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Abdul Hafeez Muhammad
Oral history interview conducted by Zaheer Ali
October 21, 2018
Call number: 2018.006.51
ALI: Today is Sunday, October 21st, 2018. I'm Zaheer Ali, Oral Historian atBrooklyn Historical Society and Project Director of the Muslims in Brooklyn Project. I am here at Muhammad Mosque No. 7 in Harlem, New York, doing an oral history interview with Student Minister Abdul Hafeez Muhammad for the Muslims in Brooklyn Project. Brother Minister Hafeez, is that okay if I call you Minister Hafeez?
MUHAMMAD: Yes, sir.
ALI: Okay. So, Brother Minister Hafeez, can you introduce yourself to therecording, giving your name and when and where you were born?
MUHAMMAD: Thank you. As-salaam alaikum. Peace be unto you, Brother Zaheer. It'san honor to be interviewed by you and be a part of this project. I am Abdul Hafeez Muhammad. I was not born Abdul Hafeez Muhammad. I was born under the name Kevin Anthony Bernard -- that was presumably the name of my adoptive parents or 1:00my mother -- in Harlem Hospital in 1963.
I've never met my mother or my father. I've only known my adoptive parents. AndI remember walking through the door in Brookline Houses around three or five years of age. I was born on [date redacted for privacy], 1963, once again, in Harlem Hospital. And I grew up in Canarsie-Brownsville, Brooklyn, for 18 years of my life, in Brookline Houses.
ALI: So, you mentioned that you were adopted.
ALI: Tell me, how did you learn of that?
MUHAMMAD: Oh, thank you. Well, you know, when we're children, we're inquisitive,seeking things when our parents are not home, or if they're asleep. And I went 2:00through my parents' dresser drawers. And I found other things that shocked me. But I found a document. And the document was my adoption papers. I always wondered why my parents were much older than me and why my other counterparts' parents were younger, much like how I've grown up with my children, with young par-- I had them in my 20s.
Well, I found out, because these were not my paternal parents. And it answered alot of questions for me of how I was handled by one member of my parentage and their family members. It answered things for me. And, that's how I knew my name was Kevin Anthony Bernard, which to me seemed to be a Caribbean or Haitian kind 3:00of name, Bernard coming more from a Haitian perspective, in my study of names.
But I grew up, you know, with the slave name Ross. And, my adoptive parents werefrom Charleston, South Carolina, both of them, you know, Moncks Corner, Ten Mile Hill, Dorchester Road, down in the bottoms, on Nesbit Avenue. They call it North Charleston today to clean it up a little bit. So, that's my history. And that's how I found out about--
ALI: Do you remember -- you said it made clear to you the kind of -- you know,helped explain to you the treatment that you had received.
ALI: Do you remember what your reaction was when you -- you weren't expecting tofind this?
MUHAMMAD: No, no, no.
ALI: What were your -- was your reaction?
MUHAMMAD: I was looking for money or, you know, some private -- something other4:00than what I found. I found a few things that my daddy had. I didn't expect to find that. But when I found this, Brother Zaheer, it knocked me to my -- off my feet. It did. And, I was about eight or nine years of age because I could read very well. I read the entire document. I remember it today like yesterday.
And, you know, it hurt me. And, you know, I did things. I had a reaction to it.I did something. I took something from my mother. It was money, thousands of dollars. And she blamed my father. And I hid it under a car wheel. And, someone evidently saw me, and when I went back to get it, because I realized -- I was going to take the money, but I knew I couldn't hold it in the house and spend it 5:00or whatever.
But, when I realized the harm I was causing them, and my father taking the blamefor something I had done, I went back to get it and it was gone. And it almost caused my parents to divorce. But it was my reaction to what I considered a lie to me. Just tell me I'm adopted, you know? That's all, not when I asked questions -- I don't have any siblings. "Well, because they died. You know, I tried to give birth, but they died." You know? Why are you much older? Because we waited until the last minute. See, these things were hurtful to me, and when I found the documentation.
So, the only person I ever discussed it with was my Aunt Anna, may God bepleased with her, in Brooklyn. She used to live at 1535 Pacific Street in Brooklyn, New York. I miss her. But I shared it with her, part of my little 6:00emotion. And she was the only person I could release that I found the papers. And, she said these words to me -- "Don't ever tell your mother." And I said, "Why?" She said, "Because it will break her heart. All of these years, they held that from you because they felt if you had known, you would have run away and left them or never, ever listened to them. So they kept it a secret." And, of course I loved my Aunt Anna, and she loved me, it was my mother's sister, I never, ever said anything. And they both returned to Allah.
ALI: What was your adopted family's religious background?
MUHAMMAD: My mother was a Jehovah's Witness. And my father was a 33rd degree7:00Mason. And, I always tell people they gave birth to a Muslim son but, you know, here I am. But, yeah, that was my -- my mother was a Jehovah's Witness.
ALI: Did you have to -- did you accompany her to the Kingdom Hall, that kind of thing?
MUHAMMAD: No, she never took me. They always came to her home. And, if she everwent, she never took me. But they were coming. Back in those days, in the '70s, they would come and make home visits. I don't know that Kingdom Halls had been built like they are now or like they were later. But they came, and they would hold Kingdom Hall meetings in her home, her apartment. And so, I was a part of that.
My father would take me out to the lodge. But I didn't know it was the lodgeuntil I came upon the teachings of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad. Then I 8:00realized what the Arabian sword meant above the crescent moon. I saw his certificates, and so then -- and he had me -- it's Claremont Lodge. He had me there when I was a young boy -- pardon me. And he told me to sit up here and don't move, you know, and "I've got work to do." And he was doing whatever he was doing in the chairs, and yeah. So he was bringing me to the lodge.
ALI: So, your -- did you have early religious instruction? How would you --growing up, would you--
MUHAMMAD: No, no, no. I really -- because I was an only child, I made friendseasily. I didn't have a religious instruction, you know, like that, per se. I just had the discipline of two parents from the South -- very hard, you know? 9:00When I didn't learn my math, my father would use a ball-peen hammer and hit my knuckles until they bled, then patch them up before I'd go to school and, "Tell them you hit the punching bag," or whatever. I don't know.
But, you know, they were very hard at times. Thank God I've not been with thatwith my children, and they're well-disciplined. But, they meant well. So, no, I didn't have any religious instruction, per se, except being exposed to the Jehovah's Witnesses and what they were saying and my father taking me to the lodge, which I later found out what that was all about.
ALI: What was Canarsie like growing up?
MUHAMMAD: Oh, boy. Canarsie, Brooklyn, at that time, brother, had grass. And wecould play. It was much cleaner. We could play stickball against the wall. And that's when you live in the projects, you have the brick. And then you have the first-floor window. But below the brick is concrete. So we would put a box with 10:00an X on the box. And that would be the pitcher's plate. And we would play stickball.
And a home run was when you would hit it over the seven-story buildings. And,you know, a double, hitting it this high, triple, you know what I mean? So, that's what it was like, you know, a lot of greenery, music in the park, you know. It was nice growing up in Brooklyn at that time. I mean, everything has changed now, of course. When you get older, everything looks smaller. When we were younger all these things looked large to us, large playing in the field, in the park, the school.
You know, today I walk in there as I've been back, and I'm like, man, I grew uphere, on this floor, in this elevator? We used to play in the elevator where, when the elevator went up we jumped down in the cavern area. And then we would 11:00wait when the elevator comes down and jump out just before the elevator would catch you. The sad thing is, Brother Zaheer, we lost a good friend.
ALI: Oh, wow.
MUHAMMAD: He didn't make it out in time, and he died. So, that ended that for us.
ALI: How old were you when that happened?
MUHAMMAD: You know, I don't remember my age, but between eight and ten or eightand eleven, nine and eleven. You know, I was a young teenager because I could climb out of it. So, I wasn't a small guy. But, yeah, when that happened, he got crushed. He didn't get out. Yeah, the object was, when the elevator went up, we had a way to jimmy the door, and you jumped down. And you -- boom, you jumped down. And, you know, you're looking at the elevator go up.
But the whole goal was, the elevator's coming down, and to climb out just beforethe elevator comes down. You know, "ah" somehow he got stuck, and yeah, lost his life. 12:00
ALI: Was that the first time you had experienced a loss of life of someone thatwas personally related to you directly or that you knew and you didn't --
MUHAMMAD: Yes but not the only time, but yes, the first time.
ALI: Do you remember how you responded?
MUHAMMAD: It was painful. It was painful to hear his screams. And there wasnothing we could do. And then to see the ambulance come and the police, you know, we couldn't stay there when they pulled him out. I mean, you know, and his parents were hurt. You know, we didn't do anything wrong to each other. It was just stupid.
And then our parents got on us. And then, his parents got on us, and his parentscussing him out because he ain't there. So, we get more of the cussing out. 13:00There might have been some spankings going around. It was a sad time, you know, but yeah.
ALI: So, tell me about school. What was school like for you? What schools didyou go to, elementary?
MUHAMMAD: Well, I grew up in P.S. 260 Elementary School on Williams Avenue. Andthen I later graduated to Bildersee Junior High School. This is in the White section of Flatlands Avenue, Flatlands and 82nd Street. And this was at a time of heightened racism and prejudice of Whites to Blacks. And this was them integrating us into a White school in a White neighborhood that today now is Black and Haitian. Whites are not even there. All the way down to South Shore 14:00High School was Caucasian. It's all changed now. But then it was Caucasian.
And, I remember an incident at Bildersee Junior High School -- well, two ofthem. One, we lost another brother who died on the playground because we used to play punching each other in the chest to see who could take the blow. And, I won't say the brother's name, but a big brother of ours punched another brother who was small of frame. But, and the way the game went, whoever came up, you have to come up. So, when it came up for the big brother versus the skinny dude, one of us wanted to take it for him because we were bigger than him. And he said, "No, it's his time. He'll be all right." And he hit the brother in the chest, and he died right there on the spot, right in front of us, collapsed. And, I mean, the big brother, he was never the same because it was our friend. 15:00So, that was the next time that we witnessed that.
So, the other incident at the school didn't deal with death, but the White boyssaid that we're going to get on -- no, we couldn't get on their bus to go home. But, they're going to get on our bus. And, so they came on the bus. "And you niggers ain't gonna do a damn thing about it. That's right, because we run things around here." We said, "Come on the bus." Man, we waxed them, wax on, wax off, so bad, then threw them out through the window. That's when the windows on the bus was oval and round and you could kick it out from the bottom.
We threw them out through the bottom of those windows. You seen White bodiesjust come on out into the street. They didn't worry about doing that no more, challenging us, because when we came onto their bus, not we but other young Black students who wanted to integrate, they beat them up. So we felt that was a fitting payback for what they did. 16:00
ALI: What was the -- what was your classroom experience like? How did theteachers treat you or the other Black students coming into these schools?
MUHAMMAD: At the junior high school?
ALI: Yeah, yeah.
MUHAMMAD: Oh, no. I mean, they were -- we had pretty good teachers that werewelcoming, you know what I mean? They weren't set against us or anything, you know. They -- maybe because of school mandate they were for it. Our main issues was with the other White students, you know, that we were there, you know. Why couldn't y'all go to y'all own school? Why do you have to come over here to our school?
Yeah, well, we figure, well, all the school is ours, so why you -- y'all canleave if you want to leave because this is where we are. We like our homeroom teacher. We like our social studies teacher. We like our music -- you know? So, we good, as we would say, you know? So, the teachers were fair to us. I can't say that they were not.
ALI: You -- so, at this early age you had already experienced the death of two peers.17:00
ALI: I'm interested how you processed that. A lot of people would, you know,fall back on, like, a religious explanation.
MUHAMMAD: Not a lot of things fear me -- caused me fear.
MUHAMMAD: I'm not a fearful person. I've been in incidences in my life whereother people were shook, and that's all right because I expected maybe to be shook, too. But, I wasn't. It doesn't mean there's not a few things that make me jump, but not really in a fearful way. I'm not like that. You know, I've been in car accidents and people look at me. You all right? I'm right here. What's wrong? We're scared to death, you know? But I'm cool.
So, it kind of hurt me for a moment. It kind of let me know that later on when Icame into ministry I've been able to handle people's loss of life different than others, the preparation of Muslim bodies -- of the males, different than others. Funerals, different than others, you know? People in hospice, that did bother 18:00me, people being in hospice. And while I know now you can survive it, but then it was always terminal. I never wanted to go and visit people, even my family, in hospice.
But, a good Muslim couple got me past that because one of them were ill. Thewife was ill. And it was Brother Mance and Sister Dorothy. They actually saw our Saviour, Master Fard Muhammad and met him. That's how old they were. And she said to me, "You'd better come see me, all that I've done for you." I said, "You ain't gotta say that to me, Auntie. I'm going to come." And I visited her. She says, "This is why you need to come, because people need to see you. We need to see you when we like this. How do you think I would have felt -- you're like a son to me, a grandson -- that you didn't come see me in my final time?"
I cried with her. That broke that from me. But prior to that I really didn't go19:00see people in hospice. But, you know, I kind of handled things without knowing that I was handling it, you know, that God, Allah God, had given me an ability that I didn't quite know how to explain at that time.
ALI: So, after middle school, where did you go to then?
MUHAMMAD: I went to George Westinghouse High School, vocational and technicalhigh school, where I graduated from. And, they say a lot of the rappers from Brooklyn came out of there and whatnot, and Jay-Z and this one and that one. That's good. I wasn't thinking about that then. I was thinking about my very first day at George Westinghouse. And, some young brothers had come from Fort Greene Houses. And back in those days, Brother Zaheer, we had the big boom box. That was the tall square box, excuse me, with the speaker in the center. I used to play these. When I came into the Nation of Islam in 1980, I used to play it 20:00on the bus, '80, '81. '82, was still hanging around. I used to put a cassette in there on the back of the bus and play Minister Farrakhan's messages to attract the people.
But, going back now, to George Westinghouse Vocational Technical High School, onthe very first day, you have a young Puerto Rican brother with glasses. He had a boom box. The brothers came from Fort Greene Projects. I said, "Man, yo, man, look, won't you to go put that somewhere?" And he said, "No, nobody's going to take nothing from me, man, you know what I mean?" I said, "I don't think that would be wise."
And these brothers came in and surrounded him and they said, "We want that box."You know, they were taking a few things, Jewelry, whatever. They want that box. We're not leaving without that box. "Nah, I'm not letting it go." And so, he fought for it. What he didn't realize is that one of the young brothers 21:00regrettably had a machete. And he says, "If you don't let it go, I'll cut it off you." And they cut his hand. They severed his hand by his wrist and took the box with his hand on the box. I'll never forget it. And he bled out. I think they saved him, but he -- yeah. Mm-hmm, took the box from him, yes, sir.
ALI: Oof. So, around this time, you were introduced to the Five-Percent Nation.
ALI: Tell me how that introduction happened.
MUHAMMAD: I always grew up among Five-Percenters because in Brookline Houses itwas called by the Five-Percenters "Nubia," which was interpreted "land of the gods" because from the three-story projects -- I lived in the seven-story projects. But then you had the three-story projects that all made up Brookline 22:00Houses. And, Brookline was so large we called a part of it Pelan or Patmos, you know. We called it Medina, Mecca, you know, these Islamic terms out of the scriptures, the lessons.
And, so I've always been around brothers who had their righteous names, though Iwas not a Five-Percenter, per se. but, they've always kind of adopted me in. And they looked out for me because I knew all of them. So, no matter who they met from the desert or from Queens or from Mecca and Harlem or Pelan from The Bronx, it didn't make a difference. When they came into Medina, which was Brooklyn, then, you know, they covered me. You know, he's cool. Leave him alone.
You know, I could be in the ciphers and when they're breaking down the lessonsand the wisdom, and "Who is the Original man?" and "The original man is the 23:00Asiatic Blackman, the Maker, the Owner, the Cream of the planet Earth, Father of Civilization, God of the Universe," breaking all that down, no problem, you know? And they'd say, "He's good with us," so they left me alone.
But then, in the late '70s, I got knowledge of self formally. And, I then becameknown as Tashiem God Allah. And, but I really didn't know my lessons. We called them 120. There are 154 lessons of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad from Master Fard Muhammad, meaning 120 of them, but 34 of them was The Problem Book. And that mathematical number has something to do with the Honorable Elijah Muhammad's departure in 1975. But we didn't have that. We had the 120.
And, you know, Student Enrollment, Actual Facts, Lost-Found Muslim Lesson No. 1,24:00Lost-Found Muslim Lesson No. 2. So 120 of knowledge, 120 of wisdom, 120 of understanding, gives born to 360 degrees of knowledge, wisdom, understanding, which makes you God, which is ISLAM -- I, Self, Lord And Master. You know, Power and Equality of Allah Sees Everything -- PEACE, you know what I mean, and these things.
So, but I didn't know my lessons. My enlightener, as we were called then, hadn'tfully enlightened me. So, there was this knowledge seed brother. Knowledge seed means this Black brother, I-God. He's from the Caribbean. He's always challenging me. Got this big, tall God. He don't know his lessons. So I would always be saved by Brother David's brother, Brother Petey. Brother David Muhammad, out of Mosque 7C in Brooklyn. I grew up with their family. And his 25:00eldest brother Petey would be the one who would save me and step in because he was a Five-Percenter.
And, one day I-God cornered me on the back bench. I lived on the fourth floor inBrookline. And he cornered me on the back bench. And he says, "Ain't nobody here today to protect you, God. I'm going to deal with you." And he dealt with me, and he embarrassed me and showed that I wasn't God in the perspective that I didn't know my lessons, because in order to be God you have to know your lessons, and the Supreme Wisdom lessons.
And, but on that day, Brother Zaheer, I learned a lot from him. So he wasn'ttrying to embarrass me. He saw my potential. And he wanted me to grow in it. He didn't like the enlightener. He said, "He's not a true enlightener. You would do 26:00better with me." And it wasn't envy. It wasn't jealousy. It was just that he wanted me to grow. And from that day, I learned the 120 Lessons that I mentioned earlier in two weeks.
This is a lot of questions and answers now. And, in a month, I could quote thembackwards. So I felt empowered now. So I then changed. I added to my name. I said now I'm Infinite Tashiem Great God Allah, not just Tashiem God Allah, Infinite Tashiem Great God Allah. And that's how I continued to live.
ALI: How did that name come to you?
MUHAMMAD: Well, the name Tashiem was chosen out of what we called then theSupreme Alphabet. A is for Allah. K is for King. E is for Equality. I is for 27:00Islam. S is for Self. H is for Hell or Hellfire, things of that nature. So, you know, you choose letters out of the alphabet, and that's what was done. So, T is for Truth. A is for Allah. S is for Saviour. H is for Hell -- Hell or High-low, something like that. I is for Islam. E is for Equality. M is for Master. And that was it.
ALI: What was the attraction of the Five-Percenters for you?
MUHAMMAD: Oh man, the ability to quote them lessons, sure, that rap, man, youknow? You've got someone talking about, "Who's the Colored man?" "The Colored man is the Caucasian (White man), Yacub's grafted Devil, the Skunk of the" -- I mean, just to run the lessons off, you know? "What was Yacub's rules and regulations in manufacturing of the Devil?" I mean, that was attracting because no one was talking that, you know? If someone was a Christian or someone, you know, you knew he was a Muslim, but here's the lessons of Elijah Muhammad and 28:00they're being broken down like this.
Of course, we knew them coming from Father Allah, as we referred to him, knownin the mosque as Clarence 13X Smith, you know? So, but when you got the lessons, you became Allah of sorts. And so, it was exciting, you know, that. But that was the attracting part, you know? And, many of the brothers were trying to be progressive, but there were a lot of backsliding going on and downward spiraling of things that were going on because, whether the enemy crept in, we crept in on ourselves. And we misused this awesome power.
And, it fulfilled the statement, "Nothing corrupts absolutely more than absolutepower." And we were a victim of that. But it still had an attracting force. It had an attracting force on the female, calling her the Earth, you know. And then 29:00you get the little babies, and you dress them and put the pin on them, you know? So, it was a mimicking -- later I realized it was a mimicking of the Muslims under Elijah Muhammad that we were doing in the Five Percent.
ALI: At a time when the teachings of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad were not yetas formally instituted in the Nation of Islam, right? This is in the late '70s, early '80s?
MUHAMMAD: Oh. Well, I mean, the Nation of Islam was out front.
MUHAMMAD: What happened was it went through its fall that was prophesized tohappen by the Saviour and the Honorable Elijah Muhammad. And in the advent of that fall, from '75 to '78, the Five Percent flourished. I mean, it grew even more, and it filled the void. And this was Allah's way of keeping Islam, from 30:00the Nation of Islam perspective, fresh. But it did produce an element that was anti-Islam or anti-Muslim. They knew they were Islamic, but just from the perspective, I'm not a Muslim. And --
ALI: Why that -- why the need to emphasize for some that they were not Muslim?
MUHAMMAD: Because Clarence 13X Smith, or Father Allah, when he left the temple,as it was called then, for the breaking of what is called Restrictive Law of Islam, he continued to wear the star and crescent flag, not the new flag that was produced. He continued to fast. He continued to eat one meal a day. But, he had a little mental condition, so he will go in and out of Matteawan [State Hospital] and other, you know, psychiatric institutions and whatnot and then be released.
But, during a long stint, you know, his nine -- some of his first-borns31:00developed the flag to distinguish the Five Percent from the Muslims because they felt Muslims submit, and we're God, and God doesn't submit. What I would later learn, even though I ascribed to that philosophy, I would later learn that Allah God, from the Honorable Elijah Muhammad, is the first Muslim. He's the first one to submit to his own will. That's how you can trust God, because he submits to his own will.
So, whatever he sets in motion, he doesn't change the nature of what he set inmotion, much like a police officer running a red light just because you're a law enforcement, but you ain't got nowhere to go. God would not do that. And so, you know--
ALI: So, with this, how did you find yourself attending a mosque meeting of theNation of Islam if there was at least a group within the Five Percent who were like, "We are not them"? How did you then find yourself going to -- 32:00
MUHAMMAD: Yes. My brother by the name of Brother Barkim Allah -- he would laterbe known as Brother Timothy -- introduced me to the Nation of Islam under Minister [Louis] Farrakhan's guidance. He said, "Yo, God, I got this tape of Farrakhan. And Farrakhan's a representative, a National Representative of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad. And the dude is bad. You need -- you've got to hear this, brother. You think we're powerful. You've got to hear Farrakhan."
And so, I was in his bedroom, and he put the tape in. And I heard MinisterFarrakhan blasting. I could see him. It's like he was on an album or something. And, he had a little more hair than usual, or than what I became accustomed to later on. But, a beautiful-looking man, and he was blaring that, "White man, the sun, moon and stars are not on your side anymore. The weather's not on your side 33:00-- excuse me -- anymore. You can only predict what God allows you to predict. But Elijah Muhammad today --" You know, so he was preaching that. And I'm like, I ain't never heard that from no man before, you know? I never heard that from any man before.
And so, it became attractive to me. And then I heard him speaking some of thelessons. And I said, man, that's deep. And so, that attracted me to the mosque. By that time, I had grown a little wary with some things in the Five Percent. I began to question certain theologies.
ALI: Can you give me an example?
MUHAMMAD: Well, when we said that the Black woman was 100 percent weak and34:00wicked, how can this woman who gives birth to us be weak and wicked? Even to say she's weak, I mean, yes, she is a weaker version of us. We're stronger for her. And as I've always taught, the woman is stronger than the man in childbirth. But the man must be stronger mentally to provide for them. But weak and wicked?
I said, damn, I can't ascribe to that, and I call her my earth, because theearth is very strong. All of the iron and the ore and the diamonds and the cobalt comes out of it, and we build on the earth, and the earth don't throw us off. It receives us no matter what we build on it and put on it. I mean, this is a magnificent structure that Allah, subhanahu wa ta'ala has put together. Of course, I didn't know to call him that at that time. So I didn't agree with that.
I didn't agree with the use of drugs in the name of Father Allah because hedrank, and he did this, and he was still God. But, was he as sharp as he could 35:00be? And, back in those days, when someone says, "I got some knowledge," that meant that I had some sess [marijuana]. If I got some equality, I had reefer. If I got some understanding, I have cocaine. So, we started using the wisdom to cover negative things in the name of Father Allah Clarence 13X Smith.
ALI: So, what was your first Nation of Islam meeting that you attended? Andwhere was that?
MUHAMMAD: Oh, boy. This was at Utica and Eastern Parkway, 1980, under formerlyBrother Linward X from Plainfield, New Jersey. The Minister would later name him Abdul Karriem Muhammad. And he was my introduction. I didn't like him when I 36:00first met him because I didn't think he was a knowledgeable man the way he spoke. But, one thing I knew, he was a man of immense love. Brother Karriem loved Black people. He loved Allah, Elijah and Minister Farrakhan and would give his life for them.
And I'm thankful he's alive today. He's my first mentor and teacher. And so, Ilater came to understand him. And that was all of us. People don't understand us and see us a certain way. But man, when I grew to understand his love -- and I remember coming to the mosque. I had on a nine-piece suit. It was a brown suit, three-piece, but it's nine-piece because I got kufi. I got shoes. I got cufflinks. So, you know, I'm coming dressed for the mosque.
But I got on my kufi. I have a black and gold kufi with a tassel. And when you37:00have a tassel as a Five-Percenter, and it's free-flowing, it's not tied down like some of the Shriners would do, that means my knowledge is 360 degrees to the second power. So, I got to the door to get checked. They said, "Okay, Brother, you have to take that kufi off so we could check it, Brother. You don't wear the kufi in the mosque."
I said, "No sir, Brother. I'm God. I'm not taking off my kufi." He said, "Okay,Brother, no problem." He called a lieutenant. "Yes sir, Brother? We explained to the brother he needs to take off his kufi, but he told us he's God. And he's not going to take it off." So they said, "Okay, Brother, we understand that you're God. We're God, too. But you're going to take off that kufi. Otherwise you're not going to get into the mosque."
I said, "No, sir. You're going to force me to take it off?" "No, we're not goingto force you to take it off. But you're going to have to leave here. Otherwise, 38:00take off that kufi. And you can't come up in here to Brother Linward." So, after it seemed like the brother was going to threaten my body and my person, and not in a bad way, 'cause I understand it now that I'm a soldier, I took the kufi off, and I went upstairs.
And when I heard Brother Karriem, I said, "I'm smarter than him." I didn't gethim the first time. But, it was enough for me to come back. And then when I came back, I felt Abdul Karriem Muhammad's love. And that's what made the difference, you know? And then I could hear him better. So, something clicked. But what I had a problem with was time, because when you come to the Nation then, and it is now, it brings you into a system of operation that brings you into a 39:00brotherhood, a sisterhood, an activity away from the world.
So, Saturday was FOI [Fruit of Islam] class and MGT [Muslim Girl's Training]class. I think one was earlier and one was later. Sunday was spiritual teaching mosque. If you're a single man or you're working on -- on -- on -- on -- Monday was martial art training. Tuesday was like, you know, family night. You go to the movies or whatever. Wednesday was the mosque meeting. Friday was the mosque meeting. Thursday you in the field soldiering, and then you're back again on Saturday. So, that was the Nation.
I said, "Oh, hell no. I'm God. I can't get used to all of this right here, man.I can't do this, man." So, there was a brother by the name of Brother Xavier X. He's still alive today, lives in Atlanta, Muhammad Mosque No. 15, ATL. And we 40:00stood in the window. And he says, "Brother, I know you -- you're God, and you call yourself that. But, you've got to come into the reform, Brother, if you want this. If you don't, then you walk out of here today and you don't look back. You know, it'll be what it is, but we'll be here. But, if you make up your mind."
And from that day, looking out of Utica and Eastern Parkway, onto EasternParkway, I made up my mind. And I've been here ever since, 38 years later. I've never left the Nation of Islam. And I have not missed, in 38 years. I've got ten fingers. Thank God I don't have 12 or 13. But, I've not missed ten meetings. I don't even think it goes deep into the second hand. What I'm saying is, meaning 41:00I'm talking about on Sundays. I've not -- I've been here. I mean, I've been here so much and so consistent. I don't know not to be here, but yeah. That's --
ALI: So, as you were brought into this system of activity, what were some of thechanges that you had to make in your life?
MUHAMMAD: Oh, discipline of time, of course, dietary law, you know, eating onemeal a day. And once I came into better understanding, you know, I submitted. But, you know, still, you know, dropping back some. I've always respected women. But this was another level of respect, you know, like pardon my language, but a kickass respect. You know, you don't respect, we'll whip your ass.
So, you know, that was, you know, another kind of a, you know, respect, you knowwhat I mean? We'll whip your ass if you don't -- no problem and shit. I'm not -- 42:00don't look at the sisters. All right, God damn, I'm not looking. I'm just, I'm here, you know what I'm saying? So, it was another kind of respect, so you had to, you know, adjust to that, and just a regiment of time. That was the most important thing in reporting in for callouts and meetings.
And back then, Minister Farrakhan spoke every other day, almost, it felt like,so we're on the road. Every weekend, we're on the road. We're going to Philly. We're going to DC. We're going to Boston. We're going to North Carolina. We're going here. We're going -- you know, we was on the move on the East Coast.
ALI: How did your family and the people that were close to you react to your--
MUHAMMAD: They thought I was crazy. There I was, Kevin, Ross, Tashiem, InfiniteTashiem. Now I'm Brother Kevin X, then later on Kevin Muhammad. They said, 43:00"Well, damn it, make up your mind. Who are you? Do you even know who you are? We don't know what to call you. Every time we call you one thing, you tell us to call you something else. We just got used to calling you Kevin X. But you was ramming down our throat you was Infinite Tashiem. Who? Good God Allah? Oh, Great Great God Allah. We never knew whether you was great or good. Now you come and tell us you're Muhammad. Who are you? Do you know who you are?" So, that was what we had to adjust to with my family. But, you know --
ALI: Did you -- I'm assuming part of this was part of your submitting. But, howwas it for you to go from being Tashiem back to Kevin?
MUHAMMAD: At first it was a no-brainer. I question so much. I'm an inquisitiveperson. I question you to death until I fully understand. And I did that. I did that with one of my brothers I grew up with, Brother Lester, may Allah be 44:00pleased with him. He was known as Brother Tumar in the Five Percent. He came into the nation. So, I questioned him to death, him and Brother James, another brother who became my secretary later on, my CFO in the mosque.
And, I question and question and question until I get the right answer. And thathelped me to, you know, make a transition. But, once I did, I accepted it. And once I realized this was the true way -- and how did I realize this was the true place to be at? Pardon me. One of Brother -- one of Father Allah's nine born, the first nine born, as they call it, lived in Brookline. What was his wife, his 45:00earth's name? Asia Biatic [phonetic], I think. But, her God's name I forget.
But he was a dark-skinner brother with glasses, short afro, beautiful brother.And he came and told me to another God one day, a Five-Percenter, he said, "Look, you all need to stop all of this shit out here. And y'all just need to go on to the mosque." "What do you mean go on to the mosque, man? We're God, man. We're out here in the street, street academy. Man, shut up, man." He said, "You need to go back to where the father's roots are." I said, "Where's his roots?" He said, "The mosque."
How do you know? He said, "Where do the lessons come from? From the mosque.Well, that's his roots. He always wanted y'all to go back. Don't believe all this shit that they're trying to" -- pardon me -- "they're trying to tell you out here--" I'm just keeping it real, "-- telling you out here. Go back to your roots." And that's what made me go back to the mosque. And that, in my 46:00subconscious mind, helped me consciously to make the easy transition from Infinite Tashiem Great God Allah to Kevin X.
ALI: So you didn't see it like as a demotion?
MUHAMMAD: No. I accepted it. I'm a member of the Nation now. I'm no longer aFive-Percenter now, even though Minister Farrakhan has told me more recently you will always be Five Percent. I run into people who say, "Tashiem, Tashiem, there go the god, there go the god," you know? I'll embrace that, you know? I'll tell them, you know, it's Abdul Hafeez Muhammad. "Oh, man, all right, Brother," you know?
On the 50th anniversary of the Five Percent Nation at the Apollo, one of thegods had introduced me to one of the other fellow gods and brothers. And, he said, "Yeah, this is Minister Abdul Hafeez Muhammad." "Oh, I knew him. They told me he's Infinite Tashiem Great God Allah." So, I said, "Yeah, Brother, I'm known." That's what I'm -- that's who I'm greeting. I said, "No, Brother. You're going to respect the name that Minister Farrakhan gave me. That's what I was 47:00known as. This is what I am known." "All right, that's peace, God. I meant no disrespect, God, you know?"
So, when I had Kevin -- when I was Infinite Tashiem Great God Allah, that's whatI was. When I was Brother Kevin X, that's what I was.
ALI: So, as Kevin X, in the early '80s, or around '82, '83, is when you begancourtship. Is that correct? Do I have that?
MUHAMMAD: No. I didn't begin my courtship -- I'm married now 32 years.
MUHAMMAD: This is my second marriage.
MUHAMMAD: I didn't begin courtship until '84.
ALI: All right. So, let me get to that then--
MUHAMMAD: No problem.
ALI: --to just keep the sequence. So, in '83, is that the first time you gaveremarks at a mosque meeting in the public?
MUHAMMAD: Yeah. I used to teach. I was brought up in 1983. '81 I got my X. '80 I48:00came, '81 I got my X. and what happened was Minister Farrakhan comes to Utica and Eastern Parkway. "How many of these brothers got their X?" "None of them. Yo, but they came on in and they processed, but we put them to work." He said, "Oh, no. If you don't get your X and get registered, when I come again you cannot stand post with me." And we was lined up in there like crack addicts waiting to get our X, man, because we wanted to be on post for Minister Farrakhan.
So, in '81 is when I got my X. By '82, you know, I'm coming up through theranks, squad leader, lieutenant and all these different things, front door post, roof post, you know, fish salesman, all of that stuff, you know? By '83 I'm brought into the ministry to have five minutes to speak. And I will never forget. I won't say the brother's name, but there was a slew of us that were brought up to speak and one brother.
And we were told by Brother Karriem, he said -- it's Brother Linward then, but49:00Brother Karriem, Abdul Karriem Muhammad, he says, "All right now, brothers. All right now, brothers." That's how he talked. "All right." He'd hit that table. "All right, brothers. You've got five minutes to speak. Now don't take up three minutes with the salutation. That's only two minutes, and we don't hear nothing that you've got to say. You got that?" No problem.
And a brother got up there -- "In the name of Allah, who came in the person ofMaster Fard Muhammad, who traveled 9,000 miles at breakneck speed, and he broke the sound barrier, and he traveled at 1,037 and 1/3 miles per hour, and he came 2,000 by 3,000 miles" -- the man took up nearly four minutes on a salutation. "I want to greet you. As-salaam alaikum! Now, brothers and sisters in my short time." "All right, time. Time. What did I tell you all?"
So, he was my precursor. So, I said, "Oh, man." So even if I was going to makethat same mistake, even though we were told not to, oh, man, when I got up there 50:00I hit a home run. I said, "In the name of Allah, who came in the person of Master Fard Muhammad, in the name of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad, our Messenger, and in the name of their Minister, Minister Farrakhan, I great you. As-salaam alaikum." That was less than 30 seconds. And I went on and preached.
He said, "That's what I'm talking about. That's the way to do it." I was -- youknow, eventually I was put into the ministry class, and I began to open up and speak from the rostrum.
ALI: What was it that you liked about the ministry?
MUHAMMAD: Oh, teaching. I always wanted to be a teacher. And I studiedelectromechanical engineering technology. When I went to -- I had two years in college after George Westinghouse. Matter of fact, when I was in George Westinghouse, I had the technical class. It was a vocational technical school. I took a technical class on office machine repair. So, this is when the IBM Selectrics came out. So, I could build those from scratch. Give me parts, put it together, take it apart.
So, there was an exam for five work-related slots. So, in your senior year --51:00pardon me -- if you did well in mathematics and science and history and this, you could take a test. Three hundred people applied for the test. Only five slots was open, one through five. I was one of the 300. I passed, praise be to Allah. So I was one of the five. And the higher up the number, the better the vocational slot you got. I was number one of the five. So, I got the highest-paid position.
And, I used to work at 66 West Broadway. And, I went -- that's how I learned NewYork City, through the public trains, public transportation, rather, because they had a contract. The company I worked for -- oh, man, Olympic Business Machines or something, Olympia Business Machines, they had a contract with New York City Housing to fix their Selectrics and their copy machines. And I would 52:00go in as the man that would fix all of that.
So, I worked one week and went to school one week. I got paid. So, I would go toschool, you know, like I'm dressed right now. I would have on a three-piece but no jacket, you know, pants, vest, shirt, tie -- boom, you know, doing what I have to do.
ALI: So, you said teaching appealed to you.
MUHAMMAD: Teaching appealed to me, always. So, I left George Westinghouse andenrolled in New York City Technical College, which was a two-year college, for an associate degree. Then you would either go to MIT or elsewhere -- NYIT [New York Institute of Technology] or elsewhere, to further it. And, I got to nearly two years but had to drop out because when my father died, may God be pleased with him, they took away his SSI [Supplemental Security Income] payment. Reagan did that. The payments were to be bequeathed to either the wife or the children. 53:00Well, we have survived him. So, that was allowing me to go to school. But then he had to cut the budget deficit that he had messed up with his trickle-down economics stuff. And, he took that away as a line item. So, when the person who had the SSI benefits died, it died with them. And so, I had to drop out of school -- I mean college, or leave college and begin to work, yeah.
ALI: What kind of responsibilities did the ministry involve?
MUHAMMAD: Well, as assistant minister, I mean, you had to still be a soldier.You had to still soldier The Final Call. You have to still come to FOI class. You have to still do security for the sisters. You had to still go out on callouts, you know. But you have to be there to prepare the word before the 54:00minister would come on, you know, on a Sunday, Wednesday. Back then we taught on a Friday as well, you know what I mean, so special events, you know.
So, I always became the go-to person because I was always consistent. In otherwords, if I had a security job back then, because I had lost a Fortune 500 company or 1,000 company I worked for, Fortune 500 company, because I was told that this might be the last Saviours' Day in '83. The guy told me. Matter of fact, my employer was a Black gay man. And we were out at lunch one day, and dude insulted him about him being gay and kind of flexed on him. And, you know, my supervisor dusted him off. And he says, "That's to let you know just because I'm gay I'm still a man. I still can fight." I said, man. So, I -- you know, grew this level of respect. And, but he pleaded with me. Don't go on this trip. 55:00There'll be other -- he said, "Man, come on, man, you know? I've been around. I know the Nation. I know Farrakhan. There's going to be other Saviours' Days. Don't let that brother set trip like that."
But I'm listening to the young brother. He's still in the Nation today. Heimplored on me that this might be the last and you need to come, and don't listen to your employer, and your job will be there. Well, I went to Saviours' Day. I got fired. So, life changed for me on that. 'Cause I could have retired from that job, made my family a lot of money, it might have been different for me. So, that might have been a blessing for me, but that's when I took on security jobs.
And if it didn't agree with my schedule of the mosque, I quit you. I can get asecurity job any day. All these security companies are right down the block. I'd go to the next one. So, when this one fired me, let me go, I went to this one. 56:00That one let me go, I went to this one. This one let me go, I went to this one until I got to the right one. So, I was always available. I was a single man, so they worked the hell out of single men at that time.
ALI: And how much longer were you a single man?
MUHAMMAD: I first got married in, yeah, '84, prematurely. I wasn't ready.
ALI: Was this a marriage in the mosque?
MUHAMMAD: Oh yeah, it was a marriage in the mosque.
ALI: So, what is that process like?
MUHAMMAD: Yeah, when you came in, when you came in the Nation, marriage isencouraged, you know? They don't let you stay single too long back then. Now you might get a little bit more time because we're wiser. You know, we rushed people into traffic jams and to collisions, 18-car pileups and whatnot. And, you know, so back then it was, I mean, you've got to get married, got to get married. So, you've got to court. And in the Nation, we don't date. 57:00
So, you've got to court. So, you've got to ask for a sister, through thecaptain. He goes to the sister captain. Sister captain goes to the sister. Then they introduce you all in courtship, and then you court. And you get a chance to see each other. We didn't follow all of the procedures because you're supposed to have a chaperone and this, that and the other. So, we cut corners.
But, you know, I ran into some -- man, hell of a courtship, man. I ran into onesister, and I liked her. She liked me. She said, "Well, you know, you like me, you've got to give me something." And I was like, I'm stupid. I didn't know what to do. So I gave her one of my gold chains. Then when I saw somebody else that I liked, and I wasn't feeling her too much, I'm like, "Okay, we're going to call this off." She's like, "Hell no. Hell no. You is mine. You're going to marry me."
I said, "No, no, no. Wait a minute now. No, no. Courtship don't mean marriage.That's what I was told. It just meant that we were going to see if we're going to court. But I don't want to court you anymore. So, give me that." "I'm not giving you back a damn thing. You're going to have to tell them how I got this chain around my neck." I said, "Oh, well, you might as well go on and keep it." 58:00
So, I never did get back that -- it was a nice rope chain, man. Gone, man. Goldand diamond cut -- I mean, she, like, you know, macked me for my damn chain. But she wanted me. And I said, "No, well, you're just not going to have --" It was almost like a, you know, scene from Magilla Gorilla, you know. Hey, you're going to come, you're going to be mine. I said, "No, it's not going to work like that."
So, and then, I -- so, those of us who were Five-Percenters in Brooklyn weren'talways treated so well by the young Muslims in the mosque. They felt threatened by us.
ALI: Even after you came in?
MUHAMMAD: Yeah. They felt threatened, always, from day one, because I hadsomething that they didn't do, which is quoting their lessons. And then they would tell me, "But you don't have the understanding." And I would tell them, because I was a smart dude, that "That ain't the way Minister Farrakhan would 59:00want you to say it to me." "Oh, how do you know what he would want?" "Because I'm listening to him like you do. And that's not his way. Is that how he would want you to treat me? You should celebrate that I can quote. And I'll celebrate that you can give me understanding. But you're getting it from him. So, we're all listening to the same source." So, they kind of gave us a little rough way to go. So, Brother Karriem allowed us to go to another meeting place just for Five-Percenters. We're all in the mosque now. We got our X. But y'all Five-Percenters go over here on a particular Tuesday night. And that's when I met my now-wife of 32 years, at that meeting.
ALI: So she, too, was a former --
MUHAMMAD: Five-Percenter, yeah. And I saw her. And Barkim saw her. And she waswith another sister, so we both saw both of them. But he's looking at her, my wife. Well, she wasn't my wife then. And I'm looking at her. And I said, "No, you're looking at the other sister." He said, "No." I said, "No, no, no. I'm 60:00going to say it again. You're looking at the other one. I'm looking at this one." He said, "Why?" I said, "It's the same way. You think because we came into the Nation? It's no different than when we was in the Five Percent. I'm running stuff, and you coming behind me." So, I said, "You're getting that one, and I'm going after this one." And that's the way it was. "I don't like that shit." I said, "I don't give a damn what you don't like. I'm going after her. You're going after this one." "Is that how it is?" And that's how it turned out. So, it was always that I was going to be the minister and he would be the captain. And, that part we did agree upon.
And, that's when I saw her. And so I went to another sister, and I asked her.And that wasn't what I was supposed to do but, you know, that's what went on. And I'm like, you know, tell me about her, man. And, the sister I went to I grew up with. So, I knew her. I knew her children's father, her baby's daddy, you know. So, we were close. So, she was looking out like, "Yeah, I think y'all a good match." Back then there was a lot of matchmaking going on, more than now. So, that's how it happened. But I courted my wife. That was when I courted her for the first time. So, this is prior to getting married in '84. This is around 61:00'83. And it didn't work out because when I went to propose to her, she said, "I have a question to ask you." I said, "What's that?" "How much money do you earn?" So, I was making -- I was a messenger. I was making 135, 134 dollars a week, because was making 3.35 an hour, minimum wage. I was bringing home $109.50. so, I said that to my courtship, which is now my present wife. She said, "Brother, you can't take care of me and my son on $109.50 a week, Brother. What you gonna do when we start having children? We're young. And I want to have some more children. How are you gonna take care of me and the babies?"
So, I said, "What the hell are you talking about, woman?" So I got upset with62:00her, and I said some things that made her cry because I know she cared about me, as I did her. And I said, "Woman, marry me, woman. What are you talking about? We're going to be all right." "No, Minister Farrakhan," -- that's when I learned I had a positive woman. She said, "Minister Farrakhan says you either maintain me at the level that my father maintained me or the level I maintain myself. Otherwise, leave me alone." So, I said, "Oh, you want to run Minister Farrakhan on me?" So, I said some other hurtful stuff. Excuse me. And we both left each other crying. And, we broke off the courtship. And, that's when I courted now my first wife. She was a path of the least resistance, so I thought, until we got married. Then she wore my -- I mean, she wore me out, brother, on responsibility 63:00and this and that and that.
A brother came, real respectfully. And I respect her. I don't put anythingagainst her. But, I was an demasculated man. I didn't pay the cost to be the boss, and she did, to the point that her son told me one day, "My mama runs things up in here." And I said, "Let me tell you something. I run things up in here. And there's only two of us in here with the same kind of genitalia. And mine is larger than yours, so you're going to shut your little behind up before I go out there and bury you in that doggone snow." It was a snowy night. And I wound up still burying him in the snow because he had a smart little mouth when we went outside. I don't know if he ever told his mother. But, he's grown now, but I buried him in the snow when he was younger. But it ended in tragedy because, you know, when I was put out into the street, the tragedy was me being 64:00put out, and I had nowhere to go. She just said, "You've got to go."
And I got a job now. I got a job. I just bought the VCR. I bought thisfurniture. I put money in your hands. "I don't care. You've got to go. I'm through with you. I'm through with it." Later I would find out she was through with the marriage. And she never remarried. She never remarried, even to this day. I've always wished the best for her. I did love her, wanted it to work. But I had not done my homework with her, and she really didn't do one with me. It was kind of premature.
ALI: What does that mean?
MUHAMMAD: Meaning I didn't check her background or her check mine. You know, howmany car wrecks she had, how many car wrecks I had, meaning in other words, how many people was in their life beforehand. And, not going too much, but those 65:00that were in her life ruined her for good, man. And I thought I was trying to be -- I was a good-natured person. But it just didn't work out.
ALI: So, what kind of lessons did you, from that experience, take into thecourtship and marriage that you ended up?
MUHAMMAD: Well, from the first one, when I got rejected because I didn't earnenough money and I didn't know how -- I was too immature to know how to handle that -- to the second one that I went in as the path of least resistance, to now coming back now and re-courting my first -- not my first courtship but the sister previous, I made sure I earned enough money.
Oh, yeah, I wanted her to ask me. Ask me how much I earn now. How much do I earnnow? Tell me. Ask me how much I bring home now. I was making some money then, Brother. I'm making about five, six hundred dollars. I'm bringing home 382. Shit, ain't no damn 109. I'll take care of you. You times that times four. I can take care of you, baby and some babies, you know what I mean? So, I'm talking 66:00stuff, you know. King Kong ain't got nothing on me, you know what I mean?
So, it was that kind of spirit and feeling, and it felt good. And I had beenhurt, like I said, when I was put out, nowhere to go, and went to my cousin's house, and Brother Timothy met me. And he was upset the way I was put out. And then, what happened -- this is what made it a tragedy. On the night I was put out, I get the call. My mother had died. I'm in the taxi, going nowhere. I mean, I'm going to my aunt's house in Flatbush. I remember where she lived because my mother and father would take me over there. This is my other aunt, my other sister of my mother. And, I get the call my mother died. So I started to lament 67:00in the vehicle. So, Brother Timothy now, he's really upset now. So, look, I'm sorry. The call comes from my then-wife, who -- it comes through the dispatcher. It comes from my wife to the taxi service through the dispatcher. And he says, "Your wife is on the phone."
So, he pulls the vehicle over. So, I talk to her. She says, "Yeah, your motherpassed. I just got the word." So, I'm crying. And I'm waiting for her to say, "Come back. Just come back and stay with me. Stay here until you get things worked out. I still want you to go, but I want you to work some things out." So, I said, "Was there anything you want to say?" She says, "No. I just pray everything will be all right." "All right. As-salaam alaikum." "Walaikum salaam." And she never asked me to come back.
So now Brother Timothy is going off. "God damn it, she's not going to let you68:00come back. Turn this car around." I said, "No, Brother, she don't want me back." So I'm hurt now, Brother. I'm crying. I'm lamenting, all the way to my aunt's house -- my cousin's house. He drops me off, and he sees me to them. I've got to tell them what happened. I'm a grown man got put out. Then her niece is up on the next floor, who I wind up staying with. But, you know, I'm hurting.
And so, she takes me in because she realized I'm just -- my wife just put meout. I didn't do anything wrong to her. I hadn't beaten her. I didn't disrespect her. So she gave me a place to stay, you know? I wound up staying with my cousin upstairs, with her and her daughter. "All I can do is give you the couch, you 69:00know, Kevin? That's all I can do. I'm sorry that this has happened to you." I said, "Yeah, I'm sorry, too, but okay. Thank you so much," you know?
But that scarred me because I really didn't want to court another sister in themosque. So, I start courting, or dating, lost-found sisters, as we would say.
ALI: And what does lost-found mean?
MUHAMMAD: Lost-found is someone who's a non-registered member in the Nation ofIslam. And, I dated them. But I always wanted MGT-GCC, Muslim Girls Training and General Civilization Class. I wanted to be evenly yoked. But I said, "I'll go ahead and clean one up and get it straight." But I kept running into these sisters that had baggage and other men or a child, and this one didn't have a child. But she had baggage.
But she was a nice sister. And if she didn't have baggage with it, me and hermight have gotten married. I really wanted her. But she played games with me, and then the old flame came back into the picture, and she lied to me on 70:00something. I said, "Oh, shit. I just came from something. I ain't got time. Nothing like this, but I ain't got time for this BS with you." So, I left her.
Eventually I went back to the mosque. And then I re-courted my wife now, thatwas my courtship part of my marriage. She was still available. And maybe she was still available because I kind of ran brothers away from her, even though I was still married, like. It was like unfinished business. I knew it wasn't right. But I--
ALI: How did you do that?
MUHAMMAD: Oh, I just threatened brothers. Don't -- she's off the market, justGod damn it, you know? But even though you're married, you know, but I said, like, you know -- it was unfinished business. It really was. But, did I love my wife? I did. And I -- but you know what I loved? I wanted the institution of marriage. And I wanted to be married and never be divorced. That was my pledge. And that's what it was. I cared about her, but I also cared about the 71:00institution. And, of course, I did get divorced. And, but when I re-courted her, you know, yeah, so I'll just leave it like that.
ALI: So, during this period of time in the 1980s, the mosque in Brooklyn was theNew York mosque.
MUHAMMAD: Yeah. Utica and Eastern Parkway was Muhammad Mosque No. 7 for all ofNew York.
ALI: So, people came to Brooklyn from throughout?
ALI: And so, for someone who wasn't there at the time, what was it like to be inBrooklyn or New York City, or Brooklyn, in the 1980s? What -- you know, what was the presence of the Nation of Islam?
MUHAMMAD: Oh, man. We were vibrant. I mean, we were like the new thing. Eventhough Muslims weren't new as it was prior to '75, but man, the reemergence of 72:00the Muslims, and Brother Karriem's presence on us as a man because Brother Karriem focused on manhood and love and brotherhood and being strong and having an army. So, Brothers were joining, man, like running water.
And so, he had that. We had that machine cranked up and going, man. So, it waspretty vibrant, you know? It was lively at that time because, once again, Minister Farrakhan is on the move, traveling over 200,000 miles a year by air and by transport and every which way and picking up people and traction all along the way, man. And so the Nation was growing in leaps and bounds. So, it was vibrant.
ALI: One of the probably most public manifestations of that happened at MadisonSquare Garden in 1985.
ALI: Can you tell me something about your experience with that event?73:00
MUHAMMAD: Oh, man. Madison Square Garden was fueled by former Mayor Ed Kochcalling Minister Farrakhan and his theater of hatred, a two-page layout in the New York Post. Governor Cuomo chimed in. The father, the daddy Cuomo, Mario Cuomo, until he met the Minister. Then it was a different reality. And, but the relentless attacks on the Minister back then, after the Hymietown statement by Reverend Jackson, and Minister Farrakhan being at his side, it fueled Madison Square Garden. And the more they came out against the Minister, the more people loved him. Farrakhan is our man.
Now, remember this now. The Minister from '78 -- yeah, I mean from '80 when Imet him -- he's selling out arenas, 10,000 at City College, 8,000 over here. I 74:00mean, the Minister was doing tens of thousands of people prior to being known in the public. Farrakhan was filling out venues. And -- Minister Farrakhan. And so, where was I at now? We got to -- refresh my memory now.
ALI: You were setting the stage for Madison Square Garden.
MUHAMMAD: Yeah, yeah. So now, Madison Square Garden comes. The Minister had beenspeaking, like I said, all over the country on the eastern seaboard. So, now it's "Power, At Last Forever!" Man, cracking anticipation, and here's Ed Koch fueling it: "I don't want Farrakhan in New York." Right, good. He's coming. So, Madison Square Garden sold out. The Felt Forum sold out. The other rooms in the Garden sold out. By the time we finished, the Minister had spoken to about 75:0050,000 people.
And, they were outside on speakers so that, you know, encompass that. I mean,you're talking about 20,000 in one venue, seven to ten in the Felt Forum, the rest on the outside. People threw away their guns, their knives, their paraphernalia, just threw, I mean, whatever, just threw it in a bucket. If this is what we've got to do to get in to see that man, we're getting in there. And that's what happened.
And then, right after it, the crack epidemic flourished in the Black communityas a direct response and correlation to Minister Farrakhan, as this Muslim minister who comes up in Madison Square Garden with women dressed in white, trimmed in red. Vanguard, some his own daughters, and women of the Nation. God, 76:00Minister Farrakhan, man. That's when Bob Law in Brooklyn said, "If you touch this one..." and he walked away. In other words, it'd be the last one.
Yeah, man, it was -- but I never got a chance, ironically, to see Madison SquareGarden like I've seen most of the venues of the Nation, the historic one at the Georgia Dome where Minister Farrakhan outnumbered in attendance the people in the Georgia Dome versus the Atlanta Stadium, the Atlanta Braves' stadium. Minister had nearly 60,000 in the Georgia Dome. And Atlanta Stadium for the World Series had, like, 55,000. So he outdrew that.
I've seen that. But I never saw Madison Square Garden. I was put on the door77:00post of Minister Farrakhan that he would come to this room. So you would see the Minister before he goes up for the big night. And, I never did see him. I saw his daughters, Sister Donna and Sister Maria, and family members. But the Minister never came as a principal to that particular room. If he came to a room, it wasn't the one I was on, that I was told he was on, which is why I was told to make the sacrifice, because remember it's '85. I'm in ministry now. I'm helping brother Abdul Allah.
But I'm a soldier still. So, but don't do this to me. I gave my uniform toanother brother. He wore my uniform. I never got it back on the day of so I could put it on. He's wearing it on that day. So, that's how the day went, you know. I never saw the Garden until there was nobody in the seats when we were called in for formation as FOI to close out the venue.
And one of our sisters was pushed by one of the stagehands, I mean pushed, elder78:00sister. And that was it. FOI just started going crazy, like. We were like The Predator. You just seen us climbing all up on the stage. And, I ran and got a chair and jumped up on the stage and had the chair over my back. And Brother Khallid Abdul Muhammad, may Allah be pleased with him, buttons had been ripped off his FOI uniform because it was a double-breasted one. And he only had the buttons on this side, and his front ones was ripped down.
He said, "Put that goddamn chair -- I said put that goddamn chair down." I wasgetting ready to hit this dude on his back and about to break that chair on his back. "Put it down!" And he threatened me to put that chair down. I dropped the chair down to the ground. "Get up off the stage. Get down. We've got enough going on up here," you know? That was it. That was my experience.
And later a brother by the name of Brother Timothy gave me a picture which is inmy basement of my home now, a picture of Madison Square Garden with the Minister on the stage because this brother never got a chance to see his Minister 79:00Farrakhan, yeah.
ALI: So, in -- how long did the -- how long did Brooklyn serve as the home forMosque No. 7 over the whole city?
MUHAMMAD: Oh, from when I came in '80 all the way to '87 because when BrotherAbdul Allah came, he took us from Utica and Eastern Parkway. There were financial issues going on and other things. He took us out of that and took us to 545 Gates Avenue, which is no longer there now. There's apartment buildings. But when it was there, that's where all of New -- now this was considerably smaller than Utica and Eastern Parkway. Utica and Eastern Parkway was here. 545 Gates was here.
545 Gates was the size of this office going from that window to my door, 54580:00Gates. But when you talk about Utica and Eastern Parkway, take this building in height and flip it horizontal. Now you're talking about Utica and Eastern Parkway, and the same depth -- huge. But, that's the decision that was made, and it wasn't liked or accepted. But it was what was done. He was the minister, regional minister at that. And that's where he took us to.
So, we were in Brooklyn, like, '87. Now, in between that time, we did have ameeting place on 126th Street and Madison where Brother Najiy, formerly known as Brother James 7X, where he met. Brother Karriem had him come up there and teach. And, that's when I heard Sister Ava, because I had a crisis in my mind. Even though I was in the Nation, I was still going to leave again.
And, but Brother Najiy would later be teaching. But we would come to Harlem once81:00in a while. And Sister Ava came in to teach. And when I was going through a rough time in the Nation, I was going to leave. And --
ALI: Do you want to elaborate when you say you were going through a rough time?
MUHAMMAD: Yeah, just adjusting with some things, you know, that's all. We all gothrough that little bit. We'll take a step away. And Sister Ava was up there teaching and whatnot. And, you know, I was already around. The brothers already knew me. But I'd taken some time away. You know, it was like people now that come around, and they, you know, they're here participating. And then you drop off the radar.
So, here I come back out. And, so I'm saying I want to hear the Black woman say82:00the Black man is God. I don't hear that. And Sister Ava gives her beautiful message. And, at the end of the message she said, "All right, I'm about to leave now. But before I go, there's one other thing I want to say. And I want to say yes, I believe that the Black man is God. Thank you. As-salaam --" I said, oh, so Brother, it was like that God was answering me directly. Oh, shit, that's it. I'm right here, God damn it. Let me bring my ass back to the mosque. And that's when a brother came and put paper -- all right, Brother's back. He's back. Get them Final Call papers in his hands. That was it.
ALI: Now, eventually you would become the minister of the Brooklyn Mosque 7C.
MUHAMMAD: I would become the minister of New York first.
ALI: Of New York first?
MUHAMMAD: Yeah. I would become the minister of New York when we were at 203383:00Fifth Avenue. And, we would leave Brooklyn because we needed to. We had grown. We had far outgrown Gates Avenue. And, the Minister, Minister Farrakhan, our leader and teacher, said, "You need to be back in Harlem, because Harlem is the Mecca for Black people. And that's where No. 7 was and where [Masjid] Malcolm Shabazz is. And that's where we need to be."
And so, that's when we left Gates and we went to 2033 Fifth Avenue. And I becamethe minister of New York for about two and a half years. I was the New York representative for the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan until -- from, like, '88 until between '90 and '91. I was the minister. And then, when he then sent a letter for me to go and open up Brooklyn, because Brother Khallid comes in now, 84:00so I'm the minister. Then Brother Khallid comes in, and he's here for eight months. But then I'm back interim. Then he sends the letter for me to go to Brooklyn. And then that's when I opened up Muhammad Mosque 7C from just about, you know, nothing to where it was. And it's still standing today, by the grace of Allah.
ALI: And so, during this period of the early '90s, well, at least about themid-'90s, there's another very large campaign and mobilization around the Million Man March.
MUHAMMAD: Oh, indeed.
ALI: Tell me what was going on.
MUHAMMAD: I was the field general.
ALI: Yeah, tell me what was happening.
MUHAMMAD: I was the field general for the then-New York representative, which was--
ALI: What did that -- tell me what that experience was like to organize for that.
MUHAMMAD: Oh, man. Well, you know, being in Brooklyn that has the largest percapita of people was exciting because myself, Brother Bob Law, Reverend Dennis 85:00Dillon as we used his headquarters at that time, Christian Times, 1061 Atlantic Avenue, I remember it like yesterday. We organized 200 to a quarter of a million people just out of Brooklyn, not even just New York, Brooklyn. We had 41 buses out of Brooklyn. That was just the Million Man March local organizing committee. That didn't count Reverend Youngblood at St. Paul's and this one and that one. Forty-one. That's 41 times 50 people or 55 people. I mean, that's a lot of people, man.
ALI: I mean, give -- for people who weren't there, or for this organizing, givea sense of what is it that people were responding to. What is it that you saw people --
MUHAMMAD: Oh, it was the Minister's message. See, I don't care what the enemy86:00was, the open enemy was saying. People were responding to Minister Farrakhan. I mean, let's make it plain. As much as we thank Bob Johnson from BET, we must thank Black media. We must thank Black editorialists, Black journalists. Man, Minister Farrakhan spoke to over a quarter of a million on his own, 10,000 a pop -- pardon my slang -- coming out. He had seven, fifteen, fifteen thousand here and six thousand outside at the Armory. That's 21,000. He had 35,000 in Houston. He had 10,000 in Philadelphia, 10,000 in Baltimore, 10,000 in DC.
I mean, that was the groundswell of the Million Man March. So, people wereattracted and electrified by him moving. He spoke to 15,000 or 18,000, all women, in Atlanta, Georgia, during that period. So, while it was a gathering for men, he wanted women to support. So that, that was the electrifying moment of 87:00the Million Man March. So it made it very easy.
Then, when the concept was given by Reverend [Benjamin] Chavis of localorganizing committees, oh man. So, you have to -- so I had to work with Bob Law, a Christian, Muslim by nature, other than that by circumstance, but he's a Christian in practice. And he was the chair. And I was the co-chair. So, roles were reversed. But we had to learn to work together. And, man, it was just a beautiful thing, just a beautiful thing. I thank Viola Plummer, the head of December 12th movement, for their support, and the men that the women guided and supported. But it was a fun time.
ALI: This revealed, I think, or as you explained, some of the coalition locallythat the Nation had.
MUHAMMAD: Oh, yeah.
ALI: Can you talk a little bit about the relationships that existed with the --88:00between the Nation of Islam and other parts of the Black community?
MUHAMMAD: The Honorable Elijah Muhammad said, "A good Christian is a goodMuslim. A good Muslim is a good Christian." We wore that out. St. Paul's Community Baptist Church, in 1994, I was the keynote speaker before 2,000 of his parishioners in attendance at that day. Elim International, we hated each other. We was as far from each other as east is from west. But when the mosque was attacked in -- or '94 we had the incident with the police again. Many churches came to our aid, of course, mosques, but his didn't.
When he had a similar incident and his members were attacked at their church byNYPD, or mishandled, I was at Gates Avenue. I was the first to respond to him, 89:00quicker than people in his own church. We came from where we were on Gates to where he was on Fulton, St. James. And we came there or near there. And we came there with the FOI and supported them.
So, when there was this big gathering at Elim International and all the bishopswas out and the prelates, and many of them I knew, they wanted me on the stage with them. He refused. He made me sit in the audience. And I said, "It's not where I sit at, you know. It's what I do from where I sit at." I got that from Minister Farrakhan. Or it's not what I say -- or where I speak from. It's what I say from wherever I speak from. So, I took the seat.
And, at the end of the program, it looked like he was going to close it out. Andhe said, "I'm feeling bad about myself because here's a Muslim brother who did the Christian thing by me, and I failed to do it by him." And he said, "Now come on up and speak." And in his church there's an eagle. There's a big eagle where 90:00he speaks from, and then there's a small eagle. And, he brought me to the big eagle and let me deliver the word.
So, our alliances ran deep into the Black roots of the Black church and theBlack community and with activism for the Million Man March. It ran real deep.
ALI: So, let's talk about how you ended up stationed in Harlem permanently asthe minister, or at least until the present.
ALI: It started in '98 when you were assigned to be the minister of Harlem, 7A.Is that correct?
MUHAMMAD: Yes. In '96, Brother Conrad, now Reverend Conrad B. Tillard Sr., wasremoved as the New York representative. That was a tough time because the Village Voice was writing about us, and all of our business was always in the streets. Someone was just leaking things about the mosque. So, Minister -- so, 91:00the then-Supreme Captain Brother Abdul Sharrieff Muhammad, said, "I want to show you what a man with faith will do." And I didn't know who he was talking about. I said, "Okay, who's this going to be because, you know, I'm in Brooklyn?"
And so he says, "On behalf of Minister Farrakhan, Brother Kevin, you stepforward, and you're going to hold the mosque together until the Minister makes a decision." This is eight months later now. And, the Minister then calls me to Chicago. He calls out Minister -- then, a reverend, Chavis. And, at that time it was Reverend Chavis. He became Minister Benjamin, and sat us down and said, "I'm going to make a change in New York. And I need you to be with it because the believers love you and respect you. And if you're not with it, you can affect it. I mean, it's going to happen, but you still can affect it, and we don't want that."
So, I told the Minister, "Whatever you want to do, but Minister, I serve." And92:00he said, "Man, see? I know you was going to respond like that. I told people that." They didn't believe me. And I submitted. And so, when Brother Benjamin was brought here, he became the East Coast Regional Minister and I became the Assistant East Coast Regional. And then later on you became his assistant, administrative assistant, and this, that and the other, Brother Aziz and everybody else that was there.
And, in 2000, July of 2000, something took place. And we're not going to getinto all of those trappings, but some scenarios took place that led to the removal of the laboring staff, most of them. And, the Minister then called me up. Well, he had Brother Arif and Brother Mustapha over here. And Brother Abdul Arif Muhammad, our national attorney, had a document from the Minister that he read. 93:00
But part of it was I had to take an oath of office and had to raise my righthand and solemnly swear to deal with the propagation of the faith, the protection of the elderly and the young people and the women and this, that and the other. I took an oath of office. And so July 10th, 2000, is when I returned as the New York representative.
ALI: Is that something that had -- was new, taking an oath of office? Had youseen that before?
MUHAMMAD: No, I had not seen that before -- first time.
ALI: Is it something that has been instituted?
MUHAMMAD: Not to my knowledge. I've never known anyone else that took oath ofoffice, to my knowledge. I've known about voting but not an oath of office.
ALI: So you became the minister in 2000, and just a little more than a yearafter, 9/11 happened.
ALI: How did that impact this community?
MUHAMMAD: For those of us that had family members, it was a deep blow. But we94:00were thinkers. It didn't make sense. How the hell can fuel from a plane melt all of the steel down to the base and reduce everything? Before we received the empirical data we -- it just didn't add up. So, you know, but for those of us who lost loved ones, it didn't matter to us at that point. Only thing that mattered was, is, you know, how we're going to move forward.
And, thanks to the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan and the instructions hegave to the sisters about the headpiece, removing them, he said, "Don't wear your garment and whatnot until I instruct you." And, his letters to President George W. Bush that I'm your servant, you know, in the cause against evil and, you know, saying to you as the president, you don't have an enemy with us. You 95:00have an ally. You've just got to see it that way. But, you know...
ALI: So when you said he instructed the sisters not to appear visibly --
MUHAMMAD: With a headpiece.
ALI: With a headpiece?
MUHAMMAD: Wear your garment when you come, but don't put your headpiece on,because at that time it was heightened threats against Muslims because we're believed that we're the ones responsible for 9/11 and this, that and the other, you know, until years would go by and, you know...
ALI: So, how -- you know, so the -- what would you -- how would you characterizeyour relationship to other Muslim communities in light of this? You know, there are many people who see the Nation of Islam as a kind of different tradition or coming from a different place or maybe not related to, you know, what people consider "traditional Islam." What are the ways that you -- how do you see that? 96:00How do you see the Nation?
MUHAMMAD: Oh, I've always -- I did with imams what I did with Christianchurches. I just didn't speak in a lot of them. But I developed relationships to let imams know that even though you may not agree with our theologies to a certain point of the in-dwelling spirit of man, and we fully and unequivocally stand on that. But, we're Muslims. We all said la ilaha illa Allah and wa-Muhammad rasul Allah. There is no god but Allah and that Muhammad, peace be upon him, the prophet, is his messenger.
So, let's stand on that, you know? And so, it began to have good dividends. Theymade me a part of the Majlis Ash-Shura, and a particular imam -- I'll say who it is, Imam Talib [Abdur-Rashid] -- was at the head of it. He invited us in to become a part of the Masjlis Ash-Shura which we've never had entry to before. 97:00And that was a wonderful feeling of spirit. And we went to several meetings. We didn't make most of them -- conflict resolution, conflicts and scheduling. But they knew we were part of it, and whatever they wanted to do we'd support it. But, yeah.
ALI: What -- were there any ways that people have -- I guess, how is theresponse to the Muslims in this community changed over the years, say, from what you remember in the '80s--
MUHAMMAD: Here in Harlem?
ALI: Yeah, to -- to the Nation, in Harlem or in Brooklyn, compared to -- youknow, you've been in this community since eighty--
MUHAMMAD: Oh, yeah.
ALI: So, how has that changed? What changes are you seeing?
MUHAMMAD: People are more receptive to us in whatever part of the city we're in.And, but people are more mature now. So, Minister Farrakhan once said to me, "You all have it harder than we do because we were the new and fresh thing on 98:00the block. But because of our father and because of our work, people have knowledge of Islam."
Thus, you know, one of the reasons the mosque meeting time changed from two tofour, to eleven to one, because we were trying to capture them. But, we've already captured them in their theology and in their thinking. So, we can meet at the same time now. Whoever we draw, we draw. But, you know, it'd be beneficial if we had an earlier meeting than a later meeting. So, you know, things had evolved. Things grew.
ALI: Because the later meetings were designed to get people after they had comeout of their church?
MUHAMMAD: After they had come out of the church. That's exactly why the Saviourdesigned that. And when they came out from here and Reverend Chickenfoot and Bishop Biscuit, that we could, you know -- and I say that respectfully, but we 99:00could capture them and bring them to hear Muhammad, you know?
ALI: So, what are some of the programs now that you have engaged in as a minister?
MUHAMMAD: All praise is due to Allah. Well, the Peace in the Streets initiativelaunched by Minister Farrakhan, this was the only city we were blessed to have him here in 2013 walk the streets, walk where we walked at in Brooklyn.
ALI: Where in Brooklyn?
MUHAMMAD: At Van Dyke Houses and in other areas in Brooklyn.
ALI: So, tell -- I want to -- if you can give a detailed account of that, whatwas it? Tell me what happened and what the experience was like.
MUHAMMAD: Oh, he was in Cuba. And he was coming to the States through New York.And, he wanted to walk the streets other than Chicago. He had walked them in Chicago, greeted the young people shirts on, shirts off, embraced them with great love -- pardon me -- and exhilaration. So, now he's coming into New York, 100:00and he says, "I want to do the same thing there and possibly elsewhere. But I want to do it in New York."
So I want to go wherever my Minister went. Thank God we went places on Mondaynights. And, you know, he went into New Rochelle. He went into Mount Vernon. He went into Brooklyn. He went into Queens.
ALI: How was the location in Brooklyn selected?
MUHAMMAD: Through the ministry staff that's there, Brother Henry and those therewith him. We had an affinity and agreement with that. But it was through the believers, the laborers and believers there.
ALI: And what took place?
MUHAMMAD: The Peace in the Streets, when Minister Farrakhan came, was agathering of people in a particular large space that they could hear a word, though he said he didn't come here to teach. He came here to walk and to greet. 101:00But he enjoyed that in the greeting of the populace of the people and the politicians and others, that he was able to have something to say as well. So, he accepted that, you know, and we gladly responded.
ALI: Another thing that you've mentioned to me that you do is a program at Rikers.
MUHAMMAD: Oh, yes, yes.
ALI: Tell me what that is and why that's important.
MUHAMMAD: Well, yes, thank you. We have a prison reform ministry programnationally in the federal and whatnot. But we hadn't quite been in Rikers as much as we could. And, one of my brothers from the organizing of 10-10-15 Justice or Else, was overseeing a program and said, "Minister, I would love to 102:00have someone from the Nation come in and give their offering to the brothers that are here." And then he said, "Really, we would like if you would want to come." And I said, "That's what the mind I have, that I would come." So, we have the youth educational development at Rikers Island, and that's been going so, so successful by the grace of God. We have the Nine Ministries, which are not relegated to Harlem or Brooklyn but to wherever we can pull them together, you know, to function as one. Then we do that as well.
We now have our new reopening of our Muhammad University of Islam, independenteducation for our young people, which was long overdue. But we had to make some strategic steps in the past to make some, you know, more strategic and positive 103:00ones in the present. And, you know, that's what we've done.
ALI: Why -- I want to ask about the school but also the -- why is the prisonministry important to the work of the Nation?
MUHAMMAD: Because it's where we are able to gather young Black men whose livesare in array. And, we're able to affect them in such a way that if you want to make a total change, you know, we're here for you, you know? These 16-to-21-year-olds are lost. They just need guidance and direction. They just need a technique of understanding, you know? And, they will do well, you know, for themselves. So when the door open, I said, I've got to go inside as the minister.
And the Minister had already said to his ministers, on the regional level and104:00local level, "Go into the prisons. Some of you act like, you know, you don't do that no more, like that's beyond you." And I knew it was not me. So, when the opportunity came, we jumped on it.
ALI: And, why is independent education important to this?
MUHAMMAD: Independent education is important because we need the young minds tobe free to understand that they're young potential gods and not just someone sucking up air and taking up space, but that these are the young potential gods or the force and power of our community, our nation, and our world. And so, if we can get to them at a young age, then man, we can make them powerhouses. They would learn how to seek refuge in Allah and Allah alone, Allah only. And then they would grow, you know, in their knowledge, wisdom, and understanding. So, yeah. It's been a fine moment for us in that regard. 105:00
ALI: Okay, so my last two questions are related to your personal and familylife. When did you leave Brooklyn in terms of where you live?
MUHAMMAD: I lived in Brooklyn for 18 years. And when I married my wife now, shesaid -- I asked her and told her, "Well, can you be the wife of a minister, because that's what I want to be? If you can't be that, then we don't need to get married." She said, "No problem; I can. But can you not live in Brooklyn ever again?"
ALI: She asked you that?
MUHAMMAD: She asked me that. I said, "Damn, baby. That's a rough one. Do we gotto do it like that" She said, "We've got to do it exactly like that." I said, "Damn." So I haven't been in Brooklyn, brother, since 18 years.
ALI: Did she explain to you why she wanted to leave Brooklyn?
MUHAMMAD: Yeah. She didn't like it. She didn't like the borough. It wasn't herkind of scene. Yeah, it wasn't her kind of place.
ALI: Well, that kind of goes into my next question, which is you having all of106:00these responsibilities as a minister over a community and a pastoral responsibility and so forth. How have you balanced that with the responsibilities of a husband and a father?
MUHAMMAD: Well, my wife is with me at the mosque right now. So, we rode heretogether. We'll ride home together. That's time spent. When I get home, I mean, I got one more thing to do. But, once that's done we'll spend time. And then in the morning, when I've got to go, it's time for me to go. So, we take moments, you know, to relate with one another. And then we relate.
We're not sitting there, you know, she's doing something else, yeah, I'm overhere reading, you know. I'm over here on the phone. No. We are engaging each other, talking to each other, making each other laugh and whatnot. And, as we go home, same thing. You know, we don't need the music on or the radio. We just 107:00ride and talk to each other. So, a person, a human being, is to be communicated to. And how much time do you have by which to communicate with someone in a lifetime that you should, you know, talk to and talk with?
So, that's all spending time, spending time, and when the children were youngthey're at the supermarket and whatnot. But, you know, you create those moments, you know? And, when you do that, then the moments when you're gone everything is held over because I know you. When you come back, you're going to put in that time together with me.
ALI: Okay. I think that's it for my questions. Is there anything else that you'dlike to add that we haven't talked about?
MUHAMMAD: No. I mean, you know, I'm very thankful for this. I'm thankful to theHonorable Minister Louis Farrakhan for serving as the youngest minister in the Nation of Islam back in 1987/'88, and then other young ones replaced me. But I 108:00was one of the youngest ministers, if not the youngest minister, in the Nation back then. For him investing in me as a young man, coming out of the Five Percent -- I didn't come up out of a family history of the Nation of Islam, you know, like others. He could have, you know, looked at that. But he saw something in me. And I'm thankful to Allah for the day that he decided to invest in that.
I'm grateful for my challenges that I've come through in the Nation. I've had alot of ups, a lot of downs, a lot of challenges, some of them threats, some of them promises. But, you know, in the end, the teachings of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad has brought me out. And the guidance of Minister Farrakhan has taught me to seek refuge in Allah and against the envier when he envies and against 109:00evil suggestions cast in firm resolutions. These things are real for me.
I'm thankful when he instructed me to go to Brooklyn to open up Mosque No. 7C.In a year we had mosque status. And then we lost 25 due to the infighting. In a year we gained mosque status again. So, in two years we had it. And the blessing to grow the community the way that we did grow the community was a great blessing and help.
ALI: I have one more question. Given the history of Brooklyn in the Nation ofIslam in New York, what do you see now as the role of Brooklyn as part of the Nation of Islam?
MUHAMMAD: Oh, as New York is the heart to the Nation, Brooklyn is the heart toNew York, as it was when I was there. And so, you know, their job is to continue 110:00to pump the blood of the people and the spirit and, you know, the movement. So, Brooklyn is integral, as are all the boroughs. But, the distinction is that I was blessed to be the one to reopen Brooklyn and this dispensation with next to any believers.
And, you know, with that distinction came a great responsibility to live up to.And, we strove, and we did. And we did a lot because it used to be called the Five-Percenter Mosque by the older Muslims up here at No. 7. That's the Five-Percenter Mosque. We were just the young Muslims, you know? It wasn't about the Five-Percenters and whatnot, you know? But, I wouldn't have minded a few more Five-Percenters, you know? But, you know, it all works out. 111:00
ALI: All right. Well, thank you very much for sharing your oral history withthis project.
MUHAMMAD: You're welcome, sir. It is my honor.
MUHAMMAD: As-salaam alaikum.
ALI: Walaikum salaam.
Oral History Interview with Abdul Hafeez Muhammad
Abdul Hafeez Muhammad was born in 1963 in New York City. He was raised in the Canarsie neighborhood of Brooklyn. As a teenager, he spent time in the Five Percent Nation before becoming involved in the Nation of Islam. He became the assistant minister of Muhammad Mosque No. 7 in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn in 1984; the minister of the newly-founded Muhammad Mosque No. 7C in theBedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn in 1993; and the minister of Muhammad Mosque No. 7A in the Harlem neighborhood of Manhattan in 2000. He was also an activist within the broader Black community, including co-chairing the local organizing committee for the Million Man March in Washington, D.C. in 1995.
In this interview, Abdul Hafeez Muhammad discusses his childhood in the Canarsie neighborhood of Brooklyn, including his adopted family; his early exposure to violence and mortality; and his exploration of the Five Percent Nation. He speaks at length about his subsequent involvement with the Nation of Islam under Louis Farrakhan, especially regarding his marriages, his service as assistant minister and minister within local mosques, his memories of Farrakhan's speech at Madison Square Garden in Manhattan in 1985; and his work with educational and religious outreach to incarcerated Black men. He also talks about his advocacy within the broader Black community, particularly regarding the Million Man March in 1995 in Washington, D.C. 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.
CitationMuhammad, Abdul Hafeez, Oral history interview conducted by Zaheer Ali, October 21, 2018, Muslims in Brooklyn oral histories, 2018.006.51; Brooklyn Historical Society.
- Farrakhan, Louis
- Five Percent Nation
- Muhammad Mosque No. 7A (New York, N.Y.)
- Muhammad Mosque No. 7C (Brooklyn, New York, N.Y.)
- Muhammad, Abdul Hafeez
- Nation of Islam (Chicago, Ill.)
- African American Muslims
- African American religious leaders
- Black Muslims
- Civil rights demonstrations
- Cultural pluralism
- Islamic religious education
- Muslim converts
- Muslim religious leaders
- September 11 Terrorist Attacks, 2001
- Brooklyn (New York, N.Y.)
- Canarsie (New York, N.Y.)
- Harlem (New York, N.Y.)
Finding AidMuslims in Brooklyn oral histories