Activist had faith in power of unity

April 17, 2002

THE ELDERLY woman stood in the parking lot of the post office on Dolfield Avenue, looking across the way at the throng of people entering, leaving and standing outside the March Funeral Home.

The numbers must have been in the hundreds. March's parking lot had long ago been filled, leaving those who wanted to attend the services the option of parking along Wabash Avenue. Some swung around to Dolfield, prompting a minor traffic jam on this unusually warm April afternoon along this usually low-traffic street. Others did as best they could, parking along nearby side streets and hiking one or two blocks back to the funeral home.

"Whose funeral is it?" the woman asked.

"Eric El-Amin's," I told her.

"Oh, Ruby's son," the woman said.

Yes, the throng had come for the funeral service Monday - the homegoing ceremony, some black folks like to say - for Eric El-Amin. To this woman standing in the parking lot, he was the youngest son of Ruby Couch. Jonathan Bor's obituary in Sunday's Sun told readers El-Amin was a religious activist, community leader and former policy adviser in the Baltimore Health Department. Bor revealed other details about El-Amin. He was the son of Flan Couch Jr., a former city police officer, and brother of Earl El-Amin.

Earl El-Amin is - and his brother was - a member of the Muslim American Society, whose leader is W. Deen Mohammed. According to Bor's obituary, Earl El-Amin served on Mohammed's public relations staff and traveled with him when Mohammed met Pope John Paul II, Eastern Orthodox Church leader Patriarch Bartholomew and the Grand Mufti of Syria.

There was so much more to Eric El-Amin's life that can't be covered in one obituary. But those who showed up and tried to get into his funeral service perhaps said it best of all. The March Funeral Home wasn't big enough, it turned out, for the homegoing service of Eric El-Amin.

Scores of people jammed the huge waiting area outside the chapel where El-Amin's body lay. Many who had come to pay respects, to say goodbye, were out of luck.

"I don't think we're getting in there today," Avon Bellamy said to me as we stood with our hopes of attending the service dimming by the minute. Bellamy is, in addition to being the closest thing to a big brother I'll ever have, a local activist, author, minister and businessmen. Years ago, he appeared on the WEAA show Dialogue with the African-American Male, with hosts Eric El-Amin and Richard Rowe.

"For me, family was essential," Bellamy said on the 1994 show. In an article written by Sun reporter Rob Hiaasen, Bellamy is quoted as following up that statement with this: "If they [black men] don't have that family model, they are doomed."

Eric and Earl El-Amin were on hand the night of another funeral service, one for Laroy Hopkins, who had been shot to death by one of those "doomed" black men who apparently had no family model and no values.

"This was a good man here," Eric El-Amin lamented at the time. "When are black men going to say, `Enough is enough'?" The El-Amin brothers had been friends for years with Hopkins, who was a member of the New Life Baptist Church. Such friendships probably weren't uncommon for the El-Amins. Part of their work with the Muslim American Society involved reaching out to the Christian and Jewish communities to promote interfaith understanding.

The El-Amins, along with W. Deen Mohammed and countless thousands of other American Muslims, have for years provided those "moderate Muslim voices" that America's current horde of anti-Islam rabble-rousers claim they want to hear in the wake of Sept. 11. Since the news media seldom found those voices before the terrorist attacks on America, it's hard to believe they are sincere in finding them now.

Instead, we get a steady litany of voices - mainly on conservative talk radio - telling us the Quran instructs Muslims not to have Christian or Jewish friends. I guess that lesson didn't sink in with the El-Amins. Among those trying to get into the funeral were Del. Tony Fulton of Baltimore and the Rev. St. George Crosse.

That should be yet another in the many lessons of Eric El-Amin's way-too-brief life: In the matter of religious tolerance, he, his brother and thousands of other American Muslims have shown much more of it than Islam's critics.

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