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Oral history interview conducted by Zaheer Ali
August 07, 2018
Call number: 2018.006.25
ALI: Today is Tuesday, August 7, 2018. I'm Zaheer Ali, Oral Historian atBrooklyn Historical Society, and I'm here with Fahiym Abdul-Wasi to do an oral history interview for the Muslims in Brooklyn project. Fahiym, if you can introduce yourself to the recording, giving your name and birthdate.
ABDUL-WASI: Sure. My name is Fahiym Abdul-Wasi. I was born on [date redacted forprivacy], 1973. I was born Joshua Ratcliffe. That was my given -- my birth name. And I'm also known, also, as Fahiym Yasin or Fahiym Abdullah Yasin, but I am, today, Fahiym Abdul-Wasi. That is my legal name.
ALI: Okay. So one of the things we will get into is the name changes and whatthat signified.
ABDUL-WASI: Sure, sure.
ALI: So tell me a little bit about your family background.
ABDUL-WASI: Sure. My family background is -- it's funny, because I make jokes1:00about. My mother's from Trinidad, and my father's from the South, he's from North Carolina. So I joke with people, and I say, you know, "I got the best of both worlds. I've got curry and fried chicken." You know? So -- yeah, so that's -- that's my background. You know, born and raised in Brooklyn, and a very -- how can I say? -- interesting household, where you have the Trinidadian and the Southern influence. And I'm -- I'm fully American, but yet, and still, I can still, you know, speak with a Trini-- you know, "ting and ting" high-pitched voice if I want to, you know? So, but, you know, I have a very strong bond with that side of my family, my mother's side of the family. My father's side of the family, I have a bond with them as well, but not as strong, because most of my family on my mother's side reside in Brooklyn, so... I'm the oldest of three children. I have a brother who's a year younger than me, and I have a sister who 2:00is nine years younger than me. And another person who was also instrumental in my life was my aunt, my Aunt Linda Ann. So she lived with us for a large part of our life, so she's considered, like, my second mother. And then my third mother would be my Muslim aunt, which would be Amina. So, and she played a -- a huge role, not only as a caretaker but also just as somebody who -- as a matriarch for her family and the -- the brother she was married to. His name was Yusuf Abdul-Mu'min. They played a huge role in terms of introducing me to Islam.
ALI: And this was your mother's sister, as well?
ABDUL-WASI: Yes, my mother's sister, as well. Correct.
ALI: Okay. So tell me, where did you grow up in Brooklyn?
ABDUL-WASI: Yeah, so I was born in Bedford-Stuyvesant. I lived inBedford-Stuyvesant for about five, maybe six years, but a lot of -- but then we moved to Crown Heights. So that's where I -- you know, my youth, you know, began to really develop, you know, was in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. 3:00
ALI: Describe Brooklyn --
ALI: -- when you were growing up.
ABDUL-WASI: Sure. I mean, Brooklyn was -- I always saw Brooklyn as a very --very community-oriented. Even with its issues, I always saw it as very, very community-oriented. People, a lot of people, they -- a lot of people know each other, you know, just in various social settings, be it the church, be it the mosque, be it the pool hall or the bar. You know, people are very social in Brooklyn, and, you know, just growing up, especially with the emergence of hip-hop, you know, that was going on in New York City as a whole, as well as, you know, the reggae influence, as well as the soca [Trinidadian musical style] influence. All of that was converging at the same time, like, in the early '80s, when I began to, you know, notice, you know, and things that were piquing my interest, you know, the music. You know, so -- so Nostrand Avenue was like a -- it's a main thoroughfare in Brooklyn, so, you know, on a block, you could 4:00probably hear somebody playing Cold Crush Bro-- a tape playing with Cold Crush Brothers and the Furious Five. Walk down a couple blocks, you got the rastas, Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, all day. Then you go up further toward St. John's, and, you know, somebody playing, you know, calypso from the roti shop, you know? So these are the experiences that I had, you know, so -- as well as, you go further down, you know, where elders, you know, from the South, you know, they're playing their blues and, you know, Al Green.
So musically and culturally, this was what was going on in Brooklyn, so beingthat I was part Caribbean and I was part American, like, I just felt like it was normal, you know? And I have friends of similar backgrounds, you know, who -- their parents were either Jamaican or American, or even parents who were, you know, from different Caribbean islands that were married, but their children were American, you know. So, you know, we felt like that Caribbean parentage and that American experience was just, like, you know, just normal. The normal -- a 5:00daily part of life.
ALI: Tell me about your schooling. Where did you go to school?
ABDUL-WASI: Sure. I went to school -- my parents put me in private school fromfirst grade to fourth grade. I was in the public school system in Bedford-Stuyvesant in pre-K and kindergarten. I also went to a kindergarten school in Crown Heights. But first grade to fourth grade, we were in private school. So I think, like, Chris Rock, he made a joke about, you know, "My parents are part of that generation where you thought sending your kids to white schools was better." So -- and I think my parents was also a part of that, you know. But it was a school called Mill Harbor. It was out in the Mill Basin section. It was very far. Well-to-do white families out there. And a very good school, actually. It was a very, very good school. And actually, I was surprised that I had a lot of peers that were, you know, either -- that were Black or 6:00Latino, as peers, so it wasn't that much of a culture shock, you know.
And then I remember having a discussion with my parents driving one time, andyou had, you know, nine-year-old Joshua. "I don't think I want to go to a private school. I want to go to public school." And, you know, and my brother's sitting there, like, "Yeah," you know. So, [laughter] so they actually obliged our wishes, you know, and I'm pretty sure it was better for them, because that's a strain on their pockets, you know. So I was like, "I'd rather just go to public school," you know.
So -- but, you know, it was a public school in Bensonhurst. So -- and that was-- that was very good. I had a very good teacher. Her name was Mrs. Silver. I was considered, like, the best student in her class. And I remember, you know, graduating from fifth grade, I got all types of awards. I ran -- I was, like, the runner-up in the spelling bee, you know. And my class -- I still remember my class, because I was, like, you know, the king of spelling in my class, and I 7:00got one word wrong, and they was like, "Aw!" [laughter] I could just hear the collective sigh, like, aw, because they was really rooting for me, you know, so -- but I ran runner-up. But I had really good schooling there. Still continued schooling in Bensonhurst from sixth -- sixth grade to eighth grade, but that's when we started to really experience what was going on in the city in terms of racial tension.
ALI: So how -- tell me -- but you were still living in Crown Heights?
ABDUL-WASI: Yes, still living in Crown Heights.
ALI: So how -- how is it that -- because I -- for people who may not be familiar --
ALI: -- with how schooling districting --
ABDUL-WASI: Sure, sure.
ALI: -- and stuff works. How is that you were living in Crown Heights but thengoing to school in Bensonhurst?
ABDUL-WASI: That's an excellent question. So I -- I forget, like, how the wholething -- how we got in there in the first place, you know. But I remember us being bused to Bensonhurst. We had to take a bus in fifth grade to my public school, me and my brother, and also we had some local kids in our area that went to the same school. So we got bused there. But there was one time that we missed 8:00the bus, and, you know, we -- it was like, "Well, how are we going to get to school?" But we had a girl in our group. Her name was Cheyenne. You know, respect to Cheyenne. She was like, "I know how to get to school." And we literally just followed her, you know. So it was, like, about seven of us little kids following Cheyenne to the 3 train, [laughter] then to the B train, to get to school. I said -- I was, like, whoa. And, you know, rid-- we rode the trains before, but not without our parents. But by ourselves, it was like another world, you know. So -- and we was, like, "Yo, let's just take the train to school from now on." You know? So -- but we -- we mixed it in. But sixth grade, we were bused as well, early on, but I think they stopped it after two or three months, and we just got train passes and went to school. But I forget the dynamics. Actually, I have to ask my parents about that, like, how did that work? Yeah.
ALI: So you mentioned, by the time you went to middle school, or junior high9:00school --
ALI: -- there was strife going on.
ALI: So tell me what that was.
ABDUL-WASI: Sure, sure. There was a lot of racial strife going on in the city.You know, New York City, for those who may not remember, was in the throes of a major recession in the mid-'70s. And a lot of things got cut back, programs, services. The blackout of 1977. I think there was a -- another mild, you know, recession in the early '80s. So, like, you know, things were very tense. The trains were always packed, you know. And -- and you just felt a lot of tension in the city. So as, you know, things were happening on Wall Street, you know -- I mean, I was like 11, 12. I didn't know what was going on. You know, they're rising in fortunes, but still a lot of the depressed areas of the city still under pressure.
So it was -- the situation first started with Eleanor Bumpurs, a Black woman who10:00got killed by police in her apartment in the Bronx. So that -- this is, like, '84. Michael Stewart, around the same time, was another young man, a graffiti artist. Police killed him in a train station, I believe. So these are things I'm aw-- being, you know, becoming aware of. But I think the thing that, kind of, really blew my mind open, in terms of what's really going on, is Bernard Goetz. Bernard Goetz was considered, you know, this vigilante, because, you know, some young brothers -- and this is to -- to give you a backdrop of what was going on in New York City, like, like, crime was everywhere, you know, and, like, mugging was like breathing, you know. So it was typical to see young youth, you know, just walking in between the cars and, like, robbing people, especially in Brooklyn, you know. So that's where -- you know, "Crooklyn" is -- [laughter] the 11:00nickname "Crooklyn" comes from Brooklyn -- you know, that goes back to the '70s, you know. So just robbing -- marauding bands of youth robbing people, so... But that was very -- that was a daily occurrence, if you will. You know, people lurking around certain dark corners in the city. Times Square, all types of ill repute, if you will.
But, but, yeah, so, allegedly, these youths accosted Bernard Goetz, and hepulled out a revolver and shot them, I think three of them. And there were, like, a lot of, you know -- a lot of animus, a lot of angst, you know, about that situation. A lot of people were riding for Bernard Goetz, because they was like, you know, "These youths are, you know, are, you know, an example of what's going on in the city. The city's lawless, and somebody got to stand up, and..." But other activists were painting another picture, and -- which was consistent 12:00in terms of the discussions that were going on in my home, as well as family's home, my -- my other family in their homes, and other friends of the family, you know, in terms of, "Yeah, you know -- you know, we don't like crime, but, you know, you know, typecasting young Black men like that, as animals, and -- because it was, like, a language that was painting young, you know, Black men as, you know, just lawless animals that need to be, you know, shot in the pasture somewhere. So that was, like -- this is 1985, and this was what was piquing my interest.
Then it was the Howard Beach incident. Howard Beach was Michael Griffith. Sothat was a turning point for me, you know, in terms of, like, my budding racial consciousness, if you will. Because I was the type of kid that, even in fifth grade, you know, you know, I was the type of child that -- because I'm hearing things in my home, and visiting my relatives, and, like, things like "Black is 13:00Beautiful" stuck with me, you know. So I remember one time in the fifth grade, in the -- in the cafeteria, I said -- somebody said something to a girl. "You Black." But I said, "Yeah, but Black is beautiful." You know, so -- and they stopped, you know.
So I remember being in seventh grade and in my history class, I had a whiteteacher. He happened to be Jewish. And he said something -- we were talking about, like, the civil rights movement. And, you know, you talked about Dr. King a lot. You know, we -- we have utmost respect and love for Dr. King, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. And I said, "But what about Malcolm X?" And the whole class got quiet, you know. So -- because I only knew who Malcolm X was because of, my uncle Yusuf had a picture of him, like, lying on his table. So I read -- it was like a card, and I read it, you know. So -- so the teacher basically just, like, 14:00goes off. Like, paints Malcolm X like a Black devil, if you will. You know, so I said, I was, like, "Okay," you know.
So -- but the Michael Griffith incident, you know, where him and his -- Ibelieve his uncle -- they were in Howard Beach. And during this time, in the '80s, you know, I could tell from personal experience, like, certain, like, Italian neighborhoods, like, they would let you know, like, you know, "You've got until, like, 7:30, and then you've got be out of here." You know? So that was the climate in certain neighborhoods throughout the city. But in Brooklyn, yeah, in Bensonhurst, and in Howard Beach, which is in Queens, it was, like, yeah, after a certain time, you've got to get out of here, because, you know, something's going to happen to you. These cats will chase you, and -- and that was a regular occurrence, you know.
I remember being at -- even as a Black youth, I -- I got on with everybody, youknow, people of different racial or ethnic nationalities. And I would go visit their homes. And I remember that one time it got kind of close, and I'm in a 15:00schoolyard, hanging with my friends, and it was, like, older white guys, or teenagers, you know, and they -- one of them said something. He's like, "Yeah, it's about that time, man. You know, you got to get going." And that was the signal, you know. Because I felt -- it's starting to get dark and [laughter] everything, so I was like, "Yeah, let me go jump on this train." I was like, "All right, Tommy, I'll see you tomorrow." [laughter] You know, because they gave me the signal. It was, like, yeah, you know.
So -- but, yeah, Michael Griffith, Howard Beach incident. Him being chasedacross a highway and got hit by an oncoming car, by these white youths or young adults. That set off a firestorm in the city, yeah.
ALI: So how -- I'm interested in -- how did you -- how did this intersect orreflect in your -- your spiritual life? So, what -- before -- as we talk about that --
ALI: -- what was your family's religious background? What was your earlyreligious life like?
ABDUL-WASI: That's an excellent question. My family's religious life, they wereJehovah's Witness. So -- my father is agnostic, so he never attended any Jehovah's Witness meetings. It was really my mother and my Aunt Ann -- Linda Ann, but we called her Ann. So, you know, that was pretty much my life from age -- from a baby up until, maybe, age 13? Yeah. So very religious, you know, going to the Kingdom Hall, going to the meetings throughout the week. And myself, my brother, my aunt, and my mother. They were very -- you know, they were very active. Yet, again, you know, my mother, coming from Trinidad, late '60s, influenced by Stokely Carmichael, you know. He became Kwame Ture. You know, may God be -- you know, have mercy on him, be pleased with him. And, you know, she -- she talked about him, how influential he was on the island, you know. And, 17:00you know, about brothers and sisters, like, you know, burning the oil fields and all [laughter] that. You know, so, you know, I used to just love those type of stories, you know. So she was, like, "Yeah, he used to turn the island up," you know. And so when she came here to the States, she still had that fire. She was running around with my Uncle Yusef, who's extremely known to the Black Muslim and nationalist circles here in Brooklyn but also in New York City. But I don't know -- I still don't know what happened [laughter] from '71 to -- when she got here, to '73, when I was born, you know. So I actually have to sit down and ask, like, "What made you [laughter] become a Jehovah's Witness? Like, what happened, you know?" So, but, but -- yeah.
ALI: What -- what kind of activities did you participate in as a Jehovah's Witness?
ABDUL-WASI: Great question. So the type of activities we participated in was, wewould go visit, like, the annual Hajj or pilgrimage to downtown Brooklyn, you 18:00know. So Jehovah's Witnesses had owned, like, large swaths of property down there in the Dumbo area of Brooklyn. So we would go visit the building, and, you know -- because they would produce the Watchtower and the Awake! Publications. So we'd go there and see how they -- the whole manufacturing, distribution, you know, apparatus worked, and, you know, people from around the country who were Witnesses, like, they had buildings for them to live in. And we'd go visit these people, and it was almost like a hotel, hostel, type of situation. It was kind of weird, you know, but -- [laughter] But, you know, they actually had a really -- a well-oiled machine going. And, you know, we had, like, picnics. You know, go to the beach, but as Witnesses, together. You know, getting with other Witness families, Jehovah's Witness families and friends that lived in the neighborhood. And, so, yeah, that was pretty much -- yeah. 19:00
ALI: Did you go door to door?
ABDUL-WASI: Yeah, yeah. We actually did knock on doors, field service, yeah. SoSaturdays, that was our -- our routine, field service.
ALI: How -- how did you prepare for it, or --
ABDUL-WASI: Yeah. It was -- actually, it was no preparation. Just, like, youjust had to go. And -- but the thing is that, most times, I wasn't really paired with my par-- my mom or my aunt. I was paired with an older male, so -- an older male from the Kingdom Hall, who, you know, kind of, knew the lay of the land and, you know, what doors to knock, what doors not to knock, and stuff like that. Listening to their discussions with people. And, yeah, that's -- and they would actually, kind of, like, throw me into it, you know, see how I would fare, you know. And -- but that was cool. Actually, it was an actually good experience, actually. That experience was very good, in terms of, like, kind of, get over your fear in terms of speaking in public and speaking to people that you don't know. Yeah, so, yeah.
ALI: And so -- so you're a Jehovah's Witness.20:00
ALI: You're in junior high school --
ALI: -- or going into high school. There's a -- a tense racial climate.
ALI: And so when do you -- tell me about how Islam enters this picture.
ABDUL-WASI: That's a great question. Islam enters the picture -- actually, Islamentered the picture, I would say, in 1981, because, again, my family, on my mother's side, we're very close. So I was around my cousins, like, almost all the time. So, like, you're hearing terms like salat, la [no] na'am [yes], you know, as-salaam alaikum, walaikum salaam. So I'm hearing this as a child, and -- but why I say 1981, it was when Masjid At-Taqwa opens, which is on -- in Bedford-Stuyvesant, on Bedford Avenue and Fulton Street. So I would walk with my uncle and my cousins, his sons, a lot with them. And a lot of our treks were to 21:00the Masjid, and, you know, hear the adhan being called, a call to prayer, for those who don't know. And, you know, my uncle just said, "Just sit down. We're going to pray. Just sit down." And I'm just watching the whole ritual. But I don't know what's going on. I'm just -- I'm just glad to be with my cousins, you know. So -- and, you know, just -- and when I'm walking with them in the street, like, everybody -- "Brother Yusef," you know, throwing up Black power fists and everything like that, you know. [laughter] So, you know, so it's, like, that was my introduction to Islam.
But it doesn't really pique my interest until I start hearing rap and, like, theFive Percent Nation, their influence in, in, in hip-hop songs, namely, like, the Supreme Team [hip hop radio show crew], you know. You know, they had a radio show, and, you know, I -- I just remember [See Divine], and I forgot the other 22:00brother's name. But, you know, they're singing, like, "Allah and Justice," you know, which is, like, the anthem for the Five Percenters. So, so, like, so you're thinking, like, "Oh, a law," so you're thinking, "Oh, they might be the same," you know? [laughter] But no, they're not the same, you know. But it was the Five Percenters that -- you know, because you're seeing them in the street, and you're hearing the lingo and the jargon, and it's, like, you know, yet they're, like, cool, you know. So that's, kind of, like, piquing my -- and this is around, like '86. I'm starting to notice these things, and I'm thinking, like, my family are them, and, you know, so I'm trying to just make sense of it all. So, like, '86 is really when I started paying attention.
Because also, let's go back to '81, not just the year of me visiting at-Taqwa.It's also the year, the first time I heard "peace god" on the street. You know what I'm saying? Because one of my -- one of the older guys on my block was, like, "Hey, yo, lord, hey, yo, lord," you know what I'm saying? So I'm, like -- 23:00I'm, like, [laughter] looking around, like, who is he talking to? I'm, like, looking to the sky, you know what I'm saying? "Yo, peace god," you know what I'm saying? So I -- I -- it's also the same time I heard that, you know. It was the same year. So me going to At-Taqwa in '81 as a child, as a visitor, and also hearing the term peace god that same year. So, yeah.
ALI: And so then what -- what happens?
ALI: So tell me what -- what happens next.
ALI: So you -- do -- do you then -- so you're encountering the Five Percentersin the music --
ALI: -- and some, maybe, in the street.
ABDUL-WASI: The street, yes.
ALI: And you're also still, kind of, in the orbit of your uncle.
ALI: So where -- where does that take you?
ABDUL-WASI: Absolutely. It was '86. And I remember visiting my family, my AuntAmina, my cousins, and my uncle was over there. And he said, "We're going to get you, brother." So I'm, like -- honestly, I'm terrified. [laughter] I'm 24:00terrified. He said, "We will get you. You're going to become one of us." So that was, like, wow, okay. You know what I'm saying? And he said -- yeah.
ALI: Did your -- did your mother ever have any concerns? You know, certainly theJehovah's Witness have a very clear sense of how one is saved, right?
ABDUL-WASI: Yes, yes.
ALI: And -- but this is our, family --
ALI: -- right? But she sees you spending time with -- does she -- was she ever-- did she ever talk with you, or did you ever sense any anxiety --
ABDUL-WASI: Right, right, right, right.
ALI: -- on her part, that you were hanging around these --
ABDUL-WASI: Right, right.
ALI: -- non-Jehovah's Witness folk?
ABDUL-WASI: Right, that's a great question. My mother -- no, she never had any-- any anxieties at all. Because, you know, that's -- because, basically, you know, as Caribbean parents and their parentage, like, if that's my sister's kid, those are my kids, you know? So that's how we were raised. So there was no anxiety at all. Like, we shuttled back and forth in terms of, you know, the 25:00caretaking. So, not -- not at all. But I used to hear the debates that my -- my mother and my aunt -- no, my mother and my uncle would have in the kitchen. I would hear that all the time, you know. And, you know, would get, you know, just to hear my mother's voice in the Trini accent, getting loud and everything like that. But my uncle was just real cool. He just kept it calm. It always -- it always was -- I paid attention to how he carried himself in the debates.
ALI: What kind of things?
ABDUL-WASI: It was religious debates, you know, about, you know, Jesus Christ,and how, you know, the Muslims, we don't do the three in one and everything like that. And, you know, Muhammad, you know, peace be upon him, is the last prophet. So I would hear these type of things, you know. And when you're a child, you know -- so, like, you think anything other than Christianity is, like, evil, you know, and -- especially if you're watching certain movies like Raiders of the Lost Ark, [laughter] all those things, and reading comic books, like, you know, 26:00and listening to certain rock songs, like, everything is just evil, you know what I'm saying? So because just as much as I loved hip-hop, you know, you're American kids, so you're just influenced by popular culture, so you're listening to, you know, Furious Five, but you're also listening to Adam Ant, you know what I'm saying? So it's, like, that type of influence. And, you know, I just remember going to, like, other Jehovah's Witnesses' houses, and they would -- you'd just find out that they're regular kids like you, and they're watching horror movies, [laughter] Reanimator and stuff like that. And writing graffiti, you know. So -- but you just felt like, "Oh, we're not supposed to be doing this, but look, you know, we're still doing it." You know what I'm saying? But, but, yeah, there was no anxieties on -- on my mother's part at all, you know. There was just, "No, that's sister's, you know, family, and my -- my children being cared for." So, yeah, there was none at all.
So, yeah, going back to your question about my uncle. You know, when he said --this was about '86 -- when he said he was going to get me and become one of us, 27:00I didn't know what he was talking about at first, when he -- and I understood later, it meaning me becoming a Muslim. And, you know, the interesting thing about that was that even when he had that discussion, it still wasn't -- it wasn't until, like, a year later that he really started to, kind of, like, start applying more pressure, you know, via books. You know, so -- but, yeah, it was -- you know, he, kind of, left me alone, you know, just to, kind of, see where I was going to go. Yeah.
ALI: So did you -- did you -- did you pursue the Five Percent -- I mean, whatwas the next thing for you?
ABDUL-WASI: Yes, yes. Because, you know, I was, kind of, like, out there, theFive Percent Nation became more attractive to me, because it's, like, you're seeing a lot of your peers, you know. They're dressing fly, you know. They've got, you know, wearing the fly clothes, and, you know, some of them may have gold teeth, and getting -- you know, they talk to girls with this -- with this 28:00rap, with, you know, knowledge and all this other stuff, and the fly names. I mean, I was talking to a friend of mine the other day about, you know, one -- one of my Muslim brothers, Sunni Muslim brothers, is like, "Yo, some of the names is hard." [laughter] You know what I mean? They had some of the dopest names, you know what I'm saying? So that was attractive to me. And, you know, with, like, a little -- little speck of, like, nationalism, Black nationalism. So, you know, you could call yourself, like, you know, Born Magnetic, and if you recite the lessons you get the flag, and, you know, still dress fresh, you know. So that was very, very attractive to me. So this was, like, '87, where I'm really starting to see, like, yo, you know, where I'm trying to go. And the Five Percent really played an influence, but it wasn't until, like, '88 where I jumped full on into it, yeah.
ALI: And what -- what does that mean, when you jumped full on into it?
ABDUL-WASI: Sure. So I started -- you know, my uncle, still I'm in his orbit, sohe started giving me books. The first book he gave me was not the Holy Qur'an. 29:00It was a book, out of print book, called Eight Black Inventors. And I read that book. This was, like, '87. And, like, like, a bomb went off in my head. Like, you -- you saw, you know, how our people were inventors, and I just -- from that book, I just wanted more and more and more and more. So he would just give me books, give me books, give me books. And I do remember he said to me, he said, "You know, I want you to know about yourself first." He said, "We're going to get to the Islam, but I want you to know about yourself first," which I was very, very -- pivotal and impacts who I am today, where I see my Blackness and my Islam, kind of, intrinsic, you know. So -- and a lot of that has to do with, not even the Fivers, my uncle. You know? Sunni Muslims, sunnah and everything like that, kufi, thawb and all of that, but very in tune with his Blackness, you 30:00know. So that had a very, a very huge impact on me.
So with that, '87, I didn't make a decision in terms of whether I would become aMuslim or a Five Percent. So I was just, kind of, like, just studying and just watching, observing. But, you know, I think, like, Public Enemy and, like, Rakim, and Kane. I was, like, Kane and Rakim was, like, okay, that's what I -- [laughter] that's what I want to -- that's where I want to go. I'm going to be -- I'm going to be Godbody. I'm going to be Five Percent, you know. So I remember one time, in high school -- because I didn't see a lot of Godbodies when I first came into high school. My high school -- I went to high school for graphic communication arts.
ALI: Now, what is the Godbody?
ABDUL-WASI: Okay. So Godbody, it's -- it's a colloquial term for members of theFive Percent -- male members of the Five Percent Nation. So, you know, they'll say they're God or Godbody, you know. And so I wasn't that. But I just started 31:00to -- I was seeking that, though. I didn't know where to go, but it -- what -- I happened to -- was reading The Autobiography of Malcolm X, which, you know, basically is, like, a starter kit for most people -- most Black people who are wanting to get into themselves and learn about, not just Malcolm's life and his legacy, but an awareness of our history, and also the impact of Islam. So that was the book that I was, like -- because this is when you start to see terms like, "the fruit of Islam, "the Black man is god," and, "Muslim Girls Training [MGT]," and I'm, like, okay, because I'm, kind of, hearing similar terms from the Gods, you know, when they recite certain lessons, because it's the same lessons, with certain variations. So I was, like, okay. 32:00
So I'm walking with the book, and I run into some brothers in -- in the hallway.And he was, like, "Oh, I see you got the -- the book, brother. What you think?" So we're talking. And so the brother asks -- one of the brothers asks me. He said, "What's your name?" So I was like -- I just came up with a name. "My name is Jaheem X." You know? [laughter] I just came up with a name on the spot, you know, because I'm trying to come up with a fly, righteous name, and, you know, I just picked up Jaheem X. It just came out of my mind. So the brother said, he said, he said, "No, brother, you can't be -- you can't be an X, because you're not a Muslim. You know? So X is unknown, and you've got to go through the ranks of the nation." He said, "But we got to find you a righteous name." I'm like, "Okay." So he said, "We've got to find you another attribute." So I'm, like, "What do you mean?" And he said, "Yeah, because you know who we are. We are the Five Percent." So I was, like, "Ah, okay." So I was, like, boom, this is what 33:00I'm looking for. You know what I'm saying? So what I was looking for was -- happened to be right there.
It was four brothers, my man Born, my man Gamma, Shaborn, and Sincere. Yeah, sowe're all teenagers, you know. So -- and I'm just, like, these names is fly. This is exactly what I was -- this is exactly what I was looking for. So they talked about going to the rallies. The rallies, for those who don't know, it's -- it's pretty much, like, the religious experience -- though it's not religious -- for members of the Five Percent Nation. So they have rallies in Mecca, which is Harlem, and the parliaments, which is in Fort Greene Park in Brooklyn. So they talked about going there to meet other people, and to learn more, and from -- I think it was from Born where I got my first lessons, and I started to compile -- he started to compile for me what was called the book of life. 34:00
And the book of life compiles -- it's your lessons of Supreme Mathematics,Supreme Alphabet, the 12 Jewels, 1 to 10, which is -- the actual facts 1 to 10, 1 to 14, and 1 to 36. These are all lessons that come out of the Supreme Wisdom lessons of Master Fard Muhammad, the founder of the Nation of Islam. So -- but there's, you know, variations, because it's Five Percent Nation. But that -- this is, like, the -- the fall of '88, and I was, like, I said -- I basically said, "I've been looking for y'all, man. I've been looking for y'all." You know? So that's what begins my -- my -- my entry into that.
I remember Born writing me my attribute, what it means, and saying that theBlack man is God, whose proper name is Allah, who has seven and a half ounces of brain cells, and the white man has this amount of ounces of brain cells, the Black woman has this amount of brain cells. And Jaheem -- he took the word "jah," because Jah is actually God, and he broke down -- broke it down, and I'm 35:00just reading my attribute, and I'm, like, whoa, you know. So, yeah, yeah, yeah. And that was the beginning with that journey.
ALI: So what do you think -- so what would happen at the parliament or at the rallies?
ABDUL-WASI: Sure. All right. So at the rallies, basically, you would -- I'm justthinking of my first time. My first time, I was terrified, because this is New York in the '80s, now. You know? There's a crime element -- the crime element was also there, [laughter] you know, and it was a packed room at the Harriet Tubman School in Harlem. And I'm -- I'm not there with my friends. I'm there by myself, you know, so luckily those brothers, you know, there, they were cool. Because I was a young boy, you know what I'm saying? Like, I knew my place. I was -- I'm, like, 15, you know? And, you know, they said, "Yeah, come -- come on, brother. Just, you know, come sit down and just watch," you know. And I'm 36:00just watching brothers, you know, just -- they're building, or they're basically talking about not just their name as an introduction, but today's degree, which is based off of the calendar. So let's say -- today is the sixth?
ALI: The seventh.
ABDUL-WASI: Seventh? So this would be the God day, sort of, like, you know, thisis the God day, and they'll build on that, what that means, what that degree means, and how that applies to them, and how that applies to life. And they'll also talk about things that -- the Allah School in Mecca, which is, like, the headquarters of the Five Percent Nation around the world, which was founded in 1965, and the Harriet Tubman School is basically around the corner from the Allah School. So basically, you know, it's brothers talking about what the school needs, you know, things that the brothers and sisters need to do -- the sisters are the Earths -- need to do for the children or the babies, ways to 37:00improve their own daily lives, and how they can get together as a group and expand the teachings around the country, help brothers that are in prison, things that they need to send to them. So basically, it's, like, a -- it was, like, a community meeting, basically, of the Gods, you know, sharing information. A lot of times it was also, like, posturing, also, you know, where brothers -- you know, they wanted to see brothers who really were true in living, as they would say. Who really knows their lessons, you know? So it was, like, kind of, like, steel sharpening steel a lot.
ALI: So there's a lot of -- it sounds like being able to speak in a certain wayis really important.
ABDUL-WASI: Yes. Absolutely. Absolutely. Yes. So -- and it's, like, you get tosee, like, you know, Black men, mainly from poor areas around the city. I'm not saying that there aren't middle class brothers who are Fiv-- absolutely, there definitely were -- but actually see brothers feel empowered, in a place that 38:00they feel empowered, and -- and be empowered by their names, and be empowered by other men who share similar beliefs and philosophies. So a respite, if you will, you know. So that's what it rep-- that's what it represents, still, to this day, for a lot -- a lot of brothers. Yeah.
ALI: So did you -- what is the process, or did you -- did you -- I think youmentioned earlier --
ALI: -- earning a pendant.
ALI: Did you -- did you get to that point?
ABDUL-WASI: No. I -- I did not earn a pendant, and I still want [laughter] apendant. I still think the flag is the -- one of the most dopest symbols ever.
ALI: Describe that flag.
ABDUL-WASI: So the flag is basically -- it's a seven, the number seven, a halfmoon crescent, and a star, and with an eight-point star around that, you know. So the seven, crescent, and this little star represents man, woman, and child. 39:00The eight-point star -- I can't really go into that, because I haven't really studied that. But it was created -- the flag was created by this brother by the name of Universal Shaamgaud. He created the flag.
And you have to recite the entire -- memorize the entire lessons for you to earnthe flag. So you have to -- and your teacher is called an enlightener, you know, so that's similar to, like, a sheikh or any, you know -- or a minister or reverend. But your enlightener, basically, is somebody who walks you through that process and helps you sharpen that steel. And you have to recite in front of him, and possibly may have to go up to the school to recite to the brothers, because they will actually -- your enlightener, if he has some standing, if somebody -- he's known and respected amongst the members, he can actually request, like, "Yo, this brother, he's going to recite and, you know, reserve a flag for him." So they will actually -- you can go to the -- well, you can 40:00actually go to the Allah School. You'll see, like, flags, and there are brothers' names under the flag, so if they recite successfully, they'll get their flag.
And, like, the flag, you know, that had a lot of currency, you know, in thestreets of New York, you know. So, again, New York is, you know, was very territorial, but hip-hop, kind of, opened it up. And the Five Percent Nation also played a large -- a large role in it opening it up, as well, because you have brothers around the city. They're all Five Percent, even if they were involved in crime, you know. But they can go to each other's neighborhoods or projects, like, "Oh, yeah, that's the God Born. Yeah, yeah, yeah, he's cool." You know what I'm saying? So it had a lot of currency, you know. Not all neighborhoods, you know, but many neighborhoods, you know, it had a lot of currency. So, you know, I -- I joked with one of our brothers today, you know. He's, like, "That flag symbol is so dope," you know, so, yeah. Yeah, yeah, I never earned a pendant.
ALI: So what happened then?41:00
ABDUL-WASI: Yes. So I was studying. Got up to actual facts, and -- but I didn't,you know, as you say -- we say, knowledge, or master 1 to 10, which is, who is the original man, who is the colored man, you know. So I didn't master that. So -- so I just was, like, you know, still -- I was a very studious student when it came to the less-- I literally was studying my book of life like homework from school. I would have a lamp in my room, [laughter] like, literally, like, just be like this, because you never know who you're going to run into on the street, or on a train, and, you know, if you have some type of dialogue with somebody, and they hear your -- your name -- "Oh, you Godbody? Oh, okay. What's today's mathematics?" You've got to be spit that on the spot, and, you know, you know, break down your name, and -- yeah. And that -- that type of stuff was happening 42:00daily, and -- and certain neighborhoods was known for, like, havens of Gods.
ALI: In Brooklyn, what were --
ABDUL-WASI: In Brook--
ALI: -- the neighborhoods that --
ABDUL-WASI: Brownsville. Never ran, never will, you know. Still one of thepoorest sections of New York City. Was a haven of Five Percenters. And Fort Greene, parts of Bed-Stuy. Crown Heights actually had a -- a pretty sizeable amount of Five Percenters, but mainly, the main hubs were, like, Brownsville, Fort Green, and Bed-Stuy, were, like, the main hubs of --
ALI: Did they have gatherings in Brooklyn, or were --
ALI: -- all the gatherings in Harlem?
ABDUL-WASI: Yeah, they had gatherings in Brooklyn. In the summertime, it was inFort Greene Park.
ABDUL-WASI: Yeah, that's when everybody from the city came to Fort Greene Park,even Long Island, you know, even parts of New Jersey. They would come to Fort Greene -- Greene Park. But, yeah. And New York City, at that time, when I was 43:00studying -- this is, like, '88 -- you know, like, let's say you're from Brownsville. Brownsville's the type of place where you're on Pitkin Avenue, and you know, you happen to be like, "Yeah, I'm such-and-such, Universal such-and-such." And, like, "Yeah, okay. All right, bet. What's today's math?" And if you're able to spit the degree -- if you're not able to spit the degree, you know, correctly, Brownsville's the type of place that not only they would take your flag, they would rob you. That's Brownsville. [laughter] And a lot of people could testify that to this day. Like, you're not going to say that. You're not going to be perpetrating a fraud. You're going to be true and living, for real. And this is Brooklyn. It's still Crooklyn, still, so you still have the criminal element, you know what I'm saying? So -- so, yeah, that's -- that's what Browns-- that's Brownsville, man. Oh my God. And Brownsville's still Brownsville, to this day. I don't know how, [laughter] with all this gentrification that's going on in New York City, that Brownsville is still the 44:00same after all this time. Yeah, yeah.
ALI: So you didn't earn your flag.
ABDUL-WASI: No, I didn't -- didn't earn the flag.
ALI: What did you then -- did you -- so what happened? What happened?
ABDUL-WASI: So I didn't earn the flag. And this is when -- it's around the timeI started hanging around with my uncle a lot more. I would come to my family, my aunt and my uncle's home. Around this time, they divorced, but he still has access to the home, you know, because he lived, like, across the hall in the same apartment building. So I would just be, you know, camping up with him, and this was when he started teaching me Islam.
ALI: Now, did he know when you were doing the Five Percent thing?
ABDUL-WASI: Yes, yes.
ALI: Did you talk -- did he tell you --
ALI: -- say anything to you?
ABDUL-WASI: No, he just was quiet.
ALI: Did your mom say anything to you?
ABDUL-WASI: Actually, my mother did. So that's a great question. So one time, mymother was, like, said, "Yeah, we're going to go to field service." And I was, like, "I'm not going to field service." She said, "Why not?" I said, "Because 45:00the Black man is God, you know." So -- [laughter] and my mother looked up at me, but I thank Allah for my mother. She was, like, "Well, that may be true." And that threw me -- that threw me for a loop. I was, like, "Okay." She said -- and she left me alone. She said, "You don't have to go." And she left me alone. And so, like, she allowed me, in my process of self-discovery, you know.
So -- and -- because I think that -- see, my mother was always militant, even asa Witness, you know. So I remember my mother being disfellowshipped from the Kingdom Hall because of her braids. She had braids. She used to wear cornrows sometimes. And she was -- she used to argue with elders of the Kingdom Hall. She was, like, "I'm a Black woman." Like, "This is our hairstyle." Like, "I'm not going to have a perm all the time." You know? So she was disfellowshipped. And 46:00-- but she was disfellowshipped from other things, but also -- also that militance that she had, as well. And I was always there. So I think when I said what I said, she was, like, "Oh, okay," you know? And she just left me -- she left me alone.
She act-- I would put up pictures all up in my wall, Malcolm, Martin, theHonorable Elijah Muhammad, Garvey, the Panthers were all over my wall, Angela Davis, Assata Shakur. I would write graffiti on my wall, with just listing all the Black organizations that had impact on my people, and, you know, all the Black leaders, even organizations that people probably never heard about, like RAM [Revolutionary Action Movement] and, you know, Republic of New Africa. You know?
So all these things is going on, and I'm reading all these books. Like a bookthat -- I think -- I forgot who it was compiled by, but it was a book called The Black Poets. And that was -- that book was, like, major for me, because you're 47:00reading about Amiri Baraka, Don Lee, who became Haki Madhubuti, you know, Sonia Sanchez, other -- other -- other great Black men and women writers and poets, and laureates, if you will. And that was, like -- that, kind of, exposed me to the power of the written word, you know. So, you know, blues people, you know, stuff like that, you know. So you're getting in contact with that side of Black culture, and you're seeing the power of the Black is Beautiful movement of the late '60s, and seeing the correlations. And so I'm trying to make sense of it all. And some of these people happen to be Muslim, you know? So when I started reading that, that's when I started to hang out with my uncle again, you know. So -- so that's when he started to begin teaching me Islam. Yeah. This is, like, '89, 1989.
ALI: And what did that mean?
ALI: What -- what was teaching you Islam?
ABDUL-WASI: So -- so he was -- so he began -- he started off with somepamphlets, like, "What is Islam?" "Who was Allah?" "Who was Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him?" "Do you believe -- Muslims believe in Jesus?" Things of that nature. So he gave me things to read, and -- about Islam. Just very basic stuff.
ALI: And how was this rubbing up against what you had studied in the Five Percent?
ABDUL-WASI: So what was different about what was being studied is that, youknow, we don't -- the Muslims don't see themselves as God. You know, they believe that Allah is infinite, is a higher intelligence that's above us all. Broke down that, you know, we're not sons and daughters of the crea-- we are creations. The human being is a unique creation, but -- yeah.
ALI: And how did you receive that?
ABDUL-WASI: So --
ALI: Because you're --
ALI: -- coming from -- you just told your mom, "The Black man is God" --
ALI: -- and now your uncle is telling you --
ALI: -- something different.
ALI: Where is -- what does Fahiym --
ALI: -- or what does Joshua --
ALI: -- at this point think?
ABDUL-WASI: So I was actually -- I was confused, because it's like, how did --49:00how are they using these terms in the Five Percent? Oh, but this is the "real," quote-unquote, Islam? So -- and my uncle, he'd never bashed the Five Percent. Nothing. Neither did my aunt. You know, they just watched, you know. They didn't say anything derogatory about the Five Percent. You know, as I -- when I began to take my -- when I took my shahada, then they started breaking down the differences, you know. They -- you know, they respected what it's trying -- they basically said, "I know what they're trying to do, you know, but we don't go that far." You know what I'm saying? And I was like, "Oh, okay." You know what I'm saying? It's like, you know, it's a good resource for young Black men and women to, kind of, get into themselves, but that's a beginning stage, you know. So this is the stage that you want to be at. That's how they broke it down to me, yeah.
ALI: So you used the phrase "took your shahada."
ALI: What -- what does that mean, and what was that experience like for you?
ABDUL-WASI: Yes. So taking shahada is, like, you know, basically, your testimony50:00that you bear witness that there's no God but Allah and that Muhammad is his messenger. And that is, like, the beginning stage of becoming a Muslim. That's the -- the only requirement, really, is just that testimony. From there, then you begin to build who you are as a Muslim man or a Muslim woman. And there are stages for that, and that's another [laughter] discussion.
ALI: Well, do you remember --
ALI: -- when you --
ABDUL-WASI: Yeah, I --
ALI: I mean, what was it -- what was that like?
ALI: Tell -- explain the experience.
ABDUL-WASI: So I was sitting with my uncle in the living room in my aunt'sapartment. And it was him, his -- one of his main men, one of his good friends, Abdus Quddus. A Puerto Rican brother. You know, he used to ride -- roll with him everywhere. And I forgot. There was also, like, a karate man in the building. He was there, too. I forgot the brother's name. And that was like, you know, basically -- so I -- because I asked him, like, "What do I need to do to become 51:00a Muslim?" And he said, "Just raise up your finger -- right hand, one finger, and say 'La ilaha illa Allah.'" And I recited it. "'Muhammad-ur rasul Allah.'" So I said, "Okay." So I recited it. And he said, "There is no God but Allah, and Muhammad is his messenger." And I was, like, "That's it?" And he was, like, "That's it. Now," he said, "now what you do is on you." You know what I'm saying?
So this is when he said, "So I'm going to give you this book, and you want tolearn some more, come back." I was, like, there, like -- I was at my uncle's house or my aunt's house, like, at least three times a week. At least, you know. And I would walk with my uncle -- he used to walk a lot, everywhere, you know -- just trying to soak up his knowledge, go with him to pray. And even when I was praying with him, I didn't know what I was doing. I'm just following him and following steps of other brothers in the community. So -- so I was, like, "Okay, this is what I need to be." You know? So -- because I'm thinking, "Okay, so if" 52:00-- I'm trying to think. "If" -- who was a prominent -- "if certain Panthers were Muslim, and people in the BLA [Black Liberation Army], this -- oh, this is what I need to do." You know what I'm saying? So I felt like, "Okay, so I could be red, black, and green, and wear the kufi, and" -- But, you know, this is what I'm thinking at 16, you know. I'm not really having a full grasp, you know. I'm going to Masjid At-Taqwa, but not really understanding, you know. So -- so my uncle, he's basically -- he's exposing me to, like, these different worlds, you know. Exposing me to people like the brother who was very influential in education here in New York City. He founded the African American Teachers' Association.
ALI: Jitu --
ABDUL-WASI: Jitu Weusi.
ALI: -- Weusi. Yeah.
ABDUL-WASI: My uncle introduced me to him. Because I'm, like, "I just read aboutthis man. This -- you know him?" He said, "Hey, Brother Yu--" He shouted his name out. "Brother Yusef." And he said, "As-salaam alaikum." You know what I'm 53:00saying? So they walked together, embraced, you know, and they're talking. And he said, "This is my nephew." And I'm looking at Ji-- Jitu is tall. He's, like, 6'8", you know what I'm saying, and -- and, you know, how Jitu breaks the ice with me, we talk about basketball, because that's his thing. Basketball and jazz. That's his thing. So we talked about basketball and everything. Said, "Yeah, you know, your uncle's a good brother, you know, from the struggle from back -- we go back in the struggles," and all this other stuff. And so, yeah, it was just those type of worlds. I'm, like, wow. Like, my uncle knows these people.
And you're seeing the convergence of, you know, people who have, like, veryAfrocentric or cultural -- quote-unquote, were called "cultural nationalists," you know, and -- and their involvement in, you know, trying to improve Black New York life. And some of these people happen to be Muslim. And also, for those who are not Muslim, they still, kind of, like, they, kind of, have, like -- either 54:00have Islamic names or, kind of, like, an Islamic reference point. So, like, their Blackness and their Islam is, kind of, like, kind of, intertwined, you know. So I'm seeing all of this, you know, from a lot of my uncle's peers, men and women. So that had an impact on me, so that's why -- that's what -- that is what probably prompted me to take my shahada, because I thought I was going to be in those type of circles, you know. So -- so I wasn't really taking the religion that serious, because I didn't know what I was doing. Yeah.
ALI: So you said you thought you were going to be in that circle.
ALI: Did something -- did something cause you to rethink that assessment?
ABDUL-WASI: Yeah. That's -- it -- it -- I still remember, there was a -- anevent that happened. I went to Masjid At-Taqwa. I had a Malcolm X button. I'm walking into the Masjid. A brother stops me. Said, "You can't -- you know, you've got to take the button off." I was, like, "Why?" He said, "Well, you 55:00know, because, you know, we can't allow images in the Masjid." I was, like, "Well, Malcolm is Muslim, right? I mean, I'm not praying to Malcolm." He said -- he said, "I know that." He said, "You know," he said, "we all know what Malcolm has done for our people, and we're not discounting who that man was for us." And he said, "But in the masjid, we have certain rules, and you can't, you know, come in here with images." So I was, like, "Okay." I prayed, but I was so angry. You know, I was so angry, you know, and -- and I'm thinking, like, you know -- I thought the Muslims was about the struggle, you know what I'm saying? And you hit me with this religious stuff about images, you know. [laughter] So I'm, like, "I don't know if I want to be around here too long," you know. So -- but --
ALI: Do you remember how old you were?
ABDUL-WASI: I was 16.
ALI: You were 16.
ABDUL-WASI: I was 16. And I would still go there for jummah from time to time. Iwould leave school, go there for jummah, because my cousins -- my cousins were, 56:00like -- I have cousins that are two to three years older than me, but, you know, my older cousin, he was, kind of, like, in the streets, so he wasn't around the Masjid a lot. But my younger cousins, they're four years younger than me. So I'd be with them and their boys, you know. And I just felt, kind of, like, odd, because they're younger than me, and, you know, so I'm really, kind of, like, there by myself, you know. So -- and they're introducing me to people, but they had their own group of friends, you know. So -- and, you know, like, 16 to 12-year-olds, [laughter] you know, it's just, you know --
ALI: It's a big difference. Yeah, yeah.
ABDUL-WASI: -- it's a diff-- it's a big difference, you know. So --
ALI: At that age, it's actually --
ABDUL-WASI: At that age, especially, you know, even though they -- they know thestreets and everything like that, but it's still different, you know, but -- so I was, kind of, like, by myself. And that -- that event, kind of, like, shaped me. And it, kind of, still -- it, kind of, impacts me to this day. And, you 57:00know, even though I'm -- you know, I strive to follow the sunnah and I can call myself a Sunni Muslim, but I still, kind of, have problems with the lack of Black consciousness within the Sunni Muslim community of our people. And a lot of that stems from that event, you know. So, yeah. So that enters the Ansaaru Allah community.
ALI: Tell -- how did you -- how did you encounter them?
ALI: How did that begin?
ABDUL-WASI: So the Ansaaru Allah community, like the Five Percent Nation, waseverywhere in the streets, particularly in the train stations of New York City. Certain --
ALI: How would you recognize them?
ABDUL-WASI: Oh, so the Ansaaru Allah community, they were known for wearing --the brothers were known for wearing all white, all white jellabiyas -- or some people say galabeyas, some people say thawbs -- but they would say jellabiyas -- and white kufis. And they had a symbol, which was -- it wasn't red, black and green. It was black, red, and green, with a spear -- with a crescent and spear, and the kalima shahadatayn, which is the testimony, of, you know, taking 58:00shahada. "La ilaha illa Allah. Muhammad-ur rasul Allah." You know, they were everywhere, selling books, oils, incense. But I remember encountering a brother on a train station one day, the Jay Street-Borough Hall train station. And I'm seeing all these pictures. They had pictures of Black leaders, and I'm looking at their image, and I'm seeing pictures of Black leaders, and I'm looking at their image. And I see their symbol. I'm, like -- I'm encountering a brother. We're talking. I'm, like, "This is exactly what I'm looking for. This is exactly what I'm looking for." I mean, I could be on the "haqq," quote-unquote, the truth, you know, and be on some Black stuff? This is perfect. This is perfect, you know what I'm saying? So, yeah.
ALI: Do you remember what your conversation with him was about?
ABDUL-WASI: Yeah, so we were talking about -- basically, he was saying, like,"The prophets are Black." And I'm, like, "Yes." You know what I'm saying? So, you know, "All the prophets are Black, brother." You know? So just talking about 59:00all these historical figures in antiquity were Black people. So this is what the brother's breaking down to me, but from within an Islamic frame, you know what I'm saying? And that was very, very attractive to me. And the fact that he knew Arabic beyond the simple -- you know, like, he spoke -- this brother actually spoke Arabic, you know, and said that that was our original language, and -- you know, and -- and, you know, basically, he had the moxie.
He proved what he was saying, you know. So he pointed to -- he could point tothe Qur'an and the Bible, you know, and point out certain things, so, it was, like -- that was amazing for me. You know, so somebody who was very well-versed, and not just the Holy Qur'an, but also the Bible. Someone who was, you know, somewhat astute about New York City politics, about, you know, not just history, 60:00Black history in the States, but also in Africa, and that was attractive.
So it was, like -- and also saying that -- he also -- he was also, you know,using Five Percent Nation Islam. Like, yeah, the Black man is God. He's not Allah. And I was just -- that was just definitely -- So that was, like, a hook, [laughter] you know what I'm saying? But the Black man ain't Allah, though. You know, saying the Black man is God, you know what I'm saying, and saying that the Honorable Elijah Muhammad was right and exact. Stuff -- you know, so they're just pulling from all these sources, you know, like a composite, you know, Sunni, Black nat-- I was, like, man, this is perfect. This is perfect.
So that's when I started to encounter resistance from my aunt about that,because, you know, a lot of brothers and sisters who came up in the '60s and '70s who were Sunni Muslim, you know, they had their views about Imam Isa, who's known as Dr. Malachi Z. York, who's currently locked up in supermax prison in 61:00Colorado. So they had their issues with him. And --
ALI: Tell me --
ALI: Tell me -- I mean, so --
ALI: Did you, like, come home? I mean, what -- how did this happen? Like --
ABDUL-WASI: Yes. So this -- this basically --
ALI: -- I want to hear how this conversation happened.
ABDUL-WASI: So basically, this conversation ended up with me buying a book and aposter. And the poster was, like, all these, you know, Black leaders, with Imam Isa in the middle, of course. [laughter] But Marcus Garvey, even Pedro Albizu Campos was on the photo, in the painting, poster. Minister Louis Farrakhan, the Honorable Elijah Muhammad, the Father Clarence 13X, Marcus Garvey, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. I'm trying to think who else. But, like, all of these great, Black, you know, male leaders, you know, saying that we need to unite, you know, 62:00the Nubian nation, that type of language. So that was extremely attractive. And I'm trying to remember what the first book was. I can't remember. But it was 1989. It was, like, the fall of '89.
But what got me on that path prior to that was meeting some friends of mine inthe park. They became my friends. I was walking with -- we were in Washington Square Park, in Greenwich Village, New York, which is, you know, the headquarters of NYU, New York University. And pretty much everybody in the city goes there to hang out. And it was also a place where a lot of Black and Latino kids would come to hang out, as well. At this time, just to paint the picture, like, you know, house music is big in New York City. It's big pretty much everywhere, but New York City, like, that was -- they had major scenes for house music. So a lot of kids that were into house music, they would come to the park, played music, danced, stuff like that. So one time, you know, I was with my 63:00friend Charles coming from Brooklyn, and he runs into his friends in Washington Square Park. So they're wearing pendants and rings of the Ansaaru Allah community.
So I'm walking -- here's the -- this is the funny thing. I'm walking with aradio. I have a kufi on, like, some type of Black power medallion on, a button of Malcolm X, something like that. And all I'm playing on this radio is Lakim Shabazz, "Black is Back." [laughter] I'm walking around the circle. It's hilarious. If I could see myself then, I would be laughter at myself. I'm walking around with a radio. I'm, like, super Black, you know, and Muslim. I had to rock the kufi just to make the distinction, I'm Muslim. "Black is Back."
So I'm running -- so he introduced me to his friends, and they got the AnsaaruAllah, you know, regalia on, and so, you know, I greet them, you know, you know, 64:00"As-salaam alaikum." "Walaikum as-salaam." Started talking. And they started talking about going to the Hall of Knowledge, and going to -- Hall of Knowledge was the place where -- that was their -- their main institution for people who had questions about the Ansaaru Allah way, and their paradigm, and their philosophy, to learn Islam, or even people who wanted to come debate, you know. They could come ask questions and, you know, either to the student teachers, or sometimes, Imam Isa would come down himself, because he would listen from his studio. And sometimes he would even interject, or he would come down himself. So -- so they were, like, really heavy Ansaar.
And it was similar, like, to the Five Percent, you know, where, you know,they're in the clubs. You know, you know, they got the clothes and everything like that. But they had, like, the -- they had a ring. That was one of the -- a very known pendant. It was like a ring, a silver ring -- which I thought was 65:00very dope -- a silver ring with the six-pointed star, with the six-pointed Star of David, and the crescent under it. And sometimes it may have, like, the name of Allah in the middle, or sometimes it was blank. But, yeah, yeah. And that was very attractive.
So I was, like, you know, so I introduced my-- you know, we -- we exchangednumbers, and I'm, like, wow, so these guys are Muslim and, you know, they're into Blackness. And so this is what the Ansaar -- it's really from them -- from that conversation with the brother in the train station to meeting them, that's what started my journey into the Ansaaru Allah, Nubian Islamic Hebrews, you know, that type of philosophy. Yeah.
ALI: So -- so tell me how your family responded to this.
ABDUL-WASI: Yeah. So my Aunt Amina, she had an issue with that, mainly becauseshe had an issue with Imam Isa's past. According to a story, I think one of our relatives was in the community. Just to paint a picture, I'll give a backdrop. 66:00Like, they were, like, one of the first Islamic -- established Islamic communities established by Black people. And when we say community, they actually had, like, a community, like, residences for their members to live in. And, you know, they had a school for their children to go to, you know, where they were actually teaching them Arabic. So that was very, very powerful, you know.
ALI: And where was this?
ABDUL-WASI: This was in Brooklyn. First it started -- they moved around. Ibelieve it was Crown Heights, Coney Island, and they settled in Bushwick.
ALI: Oh, I didn't know they had those other locations before.
ABDUL-WASI: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
ABDUL-WASI: Yeah, but it was small, though. It was very small. But Bushwick iswhere they settled. And they -- you know, I had relations with -- with Imam Isa's sons, and they would tell me stories about their early beginnings. And in 67:00Bushwick, at that time, was very, very into heroin. And that neighborhood was a big heroin hub, owned by -- run by a major crime family in New York City. And the story goes that --
ABDUL-WASI: Oh, sorry.
ABDUL-WASI: And the story goes that, you know, as a result of these Muslimscoming into this territory, that this crime family basically had an issue, and came to Imam Isa and confronted him. And the story is, from one of his sons, that he ran out with a sword and had a bunch of brothers behind him, and Imam Isa made a prayer -- basically -- he basically was, like, swinging a sword, yelling all types of obscenities, like, "Yeah, come, come, come," like, "I'm going to f--- you up and kill you," or whatever. Well, they said he made a prayer that Allah could have the angels hold down the brothers' feet, because I don't think the brothers met that type of -- had seen that type of force, 68:00because this is the mob, you know. And -- but the mob was, like, "Okay." Gave it to them without fight -- without a fight. So they didn't have to, like, fight anybody. They just got it. And they basically cleaned the neighborhood up. You know what I'm saying? So -- and I remember, there's articles -- even the late writer Jimmy Breslin had articles of him spending his time in Bushwick, and how, you know, safe and clean the neighborhood was. So, so yeah, they settled in Bushwick. And there's still remnants of them today, though they're not under the Islamic banner. But, yeah, they're still -- they're still out there, but -- but very small.
ALI: So tell me your first experience going to -- your first --
ALI: -- time going to their --
ABDUL-WASI: Yeah. So my first time going to the -- going to Bushwick wasamazing, just to see, like, a community of Black people just practicing and living Islam, you know. That was amazing. Like, and not -- not some faraway place, but in Brooklyn, you know, so accessible by train, or a couple trains, 69:00depending on where you're coming from. So that was just amazing. Because just to see the little children, and to see them, like, sometimes marching in unison, like a military drill, or speaking -- you know, saying Arabic terms, and stuff like that, carrying a flag. That was -- that was just an amazing sight, you know. And I was, like, wow, this is actually really possible, to really live out your Islam and -- and have a strong sense of your cultural identity. Like, this is possible. Where you could pray and eat, you know, because their famous pizza --
ALI: The whole wheat.
ABDUL-WASI: The whole wheat pizza, which, today, is some of the best, if not thebest slices I've ever tasted in my life, you know. So big slices for a dollar. And the rumor was, like, they used to sweeten the sauce with brown sugar. That was the rumor. Because that was like crack, you know. Sometimes, even on a 70:00Tuesday night, you're like, you know, I've got to go home, but I want that pizza. That's how good the pizza was, you know. So, yeah. So you could eat, pray, study, live in the community. That was just -- that was, like, a little oasis, you know. So that was very, very impactful.
And then going to the Hall of Knowledge and seeing how, you know, the brothers,some of Imam Isa's students, would deal with, you know, people with questions. That was -- that was very, very good. But to actually see Imam Isa himself come down, that was, like -- because, you know, you're reading about this man, and it's, kind of, like, when you reflect back as you're older, like, you're, kind of, looking at this man, like, as a holy man, almost like a superhero. I remember when he first came down, I was just, like, you know -- actually, there's video of me. You probably can see it on YouTube. There's video of me, like, in the front, and I'm, like, you know, I'm sitting in the front and, like, watching this man, you know, teach. And I'm just, like, amazed, you know, because, you know, Imam Isa, Dr. York, is very, very charismatic. Extremely 71:00charismatic. And he's extremely well-read, you know. He's knowledgeable about a lot of aspects of life. And, you know, when you're young, and impressionable -- especially for people who are young and impressionable, and they also have some other issues going on at home, you know, sometimes these individuals serve as surrogate parents for us. And he didn't necessarily serve as a surrogate parent for me, but I think that, you know, when you have an Islam that, kind of, like, wraps up a Messiah -- Messianic figure with a gloom and doom philosophy, then it's, like, yeah, I need to be up under this man, because if I'm not up under this man, then I'm going to hell, and everything.
[laughter] So, like, you're really riding -- I was really riding that hard for,like, about three years, you know, Ansaaru Allah. My family had an issue with 72:00them, that they -- they told me -- they told me what the issue was, and -- but they said, "The one thing we respect is that he built the Islamic community. We'll give him that respect. But everything else he's teaching is -- we feel is, you know, not Islamic, because he's colored the prophets, you know, you know, make images of the prophets. You know, we do know some of the prophets were Black, but we don't" -- you know, so -- But, you know, my mom was, like, "It's -- you know, it's all right. Just -- you'll see." She said, "You'll see."
ALI: So riding hard for -- for that community. What was that? What did that meanfor you? What would you do?
ALI: What did you do?
ABDUL-WASI: So basically, riding hard for that community basically meant, like,my entire existence was Ansaar, you know. So the -- the literature --
ALI: What years are we? This is --
ABDUL-WASI: This is 1989.
ALI: -- '89 to --
ABDUL-WASI: Late '89 to 1992.
ALI: Okay. So it's -- this is 16, 17, to --
ABDUL-WASI: This is, like, 17 -- 16, 17, to, like, 19.
ALI: Okay, okay.
ABDUL-WASI: Yeah, 19. So--
ALI: So tell me what --
ABDUL-WASI: Yeah, so --
ALI: -- what did that mean?
ABDUL-WASI: -- my friends -- a lot of my close friends. I had a group of 1073:00friends, all Ansaar. We partied together. We hung out together. We was at each other's houses spending the night. You know, going to the Hall of Knowledge together. Meeting each other's families. So, you know, a lot of us would, like, we would, kind of, in that circle, and we're meeting other people who are also Ansaars from other boroughs, people from New Jersey and Long island who are Ansaar. So we tried to surround ourselves as much with Ansaars as much as possible. But also, another part of it was also debating people on the street, you know. So we would be with the brothers who were actually in the community as members, full-fledged members, card-carrying members, and we'd be with them, you know, sharpening our tools, learning from them, but also debating people while they debate people. And, you know, actually having a list of biblical quotes to go at Christians with. I mean, we had a list. I mean, in -- in retrospect, like, 74:00that was very sharp. You know, that was very, very sharp, you know. Like, if a Christian comes at you with this, you come at them with that. And it was, like, yeah. I still remember that list. It was, like, about seven pages, you know.
So -- because what I learned from the Ansaar was, like, this skill of debate.Like, they were very, very, very sharp in debating, as well as debating Sunni Muslims and Five Percenters, you know. So -- not so much the Nation of Islam, but Hebrew Israelites, you know. So I've seen the Ansaar brothers on the streets, whether it was in Brooklyn, Manhattan, Jamaica Queens, I mean, like, go at it with people, skillfully, and, like -- and some people had to, like, submit, you know. And a couple -- and probably about weeks -- weeks later or months later, you'll see them in the Ansaar community in the Hall of Knowledge. You know, so they were skilled debaters. The Ansaars was very skilled debaters. 75:00And we would actually -- with my friends, we would actually -- we would, kind of, test each other's mettle by sharpening our tools in terms of debate, and what we read in the literature.
Because that was his -- that was his hook, was the literature. You know, which,you know, we come to find out, especially with you being a scholar, like, a lot of stuff was fabricated. [laughter] Some of that stuff was fabricated, even, like, straight up complete lies, you know what I'm saying? Like, I remember a friend of mine -- this is when I had left the community. I wasn't in the community, but under that philosophy. And my friend was like, "Yeah, you know, remember that book, such-and-such? He said that Dr. Such-and-Such said this." He said, "That person never -- doesn't even exist. [laughter] I don't know where he got that from." You know, like, you go -- like, the university never heard of this person, you know. So when you -- you know, when you're going to college, and, you know, you, kind of, like, you know, really study, like, a methodology, 76:00you know, it's, like, oh, wow. This is how it works.
So, like, you're using charisma, charm, and using, actually -- you have wits andintelligence, but for people who are not read, this is amazing. This is exciting, you know. So -- so, kind of, like, the curtain and the veil begins to be -- become removed. And I think the turning point for a lot of us was when the doctrine began -- begins to change. This is, like, around '92, was when the doctrine -- you know, for, like, 22 years, you're riding Islam as the way of life for our people. Then it changes, like, and then you go into this Hebraic, Judaic, you know, school of thought. People take off their kufis and start wearing yarmulkes and sashes. And that was weird for me, where I -- I mean, I 77:00wrote this man, in 1991, asking him permission to go to college.
ALI: Wow. Really?
ABDUL-WASI: Yes. Because I was -- because I was -- I was in a place, at the ageof 18, in 1991, you know, whether I wanted to go to college and pursue a career in journalism, or move into the community and be a full-fledged Ansaar member, and be a vendor, you know. So -- and I wrote him, told him my reasoning. I said, you know, I would like to college, you know, to, you know, work in media, and, you know, to help our people using this skill set. And he was, like, "Yes, you should go to school." So, yeah. So I -- I -- and I applied to -- I was supposed to go to community college.
ALI: Do you have that letter?
ABDUL-WASI: No. I wish I -- I've got to find it. I don't think I have it.
ALI: The letter that came back.
ABDUL-WASI: Yeah, yeah. Yeah, yeah, yeah. He wrote me back. He wrote me back. Hewrote me back. 78:00
ALI: That might be the best thing he ever did for you.
ABDUL-WASI: Yeah. Yeah, yeah. Brother, because I think about that. I haven'tthought about that decision in awhile, but there were times I did think about it, years ago, and I was, like, man, I'm glad I made that decision, you know. Because when you're in a different environment, you know, like a college setting or university setting, you get other ways, you find other ways to kind of, like, look at the world, either through your professors or your fellow students, you know. And you get to see other opportunities, you know. And that was an eye-opening experience, you know. So, yeah, I'm actually -- I'm glad I did go away to college.
ALI: So while you're in college, you're still affiliating yourself --
ABDUL-WASI: Yes, still affiliated --
ABDUL-WASI: -- with the Ansaaru Allah community. I'm actually upstate New Yorkat a two-year school, Sullivan County Community College, which is not too far 79:00from their new headquarters, because they actually moved from Brooklyn, their headquarters, to upstate New York. And I'm actually in school with one of his oldest sons, and two of his top students. And that was a great experience, just to be up under them, because I actually had access to, you know, being up on that land and things of that nature. And actually, I actually saw Imam Isa once, one time. It was a funny story. In a Chi-- it was, like, a local Chinese restaurant -- excuse me -- and -- that a lot of us went to. And I'm -- I'm, like, ordering, and I turn around. Here comes Imam Isa with his brother. His brother is Imam Oba of the African Islamic Mission. They walk in, and I'm, like -- they're just by themselves, and regular, but, like, he's, like -- he's basically saying, this is the -- this is my master teacher. I'm just, like -- you know, I'm just -- I'm tongue tied, and everything like that. 80:00
And I was -- I sa-- I actually, I asked Imam Oba -- Oba if I could speak to him.He said, "Yeah, go ahead." I forgot what I asked Imam Isa, but it had something to do with schooling. I said, "You know, I go to school with Ish" -- that was his oldest son, Ishmael -- "and Talib, and" -- I forgot the other brother's name. And I forgot what I asked him. And he gave me an answer, and relaxed me, and went on -- I went on my way. But I was, like -- I was just, like, shocked. I'm, like, this man is right here, you know what I'm saying? And he's just so regular, you know. Yeah.
ALI: Was -- was the location of the community a factor in the school that youchose to attend?
ABDUL-WASI: Yes, it was.
ABDUL-WASI: It was a factor, you know, because I was, like, you know, "I thinkif I go to school near the community, he will say yes." You know? So I, kind of, positioned it like that. And also it would be good, because I was supposed to go 81:00to college in the fall of 1991. I missed it. I didn't do what I was supposed to do, so -- so basically, that was, like, a hard winter, too, because I had no money, you know what I'm saying. So you're 18, your parents ain't giving you money like that, you know what I'm saying? So I wanted to get away. And my parents also thought it was a great thing for me to do, was to go away to college, which, you know, I thank them for that, as well. Great experience. And so, yeah, I, kind of, positioned it that way, because it was close to -- to their headquarters, yes.
ALI: And what caused you to -- you said, you know --
ALI: -- there was -- that something happened.
ABDUL-WASI: Yeah, so the changing of the -- of the philosophy had a big impacton me, where I had a friend on the campus who was Ansaar, but he was Muslim Ansaar, you know what I'm saying? And so I was cool with his son and the other brothers, and, like, but -- and, like, I was cool with my man, too. He was from the Bronx. He's like, "You know, I don't know what they are, but I'm -- I'm 82:00Muslim, man." You know, so -- so that, you know -- and I had to, kind of, like, pick sides, if you will, but I didn't want to pick sides.
But, you know, I remember going up on the land one time, and, you know, when hewas teaching, I wasn't able to be in his presence, because I wasn't a member yet, so I had to go in some other place and watch him on a screen with some other brothers and sisters, who were member -- you know, members, but the room was packed. That -- that facility was packed, so they had... So they were all in sashes, and the sisters had another type of, you know, Hebrew-ish type of regalia. Here I am. I'm trying to make my kufi go back, you know. [laughter] You know, so, yeah, man. I had a jellabiya on, but -- and it was, like, it was weird. I was, like, "This is where -- this is where we're going now?"
And that culture split between -- when I got back to Brooklyn, between some of83:00my friends and I, where some of us was, like, you know, you know, I'm -- you know, "We follow Imam Isa. Like, we're going where he goes." And some of us were, like, "I'm Muslim, man. I'm Muslim." You know? So -- and because of my relations with -- with all of them, it was, like -- I, kind of, like, backed out, you know. Because I didn't know what to do, so I, kind of, like, just left it all, really. And I was just, kind of, like, floating in the air, really, for, like, about a year. Yeah. I didn't know what to do. I was still going to, like, a lot of community activist-type stuff, you know, kind of, like, you know, Republic of Africa-type stuff, you know, like, free political prisoners type of situations, and things like that. But me having, like, a religious identity, I didn't really -- really have one at that time. Yeah.
ALI: So where did you land in the midst of that?
ABDUL-WASI: So -- so it -- that was -- '92 to '93 was an interesting time,because I was floating around hip-hop, you know. I was in a rap group. We were 84:00trying to, you know, rap. So rap provided, like, a solace for me. You know, being in my rap group, you know, just writing and -- writing raps and stuff like that. So that -- that provided a solace. That was real-- a great time for me.
ALI: What was the group?
ABDUL-WASI: Yeah. It was called COD, Class of Detention. Had a manager. And weperformed a lot of shows. We opened up for Brand Nubian, opened up for, like, King Sun, and Smif-N-Wessun. Smif-N-Wessun, we went to high school together, so we all -- we were all cool. And we performed a lot of showcases. And we actually -- you know, we had -- a couple of times we were close to being signed by some major labels, so, yeah, we had some momentum, you know. But -- so that provided, like, a lot of relief for me, trying to figure things out. And some -- and -- and the good thing about that is that, all the group members, we were either Ansaar or ex-Ansaar, you know. So -- so that -- you know, we -- so we were all working things out, you know. 85:00
The lead member, my man Divine, you know, he was, like, kind of, like an olderbrother to me. He became Five Percent, you know, so that was his thing. And he's that to this day. The other brothers, my other man, Nasiyr, he's a lawyer now, you know, so... He -- he was riding with Imam for awhile, Imam Is-- Dr. York for awhile. Up until, like, the mid-'90s he was riding with him, but then decided, like, you know, his career. And so he went the legal route, and he's a lawyer to this day. My other man, Omar, he rode for Dr. York for a little bit, but started delving more with the Five Percent Nation teachings, and -- though I don't think he ever went through with it, but he was more associated with that. But he was born -- him and his brother were born in the Nation of Islam. So I remember going to his -- his parents' house. Like, I seen pictures of them going to the mosque -- you know, leaving the mosque, and stuff like that, and just lit-- little suit and bow tie, and stuff like that. Mother with the MGT uniform of the 86:00'70s, and stuff like that. So yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. But me, on the other hand, I was just, kind of, still figuring out. Yeah.
ALI: So then what happened?
ABDUL-WASI: So what happened was, you know, Dr. Dre's album, The Chronic, youknow. When that came out -- late '92, but the summer of '93, just everywhere. That album was everywhere, I'm pretty sure. As much as it was played in New York, it was played in DC, Maryland area, like it was in Californ-- it was everywhere. And the brothers that was wearing dashikis in '91 were smoking weed in '92 and '93. [laughter] Overnight, you know. That album had that much of an impact, you know. So, you know, just seeing other friends, like, you know, the ones that was always building all the time became weed heads, you know.
So -- and I, myself, delved into that culture, you know what I'm saying, smoking87:00and -- you know, I had a -- I had a nice job at the time, at the age of 20. This is, like, '93, where I'm getting paid two wee-- every two weeks. And at the age of 20, I'm taking home $1500 a month after taxes. I thought that was good money at the time. So, like, yeah, why not splurge on a 50 sack, you know what I'm saying, of chocolate Thai marijuana. You know what I'm saying? And -- and, you know, you're getting with your friends, and, like, it's not just the weekend, but also after work, going into the park, smoking. And smoking to the point where you're, like, you got to -- somebody got to carry you to the car, you know, like, like that. And cool experience, but I knew that wasn't me. You know? It just wasn't me, you know.
So -- but even all through this time, I still had a strong affinity for MinisterFarrakhan. A strong affinity, strong respect, for Minister Farrakhan, and that 88:00started in 1985, when I saw a flyer in my uncle's apartment where it was a flyer of him speaking -- going to speak at Madison Square Garden. I still remember that flyer. So I was, like, "Yo, who is this?" He was, like, "This is Minister Farrakhan. He's a good brother, you know. He used to -- used to be at a mosque, used to run a mosque here in New York back in the day, and, you know, he's a good Muslim brother. He's about our people. So I'm going to go check him out." So I'm, like, "All right." So it's -- that flyer had an impact, so never forgot who that man was.
Then, you know, Minister Farrakhan has prominence in rap records, hearing hisvoice, particular throughout Public Enemy records, you know. Seeing him in, like, Boogie Down Productions's video, like, "My Philosophy." That same image of him in front of the Garden, you know. So -- and -- and just seeing this -- on the Donahue show, like, just breaking it down, you know what I'm saying? And, 89:00you know, just that type of bravado, and intelligence, and charisma. You always, like -- we, even as Ansaars, like, "Yo, man, that man is the champion." We used to say -- we'd call him, like, "Yo, he's the one. He's the one." Even though, you know, we followed, you know, Imam Isa, like, we just felt like -- we felt like Minister Farrakhan, it was like one and one-A. Like, we didn't put one -- you know what I'm saying? Like, we had that much love and respect for the minister. We really, really did.
And I remember going to Mosque No. 7, when it was on Fifth Avenue. And this isaround the time when Khallid Muhammad, you know, may Allah have mercy on him and grant him paradise, was the minister. And Minister Conrad was the youth minister. And I remember the events they would have for the youth, and they would draw big crowds from around the city. They would come up there. I remember one time, one time I got up there late, and there was, like, this big, like, 90:00situation on the street, where there were some OG Five Percent dudes, like, building with the FOI. They were out in the street building, like, basically trying to say, like, who -- whose teachings was the best. It was -- just to see that was, like, yo. This is amazing. Right there on Fifth Ave. between 125th and -- I mean, they literally had the street blocked off. Now, it got -- it was, like, so tense, I thought someone was about to pop off, you know what I'm saying? So seeing that was, like, wow, you know.
So -- and the Nation, you know, for a lot of Black people at that particulartime -- even to this time -- even to this day, but more specifically in, like, in the '80s and the '90s, in the early '90s. The Nation just had, like, a special place in Black people's hearts. So, like, when you visit, like, a Nation of Islam mosque for the first time, you, kind of, like, you think back about what you read or what you saw. I remember when I first walked in, I'm, like, wow. Wow. That's -- I'm just, like, wow. You're seeing Muslim sisters in -- in 91:00white or in MGT uniforms, and, you know, there actually was, like, off to the side, like, cooking and stuff like that. And this was, like -- my first experience was, like, 1989. I was, like, wow. I actually thought about -- I was, like, maybe I should come back. But I was really into the Ansaar thing. But that -- that was, like, yeah. Yeah, yeah. I really like this, you know.
So -- so basically, you know, after a summer of smoking myself to death,[laughter] you know, I was, like, I've got to make a change. Like, this is not cool. I'm not a weed head, you know what I'm saying? And I tried some selling weed, too, you know. So I was, like, this is not me. So I decided to go to the mosque. I started to process, start that journey, and, you know, become a full-fledged member of the Nation of Islam. Yep. Nineteen ninety-three, October.
ALI: And what did -- what did that membership entail?92:00
ALI: What did that -- what did that mean for you, experience-wise?
ABDUL-WASI: So that experience -- well, first I had to write a letter, the sameas the letter that the Honorable Elijah Muhammad wrote to Master Fard Muhammad. So first, you had to, kind of -- you have to write it in the same way that he wrote it. And that was -- [laughter] I remember my first couple of days doing that. I'm just, like, aw, just crumpling the paper, you know. Because then -- first, I tried to trace it. That didn't work, you know. So then I just -- I was like, okay, let me just take my time. And I just did it, kind of, side by side. And I did it. I sent it off, and it was accepted. So they told me what to do in a letter, report to your local mosque and start the processing. The processing class was, like, about -- I would say about two, three weeks, if not a month. 93:00Make sure that you're familiar with the rules and regulations, the history of the Nation of Islam, any questions you may have, you want to ask. And it provides you with a packet, so, on who Master Fard Muhammad is, who the Honorable Elijah Muhammad is, who Minister Farrakhan is, actual facts, the 1 to 10, and some other material. So we had to remember -- we had to recite the actual facts from 1 to 10. And I recited it successfully in front of --
ALI: And the 1 to 10 is the --
ABDUL-WASI: Is the --
ALI: -- student enrollment.
ABDUL-WASI: -- student enrollment. Correct.
ABDUL-WASI: Thank you, brother. Thank you. The student enrollment. So I had torec-- I recited that successfully on my first try, and the lieutenant took my name. And, like, I think a week or two later, they was, like, "Yeah, you're going to be Joshua 2X." So I was Joshua 2X.
ALI: And did you do this in Harlem or in Brooklyn?
ABDUL-WASI: I did it -- I recited it in Harlem, though my base -- I, you know, I94:00took that card in Brooklyn. But I did -- but I spent most of my time in Harlem, not in Brooklyn. Yes.
ALI: And who was -- was Khallid still the minister?
ABDUL-WASI: No, Khallid wasn't the minister at that time. Khallid was now theNational Assistant, at that time. And Conrad Muhammad was the minister, and Kevin Muhammad was the minister for 7c in Brooklyn. Yes.
ALI: So what kind of activities did you do as a member of the NOI?
ABDUL-WASI: So as a member of the Nation of Islam, you know, our activities wasgoing to the men's class, which is the Fruit of Islam class, or FOI class; the study group on Wednesday night; study group on Friday night. Study group on Wednesday is more like a lecture, study group on Friday night is more like people getting together in certain circles and have questions and answers about the teachings, which is open to everybody, as well as the study guides that were 95:00provided by Minister Louis Farrakhan. So we had discussions about study guides, Message to the Blackman, things of that nature. Saturdays was the sister's class, MGT class, or Muslim Girls Training. Sometimes, you know, we, the brothers, would provide security for them. And Sundays was the main lecture for everybody. And that involved, sometimes, me being on post, whether it was on the wall post or the rostrum post, secretary's office, the minister's office. You know, certain secu-- areas that you want to secure, or outside the mosque. So, yeah, and also -- it also involved selling the newspaper, which is The Final Call newspaper, going around New York City and selling the paper. Sometimes doing details, which is what we call going to certain either blocks or housing developments, and go sell the paper, and sometimes selling pies, and providing other information, like inviting people to the mosque. So, yeah.
ALI: How long were you an active?
ABDUL-WASI: I was active in the mosque for six months.96:00
ABDUL-WASI: Six months. It was the -- in 1994, when we had an incident with thepolice at Mosque No. 7, I was act-- I was there that day for that event. I'll never forget that event. I mean, I actually -- just to see, you know --
ALI: Tell -- tell that story. What happened?
ABDUL-WASI: Sure. So what happened --
ALI: What was the incident?
ABDUL-WASI: -- in 1994, New York City had a new mayor, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani.So, yeah, and Rudy Giuliani was a Republican mayor. He was formerly the US attorney for New York -- Manhattan. I forget that terminology, but he was the US attorney based here in New York City. And his claim to fame was cleaning up the mob influence in certain areas in the city where they had influence, like the meatpacking district and certain areas where, basically, they had control of. So 97:00that was his claim to fame. And he became mayor after, you know, a back-- just a backlash of sentiment against the previous mayor, which was David Dinkins, which was the first African American mayor in New York City history.
So two officers approached the mosque, and the two brothers on securitydownstairs -- mind you, this is still the headquarters of New York City Nation of Islam, is on Fifth Avenue, Mosque No. 7. So based off of a -- a tip of a robbery that occurred in the mosque. So the brothers are, like, "Well, there's -- there's no robbery here. Like, you know, you've been alerted wrong. There's no robbery here." So the officers still want to investigate. He was, like, "Well, you know, sir, you cannot enter our -- you know, our premises with your weapons," you know. And an argument ensued. Then it becomes a fight. So I was 98:00just rel-- I was relieved 30 minutes prior to what was going on, and I was sitting down in the lecture hall, because I had -- I was on secretary's post. And the alarm for the Muslims in the Nation of Islam, if anyone is in distress, is "Allahu akbar." And I just kept hearing it coming down the hall into the lecture hall. And I seen a bunch of brothers -- where I was sitting, I was sitting with the FOI and processing brothers. I seen the FOI who was sitting down rise up and run immediately down the hallway. And Minister Conrad kept everybody calm. He said, you know, "For those who are in attendance, you know, this is -- anytime there's some type of distress, this is the signal. And, you know, we're going to get word." And he kept people calm.
I decided, because I was -- I'm FOI, I decided to run with the brothers. And itwas such a melee on those stairs. Because the -- the mosque is on the third 99:00floor of the National Black Theater. I seen -- literally, I seen a cop get flipped in the air. I mean, like, this is amazing. You know what I'm saying? And, like, the captain and other brothers, like, holding down, like, literally, a barricade on the stairs. And I remember the captain turning around, like, "Get back to your post. Get back. Whoever's on post, get back to your post." And I went to the secretary's office. I was on post for -- literally, for four hours, you know. Knees buckling and everything, but I was on post. And, yeah, I mean, the cops didn't come in the mosque. They didn't come in the mosque.
And it was such a scene where David Paterson, who was a state senator at thetime, who became governor later, he came into the mosque to nego-- help negotiate the situation. C. Vernon Mason, who was a famous attorney, who used to 100:00roll with Al Sharpton and -- and Alton Maddox, especially around the Tawana Brawley case. And I forgot who else. But there were some prominent Black figures came into the mosque to try to, you know, negotiate something with the police. And -- and they did. Because it was a standoff. So they negotiated all the women and children to leave, which they did. And there was just men there. And I remember my lieutenant coming, and he said, "You've been on post long enough. You can go home." So I was relieved, and I just remember, you know, I got word that Mosque 25 from Newark, they came as backup. I saw them, and I was, like, whoa, this is -- whoa. So I'm coming -- I'm walking down the stairs. There's police on this side, the right side, and FOI on the left side. And --
ALI: Of the stairway.101:00
ABDUL-WASI: Of the stairway. So -- no, not -- the FOI had the stairway, butoutside of the stairway --
ALI: Oh, okay. Yeah.
ABDUL-WASI: -- outside the mosque, the FOI formed on the left side. And thefaces of the FOI -- it could put fear into everybody. Like, the cops were more afraid of the FOI. I -- I saw their faces. It was like the faces of wanting to kill. Like, just say the word. They -- it was like waiting for the word from any higher up. It would have been on, you know. And that type of fearlessness, I never will forget. And no -- because I wanted to stay. I wanted to stay. I'm young. I wanted to stay. He was like, "Go home. Go home." So we go home. Yeah. So -- and it was -- and, like, after that, like, a couple weeks afterwards, I was still attending, but my attendance started going down. And, you know, that happened -- a lot of that happened because of a discussion with my mother, and that's, kind of, like, a personal conversation I could have with you -- [laughter] 102:00
ALI: That's fine.
ABDUL-WASI: Like, why --
ABDUL-WASI: -- why that, you know. And, you know, and also -- put it like this.Caribbean mothers and their sons. They can be -- it's a good and bad, you know what I'm saying?
ALI: Well, and you, you know --
ALI: -- we can --
ALI: -- was this something in reaction to that occurrence? Was it that occurrence?
ABDUL-WASI: No, I was actually -- I still went-- I was going to the mosque after that.
ALI: Okay. Okay.
ABDUL-WASI: But I think my mother was fearful.
ALI: Okay. I got you. I got you.
ABDUL-WASI: Yeah. And that's why I believe --
ALI: In reaction to that.
ALI: Yeah, yeah. Okay. Okay. Okay.
ABDUL-WASI: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.
ALI: All right. So then -- so you --
ALI: -- you're -- you become inactive, essentially. And --
ABDUL-WASI: I become inactive, essentially. And I'm still getting calls from mylieutenants --
ABDUL-WASI: -- to come -- come through. And, you know, like, I wanted to come. Ireally wanted to come back, but -- yeah. 103:00
ALI: So then what was -- what was next for you?
ABDUL-WASI: Next for me was -- you know, because I was, you know -- I used to --I used to attend the Slave Theater, which is -- the Slave Theater, for those who do not know, was a place where you can see, like, Black intelli-- the Black intelligentsia for Black nationalism, like, on full display. Scholars, activists, whatever. Or the martial artists. Like, whoever, like, in the struggle for the liberation of Black people, you could come see them speak, like, for free.
ALI: And this is -- this was the Slave Theater on Fulton Street --
ALI: -- in Bed-Stuy.
ABDUL-WASI: Yes, yes. So from, like, the 1980s up until, like, the mid-'90s,like, it was that, and from -- to a smaller degree, it was another place called The First World in Harlem, where, like, you could see these people, like Dr. Frances Cress Welsing, and Dr. Anthony Browder, John Henrik Clarke, Yosef 104:00Ben-Jochannan, Khallid Muhammad, I mean, just amazing -- oh, my favorite, Dr. Amos Wilson. My favorite. Dr. Barbara Sizemore, I mean, Haki Madhubuti. Like, these people, just, like, every week at the Slave Theater. So I got introduced to that in '89, and I would go with my uncle a lot, but, you know, then I started to develop my own friendships, and I started going there by myself. So I was not being active in the mosque, I was still, kind of, like, going to the Slave Theater, which was, kind of, on its last legs in terms of seeing these type of people. And -- and I started to run into people who, like -- who were, like, into, like, Kemetic science, and African spirituality, and I started reading a lot of books on that. And I was, like, okay. You know, I started investigating that stuff more.
And so you're starting to question your Islam. And up until that point, I never105:00practiced Islam the way it should be practiced. I was still looking and practicing Islam as a political reaction, not so much a spiritual experience, if you will. So as a result of me not being active in the Nation of Islam -- and mind you, when I was in the Nation of Islam, like, there were times that me and some Ans-- former Ansaar brothers were there, and, you know, we would actually share certain Arabic, you know, terms, and talk about certain things about the sunnah, while we're in the mosque. So because of that Ansaar background, we shared some of those things with people. And they actually drew benefit from it, because, you know, the Nation of Islam -- it's -- in the words of Dr. Sherman Jackson, you know, it's, like -- it's in the pantheon of Black religion, if you will, you know, if I was that particular -- it's Black religion, you know what 106:00I'm saying? And it -- that has a purpose. It serves a purpose. But at that young age, I'm not seeing Islam as I see Islam today, you know what I'm saying? As I mentioned before, it's more political.
So as a result of me not being active and not really having a base, I startedstudying African religions, starting off with Kemet, going -- I would go into certain things in Harlem, and seeing, like, they have a -- there's an African martial art called Kupigana Ngumi. It's a Kemetic martial art, so I attended a couple of sessions, and seeing their philosophy and everything like that, it seemed interesting. And I started studying, you know, what's called Ifa, you know. And, you know, the pantheon --
ALI: That's the -- the Yoruba tradition?
ABDUL-WASI: Yeah, the Yoruba tradition. You know, Ogun, you know, Osun, andYemaya, Obatalas, and stuff like that. So I started studying that and, like, hanging around people. Very cultural and -- and, you know -- but they were also, 107:00like -- they liked music, and liked to dance, stuff like that, but they were very cultural. So it was, like, you know, just really piquing my interest because it also had a lot of pretty women, so [laughter] that also piqued my interest, too, you know. All these cultural sisters, you know. That piqued my interest, too. I'm not going to even lie, you know. So I started hanging around in those circles. And, yeah, so I just started -- like, oh, okay, so maybe this is our natural way of life, you know. This is, you know, who we were before Christianity and before the "A-rabs," quote-unquote, came, and all this other stuff. So I -- I was really riding on that, you know, hard for, like, about three, four years, you know. But quietly still saying Al-Fatiha. Quietly, to myself. Any major event, if I'm going for a job interview, I still say Al-Fatiha. That was still a part of my constitution, if you will, and --
ALI: And Al-Fatiha is --
ABDUL-WASI: Yes. Al-Fatiha is the first surah of the Holy Qur'an. And that's108:00called the opening. So that's, like, the most important surah for the Muslims. I mean, we have -- there's other surahs that have, you know, major importance, like Surah Ikhlas, Ayatul Kursi, Surah Ya Seen, you know, that have major, major importance, but the most important surah is Surah Al-Fatiha.
ALI: That's like Our Lord's Prayer.
ABDUL-WASI: Yes. Exactly. That is --
ALI: Yeah, yeah.
ABDUL-WASI: -- that's exactly -- it's like the Muslim's Our Lord's Prayer.Exactly. Exactly.
ALI: Yeah. So -- so tell me how you got into hip-hop journalism.
ABDUL-WASI: Sure. So, you know, as a result of, you know, being a rapper andthat not panning out, [laughter] I always still liked to write, you know. And I remember I had a girlfriend. Her name was Marchae, Chae for short, and, you know, she was very, very influential for me in my period of development as a -- as a young adult. And -- and she used to be, like, you know -- she used to read 109:00some of my essays, because I was -- at this time, I was in Hunter College. This is, like, the late '90s, so I'm an older student attending Hunter College. And she used to read some of my essays. She was, like, "Yeah, you really could write. You really could write." And, you know, just me trying to figure things out. The first thing she said to me was, "You need to pray" -- she's not a Muslim, now. But she would see the prayer rug, Qur'an around the apartment, because we're living together. She said, "You need to pray, and," she said, "You need to focus on writing." So I read something in the Village Voice, and I just wrote, like, a letter to the editor. And I read -- I was, like, "Yeah, what do you think about this?" She said, "This is dope. Send it in." I sent it in. I got a call back, that was, like, "We received your letter. We actually like it. We want to run it." I was, like, "What?" [laughter]
ALI: Do you remember what it was about?
ABDUL-WASI: I -- It was something -- ah. You know, I could actually -- let me110:00see if I can find the actual letter. Yeah, because I printed it out, and I gave it to, like, a lot of my friends, and they was, like, "Yo, this is d"-- it was just, like, a hundred words, if that. If that. Maybe 25. You know, but it was, like, "We liked your response, and we want to run it." And --
ALI: Was that your first published thing?
ABDUL-WASI: That was, like, my first, first published writing. Like, outside of,like, a campus. And that opened my eyes. Like, yo, word. And she was, like -- literally, she was like, "I told you, I told [laughter] you." She was, like, my biggest cheerleader, you know. So she was, like, "I told you. I told you. I told you. Watch. Watch what happens. Watch what happens." And -- and I started just interning. You know, being in New York, you know, as a big city, it's really small, in terms of, like, people you run into. So, like, I got friends who know people. And I remember at this time, I'm trying my stab at promoting parties. 111:00
So there's a poet that's a good friend of mine, Jessica Care Moore. We -- sheintroduced me to Talib Kweli, who, at this time, was working at Nkiru Bookstore, which is a famed Black bookstore that closed down, but it was a famed Black bookstore in Brooklyn, not just for its collection, but also for the events they would hold. So she was, like, yeah, you know, "This -- this young brother named, you know, Kweli, Talib Kweli, is my -- is a good friend of mine. You know, he's about to come out with an album, and, like, why don't we just do a party and, like, have him perform?" I was, like, "All right, cool." So I meet Kweli. I still remember paying him, like, him and his DJ, Hi-Tek, $60. And he was [laughter] so thankful for that $60. He was, like, "Yo, Fahiym, man, like, yo, man, I needed that 60, man." You know? Yeah, we paid him $60, you know. So we perfor-- had them perform at a friend's -- he had a -- a loft apartment, which 112:00was actually, like, a converted, like, auto body shop, so he had the whole front yard. We had it outside with tiki torches and everything like that.
So the guy who was DJing, his name is Jesse Washington. Jesse Washington was themanaging editor at Vibe at the time. So she knew Jesse, and, you know, so me and Jesse got cool. And I was, like, "Yeah, you know, Jesse, I write." He said, "Yo, we're actually about to start a new magazine called Blaze. You should come intern for us." I interned for him. It didn't turn out so well. Like, I -- you know, I had left the magazine. You know, I got -- I got -- basically got depressed, and I just never returned, you know what I'm saying? So -- but that was my first, you know, foray into, like, writing, you know what I'm saying? So, like, Jesse had left -- I mean, we -- it got cool later on, but he had left, but I still had maintained relationships with people at Vibe and Blaze. So interned there. Also interned at Universal Records, because I was trying to figure out 113:00whether I wanted to be a writer or work in the record industry, and interned at Universal Records for six months. That was a great experience, but I was, like, I don't think that I'm cut out for this, you know. It's not something I want to do. So started -- you know, the internship experience with Vibe and Blaze, you know, basically, kind of, opened my eyes. Like, yo, this is -- I think I want to do this.
And when I had moved to Los Angeles and started doing writing for them in LosAngeles, and they were giving me assignments, that's when I was, like, yeah, I think I want to do this. And at the same time, when I was writing assignments for them, I was also, like, kind of, like, an editorial assistant at Variety, the famed entertainment publication there. So I'm writing for Blaze and writing for Variety, as well as doing the mundane editorial assistant work. You know, they gave me shots to write. And the editors at Variety -- I remember I did a review. My first article for them, I just remember coming in Monday, and the 114:00editors are, like, buzzing about what I wrote. Like, they were, like, "This is really good." And I'm, like, "Wow, really?" Like -- and he was, like, "Yeah, this is -- this is really good. You can write," you know. So then he started giving me assignments, giving me assignments. So that's when it really -- like, Los Angeles was really -- it was, like, yeah, I could make a career out of this.
So there, the Source Awards is in town. This is 2000. And I'm invited to aparty, a Source Awards party. You know, decked out, really nice. It's in Hollywood. So I'm on, you know, the dance floor. I'm dancing with this young lady. And she happened be an editor at The Source. And I was, like, "Wow, this is great. You know, do you have a card? Because I'm actually moving back home." And she said, "Where's home?" I said, you know, "Brooklyn." She says, "Okay, yeah. Take my card." She said, "Whenever you're back at home, just hit me up." I moved back home in, like, August of 2000. 115:00
And I think -- at the time, I was also doing some freelance writing for, like,websites which were popping off at the time, so this was UBO. I was doing a lot of writing for them. And actually, I still remember a -- a check. Because there was -- there was so much cash, so much cash flowing around at that time. It -- the money was flowing everywhere, you know, because a lot of start-ups and, like -- there was so much money. And I remember, the way for me to get back home, because I had broke up with my girlfriend. I resigned from this other job. And I was, like, yeah. I was ready to go home, and all these things happened for me to set up to go home. So basically, in my apartment, by myself, I'm just doing, like, freelance writing. [UBO (Urban Box Office)] sends me a check for, like, $1800. I was, like, yes. I'm going home. I'm going home, you know. I leave the -- leave everything in the apartment, just take my clothes, and I go to, like, 116:00this local check cashing place. They take out how much money for their fees. I walked to, like, a travel agent, like, two blocks away. I'm -- one-way ticket to New York, and I went home, like a month -- so I'm just doing -- so I'm in the freelance writing mix, making hella money just freelancing. So I was, like, I'm starting to feel myself now, because I'm making this money.
I mean, I had so much money, like, I remember one time -- So I moved back home.So I'm staying in my old bedroom. I had so much money, like, laying around my room, like, my mom -- [laughter] my mother comes to my room and takes money. Almost like a drug dealer having money in the shoebox. That's how much money I had laying around, you know what I'm saying? Because I didn't have no bank account. I would just go cash checks. I remember my mother was, like, "You know, I had to take, like, $300. It was laying out of your pocket [laughter]." Yeah, 117:00so I had that much money, you know.
So I was, like, you know what? I think it's time for me to go to The Source. Goup to The Source. The [culture] editor at the time was Aliya King. So I said, "Yeah, I'm here to see Aliya King." "You have an appointment?" "Nope." So I'm sitting in the lobby. She actually comes out. So I was, like, wow. She's like, "Wow, what's up, Fahiym?" So, you know, she takes me to her office. And while I'm walking into the off-- you know, to the back, the famed editorial -- the mind squad, you know what I'm saying -- that's the -- that's the -- what we, you know, we called ourselves at The Source. Like, the editorial staff was called the mind squad. So, you know, just seeing all this activity, it's, like, hype, you know what I'm saying? Young people, you know, writing about what they love, which is hip-hop. Writing and editing what they love. 118:00
And I see two people I recognize, one who I went to college with, Anslem Samuel.I walk past his office. I step back. I was, like, "Excuse me, Aliya." I was, like, "Yo, Ans." He was, like, "Yo!" So, I mean, we -- we sat in, like, media class together, you know. He was quiet, I -- most of the time. I was always the one raising my hand. But we was in class together. Then I walk past another office. It's another sister named Akiba Solomon. So Akiba, I met her at Nkiru Bookstore. And, you know, she was singing at the time. So I remember, at the time -- at that time, this is '98, so I was interning for Universal. So I, sort of, played myself off as somebody, [laughter] you know, as somebody in the industry, you know. So I'm trying to use that as a rap, you know what I'm saying? And -- to get her number, which, I got her number. But, you know, nothing really -- it really fizzled with that. It was, you know -- but, you know, I see her. I was, like -- I see her. I said, "Oh, what's up Akiba?" So she 119:00said, "Hey, what's up?" So, you know, I was like, wow, I know people here.
And me and the [culture] editor, Aliya King, you know, she sits me down. We --I'm in her office about an hour, and she lets me know what's going on at The Source and everything like that. And she starts giving me assignments. And from her assignments, basically, this all -- this, basically, was, like, August, September. And from there, I just started writing a lot. Writing a lot for The Source. And still, like, I was trying to delve and write for Vibe and other publications, but, like, I dedicated all my focus to The Source, because I felt like they had the voice that was similar to my own, and I met people there who had similar experiences like my own. Like, the editor-in-chief at the time was Carlito Rodriguez, who also had a similar Five Percent Nation and Ansaaru Allah experience. Yeah. So he -- him being from the Bronx and Philadelphia, which, you know -- and being in prison and stuff like that. So, you know, he had a very 120:00strong Ansaaru Allah, Five Percent Nation experience, because him and his friends actually had a cartoon that used to run in The Source, and it was, like, one of the characters was named Unique, and another character was some Muslim brother. So Unique was the Five Percent, and the Muslim brother was the Ansaar. [laughter] So, yeah, so just being in that environment, basically, like, late summer 2000, is where me moving back home, where my career officially started. Officially, I feel like it officially started at The Source.
ALI: What -- is there a story, or a feature, or a piece that you did that youare most -- either most memorable, or --
ALI: -- most, like, sticks out for you, that -- that is a highlight for you?
ABDUL-WASI: Yes. There are about two or three articles. One, I did a story on --at the time, it was -- it was an anniversary of the Zulu Nation [hip hop awareness group] in the Bronx. And going to the Skate Key up in the Bronx, and 121:00that experience was memorable, because that was the first time I met Afrika Bambaataa. So I'm in the back somewhere of -- of the rink, and I just remember he's walking through. I just remember just me looking like, wow. I was, like, I was in awe. I can't front. I was in awe. Because this is one of the godfathers. This is one of the [triumvirate], if you will, if I said that correctly. [laughter] You know, the three, you know, him, Grandmaster Flash, and Kool Herc. So I was just like -- I couldn't front. I was in awe. And we had a great interview. So that -- that exper-- that article was -- was memorable. Me, I tell people this all the time. My short, 100-word article on Amos Wilson, meeting him. And it was for his play, King Hedley. Because, you know, I never saw an August Wilson play, ever, but I know --
ALI: Oh, it's August Wilson. You said Amos Wilson.
ABDUL-WASI: August. I'm sorry.122:00
ALI: August Wilson, yeah.
ABDUL-WASI: August Wilson. Sorry. August Wilson. I never saw an August Wilsonplay, ever, but I know how important he is to Black culture. And, you know, his name -- I used to hear his name, you know, since I was a child, you know what I'm saying? So to meet him. And when I'm interviewing him, he said, "You know, let me stop you here, for -- brother. Stop you for a minute." He said, "You know, I had a writer spend two weeks with me to ask me the same questions that you're asking right now." He said, "You did your"-- He said, "You did your homework, young man." And that was a huge compliment. He said, "In 20 minutes, you asked -- I had a writer spend two weeks with me -- big feature -- to ask me the same questions you're asking me in 20 minutes." He said, "You did your homework. You did your homework." And, you know, just spending that time with him. We're in the bar, and I'm talking with him, like, an hour and a half, maybe two hours. And I actually -- you know, when he went -- we were in this ho-- because this was in a bar in this hotel. I actually watched him get in the 123:00elevator. [laughter] That's how much in awe I was of him. But I was, like, I may never see him again. And, you know, and he passed away. And I was, like, wow. I -- this is one of the greats. This is one of the greats ever, you know.
So that experience was amazing, amazing, amazing. The third article -- I really-- I mean, there's been so many great articles. I've had so many cover stories, and -- but I would say, like, my fave would be August Wilson. It's only a hundred words, but I felt it was important to put in there, because there was a publicist that reached out to us, and at the time, I was a deputy editor. I was, like, "August -- August Wil-- of course." I was, like, you know -- and I couldn't find anybody to write it, so I was, like, "I'll do it." I took my mother to the play, and -- and she enjoyed it. I enjoyed it. We actually was 124:00really close upstage. And, yeah, that was very, extremely -- very, very memorable, very memorable. So August Wilson and that Zulu Nation piece.
ALI: When you were writing, what was your byline?
ALI: What was your -- how were you identified?
ABDUL-WASI: So -- so my byline when I first started writing for The Source wasJoshua Fahiym Ratcliffe.
ALI: And where did Fahiym come from?
ABDUL-WASI: Fahiym came from in the early '90s. So I really couldn't -- I didn'thave a name that settled with me. I had a couple of names, like Jaheem was the Five Percent name, and after I got into Ansaar and started to study etymology and that, like, Jaheem was close to the word Jahannam, I was like, nope. Jahannam is Hell, for those who don't know. So -- and that was actually one of the words that was tied to Hell, or tied to Jahannam, which was Jaheem, so I was, like, not using that word, that name, ever again. Ever again.
So then I decided to look at myself and certain attributes, so I looked at the125:0099 names of Allah, and those attributes listed within those 99 names, and I decided Abdul Kareem, which is "the generous." I'm a generous person. I'm going to use that. Like, none of my boys really, except for a close few, called me Abdul Kareem. [laughter] It was, like, nobody called me Abdul Kareem, you know what I'm saying? So, you know, when you, like, introduce yourself to certain people, brothers on the street, like, "What's your name, brother?" "Oh, Abdul Kareem." "All right, brother, it's Abdul Kareem." But very few. It just never stuck. It never stuck, you know.
So the name Fahiym came -- there was a barbershop in Greenwich Village, right ontop of the old Gray's Papaya, which would be on Eighth Street and Sixth Avenue. So the brothers who ran the shop, they were all, like, Ansaar-affiliated. They were -- their parents weren't in the community, but they were strongly influenced by the Ansaaru Allah community. So -- and they were all three 126:00brothers. They were related. And they were from Queens. And so they -- like, I had a table in the Village, because sometimes I would go there to get a haircut, because they would come by and support. So -- and one of their brother's names was Fahiym. And that -- I was, like, "Yo, I love that name, man. I love that name." So -- and, you know, just -- I loved how it just flowed off the tongue. And, you know, Fahiym was at the shop. It was Fahiym, Tamru, and their older brother, who I forgot his name. But Fahiym was, kind of, like, the -- he was the -- he was the more edgy one out of all of them, you know, very vocal and very edgy, but he was real cool. And I was, like, "Yo, I like that name." I said, "Yeah, I'm going to use that. I'm going to take -- I'm going to -- I'm going to take your name, brother." He's, like, "Go ahead, man. It don't belong to [laughter] anybody." You know what I'm saying?
And I decided just to roll with that, you know what I'm saying? And it just --127:00it stuck. And when my friends began using it, I was, like, yeah. I felt like I was down now, because they -- my man Nasiyr, you know what I'm saying? Jamal. Omar, which he could sometimes -- he would say Omar, you know what I'm saying? My man Divine, you know. So, like, Abdul Kareem. [laughter] It never stuck. So Fahiym, I was, like, it was -- it was accepted. Everybody started calling -- so, like, not just people in my rap group, our circle of friends. It stuck -- even people when I graduated high school, they still refer to me as Joshua. Even some -- even to this day, some people -- I don't really trouble about that. But they -- when they found out that was my name, Fahiym, they called me Fahiym, you know. So -- and then the new circle of friends, like, post-'94, like, '95, that's -- everybody just knew me as Fahiym. And people in the industry, started 128:00working in the industry, they knew me as Fahiym. So it just stuck. So my byline became Joshua, then I put quotes, "Fahiym," Ratcliffe.
ALI: And now you are...
ABDUL-WASI: So now I am Fahiym Abdul-Wasi. First -- so Joshua Ratcliffe had beenmy legal name up until 2012. So there was an elder in the community that -- Dr. Muhammad -- so he would go around and ask people, you know, you know, "What's your name?" You know? And, "You're a Muslim, and you got -- you still got the slave master's [laughter] name?" And he's -- he's not in the Nation of Islam, you know. So, "You're a Muslim and you've got -- still got the slave master's name? You need to change that name, brother. Need to change that name, sister." And, you know, and I was, you know, I -- because I always wanted to change my name. So when I ran into him, I was, like, "You know what? You right, man." And, you know, I remember, like, for, like, a month, I would just be around him, sit and talk with him, and everything like that. And it's, like, "Yeah, man. Let's go ahead and do that." 129:00
And so I tried to figure out -- first, at the time, I was still married. And Ihad a discussion with my wife at the time, and she was like, "Oh, boy." You know what I'm saying? I literally agonized for days, and asking, "What you think? You know, what do you think about this?" You know? So, she was, like, "Why don't you just be Fahiym Ratcliffe, okay? Like, just be that, you know what I'm saying?" And I was, like, "Maybe, maybe." Then I was, like, "No, this is not hard enough. It's not, like, Black enough, not Muslim enough, you know." So I agonized for days, for almost weeks.
And I was, like -- I saw a picture of Mos Def, who I know, who was, you know --who I consider a friend, you know. So I don't, you know, name toss, you know, but when people just ask Mos Def, who's known as Yasiin Bey, does he know Fahiym, you'll see his reaction, you know what I'm saying? So I consider, you know, Yasiin Bey a friend. So I saw his picture, and I was, like, Yasiin, Yasiin, Yasiin. I was, like, Fahiym Yasiin. Ooh, that rolls so well. [laughter] 130:00So because of Yasiin Bey's name, I adopted Yasiin, but I wanted to have something to give praise to Allah, so I chose Abdullah, or some people may say "ab-DOOL-uh," but "AB-dull-ah" as my middle name. So it was Fahiym Abdullah Yasiin. So -- and Yasiin is one of the surahs of the Qur'an, and also is known as one of the names of Prophet Muhammad, is Yasiin. So I decided to go with that. So I changed my name legally, like, 2000-- to Fahiym Abdullah Yasiin, to, like, 2012, 2013. Around that time.
But I chose the name Abdul-Wasi because "Wasi" in Cherokee means "Moses." So Iwas, like, hmm, I always wanted a name of Allah's -- one of Allah's attributes as a part of my name. And I chose Abdul-Wasi because "al-Wasi" means "the 131:00boundless." You know? So I was -- I wanted something to express no limits, and it's -- and I was, like, wow, I can have that and something that's, kind of, like, Native American, too? I was, like, perfect. Perfect. So then I started doing my genealogy, and my father's -- actually, his family is indigenous to this country. So I was, like, wow. My mother is, you know, Trinidad via west Africa, and so I already knew that history.
But I started studying my father's history. My father used to always talk abouthis great-grandmother named Lucy. He used to always talk about her, always talk about her, and how she was a Native American, but she was a Black woman, you know. So I started studying back, doing some traces on, you know, starting with my father's name, and, like, my father's family goes back to, like, 1830s. There's records from, like, 1837. So I was, like, wow. And they're indigenous. 132:00So, you know -- so, you know, this term "indigenous" has, kind of, been floating around the Black community for, like, the past 5, maybe 10 years, and -- and our claims to this country, not as 14th Amendment citizens but actually people who are indigenous to this land, we have a claim, and we don't see ourselves as subject citizens. That type of -- that type of lingo and argument, and that legal language. So, you know, I -- I fit -- I, kind of, like, adjoined myself or fit myself with those type of leanings, and that's why I did the -- the study of my father's history.
And, yeah, my father, you know -- like, I think they are Lumbee Indians. There'sa Lumbee tribe from -- because somebody, actually, I spoke to recently, I said, "My father's from North Carolina." He said, "Where?" I said, "Laurinburg." He said, "Oh, yeah, yeah. That's Lumbee -- that's Lumbee land." I was, like, "Exactly." You know? So that -- it's still not a recognized, federally 133:00recognized tribe. They've been trying to go for federal recognition for the longest -- for, like, almost a century. But, yeah, my father and that lineage, indigenous, indigenous. So that's why I chose Abdul-Wasi, to, you know, give honor -- to give praise to Allah, because I always wanted that attribute, but also, I was, like, "Yeah, man, I could -- if I tell people I'm Native American, boom." [laughter] Wasi. Yeah.
ALI: I think that is it, unless --
ABDUL-WASI: Oh. You wanted to ask about Sufism.
ALI: Yes. So -- so --
ALI: -- where -- where -- so this will be the final question.
ALI: Where would you, or how would you, define your current spiritual orientation?
ABDUL-WASI: Yes, yes. Great question. I -- when I was floating around for years,you know, I didn't -- I didn't know if Islam was going to be a part of my journey. But I met someone who was a family -- longtime family friend, and after 134:00I had, like, kind of, like, a spiritual crisis, I actually, basically, was on my -- in my house, and I got on the floor, and I started crying. I just said to Allah, I said, "I don't know. I don't know. I don't know anything. Let me know. You know, you are the author of it all. Like, let me -- lead me to where you want me to -- lead me to, because I don't know anything. Like, I'm wrong." And I just decided to give this brother a -- a call. He's, like, "Yeah, just -- just come by," you know. So he started taking me to the mosque, and it was very, you know, cathartic, because I was making salat and everything like that, but I still wasn't sure if, you know, Islam was right for me. Then he introduced me to a shaykh from west Africa, named Shaykh Hassan Cissé. And Shaykh Hassan Cissé is the -- at the time, was, like, the leader of this Sufi order or Tariqa called Tijaniyyah, Tariqa Tijaniyyah.
ALI: In Brooklyn, or --
ABDUL-WASI: I met him in -- at the -- a hotel in Manhattan.135:00
ALI: Oh, okay.
ABDUL-WASI: He came. So had a great -- I just had -- like, he introduced me tohim, just, like, maybe, like, a five-minute discussion. And, you know -- and men of that stature, like, they just look and peer into your eyes, and he just was peering into my eyes and listening to me. Then he just, like -- he said -- tells me to come, because I'm kneeling -- I'm sitting talking to him. And he just grabs me, and he starts writing on my forehead. So, okay. That night, I just, like, had dreams, like -- I had, like -- it was, like, a dream of, like, a -- Allah's name coming to my face, and it just, like, envelops my face. And then I'm flying over the mountains, like, like, crying tears of joy, and I'm speaking in Arabic, but I don't know what I'm saying. I'm just flying over clouds and mountains. And then another night, you know, I'm walking on a bridge, and there's people in front of me, people behind me. There's a light emanating from the bridge, and the bridge is, like, really fine, you know what I'm saying? And 136:00I'm walking and walking. And I slip off the bridge, and I'm falling. In the dream, like, this white steed has a rider dressed in white with a cloak, and as I'm falling, he just grabs my hand and, like, throws me on the back, and we just, like, shoot straight up, you know.
So all this happened, you know, that same week where he wrote on my forehead.And I told him that. He's, like, "Oh." He said, "A lot of people don't have those type of experiences, and they've been with him, around for, like, years." He said, "It's time. I think you need to learn about Sufism." So same brother was, you know, teaching me about Islam and also teaching me about the Sufi path via the Tijaniyyah Tariqa, and it was very influential, because, you know, I found, you know, Islam to be very spiritual, you know, and past the rituals that we go to on the day to day, but also acknowledging the importance of the ritual, which I'd never seen before, and never really acknowledged before. So they -- 137:00they taught me in a way that -- that the -- the -- the Sharia and the Sufi path work one and the same. Like, we don't reject that at all, because that's as much of the part of that as is the remembrance of the creator and his messenger. So they -- with that type of teaching, it, kind of, like, reconstituted. I was, like, ah, okay. The sunna is really important. The way of Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessing be upon him, and his companions is really important, you know.
So I basically was, like, in class again. Like, I was relearning Islam, youknow, that I never really had before, because it was, like, a -- a political experience. So now I'm getting to embrace the deen for it truly is that spiritual essence. And I was, like, wow, this religion is really, really beautiful. And it's through Tasawwuf, or Sufism, is how I learned that. So I'm 138:00not an active Tijaniyyah member, and no disrespect to the Tariqa, I'm just, kind of, like, starting -- I'm starting to finally figure out who I am as a Muslim, Fahiym the Muslim. And I see benefit in not only, you know, the Sufi path. I see some benefit for those who call themselves Salafi, you know. I've had great discussions with those type of brothers. And I see merit, though I don't agree a lot of times with their character, but I see a lot of merit in why they have those particular stances. I see merit with that. I have respect for those who went through different paths, you know, Tablighi, and other paths.
And so I'm just, kind of, like, at a place where -- how we as Muslims can, like,take the best and just really, you know, just follow -- you know, hold onto the rope of Allah and the sunnah of the messenger. So I'm, kind of, at that place 139:00right now. And whether that will lead me back to being an active Tijaniyyah or not, I don't know, but I'm at the place where, like, I want to simplify things now. You know, where it's, like, you know, it's beneficial to who I am as a person and where I want to go. Like, you know what -- you know that saying, "Keep it simple, stupid." [laughter] That's where I'm at. And I think a lot of times, we as Muslims, we, kind of, make things, you know, harder than what it should be, you know. And I think that our beloved prophet, peace and blessing be upon him, wouldn't want it as hard for us, wherever we reside, be it America or wherever we reside. Like, you know, just try to keep it simple, because, you know, we are unique individuals, and we have a unique journey, which is always to our Lord, which is to our Lord eventually, but we're all created uniquely, so I'm at a place where I'm, kind of, like, rediscovering my gifts within the framework of Islam. And I'm, kind of, just basically simplifying it, where if I 140:00derive benefit from just making the five salat without doing a dhikr, then I'm cool with that. You know what I'm saying? But at the same time, if I want to dhikr, I'll dhikr. If I want to go to a wazifa, I'll go to a wazifa.
But at the same time, I -- I'm just at a place where just, you know, followingthe sunnah -- striving to follow the sunnah, and just, you know, you know, striving to, you know, improve my Islamic understanding. I -- I really want to strive to learn the language of Arabic so I can read the Qur'an in Arabic. So that's where, like, my focus is at now, as opposed to, like, like, being active, an active participant in the Tijaniyyah Tariqa order. So I'm just trying to simplify my Islam to make -- have -- so I can live a, like, a very holistic life as a Muslim, as a Black man, and also as a human being overall. That's where I'm at. 141:00
Oral History Interview with Fahiym Abdul-Wasi
Fahiym Abdul-Wasi was born in 1973 in New York City. He grew up in the Bedford-Stuyvesant and Crown Heights neighborhoods of Brooklyn. He explored different Muslim traditions throughout his teenage and adult years, including the Five Percent Nation, the Ansaaru Allah Community, the Nation of Islam, and Sufism. His work as a hip-hop journalist was featured in a variety of publications and he served as the editor-in-chief of the music magazine The Source under the byline Joshua Fahiym Ratcliffe.
In this interview, Fahiym Abdul-Wasi discusses his childhood in Brooklyn, his education, and his social life. He speaks at length about his experiences with religion, including his involvement with the Jehovah's Witnesses as a child and his exploration of different traditions of Islam, including the Five Percent Nation, the Ansaaru Allah Community, the Nation of Islam, and Sufism. He expands on his memories of Muhammad Mosque No. 7 in the Harlem neighborhood of Manhattan and the police standoff that occurred there in 1994. He also talks extensively about his work as a hip-hop journalist, particularly with regards to the music magazine The Source. Interview conducted by Zaheer Ali.
This collection includes oral histories conducted and arranged by Brooklyn Historical Society in 2018. The interviews reflect varying approaches to religious observance among Muslim Brooklynites in relation to a wide range of communities and traditions within Islam, including Sunni, Shi'i, Sufi, Nation of Islam, W. D. Mohammed community, Five Percent, Dar ul Islam, and Ansaarullah. Collectively, there is particular focus on cultural and religious customs, practices, and gender roles within these communities; education and the arts; immigration from South Asia and the Middle East; the Nation of Islam; Islamophobia in the wake of the 1993 and 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center as well as after the 2016 presidential election; political activism and engagement; and community relations with law enforcement and government officials.
CitationAbdul-Wasi, Fahiym, Oral history interview conducted by Zaheer Ali, August 07, 2018, Muslims in Brooklyn oral histories, 2018.006.25; Brooklyn Historical Society.
- Abdul-Wasi, Fahiym
- Five Percent Nation
- Muhammad Mosque No. 7 (New York, N.Y.)
- Nation of Islam (Chicago, Ill.)
- Black Muslims
- Caribbean Americans
- Education of children
- Interfaith families
- Jehovah's Witnesses
- Muslims converts from Christianity
- Muslims, Black
- Nuwaubian movement
- Police-community relations
- Rap (Music)
- Religious pluralism
- Brooklyn (New York, N.Y.)
- Bushwick (New York, N.Y.)
- Crown Heights (New York, N.Y.)
- Harlem (New York, N.Y.)
- Manhattan (New York, N.Y.)
Finding AidMuslims in Brooklyn oral histories