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W. Deen Mohammed Weekly Articles
Reprinted from the Muslim Journal


Muslim Journal

Urban League's Question & Answer Session at Annual Conference on "African American Males, an Endangered Species": Part 2

Imam W. Deen Mohammed


(Minneapolis, MN — December 6, 1991: This lively question and answer session followed Imam W. Deen Mohammed's opening address at the Minneapolis Chapter of the Urban League is here presented.)

Q: I have another view that I want to bring forth. I believe that a person is built up on two types of education in today's 1991 society.

IWDM: You are saying it better than I could say it.


Q: We have a formal education and we have a social education. I don't care who you are or how strong you are, your formal and your social education have to correspond in one way or another. Perhaps I'm out in the street having problems from every direction. Perhaps my mother is smoking crack, or I owe this person money.

There are other problems that I just see in the street. Then I go to school and they tell me that at) I have to do is learn this and everything will be alright. Somehow that just doesn't fit with me. I want to know how a young brother in an urban type society or even if he is white, if there are problems like this mentally, how can they be dealt with?


IWDM: No, just saying learn this and everything will be alright doesn't fit. This is a big order you have here. In my address, I was in my own way, although we are all limited, trying to make a contribution. If you can get that tape or get the script and look at it, you will see direction and answers in what I have said. It is not so easy. We have an expression in our religious scripture that says, 'Think not that your creation, man, is bigger than the creation of the heavens and earth." We cannot be successful in the world without help from What is "Bigger" than the world: Allah's help.


Q: My question for you is where are the button pushers in our society? What I have found to be unacceptable to me is that I have to take hand outs and assistance from white America. Where is black America in dealing with this issue of AIDS and HIV? I went through several agencies and organizations here in the city, and I'm very surprised with the mediocrity and the sense of lack of urgency and the sense of a lack of commitment. I almost wished that 1 had become sick in Chicago, because people there are a little more active and committed and this problem is being dealt with.

There are token efforts and elbow rubbing and money passed under the table. People are making money off of people who are sick and living with AIDS, and that is wrong. My invitation to all of you is to challenge yourself to get to know someone with AIDS. I do participate in support groups that the Urban League supports and administers, but jt needs to be known that there are not enough funds and not enough help. What can each one of you in this room do to help our brothers and sisters who are dying from this disease? This disease is a part of me but I am not going to treat it like it is going to consume me.


IWDM: The more that we are informed, those of us who have decent hearts will do more. I'm aware of members of the Muslim faith, as I am aware of many outside of the Muslim faith, who are taking it very serious. They are giving their hearts to the victims of this dreadful disease and are making a difference. Yes, much more help is needed. Much more help is needed from government. I think we are treating this problem different, for some reason, than we would treat problems of this nature. We have to give this problem the same treatment that we would give any other problem of this magnitude in our society without any prejudice or misperceptions.

I think that is the biggest problem, to have clear perception of what we are dealing with. I made a small contribution in the form of a statement, but I have also given in charity. My statement was in support of the efforts of a Muslim sister who is doing great work to help African Americans with this virus. Of course, much more needs to be done. I have been greatly encouraged by your revelation about yourself today. I think it puts me in a better situation to want to do more.


Q: I have a question regarding your comments about the necessary internal "fixing" or establishing ourselves as African American people or as black people. I prefer black myself.


IWDM:  It's a wonder, because you are so bright skinned. Some people think there is less risk walking in the dark, but I don't believe that.


Q: My question stems from quite a bit of research I've done as far as black history is concerned. I think that many ethnic groups who have established themselves in this country have had a culture or some sort of common denominator that they look to in terms of uplifting themselves and establishing independent economics. Except for our race.

I say this because it is disturbing to me that our so-called leaders have not looked at this as a necessary situation to set an agenda for and to address as a common denominator. 1 don't feel that just because all of us are black or African American in this room, that that means this is a commonality that we can hold on to as far as progress is concerned. Do you have an agenda or have you thought about a culture to address our problem?


IWDM: I think I have implied very clearly that we need to develop our neighborhoods and our homes. The statement I made implied that we need to contribute to the cultural development of our life. We need that very badly. And we need some real concrete structures to help that. As Muslims we are going to do a lot to provide some concrete structures. In Chicago we have one very impressive mosque. Now, you will call it Islamic but I also call it African, Because when you study the history of our people in Africa you can look and find that they many are Muslim.

The great percentage of our people in Africa are Muslims and were Muslims. And the mosque is part of their culture, and there is the influence of "Islam" on their culture. I would like to see that mosque buildings]contribute to the beautiful cultural plurality that we have in America. If you can walk down the street as young men and see more mosques and know that that also came from your heritage, even if you are not a Muslim I think it will do something to give you more hope and more of a sense of dignity. There are some concrete things we can do and we are concentrating on that too.


Q: If it were not for the encouragement of others, I would not be here this morning. When I read the title, I felt that it did not apply to me. And especially the attitude the society has about the priority it gives to endangered species, which is probably why it produces those programs you like to watch, that also concerns me. I think there is something now that I can identify with in terms of the title of this conference. Every Sunday morning I see on television an individual who espouses basically the same philosophy for hope and purpose that you are doing. And everyday as a part of the Caucasian males, I think that he too is an endangered species with the women's movements and affirmative action, etcetera.

There seems to be a real fear in the society. In all of this I hear that there is a very fundamental problem of the tearing apart of the family, which is the most fundamental institution of any society. My question then asks, is there a possibility that the context of this problem which we have focused on as primarily being rooted in an issue of race, does this increase the illusion rather than providing a base to build on?


IWDM: I appreciate you making us aware of this connection for our own problem. We should not think ourselves alone, our young men and youth males alone, as troubled people. We should know that the same things that are affecting our lives in a negative way are also affecting the lives of all Americans. I believe that the Urban League leaders are very much aware of that.

I think the position taken by the Urban League says, "We want to be responsible for our own." I think every people should be responsible for their own, but all of us also have to acknowledge each other. We cannot just be concerned about ourselves, For one, as a Muslim, when I leave here, and I hope I do get the papers from the workshops and have already requested that whenever I attend any workshop or conference. I will study those, and believe me, 1 will look for answers for all Americans and not just for black Americans or African Americans.

Part of my talk which was not delivered due to the time available was on the need for us to build alliances with other American groups who suffer the same kind of problems that we have. That is very important for us. We must build alliances even for us with southern whites. We need a new attitude towards southern whites. There are great opportunities in the south for us as business men and women. But we need a better attitude towards the "white" race and towards southern white people.


Q: As an African American woman, as we all know in this room, we often have to juggle many roles and jobs. As an educator, as an advocate and sometimes also as a parent and mother of the African American male who want to do the right thing, towards the responsibility of caring for the welfare and nourishment of these young males, can you speak to me about the true nature of the African American male in 1991? So that I can do my work in balance.


IWDM: The true nature of the African American male today, speaking as an African American, I will say that we have to look for it now, because it is not present in view among us. That nature can best be seen in the best of our leaders of the past, not in the present leaders. Those beginning with Frederick Douglass and in both the women and men in that movement of freedom, and those who came forward for us with the Emancipation Proclamation and began to build private institutions of learning for us and to address our needs as a social group: Those people represent to me the true nature that we should have as African Americans.


Q: My question is how do we as black women help our black men better themselves, when they refuse us as black women?


IWDM: You can come to a Muslim, like me. Every time they refuse a pretty woman like you, then you come to me. I don't have four wives yet. [Serious humor.]


Q: They are refusing our help, even though we may be in a better position in terms of jobs or in making more money.


IWDM: I have been trying to tell the brothers, "Look, brothers. Don't be afraid of the sisters competing with you." Our men are afraid of our women's competition, and I
mean right in the house. We are competing with our wives for the run of the house. And that is not natural male sense. We need to realize that our women can excel us in many things, and she can excel us in everything as long as she loves us. That does not hurt our situation, but it improves it.


Q: I work at the Urban League's education department, and we look at the public school system around the United States, Do you feel that the public school system is failing our black youth as well as our black men? How do you feel about the new schools that are coming out that are Afrocentric?


IWDM: I read that statements by experts in education on the problems of our system, and I accept what they are saying. If you are aware of their study, then you know my answer.


Q: I'm a senior in college and was told the great myth, "If you go to school and get an education, great opportunities will open to you." But it seems as though if you are to work in white America, one must sell his soul. If one remains true to himself, then that one will not make it. If you are articulate, very attractive and well dressed, that is seen as a stigma against you.' Hew, do you deal with those stigmas without selling out or getting the jungle fever, as it is called in place of "licking up'?


IWDM: You must have moral muscle. Stand up for what you believe in, when you know you are right. And show so much power of conviction that you frighten people away who want to hurt you.


Q: That strategy may have worked in the '60s during the black power movement. If you show any form of aggression now around whites, you get fired.


IWDM: It works now for me. May I let you in on a little secret. I have survived assassinations. I came in and changed the "Black Muslims." I faced tough guys, brutes of the F.O.I. And they saw so much power of conviction, that it frightened them away and made the fangs of the beast just go away. The fangs went back up in the gums. 1 have experienced what the power of moral muscle and commitment to truth and honesty and openness will do.

I am an open person and believe in openness. I do not hide things from people. If you will be that way, you are not going to have any many problems. This world is never going to be a world of angels. Our religion says, "If the earth was populated by angels, then Allah would not have sent a human as the Messenger." So don't expect the-world to be all nice.

I met a fellow down south who was whipped with bale wire. It left cuts on his flesh. There are some of us who if we were whipped with bale wire, we would never be able to work again. We would only be able to go around telling the world that we got whipped with bale wire. So I know that this world is never going to be heaven, but I am working at it. I think all of us want to work at making this world a paradise. But it is not going to be. Paradise will come in another time. Don't expect to eliminate all the problems of race. Just do the best you can.

 -End of Q & A Session-