'Bean Pie, My Brother?'

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Breaking the Ramadan fast on the holiday Eid-al-Fitr is an opportunity to enjoy sweets. One dessert that many non-Muslims enjoy in African-American neighborhoods nationwide is the bean pie. Documentary filmmaker Hassanah Thomas-Tauhidi took a look at the pastry in her short film, "Bean Pie, My Brother?"

MICHEL MARTIN, host:

Switching gears now, today, as we mentioned, is Eid ul-Fitr. It marks the end of the holy month of Ramadan, the month when observant Muslims fast from dawn to dusk, among other signs of devotion. The day is typically celebrated with a feast. In this country, one of the treats some Muslims will enjoy today also happens to be one of the most successful crossovers between African-American and Muslim cultures since Muhammad Ali. Of course, we are talking the bean pie.

(Soundbite of film, "Bean Pie, My Brother")

Imam JOHARI ABDUL-MALIK (Imam, Dar Al-Hijah Islamic Center): If you have never had bean pie, you have not had an authentic American-Muslim experience.

MARTIN: That is the voice of Imam Johari Abdul-Malik, and it comes from the short film called "Bean Pie, My Brother." That film was written, directed and produced by the documentary filmmaker Hassanah Thomas-Tauhidi. She's a documentary filmmaker and producer of the D.C. television series "Living Islam in America," and we hope now something of an expert on all things bean pie. She's with us now from her office. Eid Mubarak to you. Welcome. Thanks for joining us.

Ms. HASSANAH THOMAS-TAUHIDI (Documentary Filmmaker): Thank you.

MARTIN: Well, you know, if you live in certain cities in the country -and let's just be honest, if you're African-American - then you probably know what a bean pie is. But a lot of people don't. So for those who are not aware, describe it for us.

Ms. THOMAS-TAUHIDI: Okay. Well, bean pie, like its name, is made, I think, from navy beans, white beans.

MARTIN: It's kind of like sweet potato pie, right? It kind of tastes like sweet potato pie. It's kind of crusty and kind of sweet.

Ms. THOMAS-TAUHIDI: Some people say it tastes like a sweet potato pie, but I think it has much more flavor than that. Sorry, I mean, you really should watch the film, because I have really great close-ups on it.

MARTIN: You investigated the origin of the bean pie, and you spoke with one of Elijah Muhammad's sons - and Elijah Muhammad, of course, is a pivotal figure in the development of the nation of Islam in this country. And one of Elijah Muhammad's sons says that it was his sister?

Ms. THOMAS-TAUHIDI: It was Lonnie Shabazz, who maybe made it, 'cause, I mean, they had, from Elijah Muhammad's book "Eat to Live," you know, the African-American Muslims, or the Nation of Islam, they were coming up with all types of alternative proteins. And so the bean, they kind seemed to focus and just became expert in everything beans. And so they have bean soup, but also, you know, they made this bean pie. And I guess the different sisters, they would make their own versions.

And he says Lonnie did it, and then he took it from Lonnie and just built upon that, and he opened this bakery in Chicago called South Park. But at the time, he said he didn't want to call it bean pie, because no one knew what that was. But he called it South Park special. And then when they started really liking it, then he said, oh, it was made out of beans, and that's his version of it.

MARTIN: And, again, you said it ties into a number of things. Number one, it's an alternate protein. Number two, it was kind of a self-help tool because it's sold in cities all around the country as part of that entrepreneurial do-for-self ethos that the Nation promoted at the time. But what do you think people like about it?

Ms. THOMAS-TAUHIDI: It's just good. I mean, it tastes good. It's delicious. I mean, they have all types of versions. I mean, I have a funny story. One of my former classmates at American University, you know, young, white boy from the Midwest, you know, he's, like, oh, I had bean pie. I'm, like, you had bean pie? At least it was kind of by mistake. I said, well, what do you mean? He said that he and his brother - it was at Thanksgiving, and they were at the last minute going to the grandmother's house and they didn't have anything to bring. So they stopped someplace, some store, and they were like - it said bean pie.

It was like - they didn't know what it was. They thought, okay, well, it looks kind of like, you know, pumpkin pie or some of the same pie at home. And they said they loved it. You have - even now Whole Foods is selling them.

MARTIN: Well, we know you've been observing Ramadan, so - and you're about to break your fast. Can I ask if you'll be having a bean pie?

Ms. THOMAS-TAUHIDI: Yes. A coconut custard one, for sure.

MARTIN: Okay.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: Hassanah Thomas-Tauhidi is the producer of the documentary "Bean Pie, My Brother." She's a documentary filmmaker, and she produces the weekly television show "Living Islam in America." And she joined us on the phone in Washington, D.C. Thank you so much.

Ms. THOMAS-TAUHIDI: Thank you. That was fun. Thank you.

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