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Oral history interview conducted by Zaheer Ali
June 21, 2018
Call number: 2018.006.22
ALI: I'm Zaheer Ali. I'm the Oral Historian at Brooklyn Historical Society, andthis -- I am here at the home of Idris Conry. It is Thursday, June 21, 2018, and this oral history interview is for the Muslims in Brooklyn project. Now I'd like for you, Idris, to introduce yourself, stating your name, your birthdate, and where you were born.
CONRY: All right. I'm known as Idris Conry. Conry is my family name. Idris isthe name I took when I took shahada. Actually, before I took shahada I took the name Idris. I was born on [date redacted for privacy], 1952, in Brooklyn. I was born on Greene Avenue here in Bed-Stuy, a stone's throw from here, actually, from where we are here on Jefferson, Jefferson Avenue.
ALI: What was your birth name?
CONRY: My birth name was Terry Conry, Terry Louis Conry. Conry was my --1:00actually my, my grandmother's maiden name, my father's mother. His father's name actually was James. He was born in the South. When his mother migrated to Brooklyn, sometime in 1930s, from Georgia, he came up with his -- he was the oldest child, and he had two younger sisters. So it was him and his mother, his two sisters, and they moved into Brownsville. So Conry is my grandmother's maiden name. From what I understand, I was born in the house. A police officer aided in my birth, and his name was Terry. So, so that's how I got my name. Named after the police -- and Louis is my father's first name. So Terry Louis Conry. His name was Louis Conry. He called himself Louis James Conry, because 2:00James, again, was his father, so he kept James as, as his middle name.
ALI: And where, where from the South was your family from?
CONRY: Savannah. Savannah, Georgia.
ALI: And your mom's family -- where was she from?
CONRY: My mom was born in Harlem. She was a Harlemite. She was born at HarlemHospital. Her mother was born in Fredericksburg, Virginia, and she migrated from Fredericksburg. Her and her sisters came up. I understand my mother used to spend some time, some summers, in Fredericksburg with her grandmother. But she's a Harlem, Bed-Stuy-er. In fact, her mother's sister used to live on Jefferson, in the next block. So she migrated between Harlem and Bed-Stuy. In fact, she went to school in Bed-Stuy. She went to St. Peter Claver. Because she spent a lot of time with her aunt here in Brooklyn. I guess she rode the A train a lot. [laughter] Take the A train. 3:00
ALI: So growing up, where in Brooklyn did you live?
CONRY: Well, you know, from my earliest recollections, I lived on Gates. I toldyou I was born on Greene. I think it was like Greene and Stuyvesant somewhere, based on the address, as I remember. But my earliest recollections was Gates Avenue, between Reid and Patchen. That's the first place I remember living, which is still Bed-Stuy. Then, probably around four, when I was four, three or four or so, we moved up to Bushwick, right across Broadway, right on Woodbine Street between Broadway and Bushwick, which bordered Bed-Stuy. That's where I grew up most of my, most of my pre-teen, teen years. I started public school in 1958, when I was six years old.
ALI: Describe what Bushwick was like when you were growing up.
CONRY: The block we lived on, Woodbine Street -- 12 Woodbine -- it was a lot of4:00private houses. It was -- no tenements. Private homes, so different families -- you know, different families. We played in the street, skully and -- you know, and we used to make scooters with the milk crates and the two-by-fours and skates. We spent a lot of time playing games like hot peas and butter, and coco-levio and -- you know --
ALI: So describe -- you named three games that I have, I have -- I've heard ofskully, but what is skully, for people who might not know what that is?
CONRY: Skully, you drew like a square in the street, on the sidewalk. We used todo it in the middle of the street. And -- a big square. Then, within that square, you drew boxes along the -- around the edge of the square, inside edge of the square, with numbers, one, two, three, all the way up to maybe fifteen. Then, directly in the middle of the square, you had another square that was sectioned off in four parts. Usually, we used to use bottle tops. So you had a 5:00starting line, and you had to -- with your fingers, you'd flip the bottle top, and you'd try to get it into the box. And if, if it landed on the line, you missed a turn. So you know, you go from one, then you had to go back across the box, box two, then you go back to four -- to three -- and back and four. You know, at some point, you got pretty proficient at it, in terms of your accuracy. I see they're trying to bring back skully in --
ALI: How did you learn how to play?
CONRY: By, you know, playing with everybody else. Just -- you know. It's reallyjust, just the pressure -- you learn how to flip, flip your bottle top. Some people would weight their bottle top with wax, maybe, so it wasn't so -- you know, it wasn't just -- and these were -- back then, all you had was -- you didn't have plastic bottle tops. We had the little metal, metal bottle tops, and you, you would -- you'd put wax in it, maybe, to make it a little heavier, give 6:00it some weight. The only way you can get -- if you land it -- somebody had to knock you out. Like, somebody had to hit you and knock you out of the box. You could do that, too. That was part of the strategy. If somebody was in a box, you could flick it and hit them and knock them out the box. You know, it was a fun game. We spent a lot of time doing that.
And then, of course, there was the Boys Club. The Bushwick Boys Club that Iattended was on the corner of Gates and Bushwick. Spent a lot of time there. I think you had to be seven years old to join. I think I lied about my age to get in early. Every year, they would say, "Happy birthday." I would say, "It ain't my birthday." [laughter] I thought, oh yeah, it is -- okay, yeah. After school, they had after-school sessions, and then they would break, and then they had a night session, you know start again. They would reopen at seven, something like that, until nine. You know, they had a gymnasium there, and they had the game 7:00room, pool room, ping pong. I spent a lot of time in the game room. I was, I was a pretty good pool player at one time, as a kid. Never got the hang of ping pong. I never -- you know. But pool, that was my game. And I would go in the gym to play stuff like dodgeball and -- you know. But, you know, interestingly, I never got into -- seriously into basketball or -- but I wound up playing basketball in college.
ALI: I was going to ask, because you're fairly tall. What is your height?
CONRY: I'm 6'3". But I played basketball in college, and it's just something --I never played for a team until I got to college. Never. It was on-the-job training. It was -- you know. I was pretty athletic you know. So -- but -- so that -- because I was athletic, and I wasn't necessarily skilled -- because there's three skills in basketball: dribbling, shooting, and passing. But 8:00defense just calls for effort. And I was athletic, and I was -- because I didn't have -- I hadn't perfected the skills yet, I gravitated towards defense, and I became a really good defensive player, because it just calls for effort and hustle and hard work. And pulling rebounds, defense, that was my thing. Then I -- my offensive skills grew as I played, you know. And because of my -- I was like a Dennis Rodman type player. You know. Not the style, just the -- you know. [laughter] I wasn't crazy like him, but that was my game. Everyone want-- all my teammates wanted me on the court, because I was the hard-working guy, you know.
ALI: Let me just fix your -- let me just fix your mic. It's -- oh, I see what'shappening here.
CONRY: I'm pulling it?
ALI: Yeah. Let's get some looseness then. I want you, when you move your hands,to -- it's very sensitive. Okay, we're good. Okay, so tell me, where did you go 9:00to school growing up?
CONRY: I started school at PS 56. It was a little, old, red brick, old school,and that was 1958. I didn't go to kindergarten. I started in the first grade. And they built, they built the school adjacent to it, and that's PS 299. I remember walking over when 299 was finished. We walked over -- I mean -- yeah, when 299 was finished. We lined up and walked from 56 to 299, and then they tore down 56, PS 56, which is on the corner of Bushwick and Madison. And 299 was -- is on Woodbine, which was one block over. Actually, they built a park between the two of them, you know. One side was Bushwick Methodist Church, across the 10:00street from 56, and that's the church we attended when we were children. So that was elementary school, up until the sixth grade, I think.
Then, when I left there, graduated from there, we went to junior high school --I went -- I was sent to 162, because my parents -- we moved in that period. We moved from Bushwick -- from Woodbine, between Broadway and Bushwick, we moved to Gates Avenue, between Wilson and Central, and -- no, no, between Evergreen and Central. And -- so we moved -- changed zones. So they sent me out to a school -- junior high school 162. I had to take a train and a bus. We had a neighborhood school, which was Halsey Junior High, 296. So I went to 162 for one year, then, at some point, they switched me back over to Halsey, which was in walking distance. So I finished Halsey, and then from Halsey, after junior Halsey -- 11:00junior high -- graduating from there, I actually went to a school in Queens, Queens Vocational, which is a few blocks from Aviation High School, Astoria. And I hated that. That was the biggest mistake of my -- one of the biggest mistakes.
ALI: What were you -- was there a particular vocation you were studying there?
CONRY: I was studying secretarial skills or something. They had me takingshorthand. I don't know how I wound up with that as a major. But I wanted to go to Aviation, you know. You know, short-- that stuff used to drive me crazy, shorthand. I never understood it. Then the worst thing they gave me was physics. Was it physics? Yeah, physics, man. That stuff used to drive me crazy. So I transferred out of there the first chance I could. I had to take two trains to get there, and had to get up at seven in the morning to get there by 8:30. The 12:00commute was, was just too much. So I transferred and came to Boys High, you know, which was a short bus ride, you know, to Marcy Avenue. And I had friends in there, playing football. That's when I got introduced to, to my sport. Really to -- got physical. My first year of football, I was the manager. Then after doing that for a year and seeing what it's about, the second year, I played. You know, played football. I graduated -- I was supposed to graduate June 1970, but I was some credits short, so I had to do an extra semester, and I got out -- I graduated February of '71 from Boys High.
ALI: So tell me -- you mentioned church. Tell me what your family's religiousupbringing or background was.
CONRY: My parents, they, they weren't holy rollers like that. It was -- I had13:00three older siblings, and two -- at that point, two younger siblings. For me, when I think in retrospect, it was just a way to get us out the house. [laughter] They, they never went with us. They just -- [inaudible] "Get dressed. Go-- get dressed, go to church" --
ALI: Who did you go with?
CONRY: My older siblings. My siblings, you know. And gave us some money to putin the -- whatever you call it, in the collection box. Which, a lot of times, never made it to the collection box. [laughter]
ALI: Where did it go?
CONRY: It went to the corner store. They had a nice little like -- what did theycall them back then? It wasn't a deli, but it was a soda shop. They used to make old-time cream floats, with the syrup, you know. We used to stop in there. Sometimes we'd put the money in the church. But church became a social thing, 14:00you know. We'd sit -- it was the Methodist church. It wasn't, like, one of those -- it was very solemn and quiet, you know. It had a White minister, and he would preach, and everybody would sit there.
ALI: Were most of the congregants Black?
ALI: But it was a White minister?
CONRY: Yeah, yeah. That's the Methodist -- yeah. And I was in the choir, becauseI always sang. I was a singer. That's what I did as a youth. In my house, we always had some music going. But I developed a very, very good voice.
ALI: How did you come to join the choir?
CONRY: 'Cause that's singing. You know, that's -- you know. I can sing, so Iwind up in the choir. It was social. It was a social thing.
ALI: I mean, did you -- were there friends in the choir? Like, how did you --
CONRY: Yeah, yeah.
ALI: Like, did they say, "You should join the choir" or how did that happen?
CONRY: I think that I just had friends in the choir, and it was just somethingto do, you know. So we had the robes and the -- we sang. Like I said, it wasn't that wh-- you know -- gospel, that type of thing. It was very European type -- 15:00you know.
ALI: So more choral kind of?
CONRY: Yeah. Exactly.
ALI: What did you come away with from your experiences going to church, in termsof ideas about religion and faith?
CONRY: Well, I always had -- remember having questions about -- I neverunderstood trinity. That stuff never penetrated. Three, three, but one. I guess church was a social thing for me, you know. I was young, so -- I stopped going to church as soon as I was able to stop. It wasn't something -- you know, my first girlfriend was a church member, you know. It was social. It was strictly social. It wasn't -- I never got anything in terms -- it never penetrated my heart, the religious part. I knew who Jesus was. You know, Jesus, to me, was the first -- was a picture on the wall that had eyes that followed you all over the place. [laughter] You know, all the Black homes had that, you know, a picture of 16:00White Jesus, you know, with his heart in his hands. Everywhere -- we used to get in a room, move -- "He's looking at me. Look at it."
ALI: Was there one in your home?
CONRY: Yeah, of course. See, my father, my father was, was -- I say he was a --he was a cross -- one of those Black guys who, who -- his religion, the extent of it, was his cross around his neck, the gold cross. You know, and he always had the gold cross on, but he wasn't a church-goer, you know. If you talked to him -- because the same year I took shahada he died. Months after I took shahada he died. We used to, you know, have discussions about, about -- because I found out that I knew more about Jesus than he did. Which is required. As a Muslim, you've got to know something about Jesus, and I learned more about Jesus as a Muslim than I did as Christian, you know. But of course, what we learned was different, you know, that he wasn't -- you know, he wasn't God, he was a 17:00prophet, you know. I remember sitting in -- I wouldn't say arguing with him, but, you know, trying to convince him that -- but he, he wouldn't let go of that. You know, he was, he was sick, and I guess, at this point in his life, he figured, you know, he was going to go to his grave with, you know, what his ancestors -- what was passed on down to him. But I tried to reach him and talk to him about, about religion. You know. He was a drinker. That was -- for that generation -- he was born in 1926. For that generation, alcohol was their drug. It was illegal -- it was legal. I can understand why they made alcohol -- alcohol played a very serious role in American history, even with the Native Americans. In my little counseling I did, I took a session in drug counseling, 18:00and understand why alcohol. Why not, why not some other drug. Alcohol puts you in a stupor. It makes you numb to your reality. So, you know. Back then, in the '50s, there was -- they had what they called a bar culture, which is being reborn here in Bed-Stuy. There's bars all over the place. But coming up in the '50s -- in the '40s and '50s -- there was a bar -- there's two or three bars on the block, and everybody had their own watering spot, you know. On the way home from work, you stopped at your watering spot, you get a few shots of liquor, and then you might make it home. On payday, the bars -- you know, the good times roll. The bars are open, the money was flowing, you know. My father -- I don't know if he was much of a bar guy, but he, he -- on the weekends, when he got paid, on Thursdays, he always made sure he had his scotch. You know, he's a pretty private guy. He was playing his Ray Charles or his Jimmy Smith. Those 19:00were, those were the fun times, you know, because he worked so hard that he wasn't much fun during the week, but on the weekends, when he was able to relax, my father was not a bad guy to be around. He was a longshoreman. He was a laborer. He toted the barge and lift the bale.
ALI: Where did he work?
CONRY: He was a longshoreman. He worked on the docks, you know, unloading shipsand -- this is before the containers. Now they have the containers.
ALI: Did he work in the Navy Yard or --
CONRY: No, he worked Downtown Brooklyn --
ALI: Okay, okay.
Conry: -- along the docks, for the most part. You know, it was hard work,because they didn't have the containers back then. When the ships came in, they had -- the stuff came in, like, on flats, on bales, and they had -- my father had these gaffle hooks. They used to hook the gaffle and lift. You know, that's how they, that's how they, they unloaded the ships. The cranes would pull the 20:00stuff out of the hole and put it on the dock, and then the men would, you know, transport the goods to wherever the store -- the holding place is, the warehouses, on the, on the docks. He was big, strong -- big, strong guy. I mean, muscle. We used to hang from his muscles. He was about six feet. But he was very muscular. He had a heart attack very early. Maybe before he was 40, he had a heart attack, because the life was hard. The drinking, the work. He became just a mere shadow of himself after he got the heart attack. He tried to go back to work, but he couldn't. He couldn't do that work anymore. He stayed on the docks working, maybe doing some office work for a while, but then he -- at some point, he started driving a gypsy cab. But he was getting disability, Social Security, 21:00you know.
I, you know, I was the fourth. When my mother met my father, she had threechildren from a previous relationship. I was my father's first child. Growing up, I didn't know they were my half-brothers. We were all together. But as I got older, I realized that, you know, they were Sandys. Their last name was Sandy, and my last name was Conry. My older brother, Dennis, he was always angry. He was a bully. I got a few beat-ups from him. I didn't know why he was so angry. He probably didn't have a relationship with his father, and, and -- you know. He was violent, he was angry. He was -- I tried to avoid him as much as I could 22:00[laughter]. But even though he would beat me -- might beat me up or -- but he wouldn't allow nobody else to beat me up. [laughter] Like in the neighborhood, people would go, "That's Dennis' brother, man." I called him one time -- a guy, this bully -- I'll never forget. I told my brother. The bully was my, you know, my age, my -- he was a couple years younger than Dennis, like I was. And Dennis beat the guy up. I said, "Okay, that's enough. Stop." Then he wanted to beat me up for telling him to stop, [laughter] you know. So I never called him on -- you know. I never had too much of a problem, though, because everybody knew I was Dennis's younger brother.
He was a very good basketball player, very aggressive. He died in 2000. He -- hewound up getting drafted. He went to Vietnam. I was lucky. I was 14, and I got 23:00-- I was old enough, at some point, when I turned 18 in 1970 -- the Vietnam War, so it was still going on, but I was a student, you know. Because my three older siblings all dropped out of high school. I had that option. I could have dropped out, because my parents didn't really put a lot of pressure. The only books in my house were textbooks from school. We didn't have like a library in my house. The pastime in my house was TV and music. You know, I gravitated toward the music pretty much. Like I said, I was a singer. I sang you know.
ALI: What kind of music were you listening to?
CONRY: R&B, Motown. I consider myself a Motown -- a child of Motown, you know. Iwasn't into doo-wop. I came around at the end of doo-wop, and I really didn't like doo-wop at all. The only doo-wop singers that I thought that really sang was, like, Frankie Lymon. You know, Teenagers -- Frankie was -- he could sing. But those others cats, a lot of those others cats, you know -- of course, some 24:00people consider Little Anthony and the Imperials a doo-wop group. They're out of Brooklyn, Fort Greene. He went -- the lead singer, Little Anthony, he went to Boys High, too. He was older than me. But I can -- I really think Motown was really -- and I loved the Temptations. Anything Temptations, it's like -- and I can sing you a song. Motown, really, the music was rich. The instrument-- because the doo-wop didn't have a lot of rich instrumental. It was all pretty much a lot of a cappella. But the Motown came with the Motown sound, you know, that rich, rich sound, and I just fell in love with it.
ALI: During the period that you were growing up, the 1960s, was very --
CONRY: It was volatile, man. So much stuff happening, man.
ALI: So tell me what, what do you remember, you know, experiencing or thinkingabout happening -- 'cause, say, in, in New York, there were school strikes, you 25:00know --
CONRY: Yeah, yeah, I remember that. Boys High had a school strike.
ALI: Did you participate?
ALI: Did you like -- well, tell me about that experience.
CONRY: I was -- that was when I first got into the high. They had that, thatwhole summer -- they had the protests for school control, taking over control -- you know, it started here at the school where I taught, 271 right there, Ocean Hill-Brownsville. I wound up teaching there in the '90s. But that's where it started. Strike where they tried to get community control of schools. Les Campbell, or Jitu Weusi, was a, was a leader, him and Vann -- Al Vann, who wound up being the congressman. Because right across the street, there used to be Uhuru Sasa [Shule]. In fact, Idris -- my son's first year of school, was Uhuru Sasa. It was started by Les Campbell, Jitu Weusi, as an alternative to public school. That summer when I -- 'cause I started February '68 in Boys High, but 26:00that first summer, the teachers didn't come back to work. And so we -- there was a strike, the teachers strike. We used to go in. The school was open. Some teachers that were dedicated came in, you know. We used to go in. I remember we attended a big meeting at a church right on Marcy Avenue, Marcy and Jefferson, right on the corner of Marcy and Jefferson. So the teachers struck. But we, as students, we -- some of us were going to school, and we, you know, we -- it was a good time, I remember.
I joined the glee club at that point. There was a teacher who came in, whodefied the strike, Mr. Jacobson. He had the glee club. I joined the glee club. That's when -- it wasn't -- all students didn't come back, but some of us did. It was from the glee club that I wound up -- he recommended that I go to -- we 27:00had a choral group in Boys High, called the Melodias. I became a member of the Melodias as a recommendation from Mr. Jacobson. Boys High -- had a lot of good times in Boys High, you know. You hear stories, before I went, "Oh, man, Boys High you know. It's rough." That's when I learned that you can't believe all the stories you hear. I had so much fun in Boys High School. It was, it was -- the camaraderie, you know. No girls to cause distractions or cause fights. It was -- you know. And the sports were, like, great. We had one of the best basketball teams in the country at that point. The football team, before I got there, had just won the city championship. That team was in -- the football team was in transition. We had just got a new coach.
It was a lot of good times in Boys High School. There were other -- this is --28:00at some point, they decided they'd just close all the colored schools. They made all the colored schools -- you know. They made the Boys and Girls High School, even -- all throughout the system, you know. But yeah, my school experience in Boys High, it was always -- I was always social. I think that's what kept me going to school. Like I said, my three older siblings dropped out. If I wanted to stop going to school, I could have. I would have had no problem from my parents.
ALI: So you graduated in '71?
CONRY: From Boys High.
ALI: From Boys High.
CONRY: February of '71, yeah.
ALI: And then you started college that fall? Or --
CONRY: I was out. In February -- yes, September, I went down to -- September'71, I had some friends that had gone to Shaw University in North Carolina, so I decided -- because I wanted to get -- I wanted to continue playing football, you 29:00know. So I went down to Shaw in North, North Carolina, that, that fall. After being inactive since that football -- that -- the previous football year in Boys High, I hadn't done anything. So I graduated in '70 -- '71 -- winter of '71, February '71 -- and that whole February -- January, February, March, April, May, June, July, August, September, I was, like, really, you know, inactive. So when I got down to Shaw, man, I was out of shape, and I went down to play football. We got up -- they got us up, like, pre-dawn. [laughter] You know, the freshmen. We went back like a week early, before the students -- you know. Because I left in August to go down to Shaw. And they wake us up at five in the morning, and we 30:00walked through the dark to a practice field that they had, which was just like an open clearing. It wasn't even a field. And then the grass is wet with dew. And I didn't have any cleats. I had sneakers. So I was the receiver, and I'm running -- trying to run patterns on wet grass in sneakers. [laughter] I'm slipping and sliding.
ALI: Lots of falling going on. [laughter]
CONRY: Yeah, it's like -- and you know, that same day, the coach, he cut me. SoI went in the coach's office. I said, "How you cut me, man? I-- I've got no cleats. You're running -- you've got me running patterns in the wet grass." And I think that's what he -- he -- he -- he put me back on the team. I think that's what he -- had I just quit and just gave up, he probably -- but the fact that I went in and -- so he said okay. So I got some cleats, and I wound up staying 31:00with the team. And when the upperclassmen came back, we used to practice in the morning, and take a break for lunch, and then at some point later on, we'd go to another -- we'd practice two times a day. And we were in the lunch room, having lunch one day, and I told you I was out of shape. So my, my thighs -- I was tearing my hamstrings, you know, because when you go from a standstill position to like running -- like anybody running track has muscles -- hamstring problems. And I was just tearing my muscles, man. I was, I was almost crippled, man, trying to, trying to keep it together. My coach said, "You know, your problem is you're out of shape." I said, "Yeah, you're right." You know. I was working -- I was struggling through that, you know. But he kept me on the team. Because one thing I'll do, I'll catch the ball. You know. I knew how to catch. I knew how to run the pattern, I knew how to catch.
And then the -- made even worse, when the upperclassmen started trickling backin, we had a guy who wound up playing for the NFL. He's a defensive back. Van 32:00Green was his name. He wound up -- I think he got drafted by the, by the Packers. No, Cleveland Browns, he got drafted. He was a senior. He come back. He walks in the lunchroom, and all the -- "Yo, Van!" He's like the star of the team. "Van Green!" We were looking. We were freshmen. So I'm walking to the condiment table to get something. "Yo, rookie. Crawl onto the table and bring me some sauce." [laughter] I was like, wait a minute, man. You know, they always hazed the, the -- you know. So I look and I said, like -- I knew he was some big, you know -- I said, "Why you going to make me -- try, try to make me do something like that?" Coach said, "Van Green, leave him alone." He said, "All right, go ahead, man." But because I stood up to him, it kind of like -- he kind of, like, took me under his wing and -- you know. And I used to have to run 33:00patterns against him. He always tried to tear my head off, man, in -- whenever I run, you know, run patterns against him. I had some close calls with that guy. He was crazy. [laughter] He was a headhunter, you know. In fact, he knocked himself out a few times when the season started, because he, he was the type of defensive back that used to like to come up and tackle the runner and stick his head in everything. He had some pinched nerve problems. But he was, he was lethal, you know.
But I made it to the last practice before the season started, and he cut me. Hekept -- you know what, it wasn't long before I realized about the culture down South and these historical Black colleges. The kid he chose to keep was a kid from Florida. Most of the guys from the team were from Florida. Van Green was from Florida. You know. Like, most of the football players were from Florida. 34:00Most of the band members were from Virginia, because Virginia has a very -- every -- almost all the kids back then played instruments, you know, at Virginia high school. That's -- I don't know if it's still like that. But he opted to keep a kid from Florida, who caught maybe one pass the whole year.
ALI: Now, was this your first time South?
CONRY: Yeah. Well, no, it wasn't my first time South. In 1959, when I was sevenyears old, my father took me to Savannah, and that's the only time I met his father. We stayed down there for a week. That's the only time I've ever met his father. His father was a double-amputee, and he was bedridden, you know. We had a lot of fun. Me and my brothers -- three of my brothers went with me. Like I said, I was seven, 1959. I'll never forget getting out of the car -- we were driving down -- at a gas station and running to the bathroom. You know, my father -- "Where you all going? This ain't New York." You know, because they had 35:00the Black-only bathrooms. But I had a good time, and that was a good time. That was definitely my first time going South. I'll never forget that ride. And I was trying to -- you know, some years later, I was trying to wonder, what year was that? How old was I? And one thing that helped me remember that is I remember, you know, back then, the cars didn't have CDs, they didn't have -- all you had was the radio. The song that played almost all the way down, the hit song on the radio, was -- it was -- the song was called -- "Well, you've got personality / Walk, personality / Talk, person--" that was -- who was that? That was -- trying to think of the, the artist's name. But that was the hit song that I heard, I remember. It came out that summer, 1959, "Personality." Lloyd, Lloyd Price is the artist's name. And that's how I remember the year, you know, that -- and 36:00some years, some years later, so maybe about 15 years ago -- I don't know, between 10, 15 years ago -- I went back. I always wanted to go back. I drove down with my wife and my two daughters, back to Savannah, and stayed down there for about a week. You know, it was nice. I visited my grandfather's grave, you know, and the house that I stayed in. I always had the memories, and I just had to get back down there. That was a good trip.
ALI: Then do you -- did you go back South between that trip and going to, to college?
CONRY: Um, between -- no. I think that was probably the second time I went South.
ALI: What -- so you were older, obviously, by that time, and able to -- wasthere any kind of cultural adaptation you had to do going from New York to North Carolina?
CONRY: Well, we stayed on campus, you know. I got to meet --37:00
ALI: And Shaw was a historically Black college.
CONRY: Yes, historically Black. One of the -- as a matter of fact, it's one of-- I think Shaw was open 1860 -- one of the first -- they consider Shaw, like, the mother. I didn't know that back then. I discovered it --
ALI: And a lot of the organizers of SNCC [Student Nonviolence CoordinatingCommittee], I think, was one of the first --
CONRY: Yeah, in Shaw.
ALI: Shaw -- they came out of Shaw, yeah.
CONRY: Yeah, came out of Shaw. Yeah. You know --
ALI: So by the time you get there, so about 10 years after SNCC came out ofthere, the students -- did you sense any kind of student activism, or were you just, like, into the football thing?
CONRY: Yeah, I was into the football -- you know, it wasn't -- when I got therein '71 -- '72 -- that was seventy-- yeah, September '71. Yeah, when I got there, that whole SNCC thing, it really wasn't -- it wasn't a whole lot of activism going on.
ALI: What about anti-war? Was there anti-war --?
CONRY: No. I don't remem-- no.
ALI: Okay. So you come -- you're come -- tell me how you get back to New York38:00when you --
CONRY: Well, I stayed there one semester, and I didn't have -- I went on apromissory note, because I didn't have tuition. They didn't give me a scholarship as of yet. Because, you know, had I went back, the coach, after he picked this guy from Florida who couldn't catch, he asked me, "Conry, you going to be my receiver next year, right?" I said, "Yeah, coach." You know. And had I went back, you know, I probably would have played football. But when I came home for that -- came home -- I think I mentioned, I came home that December for Christmas break, and I never made it back. My son was born. He was born December 18th.
ALI: Now, when you went, did -- when you went to college, when you went down toShaw, did you -- you knew -- did you know that you were expect-- that you were going to be a father?
CONRY: Yeah. Oh, yeah. Yeah. My wife, my wife and I -- marrying her was like39:00marrying my cousin. We lived in the same building. She lived on the third floor, I lived on the second floor. And I knew her older sister a long time before I met her, because her older sister and my older sister were, you know, schoolyard -- school, schoolgirl friends. Like, they -- her older sister was in my house probably more than she was home, you know. But I never met her until I was in high school, a teenager. And then the fate was sealed when her mother and my mother were bingo friends and they wound up moving into the same building, [laughter] so. My sister actually called herself matchmaker, and she introduced me to my wife. That's before we moved into the same building. We called ourselves going together for a minute, and then we broke up. I was moving on, and then when we moved -- when our parents moved into the same building, like I said, that kind of like -- so I knew, you know, I knew her, her family, you know. Her older brother was like a good friend of mine. Like I said, it was like 40:00marrying my cousin. There were no surprises, no secrets. She was really like a childhood sweetheart, you know. We wound up -- she got pregnant. She was probably about 16th, and I was 18. Yeah, and that's -- I went to school. She was pregnant. I came back. She had the baby, you know. So I wound up staying.
I got a job -- first I got a job and I wound up in John Jay College. I got a jobin the jail downtown, Brooklyn House of Detention, as a correction aide. They sent us to school, John Jay, two days a week, and we worked three days a week. That's how I wound up in John Jay. I started playing basketball. They didn't have a basketball team before I got there. They had a basketball club. John Jay is one of the newer of the CUNY [City University of New York] system. They didn't even have a building. They had rented space on Park Avenue South, and 41:00that's where our classes were. We used to practice in the elementary school, somewhere on 21st Street, near the police academy, somewhere over there. The first year I was there, when they converted from a basketball -- they hired a coach. They went from a club to a team. So I actually played on John Jay's first inaugural basketball team. I was -- I was one of the founding fathers of John Jay basketball. I played for them for four years. At some point, they acquired the property on 59th Street, and we had our own gym on 56th Street and 10th Avenue.
Nowadays, you know, they, they wanted -- because they get money from secretservice, fire department. They get money from the police department. They're so financially set, you know. The main thing was law. They were set up for working 42:00people, so they had a lot of people, firemen, studying fire science, and police, police science. But I wasn't really interested in that stuff, so I wound up majoring in African American studies, and my minor was psychology. We had a really good -- you know, had -- I took courses like Black Sociology, Black Psychology. We had a really good Black Psychology teacher, Mr. Bruce Pierce. Everybody -- he's one of those guys, everybody wanted to be in his class. Everybody wanted to take Mr. Bruce Pierce's course. I learned a lot about Black psychology, you know, thinking processes, and our issues, our problems, sociology, you know. So that was my degree. My degree was in African American studies. Minor in psychology, because I took several courses in psychology. And 43:00I wind up baking. [laughter]
ALI: But a very particular kind of bakery, which we'll, we'll talk about. Sotell me -- so we're in the early '70s now -- what, what was your first encounter with Islam? You know, what had you known about Islam before your first encounter with it? Like, what were your -- what did you know about Islam?
CONRY: I didn't know anything about Islam. My mother separated from my father,probably when I was about 14. That, that was -- you know. My father was a big, heavy drinker, and my mother wasn't. That -- I think, in retrospect, that my mother just waited until we got old enough, then she said, "Nah, I can't do this no more." When she left my father -- she figured that she had had enough, because my father, when he got drunk, he, you know, he was a character. He could 44:00be intolerable sometimes, you know. She married a Muslim. That was my first -- I didn't know anything about Islam. His name was Salahuddin. And he had his friends. His friends would come over, you know, to the house.
ALI: How old were you when --
CONRY: I was a young teenager, 'bout 14th, you know. Fifteen. When my mothermoved into a separate apartment -- I told you, the building we had, me and my wife -- wound up me and my wife lived on -- she moved on the second floor, and my wife's family moved on the third floor. You know, the Muslims were always in the house. You know, it was a -- that apartment had two entrances. You had the back -- the front. When you come upstairs, there's a door. Then you walk around 45:00the kitchen, and then you walk through the house to the doors in front of the house, and you have a door to the front of the house. But the Muslims were always in the front, you know, and me and my friends, we were always in the back, you know.
Yeah, my mother had -- it was a lot of boys. The oldest was a girl, Deborah, butthe rest after that was all boys. During that period, there was a lot of drug use. Heroin was probably the most feared and most detrimental. But my mother kind of like took the position, instead of y'all doing stuff outside, she allowed us -- you know, like smoking -- doing that type of stuff -- in, in the house, so that she could keep, you know, track of us and keep -- make sure, you know -- so we wouldn't have to be in the street doing that stuff. So we -- me and my friends, we had the music in the back, you know, the reefer, you know. And the way I started baking, really, is the munchies. [laughter] 46:00
You know, I went to the Muhammad Ali/Frazier, the first fight. They fought inMadison Square Garden. I went to a closed circuit right there on Broadway, Broadway, Lower East Broadway, right there on -- it was on Broadway between Gates and, and Linden. That's where I went to see the fight. A friend took me. And we bought the program, you know. In the program, they had a page for Ali, they had a page for Frazier. You know, arm length, weight, height. You know, fighting record, favorite food, favorite dessert. Ali's favorite dessert was apple cake that his aunt cooked for him. It's called apple cake à la Ali, and it had the recipe, and I used to bake that cake. My friends -- "Oh, man, bake that cake, Idris, man." [laughter] It's good. It's really just a butter cake, 47:00and you layer it with apples. You put the cinnamon and sugar on top, a little butter, and then you just let it bake. When it bakes, the apples, like, sink down in the cake. It was good, you know. And I used to have to bake that cake at least once a week. [laughter]
That's when I got the knack for baking, man, you know. I'd see a recipe, and I'dsay, wow, this -- my brother went to cooking school, and he got a cheesecake recipe. He went to like an adult thing. And he likes to cook. He's always been -- he's worked in several restaurants. And I had that cheesecake recipe, and when I started teaching in, in the '90s, I used to make cheesecakes, and I used to sell them to my coworkers. I couldn't go -- from September to June, I couldn't come to work unless I had a crate of cheesecakes, every day. I mean -- 48:00it just like -- I'm like, wow, you mean to tell me these people -- teachers would come knocking on my door during my lessons for cheesecake. The principal said, "You can sell to your coworkers, but you can't sell to the students, because if they get sick, it's going to be a problem." The students would call me Mr. Cheesecake. Like I said, five days a week, from September -- 10 months. And I said, wow, this is crazy.
When I got off that, that -- you know, they say the best thing about teaching isJuly and August. You get off with pay, you know. I went and bought an oven, man. I went to an auction, got a convection oven. And I didn't even think about, about it fitting in the house. I got it home. [laughter] It wouldn't fit through the door, man. I had to tear out the doorframe, like three doors, to get it in the kitchen. So I had to -- the guy on the truck to just leave it in the front yard. I started that summer, man. I started baking and finding customers. I had 49:00a place called the Rib Shack out in Queens. You know, that, that took me -- that was -- you know, that road was long. I wound up baking in Long Island. Until the, until the chance came in 2001 to open this bakery on Fulton Street.
ALI: Okay, but before we get there -- because we will -- so your, your firstencounter with Islam was through your --
CONRY: Through -- yeah, right. We got off way --
ALI: Through your mom's remarriage.
CONRY: Yeah, we got off -- yeah, my mom's remarriage.
ALI: Now, did you -- were there any changes in the rules of your household, orin the food, or the practices or anything in, in the household that reflected that?
CONRY: I had stopped eating pork before I became Muslim. My father was a bigpork eater. Chitlins. I mean, the whole thing. My mother wasn't into that. He's the one -- when we had chitlins, he's the one that cooked it, you know. I'll 50:00never forget, he cooked chitlins one day. He was drunk. My mother had some ammonia on the counter, and he thought he was putting vinegar in. [laughter] He got mad at my mother. [inaudible] He had to throw the whole --
ALI: Oh, no, that -- you know --
CONRY: He had to throw the whole pot out.
ALI: Knowing what chitlins are, ammonia was probably [laughter] --
ALI: I said, knowing what chitlins are, ammonia was probably not a bad[laughter] thing to add. Not edible, but you know.
CONRY: He threw the whole pot out. He had to start all over again. He was mad.But yeah. I mean, yeah, I had stopped eating pork. Because, I mean, before I became Muslim, I was, I was leaning towards -- some of my friends were into, like, Black nationalist type thing. So, you know, I, long before I became Muslim, stopped eating pork, and I got instant benefit from it, because -- you know, growing up, I thought headaches were something that's normal. We always had aspirins in the house. Somebody always had a headache. I mean, always. I 51:00just thought it was something that humans lived with, headaches. As soon as I stopped eating pork, the headaches stopped, almost instantly. You know, no more headaches.
So I, you know, I had -- and actually, I took the name Idris before I tookshahada, because I had a friend who was heavy into jazz, you know, named Harry Hood. He wound up committing suicide, because he went to Vietnam. He came back, he was never the same. He was -- but he was heavy into jazz, and one day we went to his house, and he said, "Man, you should -- Terry, you should -- T" -- they used to call me T -- "you should take this name," you know. Said, "What name?" "Idris." He's a jazz drummer, Idris Muhammad, you know. He said, "You should take this. It's nice." So I -- as he suggested, I took the name Idris, you know. That's before -- like I said, that's before I took -- actually took shahada. And the brother, I told you, that went to Shaw, you know, before I did, he was a 52:00close friend. Like I said, they were into Afro-centric type stuff. I had cut pork already. So that was never -- I mean, that was probably the major thing. My mother took, you know, took shahada and married a Muslim. There was always no pork in the house, you know. We weren't eating pork.
Other than that, I mean, you know -- being, you know -- my stepfather, he cameinto a house with all these boys, teenage boys, he kind of like -- he couldn't be too, you know, posing, you know, because you're dealing with -- I guess, thinking in retrospect, would I marry a woman with six sons? [laughter] Teenage -- teenagers, not young boys. It took a lot of heart on his part, you know. So he didn't really come in trying to impose, you know, too much on us. Like I said, the Muslims stayed in the front of the house, and we stayed in the back, you know.
ALI: So how did you -- tell me about your -- how did you get to the point where53:00you embraced --
CONRY: After many years of being around Muslims, I was, I was social, so I, Isocialized with the Muslims in the front and my friends in the back. I never had problems with-- you know. They were all nice, you know, nice brothers. But at some point, one of them gave me a book. Not a big book. A book about the Prophet Muhammad. So a little -- I wouldn't say a pamphlet. It was bigger than a pamphlet. But it was maybe about 50 pages -- 35, 40 pages. And I read it. This was when I was in college. I was -- my junior year, maybe. Seventy-six -- yeah. I graduated '77. So I read the pamphlet, and I was really impressed by, by what I read, and the stories that I read about, and the type of person he was. And I 54:00said, man, I said -- I mean he just appealed to me. Because, you know, my nature was -- as a young kid, I was bashful. I didn't talk a lot. I was shy, you know. Kind of humble nature. You know they tell you dur-- they tell you, in the real world, those are all weaknesses, you know. But when I read about him, I found that they were strengths. They were, they were good qualities. And so my logic, my thinking was, all right, to be a Muslim, you have to believe in one God. I said, okay, that's easy. Because I told you, that trinity stuff never affected me, never. So to believe in one god, and to believe that this man here is a prophet, I said, I must be ready to become a Muslim. You know. That was my thinking process.
So the brother who gave me the book, Brother Jameel Abdullah I told him,55:00"Listen, I believe in one god, and I believe that he's a prophet, from what I read. So, you know, I'm ready to take shahada." That was, that was -- you know. You know, it wasn't from the example of Muslims that I knew. They were doing some things, some of the same things we were doing in the back. [laughter] You know, so I mean it wasn't that they weren't nice guys, but I mean, I didn't see -- you know. But when I read about Muhammad, salla Allahu alayhi wa sallam, I said, okay. And that was my thought process. That was 1976, early 1976. Because of my father -- it happened before my father died.
And I used to sing. I told you I used to sing. I was in the singing group, theShades of Sound. Actually, the guy who pulled me in the group, we went to Boys -- he transferred from Canarsie to Boys High, and he had a group with his brother and his girlfriend and her sister. So it was those four. They all came out of Canarsie High School -- Canarsie. They lived in Canarsie, and he 56:00transferred to Boys High. His name was Clyde, Clyde Hall. He used to see me sing with the Melodias, so he, he recruited me to sing with the group, you know, when we were in high school together. That spring, after I took shahada, we had just did a show at the Apollo, and we were preparing for a college tour. We rehearsed on a Sunday. Our piano player we rehearsed with lived in Harlem, the East Side, a hundred-something street -- lower hundreds, 103rd, something like that. We went up that Saturday to rehearse with him, preparing for a college tour, and I wasn't feeling well. My back -- I had a pain in my back. I didn't know where it came from. I just woke up, and it just -- straining, like, oh, man. I didn't 57:00even want to go to rehearsal, but I went up.
So we rehearsed, and we came back that Saturday night, that Saturday evening,and the two -- I told you the two, Clyde and Yvonne -- they were girlfriend and boyfriend. They weren't married, but they had a child together. So they dropped me -- they were living together. They dropped me off.
ALI: These are your -- in the music group --
CONRY: People I sing with, yeah. They dropped me off at the house, because Iwasn't feeling well, and then the sister -- I told you there were two sisters. They took the other sister up to Canarsie, dropped her off. Then they went home, and they were going to a party in Queens that night. I was new shahada. I probably -- I might have went with them had I felt all right, but I said, "No, man, just take me home." We fully rehearsed that Sunday morning. Said, "Okay, see you in the morning." Okay. After me and my wife had moved out to East Flatbush, because we moved from Bushwick -- that was our first apartment, on Kings Highway, we lived. And they dropped me off. 58:00
That morning, I got the call. I wake up. We were supposed to rehearse again thatmorning. The call was -- the one girl that lived in Canarsie, Drucilla she called me, she said -- she was crying. "Clyde and Yvonne are dead." Killed in a car crash on the way home from the party that morning, on Kings Highway -- no, Linden Boulevard. This is before Linden Boulevard -- they have dividers now. This was before they had dividers. The guy going out to Queens, headed east, fell asleep behind the wheel, and he drifted over into the westbound lane, and head-on collision, boom. That's -- like I said, I had just taken shahada. I was Muslim at that point. So they were killed instantly. That kind of, like, changed my direction from the music. You know. Instantly, just like that. Clyde and 59:00Yvonne are dead. That's when I -- it struck me when Allah said don't say you'll do something tomorrow without saying inshallah. Because when they dropped me off, they said, "See you tomorrow. See you in the morning." "Yeah, okay." None of us said inshallah. You know. So that took my direction -- changed my direction from the music.
And then, in May, my grandmother, who -- my father's mother, who I was her -- Iwas my father's first child, so she always doted on me. I was -- grandma was like my go-to. You know, if I ever needed something, my parents -- I'd go to grandma. I was her favorite grandchild, being my father's first son, you know. And she died, on a Thursday. We had a funeral on that Monday. My brother came 60:00up. He was in school at that time, Umar. He was in Atlanta, Morris Brown [College], playing football. He came up for the funeral Monday, and then after the funeral, he headed back down to Morris Brown. The next Thursday, that seven days later, my father died. Right after his mother died, he died. Same process. He died on a Thursday, we buried him Monday. My brother had to come back up from Atlanta to bury him. He's -- yeah, he did -- in the military, so he's buried out in Long Island Memorial Cemetery, the military cemetery.
So that's four people within the matter of four months -- the two people in thesinging group, my grandmother, my father -- that Allah took back. That kind of, like, changed my whole -- I said, okay, I guess Allah was testing me. It was a test for me. You know. You know, at that point, you know, I was, you know, I was 61:00Muslim, you know. Was that '76? I really wasn't attached to any community at that point.
ALI: Now, had you -- in making your decision, had you talked to your wife? Imean, did you prepare your family, or you just -- this was something that you needed to do for you, or --
CONRY: At that point, it was only me, her, and my oldest son, Idris. Idris wasstill young. He was born in '71, so this was like '76. He was like five years old. You know. You know, the reality -- my wife took shahada before I did, to tell you the truth. She took shahada when we were still living in Bushwick, on Woodbine. She took it, you know, and she changed her dress and stuff, but at some point, she kind of, like, stopped practicing. So when I came along later on and took shahada, you know --
ALI: How much earlier was that?62:00
CONRY: I would say maybe a year or two, a couple years.
ALI: And did you ever talk with her about it? Did she ever tell you --
CONRY: That's before we were -- that's before we were -- that's before Idris wasborn. Yeah, that's -- I'm -- yeah, that's before Idris was born. She took it as a -- she was young. Idris was born in '71. I took shahada -- that's five years. So that was, that was at least five years, you know, before we, before we -- we were like -- I was still -- at that point, I was liking her, and you know, there was nothing going on between us. But she actually took shahada before I did.
ALI: And did she ever talk to you about it then?
CONRY: No. I mean -- you know, what happened, there was a guy, a Muslim guy fromthe Yasin community, who used to have an ice cream truck. Real nice brother. And, and, and he used to tabligh her, in terms of telling her about Islam. Okay. 63:00And she -- at some point, she wanted to be a Muslim, and she took shahada, you know. I was -- I remember being kind of jealous, you know, concerned about that, you know. Not angry, but, you know, concerned.
ALI: Why? How --
CONRY: Because I kind of like -- I knew enough about Islam back then to knowthat Muslims had more than one wife, and you know, stuff like that. But like I said, she, she took shahada, and she started dressing -- she started wearing khimar and she started -- but it never went no further than that. You know, just -- and at some point, she kind of, like, changed her mind about it, I guess, you know. And then when I took shahada in '76, it wasn't difficult to get to, you know, to transition and come back, you know, start practicing, you know. 64:00
ALI: So tell me the -- your search for a home community. What were the differentmasjids or communities you, you were going to --
CONRY: I knew Yasin wasn't going to be the place. Like I said, there wasn't awhole lot of choices, because Ikhwa at that point, Masjid [Al]-Ikhwa on Eastern Parkway -- we call it Yasin -- I moved into that area, because that's on Utica and Eastern Parkway. So I was living over there. Now, how I wound up going over there for jummah, I'm not sure. Maybe it was the closest masjid, you know, when I moved over -- when we lived over there. And like I said, after hearing Khalid Yasin speak, you know -- Khalid has a way about him. He's very -- he's a friendly brother, very open. You know, very friendly. I mean -- he has a very kind, open personality. But his speaking was dynamic, you know. And very progressive. Very progressive in his -- very ambitious. But he always wanted 65:00good stuff for -- he wanted, he wanted to -- in his mind, he thinks Islam and Muslims should have everything that the non-Muslims have. He wanted community. He wanted school. He wanted camp for the kids. He wanted -- you know.
He's a very -- what he lacked was patience, you know. He just went after, youknow, whatever it is, the things he wanted for the Muslims, you know. Very aggressive. Micro-manager. Like I -- I think I mentioned -- when I think in retrospect of that whole period, he burnt himself out, because no person -- no one person can just run a community like that, unless you have good people that you can rely on and you can delegate. Even when he delegated, he was right there, you know, trying to, trying to control it, and hands-on, you know. 66:00Because, you know -- I don't know how much you know about Marcus Garvey, the story -- his story. Marcus Garvey achieved a lot of great things in his lifetime, but his drawback was that, because he didn't have a lot of expertise, and the people around him didn't have a lot of expertise, he had to depend on people who weren't qualified to do very important things. And what they say about him is that he -- the only thing that really mattered to him was loyalty. You know. If you were loyal, he'll put you -- he'd put you in charge, in charge of the bank. You know, you better know how to count. [laughter] But he -- his number one thing was loyalty, and he was, from the words of one of his followers -- I saw a documentary that said that Marcus Garvey was a supreme egotist. You know, so his ego was, like, real strong, which is not necessarily a good thing, 67:00you know.
ALI: So give me a sense of what the, the landscape was like for the Muslimcommunities. What were the different -- including the places that you had gone to --
CONRY: I took shahada -- Tablighi, the brothers that I'm affiliated with --involved with, Tablighi Jamaat, which -- everything was coming out of State Street. At one point, State Street was the only mosque in Brooklyn. That was the first mosque, under Shaikh Daoud Faisal. So everybody who had been Muslim for any length of time came through State Street. But it wasn't, it wasn't the community. It was just, you know -- back then, the brothers -- we made jummah at State Street, and everybody couldn't even fit. It was -- I don't know if you've ever been in State Street. It's not a big space.
ALI: So tell me what is -- for people who don't know, what is Tablighi?
CONRY: Tablighi Jamaat, it's pretty much come out of Pakistan, you know, out ofthat region. What they do, the Tablighi, they go out -- it's not Dawah. See, 68:00because the Tablighi, they don't go out to non-Muslims and tell them about Islam. They go -- like, when we went to Houston, they'd go to people who they know are Muslim already, and they tried to convince them to come to the masjid, people that are not practicing, not attending the mosque. They call it jola [preaching visits]. So when you go into a town, you might go into a masjid, stay in the masjid, and then you'd take the local people, some of the local Muslims -- you know, some Muslims who are not attending -- and then they'd go out and they'd say, "Let's go visit them at their home." We went to -- when we went to Houston, we went to the dorm in Houston -- the University of Houston, where they had Arabs. They go, and they, they knock on their door. Something like the Jehovah Witness. Yeah.
ALI: It reminds me of the Hasidic. During the High Holy Days of Judaism, they'llstand on the corner and look for --
CONRY: Oh yeah?
ALI: -- members of the Jewish -- you know, who they don't recognize and say --69:00
CONRY: Who are not practicing?
ALI: Yeah, and say, like --
CONRY: Okay, I didn't know that.
ALI: -- "Are you Jewish? You can come celebrate with us." Yeah.
CONRY: It's just like that.
ALI: Yeah. So tell me, tell me what it was like for -- for people who don'tknow, tell me what it was like going to State Street, and, and who Shaikh Daoud was, if you can describe, describe him.
CONRY: Well, when I first met him, he was an older man. From what I understand,he used to be a merchant marine. You know, the building he bought down there, it's near, it's near the edge of Brooklyn, you know, Brooklyn Heights. He bought that building. Many of the first people to attend the masjid, they were merchant marines also. So when the Muslims used to come in to dock, they would -- they had a mosque, they had a place to pray, you know. That's what I understand, the history of State Street. It's still there. It's been there. He would, you know -- you know, he was always there. I-- kind of stern. He would, he would -- he 70:00didn't give shah-- I mean, he didn't give khutbah. They always had somebody else giving khutbah. But he would be around, like, chastising and -- sometimes. You know, "You Muslims, you need to do better." I made a mistake once. He was standing, he was standing here, and two other brothers, and I learned you always start from the right. So when I went to greet, I greeted the brother on the right, and he was on the left [laughter] so I didn't greet him first. He chastised me. "What are you, stupid? How do you--" You know, like that. I come to him, shake his hand first. You know, like, oh, man, I got scolded. You know. But you know, he was kind of cantankerous, as they would say, you know. My first -- I made my first jummah there. My brother, my younger brother, was praying 71:00next to me, and I had my left hand over my right. He corrected -- yeah.
But, you know, it was pretty much like -- they would have their -- after theywould go -- after the Tablighi brothers would go out and bring brothers in the masjid, they would sit and they would have -- they would talk, and they would talk about -- you know, the main thing was brotherhood, the importance of brotherhood, and this and that. They would try to convince people to, what they say, go out in the path, spend time going to other cities, doing the same thing pretty much. Going out, bringing people. So that's pretty much the structure of, of the Tablighi Jamaat. They -- trying to convince -- go out for two weeks, go out for a month. Then, at some point, they even travel. They go to Pakistan, they go to India, they go to the Fiji Islands. I know people who have gone all over the world, traveling in the path, and they try to convince people that this 72:00is work of -- the work of, you know, of Islam, the major work of Islam, going out in the path of Allah.
So I spent two weeks out in the path. We left Brooklyn. We went to Philly. Thenwe went to Detroit and picked a brother up. From Detroit, we drove down through Missouri. We drove to Texas. A brother had some land, a farm, in Texas. We went to Crockett, Texas, we went to Fort Worth, and then we wind up in Houston. We stayed a week in Houston. That's when I told you we went to the Houston -- University of Houston, you know. Then, from Houston, we drove all the way back up to Detroit, because there was an ijtima, which is a gathering, a huge gathering. There was an ijtima in Toronto. From Detroit, we crossed the bridge and went into Toronto, and they had an ijtima that weekend. Then, after the ijtima, we drove back to Brooklyn, you know. All that in two weeks. [laughter]
ALI: What was that experience like for you?
CONRY: It was, you know, it was different. I had never done -- that was probablythe most extensive traveling through the country I've, I've ever done, other 73:00than the South.
ALI: How many people did you travel with?
CONRY: It was about four or five of us in the van. You know.
ALI: Did you know them before or --
CONRY: Yeah, they were, they were friends of my stepfather, the brothers that Ihad known, you know, for some time, you know. Yeah, I knew them for some time. I did a lot of driving, too. They didn't have a problem with that, you know.
ALI: So when you got back to Brooklyn and you were -- you, you settled withMasjid Ikhwa.
CONRY: Yes. At some point, I found my way to Ikhwa. I made the first jummahthere. And after that jummah, I got kind of hooked. I got hooked on the charisma, the dynamism, of Khalid Yasin, you know. Like I said, he, he's a dynamic speaker, you know. And his vision -- you know, I liked his vision, what he wanted to do. I mean, I was a college grad -- about to be a college grad -- no, I had graduated college by then. So in terms of the progressive thinking, I 74:00kind of liked his ideas and what he wanted to do.
ALI: One of the things that I've, I've read is that Khalid Yasin and MasjidIkhwa were one of the leading mosques to have Eid prayer in Prospect Park. Can you tell me about that? How that came about.
CONRY: That didn't exist before. Khalid Yasin was, was the spearhead in unifyingthe Muslims in this city. We visited -- I told you he was always in the ear of Siraj Wahhaj, who was a part of the Wallace D. [Mohammed] community at that time. Always convincing him to go out on his own and do his own thing. We visited MIB [Mosque of Islamic Brotherhood] in Harlem. We sat with -- who was now the imam up there, Sheikh Talib [Al-Hajj Talib 'Abdur-Rashid]. We went to his house and we sat. Because MIB in Harlem had strong differences with the 75:00Yasin masjid. In fact, there was a shooting right there on Herkimer Place. Yasin -- one of their people were killed, and one of Yasin's masjid was killed. Okay. So there was really bad blood between them. Khalid Yasin braved those waters to go to convince, you know, them that somehow -- to heal those wounds. He unified -- he created something called the federation, okay, which was trying to get the imams of some different masjids to come together. And it was out of that effort that the first Eid in the park, Prospect Park, came about, you know. They were beautiful. They were -- you know. All my kids remember Eid in Prospect Park. They were, they were young at that point.
ALI: Describe the -- if you can remember the first one, describe that. Like,when you first heard the idea, what was going through --
CONRY: Well, from what I understood, that was the sunnah, to have Eid out in theopen. You know, one thing about the Ramadan, living in a place like New York, 76:00the, the, the Ramadan -- the months come 11 days earlier. So the Ramadan rotates throughout the year. So it just so happened that this was the time where the Eid started coming in the warm weather. You know, because when the Eids come in December or something like that, you've got to do it indoors. But once the Eid comes during the warm weather, you should try to move outdoors, because that's, that's the sunnah. To a place big enough to accommodate, you know, not just one community, but -- and the first, the first Eid in the park was probably members of Ikhwa, because Ikhwa had a lot of families at that point. You know, and then, and then as the years passed, subsequent other communities started joining, and at some point, it got, it got really large, you know. I mean, the lines were like -- multiple lines, and multiple ranks. Hundreds of people. Children running around, you know.
At some point, we just occupied one area, but then, subsequent years, you know,77:00the Muslims started spreading all up and around the -- we used to use the meadow. I forget -- I think they call it the meadow area. The kids, kids were running around, you know. Plenty of food, you know. I don't know if you're familiar with the Last Poets. One of them just died on the 19th of Ramadan, Shaikh Jalal, Jalal Nuriddin [Jalal Mansur Nuriddin] (rahimahullah). They used to come out. We had the drums. You know, and they, they'd be reciting poetry. You know, it was, it was -- they were times -- very memorable times, you know. They were beautiful times. The morale was high, you know.
You know, back then, most of the Muslims -- I look back now. If you go intoTaqwa [Masjid At-Taqwa], there's rows of chairs for all the Muslims who can't pray -- they have to sit down. That didn't -- we didn't have that back then. And 78:00I think that's probably the issue. We didn't -- you know, we were all young. There was nobody older than 35, you know, 30. And because we were all young and we didn't have the wisdom of a, of a elder group, there were a lot of mistakes made, you know. A lot of -- you know, we were ruled, pretty much, by egos and -- you know. And it's because of those mistakes and because of the youth, you know, and the lack of more elder direction, you know, advice, things kind of, like, you know, dissolved at some point, you know, especially as the Eid started coming during the cold weather. It takes about 34 years for the month to rotate through, through a year, through a solar year, you know. Even now, I'm not sure if anybody is praying in the park, you know. But most of the African American 79:00masjids, they pray in their home because -- well, Ikhwa which still has a small -- they pray in Lincoln Terrace Park, which is a small park. Taqwa, which has a very large constituency -- and the thing is, only maybe about 10 percent of the constituents are African American. Most of Taqwa now is immigrant. You know, West African and Bengali. But they pray in the street, outside and inside. Why not in the park? They use a park, PS 3, for the kids. They set up stuff for the kids. But to be in a nice park would be a great thing, I think. Because pretty soon, the Eid is going to be coming -- you know, soon, after a few years, it will be back in the winter, through the cold months.
ALI: So as your family was growing, what kinds of things did you want to ensure80:00were available to your family in terms of, of nurturing their -- your religious life?
CONRY: Well, you know, my wife, still right now, teaches in one of the oldestMuslim schools, Madrasa Al Islamiya.
ALI: Where is that located?
CONRY: It's moved around. It started -- when it first -- when she first startedthere, it was in Staten Island, and then it moved to Brooklyn at some point. Now, right now, it's in what they call Sunrise -- Sunset Park area, right on the edge of -- near going out towards -- near Red Hook, in that area. Right under the BQE [Brooklyn Queens Expressway] on 3rd Avenue. So I -- all my kids, because her affiliation, all my kids went to, went to that school, up until, up until they were high school age. So at some point, they went up to, like, 12 -- now it 81:00goes up to the 12th grade. No, eighth grade -- eighth, ninth grade. So they went to high school -- they went to public high schools. You know, but they went up from, from pre-school all the way up. Just kind of set their foundation, you know. That worked out, you know, great for them. I've always been affiliated with the masjid. So now there's grandkids. I have 15 grandkids now.
CONRY: [laughter] You know. It's a struggle. It's more difficult now, I think,trying to keep kids straight, because there's so much coming at them, you know. It's like 24/7 with the cell phones and video games and cable TV. It's just nonstop. You know. I think the greatest, greatest challenge for any parent today is -- a young man asked me, asked me my advice. He doesn't have any children, 82:00but he's thinking about having some and starting a family. He asked me what did I think was the greatest challenge to raising kids today. After thinking, you know, for about 10 seconds, I think the greatest challenge right now is protecting your child's mind and heart from all the, all the stuff that's coming at them. You know, it's like so much is coming at them. It never stops. And as a parent, you have to be vigilant. If you don't have the energy, if you're lazy and you're tired, you know, you can't sit your children in front of a TV and have the TV raise your children. Because if you do that, they're not going to be Muslims. [laughter]
ALI: So what were the ways you did that for your children as they were growing?Besides the school, what other kinds of activities?
CONRY: Well, you know, as a father, I always had to work. You know, my -- we didthe best we could. We had them in the Muslim schools. And then, at some point, 83:00they, they had to go into public schools, because we didn't have Muslim high schools. So it's just about being diligent. I made some -- we made some of those mistakes, you know. Our kids watched enough TV, maybe too much television, you know. But I think they -- it wasn't as -- the country has taken a turn in the sense of morality and certain -- you know. It wasn't as bad as it is now, you know. So you know, the -- you have to, at some point, like they say, put the boat in the water, you know. And you try to teach your children. You know, when you see -- this television -- you see, I covered it. You know but I think when you're around children, you have to be diligent -- what they're exposed to. We 84:00always -- under Khalid Yasin, we had the summer camps. That's what I say about him. He always tried to institute things for the children. We had the school, we had the Islamic Institute, we had the summer camp. We had the gymnasium for recreation, you know, to keep, keep them in an environment --
ALI: And you said this was a facility that was rented?
CONRY: Yeah, it was rented from the Catholic Church. I think it was at St.Matthew's. I think the church is still there. But they had a space. That space, that property, is no longer there. It's something else there. There's a building there now. They sold, obviously. On the corner of Lincoln and Utica, which is right around the corner from Ikhwa. There was a gymnasium. It was a school building. And then there was another building that we -- that housed the masjid, and we had a restaurant in the basement, you know. It was, it was a whole complex. It -- so it was a complex, you know. A school complex, primarily, 85:00because the school building, gymnasium. So, you know, we tried to create that environment, a holistic environment, where the kids could, you know, have a place to, to run around and do those things. Right now, Ikhwa -- Taqwa, I mean, right now, it doesn't -- don't have the space for the kids to run around the masjid. It's something that's always a challenge, especially during Ramadan, because -- but we need that type of environment. If you've got children, you've got to have recreation. You've got to have something for them to keep them -- because if they don't find recreation under our watch and in our environment, then they're going to find it somewhere else, you know.
So there was -- things were just more vibrant back then, and there were more --so many families have left Brooklyn. Like I said, morale right now in Brooklyn is really not good. And I'll say this about -- Khalid had -- was a visionary. He 86:00had his issues, but he was a visionary. Now, the people who are leading the masjids, they're not visionaries. They're not -- I don't believe they're up to the challenge, especially with the opposition that exists here in this town, back to the elite. There's a strong, strong opposition in this town to Muslims and Islam. That's my -- you know. And if you're not up to that -- and I'm talking about being politically involved, you know -- just like a lot of the Christian ministers. They're very poli-- they're on the community -- have people on community boards. They try to control the environment, you know. But the, the people -- this is my spin on it, is that the last 30, 40 years, only a handful of people have been in positions of leadership in Brooklyn. Handful. You know, they've been there, you know, and they occupy positions of leadership, but 87:00they're not really up to the task of providing leadership.
ALI: And when -- you're referring to the Muslim, Muslim community?
CONRY: Yeah, the indigenous Muslim communities. In fact, the immigrant Muslimcommunities are very good. They, you know, they -- Bath Center [Muslim American Society Youth Center in Bath Beach, Brooklyn]. They've created community centers for their children, you know. They're a lot more politically active, and they have a vision for their community, you know.
ALI: So let's talk about, moving the story forward, how did you end up movingfrom Masjid Ikhwa to Masjid At-Taqwa?
CONRY: When Khalid Yasin, who was my first imam, when he left the community,when he moved on -- he was kind of, like, forced out, because he was -- like I 88:00said, he lacked patience, in my opinion. And at some point, I think, because of his micromanagement style, he had kinda -- I think he had a nervous breakdown. I think he just -- he tried to carry -- because he was moving too fast. He was moving out ahead of the community, and he didn't have their support, because he just didn't want to wait. He tried to do things. The things he wanted to do, you need people to support you. You need support. You just can't do it by yourself. I think the word "obstinate" -- that's the word. I remember telling him -- because you know, in the meetings -- we used to have meetings -- he had like a masjid board. And the meetings, the meetings consisted of this: Khalid Yasin would sit, he'd open up his book, because he was always writing, planning ideas, and he would present what he wanted to do, what he thought the community should do. If anyone said, wait a minute, imam, we ain't ready for -- any objections to 89:00his plans, the rest of the meeting was him blasting. "Where are your plans at? yah-eh-eh-eh" He just couldn't help himself. He was just like -- and I once told him, I said, "You know, you don't have to respond to people on the spot when they give ideas or give any feedback to your ideas." I said, "You know, sometimes, you just need to just listen and think about it, and respond at a later time. Don't -- you don't have to respond."
But he couldn't help himself. You know, he couldn't help himself with that. Hejust -- it got to a point where, you know, when you're obstinate, you only hear your own ideas. And so the other people around him -- like I said, Ikhwa, Ikhwa always had college graduates. They had thinking people. They weren't just like street level guys that didn't know nothing. After a point, those people started divesting themselves. You know, they started backing out. Either their time, or their monetary support. They started divesting and saying, "What am I here for?" 90:00You know. "He don't want to hear anything I've got to say, any contribution I have. It's always about his ideas and his" -- you know. So those type of people got tired, and they just started divesting themselves, and started moving away and finding other places to go. At some point, after that process, you know, we went on for a while -- like, you'd look around, and, you know, the quality people are gone. You know. They moved on, you know. Then what you're left with are just people who just -- they were -- "Yeah, rah-rah." They'd push him on, but they weren't there to give any support, you know. Then that, that kind of -- petered out. Ikhwa kind of, like, petered out.
Then, at some point, people got tired of -- there was a money issue, I think,because back then, it was pretty -- some communities would go overseas and get 91:00money, and go to Saudi, or some of the other Gulf states. The wealthy people, they had contacts. People had contacts. They would get a few hundred thousand dollars. You know, ten thousand, twenty thousand dollars here. It still -- it still happens. I think it still happens in some communities. There was some mismanagement of money. Okay. And, and I think Khalid got accused of mismanaging some money. I don't know all the particulars of how, you know, how much of the money it was. But at some point, they -- enough was enough. People wanted him out. The same people that were rah-rah-rah, cheering him on, became the people that -- you know. So at that point, he was, he was kind of like forced out. Nobody wanted to -- was interested in following him, and they encouraged his naib, his longtime naib, his righthand man -- 92:00
ALI: Define the term naib.
CONRY: Naib is assistant, assistant imam. You know. Who was Imam IbrahimAbdullah. They were inseparable. You saw Khalid, you saw Ibrahim. They were never apart almost. So they, they encouraged him, Ibrahim, to take over the imam-ship, you know. And that's what happened. He took over. And -- and for me, it was not a good time for me, because, you know, I, I love -- even today, I love Khalid Yasin, man. He's still my brother. I'm still, you know, in very close contact with him. But I did see, I was able -- you know, I saw where he was -- you know, why all that happened. And so Ibrahim took over, and I was kind of wavering. I wasn't thinking about leaving the community, but I saw -- like I 93:00said, Imam Ibrahim is a little small-time guy -- small-town guy that came up. He was raised pretty much in North Carolina, in the South, and he came up here in the North when he was well past his formative -- he was probably 19th, 20 when he came to New York. But he was a small-town guy. He's -- compared to -- he's like 180 degrees from Khalid. Khalid Yasin is a visionary. He wants to move on. He didn't want scamps. You know, Ibrahim Abdullah is like -- he's happy with small masjids, small community, you know. And, and --
ALI: Khalid Yasin was a Brooklyn native, or a New York native?
CONRY: Yeah, he's a New York native.
ALI: Is it that thing where, like, New Yorkers are, like, not willing to fall inso easily under someone who is not, like, of the town?
CONRY: You know, most of the people at Ikhwa were, were New York people. I mean,94:00they didn't need -- I mean, they knew Ibrahim. They knew -- we knew him well, you know. It wasn't that -- I don't think it was ever consideration because he's from North Carolina, a small town. Because he had been in New York for quite a while, you know. I'm just saying, he came up, and he was raised pretty much in the South. So his thinking was small-town thinking. He ain't -- he's not a -- he's nowhere as progressive a visionary as Khalid Yasin was, you know. So he -- you know, he was -- he became imam, and Ikhwa never did anything other -- you know, they stayed right there on Eastern Parkway, in that small space. You know, they never, you know, did anything on the level that Khalid Yasin was trying to do, you know. They never established a school. They never, you know, established things, a camp for kids. You know, the school they had that was there when Ibrahim took over, it eventually petered out, you know.
So, you know, I don't know. One day, I called for a meeting for something, and I95:00didn't ask for Ibrahim's permission, and he felt like I was trying to supersede his authority or -- and I'll never forget, he called me in his van, and we sat in his van. He just basically said, "Listen, man, if you can't, if you can't go along with my, my leadership and fall under -- fall back -- then it's better you move on." You know. And that's how I wound up at, At-Taqwa, Masjid Taqwa. Me and a couple of other brothers. At least one other brother, I know, Umar Mukhtar. We left, we left together, and went over to Ikhwa -- went over to Taqwa.
ALI: Do you know what year this was?
CONRY: Probably '80 -- Taqwa was started, I think -- they bought that buildingin '81, so somewhere around, I think, '81, '82, maybe, you know, '83, we left, 96:00we left Ikhwa, went over to Taqwa. And that's where I made jummah and -- you know.
ALI: What was, what was that area and masjid like at that time?
CONRY: Oh. Well, Taqwa was on Fulton Street, on the corner of Fulton andBedford, and it was a drug-infested block. Fulton, between Bedford and Franklin, was -- and still, even today, if you go down to Franklin and Fulton, there's like a methadone clinic you'll see, you know. They tried to clean up that corner for years, and it still -- it's something about that corner. I think there's a methadone -- there's methadone clinics in that area, so you see, you know, African Americans, you know, bent over and -- you know. But that block was notorious. It probably had 12 -- 11, 12 crack houses in that block.
And there was a church. There's a restaurant there now. There was a churchthere. And when the idea came to clean the block up, we approached the church. 97:00Imam Siraj approached the, the minister and said, "Listen, we're going to do something about this block." 'Cause somebody had punched one of the deacons or something in the face, you know, and Imam Siraj went over there and said, "Listen, we're going to start a patrol. We're going to clean this block up." And the guy in the church told him, said -- the deacon -- "Listen, you all go ahead and work. We're going to pray, but we're moving." You know. That was [laughter] pretty much -- he said, "We're moving," and they moved out. They moved. They moved their church off of Fulton Street. It was really like -- you could be waiting at the light at Fulton and Bedford, and dudes would come up to your window -- I'm talking about your car -- and snatch your watch off your wrist. It was that type of block. Just walking -- you didn't walk through the block; you walked around. You know, it was terrible. So, at some point -- '88 was it? -- they started the drug patrol, 24-hour patrol, which I, I participated in. 98:00
ALI: Tell me, tell me what your experience was like participating in that.
CONRY: Well, you know, it was -- we started in January, in the middle of winter,so it was cold. Now, the brothers were camping out in the masjid, and we were prepared for whatever, you know. And we would go out in shifts, you know, because it was cold. A group would go out. And basically, what the plan was, was not to, not to confront the drug dealers that were in, in place, but confront the people coming to buy. So we would go to them and say, "Listen, you can't cop here no more, man. You've got to go somewhere else." Simple. You can't cop. You know. And really, just simply, if they can't sell, eventually they're going to move.
Now, they made threats, you know, but they never followed through with thethreats, because they know we ain't -- we're not the turn-the-cheek-type cats. And you know, there's churches who tried the same thing, but they weren't 99:00successful, because they just -- you know, people -- when they think about the Muslims, they know, you know, you guys are serious. You know, if we start, if we start firing off, they're going to fire back. You know, and then -- so they made threats, and we had stuff inside the masjid, you know, if something like that happened, but alhamdulillah, nothing like that happened. They just -- after a couple of months of just blocking their revenue, they just moved on. You know, moved to someplace else. But they moved off of Fulton Street.
ALI: So tell me, what did you do to prepare to, to go to, like, do thesepatrols? Did you like -- both -- either physically or mentally? Going into this, what did -- you know, what was your preparation?
CONRY: Well, of course, they had meetings, security meetings, talking about whatthe plan was, and everybody just had to be on the same page, you know. We had walkie-talkies, you know. We had brothers in cars, patrolling, you know. And 100:00brothers on foot, you know, standing in front of the known crack houses, you know. So we, you know, we kind of prepared. Nobody carried weapons outside, other than maybe a stick or something, or maybe -- you know. 'Cause you know, a lot of times, the police department is -- at least some of them -- some of the guys in the police department are actually protectors of the drug dealers. You know, that's happened. So we know not to, you know, carry, carry weapons outside. But I think it's a mentality. It's a -- on the part -- because a lot of Muslims, at one time, we were on the other side. You know, a lot of brothers, you know, took shahada in prison. So, you know, these guys, they know that. They're aware of the fact that the Muslims ain't just -- you know. You're not 101:00just dealing with no holy, holy cats that -- you know. So they took us seriously. Alhamdulillah. You know, Allah is in control, you know. The perception that they have kind of like protected us from, from harm, you know. They perceived us as people that, that will fight back, you know. We're not going to sit there and let you attack us and, you know, talk about love thy neighbor. Not like that. We fight those who fight against you.
ALI: Now, do you think that perception is of Muslims for all over, of allMuslims, or just of African American Muslims?
CONRY: It's not everybody. It's African American Muslims. Had the Benga--Bengali -- Bangladesh community tried that, they'd have been tested. You know. I mean, it's known. I mean, whenever there's an issue in the immigrant community, with thugs or violence, they always call African Americans. You know. They 102:00always call us. In the past, we would always respond, you know, by the carloads, you know. But that's, I think -- and that's where the issue is. Somebody thinks, says, okay, that's the only thing -- when they need us -- they need protection, they need somebody to -- they call on us.
ALI: So that, that perception is not only external, outside the Muslimcommunity, but even within the Muslim --
ALI: So tell me, where do you think that perception comes from?
CONRY: Where does it come from?
CONRY: Well, you know, a lot of the immigrants -- one thing to get about them isthat they always feared being deported. They always had that fear, you know. I mean, when I was in the UAE [United Arab Emirates], I knew there were things -- in the UAE, you can't come in there and set up. You can't give a sermon, a religious sermon, unless you get permission from what they call the -- they have a counselor there, a religious -- you have to, you have to be cleared to give religious talks. I can't go there and set up and just start having a group and 103:00giving -- teaching Islam. They want to know what you're teaching. You've got to -- all the khutbahs are written and approved. They give the same khutbah in every masjid in the UAE. [laughter]
ALI: Now, I mean, but, but --
CONRY: I just mention that to say that the immigrants here, they're not going tobe so aggressive and so -- and, and they know -- it's known, a pretty much known fact, that the African American Muslims, you know, we will fight. You know, because a lot of us, we're fighters. We had to fight all our lives, and we're not afraid. You know, if violence is necessary, you know we -- to protect ourselves, then we'll do that. You know. I don't know if that -- I think that image is changing somewhat, but back, back in the day, in the '70s and the '80s, and '60s -- '70s, '80s, they knew the Muslims were no-nonsense. All the non-Muslims had experience dealing with Muslims. If they messed with the sisters. Especially Yasin. Yasin had a group called Rad. That was their military arm. 104:00
ALI: R-O-D, Rod?
CONRY: R-A-D, Rad, like lightning, the Arabic word.
ALI: Oh, got you.
CONRY: Rad. They would march through the street. "Allahu Akabar! La ilaha illahAllah!" In the fatigues and boots. You know. [laughter]
ALI: So this is like a -- almost like a -- similar to the FOI [Fruit of Islam]?
CONRY: Yeah, exactly.
ALI: And the [Black] Panthers.
ALI: You have that whole -- yeah.
CONRY: Exactly. But Yasin was notorious for it, and they were known then. Youdidn't mess with nobody in Yasin -- you didn't mess with the Muslims, you know. They had that military arm. We did some of that in Ikhwa, walking -- marching through the streets and -- early in the morning, Sunday morning. "La ilaha illah Allah! Muhammad-ur rasul Allah!" [singing] In step -- you know -- you know. Yeah, you know --
ALI: Do you want a -- do you want a break or --
CONRY: We -- we've got time.
CONRY: So yeah, you know, they knew it. They saw it. We made it visible, you105:00know. And then our Muslims -- I mean, the immigrant Muslims -- they all understood. Right now, today, Taqwa has security, you know. It gets on some of the immigrants' nerves, you know, because -- but everybody knows Taqwa, you know, the -- and who makes up the majority of the security? African American brothers.
ALI: Why, why does -- why is it important for Taqwa to have security?
CONRY: Taqwa comes out of the Nation, you know, out of the Nation model. ImamSiraj Wahhaj, he was in the Nation. He had the FOI. So all that stuff kind of like -- you know, even if you come to the khutbah, to jummah, he has two guys sitting on security to his left and his right. That's outta -- straight out of FOI. That ain't got nothing to do with Sunni. You know. That has nothing to do with Sunni Islam. You ain't going to find that no other place but Masjid Taqwa in terms of the Sunni masjid, you know. So that, that kind of -- I think that 106:00kind of, like, came over from that, you know, that tradition, that, that visible security. Very visible, you know.
ALI: Do you think that there's, there's a usefulness of that, given the currentclimate? I mean, I don't know if anybody is going to run up on, you know, Taqwa in the middle of Bed-Stuy, but given the nationwide climate in terms of how mosques are being attacked --
CONRY: Yeah, I think it's probably -- it's necessary. If --
ALI: That happened in Brooklyn, in south -- I don't know if it was in Kensingtonor Bay Ridge, where a masjid was attacked during the --
CONRY: Yeah. Oh, yeah.
CONRY: Yeah. I mean, that's -- you know, and that's another thing. You know,immigrants come here, like they move into White neighborhoods. They move into Bay Ridge, they move -- but you know, they don't want to be in the hood. I mean, and I can understand, to some extent, that. But, you know, they realize they're not always completely safe in those places, you know. Because African Americans 107:00-- there are no African American families that don't have a Muslim in their family. You know, it could be an uncle, a cousin, a brother, a sister, you know, aunt, you know, parents. Somebody -- somewhere along the line, you've got a relative that's, that's a Muslim. You know. It wasn't always like that, but now it's like that, you know.
ALI: Especially in Brooklyn. [laughter]
CONRY: Yeah, yeah. In Brooklyn, yeah.
ALI: So tell me -- so with the -- so this -- the patrols were, were successful.
ALI: I mean, they were hailed as a success. It was held up as a model, almost, right?
ALI: So, so tell me how that area changed over the years. What kind of changesdid you see?
CONRY: Well, as you walk through that block -- Fulton between Bedford andFranklin -- you see there's businesses there. Many of those places were closed down. They were just fronts for drug dens, you know. And the Muslims didn't own 108:00any of those businesses. Now the Muslims -- that whole block is, is a Muslim block, they call it, you know. Most of the -- all the businesses are owned by Muslims, and the block is vibrant and alive with business, with commerce, you know, and that is a direct result of the Muslims putting their lives on the line, pushing the drug dealers out, you know. And it's unfortunate that, you know, people -- that the mosque didn't capitalize on the sacrifice they made to clean the block up and get more of the properties there. There are, you know, there are a few properties that were bought, purchased, by an immigrant, one Egyptian brother, Fathi, who owns the restaurant, and then a Bangladeshi brother, Shameem Al Chowdhury. He owns a couple of properties in the block, you 109:00know. Then the hardware store in the corner, which has been there for years, I think a Palestinian brother -- I believe he's Palestinian -- he owns the hardware store. But in terms of owning the property, owning the buildings, still the Jewish have some, have some properties there.
But, you know, the block came alive. It's safe. You know, it's safe to walkthrough the block. In fact, there's some elderly people that lived behind the masjid, on Brevoort Place, who -- they have come by and thanked, thanked the Muslims for cleaning it, because they know. They were afraid to walk through that block, you know. So they'll come through -- they used to come through and say thank -- "We're thankful for you guys for what you did, the sacrifice that you guys did. You saved the community in a sense." But that's a long time now. It's -- what is it twent-- you said 30 years now?
CONRY: People forget. A lot of people that don't even realize. People comingthrough now don't even realize what the Muslims did, you know.
ALI: I wonder, did anyone -- I -- I-- mean, did anyone take pictures of -- arethere pictures of the neighborhood, of that block, before?
CONRY: That's a good question.
ALI: It would be, it would be interesting to see --
CONRY: I mean, we didn't have the phones -- everybody didn't have phones. Therewere a few people who probably were into photography and took stuff. The question is who are they and where are they now.
CONRY: You know, because a lot of African Americans --
ALI: I mean, I talked to Imam Siraj about, like, does Taqwa have archives of anyof this, and, you know --
CONRY: There were articles done from papers all over the world, you know.
ALI: Yeah, I've seen -- yeah, I pulled up the papers. Yeah, I got the newspaperarticles, but, you know, like -- you know. I didn't see -- I mean, it would have been nice to see.
ALI: So, of the businesses now that are flourishing on, on the block, is Abu'sBakery. Tell me, tell me the origin of this, you know, and how you -- what your 111:00involvement was and how you became involved in this, this idea.
CONRY: Well, before the idea of the bakery came around, I was baking. I toldyou, I had started baking when I lived on Rochester [Avenue], baking out of the house.
ALI: Your Muhammad Ali apple cakes.
CONRY: Yeah, that -- well, that was in the '70s. But the '90s, when I was teaching.
ALI: Right, the cheesecake.
CONRY: Yeah, the cheesecake.
ALI: Mr. Cheesecake.
CONRY: I started baking, and I was -- after jummah, I usually baked three14-inch cakes. I used to bake a German chocolate, a cheesecake, and maybe a carrot cake, and I used to set up after jummah and sell slices.
ALI: In front of Taqwa?
CONRY: Yeah, after jummah, in front of Taqwa. You know, and the guy who wound upbeing my partner, used to -- he used to sell - make carrot cake. He used to sell carrot cake. So he'd be on a corner, and I'd be, like, a little further in the block with my, with my cakes. And I would sell out, man. Within half hour, my cakes were gone, you know. And Yusuf -- it took him a little while longer to 112:00sell this carrot cake.
Now, Yousef -- the brother, the Bangladeshi brother I mentioned who ownsproperty, Shameem, he, he had a restaurant. It's part of the masjid property. There's three stores when you come out on Fulton Street. There's -- like -- Muslim paraphernalia -- oils and stuff like -- incense. Then there's, there's a cyber -- what do you call it? Cyber -- where they have computers, and you can get copies made. Then there's the bakery. And they're all part of the masjid property. Okay. But before it was a bakery, it was a restaurant. Shameem, he was renting the space, but he closed it down when he bought a building in the middle of the block. He put his restaurant there. But he had the shop closed, because he didn't want anyone to come in there, and he was paying rent to keep it closed, because he didn't want anyone to come in there to put another restaurant. So he offered to, to give it to the Brother Yousef to start a 113:00bakery, and he was willing to help finance it. So Yousef brought me in, into the -- asked me would I like to be -- to join efforts. So I said yeah, sure.
And so it was Yousef, myself, and Shameem was like a silent partner. He justsupplied the money to buy the equipment, and -- under the condition that, once we were open, we start paying the rent. So that partnership lasted a few months. Not -- I don't think -- it might have lasted, like, five, six months. Because, you know, like I said, we -- I think I told you, we -- if you look at a book on partnerships, we violated every, [laughter] every aspect. We didn't have complementary skills. We were both baking, you know. It would have been different if he handled the business part and I did the baking part, or -- you know. But we were both baking, competing for oven space. We only had one oven. 114:00Time in the kitchen. It was a disaster, you know. At some point, he decided he, you know, he was willing to walk away, and he became -- it was a good decision for him. He became a -- who are the people that give anesthesia --
CONRY: Yeah, he did that -- he does that now. And I stayed in the bakery. Atsome point, my son, Idris, came in, in September of that year, and I'll never forget it, because it's September -- 9/11. You know, it was right after 9/11. I got sick, and he came in while I was in the hospital. I was in the hospital for one week. They said I had pneumonia. He came in during that period. That was -- 9/11 was a Tuesday. I got sick on a Thursday. I stayed home until Sunday, and then my fever was so bad, I went to the hospital, and they kept me for a week. 115:00So he came in. Me and him, we -- I -- we clash. He stayed for a few years, then he left. Then, at some point, he came back. When I went overseas, he, he took over, him and my wife. I was gone for three and a half years all together. But that's how the bakery started. It was called Abu Baker's Bakery. The "E" between the "K" and the "R" was small on the sign, so it looked like "Abu Bakr's" but it was -- you had to look at it, see it was Abu Baker's.
ALI: See, that's what I remember it as, and someone asked me about the name,like Abu's Bakery, and they were like, "Is it a play?" I was like, yeah, because I used to call it Abu Baker's. Right? Which was a play on Abu Bakr's.
CONRY: Yeah, yeah.
ALI: So that was the -- who came up with the name?116:00
CONRY: Between me and Yousef, we came up with Abu Baker's Bakery. Then, youknow, I always knew that it would evolve to Abu's. That's how people do it -- going to Abu's? At some point, when my son came in, he kind of, like, consolidated, and he just changed it to -- he had a logo made -- to Abu's Homestyle Bakery.
ALI: And, I mean, now that your son is there, it, it actually has even a second,like, meaning now, right? Because "Abu" means father, right?
ALI: So he is in his father's bakery.
CONRY: Yes. And, you know, I think -- I don't know if Idris -- he don't --sometimes I think he don't understand that I'll always be Abu. Yeah? Like, you know, he's worked hard, you know, when I was gone, but he doesn't understand, as long as I'm alive, you know, I'm Abu, and you've got to live with that, you know. Because I've heard him -- some people call on the phone and say, "Is Abu 117:00there?" and he'll say, "Who's Abu? You mean my father?" [laughter] Right? He knows who they asking for.
ALI: Right. Right.
CONRY: But, you know, I've heard him acting like, "There's no one here by thename Abu." That type of thing. You know who the person -- give me the phone, man, before I knock you out.
ALI: One of the signature items in the bakery is a bean pie. Tell me why it'simportant to have that among your offerings.
CONRY: Well, you know, the bean pie -- I mean, you know, it's even a joke. I'veseen -- I don't know if you remember In Living Color. You know, like, they do a thing on -- with Farrakhan. They always, you know, they always associate bean pies with the Muslims. But bean pies were started by the Nation of Islam. They did it -- they created it as an alternative to sweet potato, the starch, you 118:00know. And they have what they call in the Nation -- they have, they have the FOI for the men, and they have MGT, Muslim Girls Training, for the women. That's something that the women always -- all the women in the Nation of Islam used to bake the bean pie, you know, either in their home or for business, you know. So that's the history of where it started. I don't know how long ago it started.
When I first opened the bakery -- you know, Taqwa is evolved out of the Nation.You know, those people -- many of them were in the Nation, and when Warithuddeen [Imam Warithuddeen Mohammed] took over, they followed him. Then those people, families from Taqwa started their own community. So there's some sisters that, that were part of MGT that had the recipes of the bean pie, you know. One of the sisters in particular, Sister Najerah, she gave me the recipe, you know. Because I was never in the -- I didn't come through the Nation. You know, I -- the only 119:00thing I would join, besides being a Muslim, was the Boys Club. I was never a Boy Scout. You asked about the '60s and that whole thing, and turbulence, and the Black Panthers. I, I think of myself sort of like -- what's that TV show, Hanks, Tom Hanks -- is it Tom Hanks? He plays -- he says, he says, "My mama always says, stupid is as stupid does."
ALI: Oh, Forrest Gump.
CONRY: Forrest -- I think of myself like a Forrest Gump. I was present, and Inever got involved with a lot of stuff, but I was there. I observed all that. I had friends who were Black Panthers. I had friends who, who were just militant. You know, used to carry around -- used to wear -- you know, Mao Tse-tung's Little Red Book. That whole -- all that stuff, I was there. I had people -- knew people who were in the Nation. I knew -- you know. And I just kind of, like, 120:00observed it, but I never joined any of it. I never joined the Nation. I never joined the Black Panthers. You know, I never became, like, super militant like that. Even the drugs. I knew people -- I saw people shoot drugs every day. I never shot drugs. I was just, like, there, just observing, and just absorbing, kind of. But the only thing I ever joined to I said, okay, I'm going to be a Muslim. I'm going to join. That's the only thing I ever -- you know, the Boys Club was recreation. I was never a Boy Scout. You know. But joining Islam, joining a masjid, that's the only thing I ever joined, you know. Besides, you know, like the basketball team in college and stuff like that. So, you know, I was there, I observed it, I saw it, you know. The Nation -- I used to go up to [Muhammad Mosque No.] 7C -- they'd pat you down and search you. I've gone to the 121:00lectures, and they try to convince you to stand up, join the Nation. I gone through that. I said nah. Just never appealed to me.
Just the whole Black -- even -- I was around when the Five Percenters firstshowed up. I'll never forget how that started, you know. I go to the park one day, and the guys I know, all of them wearing these funny things on their head with tassels hanging, and they're standing around, like, talking, and that's the first time I heard the word "manifest." "Manifest that God" -- I'm like, what the hell happened to this cat, man? [laughter] What happened, man? It was always the crooks, the guys -- they were the ones that were -- now they were gods. Like you what? You a god now? Like, I never was a bandwagon cat, you know. It's like, when did you become a god? You -- just yesterday, you was out here robbing people. Now you're a god. [laughter] You know, that's how the Five Percenters 122:00came, you know. It's like all these different fads and these different things just came along, man. Just -- you know.
Muslims -- you know, when I first became Muslim, you could walk the whole lengthof Fulton Street, you'd be lucky, you'd be glad to see another Muslim. You know, now it's like there's Muslims all over the place here in Brooklyn, you know. And -- but we were closer back then. We were more, you know -- we valued each other more than we do now, and it's, you know, it's a lot of pressure and stress, you know, on the Muslims. We're not -- it's not a healthy -- we're not in a healthy way right now, you know. We're being pushed out. Financially, it's -- the financial oppression in this town is getting, is getting unbearable, you know. 123:00And if you stay -- even the Ramadan, like, you know, it's very stressful. I've seen at least, at least two or three outbursts this Ramadan, you know. It's supposed to be a time of -- you know. And I know when people are hungry, people get grouchy, but I don't remember seeing that before. A lot of -- quite frankly, a lot of people I know have left Brooklyn. They're either in Atlanta -- a lot of folks move to Atlanta. A lot of folks move to East Orange, New Jersey. Okay. Different places. North Carolina. They're spread out all over, you know. Trying to find a healthy environment, especially if you have children, you know. It's not easy in New York. Like I said, if you don't own -- we're fortunate. We got this place over 20-something years ago, and able to hold onto it and keep it. But if we had to pay rent -- the rents now, it's like over $2,000 for a two -- 124:00one-bedroom. It's, like, crazy. You know.
And the gentrification -- you know, it's like -- there's a good aspect to it.Now you can go to the corner store and get some organic stuff. [laughter] But it's going to cost you an arm and a leg, you know. It costs you three dollars for a bag of chips, you know. It's like, wait a minute, man. Before, you know, before our new neighbors came, it was like there's nothing but junk in the store, you know. I mean, junk. Junk food. That's all you could find. Now you can find organic fruit, organic drinks. You know. That's the good part. But there's a downside. Like I said, the financial oppression. Even driving in this town now -- 25 miles for the speed limit, and they've got cameras all over the place. My 125:00brother drives. He said he gets tickets in the mail. Twenty-five miles an hour, man. Roaches run faster than that. [laughter] You can't even drive a car for 25 miles an hour.
ALI: How have you seen this change in terms of the -- have you seen this changein terms of the bakery, and what has the impact been on the bakery, do you think?
CONRY: Well, you know, retail -- one of the things my son focuses on iswholesale. He took it -- now you'll find Abu's products in a lot of the corner stores. And it's the wholesale that has really kept us viable and able -- you know retail, we've never really taken off, considering, like, we get four or five-star ratings in terms of the product. But a lot of people think of the 126:00block as a Muslim block. A lot of non-Muslims, they don't even come to the block to shop. Now, we do have a lot more --
ALI: How do you know that, or what, what makes you --?
CONRY: I've been told. I've been -- I had a customer who came in, a Black woman,say, "Oh, it's my first time in the shop. I've seen, you know, the sign, and I see it riding by on the bus, but only reason" -- she said, "The only reason I'm here now, because my Muslim boyfriend we ate across the street." [laughter] I said, "Okay." So that made me think -- I said, okay, how many other people are like that? Just ride through -- and think of, think of this block as the Muslim block, and they don't come shop in the Muslim block, you know. I think if Abu's probably was between Nostrand and Bedford, separate from the masjid, it probably would be a lot more successful in terms of the retail, you know. So, you know -- because, I mean, I think our product is good enough to have gotten that type of 127:00-- you've been in bakeries where you've got to get a ticket and wait in line. I think our product is good enough to have -- you know, to be there, you know, where you might serve a thousand people a day, 1,500 people a day. You know. But we've never been able to get, get there in terms of the retail, because that's where the money is. The money is in the retail for a bakery. I mean, we sell a bean pie five dollars apiece. Six-inch bean pie. If we can sell a thousand of those a day, it's -- or five hundred a day, you know.
There are a lot of White folks who are coming into the bakery now, starting tocome in, because of the publicity that the bakery has gotten. Since I was away, Idris -- they covered -- in Crain's magazine, they did an article. I think it was an online article in Crain's. New York Times did an article on the bakery. So that type of exposure, people -- you know, they read about it and they want to come in and try the -- a lot of folks have never tasted a bean pie, you know.
ALI: How do you -- for someone who has never tasted or even heard of a bean -- a128:00bean-based dessert, how do you convince them when to try it? What would you say? How would you describe it to someone?
CONRY: Well, if somebody really comes in and says, "Oh, I've never tasted" --I'll give them a small -- and we call --
ALI: How do you describe it to them?
CONRY: Well, I tell them it's a custard. You know, which it is. Anything that'smade with eggs, milk, sugar, butter, it's basically a custard based -- so sweet potato pie is a custard. Cheesecake is a custard. You know. Pumpkin pie. They're all custards, technically. Then I'll let them try it. What we call a teenie-weenie, let them try it, you know. And invariably, they always -- "Oh, this is great." They love it. You know, the cinnamon. You know. But yeah, there's a lot of people who have never tasted a bean pie. Like you said, a bean-based dessert. It's like -- when they think of beans, they don't think of 129:00dessert, you know. But it's really -- it's a good, it's a good pie. You know. It's -- you know, because -- what's her name? What's her name? The -- Snoop Dogg -- what's the woman who -- they locked her up for tax evasion. Now her and Snoop are doing stuff together. They're doing a cooking show together.
ALI: Oh, Martha Stewart.
CONRY: Martha Stewart. They, they marketed a bean pie.
ALI: Oh yeah?
CONRY: Yeah. Martha Stewart, along with Snoop.
ALI: Is this a gentrified bean pie? [laughter]
CONRY: There's a secret to bean pie that they don't know. Their bean pie -- Isaw a picture of it. It looked like a sweet potato pie. Okay. But the bean pie has a brown, like, outer -- upper layer, outer layer. And then under that brown layer is a light -- you know. But their pie looked more like a sweet potato pie. 130:00Which -- what they did, obviously, all they did is just, instead of sweet potatoes, they put the beans in, and mixed it all together. But there's a secret to bean pie that they don't know. You know. I don't know how that turned out, but that, that was happening when I was overseas. I remember seeing that her and Snoop Dogg marketing a bean pie, you know. But it's not the bean pie. They don't know the secret. [laughter] You know, the people from Slate, they mentioned -- they might, want to see them make the -- they want -- don't have to give them the recipe, but they would like to see the mixing process. So -- yeah.
ALI: Have anyone -- I'm not going to ask you the secret, 'cause I know -- thefact that this sister even gave you the recipe -- have you modified that recipe?
ALI: It's a closely guarded -- I mean, people are very protective of theirrecipes of the pie, right?
CONRY: Yeah, yeah, yeah. It's the secret --131:00
ALI: Has anyone ever approached you to publish it or to make it available or --
ALI: -- teach them how to make it?
CONRY: I mean, you always get that. You know, "Teach me, teach me how to" -- youknow --
ALI: Do your employees have to sign a nondisclosure? [laughter]
CONRY: I don't know if Idris [Braithwaite] got to that. We've had the sameemployee for a long time, and real nice guy. I've tried different employees. When I first started, I had, I had even family in there, and working with African American -- now the brother that's there now, he's Guatemalan. He's been with us for a while, but he's devoted, loyal, and he works harder than any African American ever -- you know. The African Americans, what I realized trying to work with them, is they watch -- they think you're making money, and then they want a raise every -- they don't see the overhead. They don't see the rent. They don't see the lights. They don't see the gas. They don't see -- but they think you're making money.
Even my brother, man. I had my brother working with me, man. And he was playing132:00basketball, so during the summer months, he thinks, he thinks it's all right for him to take off, because he's got a game at six o'clock. He'll come, he'll come right before it's time for him to start, then he'll say, "Oh, I've got to go get a haircut next door," stuff like that. I'm like, "Why didn't you come earlier and get a haircut? Why you --" you know, "Why do you think it's all right for you to go, you know, to go play a game during your work shift?" You know, stuff like that. Then, when he left the job, he took some of my recipes and went to another place, to another bakery. That's family. So when people see I've got a Guatemalan in the back now, they're like --
ALI: Have people asked you about --?
CONRY: "Why don't you have a brother back there, or a sister?" We've got somefolks in the front, but in the back, you know, my man Julio, he's handling stuff. You know, you don't have to tell him what to do. He's like automatic pilot. We've been having some -- Idris got some contracts with the prisons, you 133:00know. They'll make an order like 10,000 pies, and that's a lot of work. It puts a lot of strain on the bakery. Me and him clash about the wholesale retail, because it's a retail operation, based on equipment that we have. If you're going to do wholesale, you need bigger ovens, you need bigger mixers, you need big storage space, you need -- which we don't have none of that, you know. The equipment -- when it was set up, the bakery was set up as a retail operation. We're doing wholesale out of the place, but it's a big strain on -- you know. Somebody ordered 10,000 pies? That means you've got to press 10,000 pie crusts first. And you can only -- we've only got one machine, so we only press one crust at a time. One crust -- we can bake 100 pies at a time, but we can only press one pie at a time. Ten thousand crusts like that? So it puts a big strain. I mean, so -- you know. 134:00
We're probably at a point now where we need to find another space just forwholesale, because wholesale is volume. It's volume, man. We sell, retail, a pie, five dollars. We sell the same pie, wholesale, $2.50. So that cuts. You know. So, you know, it's -- me and him have clashed on this issue. But while I was away, he kinda like, pushed the wholesale. We've got the pies in certain places, but it's hard to keep up, you know. You go to stores, they ain't have pies in -- they're not getting deliveries fast enough. We had some young brothers delivering, doing the distribution. They went overseas. So, I mean, if you're going to do the wholesale right -- you can make money doing wholesale, but it's about pushing it out. If you can sell a thousand pies a day, you're going to make up that $2.50 you lost, you know.
But yeah, the bean pie is -- it's growing. The popularity of it is growing.135:00There's a few other companies out there that's doing it. There was a company out of Jersey that was selling bean pies, sweet potato pies. But people know Abu's now. It's -- they know, they know the name. The brand. So now we're getting ready to do this big African street carnival. It's called African Arts Festival now. It's five days. It starts on the 30th until the 4th of July, down at Commodore Barry Park. Those are always -- they're hard, because you've got to produce stuff for five straight days, you know. Puts a big strain, you know. But if you had a wholesale operation, it would -- you know, you could supply that, supply the store, supply the other stores. We can bake 100 pies at a time. That bigger oven is going to bake 600 pies at a time. You know. They've got mixers -- 136:00we've got 60-quart mixers. They've got 180-quart mixers. You know. And when you're selling retail, you're buying wholesale. But if you're selling wholesale, what do you buy? You don't buy wholesale. You buy in bulk. We buy 100, 200 pounds of sugar at a time. You can buy a thousand pounds of sugar at a time. You get it a lot cheaper. You know. But you need space. You need storage space. You need a truck to -- forklift to be able to come here and drop, you know, a whole flat of sugar for you. That's how you need to buy if you're selling wholesale, if you want to make money.
So if you're not careful, you'll just be spinning your wheels. Working, working,working, working, working, working, but the profit is like -- you think you're making a lot of money, but then you've got to put money back. The money you make, it's not all profit. You know. So that's where we're at now. We need to 137:00really think about -- especially if we want to do these prison contracts, you know, if we want to go that route. You know.
ALI: I think I've covered everything that I had on my list. Is there anythingelse you want to say?
CONRY: Well, you know, I think, at this point, the Muslim community here is at aserious crossroads here in Brooklyn, and I can't -- you know, I've been a Muslim now since '76, so that's forty-- 42 years. Except for the time I spent out of the country. A lot of times, it gives you a chance to get perspective, when you remove yourself from it and look at it. It's like removing yourself from the forest so you can see the trees. And having been back since February, I see we're at a crucial stage, and there need to be some serious changes made. Like one of my friends says, when change is necessary and you don't change, it can be 138:00detrimental, you know. I think, at this point, there's some serious -- we need -- we have to take some serious stock of ourselves as a community. The African American community, Muslim community, is swiftly becoming extinct, you know. People are moving away. People are dying. There's almost a janazah every we-- during Ramadan, man, we had so many janazahs, you know, from people down at Khalifa [Masjid Abdul Muhsi Khalifa]. A couple of people died down there that were -- they were mainstays in the community down there, the elders. I told you my friend from Last Poets, he died in Ramadan. Are you familiar with Last Poets?
ALI: Mm-hmm. Founded on Malcolm's birthday.
CONRY: Yeah. Brother Jalal. He would have been a great person to talk to.
ALI: Yeah, I had hoped to, but --
CONRY: Yeah, he was -- he's a -- I was with him last year when I came. I spent a139:00few hours with him down in Atlanta. I went to visit my daughter. He was down there. He held on until this year. He had a serious lung -- I think cancer in his lungs or something. But he was probably the most prolific of the poets. He did some really great pieces. He did a piece called -- back in, back in the '70s, man, called "Mean Machine," and I quote this, this one quote in -- says, "High-tech devices sold at high prices, designed with you in mind to buy, but what you don't know is they're killing you slow, as you're paying the machine to die." And he's talking, you know, he's talking about cell phones and stuff.
Now this -- he wrote this back in the '70s, okay, and the cell phones, I'mreally convinced the microwave energy of the cell phones is causing a lot of health problems amongst people. Joint problems. I've never heard so many people 140:00getting knee replacements, hip replacements. It's destroying their joints, and it's destroying our health, period, because microwave energy is negative energy. You know, this is advice I'm giving people. When you're not using your Wi-Fi in your house, cut it off. Cut your modem off. Because Wi-Fi, it's microwave energy, and it does the same thing to our bodies that it do to a piece of meat. Because microwave energy, it heats up the water molecules in the meat, internally. It cooks from the inside out. And our bodies are 70 percent water. So it -- when we're exposed, constantly exposed, to microwave energy, it's heating up our body internally, and what we call is the inflammation, which means just be inflamed and hot. So inflammation is destroying our joints, and it's destroying our organs, the inflammation. It goes to show you how important 141:00a few degrees is. Our body temperature is 98.6 degrees, normal. So another 0.4 -- four-tenth degrees -- takes it to 99 degrees.
But when I went to the doctor -- I told you, when I got sick -- they told me mytemperature was 104. So that's five degrees. And they told me to go right to the hospital. They said, "Don't go home." Because I went there, on Fulton Street, to one of the little walk-in doctors to get -- I wanted to get a prescription for antibiotics, to bring my fever down. But she told me, you know, "You need to go right to the hospital." They wound up keeping me for a week. So that's five degrees, from 99 to 104. But how cold -- how -- five degrees Fahrenheit, how cold is that? That's like -- freezing is 32 degrees Fahrenheit. So five degrees is freeze -- it's almost like -- close to sub-zero. That's cold. But that five degree in our body will kill us if we stay in that state for any significant 142:00length of time. So that's how sensitive our body is to heat. You know.
So they say microwave energy, oh, it's just so minuscule, you know, you don'thave to worry about it. It ain't -- but when you stay in it constantly, 24/7, you stay -- and we're all people walking around talking about, "I need a hotspot. I want to be in a hotspot." You see? This is -- I thought we were supposed to be trying to avoid the [laughter] hotspot. But we all -- people walk around, they turn their phones on to be walking hotspots. But it's the microwave energy -- and you walk throughout the neighborhood and you see the microwave towers on top of citizen buildings, daycare centers, all -- you see these microwave ten-- and now they're going to 5G. It was 3G, 4G, now -- what does the "G" stand for? They say the "G" stands for generational. But what it does, it 143:00means it's more powerful. The microwave energy, it will be more powerful, you know. And we just -- we're paying for it. "Oh, I want" -- every time a new phone come out -- "Oh, 4G, 5G." We run around, we pay top dollar. Apple phone is over a thousand dollars, the last one that came out. And the guy who started Apple, who died, he wouldn't let his children -- he wouldn't even let his children play with a tablet. You know.
So we -- we're paying for our own demise. You know. You know, there's positiveenergy, there's negative energy. Microwave energy is negative energy. But we're embracing it and -- 'cause, you know, they're packaging it, and we're just running to it. We're just, you know, spending our top -- spending our hard-earned money to kill ourselves. You know. So that's the advice I give people. You know, turn off your modem, at least in your home. Try to create a safe zone. They even have clothing now where you can buy shielding to shield 144:00yourself from, from microwave energy. There's a website called lessemf.com. L-E-S-S-E-M-F dot com. They have clothing, undershirts, underwear, to protect yourself from, from this energy. You know. But we just -- you know, a lot of us -- too many of us don't -- you know the beautiful thing, Islam says -- the first -- Surah Al-Baqara talks about those who believe in the unseen. The believers are those who believe in the unseen, and this is unseen energy. You know. So we should be, you know, on top of this stuff, and learn how to protect ourselves better from it, because it's definitely having a detrimental effect on our health.
But yeah, the Muslim community is -- here in Brooklyn is, is in critical state.I mean, if it was -- the indigenous Muslim community, we're in a critical state. 145:00We're getting older. The young kids are really like -- we haven't put enough in place to keep them, you know, keep them holding on in this -- the attraction is so strong, you know, pulling them away from Islam. You know. We haven't done enough to counter. You know, the Jewish and Hasidic community, they control the environment. You ride through a Hasidic community, you know, they have everything in place, to kind of like insulate their children, insulate -- we haven't done that. In fact, I was, I was blown away. I read an article. They have a support group of, like, Hasidic young adults, maybe in their twenties, who break away from the Hasidic community. You know. They didn't, they didn't know who Elvis Presley was. You know, they don't -- they're not exposed to the 146:00common stuff. They don't watch TV. They don't -- you know. And I don't think -- they didn't know, they didn't know who Babe Ruth was. They don't know none of that stuff, man. You know, because their parents -- you know, their community keeps them away from that. They don't expose them. They're not exposed to that stuff. You know, so now, when they break away -- for some of them who break away from their communities, they have support groups, to kind of like help them, you know, get integrated into greater society.
ALI: So in -- for -- if you were imagining something like that for a Muslimcommunity -- it's interesting, because you talked how much you love Motown, right? Which is a --
CONRY: Growing up --
ALI: -- external culture influence. And I guess people can say, like, the musictoday is a lot different. Would you have wanted to grow up without -- what if you had grown up and this was denied to you? Because I guess every generation 147:00feels like the music that their children are listening to -- and we can say that it's gotten degrees different, right?
ALI: But every generation feels like the music their children is listening to,there's just something wrong with it. [laughter]
CONRY: Yeah, yeah.
ALI: You know. So do you see a way of allowing people to experience culture thatis outside of a Muslim community, but still be, you know, within --
CONRY: That's -- you know. Listen, that's the conundrum that we're in. I mean,Mus-- you know. I grew up, there was always music playing in the house. My kids didn't grow up like that, you know. Right now, I don't think any -- I know -- any of them have anything -- they may have a radio or something. They don't have record-- they don't have -- you know, I've gone to their houses, they don't play 148:00music like I grew up playing the music. I know --
ALI: Now, was that a conscious decision on your part when --
ALI: -- they were growing up?
CONRY: Yeah, I think -- yeah. There were more books in the house. There weremore, you know, more -- I'm a college grad. Their mother, she's a few credits from graduating college. So, you know, we constantly chose -- you know, changed -- created a different type of environment for them. Definitely I wouldn't want them to grow up like I did, with music playing all the time, because I believe in balance. You know, I believe in -- and I tell, you know, my children, I tell anybody, the most important thing, you know, is don't abandon your prayer. Once you abandon your prayer, then it's -- you know, you expose yourself to all the evils and -- that exist out here. So try to, you know, try to make your prayers. You know, I don't kid -- because Allah says he'll forgive anything except shirk [idolatry]. And he's imposed upon us, you know, the five prayers. Which you get 149:00credit for 50, you know, if you make those five. Prayers don't take long, you know. That's the advice I give my children. Make sure you make your prayer.
In terms of the music, you know, the music I grew up listening to -- I don'tknow how old you are, but it's a lot different from what they call music today, you know. The lyrics. They've got lyrics calling kids to suicide and all kinds of crazy stuff. You know, really. It's like -- it's no holds barred. I mean, this whole new world order thing and what that represents -- because I always ask -- I say, "Well, you hear about new world order, but what is the old world order that the new world order is replacing?" You know, no one ever answers that question, you know. If there's a new world order, then there must be an old world order. And, really, the old world order is a world that's, that's 150:00structured around the so-called Judeo-Christian principles. That's the old world order. So the new world order is a secular order, which is -- has nothing to do with that. Opposite of that. It's about, you know, materialism, and about consumerism, and -- you know.
And even I just had a discussion with my wife about the Eids. Everybody, theEids -- I see on 42nd Street, they had a big thing, you know, "Happy Eid" You see what -- I was watching a program about New Orleans and Mardi Gras, and they said the floats -- it's against the law in New Orleans for the floats to have, have sponsors. So you'll never see a float in Mardi Gras that says "Pepsi" or "Sponsored by Pepsi" or "Sponsored by this" or -- you don't see that. That's against the law in the Mardi Gras. Now, apply that to Christmas. Christmas is Christ-mass. How many people attend mass on Christmas? And, you know, and you 151:00see -- you know, you see a float sponsored by Pepsi, Christian -- the big-- big day parade, sponsored by that -- I mean, it's been commercialized. In Japan, Christmas is huge, and the people are not even Christians. They're Shinto. You know, they -- so it's been commercialized.
And so I see Eid becoming the same thing. So now they protect the Mardi Grasfrom that commercialism, okay, which is based on paganism, straight up, but when it comes to Christmas, when it comes to Eid -- what's the most important -- I asked my granddaughter, "What's the most important thing about the Eid?" She said, "The prayer." I said, "Yeah, the prayer, making that morning prayer." You know, but they, you know, they -- now it's becoming like a fashion show. You know, all the young girls with the makeup. They missed the prayer. [laughter] But after the prayer, they come, they're all glittering and -- you know. So we 152:00-- I see the same thing happening to the Eid prayers.
ALI: Now, as a proprietor of a business that has -- you know, one could saymarkets, in part, a Muslim-identity food, right? Do you feel -- because you could benefit from --
CONRY: From the commercial--
ALI: -- commercialization. [laughter]
CONRY: The commercialization, yeah.
ALI: Like -- or, you know, I don't know if people just come make big orders forEid, or during Ramadan, they're like -- you know, they want to have, like, stuff. So how, how do you feel, being somewhat in the middle of that?
CONRY: Well, you know, for the Eids, we do a big thing. We do a breakfast. Weserved over 200, 300 people this past Eid, Friday morning. Free. We just --
ALI: Out of the bakery?
CONRY: Yeah, out of the bakery. We've done that -- we started that tradition --it was just family. We'd gather and we'd do breakfast. All my children, my 153:00grandchildren. We'd do eggs, grits, you know. And then it evolved, and people started coming and looking -- "Where the breakfast?" So now we do -- like I said, we served over -- close to 300 people breakfast. You know. The masjid helped contribute. They buy, like, the sausage and the beef bacon and stuff. But we did the grits, and the eggs, and, you know, hash browns. And -- but we haven't done anything, you know -- you know, we try to make Eid, you know, celebratory, and a good time, good spirits, you know. But in terms of making -- you know, the commercializing of Eid --
ALI: So like no --
CONRY: Like I said --
ALI: -- no Eid special?
CONRY: No. No. [laughter] Other than the breakfast --
ALI: No sales, or like a sale sign. [laughter]
CONRY: No, we don't --
ALI: "Get your Ramadan special pies."
CONRY: Even while we're serving breakfast, we still sell, you know, sell thepies, but it's not -- we ain't, we ain't reducing price. 154:00
ALI: Right, right.
CONRY: But, you know, even if a Muslim business want to [inaudible] -- you seePepsi, and pretty soon you'll see Bacardi's Rum Eid sale. [laughter] You know, stuff like that. I would say, like, wait a minute, now. You know, now that's -- you know. But I see that commercialization coming, you know. Because there are so many Muslims, you know, in town. And see, the elite ain't got no problem with that. See, they, you know --
ALI: Yeah, they look at a market -- they're looking for a market.
CONRY: Yeah. They have no problem with that. But in terms of people -- I toldyou, I have six children. None of them smoke cigarettes. None of them drink alcohol. So who -- how do you think the people, the families, the people that own the alcohol business, Coors family, the Bacardi -- how do you think they view Islam? You know. How do you think Winston and, you know, these cigarette companies view Islam? Do you think they welcome Islam? Of course not. Okay. Because if -- it's the same argument -- it goes all the way back to the time of 155:00the Prophet (salla Allahu alayhi wa sallam). The Quraysh, their main concern about Prophet (salla Allahu alayhi wa sallam) preaching tawhid was the people, they -- their source of income was the pilgrimages.
ALI: Disrupting trade.
CONRY: Yeah, disrupting trade. People coming -- people used to come and leavemoney for the custodians of the gods, the 360 gods in the Kaaba. They used to leave money for the maintenance of the gods, and the Quraysh were the maintainers. So it was a source of great wealth for them. You know. And it was really coming back, like, "Get your hand out of my pocket." That's why I said -- they ask Muhammad -- "Say what you want. Just stop saying la ilaha illa Allah. La ilaha illa Allah there's no god but Allah." Because when you say that, then the other 300 -- the other -- however many -- 360-whatever gods have no significance. And that kills their source of wealth. So it comes back to commercialism, to, you know, to how these people make their money. Nobody is 156:00smoking cigarettes -- and, you know, a lot of Muslims smoke cigarettes. You know. Pork, pork is a -- on the stock market, pork belly is a big commodity. You know. Muslims aren't eating pork! I mean, billions of dollars made on pork alone. You know. We ain't drinking alcohol, we ain't smoking cigarettes -- shouldn't be smoking. We ain't eating pork. We ain't celebrating Halloween. I mean, billions of dollars are spent on Halloween. Billions. You know. Christmas. No Christ-- [laughter]. So just based on that alone, Islam is, like, a threat to, you know, to the commercial life of this country. You know. And these are things I think we don't, we don't even think about, we don't consider.
So those people who are -- you know, I think it's coming to a point -- and thisis, you know -- that, from what I was seeing overseas, that Muslims need to 157:00consider going -- you know, the sunnah of the Prophet is to recite the first 10 ayats of Surah Al-Kahf every jummah. And the Surah Al-Kahf is about boys who left the city to preserve their faith. You know. Is there a message in that? I mean, I think, I really believe, that in order to preserve our faith, it's time to think about creating -- just like they've got up in Islamabad, you know, creating our own environments. Leaving the city. See, 'cause being in New York City, man, there's no way you can avoid -- I mean, you step outside your door, and you're just bombarded with all kinds of, you know, stuff that -- the antithesis of Islam. I mean, how are you going to protect your children? You can't. You can't. You can't keep them locked up in the house all day. You know. But if you're in an environment, wholesome environment, where you can plant your 158:00own food, you can, you know, you can control what they see and what comes into their, into their ears and to their eyes, that's the only, that's the only way we gonna be able to preserve our faith. You know. It's almost impossible to do it in the city.
It's like shooting crap with your children, man. It's like -- some of them aregoing to come through it, you know, with their faith intact. And some of them are just going to get caught up. That's always been the story, even with African Americans coming from the South. You know, some kids get trapped up in the street. Some kids stay close to their parents and wind up -- but the ones that get trapped up in the street, once they get trapped off, man, if they don't die from drugs and alcohol abuse, and get trapped up in gambling -- that's always been our story. You know, like, we don't control our environment. You know. That's been our experience in the northern cities, whether it be Detroit, Chicago, you know, New York. We've lost a lot of -- I've lost siblings. My older 159:00siblings have all -- my two brothers, two older brothers, you know, they -- especially my brother a year younger than me, man. He was trapped. He was in the street, man. Michael was in the street. [laughter] As soon as he was old enough to be out there, he was out there. And he was the first of us to die. You know. It wore him out, man.
ALI: How old was he?
CONRY: Mike was a year older than me. Was he 50 yet? Probably just around 50,man, if that old. He just -- drugs. Mike would get high off of anything, everything. Gambling and stealing. He was just out there in the street. He just fell in love with the street, you know. I don't know if he died from AIDS, AIDS-related disease, you know. And then my brother Dennis, he just died --
ALI: How -- did you remain close with, with your siblings? So like -- or was160:00there like a point where you just kind of parted?
CONRY: Yeah, we kind of parted. I kind of had to do -- I went my separate way,because, you know, when I embraced Islam -- like I told you, my three older siblings dropped out of high school. I went on to college and graduated college, so there was that separation, you know. I had -- I just had to create another life for myself, man. I had exposed myself to so many things. I was a college athlete, you know, a college graduate. I was a teacher. I was, you know, a basketball coach, high school basketball coach, you know. And I was busy trying my entrepreneurial things, with the baking, and I did -- a friend came out of prison and taught me how to do leather-craft. I used to make money sewing leather clothes, you know, making leather handbags and other goods. I tried so many things, man. But I kind of -- I wasn't in their world, they was just -- you 161:00know. Drinking, getting high, doing all that stuff, I wasn't doing that, you know. Partying. I chose a different, different path, and I stayed -- I'm 65. You know. Had I continued doing what they was doing, you know, getting high every chance I got, I'd be tore down, man.
You know, the time I left the country, getting out of this country, was good. Ithought it was business, but I got other benefits from it. Getting out of this -- I tell people that I was never in prison, so I never did any prison time. I had three older siblings. I had a younger sibling. So I never had time alone growing up. Me and my wife started a family young, so. I never spent any significant time in solitude my whole life, okay. I was always around other 162:00people, and other people were around me, and I was -- I opened the bakery in 2001, and up until the time I left, 2014, I was always accessible at the bakery -- I was -- seven days a week. Because of masjid, people knew where to find Brother Idris, you know. Some people you're glad to see and some people you wish you could hide, but there's no place to [laughter] hide, you know.
That time, when I left -- I was 62 when I left -- was going to be 62 when I leftto go overseas. I was over there three and a half years, and two-thirds of that time I spent in solitude, because I lived by myself. The only time I dealt with people, when I came out. I went to the masjid. I was -- you know, when I was working over there. But that solitude, that time, to myself, being able to do some introspection, you know, think and -- it made a big difference, you know. Even my health improved. I was able to eat good and get out of the stress, you 163:00know. Because this is, this is -- I call this -- here, in this society, we are -- African American males, oppressed, suppressed, depressed, repressed. And I got a chance to decompress over there. Okay. So people say, "Man, you look so good now," but that three and a half years out of this, man, made a big difference, even in terms of my, my viewpoint, the way I see things, the way I process stuff. You know. I process things a lot differently than when I was, I was uptight, I was -- I wouldn't say bitter, but just had short patience with things, you know. I was just -- so getting out of here for those three and a half years gave me a chance to kind of like get myself, re-gather myself, in a lot -- in a few different ways, you know. My thought process. You know.
And -- so, you know, I think it kind of gave me a little extension on life,164:00because when I left here, my health was -- you know, it wasn't good. I had just discovered I had become diabetic, you know. And I didn't know it. I had diabetes, didn't know it. A friend convinced me to go to -- his sister is a doctor, and she has a clinic, so he -- "Go, go see my sister." She's a Muslim. So I went, and she said, "You're diabetic." I started taking insulin, just to keep my sugar down, keep control of my sugar. Because the sugar can do a lot of damage when you don't know you have it. I lost a lot of weight. I didn't know what -- I thought it was because I was working, man. You know. But alhamdulillah it was a good, it was a good experience. My first time being out of the country and away from the family for that extended amount of time. Like I said, I never did military, I never incarcerated. So it was good.
Unfortunately, in the African American community, the only time brothers get a165:00chance to get away and think is when they get arrested, get locked up, you know. That's the whole story of Malcolm, you know. Malcolm was a pimp, a thief. He was everything, until he got away -- he got locked up and he got a chance to think. So alhamdulillah I didn't have to do that. I didn't have to go to prison to get, to get, to get that experience, you know.
People ask me do I miss overseas. No, I don't, you know, I don't miss it. Ididn't miss -- well, I do tell people, if it wasn't for friends and family, I would never have to come back here, you know. Because over there, it's like there's no crime. There's masjids every 500 meters, whatever. You hear the adhan in quadrasonic sound. It gets hot during the summer, but you stay in the air conditioning. I was cooking, and I was doing a lot of research, and trying to figure things out. Didn't have any distractions. I didn't have a television. You 166:00know. So. [laughter] That was by choice. I just said, I don't need it. I had -- I've been -- all my life, you know, TV, TV, TV, you know, but I didn't, I didn't have one.
ALI: Did you keep up with the news?
CONRY: Facebook. Yeah. That's pretty much how I kept in contact with the peoplehere. Facebook, you know. I became like a Facebook philosophizer type. [laughter] People -- I had a lot of people following me. People now say -- because I don't spend as much time on Facebook since I'm back -- "Where you at?" I write poetry and --
ALI: So when you left, between the time you left and the time you came back, wehad a change in the presidency.
CONRY: Yeah. I kept more track of him while I was there than I have since I'vebeen back.
ALI: Oh, you did? So you did follow some of that stuff?
CONRY: Oh, yeah, man. That cat, man. Listen, man. You know, I see it as -- Idon't know if you're familiar with what they call the pendulum effect. Obama -- 167:00this is the issue. See, Obama was chosen. He was chosen by certain people. They knew the effect that Obama would have on this country. They groomed him. They primed him to be president since he was senator, coming out of Chicago. His -- [David] Axelrod. Rahm Emanuel was his chief of staff. Axelrod was his campaign manager. All those designers -- they, they primed him, okay. And his greatest accomplishment -- I mean, first of all, he's Black, he's Brown-skinned. That's one problem. They knew that some folks would have problem with it. But they tolerated -- they dealt with the problem. His name was Hussein. Public enemy number one in America was Iraq. Iraq -- what's his name? Saddam Hussein. So he had the same name as the number one enemy. [laughter] He has Islam in his background. You know, he went to a madrassa in Malaysia. You know, so he 168:00associated -- he's affiliated with Islam. But then, when he becomes president, his number one accomplishment was making same-sex marriage the law of the land. Under Obama, same-sex marriage became the law of the land. And they force-fed that stuff down the throats of the Christian right people, especially in the South. They force-fed that. Okay. In fact, the last 12th, 13 states that fought against same-sex marriage are the same exact states that formed the Confederacy. Alabama, Mississippi, North Carolina. The same states that fought, that separated -- fought the Civil War -- are the states that held out longest against same-sex marriage.
So now, you've got a Brown-faced man, affiliated with Islam, okay, namedHussein, and he's promoting homosexual all -- all throughout the country. Okay. 169:00That's -- I mean, that's -- so what do you get? You get a pendulum effect. You get Trump. Obama, Trump. They say Obama was like the antichrist and -- you know. So they're willing to tolerate -- they knew -- they know Trump. They know who Trump is. They know he ain't no angel. They know, but they're willing to sacrifice all of that. Because they saw Hillary Clinton as a continuation of the Obama agenda. Okay, secularism. Move towards secularism, away from belief in God. So Trump comes along. You know he ain't believe in no God. Trump. [laughter] He could, he could -- but he catered to them as he moved around the country. You know, all the things he was saying, you know, the things they wanted to hear. That's why he's in office, really. You know, because of the 170:00effect, the effect -- solely by the effect of Obama. You know.
He's KKK [Ku Klux Klan], man, no doubt in my mind. You know. He's affiliated.He's -- he may be a grand dragon, you know. And the people that support him -- you know. I mean, they know that the KKK has infil-- infiltrated police departments around the country. They know that. The FBI, they knew that. So who he put in charge of the justice department? Beauregard [Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III]. Straight-up cracker. [laughter] Sessions. With a name like Beauregard. Come on, man. You knew even -- even -- even if he that guy from Breitbart. You know, that cat. The guy he put around -- people he put around him, man. And he said he was going to clear the swamp and all that stuff. But he -- his whole objective is to destroy the -- I don't think -- you know, you see him read -- even this thing with the children on it. You see him talk -- he's 171:00reading. They're not his -- that's not his plan. They're not his ideas, his plans. He's doing somebody else's work. You know, he's a figurehead. And he reads, and it's like, if you give a speech and you give it from yourself, you don't have to sit there and read word-for-word [laughter] what you want to say. You're reading somebody else's speeches, man. You know, they put the executive orders in front of him. He don't read them, he just sign them. You know.
I really believe, you know, that the objective is to destroy America, really.Separate it. Destroy America. That's all part of the new world order agenda, is to destroy nation states so they can create a new world order. And America is the last nation that's standing in the way of this unifying of America. You know, North America with South America. So they, they'd love to see a race riot, a race riot. They'd love to see America self-implode, destroy itself. You know. 172:00Some people. You know.
ALI: What, what would you want to see happen to America?
CONRY: Well, you know, as a --
ALI: And I think that will be a good closing --
CONRY: As an American, you know, you -- I would love to see the people wake up.You know, this whole dumbing down process that's occurred in America, you know. For people to wake up and see -- to see what, what the agenda is of the people who, who really would like to destroy it. For the people to wake up and just say, "No, we're not falling for this." You know. "We're not going to destroy each other." You know. "We see the plan. We see" -- that -- you know, that would be the first -- the best thing to happen, you know, for the people to wake up. But as long as there's hatred, so much hatred in people's hearts, man -- I mean, just what's going on at the border, taking babies from their, from their parents. You know, people are blinded by hatred, man. You know. As long as this 173:00hatred is able to feed, continue to feed and be fed, and continue, it's no -- America has no hope, man. You know. There's always been, you know, this whole thing with conservative versus liberals. You know, this is a big problem. I mean, conservative thinks everything is new -- I mean, everything old is good, and nothing new is good, and liberals think everything new is good and nothing old is good. But there's -- got to find a middle way. It's not always been about finding middle way.
I mean, you've got to be a damn fool if you think everything new, everything newis good. And a lot of people think -- a lot of young people think everything new -- anything new they bring -- science -- whether it's coming from science, whether it's coming from -- you know, anything new is good. Everything old, throw it out. And to think, you know, everything old is good and nothing new is, is good, it's -- that's, you know, just as bad. I mean, there are some new 174:00things that can be beneficial for all humanity, you know, but you have to -- when there's no ethics, there's no ethics, and that's when you're ready to throw out Judeo-Christian principles. You're talking about throwing out ethics, man. You know. You know, you throw out -- you know, there's no such thing as good or bad, you know. Come on, man. That's -- you're headed towards ruination when you think like that. You think you can live -- run a society with no ethics? We have a crisis of ethics in this country, serious crisis of ethics. You know, they tell you this whole liberal idea of anything good is -- anything new is good and nothing -- there's no such thing as bad, or there's no such thing as good, there's no -- you know. When you start moving like that, that's the devil -- loves that.
When you have an enemy, an avowed enemy, and you don't believe he exists, how175:00vulnerable are you? You have an avowed enemy, and you don't even believe -- recognize his existence. Then it's easy. He can move around, do what he wants. Plant ideas here or plant ideas there. Because the devil inspires just like Allah does. You know, the devil inspires. He inspires people to give great speeches, to write great books. It's really about ideas, you know. So many crazy ideas. There's no ethics, you know. We create -- and America -- American is at a crossroads. Either we -- either the people wake up. You know, it's like, it's like a -- it's like a flow, like a rapids. Like, how do you change? How do you change the course of a rapids, flowing rapids? How do you change it? You know. 176:00And the Muslims, coming back to the Muslims, it's like so many Muslims have bought into that. You know, that idea that -- you know, moving away from the ethics that Islam -- what is Islam without ethics? Willing to do anything to go along with the flow, you know. Go along and get along. You know, it's like, how? This is the abandonment of jihad. Joining what is good and forgetting the wrong. That's what Islam -- part of Islam is about, you know.
Even homosexuality. You know, like -- I mean, the problem with homosexuality forme is that it's always been around, but if you keep it -- your business is your business. If somebody looked in my window right now and see me in a homosexual 177:00act, they're -- in an Islamic society, they're the criminals for spying. They couldn't go to the authorities and say, "Look, he's, he's committing a homosexual--" "How do you know?" "Because I saw him through his window." "You're under arrest for looking through his window." But it's when the people come out in the public. And Allah -- the prophets said the person who commits a sin in the darkness, and they come out and they declare it in the day, Allah cursed those people. But as long as you do what you're doing, you know, whether it's a heterosexual crime, a sexual crime, or a homosexual -- as long as you do it in your privacy, that's your business.
But when you come out in the outside, you start marching in the street -- "I'mgay and I'm proud" -- force-feeding it down people's throats, then that's -- then those people are cursed. And that's the problem in this society, because now you encouraged the next person to come out. The next thing you know, now 178:00you've got parades. People marching through the street, declaring, "I'm gay and I'm proud." And, "I'm gay and I want to move in your house. There's nothing you can do about it." They're teaching the children, the babies. They've got heterosexuals teaching children, you know, you're not -- your penis, your vagina doesn't matter. You know, you can be what you want to be, transsexual -- no, you know, that's -- now you have -- you have what you have. Can that be changed? Definitely not in New York City. [laughter] A place like New York. You know, you're considered radical. You're a terrorist if you even thought about that type of stuff.
That's where we're at in this society. It's like -- it's all coming out, andnothing you can do to stop it. The cat's out of the bag, as they say. Is it possible to put it back in? No. They even had a gay -- you know, there's a poster on Masjid Taqwa. The, the advertising company -- there's a huge poster -- pays the masjid $70,000 a year for that space.
ALI: For the billboard?
CONRY: Billboard, yeah. They had a gay thing over -- now the masjid is supposedto have some say in terms of what types of stuff -- they can't put liquor up there. But they had -- some group, some homosexual group, had a big poster up there, and they got them to take it down. You know. But the pressure is on. Even going back to, like I said, parking in front of the masjid and what they're doing, stuff like that. You know, they just -- they're trying to find ways --
ALI: So this was a conversation we had before the recording started, so you, youmight have to explain what you mean by the parking.
CONRY: Oh, yeah. Well, along Fulton Street, from east to west, the only blocksthat had restricted parking, and they've taken away the parking, is the blocks where the masjids are. Masjid Taqwa. Right at the corner of Bedford, they turned -- they made like a turning lane or something, so you can't park there in front of the masjid. In front of Masjid Ihsan at Fulton and St. James, they took all the parking away, and they made like a bus lane, you know. But all along the rest of Fulton Street, it's like -- you don't see that. It's like, why is that just in front of the masjids? You know. And I told you, in the '90s, they took the parking away. They just took parking around Masjid Taqwa. I took pictures and sent it to the mayor, and they changed it, put the parking back. So it was like -- it's always these -- you know, from one administration to the next, it's these efforts to restrict the Muslims. But, you know, we need to expect it. These are things that's always going to happen, because of who controls the city? I mean, meanwhile, they built villages. They built villages, Jewish villages, Hasidic villages, all along, like, Flushing, Bedford, and that whole area there. It's like -- that's their -- they made a village, and they're coming up -- seems like they're coming up Bedford out of Williamsburg into -- trying to meet up with the other community on Eastern Parkway. You know, it's like -- every now and then, you see them marching. They have processions. But they -- you know, Bloomberg term gave them the key to the city, so they're kind of like flexing their muscles. Muslims are -- they've always been trying to steal that building out from under Taqwa. That corner building.
ALI: Oh, really?
CONRY: Oh, yeah. You know, trickery stuff. They've stolen a lot of property inthis neighborhood, messing around down there in the municipal building, changing deeds and -- so you have to, you have to have somebody to stay on top of that. Especially if you own the property. Once you own a property here, you're responsible for keeping track of your deed and all that. If you have a mortgage, the mortgage company usually does that. But once you finish paying it off and you own a property, you have to stay on top of your deed stuff down the municipal -- because they'll go in and they'll pull a deed, change names, and come around and kick you out. Kick you out of your place. They've done it to several people. You know. Kick you out of your home. Because you were lax, and you didn't have somebody watching your, watching your possessions, man. Because I understand it's easy for them to go down there and change names on deeds and all that stuff. You know. So, you know, this is, this is New York City today. It's always been -- I mean, it's been like that, but it's more intense now. Masjid Taqwa -- you know. We've got some brothers that are really -- through the years, have learned that you just can't fall asleep, you know. They've gone -- even the other masjid on Madison, they've had some close calls with taxes and stuff like that. Because they -- that whole block, they got that whole block there, that whole corner there. It's a big facility there. You know.
ALI: This is Khalifah?
CONRY: Khalifah, yeah, yeah. Yeah, it's a big facility, so they have to stay ontop of things. You know. So -- you know. Whatever Allah allows to happen. But we have to -- Allah said tie your camel and put your trust in Allah. We can't just depend -- we trust in Allah, but we have to tie our camel. You know. We have to be diligent. You know. So. Alhamdulillah.
ALI: Okay. So I'm going to stop.
Oral History Interview with Idris Conry
Idris Conry was born in 1952 in Brooklyn. He graduated from Boys' High School in Brooklyn and briefly played football for Shaw University in Raleigh, North Carolina before earning his bachelor of the arts in African American studies from John Jay College in Manhattan. He and his wife both embraced Islam in the 1970s and worshipped first at Masjid Ikhwa in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn and then at Masjid At-Taqwa in Bedford-Stuyvesant. In 2001, he opened Abu Baker's Bakery (now known as Abu's Homestyle Bakery) next door to Masjid At-Taqwa. The bakery is currently managed by his son, Idris Braithwaite (interviewed for this collection on July 7, 2018).
In this interview, Idris Conry discusses his family, his education at Boys High School in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn, and his semester-long scholarship to Shaw University in Raleigh, North Carolina. He talks extensively about his Muslim faith and identity, including his initial exposure to the religion through his Muslim stepfather, his decision to embrace Islam, and his perspective on cultural traditions within the Muslim African American community. He also elaborates on his experiences at specific mosques, especially regarding Imam Khalid Yasin's leadership at Masjid Ikhwa in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn and community policing efforts by Masjid At-Taqwa in Bedford-Stuyvesant. In addition, he speaks about opening Abu Baker's Bakery (now known as Abu's Homestyle Bakery) next door to Masjid At-Taqwa, the bakery's focus on bean pies and their significance to the Muslim African American community, and future plans for the bakery. 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.
CitationConry, Idris, Oral history interview conducted by Zaheer Ali, June 21, 2018, Muslims in Brooklyn oral histories, 2018.006.22; Brooklyn Historical Society.
- Abu's Homestyle Bakery (Brooklyn, New York, N.Y.)
- Bears Football Team (Shaw University)
- Boys' High School (Brooklyn, New York, N.Y.)
- Braithwaite, Idris
- Conry, Idris
- Masjid At-Taqwa (Brooklyn, New York, N.Y.)
- Masjid Ikhwa (Brooklyn, New York, N.Y.)
- African American college athletes
- African American cooking
- African American Muslims
- African American universities and colleges
- Black Muslims
- Community policing
- Family-owned business enterprises
- Islamic education of children
- Muslim converts
- Bedford-Stuyvesant (New York, N.Y.)
- Brooklyn (New York, N.Y.)
- Bushwick (New York, N.Y.)
- Crown Heights (New York, N.Y.)
- Prospect Park (New York, N.Y.)
Finding AidMuslims in Brooklyn oral histories