What It Means to Be Black and Muslim in America
ED GORDON, host:
Now joining us for a closer analysis of what it means to be black and Muslim in America today, we're joined by Imam Ghayth Nur Kashif, resident Imam for Masjidush Shuva in southeast Washington, DC. Also joining us, Precious Rasheeda Muhammad, author and lecturer on Islam in America.
I thank you both for joining us. Imam, let me start with you. You must have seen over the years--you have been now a Muslim for some time now, decades. You've seen, I'm sure, a tremendous change in just how Muslims are seen within the black community, have you not?
Imam GHAYTH NUR KASHIF (Resident Imam for Masjidush Shuva): Oh, yes, I have.
GORDON: Tell me...
Imam KASHIF: That's quite true.
GORDON: Tell me the differences what you have seen. I know growing up--and I grew up in Detroit, where there is a strong contingency of black Muslims. For so many particularly middle-class black Americans, there was a fear, quite frankly, some years ago of the black Muslim. That has changed tremendously.
Imam KASHIF: Well, really, I'm not quite sure. We don't get the sense that there was a fear of Muslims among the African-American community. That was not our experience. There was not a great deal of conflict. Most of us have come from our families, our Christian families, and we've maintained the best of relationships with our families. So there was not--we haven't sensed from African-Americans any fears of Muslims. This might be somewhat in the overall American societies with whites and others. There might have been some of that fear.
GORDON: Let me ask you this: What attracted you to Islam?
Imam KASHIF: Well, actually, my first attraction came in the military service. I was serving in--during the Korean War and I was in Newfoundland for a part of my service, a couple of years. And there was much--not much to do but go to the library and play some sports and that sort of thing. And I found the Koran in the library, the local library, and I would come back and read it and come back and read it until the librarian said, `There are not a lot of people reading this book. You can keep it, and when it's called for we'll call you.' So for a couple of years I had the privilege of reading the Koran, and I was convinced of the truth of the Koran.
GORDON: Ms. Muhammad, you are substantially younger than Imam. You are now 30.
Ms. PRECIOUS RASHEEDA MUHAMMAD (Publisher, Lecturer): Yes.
GORDON: Talk to me about why you were attracted to the religion.
Ms. MUHAMMAD: Well, I was actually born Muslim, so I was attracted to it from birth through my parents. And so I guess that's the only way that I could answer that question. I've been Muslim my entire life and I haven't known any other religion except Islam in terms of practice. And I have an extended family that's Muslim. I have siblings, parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces making up a fourth generation of Muslims in our family and close friends that I've known since childhood, all of who are--all of whom are Muslim. So I really can't imagine my life without Islam, because it has shaped every aspect of my identity, you know, since the day I was born, so...
GORDON: And what of your experiences and how you have been dealt with, if you will, within the black community, more specifically, and within America, as being black, Muslim and living in this country?
Ms. MUHAMMAD: Well, I really haven't had an experience as a black Muslim in the sense that I think the way that term has been used in the past, but I've had an experience just growing up Muslim in the United States. And for the most part, it was a very positive experience. My challenges came more so from interactions with other Muslims once I went off to college who had not had the same experience that I had. But in terms of interaction with Muslims--with the American community, I really grew up with a very universal understanding of Islam, you know, teachings such as universal human excellence; it only takes a few good people to continue the productive lifeline of a people--that type of thing, so that it wasn't very hard for me to go out into my community and feel that as a Muslim I had an obligation to do something for my community because that was, you know, what I had always been taught.
And I grew up under the leadership of Imam W. Deen Mohammed, who as you probably know--you spoke about him earlier--that he is the son and the successor of Elijah Muhammad. So when he started teaching, he taught Islam from the perspective of traditional Islam. And the things that he taught us, you know, was based on God making us the type of person that our--the type of people who are for all good people and...
Ms. MUHAMMAD: Mm-hmm.
GORDON: Go ahead.
Imam KASHIF: Mm-hmm.
GORDON: Finish, Precious.
Ms. MUHAMMAD: I was just going to say that--so, I think, in terms of today, we're just striving toward more of a community that's more humanitarian, able to deal with, you know, all people. I really haven't had a negative experience in that way.
GORDON: Imam, let me as you as relates to since 9/11, post-9/11--when you talk about the Muslims, the Islamic faith, so much has been talked about, and offtimes in grand ignorance of not only the people but the religion. Have you experienced any flak, any sense of what I call blind ignorance toward you or your religion?
Imam KASHIF: Well, not really. What we might find is what we read in the press, primarily, and which we attribute to the sense of the powers that be in America. That is uncomfortable. However, our relationship with the African-Americans, the Muslims and with the Christians and also with the Jewish community, as well, we've been able to maintain good relationships and have great dialogue back and forth. I think once a group of people, whatever their political persuasion may be or their loyalties to this or that--when truth is presented to them, they will accept it if they are of the good and the proper mind-set. So really, the issue of 9/11, while it might seem problematic imagewise for Muslims, it's given Muslims an opportunity to show themself as Muslims. Many people--I think even as you stated in your earlier promo, that--very few people knew about Islam. Now the world knows about Islam. When they see a Muslim as a Muslim who is truly a Muslim, they then can change their opinions from what might be political efforts on the part of those who may be--Islamic phobias or whatever that term means.
GORDON: Mm-hmm. Well, Imam Kashif and Precious Rasheeda Muhammad, we thank you both for joining us today. Greatly appreciate it.
Ms. MUHAMMAD: You're welcome.
Imam KASHIF: Thank you, as well.
GORDON: Coming up, you say you can't afford to save for retirement now? Will a mandatory investment plan help you? We'll try to find that out. That's just one of the issues on today's Roundtable.
This is NPR News.