May 13, 1994
Interview With Elaine Rivera: Part 2
Imam W. Deen Mohammed
(Note: This interview with Imam W. Deen Mohammed was conducted by Ms. Elaine Rivera, reporter for the New York Newsday at Calumet City, Illinois on April 11, 1994.)
RIVERA: There are misconceptions on the part of the American public as far as who African American Muslims are. Many do think of African American Muslims as being equated with the Nation of Islam and don't really know the difference. Why do you think that is? Is it the media's fault or whose fault is that?
IMAM MOHAMMED: The Fruit of Islam, its paper sellers, and we used to call them the fishermen who would go out and fish for converts or were to recruit new members, they had multiplied in great numbers during the early 60's. And they were reaching so many Blacks through mass meetings, knocking on doors, and selling papers on the corners, that the media had to give its attention to them.
So I can't just blame the media. That message was going to be popularized whether the media came in it or not, because the Hon. Elijah Muhammad had already done it inside the neighborhood or in the Black ghettos. He had already popularized his teachings.
But I think Mike Wallace's "Hate That Hate Produce" (60 Minutes), with that he spread it all over the nation. The image of the Hon. Elijah Muhammad's followers went all over the Nation, because of their visibility in selling papers, being aggressive, and even being flamboyant.
In the late '60s and early 70s, the leaders of the Nation of Islam became very flamboyant. That was not the case during the long period of life of the Nation of Islam. That wasn't always the case; we were modest people, but in the late '60s and early '70s there was the popular image of the followers and leaders of the Nation of Islam which was not one of modesty. It was immodest, and that image was spread all over.
Farrahkhan is very charismatic and has a great stage presence, and because of that now we still have the false idea that that image is Islam. But it is not. That image is Black rage under the influence of Islam.
RIVERA: Where is Islam today in history? Where do you think it is at this point — universal Islam?
IMAM MOHAMMED: I think universal Islam is in the stage of what you call when the mother is laboring, in birth pains. It is having birth pains. With God's mercy on us, I don't think it will be many generations before Islam will come back with the purity and with the human innocence that it had in the earlier days of its advent.
RIVERA: Do you consider yourself one of the top Muslim leaders in this country or spokesman?
IMAM MOHAMMED: I hate to talk like that, and I hate that kind of language. I am not comfortable with that kind of language. What I will say is that I have a lot of people of the Black and of other colors in this country who are good Muslims, and they say that and want me to be that. And I feel very happy and it is my pleasure to accommodate them.
RIVERA: Someone in the Muslim community asked me to ask you if you plan to establish a school of Islam, "fiqh"?
IMAM MOHAMMED: That is Islamic Thought or Jurisprudence — Fiqh. What we really want is to have no confusion for the voice of our community or associates. We don't think it is necessary for us to have some of our leaders who have inherited the religious burden of the Nation of Islam to now be identifying as Shiites and some being in this or that school of thought. We think that our intelligence dictates that we should agree upon uniformity in our thinking regarding serious matters for religion.
We have started to meet and in Cleveland on April 9th we had the first meeting of Imams, or you might call it a conference, to address the schools of thought in Islam and to begin steps toward identifying the framework for our thinking that would result in an application of Islamic law for America. Shariah is law. Actually the goal of this is to have shariah applied in America in a uniform way.
We believe that time and region separate us, and the schools of thought that were established were good for the regions that they were born and established in and good for that time back there. For example, the Maliki school is in Africa. It is in the Sudan. But much of the language that was good for Africa in the time of Imam Malik is not good right now. The circumstances have changed there. So they find that a lot that they have cannot even be used now, because the realities are not there any more for that application or discussion.
So we feel it is necessary to have shariah — Islamic law — interpreted from the acceptable authorities that is Qur'an, the Holy Book of Muslims, and from the teachings of the Prophet. That is where we are to find the sources and resources for formulating Islamic law for our region in America. It is the Qur'an and the life of the Prophet.
Except for that, I don't think we should pay too much attention to the language of the established schools of thought.
RIVERA: You never referred to yourself as a divine leader.
IMAM MOHAMMED: No, indeed!
RIVERA: But Farrahkhan has. What do you think of that?
IMAM MOHAMMED: In America, "prophet" has two meanings. In America, "divine" has two meanings. But in Islam "prophet" has one meaning. In Islam "divine" has one meaning. In America you could say, "He is a 'divine' trouble-maker," not referring to Farrahkhan. But that language would be acceptable in America.
RIVERA: Your move to Newark. When you spoke to the press conference, you said you don't plan staying there for a long time. Three years maybe?
IMAM MOHAMMED: Yes, three years, and I think my stay will mainly be during summer vacation when the children are out of school. In that way, I can work with the Muslim children a lot. I hope to work with them a lot.
RIVERA: What are your goals there?
IMAM MOHAMMED: To build upon what has already been achieved there for Islam, that is my goal.
RIVERA: Someone described Newark as the Mecca of the African American Muslims. Would you go along with that? It really does have a lot of history there.
IMAM MOHAMMED: Well, in Mecca I wouldn't have to worry about my car being stolen. I'll tell you what Newark has over other cities for our association of Muslims. It has more, I would say, acceptance in the African American community there for Islam. There is more acceptance, not that they are Muslims. But they look favorably — that is the general African American community of Newark, the Christians and all look more favorably on Muslims than we find in other cities.
We have a much bigger number of African Americans or Blacks there who see Islam as a positive thing, especially Islam in the Mosque there. To me, that is their biggest asset. Their biggest asset is that Islam has been popularized in the Blacks there in a favorable way. They have many Blacks who are not Muslim but are Christians and they call themselves by Islamic names or African names, those influenced by our community.
RIVERA: Do you see the same thing happening in New York?
IMAM MOHAMMED: Yes, but not as pronounced as it is in Newark. The other thing Newark has going for it is they have a stronger sense of brotherhood than I find in most other places. So the business people there try to work together, and it is a good situation. It is a good situation financially and for us in terms of us being not troubled b£ attacks upon us from our own people. I don't think we will have any problems in Newark.
RIVERA: You said this had nothing to do with it, but don't you think that by you being in that area you will start getting more attention?
IMAM MOHAMMED: Yes, because Newark is about 35 minutes from New York by car. And New York and Harlem are very important places because of Malcolm but also because of Marcus Garvey, Adam Clayton Powell, and it is a place where Blacks have been more conscious of themselves as a people and have more of a sense of pride than we find in other places.
Malcolm chose to be out there and stay there for that reason. So I will be in a better situation. Also the media is a little bit more stronger out there. So if we can get media attention out there, I am sure it will go all over the United States.
RIVERA: When are you planning on going? In the next year?
IMAM MOHAMMED: Yes, I hope by 1995 I'll have residence in the Newark area.
RIVERA: They have secured your land and you will build the house?
IMAM MOHAMMED: Yes, we are going to build the house. They have purchased the land, but they didn't make the purchase to time in with your story.
RIVERA: Now your organization is not nearly as big as the Nation, the outward kinds of a big organization.
IMAM MOHAMMED: The visible presence of my associations is not as big as the presence of the Nation of Islam under Farrahkhan. The other one we don't refer to as the Nation of Islam, which is the international nation of Islam or the community of Muslims all over the world. The "ummah" as it is called in Arabic.
(To be continued)