(Reprinted from the Muslim Journal 5-13-05 to 5-20-05)
An Interview with Imam Mohammed on Graceline and Businesses Aims
(Editorial Note: The following interview with Imam W. Deen Mohammed was conducted for Muslim Journal by Nathaniel Omar at The Mosque Cares in Chicago's south suburb of East Hazel Crest.)
Q: Brother Imam, on behalf of Muslim Journal, I want to thank you for giving us this opportunity to talk with you about your important work.
So let us talk about Graceline, the concept in men and women clothing, and the importance of that concept in developing employment and establishing a foundation for growth and development in the Muslim society here in the U.S.
IMAM MOHAMMED: You are most welcome. Let me say, As-Salaam-Alaikum (peace). I was given an invitation to visit the Mormons, in Utah, last year. And I was surprised to find them devoting so much of their time and energy to industry.
I visited one facility. It seemed to me it was covering like one-half of the block. I was taken through it, and it contained clothing — all clothing. And these clothing looked like all new clothing. They were selected very care-fully. The best clothing was picked, and they were cleaned down there in Utah and sold in a retail store.
They were sold as used garments. But they looked new to me. I'm not sure if they also sell new garments; I don't know. But I was very much impressed to see the religious organization devoting so much of their time to supplying their members and per-sons from the public with items of food and clothing.
You know, the Hon. Elijah Muhammad was certainly doing a great job of waking up our minds to the need to pro-vide for ourselves — food, clothing and shelter.
So Graceline is really a continuation of that interest, that we inherited from the Nation of Islam and the Hon. Elijah Muhammad. And it's going very well!
Recently, I was in New York and I made contact with a brother who has been in business for 30 years. He's an immigrant Muslim; I think he's from the Middle East. I couldn't identify his language; he's been in America so long, he speaks English just like we do. I couldn't hear an accent.
He spent about 10 to 15 years in Italy in business. And he came to America (New York) and established himself there, and he really liked what he's been hearing of our community. He said if he can do anything for us, let him know. So we have a contact there.
Graceline is going to have some new garments and new styles, some for females, at this Annual Islamic Convention coming up this year. The prices are right.
CPC can make a little money, but the retailers can make big money. We'll be wholesaling, buying and purchasing and selling at whole-sale prices to our members and our investors and those who would like to purchase from CPC (ComTrust) the Graceline fashions. It's going to be excellent!
We're in a very excellent situation right now! Much better than it was before. We also have contacts for new business suits in South America, in Mexico, and the quality is tops and the price is right.
Everybody is going to make some money; I mean good money. When I say "good money," I mean double your investment and maybe some items will triple your investment.
Q: The beauty of this concept, as I see it, is all the possibilities for employment, for skilled as well as common labor. And in the long run, there is attraction for entrepreneurs and other business ventures.
What is your expectation in terms of employment, as well as business and economic development?
IMAM MOHAMMED: Our focus is economics. So we are very much interested in pro-viding a situation, where those who want work and to earn a decent living can do so.
I see the investment in CPC/ComTrust making that happen for hundreds and maybe in the future thou-sands of persons who qualify for employment, but just can't find a job that will pay them a decent salary.
We just can't make it with minimum wage, if we have a wife and children. So this business we're talking about, you can plan your own future financially. If you want to become a millionaire, I'm sure we are going to have a situation where you can become a millionaire.
Q: Now the Hon. Elijah Muhammad, I guess, is saying: "My boy really got it now!"
You've established the religion of Islam and now you are laying the foundation for economic development. How important are these concepts in community development?
IMAM MOHAMMED: They are most important. In fact, we cannot have a healthy community or a healthy morale, good morale for our community, if we don't have a showing in business growth or business development. It's a must!
You know, many people overlook something in religion. Certainly G-d cares more about our souls, our hearts, but G-d cares for our intelligence, our brain and G-d cares for our spirit.
And the spirit is not going to be comfortable — we may not be addressing it with a conscious mind, but it will be making us feel bad; it will be heavy on our soul; it will be taxing our spirit, if we don't have business showing in our community.
Business is a must! When we hear African Americans complaining that Third World people or these people from Korea or wherever are coming into our neighborhoods and they get started running these businesses — when they are saying that, they per-haps are also saying that it's a shame that we neglected our neighborhoods, neglected the block and didn't have good stores in our neighborhoods — and invited these people to come and take over. It's a shame that we did that.
We don't hear that. Most of our leaders are leaders who press emotional buttons and are just always appealing to our hurt and pointing to somebody else for the problem. That's why you don't hear that coming from them.
But if you were to actually have a conversation with our people in these neighborhoods — like we're having right here — they would say, 'Yes, it's a shame that we haven't done something."
The Hon. Elijah Muhammad was like a father to all of us, and he told us to stop shaming yourselves. You have to produce for yourself; take care of your own. That meant your own neighborhood, too.
Q: I was so inspired reading about the architect and the general contractors and the many others in the Muslim Journal. Many of these skilled laborers are Muslims, aren't they?
IMAM MOHAMMED: Well you know we're getting ready to do some building. We're having a Ground Breaking this Sunday (May 1st), at 11 in the morning, in the south west suburbs. This land is owned by CPC, on 159th Street. This land is next to McDonald's.
There is going to be a Ground Breaking Ceremony there on Sunday for this construction and a Banquet (at Homewood Hotel, 17400 So. Halsted) at 12:30 p.m., to raise funds from business people and from investors — to invest more into this project.
We will be using investors who invested, and most of them promised that they are going to donate labor. We will pay material cost, but they will donate their labor — and we're talking about skilled labor. They are contractors. They are well known in their areas for building.
So this is an exciting venture for us. So we are going to do with business what some religious organizations do with the construction of churches.
Their followers come in and pitch in and donate their labor and in two or three days a week, they've got a facility up; one week from the beginning of construction, they've got a preacher in there preaching!
So if they can do that with churches, we should be able to do that with business.
Q: Is there a specific area of the country that seems to be taking leadership in sales and productivity? Can this leader-ship inspire others in nearby locations? How can we keep business growing in these areas?
IMAM MOHAMMED: I am glad you asked that question. I hope this information will reach a lot of our business people. Because that is what we need more of. We need people of like interest, especially business interest.
If you know each other, and you know something is happening in your area by per-sons of good character and they are contributing to the business growth of our association or members, their people in their locale should try to tie up with them. If they have like minds and like interest, tie together.
And we do need organizations that organize, just to make sure that the enthusiasm for business growth stays with us, and to make sure as many people as possible are involved with the business growth of our neighborhood. We need organizations just of business people to promote and keep things happening.
Q: Can we talk about the Ground Breaking Ceremony and the schedule for the First Sunday (in May) and the Banquet? This is really exciting.
IMAM MOHAMMED: Yes. We are very excited. It is good that it is happening on the First Sunday, when we are assured of the audience being about 500 to 600 people.
This Sunday, because of this business initiative being announced, I think that num-ber will increase at least by 200 and possibly better. We are looking forward to a very happy ceremony, where we will introduce our developer who also is Muslim from the New York area.
Bro. Rabbani is an architect. He has designed the facility that you saw in the Muslim Journal, the beautiful facility we saw on the first page. We appreciate the Journal for putting it right there too, so that everyone could see.
He (Rabbani) is well known in the community. He used to be a member of the Chicago area Muslims. He was a member for some time; we are looking forward to a very encouraging and bright occasion or event. We will have a Banquet at the Homewood Hotel. There will be a pro-gram and everyone will enjoy the program.
After the Banquet, we will have an hour break for people to get acquainted and socialize with each other. My first hour will be live on the radio to begin at 3 p.m. and end at 4 P.m. Then I will address the audience there with matters of interest to the members who have traveled from different places and on matters of interest to our people here in this area.
Q: Now I understand there is a meeting scheduled for contractors, developers and builders and others who wish to participate.
IMAM MOHAMMED: They will meet in Homewood at the Homewood Hotel. The Groundbreaking Ceremony will be very short.
Q: Brother Imam, do you have closing statements at this time that you want to wrap this up with?
IMAM MOHAMMED: Yes. I want to say this. I know we are struggling financially to make our vision, our business vision, for our community successful. And most of all not to disappoint our investors who invested their monies into this venture or this effort, through the business organization of Collective Purchasing Conference/ComTrust Limited Liability Company.
We know that we are not going to disappoint any of our investors in the long run. But many of our investors, and I do not blame them for this — many of our investors were innocent and do not have knowledge of an investing company. So many of us have treated the investing company as if it were a loan company or a savings account. And it is not like that at all.
If we pull our monies out, then we have nothing at all, nothing to invest with, nothing to buy land with. We have nothing to develop he businesses. That is what has happened. We had to stop withdrawals, and it has caused a lot of people to be hurt. Because when you need your money, you need your money! I know that is how it is.
I know a lot of them want to come get their money, but they have so much love for what we are doing, that they would not. If they did, I would say, "Could I just hug you? I love you, and I am trying to work hard to see that your money is not lost."
I would just like to let them know I am their brother. I love them. I am working hard for them and not myself. I do not take anything out. In fact, I do not take a salary. I will not take from them, until it produces for all of us.
Q: Since you are friends and associates with other national leaders, like Rev. Jackson, Min. Farrakhan and others, have you spoken with them as far as this project is concerned? As for having them to become investors, since they are a national organization?
IMAM MOHAMMED: No, I have not. But I have reached out to the Nation of Islam through their public relations person. Also I have reached out to Min. Farrakhan. But that's been a year and a half ago or more.
They know about our interest in developing business in our neighborhood. And they know of my personal interest in sitting down with Min. Farrakhan or a man he appoints to discuss how we can work together.
There should be some kind of economic ties for all of us. You know, this is not some-thing any of us should be left out of. The Nation of Islam, as I said, started us in this direction.
Min. Farrakhan is a person I would not ignore at all. He is important to business development and to lifting the spirit of our people, for a decent and prosperous life.
Rev. Jackson, our good friend, works for African Americans, and he works for the citizens of Chicago and of the country. He is a person I feel deserves our recognition and deserves our support. I do want him to be aware of things we are doing in our neighborhood.
We do have to find some way for them to receive our releases or at least a statement from us. That's more than good intellect or good sense — to respect these per-sons who are working for us or in our interest.
They also can help us — to let them know we are working, we are involved in developing African American neighborhoods. Business per-sons are where we need more help. So when we have a project like this, we are reaching out to the public relations department of their offices. We are respecting persons like Min. Farrakhan and especially persons like Rev. Jesse Jackson who deals with Christians and also all American people.
Q: You have traveled, speaking about business and dealing with business. What do you feel is the main frailty that has happened with us in business? Why don't we achieve business development?
IMAM MOHAMMED: It goes back to plantation slavery. That was real strong: Do not touch the slave! You ca-not do anything with the slave!