from the Muslim Journal 5-16-07 to 5-25-07)
Imam W. Deen
Mohammed Speaks on Leadership, Youth, and “Youthful”
by Ndidi Amatullah Okakpu
A. Okakpu recently sat down with Imam W. Deen Mohammed in an interview
in Hazel Crest, III., covering a myriad of topics related to youth
and young adult leadership and other pressing and current affairs
facing young Muslims today. Also in attendance were Khadijah Siddeeq
and Amatullah Sharif. The following represents the interview.)
How do you feel about the spiritual growth of our young
Good. Very good. I think a good percentage of the youngsters are
really excited about the community and about my language, and they
study it and their spirits are very good.
In fact, I hear
comments to me from them occasionally when traveling, and their
comments tell me that they are deeply devoted to respect for G-d,
to the Qur'an and to Muhammed the Prophet (PBUH).
Sharif commented: "When we have the Open Mic Night during the
Convention, the youth come in with their monologues and their poems.
They love you so much. They make me feel so proud of them.
You really can
see the growth in them. If you really want to see our youth: Visit
Open Mic Night. They come out with out-of-sight and very dynamic
I feel our community is really among the few religious communities
that really have children excited about what the religion is. I
have visited a few of the denominations of the Christian faith,
and I have seen
their children bright eyed and excited. And they participate and
ask questions, too, of me during question time.
I think we are
among that few that has a youth following that is really excited
What is the disconnection, if there is any, between what
we are doing and what we should be doing as youth and young adults?
Well, I know those young adults around the country do not
have the chance to sit with me like those in this Markham area.
So if anything is missing, it is direct contact with me, so they
can hear me and ask me questions.
I wish could be, but I can't be everywhere at the same time. And
they can't afford to be where I am whenever I am speaking in this
area. I think maybe that is the reason for one of the motives for
me discontinuing the Sunday classes, because it's reaching a very
generates spirit and interest. I wish we had a Kalimah in every
youth audience. She helps me with her spirit and her comments and
questions. I have known her for 10 years, and she has always been
What direction would you like to see youth and young adults moving
in? And what would be the appropriate age ranges?
Well, number one, when I think of a youth I think of someone
12 years old to about 20 years old. But I can accept what I saw
in the paper recently in the Muslim Journal: Ages 17 years old to
30. I can understand that; I accept that. But I usually think of
a youth as under 21 from about 12.
There is an
Arabic word commonly used for youth, and it is for children when
they reach puberty up until 18 or 19 years old, and not hardly beyond
So the age they
have now, for the youth is OK I think it goes up to 30 years old,
but for me it would be about 20 years old.
I remember at a Ramadan Session years ago, from which the Youth
Dawah Program came about, you said that you wanted young people
to study Sunnah, the spread of Islam in general and in North America
and the history of our community.
You gave the
age ranges (for those to study): 13-15, 15-18, and 18-40 (years
of age). But I think somewhere in there, it was interpreted that
youth or young adults were ages 18-40.
Yes. You know, when I speak for myself as a male, when I turned
18 I called myself a man. If someone called me a youth, I would
say: "No, I am a man, I'm grown."
For me, youth
means not grown, so definitely under 21. If I am 21 and I can rent
a car and use my credit card, why call me a youth?
What about the term "young adults?"
"Young Adults" is fine. That language is perfect. It could
go up to 35, maybe. But I think (at age) 40, one is no more a young
adult. If you're 39, I don't think you're a young adult. But I think
they are thinking about "youthful" as an adjective.
I am youthful,
I am 73 years old. But I have a young spirit, and you are youthful,
and you are very youthful (referring to Amatullah Sharif). The term
youthful as an adjective is OK.
Many, based in the Chicago area, have had the opportunity to attend
the classes, as well as First Sundays. Many of your students are
not local and do not have this opportunity.
For that reason,
many students were looking forward to dialoging with you at the
National Young Adult Association (NYAA) Conference. Would you like
to send a message to these students?
I am very much interested in having opportunities to address a gathering
of our children and young adults. That program that they organized
did not permit me to attend.
The reason for
my refusing to attend was that I didn't like that Senator Barack
Obama and I were invited at the same time, and it being published
that I am invited and that Senator Obama was invited.
I think that
the youth leadership should have been a little more thoughtful of
protecting Senator Obama's name and reputation.
In these times,
right away, those who oppose Senator Obama's campaign for the presidency
would take every advantage and say: "These people are Nation
of Islam people; they come from the idea where they believe White
people are devils," etc.
So it would
be exposing the Senator to too much risk to invite him. And I think
that the leadership of NYAA should have had concern for his successful
campaign, more than for having him as their guest.
Do you think that NYAA should have canceled the Conference?
No. It was not long after I became leader that I made a statement
saying that all the Masajid are autonomous. That means that the
local leaders are responsible to their congregations and not responsible
to me. And that they lead their congregations with the support of
They don't have
to check with any other authority, whether it be another Masjid
or whether it be their leader, Imam W. Deen Mohammed.
I won't accept
to run their Masjid for them. That has been my position since the
day I became leader. I regard all of the independent organizations
in that same way.
So we turned
the Muslim Journal over to Sis. Ayesha and her board. I don't boss
them or obligate them to go along with me in any matter.
That's the way
I regard NYAA; they are an organization of our youth and they are
not responsible to me at all.
They are responsible
to the community. If they identify with my leadership, they are
responsible to reflect that in their activities.
Do you feel that NYAA was reflecting that (identification
with your leadership)?
Yes and no. In their general makeup and activities, yes,
they reflect that. But in their policy and methods, they don't reflect
With all the recent controversy regarding NYAA and critiques,
would you recommend that NYAA restructure and continue on or disband?
I don't see a need for them to have any drastic changes
in the way that they are organized. But I know that if they invite
Senator Obama, who is campaigning for the presidency and we all
want him to be the next President, if that's what he wants, and
I certainly would like for him to be the President after this election....
I would like
to see as many strong supporters, supporting his campaign as possible,
from the general citizenry of the United States and especially from
the Muslim community.
I would like
to see us strongly back him supporting his campaign, but inviting
him to our meeting that we are having — not to raise campaign
money -- but a meeting that we are having to address our own interests,
and to have him come and just be present there,.,to me, puts him
in a situation where it could bring a lot of his opponents to use
"ties to special Muslim groups in the United States" to
From past lectures, you have criticized certain organizations
that have had government or police affiliation. In what way do you
feel that these affiliations have harmed our communities?
Ever since I can recall, when I was a little boy, I used to hear
about organized efforts of believers in the Temple to undermine
my father's leadership. I've heard that all my life. I think we've
always had tricks among us, who have come in for one reason or another.
Members of esoteric
societies, they come in among us and they become members to learn
our language and see what they can get out of what we got. And they
form a little organization of them.
I referred in
a speech many years ago, maybe 25-30 years ago, to the cuckoo nest
and how the cuckoo bird comes and lays the cuckoo egg in another
bird's nest. They don't build their own nest. They lay their eggs
in another bird's nest. Then when the eggs hatch, they come get
There are organizations
that do the same thing. They hide in your organization, and they
develop and strengthen their organization within the confines of
Do you think young adults should have a formally organized association?
Should it be under The Mosque Cares? What should the age ranges
It should be independent. We have to trust our youth. We
have very intelligent youth in our community, males and females,
especially if the age is going to go up to 20 years old or even
older, I would be very comfortable with youth between (the ages)
18-20 years old, who have finished high school and started college,
to be the president of that youth organization.
If they have
an intelligent young person, who is devoted to the Religion of Islam,
I don't see any reason why they shouldn't be given the right to
have their own organization and to manage their agenda or programs,
and also the funds that will be contributed.
To be responsible
for those funds, to deposit them in a bank account and run their
own business without adults supervising them or being over them.
But in all cultures,
there's a respect for senior members; to seek the advice of senior
members in the community, who are well known for their respect for
the religion and their ability to communicate clearly what is Islam
and what are our responsibilities.
So they should
seek such seasoned adults amongst our seniors, so that they can
benefit from the wisdom of those seniors.
You specified youth or youth organizations being in the
age range of 13-21 years old, or so, and a president of a youth
organization being 18-20. What should those ages of 25-35 be focused
That age to me, are those "youthful" adults who
should identify with the general congregation or membership. They
should not set up a separate identity based upon that age limit:
We would like
to see our "youthful" adults go forward and show us that
they can lead the community, not just that age group. But they should
show that they can lead the community.
There was no
age group that Malcolm fell into. Malcolm was a young man; he was
within that age limit that they are talking about right now.
What advice would you give to those "youthful"
adults, ages 25 and up, who have tried to take on leadership roles
within their respective Masajid and communities and have felt shut
out by the older leadership?
I do have some advice. My advice would be not to organize
officially and have an office or something representing them as
a group of "youthful" adults 25-40.
Instead of advertising
themselves as such, just set an example for themselves as young
adults in the community and identify members who are having the
same interests that they have and are aggressive, and invite them
to join them and join their efforts.
be looking for someone 53, 63 or 73 tike I am, to join their efforts.
They would want people who can keep up with them.
Many young adults have inquired about the proper method to pursue
relationships. How would you recommend they go about it?
I think first we should make our intentions known to the
parents. And then the parents, once they have been informed of the
interest, that's the first step. And in that way, they are not put
in a situation where they are charged with sneaking about.
first make their parents aware of their intentions, and they should
both be present, the male and female should approach the parents
of both sides and let them be aware of their intent.
When I say intent,
I didn't necessarily mean intent to marry, but I mean an intent
of associating with one another, with sexual interest behind it.
If they are
interested in one another, they should first introduce themselves
to the parents, to let them know that they are attracted to one
another and they would like to have the parents' support.
The first part is getting to someone to see if this person
you could see yourself being married to. So once you figure that
— "I want to pursue this person with intent of marriage,"
then you make your formal intention process or engagement declaration.
Then after that, no long engagement — marriage?
That's right. In Islam, the expression is: "No sex
without being married.'' But that's really not clear enough. To
have sex is to be married.
In Islam, any
couple that can be proven to have had sexual relations, they are
treated as if they are married.
If they don't
accept that they are married, then they are to be treated as adulterers
or fornicators as punishable by the law.
Since we can't
take the law into our own hands because we are under the laws of
the United States, and punish them as adulterers, then there is
banishment. So banish them just like the Nation of Islam did. They
put you out for that.
This is not to say that any two can engage in sex and call it marriage...?
No. As long as they respect the Law of Islam, the Law G-d gave us
in the Qur'an, then they can pursue a relationship. And if they
don't violate it by having sex with one another, they can break
it anytime they want to.
They can say:
"Well, we thought we wanted to get married, but we decided
we want to just have a friendship."
but to carry on by expressing themselves sexually — not performing
the act, but if you're hugging, kissing and caressing each other,
your expression is coming from sex. If they do that, then that is
Well, I thank you very much for coming out today, and I appreciate
you taking time out from your very busy schedule.
You are welcome. My pleasure, and I think you have accomplished
something of good for us.