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W. Deen Mohammed Weekly Articles
Reprinted from the Muslim Journal

March 7, 1997

Muslim Journal

Interview Addresses Spectrum of Issues on Living in America
and Cooperating in the World

Imam W. Deen Mohammed

(The following interview was conducted by Mr. John Johnson, news anchor and host of the popular show "Weekend Update" on WTOK-TV in Meridian, Mississippi, prior to Imam Mohammed's address at Meridian Community College on February 2,1997. It has been prepared for print in Muslim Journal by Sabir Kasib Muhammad.)


JJ: Imam Mohammed, thank you for being with us. Talk with us, if you will, about what you talk to audiences about as you go around the country speaking.


WDM: We feel that Islam is a religion that wants to bring people to be established in their own souls in a healthy way, and then we want to move out with healthy souls to embrace the global community of man. We are following the agenda of most of the world's religious peace promoting organizations, and that is "Islam is peace."

We are focusing on the global immunity and how necessary it is now to recognize the need for all of us to live together in peace, so that we will have a better world to support all the good efforts of our leaders in the communities.


JJ: Do you think that there are those who misunderstand religion and its impact on particularly the Middle East in this country? Not understanding what your religion is about, they think it's violence and you're out there to say, That's not the case"?


WDM: Yes. We do feel that recently in the last five years or more, we have appreciated the American press giving a truer picture of Muslims and our religion. At the same time, the press has to give the news and what is happening in violent conflicts involving Muslims. We feel that the Muslims are not presented as we would like Muslims to be presented. We think that they should present Muslims who are in trouble the same way as the American press would present Christians or Jews who are in trouble.

They don't say: "This is Christianity or this is -Judaism." They say these are Jews, or these are Israelis or these are people of this nation or that nation. But they won't present news in a way to put religion in the picture as the cause of it. It seems that fundamentalism has confused the picture of Islam. Fundamentalism is really believing what is basic.

When Christian America is saying, "Let's get back to basics," they are saying exactly what we would say if we say, "Let's get to what is fundamental." And what is fundamental is not disturbing at all. If I had time to tell you what is fundamental in my religion, it wouldn't disturb the peace; it would relax the American audience and make them feel comfortable that we're not going to disturb the peace.


JJ: You've been involved with the President calling you to participate in the recent inauguration.


WDM: Yes, we're very proud of the respect our religion has given us, because we are trying to respect the excellence of our religion. In fact, I am one of the advisors to the President for religion, representing Muslims. That is something we appreciate very much, because it helps to publish the image of Muslims that we need to publish. And that's the image of Muslims in our humanity and not in our war clothes.


JJ: Talk, if you will, about your choice to break from the Nation of Islam that your father founded.


WDM: I broke from the idea of God. I never wanted to break from the community, but from the idea of God and from this separatism that we were all about in those years.


JJ: What were your concerns about?


WDM: The Nation of Islam formed in response to very unlivable conditions for Blacks in this country in the early 30's. Those conditions gave way to a new America, an America of inclusion. We have seen those circumstances that were demanding that we speak like that. We don't have two laws anymore, a law for Blacks and a law for Whites; we have a law for citizens. And many other conditions have resulted with that ugly law being removed of discrimination or segregation — or Jim Crow has gone.

We believe the American people have had at least a couple of decades to let all of the frustrations and bitterness come out and that's good. The Nation of Islam served a real purpose in helping to air these frustrations, so people can see what racism really is in America. This has caused great numbers of American people — White, Black, Brown, Yellow, everybody — to change. We know we still have pockets of ugly racism, but it's not anymore the order of society. So we should address the new circumstances we have and not pretend that things haven't changed.


JJ: So what do you hope in terms of your differences with Min. Farrakhan, what do you hope for him?


WDM: We are encouraged and at the same time we're still very uncomfortable. We are encouraged by him permitting his following to come to the mosques of other Muslims to study the religious language, Qur'anic Arabic, and the scriptures and to pray with us. This is something that makes me feel that it's just a matter of time before Farrakhan makes an "about face."

In my opinion, he would make a great activist for social reform, and I think maybe one day he'll be there and we'll be comfortable with him there. But we're not comfortable with his representing Muslims and the religion and still identifying with unacceptable concepts of man and God, hell and heaven, resurrection.

These things are really at the core of our religion. How we see God and how we see man and one family; what our position should be in relationship with all people. It should be a position of kindness and brotherhood. If he represents us in the reverse extreme, then he's doing a great disservice to Islam and to Muslims.


J J: Where do you see this country right now in terms of its race relations?


WDM: This might not be so comfortable for many people, but I tend to want to salute the American people for progress in race relations. I know what it was when I was a boy, not in the South but in Chicago. My car was attacked, and I was by myself, by some wild young White boys or men. They were trying to turn my car over, and God spared me. I guess my calmness caused one of them to say: "Wait a minute, he doesn't look like one of them!" I was coming through an area that was being newly integrated.

I had an old White man when I was a young man training to be a boxer boot me in the back off the trolley. I looked around and saw who did it, and I said I could do away with him in a matter of seconds. I've gotten bad experiences from even religious people. I have had religious people say: "Hey you old Mohammedan, nobody wants you around here. What are you doing here?" I was only playing on the lot that was for everybody.


JJ: You're a very soft-spoken man and you're not bitter?


WDM: No, I'm not! I owe that to my religion. My religion is a religion of peace. My religion is a religion of human excellence. God says: "And pick the best thereof." Always try to be your best. That's what we're taught in Islam. "Ihsan" is a very important principle in our religion. It means "try to always get more and more excellence that God wants."


JJ: Do you wish that others would know that?


WDM: I certainly do. I'm feeling this urgency that the good world leaders of religion are feeling, and that's the need for us to be tolerant of each other. To appreciate each others' differences, especially when those differences are contributing to the betterment and advancement of mankind. So we're very much interested in others seeing us in the image that you are giving us an opportunity to project ourselves in right now.


JJ: So what is it going to take in order for that to happen, because many people see this world becoming more violent, not just this country — young people are growing up more violent. Why?


WDM: I believe a lot of good Christians are looking to the year 2000.1 don't know how they perceive it, but they are thinking that Christ Jesus (Peace Unto Him) will return. I'm expecting that, too, and I'm perceiving that as a Muslim. Not that Christ Jesus will return in his own person, but the conditions that Christ Jesus and all the prophets and all good people hope for in their souls.

We believe that the new millennium will be a year that we can welcome and feel good about, a new start for us on this earth. With a lot of learning and a lot of experiences and a lot more self-awareness of the evils that we harbor and how those evils effect the life of the human society, we are forced to look at ourselves again and try to see who we are and where is the good life in me and where is the good life in you.

I think that the millennium coming is going to be good for us. We are preparing for it. We're hoping that Muslims will be in focus as major contributors for the good future that we want in our souls.


JJ: Talk about the future generation. What is needed to make sure that they are successful in this society?


WDM: I think some conditions are not going to improve very much. Our efforts made within the borders of specific problems may, but other efforts like world organizations that are working for peace and harmony, tolerance and cooperation, their influence will be felt more and more everywhere on the grass roots level and everywhere. They're inviting grass roots representatives, like my self.

I don't consider myself a power person, I'm a grass roots person. So they are inviting people like myself to sit in conferences with them to be part of the planning of their strategies for bringing about more awareness and more willingness to work for peace and goodness in the world.

I think these efforts are going to have more impact on the desperation in our youth than what can happen by working with the youth directly. One thing I think is very important is that we don't reward the bad youth, while we are trying to save the bad youth. Because if we reward the bad youth too much, then the good youth will say: "What the heck! Look at the price I'm paying to stay out of jail, to stay in school, to be a good neighbor or good citizen on the block."

I mean, we glamorize the criminal on TV, when they should have him in a gunny sack, his whole body covered up and you can't even see his face.


JJ: Do you think we glamorize the criminal on TV too much?


WDM: Yes! They show his gold, and where did he get all that money? There are others out there who want to look like him, they want some money. So they should show him in a big gunny sack wrapped up like a mummy.


JJ: Who do you think are the heroes in this day and time?


WDM: The heroes are still the same heroes. Federick Douglass, Marcus Garvey, Dubois, to some extent Malcolm and the Hon. Elijah Muhammad. The heroes are the same, and those who are following that excellent spirit and tradition, they are heroes now, presently.


J J: Are we developing any new heroes?


WDM: Slowly, not visible so much now. But there is a change in spirit and attitude. For example, the banquet last night here in this area, the speakers, in my opinion, were speakers in the new spirit of respect for the excellence of the Black man in his search for freedom and dignity and self-respect — the spirit that we separated from, the spirit of Frederick Douglass, the spirit of Dr. Martin L. King Jr., and the other excellent representatives we've had. like Rosa Parks and others.

I can feel that coming back again, and at this banquet there was a true spirit of African American struggle.


JJ: What needs to happen in terms of teaching African American people new ways of thinking, educating young people to take over another generation?


WDM: I was reading a recent issue of Parent Magazine, and the likelihood of students getting employment. What is showed was the percentage of unemployment ranged from about 3.5 percent to 17 percent. Those at the bottom are those who didn't finish high school and those at the top were those who finished college.

That tells us that education is the determining factor in the life of our youth. If they get better education, the chances are they will have a better life and they will be able to take care of their families. They'll be able to make a contribution to society and to America, like Bill Cosby and his wife and many others who have become very successful, and their incomes are very huge. So they are able to take care of themselves and also make contributions to our African American colleges and the society at large.

I would tell the youth to look at that, because that's something that will have permanence. This drug culture and the fads associated with drugs are just temporary. We may think that this is permanent, but it's not. The year 2000 won't allow these things to plague our life.


JJ: You talk about African Americans who are very successful and who think of athletes as the way to go and not education. Do you agree?


WDM: It's an opportunity like drugs, although it's healthy and drugs are poisonous. It's an opportunity our healthy youth look at and our unhealthy youth look at making money with drugs. The big money is the temptation, the millions they can make in a short career of 10 years or so.

This is a great danger, because what it will do is attract our better minds to go for money. And in the long run the whole society suffers, because we have great minds that could be envisioning a great world for us, and they're getting broken legs playing football.

Most of these athletes making big money are not as financially sound as we would think they would be. Boxers make $20-$30 million a fight, like Mike Tyson and the present champion we have, but the life-style and the entourage and the expense they have to meet are so great that it's a chance that the great star who shoots up to millions of dollars will fall right back down here with the poor.

They might be like Joe Louis looking for somebody to help him out, and let him be a doorman at a big hotel in Las Vegas. I hate to say this, because he was my hero. It's not as solid as these youngsters think it is. They should be looking always to higher education. The doors to higher education are the doors to the best opportunities in the world.


JJ: How do you get that message across to the youth?


WDM: The religious leaders have to do our job. We have to stop preaching this hell and brimstone message and talking so much about sin and repentance. We have to talk more about saving the good life that God wants from us as human being. As we say in Islam, "Spending on that good life."

We have to spend on that good life that God wants for us as human beings. The best way to spend on it is to save money for a good education, encourage parents to work so they can send their children to college, because all of them are not going to be honor students. All of them are not going to get the paid scholarships. But some of them who don't get it may be the future leader for our society and not the one who got the scholarship.

We want to spend money on our children and don't want any of our children to be denied the opportunity to have an excellent education because there was no money around.

If preachers would themselves address the agenda of the time now. The agenda now is to work to qualify for more responsibility in your life. Dignity is in qualifying for a greater measure of responsibility at home, in the family, in the city, in the world.


JJ: The issue of Ebonics. A good thing or bad thing?


WDM: I tend to be somewhat for it; I respect the concern. But trying to get Ebonics as a second language would be a great setback for African American intelligence. That's not the language we need to give our children so that they can have a future in this world. I think the psychology of Ebonics is what we should be addressing and not Ebonics as a speech or language.