadith of the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him), “He who is told is not like he who has seen”.

Much of what is written about Black American Muslim Sunni pioneers is written about us but not by us. 

One story that has remained largely unchronicled is that of the Darul Islam movement. Darul Islam was an early indigenous Sunni Muslim community made up of Black American Muslims and converts to Islam. At its height, it comprised 25-30 Muslim communities and masaajid across the country. It was started by Rajab Mahmood and Yahya Abdul-Karim, who were formally attendees of the famous State Street Mosque in Brooklyn, New York in the Atlantic Ave area west of Flatbush. The State St, Mosque which was started by was Dawud Faisal, a Black man who came to the United States from the Caribbean to pursue a career in jazz music, became a beacon for early Muslim immigrants as there was already a spate of Arab businesses along Atlantic Ave near third street, not far from the Mosque. My father used to take us to Malko Brothers bakery on Atlantic Ave in the early sixties where we would buy pita bread and halal meat from one of the other stores. It was one of the few places you could buy pita bread on the East Coast and there was no such thing as a halal store in America then.  

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Partially because Shaykh Dawud was black, and perhaps because of his jazz background and affiliation, the Masjid also attracted Black American converts to Sunni Islam. Many early Sunni Muslims were associated with and came from jazz musicians.  The Legendary John Coltrane was reported to have been a Muslim, he was married to a sister named Amina and his daughter was named Na’eema. My father performed her marriage in New York in the 1980’s. It’s rumored that he never publicized his Islam because it would have damaged his career as it had done to so many others. Hajj Talib Dawud, who started a masjid in Philadelphia (not related to the Darul Islam movement), used to be a trumpet player for Dizzy Gillespie. 

Meanwhile, , there was a chasm between immigrant Muslims who were new to the country. Converts to Islam, who were overwhelmingly Black, were new to Islam.  In 1960, Shaykh Dawud hired a teacher who was Hafiz al-Quran named Hafiz Mah’boob — he was associated with the Tabligh Jamaa’ah movement— but he was Black or looked black. The young African American converts, Rajab Mah’mood, Yahya Abdulkarim, Suleiman Abdul-Hadi (my uncle and one of the founding members of The Last Poets), Muhammad Salahuddin, and others. were drawn to him, He was “down” with educating the brothers from America and he used to teach them Arabic and Islam. It was a different time then and the immigrant, mainly Arab Muslims, and the Black American converts to Islam were from two different worlds. There was an unspoken uneasiness. Eventually Hafiz Mah’boob suggested that the African American brothers go and start their own masjid.

Rajab Mah’mood and Yahya AbdulKarim eventually left the State Street Mosque and started their own Masjid in Brownsville, one of Brooklyn’s toughest neighborhoods, they named it Yasin Mosque, and that was the beginning of the Darul Islam Movement in the United States. That’s also just the beginning of the story.

I was born and raised a Sunni Muslim in Philadelphia, PA; my parents converted to Islam in the 1950’s.

I was raised in the Darul Islam movement; my father Shaykh Abdu-Karim Ahmad, was one of their Imams for a time in Philly. So was my cousin Shaykh Ali Ahmad. Both who are still alive today. There are many narrations yet to be told, that shed a little light and context, about Muslim America today.

History matters. 

Taken from the Upcoming Book. “The History of the Darul Islam Movement in America” 

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