There's nothing foreign about Islam in America

October 07, 2001|By GREGORY KANE

THE ROOTS of Islam run deep in America, dating back nearly as far as Judaism and Christianity. The religion arrived with Africans who were forcibly brought to these shores.

The most renowned of them was Kunta Kinte, made famous when his descendant Alex Haley penned the historical novel Roots in the 1970s. Haley also wrote the autobiography of a man named Malcolm X, whose great-great-grandfather, Ajar, was a Muslim from the Bambara people of Mali.

Ibrahim Abd ar-Rahman Diallo of Guinea arrived here in 1788. After 40 years of bondage, he was freed and toured several cities -- Baltimore among them -- before returning to his homeland. Some historians believe Frederick Douglass, christened Frederick Bailey, may have been the descendant of a Fulbe ancestor from Senegambia who Anglicized the surname Belali to Bailey.

Islam in the United States is as old as the United States. It is American, not something foreign to America. That may or may not have been on Hassan Amin's mind in 1976, when he converted to Islam in Philadelphia.

"I was a Christian all my life," Amin said. "I just wasn't getting fulfilled." After visiting several mosques, he became an orthodox Sunni Muslim -- "We follow what the prophet Muhammad did, said or confirmed," Amin said of Sunnis. Three years later, he moved to Baltimore and is now the assistant imam at the Baltimore Masjid on Islamic Way in Upton.

Late last month, Amin, with 14 other Baltimore-area imams, met with Mayor Martin O'Malley in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

"I wanted to hear what [O'Malley] had to say, and there were a few things I had to say to him," Amin recalled. His first order of business was to thank the mayor for providing extra security for city mosques after the attacks.

"By the 12th [of September], we had officers in front of the mosque," Amin said. O'Malley told the imams he wanted to reach out to area Muslims.

The mayor "apologized because it's been a year, and he never really introduced himself to the Muslim community. He wanted to make it clear that a whole religion was not responsible for what happened," Amin said.

The "few things" Amin had to say to O'Malley included suggestions for having the imams go to public schools and tell students what Islam is really about and training police officers to be more sensitive to the religion's tenets.

"For example," Amin elaborated, "a man's not supposed to touch a woman in Islam. If a need ever came to search or arrest a Muslim sister, we suggested that a female officer do it."

Other ideas from the meeting included having an imam say the opening prayer at City Council meetings and having the mayor include an adviser for Islamic affairs on his staff. A follow-up meeting may be held this month.

O'Malley's quick action in deploying police to protect mosques may have prevented the anti-Muslim acts other cities have had.

"Not many of the Muslim brothers and sisters in the city are being attacked," Amin said. "There are no reports of vandalism, harassment or attacks."

Amin feared that might be the case when he first heard about the Sept. 11 suicide bombings.

"I was out gathering wood for a karate demonstration," the imam recalled. "I heard people talking about it. I didn't know what they were talking about. Then my wife called me and told me what happened. I said `This is terrible. It's even more terrible for the Muslim community.' I was hoping there was no Muslim affiliated with it."

Amin remembered what happened in April 1995, when Timothy McVeigh blew up the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City and killed 168 people. He remembered hearing that two Muslim women were stabbed in Florida and that someone drove a car into an Oklahoma mosque. That was before everyone knew the terrorist was a home-grown white supremacist.

"You didn't hear of people beating up Christians after the Oklahoma City bombing," Amin said. It rankles him that people now question the loyalty of American Muslims.

"I spent three years in the Army with the 82nd Airborne Division," Amin said. "I wanted to serve my country. I have to explain to people, `I'm an American, just like you.' I shouldn't have to do that."

Indeed, he shouldn't. The anti-Muslim naysayers won't agree, of course, but Islam in America has done far more good than harm, especially in African-American communities. The overwhelming majority of American Muslims are loyal and law-abiding.

"Having Allah's consciousness keeps you in focus," Amin said. "He can see a black ant on a black rock on a black night. We Muslims believe that each of us goes through life with one angel on our right shoulder and one on our left. The one on the right records your good deeds. The one on the left records your bad deeds."

Those who committed the terrorist acts of Sept. 11 will have their deeds recorded by the angel on their left shoulder. No true American Muslim will argue with that.

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