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A Ramadan Reflection: IANA, the 90’s and a Homeless Brother

I want to tell you the story of a homeless Muslim brother. First off though I must briefly tell the story of the 1995 Islamic Assembly of North America (IANA) convention in Dearborn, Michigan. I would meet many major figures in Islam in the West and make some good friends for life including Tariq Nelson. There are those on my Facebook friends list I met at that convention including Abu Noor Abdul-Malik Ryan and Abdul Aziz Suraqah.

Speakers at this convention from America included Sheikh Ali al-Timimi, Jaffar Sheikh Idris, Jamal Zarabozo, Idris Palmer, Mukhtar Curtis, Salim Morgan, and a young dynamic graduate of the Islamic University of Medinah bringing an enthusiastic following by the name of Abu Muslimah of East Orange, New Jersey. On the international side scholars such as Suhaib Hasan from the UK and Abdur-Rahman Abdul-Khalaq of Kuwait attended.

A lot of knowledge was being dropped. Imagine me a kid from St. Louis who attended a masjid where few brothers knew the word fiqh or Aqeedah and had never seen a niqaabi in person now surrounded by Arabic, ‘ilm, beards, niqaabs, and smiles. Being that this was the 90’s and pre-911 you also had a little edge to some attendees. A clueless young American I sat and listened to a private discussion between Taliban reps trying to convince Saudis their group was the right group to invest in. I met the Arab Amir of the Mujahideen in Bosnia and was invited to Kashmir as his guest. This was before I put on weight and I was still in wrestling shape which prompted several brothers to suggest I go overseas and fight.

I drove back to St. Louis with a Palestinian brother, Ismail Royer, and one other person I can’t remember. We left with contacts with other American brothers, cassette tapes, books and memories. One brother I met stood out though.

Brother R was a smooth talking tall and slim cat from DC. Beard was on point, thobe above the ankles, and brand new white socks. I told him I’d be traveling to DC soon to visit Ismail who was attending American University and he gave me his number.

When I got to DC I met up with R. He had a van and worked as a street-vendor mostly selling clothing. He told me he was born and raised in DC, had done some time; but took shahadah, married a Moroccan and was now raising his kids in the Virginia suburbs. He gave me the DC Muslim tour and I put a visual to the places Zaid al-Timimi had been telling me about during our after halaqa sessions at Steak’n Shake. The brother seemed to really have it together and he was respected in the community.

On my several different stints living in DC-VA (which is really a second home to me) I would always see that brother and he seemed to be doing good. A few years ago things began to change. He was having trouble in his marriage. Then he was divorced. Next thing he wasn’t looking too sharp. Then he was homeless. Next thing he was on drugs, begging for money and brothers told me they saw him standing in food lines.

In the DC area you can hardly get an apartment for under $1,000 per month. It’s also been ranked the worst area for non college-graduates in America. Massive gentrification. How does a brother like that get better even if he gets off drugs? And who is even going to help him get clean?

Thinking of Brother R makes me think of so many things. How special the 90’s were in the American-Muslim community, divorce, drug-addiction, gentrification, homelessness and the lack of services we have in our community. I wouldn’t know how to reach him and get him help at this moment. All I can ask for is that this Ramadan you keep Brother R in your prayers.

My Experience in Racist South Carolina

South Carolina isn’t really a state many people in St. Louis think of that often. It wasn’t until I moved to New York that I encountered a lot of people from that state.  Just as you’ll find a lot of families in St. Louis with roots in Mississippi due to the Great Migration you’ll find a lot of African-American families in NYC with roots in the Carolinas. 

One of the results of gentrification in New York has been an exodus of African-American Muslims to the south.  The primary destinations are Georgia and the Carolinas.  Egyptian-American sheikh Muhammad Syed Adly left New York and in the 1990’s led a thriving predominantly African-American congregation in Columbia,  SC. Even before that the Muslims of the Americas jamaat purchased land in York County,  SC to establish a Muslim village.  The majority of the inhabitants of the Muslim village came from New York and other parts of the northeast. 

A few years back I traveled to York County,  SC for Eid al-Fitr. I had a wonderful time with the Muslim community and enjoyed myself at a halal restaurant in Rock Hill, SC. That night while visiting the Muslim village a pickup truck came speeding onto the property.  It was full of short haired white guys yelling out “come on Niggers”. That led to a brief car chase between the Muslim brothers and the white guys.

At my hotel that night (at a time when Facebook searches and privacy tended to be much lower) I found the profile of a white guy who said he “played Islamville”. As evidence to having played this game the guy showed the Islamville community sign he’d stolen. I forwarded the information to community security. 

The guy who stole the sign wasn’t a fringe-figure or a lost kid. He was a college educated adult employed at the YMCA at that time.

On my next trip to South Carolina I got some film developed at Walgreens.  The film was of my time in the Muslim community.  When I went to pickup my film the feds where there waiting on me. Your average Joe South Carolina redneck could’ve had photos chillin next to an atomic bomb and not got harassed!

To say the least my experience in South Carolina outside of the Muslim community wasn’t positive. I’m sure there are good friendly white South Carolina folk who just wanna eat their Bojangles and drink their Cheerwine I just didn’t meet to many of them….and Lindsey Graham isn’t helping their reputation.