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Abdul Rasheed Abdullah
Oral history interview conducted by Zaheer Ali
March 10, 2018
Call number: 2018.006.07
ALI: OK. I'm Zaheer Ali, Oral Historian at Brooklyn Historical Society, and I amhere on Saturday, March 10th, 2018, at Masjid Muhsi Khalifah, interviewing Shaikh Abdul Rasheed for the Muslims in Brooklyn project. So, Shaikh, if you could introduce yourself to the recording, giving your full name and birth date.
ABDULLAH: My name is Shaikh Abdul Rasheed -- Abdullah. I was born [date redactedfor privacy], 1952, Kings County Hospital, Brooklyn, New York.
ALI: OK. Tell me what your name was when you were born.
ABDULLAH: Alvin Williams.
ALI: OK. And tell me about your family background.
ABDULLAH: Well, I was born into a strong Christian family. I was brought up in1:00the church. I have two siblings, sisters, who are twins. We lived in Brooklyn for the early part of my life. And then in 1960 we moved to Queens and, you know, my father was blessed to be able to buy a house in Queens. And I grew up pretty much in what you would call a middle-class environment -- especially for -- for that time, you know. Living in the neighborhood that I lived in, private house, and went to a good school -- so they said. They probably said that because the majority of the people who went to the school at that time were White, because we were only the second black family in the neighborhood during 2:00that period in the early '60s in Queens. And then as time moved on more and more Black people began to move into the neighborhood, and the neighborhood began to gradually change from majority Italian/Irish to Black. And by the mid-'60s it was majority Black.
And, again, in my early childhood I was -- I spent a lot of time in the church.And then as I came -- my mother died when I was approximately 10 years old. And then -- as I began to grow into my teenage years, I drifted more and more into street life and more and more into the things of that time and era of the mid-'60s, you know. It was a very -- I always say -- you know, I'm a -- I'm a 3:00great student of history. I always say that the decade of the '60s was probably the most -- to me -- the dynamic decade in the history of America, or at least in the top three or four. Because so much went on during that period. You know, the assassination of the president, John F. Kennedy, and the -- you know, I remember as a child having to hide under the desk every day at twelve o'clock when the sirens went off because the -- the Cold War and Russia and America were constantly threatening to blow each other to smithereens. And this all added to the tension and anxiety of being a child and growing up in that era.
And then as -- going into the teenage period, the -- the experimentation withdrugs and, you know, also the -- the conscious awareness -- the -- the Civil 4:00Rights Movement and the Black Power and conscious awareness of that period was very influential in my life. Also knowing that when you reached 18, you were 95 percent certain that you were going to go off to the Vietnam War. And so having older friends, year after year, go off to war -- and then having them return and seeing what that war was doing to them, and seeing how that war affected them, was an experience in and of itself. And then coming into -- the realization of going through the prison system.
ALI: So before we -- we talk about that, when you say, you know, you -- you5:00expected as a -- as a teenager, that when you turned 18 that it was a high chance of you going to Vietnam.
ABDULLAH: Yeah, it was -- it was--
ALI: What was your -- I mean, what was your feeling about that?
ABDULLAH: Well, at -- at that time, they had a draft. So unlike now, where thearmy is basically a volunteer army, growing up in that period you knew at 17 they sent you a draft notice in the mail that you had to go down and sign up and get what was known as a draft card. And once you got your draft card, you knew after you got out of high school that they was gonna to send you a notice to 6:00come to Fort Hamilton to take a -- basic literacy test. And if you could spell your name, you were basically going to pass. And if you passed the test, you were -- like I said, about 95 percent you were going to Vietnam.
ALI: So how far did you go in that process?
ABDULLAH: I went through -- all the way through -- you know, through the --through the whole experience. And it was through a -- a -- a medical deferment that altered the course. But the whole experience itself was basically complete.
ALI: So tell me -- you mentioned in -- earlier -- going through the prisonsystem. Tell me the circumstances -- that you can -- about that.
ABDULLAH: Well, as -- as I said, as a young man in that period, I had got more7:00and more involved in the streets and more and more involved in street activity. And with that involvement in street activity came involvement in drug usage. And -- but it was a strange period, because even though there was drug usage, there was also a consciousness, an involvement in the Black consciousness of that time. I got involved somewhat in the Black Panther movement, and--
ALI: How did you -- how did you get involved in the Black Panthers?
ABDULLAH: Well, because they were everywhere. They were everywhere. You know. And--8:00
ALI: So what did "involvement" mean for you?
ABDULLAH: I -- I would go to their meetings and read their newspapers and studytheir literature. Read the books of Huey -- Huey P. Newton and Eldridge Cleaver and Bobby Seale and Fred Hampton and all of the major party members. And it just -- like I said, even though the involvement in the streets, it opened up a consciousness that I would say later on became very prominent in taking me out of that street culture. Because those roots of Black consciousness and awareness were planted. And once the street culture began to be detoxed, that began to 9:00resurrect itself and become more active in my life.
ALI: So I have a question. You said when you were growing up you spent a lot oftime in the church.
ALI: As you were a teenager or young adult getting more involved in, as yousaid, the street culture, what was the role of the church in your life at that time?
ABDULLAH: Well, my family was very church-orientated. Like, I was in church allthe time. We were in church on Monday, Sunday, Wednesday. I was -- I sang in the choir. My father was a deacon in the church. And on Sunday we couldn't watch TV. It was, like -- we were -- we were very much involved in church activities. And I always had a deep-rooted belief in a higher power, in God. That was always 10:00embedded in me, you know. Always. It was always embedded. So that higher -- that higher consciousness and, and was embedded in me. So I was -- like I say, I always believed in God and always believed in the whole, complete consciousness that there was something greater than myself.
But even -- again, like with the Black consciousness, even in the, in the, inthe, in the going into the street life, I still prayed, you know. I still prayed, you know. Still knew that even though I was engulfed in this world of negativity that there was something positive and something higher. And I think 11:00somewhat of -- somewhat of my usage of drugs was looking for that higher power, because I think that drug addiction and alcoholism is a search, is a quest. The people who are actively engaged in those activities are looking for something, searching for something, you know, and they -- they, they find it, temporarily, in drugs and alcohol. I think it's, it's, it's, it's, it's no coincidence that, that, that historically alcohol is referred to as "spirits," you know, that there's a connection there, that that intoxication, artificial intoxication, of 12:00drugs and alcohol is, in essence, a search for that higher self and that higher consciousness of that power that does exist within every human being.
ALI: So -- so what was your family's response as they saw you getting moreinvolved in this street or drug culture?
ABDULLAH: At first it was denial. I think -- because remem-- remember, my motherdied when I was 10. So I grew up with my father. Alhamdulillah, thank Allah, for my father. He was a good man -- he is a good man -- and you know, and may Allah give him Jannah. Alhamdulillah. He worked very hard to keep the family together and -- two jobs and sent us to the best of schools. And like I said, we -- we 13:00lived a very good life. So I can't blame my environment, you know. I mean, I can't say I lived in a tenement or, you know, the projects. No, I lived in a -- at that time, people would say, a very good life for a young Black family -- you know, a Black child in a family at that time. It was privileged, actually -- you know, vacation and camps and summer camp and things like that. So I can't blame it on, you know, the effort that my father put in to see that I didn't go that direction.
But -- so I, I think that was part of the reason of the denial. Because hecouldn't accept the fact that he was putting in such an effort to keep me out of that, that I would actually go into it. So it was a good while before he would accept the fact that yes, I had went into that life, and I was drowning in it. 14:00So his, his, his first response was denial, and then his second response was to try to get me some type of help -- you know. So he did the best that he could do. Especially since that generation of the '60s was the fir -- really the first generation where the, the, the -- the -- the expression "generation gap" evolved. Because that generation that we, that, that we came out of and came of age in the '60s was the first generation that our parents had absolutely no idea whatsoever about what we were doing. It's like now, after that, the parents of the generations that came after that, they knew about drugs. They knew about premarital sex. They knew about all of these different things. Even though they 15:00might have done it, they might not have done it, but they knew of it. Whereas my father's generation, he -- he came of age in the Depression, you know. And--
ALI: Right. Where the sense of public morality was different.
ABDULLAH: Yeah. Still -- yeah. It was still, you know, like -- it wasn't, like,everybody did drugs. Like, you know, dope addicts did drugs, and reefer-heads did drugs, [laughter] you know -- but in the culture that I was evolving out of in the '60s, everybody I knew did drugs. But their parents didn't have a clue about what was going on. So there was really a divide between -- it was the first major split between children and parent, that generation of the '60s.
ALI: So what year was it that you went into prison?
ABDULLAH: Nineteen -- let's see -- seventy -- after I got the deferment from the16:00military out, it was almost like a, like a complete -- just a transference from the military to the prison system. When I got deferred out of the military, I ended up in prison. So I'd say it was around 1972.
ALI: And where did you end up serving?
ABDULLAH: The -- well, it was -- first it was Arthur Kill, Rikers Island, and Woodbourne.
ALI: And is prison where you first encountered Islam?
ALI: Tell me about that experience.
ABDULLAH: Well, it was very much like out of the movie X, you know. Matter offact, when I seen that movie, and the brother comes to the cell, you know -- to 17:00talk to Malcolm, in the movie, in that scene, it basically happened the same way.
ALI: So I have a question, before we get into that. You mentioned that as youwere getting into Black consciousness you read Huey Newton and Eldridge Cleaver and--
ABDULLAH: And I read The Autobiography of Malcolm X as well.
ALI: Right. And so do you remember -- did that not connect with you when youfirst read it, in that way, in terms of Islam?
ABDULLAH: Well, actually, my first connection with Islam came through the FivePercent Nation. And the way that it came through the Five Percent Nation was because for some reason my two sisters always seemed to have Five-Percented boyfriends. So I was always exposed with them and their rhetoric. So even though I never actually considered myself a Five Percenter, I -- most of the people 18:00that I associated with and partied with and ran the streets with were part of the Five Percent Nation.
So that was actually my first encounter with the -- the, the, the word -- or thename -- "Allah" and "Islam," and it came through the Five Percent Nation. Because at that particular time, that group was also everywhere, you know. They were -- they were, like, the renegades of Islam. They were -- but everybody was a Five Percenter. Or everybody knew a Five Percenter or acted like a Five Percenter. The Five Percent Nation, up until the '90s -- dominated, you know, young teenage collective culture, until the -- the gang influence began to 19:00influx from the West Coast, the Bloods and the Crips. And even most of the -- in, in the early days of the influx of the gang culture, most of the early gang members were Five Percenters as well. So the Five Percent Nation has always been a part, a -- a large part, of the -- the young Black culture in the inner city. Especially in New York. And -- and it's kind of died off now, but at the -- in the, in the '60s and '70s and '80s it was very, very strong. So that was -- that was my first introduction.
ALI: OK. So you had this kind of frame of reference when you had this encounterin prison. So tell me -- tell me how -- how you grew into that experience.
ABDULLAH: A brother came, and he gave that, that Malcolm speech about "Brother,20:00you know, you need to have knowledge of yourself," and he gave me the speech about the, the White man and the devil's mentality, and how I was a victim of a slave mentality, and that there was a man on the scene who had the answer, you know. The Honorable Elijah Muhammad, you know, was sent to us as a, as a, as a messenger to take us out of this slave culture and slave mentality. And I can honestly say that -- somewhat unlike, at least how it was depicted in the movie, how Malcolm -- Minister Malcolm -- resisted in the beginning, I didn't have much resistance. I mean, it was like, "OK. This, this sounds like" But I, I think, again, that where our two stories may differ is because he was also in the 21:00street culture, but -- it was -- now we -- now we flash back a little bit to that Black consciousness that was embedded that now that the street culture is now locked up in prison, this now that Black cultural seed now begins to blossom. So when I was presented with the Nation as an alternative, it -- it blossomed quickly. So I was invited to -- to a meeting, and first meeting accepted.
ALI: And how did your -- what kinds of changes did you experience in your lifeas a result?
ABDULLAH: Well, it, it's, it -- you know, it's -- 'cause I was on -- at thatparticular time, I, I, I was in -- on Rikers Island. And I was on Rikers Island 22:00at the same time that H. Rap Brown was there. We were there together. We were -- we were in different cellblocks, but we were there together. And we accepted Islam practically at the same time. So -- it totally -- even within the prison culture, you know -- because I was hustling in prison, and you know -- 'cause I was always a hustler. Always knew how to make money. Always knew how to, you know, keep my commissary full. So after, after, you know, accepting the Nation and the teachings of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad, like, I put all that -- put all that aside and, you know, just started studying, reading, studying, 23:00especially Message to the Blackman. I became a hafiz and -- Message to the Blackman, I read it constantly, over and over and over again -- and got more involved in the, in the meetings and more involved with the brothers and more, more involved with the, the -- the activities.
And then -- I was the -- taken out of prison. I was probationed out of prisoninto a drug program. Elmcor, in Queens. And Elmcor happened to be located on Northern Boulevard, which was -- you know, they -- the -- it's still there. It's a huge complex now. At that time it was just a -- a rundown old house. Because I 24:00was one of the first group to go there. But it happened to be only two blocks from the temple, or from the mosque, which was on 105th Street; Elmcor was on 107th Street. So destiny had it that when I was probationed -- I got the two-year probation from Rikers -- they let me go to the drug program -- I was only two blocks from the mosque, from the temple, 7B. So that was -- by Allah's decree, I was connected again. And that's where I met my wife at.
ALI: What year was this that you got out?
ABDULLAH: Seventy-two. At the end of seven-- like the, like -- the -- the exactdates become a little foggy, but it was all during that '72-'73 period, because I got out in '72, got married in '73. So I actually joined the Nation in prison 25:00in '72 and got out in '73.
ALI:OK. So that means you went -- how long were you in prison?
ABDULLAH: Eighteen months.
ALI: OK. Were you--
ABDULLAH: But then, if -- if you count the drug program probation --
ABDULLAH: -- it was, like, three years. [laughter]
ABDULLAH: But in actual lockup, 18 months.
ALI: Did you earn your "X" while in prison or when you got out?
ALI: OK. So -- so tell me what that process was like.
ABDULLAH: Well, got out, and like I said, the, the drug program -- because itwas a live-in program. It, it, it was a lockup program. It wasn't like you went and went home. It was, like, you had to live there. So I was there for 18 months -- or a little less than 18 months. And -- and you had to earn passes on the weekends, and -- so, being that the temple, or the mosque, was only right up the 26:00block, I spent a lot of time there.
And that's where I -- we went through a period that they called "processing."And that's where you, you, you were a member, you joined the Nation, but you had to process and become acquainted with all the responsibilities of the -- you know, and obligations that -- that you had to perform. And -- and then you had to write your -- write a letter. And -- Saviours' letter. And you had to send it off to Chicago. And it had to be written exactly -- I mean, [laughter] exactly -- I don't -- I don't even know what "exactly" meant. Because the first time I wrote the letter, I almost traced it, and it wasn't exact. It came back 27:00rejected. But the irony is that my wife wrote her letter, and it came back accepted! So my wife actually got her "X" before I did -- which was a little humbling, because I'm the one that introduced her to the Nation, but she got her "X" before I did. And the second time I wrote it, I got my "X," Alhamdulillah [All praise is due to God], and I became Alvin 22X. And that's because there were 21 other Alvins in New York besides me at that time, so I became --
ALI: That's a lot of Alvins.
ABDULLAH: -- Alvin 22X. That's a lot of Alvins. More than you would expect.[laughter] But there were, like, James and John C. 22 -- you know, 150, 200X. You know. So. Twenty-two wasn't too bad, considering the James and the Johns and the -- you know, those names. So--
ALI: Who was the -- who were the officials that were over you?
ABDULLAH: Well, Minister Larry, who was -- who later went on to become Minister28:00Farrakhan's assistant, up in Harlem. And after he left 7B, then Minister Charles came in. So that was basically the two ministers at the time that -- between that period of seventy-- you know, coming out of prison, '72, becoming -- going into -- joining the Nation in '72, coming out in '73, and from '73 to '75 it was Minister Larry and Minister Charles.
ALI: And what about the captains?
ABDULLAH: Oh, Captain Shah was the captain. Captain Yusuf Shah was the captain.Or the -- Captain Joseph -- some -- the -- the older peoples know him as, but Captain Yusuf was the captain. And--
ALI: And do you remember your lieutenant?
ABDULLAH: Well, there was -- there was Lieutenant Clarence and Lieutenant --Lieutenant Clarence and Lieutenant Richard. You know, those were -- they were 29:00big lieutenants in the -- in the -- in the Nation. They were, like, as renowned as Hampton. But my personal lieutenant in Queens, who was over us in Queens, was Lieutenant Norton, who was, who was, who was actually a member of Masjid Khalifah now. Every time I see him I get flashbacks, because he was the lieutenant that I was directly under.
ALI: And what -- what were his responsibilities with regard to you?
ABDULLAH: Well, it wasn't just me personally --
ABDULLAH: -- even though my wife by -- again, as things worked out, she became-- because Captain Shah had a business in Daily's Juice. And his processing factory was right around the corner on 108th Street. And my wife became his 30:00personal secretary, you know, his business secretary. So I was -- we were, as a couple, somewhat privileged in that we had access to the -- the hierarchy of the -- of the Nation, you know. Like, we were invited to dinners -- as a young couple. I was only 20 years old -- 21, 20, you know. And she was a little older than me; she was, like, 25. And we were invited to dinners where we would be sitting down with the captains and Minister Farrakhan and Minister Larry and, you know. So they -- they kind of took a -- a liking to myself and my wife.
And it was a privilege, you know, because I, I -- like I said, she worked withCaptain Yusuf Shah as his secretary, and I -- and I worked in the bakery, which 31:00the -- produced the bean pie -- the original bean pie, the came out of New York, which was -- the -- the bakery was in Queens, in the basement of the mosque. And so I baked bean pies and carrot cakes, and -- and then we had a restaurant on the first floor, called the Plaza Restaurant, and I later became the manager of that restaurant. And then I sold newpa-- newspapers. In fact, I just came back from umrah, about a month or so ago, and I was over in Madinah with -- Brother Khalid, who was Brother Rodney at that time. And he was the top paper-seller in the city, you know. And we -- so I went out -- I was selling over a thousand papers a week at one time and also selling the fish. Once we imported the fish I was selling the fish.
And the Nation was my life, you know. It was the only life that I knew at that32:00point. And again, in a self analysis, or a self-analytical study, I think the reason that the Nation became such a -- part and -- of my life and, and I took to it so intensely, is because -- again, the church experience and the intensity of that; and then the drug experience, which replaced the church experience, and the intensity of that; and then the Nation experience that replaced the drug experience.
So I -- I think this in, in -- like I said, in a, in a personal psychoanalyticalperspective, I think there's just something in me that whatever I go into I go 33:00into intensely. You know. It's just my nature. It's like -- like they say, like the young folk say, I'm a hunnerd [hundred percent]. [laughter] So, that's just how I am. That's how I've always been, you know. Whenever--
ALI:So -- go ahead.
ABDULLAH: Like I was -- like I said, when I was in the church, I was in everyaspect of the church. And when I was getting high they called me "Stay-High Al," 'cause if you didn't -- if, when you seen me, I was, I was high on somethin'. And in the Nation I was involved in every aspect, 100 percent.
ALI: And how long did that continue?
ABDULLAH: The involvement in the Nation?
ABDULLAH: Well, it evolved in 1975.
ALI: What happened in 1975?
ABDULLAH: Nineteen seventy-five, in February, the Honorable Elijah Muhammad, mayAllah forgive him his sins and grant him Jannah, paradise, died. And -- in fact, 34:00we were on our way to Chicago, Saviours' Day, when they, when the announcement came. We were on the plane. They announced, you know, near the end, that he had died. And I didn't believe it.
ALI: You said you did not believe it.
ALI: Why not?
ABDULLAH: Because I was so intensified and so -- engaged in the Nation andbelieved in it wholeheartedly and believed in what it represented wholeheartedly and took it as everything that it represented anything of meaning in my life that -- my personal belief was that the Honorable Elijah Muhammad couldn't die until the devil was off the planet. And he was still walkin' around! I was still 35:00seein' all these White folk! So I was like, "He ain't dead! Like, they still here." So that was my initial reaction.
And when we got to Chicago and Imam Warith Deen Muhammad was introduced -- thenit was "Minister." He was the chief minister -- he was introduced to the community, and he gave that famous speech, and he was accepted as the leader of the community, and things began to change. You know. It wasn't an instant change for me, but it was like -- life as I knew it was over. Life as I knew it, died with the Honorable Elijah Muhammad. Now I had a decision to make. What was going 36:00to be the life that I chose to go on with? Because the life as we all knew it -- and at that time, we were over 125,000 strong. I mean, that was committed, dedicated members of the Nation. And maybe with another twenty-five, thirty, forty thousand associate members, you know. But at least a hundred twenty-five, hundred and fifty thousand strong, dedicated. The soldiers, male and female. Life as we all knew it changed in that February. And we all had decisions to make. And some went in one direction; some went in another direction. Some went in one direction and came back to another direction. Some went in one direction and came back to a different direction. Some went in one direction and never came back. But--
ALI: And so what did you do?37:00
ABDULLAH: For me -- from 1975 until 1977 was -- you know how they talk aboutJesus -- the, the lost years? You know how, you know, he was, like, a little boy, and, and he shows up again, like, in his thirties, and nobody really knows what happened in those years? Like, where was he as a teenager? Like, where was he hanging out with, you know? Who was he partying with or whatever, you know? Like, what -- what was he doin'? Where was he? Well, from 1975 to 1977, I call those my lost years. I kind of wandered in -- in my own, you know, spiritual quest. Where was I going? I think, ironically, again, like my wife got her "X" 38:00before I did, she assimilated into the World Community of al-Islam, as the Nation was renamed. She assimilated much quicker than I did, you know. And I think that it's probably because she wasn't in-- intense in her -- even though she was 100 percent committed to the Nation, but I don't think that it was intense as mine. 'Cause probably just the, the, the nature of the two individuals. So--
ALI: Do you remember any kind of conversations you and she had as you were kindof figure this out, and you would see her maybe--
ABDULLAH: No, she -- she goin' off to the -- she goin' off to the mosque! Youknow? She going to jummah, you know?
ALI: And -- and did y'all talk about--
ABDULLAH: Yeah! We talked about it. And I was like -- you know, I was -- I don't39:00know, you know, like, "What's happening?", you know? "Where's the Nation going?", you know? "Where's that--?" And then when the FOI was disbanded, "What's -- what's happening?" You know? And then I remember when the first White man came into the -- came into the -- then masjid -- because the temples -- temples were disbanded and made mosque. "What is this? What's going on? This is crazy." I was just disillusioned. She accepted. She was like, "This is what the imam is saying. The -- this is what the Supreme Minister's saying. [laughter] This is where we are. This is what we're doing. We're having prayer classes. 40:00We're learning how to pray. There's no more chairs." Like everything was just flowing much more easier for her. Me, it was like -- [sighing] I don't know.
ALI: Now, were you still in Queens or -- or in Brooklyn?
ABDULLAH: At that time still in Queens.
ALI: OK. So how did -- how did this period of, as you say, spiritual wanderingcome to a resolution for you?
ABDULLAH: [laughter] One -- in the middle of the night -- you know, we still hadtelephones then -- in the middle of the night, telephone rang, and -- and, you know, Black folks, telephone ring in the middle of the night, "Who done died?", you know, "What is this?", you know. But being in the Nation, we kind of got out of that, because we would get calls in the middle of the night -- we had to go serve post or stand post somewhere or escort the minister somewhere. So we were 41:00used to middle-of-the-night phone calls. But in 1977, towards the end of 1977, I hadn't gotten one in a long time, so I had to assume that -- I knew it wasn't the FOI calling, so who's calling me at three o'clock in the morning? And I -- and to this day I don't know who it was. But it was a brother on the other end. Didn't give his name. Said "As-salaam walaikum." [Peace be unto you] Said, "Walaikum salaam." [And unto you be peace] He said, "Get up. Get up and go make your, go make your prayers." He said, "I know what you going through." He said, "We all going through it." He said, "But you a soldier." He said, "Get up, go wash yourself, make your prayers." And he said, "I want to see you at the mosque on -- I want to see you at the -- at the mosque on Friday." He said, "You, you, you know better than this. You know better than how you thinking," and -- click. 42:00
I was at the mosque on Friday. In fact, I remember when I got up and made myprayers, I -- I remember taking the Qur'an, opening the Qur'an I remember just crying, crying, crying, crying. It was like I was being purged. To this day I never know who that was. And I went to the mosque that Friday and never stopped going. But obviously, if you take logical deduction -- but I don't know -- maybe it was someone that I was close to in the temple and came through the Nation with me that my wife, watching me struggle with this, said, "He need help. He 43:00need -- he need help. He need to be shocked back into--" You know. 'Cause she'd seen me in this confused state. But whoever it was, may Allah give them the best of this life and the next life [laughter] because they -- they were a major contributing factor just in that two-minute conversation to putting me back on the straight path.
ALI: And tell me how your life changed or evolved after that point.
ABDULLAH: Well, then I got active in the then mosque, later masjid. And justabout that time, around nineteen seventy-- because that -- the, the reinvolvement in the community started at the end of 1977, and just about that time, around 1978 to '79, I came back to Brooklyn. And that, by that time I was involved in the Second Resurrection. I had become a-- 44:00
ALI: What -- what is the Second Resurrection?
ABDULLAH: Well, a Second Resurrection is a -- is an expression that we of thelegacy of the Nation and the, the, the community of Imam W.D. Muhammad, we call the, the Nation of Islam the First Resurrection, coming out of the -- the lost-found, coming out of the, the you know, the streets, you know. The First Resurrection was the, the resurrection of knowledge of self. And then the Second Resurrection was knowledge of how to be Muslim.
Like -- like I always say and teach, the Honorable Elijah Muhammad taught us howto be men. And Imam Warith Deen Muhammad taught us how to be Muslim. That's how it -- that's how it settled in my consciousness, and that's what I feel at peace as seeing and saying -- that we were taught how to be men -- thank Allah! -- by 45:00the Honorable Elijah Muhammad, and we were taught how to be Muslim by Imam Warith Deen Muhammad. And had we not been first taught how to be men, we not, we might not be the caliber of Muslim that we are today.
ALI: So we're in the late '70s. You're back in Brooklyn.
ALI: Tell me, are you still Alvin 22X?
ABDULLAH: No. Imam Siraj, who was the imam at Masjid At-Taqwa, was the -- becamethe imam of Masjid Khalifah. And I think in nineteen-- right after I came back, me and my wife began the process of changing our names. So I, I be-- I went from Alvin 22X to Rasheed Abdullah. 46:00
ALI: And how -- how was that name selected?
ABDULLAH: [sighing] I think I was looking through a book of the 99 attributes.And I seen this name, Rasheed, Ar-Rasheed, one of the attributes of Allah. And -- "the directing guide to the right path," "the one who directs and guides to all that is good." And I knew that the name had to be preceded by or followed by an Abd -- either Abdul Rasheed or Rasheed Abdullah. So that name just stuck with me, you know. I just said, "Well --" because we were told by Imam Warith Deen 47:00Muhammad to choose names that we wanted to aspire to be.
And throughout my whole life, even as a kid, people always came to me forguidance, even in the, in the, in the streets, even in the, in the, in the gangsta life. You know, if there was every any question of any substance or worth, they would always ask me. You know, "Ask Al; he knows. He reads books. He knows all that stuff." You know. So people would come to me and ask me. Even in prison, people would come to my cell, ask me. And in the Nation. So that name just seemed to suit who Allah had always manifested that -- I was someone who people were always coming to, seeking guidance out of wrong towards whatever 48:00they thought was right. Even if it was where to get the best drugs, they came to me. [laughter] So that's how "Rasheed" seemed to fit what I wanted to aspire to be, so I became Rasheed Abdullah.
ALI: So you said at the time you came back, Imam Siraj Wahhaj was the imam here.
ABDULLAH: Imam here, yeah.
ALI: He is now the imam at a neighboring masjid.
ALI: Do you--
ABDULLAH: Masjid At-Taqwa.
ALI: Masjid At-Taqwa. Do you remember how his transition happened?
ABDULLAH: Yes, because myself and Imam Siraj, even in the Nation we were veryclose. And, and, and -- in the tr-- and then when my two years of transition, 49:00when I came back and he was the imam, we were very close. Our families were very close. My wife and his wife were best friends, and me and him were very good friends, as well as him being the imam. So we used to visit each other's homes, and our families, you know, when, when I went on my first hajj, my kids stayed with his family; when he -- him and his wife went on their first hajj, their kids stayed with us. So we were always very close. And the, the, the, the evolution of him and Masjid At-Taqwa was, to the best of my knowledge, over ideological differences that he had at that time with, with Imam Warith Deen Muhammad. Because he had began to become more and more influenced by the Sunni 50:00Muslim, the pe-- the Dar ul-Islam and, you know, the people of that persuasion. Because once -- once the, the, the 7C became -- Masjid Khalifah, he -- the people of Masjid Khalifah had more exposure, whereas the Nation was more confined within the order and discipline of the Nation and rarely did anybody venture outside the Nation. Once the, the, the Nation evolved into the World Community of al-Islam and -- it was more outside exposure. So him as the imam of Masjid Khalifah had more exposure with imams from other communities. And then if 51:00I remember correctly, he went overseas for a while, for a student imam program, and became exposed more to that aspect of Islamic expression. And then, from what I observed, I think he felt that the community wasn't moving at a fast enough pace, as -- as he was evolving faster than the community was evolving.
ALI: How -- how did you respond when he left, since you guys were so close?
ABDULLAH: [laughter] Again, my wife, she was like, "Pshh! I'm goin' to Taqwa."[laughter] Like, again. It was -- next thing I knew she was working with him. She was his -- she was his secretary. Me, I'm like, "I'm stayin' here!" You 52:00know. But I would go up there. Because it was only -- there's only three blocks, as you well know, for those who -- who are -- who might be hearing this and don't know the proximity, it's like Masjid At-Taqwa is three blocks away. You could throw a stone from where we sit to Masjid At-Taqwa, if you got a good arm.
ALI: Did a lot of people leave here, or--
ABDULLAH: 15 percent. 15 percent. At most, 20 percent. A lot of -- he had astrong base, you know. But it was a, it was a, it was a lot of fitnah surrounding his leaving. And he meant--
ALI: And what is fitnah?
ABDULLAH: A lot of confusion and chaos surrounding his leaving. And Imam Warith53:00Deen Muhammad had to actually come here and put a stop to that, because it was getting kind of out of control, you know. Remember, we -- that was, like, '81 or something like that, I think? If I'm not mistaken. Somewhere in there. Like I said, dates sometimes get confused. But it -- but the, but the legacy of Malcolm was still alive, you know?
ALI: And what is -- what do you mean when you say "the legacy of Malcolm"? Inwhat way?
ABDULLAH: Leaving the leader and the organization as being a representative.Because I think Imam Siraj was the -- the, the representative of Imam Warith Deen Muhammad as, as chief imam or as top imam or -- definitely one of his top imams in America. And leaving and starting your own organization. So it caused a 54:00lot of friction, you know. And it got kind of tense, you know? And Imam Warith Deen Muhammad had to come in and say, "Leave the brother alone. Don't nobody bother him -- or his community. Let them -- let him be him." You know. Right here. And that kind of cooled things off, 'cause it was getting pretty hot.
ALI: So there were -- during the '80s, there were a, a, a number of differentcommunities that were prominent. And you said that there was a lot more openness to exploring.
ALI: So tell me -- did you do any of that exploring the other communities?55:00
ABDULLAH: Oh, I explored a lot. I explored the--
ALI: What were some of the communities?
ABDULLAH: -- started my -- my exploration -- like I said, my first exposure toSufism came in the late '70s, with the Burhaniya tariqa up in the Bronx. So I was -- you know, because, to me, I was always more spiritual than religious. You know, I was, I was always on a spiritual quest. And it just so happened that the -- that my life and my spiritual quest was ordered and structured that it had to come through religion, you know. But I was never seeking religion. I was always seeking something that religion was supposed to produce. And I realized that you couldn't get to that -- that you were seeking without going through the 56:00foundation and structure of religion. And Christianity, which didn't satisfy my search, and Islam, which did satisfy my search, and, and the Five Pillars of Islam, which are, to me, the perfect manifestation of religious structure, but my search was always beyond just that.
I always believed that there was more than just the form, that there was aspiritual consciousness that transcended the form, but you couldn't get to the essence without going through the form, which is a natural law of physics. Every -- every physical entity has a form, but there is an essence that makes up that form -- atoms, protons, neutrons, electrons -- that make up molecules, that make up that form, but you don't -- you can't get to that without going through the 57:00form. So it's the same thing.
So I was in, in working in the community, following Imam Warith Deen Muhammad,may Allah give him paradise. I was working with Masjid At-Taqwa. Like I said, my wife -- she was there, so I was there. You know, I was there in the beginning, in the founding, one of the originals -- even though I was back and forth -- but I was there in the beginning, you know. And also studying the science of Sufism at the same time. So all of those three were beginning to develop a -- a spiritual consciousness and awareness that -- that it was molding and shaping, 'cause by this time I was in my thirties. So it was molding and shaping the 58:00person that I was to become.
ALI: So tell me about the -- your experience with the Dar ul-Islam.
ABDULLAH: It was -- I was sitting in Masjid At-Taqwa. And I heard a conversationabout this shaikh. And I had -- I was familiar with the term "shaikh" because of my studies of Sufism. And I was hearing and studying about it. It's this story about this shaikh out in East New York and -- and so I, I ask questions and, you know, I asked Imam Siraj, because I was -- 'cause he was in conversation with someone else, and they -- then he, he told me that, that, that the Dar ul-Islam, that the shaikh had come to the Dar ul-Islam, and, you know, he gave me a -- a brief, you know, explanation of what was going on out there. But I was intrigued 59:00immediately. I was like, "Sufi shaikh?" and -- 'cause, 'cause nobody knew that I was, like, myself searching within this venue. So I was intrigued immediately. So as -- as my character and personality, again, I just went out there. You know. I just said, "Well, I'm going out there to, to, to find this shaikh." And I remember I went out there -- and it, it was on Georgia Avenue. They had a -- they had a -- an apartment on -- in one of the buildings, where the brothers would meet, and I remember going there that night and, you know -- you know, I got the feeling -- when I walked in, I got the feeling, the same feeling I got 60:00when I walked in to my first FOI encounter. I got the feeling that these brothers was for real. You know, this is, this is, this is not, you know -- and -- because of the way they looked -- at me.
ALI: How -- how so?
ABDULLAH: At me. It's like -- it's, it's like if a stranger walked into an FOImeeting. You know, like -- you just know, like, "What are you doing here? Who are you?" With me, my personality is such that I've always felt the part of everything. Somewhat of -- a naiveness, but I walked in and sat down. So I got -- there was, like, silence. 'Cause I didn't realize, see, that I was walking 61:00into another split -- you know? I'm, I'm, I'm involved in this split, and I didn't realize that I'm walking into another split. I didn't know that at the time.
So there was a very strong intensity that was going on out there that I wasunaware of. I was just like a child, walking in and sitting down. So I started -- [makes gun-cocking sound] I knew what those sounds were. I've heard 'em bef-- heard 'em before. So Alhamdulillah for a brother who was a Naib [deputy] -- they called him Naib Jamil. He said, "How can we help you, brother?" I said -- in my 62:00naiveness, I said, "I came to see the shaikh." [makes gun-cocking sound] Now, he said, "You came to see the shaikh?" I was like, "I came to see the shaikh." Because I -- there was no fear on my part, because I didn't know where I was! You know. I didn't know what I was in the middle of.
ALI: Let me just fix your mic.
ABDULLAH: Mm-hmm. In fact, I could take that off, if you want.
ABDULLAH: Which one is it touching?
ALI: Well, it's just kind of--
ALI: OK. Let me try this. Let me try and put it--
ABDULLAH: If you want, I could do this.63:00
ABDULLAH: I could take this down and let you put it on the one underneath. Isthat better?
ALI: Yeah. Let's try that. OK. All right. So, you said there was a brother.
ABDULLAH: Yeah, Naib Jamil. And he said, "You came to meet the shaikh?" I said,"Yeah, I came to meet the shaikh." He said, "What do you mean?" I said, "What?" This is, this changed the whole dynamic. I said, "I heard about this great shaikh." Everybody's like-- I said, "I heard there was this great shaikh that had come from Pakistan and, and had come from Pakistan, and he was a -- from the, the, the, the order of Shaikh Abdul Qadir Jilani, Rahmaa'ta Lahi [Allah's Mercy Be With Him]," who I was still reading books about Shaikh Abdul Qadir Jilani. And they said, "Oh." They said, "And how did you hear about us?" And I 64:00told them how I heard about it. And they said, "Well--"
And at that time, by Allah's decree, I was living in a building on 722 GreeneAvenue that was owned by a member of the Dar, that I had never made the connection. I didn't know anything about that connection. But I -- he owned the building! And then I said that the -- they said, "Well, where do you live at?" And I said, "Well, I live 722 Greene." They said, "That's Brother Ramadan's building!" I said, "Yeah, Ramadan's my landlord!" And then it's like everything kind of got relaxed. And they said, "Well, OK. You're welcome," you know. "You're welcome." And that was the beginning of my experience out in Ma-- in 65:00Yasin Masjid.
I'm -- I, I met Imam Yahya Abdul Karim, who I have a deep respect for -- mayAllah give him paradise. And that, that experience out there with them, for those three years, I loved those brothers -- still love those brothers. And that's where I really got my grounding and training in the Sunna -- Prophet Muhammad, sallah Allahu alayhi wa sallam [May God grant him honor and peace]. And -- it didn't -- again, you have to -- you have to take in consideration that my life always followed the same pattern. Even as a teenager, I would take my 66:00Black friends down to Washington Square Park to hang out with the hippies. I would take the hippies uptown to Harlem to hang out with my Black friends. So I, I got the name as a teenager "Al the Pal," because I was, like, everybody's friend.
So that same personality -- I think still, to this day -- is a part in who andwhat I am. So I just became a part of the Yasin Masjid. I would, I would attend Masjid Khalifah; I would attend Masjid At-Taqwa. And these were, in and of themselves, places and people that didn't associate with each other. But through 67:00me -- there was a, a diversity and a, and a, and association. So in a sense, Al the Pal became Rasheed the Pal [laughter] because I was a -- a medium, in many cases. The, the, the same thing with the -- with Yasin Masjid, because the -- they had a split, and, and, and the -- whereas the split at Masjid Khalifah became Masjid At-Taqwa, the split at Yasin Masjid became Masjid Mu'minun. And I would attend both of them.
ALI: And where were those masjids located?
ABDULLAH: What, Yasin --
ABDULLAH: -- was in East New York.
ALI: And do you know the address?
ABDULLAH: On Van Siclen Avenue.
ABDULLAH: And New Lots, I believe, Van Siclen -- and Mu'minun was right here onAtlantic, right off Nostrand. Between Nostrand and Herkimer. 68:00
ALI: And these -- so Masjid Khalifah is a dedicated building that as dedi-- wasdedicated as, I mean, essentially had the structure for a prayer hall. What -- and, and so did Masjid At-Taqwa. What were the masjids like -- Mas-- Yasin Masjid -- where were they located?
ABDULLAH: Well, actually Masjid Khalifah, when it was purchased in 1960 byMinister Malcolm, it was a dance hall. Because my father used to party here when he was -- like, "Oh, I know this place!" And -- and Masjid At-Taqwa was a cocktail lounge. It was called Earl's Cocktail Lounge. Which I myself knew, because I -- that block was in this in the, in the, in the time of the '60s and '70s, it was heroin central. And in the eighty-- late '80s and '90s, it was crack central. So that block was always notorious, and that was a cocktail 69:00lounge. Yasin Masjid was -- the one in East New York -- was a youth center. Large building, nice building. And they -- they purchased. And Masjid Mu'minun -- if I'm not mistaken -- was a slaughterhouse.
So -- and the -- that's somewhat indicative of the history of, of Black masjidsin Am-- at least in New York. And we're talking particularly in Brooklyn, that it was not uncommon for a house to be a masjid. Like in the case of State Street, which was a, a, a townhouse or a brownstone. It was a masjid. Or to convert a cocktail lounge or a dance hall or a or a youth center or a 70:00slaughterhouse into a masjid. So that was not something unusual. And for the people that don't know the history, they would never -- see, that's why history is so important, and that's why I'm so honored to -- for you to ask me to give somewhat of this history, because it has to be kept alive, because people don't know these things. They don't know. They don't know. They -- the people -- you take 90 percent of the people up at Masjid At-Taqwa, they don't know the history of Masjid At-Taqwa.
ALI: What is -- what makes a masjid a masjid? As we talk about theseconversions, what--
ABDULLAH: Well, first of all, it has to be cleaned. When you have dance hallsand cocktail lounges and slaughterhouses, [laughter] first of all, they have to be cleaned. Then -- they have to -- that, that, that really is the most 71:00important part of a masajid, is that it's clean. Because Allah tells us in the Qur'an that the earth is a masajid, the earth is a place of prostration. So any area that is cleaned and dedicated specifically for the purpose of prayer and worship -- and established for that purpose -- is a masjid. So you could have a part of a park or, you know, your house. You know, if you have a part of your house, a room that you put aside that's specifically dedicated for prayer and remembrance and meditation and reading the Qur'an, that's the masajid or that's the masjid of your house.
So that's the number one requirement, is that it's a clean area dedicated for72:00the worship and prayer. And so once those buildings were eradicated of the negativity that was going on in them -- and they were clean and dedicated and the prayer was established, then they became masjids. And then as in time, as they began to grow and evolve, they became more established and more recognizable as masjids -- to the point where if you were to tell people what they once were, they would never believe it, because that was totally erased. But it was an evolutionary process.
ALI: So you -- how important was the -- as you were part of these different --as you would go to these different masjids during this period of time, how important was the geography to where these were loc-- because these -- you know, 73:00so Masjid At-Taqwa, as you said, is three blocks from Masjid Khalifah.
ALI: Yasin Masjid, you said, was in East New York.
ABDULLAH: East New York.
ALI: And Masjid Mu'minun was on Atlantic, so about two blocks --
ABDULLAH: Was only two blocks from Masjid At-Taqwa.
ALI: Right, right. So how is it that people were part of the same -- part ofthese masjids but never crossed over?
ABDULLAH: Well, as time --
ALI: Even though they located in the same area.
ABDULLAH: -- well, as time went on, there was more crossing over. And ti-- astime went on, there was more crossing over. Masjid At-Taqwa kind of found itself, from my perspective, in a kind of auspicious position, and -- 'cause they were -- they weren't really trusted by the members of Masjid Khalifah, because they split, and they weren't really accepted by the Sunni community 74:00because they still thought of them as being a part of us here. So they were kind of in the middle. And it's no irony that they are, they are located in between the two masjids. So that kind of explains in and of itself what was going on. You had people from Masjid Khalifah that gradually began to go up to Masjid At-Taqwa. Partially because they began to open restaurants up there, as -- as funny as that may sound, you had people from here that would go up there to eat -- wouldn't really go in the mosque, but they'd go up there to eat, and then gradually they would -- more and more -- then people -- then -- especially since the members of Masjid At-Taqwa were former members of Masjid Khalifah, they would gradually come back down here. Because they were families and friends! These weren't enemies. These were families and friends that knew each other all 75:00through the Nation. And then I think one of the -- you know, everybody would always come to Masjid Khalifah's Eid -- even to this day, we're known here for having the best Eids in America. Everybody know about Masjid Khalifah Eids, 'cause--
ALI: Why is that? Tell me about what Eid is like here.
ABDULLAH: Because -- because they are very celeb-- celebratory, and they areuniquely African American. I mean, we party. We get down, and we enjoy ourselves, and we eat our food, and we come out with our families and really enjoy our Eids. Whereas more with the -- with the immigrant communities, they spend their Eids more at home with family. And here at Masjid Khalifah it's a, it's a, it's a community affair.
ALI: What kinds of things do you have here on Eid?
ABDULLAH: Oh, we have African drummers and jazz musicians and singers and games76:00and toys and gifts for the kids, and -- you know, it's, it's, it's a -- especially when it's in the winter -- as you know, the lunar calendar rotates -- so when it's in the winter, we're in Akbar Hall, the big catering hall, here. And when it's in the summer we're outside. So it's just a day of celebration. And, and even, even people who might not affiliate themselves with us on other days miraculously show up for our Eids. [laughter] Which tells you something in that, you know, they might think of us as not being quite up to their expectations of what they consider, in my opinion incorrectly, proper Islam. But 77:00on Eid they're here, partying right along with us. So that's kind of, you know, indicative of us as a people.
ALI: So you -- how long were you going to Yasin Masjid?
ABDULLAH: Up until the time I went to Sudan.
ABDULLAH: So that was about, I would say, from '81 to about '83, '83 and a half.You know.
ALI: So what -- would -- did you--
ABDULLAH: But I was also --
ALI: Yeah. Yeah.
ABDULLAH: -- coming to Masjid Khalifah and also going to Masjid At-Taqwa. Butbecause, as I found out, I lived in a Muslim building, and, and all of the Muslims in the building that I lived in, the, the owner and the Muslims that lived in the building -- which later we established a school in that building -- the whole building became Habib Allah Day School, which became a, a, a school 78:00for all of the communities. It -- that school actually became a unifying factor, because where you had communities that didn't necessarily intermingle, all of those communities had children that went to our school. So, you know, up until the time that I left for Sudan, I lived at -- over there on Greene Avenue. So that was, I was with them from about '81 to about '84, eighty-- about '84.
ALI: How -- how common was it that you had buildings where Muslims livedtogether like that?
ABDULLAH: Back in those days it wasn't uncommon at all.
ALI: Where in Brooklyn did that happen?79:00
ABDULLAH: On a major scale? East New York, with the Dar ul-Islam, and BushwickAvenue, with the Ansaaru Allah community. I mean, they dominated those areas. You know, when you went to East New York, Van Siclen and New Lots and Georgia and Alabama Avenue for three, four blocks was 80, 90 percent Dar ul-Islam people lived in the buildings. I don't know how they did it, but they did it. They -- it was -- when you went to East New York, in that particular part of East New York, you knew that the Dar ul-Islam movement was there.
ALI: How -- what -- what way did you know that? Like--
ABDULLAH: Because the, the way they dressed, and the women wore veils, and -- atthat time -- and, you know, they were everywhere. Just, like, everywhere you looked, there was, like, Muslims. Noted identifiably Muslim. And even more so with the Ansaaru Allah in Bushwick, because they -- they all wore white. And the 80:00brothers all wore jalabiyyas beards, and the women all -- was all in white, with the white veils, and everywhere you looked, that's all you seen! Like, as far as you could see, for about six-, seven-block radius, in -- on Bushwick Avenue and the streets that led into Bushwick Avenue. There's -- that's all you seen. They, they literally controlled that, that area of Bushwick was literally controlled by the Ansaaru Allah community. Same thing with the Dar ul-Islam in East New York. But it was even more noticeable with them, because they were all in white. [laughter] So.
ALI: So you mentioned going to Sudan.
ALI: This was in 1984?
ABDULLAH: Eighty-- well, I originally went in '83, and we moved in '84.
ALI: OK. So tell me what brought that about.
ABDULLAH: My son was going to a school, Al-Madrasa Al-Islamiya, which was one ofthe first Islamic schools established in New York, and -- by Imam, I mean, by 81:00Brother Abdul Basir. And one of the teachers there, Brother Zachariah, was a Sudanese brother, and he had got some scholarships for 14 boys to go study in Sudan. And my son was one of the boys that were picked to go study. And at that time, me and his mother didn't want to just send him off to a country, you know.
ALI: How old was he?
ABDULLAH: He was 13 at the time. And so I said, "Well, I'll go and check it out.I'll go with him." And when I got to Sudan -- [laughter] again, the repetitiveness of personality -- said, "Wait a minute, this is, this sound like a, like a, like a, like an ongoing saga" -- when I got to Sudan, I knew that this was where I wanted to be, where I wanted to stay. And, as I've recently 82:00found out, that I have ancestry connections to western Sudan. For some reason, on arriving in Sudan, I felt like I had arrived home. I felt a natural connection to the Sudanese people. So I -- informed my wife that "I think this is where we should be." And came back, and we talked it over, and we decided Alhamdulillah, you know? Just like when I -- when I invited her to the Nation, to the temple, she came. She joined. When she was invited to -- you know, when the Nation became the -- the World Community of al-Islam, she joined. When Khalifah became Taqwa, she joined. When I said, "Let's go to--" When -- when she 83:00was out -- when I was in East New York, with the Dar ul-Islam, studying out there, she was studying the sisters' classes. When I said, "We moving to Sudan," she said, "OK." So, Alhamdulillah.
So I went. And I was there for almost a year while she was making preparationsof coming. Because we had a school. So the school had to be -- actually, we didn't disband the school; we transferred the school to the control of another group. But at the but, but over the course of the three years that we had the school, over 500 students came through the school. We had every type of program 84:00that you could imagine: afterschool, preschool, day school, summer program -- everything.
ALI: This is the Habib Allah school.
ABDULLAH: Habib Allah school.
ALI: Tell me -- tell me something about what life was like in Sudan versus lifein Brooklyn.
ABDULLAH: [laughter] Life in Sudan. Again, I think -- the experience I would --I would compare in my assessment psychologically of being in Sudan was the -- the revival of the spirit I had in the Nation. I mean, I loved the Sudan. I still -- I'm, I'm, insha Allah, I'll be going back in a couple months. I go back regular. I loved it. And I felt -- totally engulfed into Sudanese life. At, at 85:00that time there were maybe 25 other American families who were there in Sudan. Where I differed was that they basically stayed within an American enclave and socialized basically with Americans, the families that were there. Not I. From the first day I got there, I got on a bus and went to Khartoum and started walking around. I didn't know how to speak the language; I didn't know where I was going; I didn't -- but, but that's how I got to East New York. That's how I got to Yasin Masjid. I didn't know. Because that's always been a perso-- part of my personality. Like, how did I get to Yasin Masjid? I just walked in and sat down. How did I assimilate into Sudanese culture? I just dove in. 86:00
And within six months I was speaking the language, and my, my children and then,and then the whole family came over, and the, the children were in -- I put them in the best Islamic school in Khartoum, and they were -- they were -- you know, English became their second language. Their first language was Arabic, and -- and that's where I met my shaikh, and that's where I began to study the science of Sufism and -- and going to regular dhikr, and also studying fiqh and -- and, you know, the various sciences of Islam. And my intention was to stay. We had a beautiful house there. You know. And I was going back and forth between Sudan 87:00and America doing business, so with the -- with the money that I was making in America and sending back to Sudan, my family was doing quite well.
ALI: What -- besides the language, what was the biggest challenge for you toadjust to life in the Sudan?
ABDULLAH: Nothing. Because I -- you know, [laughter] like my father used to say,"God protects babies and fools." [laughter] I think because I'm -- I'm -- I don't have enough sense, maybe, to have these hang-ups. It's like, nothing was challenging. I'm here. After about six months, people -- it, it, it was like, "I'm Sudanese." Not that I forgot or -- or de-- detached myself from my American 88:00identity; it's just that what I've always realized is that if you're going to be a part of something, the quicker you assimilate into that which you're going to be a part of, the more easy the transition and the more enjoyable the transition becomes. So I started to eat their food; I started, you know, to -- I took on the dress, and I took on the language, and, and of -- of course, being a part of the tariqa, it was -- it became like a, like, like I said, the second Nation experience in -- in my, you know, makeup. Because I felt totally a part of something. That same energizing spirit was re-- reenacted in the Sudanese experience. Until the shaikh said, "Son, you got to go home." [laughter] Because 89:00I had planned to stay.
ALI: And why, why -- yeah.
ABDULLAH: To me, that was a hijrah, a hijrah meaning -- to me, that was amigration, from the land of the disbelievers to the land of Islam. I was like, "This is it!" You know, I'm, I'm -- you know, I'm back in -- you know, with the popularity of the movie out now, I'm back in what they calling Wakanda. I done found my, my, my home. You know, this was -- this was it! But it wasn't it.
Ali: Why did he tell you you had to go?
ABDULLAH: Because he said that I did not come to Sudan to become Sudanese, nordid I come to Sudan to stay in Sudan, but Allah sent me there to learn something, to get something, to go back to America to give to my people. You know. I was like a good Killmonger character. I had to go back, give it to my 90:00people. He told me that. He said -- so now, I got to go -- now my wife is living in this big house. We got, we got people cooking and, you know, the servants and -- who, who were, like -- became part of our family, and kids are going to the best Islamic schools, speaking Arabic as a first language, and -- I mean, you know, it was just, like, I'm, I'm home. Kunta Kinte. I'm, I'm back.
So I go and tell her, "We got to go back to America." And again -- may Allahbless her and give her Jannah, because she passed on, [inaudible] -- she said, "OK." I mean -- and, and, and, and ironically, her, her name was hh. And I always -- when I make dhuhr for her, I always make dhuhr for her in con-- in, in, in conjunction with making dhuhr for Lady Khadijah. Because on a minute 91:00level, on a minute scale, she was my Khadijah.
ALI: And what does that mean? For people who won't understand that -- that reference.
ABDULLAH: The, the, the, the because the Prophet--
ALI: That when you say she was your Khadijah.
ABDULLAH: Because the Prophet, sallah Allahu alayhi wa sallam -- the ProphetMuhammad, peace and blessings of God be upon him, when he received his first revelation -- first of all, she was older than me, and Khadijah was older than Prophet Muhammad, sallah Allahu alayhi wa sallam. And when Prophet Muhammad received his first revelation, and he came back and told Khadijah, his wife, that he had spoke to God, through the -- through the medium of an angel, she said, "OK. I believe you." You know. She didn't say, "You crazy," or "You lost your mind," you know. She said, "OK, I believe you."
And when he first met her, he was a shepherd. She was a successfulbusinessperson. And when I first met my wife, you know, she was -- she had a 92:00master's degree, going for her doctorate. I was getting out of prison. You know. And on the surface, you wouldn't think that a successful businesswoman, a rich woman, would see something in a young shepherd who was 15 years her -- you know, younger. And you wouldn't think that a woman who had a master's degree would see something in a younger man who had just got out of prison. But she did. And she did. And they had the same name.
And all throughout our marriage, wherever I went and wherever I changed -- andremember, when the Prophet, sallah Allahu alayhi wa sallam [May God grant him honor and peace], thought that he was losing his mind -- he went through a period where he thought he was losing his mind -- it was her that told him, "No! 93:00You not -- you not possessed. You are the messenger of the Law. You have a mission." And during -- if we retract a little bit, back to my lost years, it was her that -- it was my Khadijah that kept me from thinking that I was losing my mind. So that's why I always make that analogy. You know, she was a great wife, and may Allah give her paradise.
ALI: So you told her you had to [overlapping dialogue; inaudible]--
ABDULLAH: "We have to go back; we have to go back [laughter] to America." Andwhen we got back to America, we arrived at Kennedy Airport, and that's when I knew -- I knew what it was like to be an immigrant. Because we arrived [laughter] with practically nothing. And -- but I came back with a mission. I had to start teaching. My, my teacher told me to go back and teach.
ALI: Is this when you became Shaikh Abdul Rasheed?
ABDULLAH: That was in Sudan, yes.94:00
ABDULLAH: You know, that was when I had completed my studies, and he had, he hadtold me that, that, that "You now have permission" -- because everything is by permission -- and he told me that "You now have permission to teach." And that's when he sent me back to teach. But there was a lost period again. There was a bewilderment period again. Because I came back enthusiastic, and I was going to -- you know, everything was going to fall into place. But it didn't. And I became disillusioned. And I was like -- I fell back into that mindset, almost, of the original lost years. I was like, "This ain't workin'! Why is, you know, this not going the way I -- I had envisioned, everything was going to fall in place?"
And remember, I got the call in the middle of the night. This time, I was95:00driving a taxi. Yellow, yellow cab. Houston Street, around Essex. A man gets in the car. He says, "Take me to the Hilton Hotel." I looked at the man. I, I notice he's Sudanese. I said, "Oh, you Sudanese." He says, "Yes. As-salaam walaikum." "Walaikum salaam." I said, "Oh yeah, I -- I lived in Sudan." He said, "You lived in Sudan?" He said, "Wow!" We started talking. He said -- I said, "Yeah, my shaikh is from Sudan." He said, "Who's your shaikh?" I said, "My shaikh is Abdullahi Wad'ajuz Mukashfi." He said, "You're not going to believe this, but he's at the Hilton Hotel -- Hotel." I said, "Hilton Hotel?" He said, "Yeah, that's where I'm going now." Because he had said, "Take me to the Hilton." And, you know, you go up Houston, make the right on Avenue of the Americas, Sixth Avenue, straight up to the hotel. So when I got there, he said, "Come. Your shaikh is upstairs." 96:00
I went up, walked in the room. Shaikh was in the room. He said, "Oh, you finallygot here." I had no clue whatsoever that he was in America. I had no clue whatsoever that he was in New York. I had no -- what's the odds of a yellow taxicab driver in New York picking up somebody on Houston Street, taking them to the Hilton Hotel, where your shaikh is waiting for you, and when he sees you, he's not like -- he's like, "Oh, you finally got here." He says, [laughter] "I've been waiting for you." He says, "In fact, I came to America for you."
Now, of course, you tell -- you start telling these type of stories -- this iswhy, when I re-- when I rehearse my life, you start telling these type of stories, and people -- either they're going to say, "This guy's lying," either they're going to say, "He's a little crazy," or they're going to say that this is some spooky stuff that he's talkin'. 'Cause this stuff just don't happen. 97:00Well, the crazy and the spooky part might be partly true, but I'm not lying. These things actually happened. And that's when he sat me down, and he told me, "Things didn't work out the way you thought they were going to work." I didn't say nothing. "Things didn't work out the way you thought they were going to work out." He says, "But" -- he says, "That's because you've gone through --" -- through translation, because he, he wasn't speaking English; this was through a translator -- he said, "That's because you've gone through the Yunus." He said, you know -- he said, "'Cause Yunus was sent to Nineveh." And he thought that everything was going to be just wonderful. And it didn't work out. And he became confused. And he got on the ship, and we know the story -- and they cast the straws, and he was thrown overboard and swallowed by the fish, and then he made the famous dhuhr inside the belly of the fish, and the fish spit him out, and he 98:00cast ashore, and he made repentance to Allah, and Allah gave him his mission back, and he became -- a great prophet, and his mission was successful.
The shaikh said, "That's what you went through. Now go back to the same peopleand deliver the same message, and you will see." Went back to the same -- within six to eight months, I had a beautiful building, had maybe almost 100 people, regular open classes, doing dhikr -- expanded into hundreds of people. 99:00
ALI: Where was this located?
ABDULLAH: The first location? -- was on Schenectady and Bergen, the building onthe corner, right across the street from the park, facing the projects -- facing the Albany projects. That was our first location.
ALI: And what was the -- what was this -- what was this called?
ABDULLAH: Well, in, in, in the terms of Sufism it's called a zawiyah. It's wherewe met for dhikr [remembrance] and classes. We had an Arabic teacher, we had a Qur'anic teacher, we had Qur'anic recitation classes and Arabic classes, and we, we, we had our dhikr circle there. But at the same time I was still coming to Masjid Khalifah and still going to Masjid At-Taqwa and, you know -- by that time, though, Yasin Masjid had disbanded, and they had moved upstate. They had bought land upstate. So Masjid -- Yasin Masjid was no more, no longer in East 100:00New York. Because they -- the shaikh had told them to buy land. So they all relocated throughout the country, 'cause they had a national movement, and they all relocated out across the country, on land. But Masjid Mu'minun was still there. And, you know, I was still associated with mainly with Masjid Khalifah. But Masjid At-Taqwa as well. And, at the same time, we had our zawiyah center.
Because -- there's two community dynamics. There's the, the, the generalpopulace of a Muslim community -- like, I am 100% member of Masjid Khalifah. This is -- this is -- if you ask me what is my community, my community's Masjid Khalifah. I teach here, at Clara Muhammad School. My imam is Imam Adib Rashid. I 101:00give khutbahs here, you seen yesterday. This is my community. But as far as my spiritual development and my personal spiritual quest and consciousness is connected to my shaikh through the tariqa. They don't conflict. In fact, they work hand in hand. So I'm, I am a -- I am a licensed Sufi shaikh. I am the representative of the Qadri Mukashfi order in America. And I'm a member of Masjid Khalifah, the head of the Islamic studies department, and work in cooperation with the imam here. No conflict. Still Al the Pal. [laughter]
ALI: How -- as you went through these different evolutionary changes, how did102:00your father respond to you?
ABDULLAH: Oh, my father! My father was always with me. You know, once, once he,once he seen that the, that the, that the drug addiction and all of that had stopped -- I think it's--
ALI: It's time for prayer?
ABDULLAH: Once he seen that the--
ALI: What time do you do the adhan?
ABDULLAH: About now.
ALI: OK. So we, we can -- we can stop, and --
ALI: -- we can pick it up afterwards.
ALI: OK. So when we -- we left the recording, I had asked you what was yourfather's view, or your experiences with your father, as you went through these --
ABDULLAH: Spiritual transitions?
ALI: -- spiritual transitions, yeah.
ABDULLAH: Well, I was -- I am blessed that my father -- as I had told you103:00earlier, my mother died when I was, like, 10 years old. And this was in the early '60s. And my father raised me and my two sisters, you know, which is rare now, but it was practically unheard of for a man to -- we actually had a nanny. You know, he actually -- there -- there was an older woman who was a member of his church who -- we had a -- we had a big house, so she actually had a -- her section of the house, and she actually cared for us while my father went to work. And my father worked two jobs, and, like I said, gave me and my sisters the best possible life that he could.
And I, and, and I look at my father -- may Allah forgive him and give him the104:00highest level of paradise -- as being my first shaikh, my first teacher. Which is the natural way that things should be, but unfortunately, in, in, in, in our state, and residual from our experiences in, in America, is not always the way it is. But in my -- but in my case, I was blessed that my father educated me well. He gave me every opportunity for a good secu-- secular education. We were, we were raised in church. He taught me manners, proper behavior, and respect for elders, and all of that was what I was raised with. And when I became Muslim, 105:00once he seen the -- the parallel of becoming Muslim and getting married, and then my first child -- all of that kind of happened within a three-, four-year period -- it kind of erased the negative memories of the gangsta days and the street days, and -- he was always very supportive of me being Muslim.
And, and -- in fact, I remember one time -- 'cause he used to always visit themosque, and every time we would have an Islamic affair he would come, and he would donate money. Every time there was a fundraiser, he'd give money, you know? And he, he always said that, you know, "There's only one God, and 106:00different people worship God different ways," and he always had a respect for me being Muslim, you know. Even back -- like, in the Nation, he was always at the temple! He was always there. Like, everybody knew him. In fact, people thought he -- they, they, they thought he was, you know -- was a part of the -- of the Nation. And through my whole -- you know, he'd come to the mosque and sit on the floor and everything. So he was very supportive.
And, and, and I remember that he came to the mosque one time. We had a familyday. It was -- this was in South Carolina. We were, we were visiting family in South Carolina, and I was at the mosque, and they had invited me to speak at that mosque, and I spoke at the mosque, and then they asked -- they said, "Any family members in the audience that want to say anything?" And he raised his hand and said he wanted to say something. And I remember him saying that he had prayed all of his life for his son to be a minister, and, and, in the, in the 107:00way of God. And he now has come to realize that -- that his prayers were answered, but just not in the way that he -- he seen.
And he spoke for about 15 minutes, and by the time he finished speaking therewasn't a dry eye in the place. Really. He said, "At this moment I stand before God saying I'm proud of my son." And -- and knowing what I put my father through, that was one of the most moving moments of my life, along with the moment that I had the opportunity, in the latter years of his life, the last 10 years that we actually became good friends, and I had the opportunity to thank him -- to thank him for being my father and understanding -- I actually told 108:00him, I said, "You a better father than I am." He said, "Why you say that?" I said, "Because I would have put me out a long time before you did." I said, "I would have never put up with what you put up -- with me, I would have never put up with me, being the type of father I am." And he started crying. And he said, "You know, I prayed for the day that you would understand that." I said, "Well, I clearly understand it now. Now that I got eight children of my own, and -- and 22, 23 grandkids, I understand." And those la-- those latter years, we bonded to the point where he be-- he took shahada; he became Muslim.
ALI: How did that come about?
ABDULLAH: [laughter] We were in a car. I was taking him to the veterans hospitalout in, out in Fort Hamilton. And we were just talking. And he said, "You know, 109:00last week at the church they had a -- the -- the -- they were talkin' about different religions. And the preacher was talkin', and he was talkin' about this religion, that religion, this religion, that religion. So -- and he came to Islam. And he came to Islam. And he said that Muslims, they worship Muhammad. And, you know, and they--"
He said, "I had to stop him." He said, "'My son is a Muslim.' And he wasshocked, 'cause he didn't know that." He said, "My son is a Muslim. And he been Muslim, like, almost 40 years" -- then. And he said, "He --" -- he say, "Muslims worship one God. They don't worship Muhammad." And then he said -- I said, "But what did you tell the preacher?" He said, "I told him somebody lyin'." He said, "Either you lyin', or my son lyin'." He said, "I believe my son." I said, "You 110:00told him that?" He said, "Yeah, I told him." He said, "'Cause what he's saying's different than what you've been telling me for 30-something years -- 40 years!" I said -- then something clicked. I said, "All this time that I've been telling him, thinkin' that he wasn't paying me no attention, he was listening intentatively. And not only was he listening intently, he was absorbing. And he was believing."
So I asked him. I said, "Pop, how many gods are there?" He said, "Only one God."I said, "Only one?" He said, "Of course! Can't be two. There's only one." I said, "Are you saying, like, my god and your god's--" "Of course! Same God. Isn't that what you've been telling me? Now you -- you gonna start telling me somethin' different? Haven't you been telling me all these years that your god and my god same God?" I said, "Yeah." He said, "Well, I believe that." And I 111:00said, "Well, then who's Jesus?" He said, "Jesus's a prophet." I said, "You don't believe he's the Son of God?" He said, "No!"
So now I'm -- now we on the Belt Parkway. I'm doin' about 60 miles an hour. Ipull the car over to the side of the road. I'm like [makes screeching sound]. Because now I'm like -- I can't -- this is, like, I'm like, "OK." I say, "So you tellin' me that you believe there's one god?" He says, "Yeah, of course." "And you tellin' me you don't believe Jesus is the Son of God?" "Nope." Said, "Well, then who's Muhammad?" He said, "Muhammad's a prophet, like Moses." I said, "Wait, hold up. Let's, let's just retract this. Let me take it step by step." I said, "You tellin' me that you believe there's only one God?" "Yup." Like, he's 112:00in his eighties now. "Yup." I said, "You tellin' me that you don't believe Jesus is God -- Son of God?" "Nope." "And you telling me that you believe Muhammad's a prophet, like Moses?" "Yup."
I said, "So -- so you saying you believe there's one God." "Yup. I believethere's one God." "And you believe Muhammad's a prophet." "Believe Muhammad's a prophet." I said, "Don't you know that make you Muslim?" I said, "You a Muslim!" He said, "Well, I guess I'm a Muslim, then!" [laughter] I said, "I will testify on the day of judgment that at this moment, at this time, that you believe that there's only one God, and Muhammad is the messenger of God." He said, "That's what I believe." So, so I says, so I said, "Well, you know that makes you a Muslim." And then I said -- he said, "But does that mean I can't go to church no 113:00more?" I said, "Well, you -- you can go to church." I said, "But you say you don't believe all that stuff that they teachin'." He said, "But I like the music." [laughter] I said, "I like the music too!" I said, "You -- pshh, go to church. I don't care. It doesn't matter where you go; it's what you believe."
I said, "Now, we don't know which one of us is gonna die first. I might diebefore you. You might die before me." I said, "Now, if you die, I'm a' bury you like a Muslim." He -- "Because you gonna put me in charge," I said, "I'm a' bury you like a Muslim." He said, "I won't know; I'll be dead." [laughter] So, masha Allah, he passed on, and we had a janazah, and on his headstone it says, "From Allah we have come and to Allah we shall return." 114:00
And my father was a special man. He was a better man than I ever can be. Ican't, I can't compare myself to my father, you know. I can't. No matter what people think I have achieved or what people think I have accomplished or what people think that, you know, they admire in me, I can't carry my father's shoes. You know. He went through the Depression and fought in World War II and went through Jim Crow in the South, out of South Carolina and Georgia, and came through all that, and -- I don't know. I don't know how good -- I would've probably ended up hurting one of them crackers and be hanging from a tree. I don't know. I don't know. Just like I said, I don't know if I could have been the father he was. I don't know if I could have been a man in the South. I don't know if I could've -- how I would've dealt with that whole experience and still 115:00come through and accomplish and -- someone who only went to the fourth grade, you know, in formal education, picking cotton, going in the army and raising a family, and then his wife died, and he raised a family by himself. And, you know, may Allah give my father the highest level of paradise. You know, may I be half the man that he, that he is. And so much of the -- what people recognize as being good in me, they really see my father -- you know. Because I -- what I've recognized is as I mature and get older, I recognize I'm more and more and more like my father. And I'm grateful to Allah for that.
So my father never resisted Islam. In fact, he was walking around believing whatI was believing; I was just too silly to ask him what he believed. Because basically what he told me in that car was, "You never asked me!" And I had -- well, I had to pull over and ask him. He said, "Yeah, that's what --" -- he 116:00said, "You been tellin' -- you've been tellin' me that all these years." But I never stopped to ask him, "Do you believe what I'm tellin' you?" And at that moment I did, and he said he did. So may Allah give him the best.
ALI: That, that really is a beautiful story. And I'm really glad that you wereable to tell us that.
ABDULLAH: It's hard for me to tell it without crying. [laughter] Really.
ALI: It was, it was hard to listen without feeling that emotion.
ABDULLAH: Especially knowing -- being a Black man in America, you know, andbeing the father of boys myself. And I got a phone call from my son the other night -- the middle one, Muhammad, the one that's hafiz of Qur'an. He, he knows the whole Qur'an by heart. He called me the other night, and we talked for, like, two hours. And I got the feeling that I was my father. Because he was 117:00telling me and thanking me, and I'm like, "Oh my God, what is this? What's happening?" He's like, "Abu, I just want -- I just called to say I love you." I'm like, "Whoa. Just called to say you love me? What you talkin' 'bout, boy?" He says, "I haven't talked to you in a while, and, like, I'm realizing --" -- because he's, like, in his thirties now, mid-thirties -- he's like, "I'm realizing that I'm becoming you." Subhan Allah. [laughter] And he got, he got children.
So when you get to be my age, 61 -- I'll be 61 in December -- and you beenthrough what I've been through, and you know that the evolution of life, the 118:00transition of life, is just a natural process, you start thinking about legacy, and you start thinking about what you -- what you've done and what you've accomplished, and have you touched people; have you been of any value to people's lives? And, you know, after they put you in the ground, what lives on? And, you know -- I don't really -- by Allah's mercy, I don't really see it, but people remind me. My wife reminds me -- my present wife reminds me -- all the time. 'Cause I'm a jokester, like my father. I like to have fun. I like to joke. To me -- you won't see me -- I don't consider myself a religious person. I like to have too much fun to be -- you know, religion is just like, "Salaam walaikum." I like to -- I like to have fun, joke around, play -- like my father. 119:00So I always tell my wife, I always say, "You a better Muslim than me." Because she very, very -- she keep me aligned. She say -- [makes clucking noise] -- "You, you approaching those boundaries." So she always guide me back into the religious parameters. But she always says, "You always say I'm a better Muslim than you," she say, "but do you realize how many lives you have touched? Do you realize the legacy that you will be leaving behind?" She said, "You --" -- she tell me all the time -- "-- you've touched tens of thousands of people around the world! And every person that you've touched have touched others, have touched others, have touched others, have touched others, and all of that is going to be to your credit on the day of judgment." Alhamdulillah, I just say, 120:00"I'll be dead. [laughter] What will I know?" Like my father.
So. You know. I'm grateful for, for, for my life. I'm, I'm grateful that I'mstill alive to keep doing this work, to keep striving for Allah, you know? And I've had the opportunity to do things and go places and be with people. I've sat with the poorest of the poor. I've slept with the homeless. I've been homeless. I've slept with the homeless. I've lived with the homeless. I've been in prison. I've been sick to the point of thinking I'm going to die. And I've sat with presidents. I've sat with kings. I've sat with heads of state. I've spoken in the park to the people of the street, and I've spoken at the higher institutions 121:00of learning. I've lived the good life, you know. And I'm grateful to Allah for everything. And if I was to die right now, I could say, "Alhamdulillah, I am content with my life." Allah has blessed me to reach a point where I can't say it -- because I don't feel that a person could actually say it, but I can say that I feel that my soul is at rest and at peace with itself.
'Cause, you know, we have the three levels of self: the animal self, thecontending self, and the self that is come with the peace with itself, I feel that I've arrived at that point. Allah knows best, but I, I, I feel -- like, people say they seek peace. I feel that, that I've -- peace is a, a, a state. It 122:00can be broken. You can break the peace, make the peace, break the peace, make the peace. But once you reach the station of tranquility, of sakinah, that's a -- that's a station that -- you remain in that consciousness. And I, I feel that I've -- if I haven't gotten there, I'm, I'm approaching it. So I'm grateful to Allah for where we are and what we have been able to accomplish. We keep going. Keep striving. You know. Keep striving and keep struggling for the pleasure of Allah.
But I owe a lot to my father. So whatever people see or whatever peoplerecognize, some of it will always be -- be -- be from my father. My father's a great man, you know, and -- but even though my mother died when I was 10, which, 123:00which is very important as far as the role of the mother in the early developmental stages of the child, my mother put values in me in those first 10 years that, had I not had the mother that I had, even though Allah called her back at a very early point in my life, I wouldn't be the person I am today. So I pray for my mother as well, you know, 'cause she was a no -- take-no-mess woman, you know? And she lived a very complicated life, because of the fairness of her skin; she passed for White. And she actually had -- lived in the White world 124:00before returning back to the -- to the Black world.
So that -- that complexity of that whole dynamic also contributed to me as aearly childhood development and coming to awareness of who I am and what I am and the whole evolution with my father and the Black consciousness movement and the Civil Rights Movement and the Nation of Islam and Imam W.D. Muhammad and the, the Sunni experience and the Sufi experience and -- it all comes together at this moment in this time, this -- for you to be sitting here, seein' who you seein'. Everything had to be exactly as it was. This is why as Muslims we must 100 percent absolutely believe in the qadar [fate] of Allah, because everything has to be exactly as it was in order for things to be exactly as they are. Had 125:00anything in the 61-year history of my existence in this realm not been as it was, we wouldn't be sitting here right now. So, would I change anything? No. Had to be. And I'm pleased with what is.
And it's a pleasure to have met you and have done this interview. And I lookforward to whatever other projects or any other way I could help. I'm here. Because I have, I have placed myself at the service of the community and at the service of my people, at the service of my family. I'm just here to serve out my time, you know. No one knows in what land they will die or when they will die, and no one knows what they're going to [inaudible] tomorrow, but one thing with 126:00certainty, we know that this is not permanent.
So now it's about legacy. It's about leaving something behind. And I hope fromthis interview that I left something behind, that when people review it and hear it or however it's documented that people benefit from it, you know? And with all the other people that you've interviewed, and we put together a collective moratorium to Islam in Brooklyn. You know. I love Brooklyn -- you know, I really do. I have to. Because if you've lived in as many places as I've been and had the opportunity to be as many places as I could be, the only way that I would be sitting in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn, is if I di-- is if I had to love it. I love it. 127:00I'm Brooklyn through and through, you know. Because I could be -- like, some people, they are where they are because they have to be. I -- I am where I am because I want to be, you know. So when you talk about Brooklyn, you talk about me, you know. Brooklyn proud.
ALI: All right. That sounds like a good note to -- to end on. Is there anythingelse that you--
ABDULLAH: Well, in, in, in, in closing, I want to express my gratitude to youand your organization for allowing me this opportunity to speak and, about my life and being Muslim in Brooklyn. And I offer myself again to any other further projects or anything that I could be involved in, you know. And I would like to 128:00be present at any type of organizational meetings or programs that you have. Count me in.
ALI: All right. Well, thank you very much, Brother Shaikh Rasheed, for sharingyour life story with us. We look forward to putting this in the archives and making it available to people.
ABDULLAH: I'm happy to be -- all praise is due to Allah, the Lord of all the worlds.
Oral History Interview with Abdul Rasheed Abdullah
Abdul Rasheed Abdullah was born in 1952 in Brooklyn. He joined the Nation of Islam and married his wife in the 1970s, and was involved in Muslim communities in both Queens and Brooklyn. In 1984, his son received a scholarship to study in Sudan through the Al-Madrasa Al-Islamiya school in the Sunset Park neighborhood of Brooklyn. The family relocated and Abdullah spent his time in Sudan studying Sufism. After returning to New York, he taught as a licensed Sufi shaikh in a zawiyah in Brooklyn. He also attended Masjid Abdul Muhsi Khalifah and Masjid At-Taqwa, both in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn, and was the head of the Islamic studies department at Masjid Khalifah's Clara Muhammad School.
In this interview, Abdul Rasheed Abdullah discusses his childhood in Brooklyn and Queens, his exposure to the Five Percent Nation as an adolescent, and his embrace of the Nation of Islam while serving an eighteen-month prison sentence. He speaks about his participation in the Nation of Islam-affiliated Muhammad Mosque No. 7B in the Corona neighborhood of Queens and Muhammad Mosque No. 7C in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn; his reaction to Elijah Muhammad's death in 1975; and his subsequent exploration of Masjid At-Taqwa in Bedford-Stuyvesant and Yasin Masjid in the East New York neighborhood of Brooklyn. He expands on studying Sufism in Sudan and teaching as a licensed Sufi shaikh after his return to New York. He also talks at length about his wife's religious convictions and support; his father's embrace of Islam; and his friendship with Imam Siraj Wahhaj (interviewed for this collection on February 19, 2018). 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.
CitationAbdullah, Abdul Rasheed, Oral history interview conducted by Zaheer Ali, March 10, 2018, Muslims in Brooklyn oral histories, 2018.006.07; Brooklyn Historical Society.
- Abdullah, Abdul Rasheed
- Five Percent Nation
- Masjid Abdul Muhsi Khalifah (Brooklyn, New York, N.Y.)
- Masjid At-Taqwa (Brooklyn, New York, N.Y.)
- Muhammad Mosque No. 7B (Queens, New York, N.Y.)
- Muhammad Mosque No. 7C (Brooklyn, New York, N.Y.)
- African American Muslims
- Black Muslims
- Black power
- Islamic religious education
- Muslim converts from Christianity
- Muslim educators
- Muslim families
- Religious education of children
- Bedford-Stuyvesant (New York, N.Y.)
- Brooklyn (New York, N.Y.)
- Corona (New York, N.Y.)
- East New York (New York, N.Y.)
- Queens (New York, N.Y.)
Finding AidMuslims in Brooklyn oral histories