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Beatrice Sabir

Oral history interview conducted by Zaheer Ali

August 28, 2018

Call number: 2018.006.29

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ALI: My name is Zaheer Ali; I'm the Oral Historian at Brooklyn Historical Society --


ALI: -- and I am here at the offices of New World Communities, Incorporated, also the site of Masjid Abdul Muhsi Khalifah in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, and this interview is for the Muslims in Brooklyn project. I'm here interviewing Sister Beatrice --

SABIR: Sabir.

ALI: -- Sabir. So Sister Beatrice, I'm going to ask you to introduce yourself by stating your full name and when you were born.

SABIR: I am Beatrice Rasheedah Sabir, born [date redacted for privacy], 1947.

ALI: So, Sister Beatrice, tell me where you were born and where you grew up.

SABIR: I was born in Sumter, South Carolina, and I stayed there till I was about 10, 11 -- 13. Actually, it was 13. Then from there migrated to Boston, and we 1:00stayed there until graduation. And then -- no -- then I went back South -- I was in tenth grade -- with my grandparents, and then I stayed there and graduated from Lincoln High School.

ALI: What caused you to move to Boston?

SABIR: My mother was there. Big reason why. [laughter] Great as well.

ALI: Yes, ma'am. So tell me about your mother. Tell me about your family background.

SABIR: Okay. Well, I was introduced to Islam when I was really in elementary school. I had two aunts that had migrated here, and I had relatives in Boston that had become Muslims at that time, so even when I was much younger and in South Carolina, my aunts would always send me literature, Islamic literature. And I've always been an advocate [sic] reader, so I would just read and read and 2:00read about it, and it was so -- you know, it was just interesting to me.

Then, as I got in high school, or -- tenth grade is high school -- my algebra teacher -- his name was Mr. McNeil, he was Muslim, but I didn't know -- you know, I knew of Islam from the reading. And then one day, I don't know why, what made him ask me that question, but I told him, well, I wasn't really Muslim but I knew of Islam and I read something about it every day. And I asked him why did he ask me, and he said, "Because you act differently." So I wanted to -- I was 3:00kind of curious. I said, "Well, what do you mean? What, I'm crazy, or...?" He said, "No, no, no, no, no, no, no. In a very good way. You're very mannerable, you know, you're always saying yes, sir, and no, sir." You know, so he was wondering where that came from. So that's kind of where I got started. And then of course when I moved north, it wasn't a matter of just accepting Islam, I just had to connect to what I had to do to understand what I was reading. You know, where do I get more from, you know? So that's how it came about.

ALI: So when you say your -- so you had some relatives who were, who were Muslim. Do you know what communities they were a part of?

SABIR: Yes, they were in the First, whatever you want to call it. What would you call it? While we're talking. What is it to you?

ALI: So this is the Nation of Islam?

SABIR: Yes, yes.

ALI: Yes. And -- so you used a term, the First. Explain that term.

SABIR: [laughter] Older people, or people that was back there then, they would 4:00call -- they normally would refer to it as the First Resurrection, and when we were resurrected from all the doubts and all the things that we recalled and we realized that we weren't that, that we were people worthy of something, you know, that we had a rich history, you know, if we could only connect to it. So that was -- or they would say the First Movement, you know, of Islam. So. And it was during the time of that movement came about, like during the time of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad. So that's the period that I'm talking about, up through 1975.


ALI: Right. So you had extended relatives who were sending you literature from the --

SABIR: From here, yes, mm-hmm.

ALI: -- Nation of Islam. And what was -- did you have other religious experiences? Like, what was your immediate family's religious orientation?

SABIR: They were Christians, but, I told you, I was very curious, right? And my grandfather would make us to go church on Sunday, which was really a five-minute walk from the house. But then, you know, I found that it was very contradictory to me. And then the reverend's son, or children, they were like playmates and stuff, and they were just -- they were terrible little kids, you know, fight, fight, fight, fight, fight.

But it wasn't just that; it was that I would listen, and I just felt that one thing was coming out of his mouth, but what he was doing was totally different from the other stuff. Now, I'm not going to say what I was told that he was doing, but I just told my grandfather that I -- he says, "Why are you back 6:00here?" I said, "Oh, because I just got tired of listening to that." And he was yelling so loud, you know, just yelling and yelling and screaming, and, you know, for you to get attention, and then he passed the basket. He said, "Did you put your quarter in there?" I says, "Nope, I did not." So he said, "What'd you do with it?" and I said, "I spent it at the store." So he said, "You're not supposed to do that, you're supposed to put the money..." I says, "Well, why does he need my quarter? I needed it more than him." I just -- I wasn't a rebellious child, I just didn't accept -- you can't just tell me anything, and that's how I've always been. Very questionable. So, that's it. Most of my family 7:00in the South, they were Christians, yeah.

ALI: So when you would -- when you moved up to Boston, or when you maybe visited New York, did you ever go to any of the stuff that your Muslim relatives were a part of?

SABIR: Yes, I would go to the temple. Now, when I -- that's -- Minister [Louis] Farrakhan's mother and my mother had become best of friends. They were best of friends, and that's how I got to know Minister Farrakhan extremely well, and his brother Alvin. And -- but I just didn't stay there, but that's where Farrakhan was at that time.

ALI: In Boston?

SABIR: Yes. And when I came here, I think he had graduated or moved up to be the minister here by that time. So yes. And there were quite a few people in Boston that -- you know, that I knew. Like the family that moved into Malcolm's 8:00[Malcolm X] house.

ALI: The Alis.

SABIR: Yes, yeah. Her -- Mary, she was one of my best friends. And, you know.

ALI: So I'm interested if you -- do you remember the first time you went to the temple as a young person? What were you told in preparation, or what were --

SABIR: Nothing. [laughter]

ALI: Did you -- were you given instructions of like how you were supposed to dress or anything like that? Yeah?

SABIR: Well, actually, no. When I came into Islam, I never wore -- I never wore -- I didn't have to buy a wardrobe, because then we were wearing below the knee. Remember, I was 17, and, you know, the head wrap, I didn't care about that, so I 9:00wore the clothes that I normally wore, because I never wore shorts. We wore what you would call pedal pushers, you know, midway the leg -- the -- yeah, the leg. And it wasn't like a transformation, you know, some big to-do about, oh, I've got to go get these clothes and this clothes. No, I didn't have to do that. But I was impressed with the sisters in the uniform. You know, seeing them for the very, very -- I had seen the uniforms, though, in pictures of my aunts. They were two sisters. One lived here in Brooklyn, right on Bushwick, and the other lived in -- well, in that time she was right in Jamaica, but they bought a home out in Deer Park. So I was in the midst of all of that. And I really did -- I liked the uniforms, and I loved the drilling. So, you know, being young and snappy and stuff like that, and I wore my, my -- that pillbox-type hat that we 10:00drilled in. I mean, it was -- to me, it was the best thing ever. And cooking, the cooking class. I really got involved with that, and I guess that's why I'm where I am today.

ALI: So tell me --

SABIR: [inaudible]

ALI: -- tell me -- so before we continue, your microphone is --


ALI: -- the fabric is -- maybe if you clip -- let me see.

SABIR: Clip it to my dress?

ALI: Or we turn it around this way and clip it on that side.

SABIR: Oh, that way.

ALI: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

SABIR: Oh, all right.

ALI: Okay.

SABIR: Is that good?

ALI: Yes, I think. If we can adjust that. Okay, so for people who aren't familiar, tell -- you said the first time you saw the women in the uniform --

SABIR: Yes, the men too.


ALI: -- describe -- describe that, and describe what that was like for you.

SABIR: Well, at that time, you know, they were all in white. We didn't have the different colors and the sassy uniforms. They were just white, kind of semi-wrap skirt, but it was pants-like. You know, some of the sisters wore the skirts. I liked the pants type. That's how it was. You would think that it was a skirt, but it was a skoit [phonetic]. So, anyway. And I was just really mesmerized with that, the lieutenants and the snapping the corners and saluting. Oh, I just thought I was in heaven. I was just -- you know, I was always small. And I moved up the ladder very fast doing what I wanted to do, what I enjoyed doing. So.

ALI: And what was the drilling? You talked about drilling.


SABIR: Precision drilling, like, you know, the left face, right face, about face, all that kind of face stuff, and then just drilling in place and drill-- we used to have drill teams, the drill squad, that's what it was. I mean, it was the cracker-jack squad, you hear me? So it was just fun. It was a lot of fun.

ALI: So you used to drill.

SABIR: Yes, I did.

ALI: Did you -- how did you fare in the competitions?

SABIR: Oh, well, it was never alone, it was a group.

ALI: Yeah, yeah, but how would your -- how did your team fare?

SABIR: Oh, well, we really didn't have a competition, but what we would do is we would go around to different masjids. When they had programs, they would put us on exhibition as, you know. So that was great for me. I loved it. Yeah.

ALI: So tell me what --

SABIR: And karate class. They had -- we were, we were -- you know, we had that going, and the drill team, and some of the children, younger ones, you know, they had like a glee club, you know, to sing. And to me, it was just fun. I enjoyed working and doing those things. And like I said, I was at the 13:00restaurant, so when they were asking, you know, different skills that you had and -- I started helping out on Saturdays at the Saturday school. And remember now, I was at the restaurant, so I got to know everything -- hear, hear, hear, hear everything. When the imams would come back from Chicago with their meeting, they met there -- and some of this stuff I'm not going to -- definitely not mention --

ALI: Yes, yes.

SABIR: -- so. But anyway, they would meet there, and that's how I got to know so many brothers. And of course the brothers would come into the restaurant. 14:00Brother Muhammad Ali. There's one thing I kind of regret, though: he had asked me to be his fan secretary, and I went back and told my aunt what that brother said, she says, "No, you not." She say, "You not traveling all over here and there and..." I said, "Well, it's a fan secretary means that you gotta answer letters and stuff," and she says no. So. That's how that came.

ALI: So just to back up so that we have it on the recorded history, you joined the Nation of Islam in what year?

SABIR: Oh, '64.

ALI: Nineteen sixty-four. Because I think we talked about it before I started, so --

SABIR: Right, yeah, September --

ALI: -- in '64, in September of 1964.

SABIR: -- is when my, my letter, I guess, was accep-- I only had to write the letter one time.

ALI: And what was this letter?

SABIR: You know, I don't know. I don't remember exactly just what it said. But I don't remember. But I know you had to be very particulous with how you write it and how it was presented or something. You know, that kind of thing. You know, you couldn't just scribble it and expect some --


ALI: Right, right.

SABIR: Yeah. But anyway.

ALI: So, what do you remember the reason being for your decision to join then?

SABIR: Because, remember, I knew of it years and years, you know, and I knew that's where I was going to go. You know, because it just felt right. It made me feel -- it gave me that pride or -- you know, I feel that what I was searching for, I had gotten it, I had met it, 'cause it was up to me. You know, we all had choices, and I felt that that was my choice, and that's what I did. And if in 1964 -- I never looked back. It wasn't that I came in young and I went back and had a fling and then came -- no. I did-- I stayed, and I worked very hard in the Nation, too.

ALI: So you joined in September of 1964.



ALI: In 1965 was a difficult year for the Nation of Islam in New York, with the assassination of Malcolm X. Can you talk about what your recollections were of that time?

SABIR: During the time of his assassination, I don't remember like a whole lot, lot that was happening, and I read books, and I seen the movie and stuff like that too, which kind of brought me around to, to, to, to that. And then questions, very curious questions as to why. You know, a lot of people would 17:00say, well, because he did this and he did that, and I -- before that time, you know, Malcolm had made the hajj, so I felt that -- that the hajj was the essence of -- you know, that's the essence of part of your belief, and I just couldn't see him not -- having no belief after doing that. And part of my heart was still with him, as young as I was, because I had my own inner thoughts about a lot of things.

ALI: Did people ever -- you know, because his, his leaving the Nation of Islam was very, we'll say, bitter.


ALI: It was a bitter break.


ALI: And it was also a very public one. Did people ever say to you, or did you ever face people like, "Why are you with the group that opposed Malcolm?" as the 18:00way it was, you know, being played out.

SABIR: Well, no, not so much, because the group that I was with was the group that is now, so -- and then I recalled them saying that Malcolm was sat down because he was -- something had happened in some political era, something like that, and he said that was a sign of the chickens coming home to roost or some stuff like that.

ALI: Right, it was the assassination of John Kennedy.

SABIR: Yes. So, with that being said, I still said -- you know, 'cause they were 19:00saying that -- by this time now, they had said that these brothers, and it just so happened that I knew them -- I knew these brothers that they said assassinated him. And then I thought about that, and I used to ask my aunt a lot of questions, but I didn't go beyond the doors of that apartment and ask other people. I just -- it didn't bother me as to what other people thought, you know. And it was a -- it was a, to me, like a bittersweet kind of thing, you know? And then he had a wife, he had children, you know, and I guess that was the part of me that said, Wow, what is she gonna do now? What is she gonna do with them girls, you know?

And I never disliked him. You know, Malcolm, after he left, after they killed 20:00his father, I think, is the time that he migrated to Boston, and he was stumping up in Blue Hill Ave with those process and all that kind of stuff. So I guess that was a part of me that says, Well, we have that connection.

But -- and later on, as I grew into Islam to become a young lady, I realized that so nobody is perfect, so if he pray and Allah forgives him for whatever he did or this, that, and a third, who are we to condemn him. And how did these brothers get involved in this mess? Even today, like Norman Butler, he was at 21:00Sing Sing during this time, and -- or he went to Sing Sing during that time. You know, and we had, my husband and I, we had formed a company, and we were selling big, big, big, big tons of pies to the state. And, I don't know, I -- do I dislike Malcolm? No, I don't. I really don't. And I think that he did much more good than bad, you know.

And my question in things like this is who left one of us? When did Allah left one of us to become the judge, the jury, and condemn people? Only Allah knows our heart. We can say whatever we want to say through this, but Allah knows the heart, and Allah makes Muslims, not us. You know. So that's kind of where I was, 22:00kind of straddling the fence, I guess, as far as why, the questions, you know. And still being young. So I just kept all my drilling and doing what I was going to do and just, I guess, let it -- whatever was gonna be was gonna be.

ALI: So, just for clarification, you mentioned Norman Butler, and people may not know. So Norman Butler was one of the men who was convicted -- many people believe wrongfully -- convicted of the assassination. To come back, it's an interesting story for me to think about, you know, this question of joining the Nation of Islam after Malcolm has left, because a lot of people think that people joined the Nation of Islam because of Malcolm. So you told us a little 23:00bit about why you joined in terms of what you saw and the community and the kinds of activities you were involved in, and one of the activities you talked about was food. Tell me the role of food in the community.

SABIR: Well, during our MGT [Muslim Girls Training] classes, we would have cooking classes as well. Sister Lula -- I'll never forget her -- and Sister Lana. Sister Lula taught the cooking class in a classroom settings, pretty much, and then we -- she would -- you would take notes, and then maybe the next week she would bring a sheet, written-out sheet, of what she spoke on last week, and then of course you had a week to try to emulate that recipe. So I've always had a gift with food. I always wanted to deal with food, and I feel that that was 24:00one of my gifts. So. And then after that, the restaurant is where I started, under Sister Lana, that used to cook for Muhammad Ali. Her and Sister Josie, they took me under their wings, and in that little tiny kitchen, I mean, they turned out some stuff like lamb shanks and the bean soup and chops and brown rice -- you know, nice vegetables and stuff. So that's kind of where I got my fingers really, really went into the cooking, under them at the restaurant, Shabazz Restaurant, right on 116th Street.

ALI: What, what -- you named some dishes. What were some of the more popular 25:00signature dishes that were associated with the community?

SABIR: Bean soup, lamb shanks, bread, making your bread and rolls, and the whiting fish, I would say. Those were the top things. Yes, the bean soup -- and the bean pie. Oh my goodness, we can't forget the bean pie, which is still today very -- a sister was telling me -- I was meeting with them, a business sister -- and she was saying to me, she says, "The bean pie is a Muslim food." Said, "Nobody can just come in and duplicate it." So. There are other offices in here.

M:As-Salaam Alaikum.

SABIR: Walaikum Salaam. But --

ALI: Why is the bean pie a Muslim food?


SABIR: Because --

ALI: Or how is it a Muslim food?

SABIR: Right. There's no patent on it, definitely not. But you never heard of that. It originated here with us, and you notice, it has not been duplicated by any, like, outside source. And I just feel that this is something that Allah says, "This is for you; take it and make something out of it." So we own our own company today, and the bean pie's our best seller. And my husband worked for the bakery at the Nation of Islam at that time, and so did I. Not together, but I -- he was the baker. And I was in -- I was a little thing, and I ran the restaurant for about two years under guidance from Brother William J. -- very good brother, may Allah be pleased with him -- Brother James, the captain, Maceo -- all those 27:00people! Oh my goodness, I could go on for days and days and days. But basically the bean pie, the lamb shanks, the bean soup, that Whiting H&G -- 'cause there were so many ways to fix that fish -- and the bread, making of the whole-wheat bread and rolls.

ALI: What -- so in addition to the specificity of the bean in the pie and the soup, why was food so central to what the community was trying to do?

SABIR: Well, you know, we were taught that you're supposed to eat to live and 28:00not live to eat. So -- and we did a lot of fasting back then, like weekend fasting. And you know, back then too, we -- the month -- we observed Ramadan, but it was always in December, 'cause that's the shortest month. And, oh, it was a breeze then. But -- and we were also taught that, you know, things that -- that was fed to us during slavery time was taboo. pretty much, you know. So what was being taught then was to -- you know, don't eat this anymore, eat this. You know. And I always felt within myself that if you take something from somebody, you gotta be able to replace it with something, you know. So I think that's what it was, trying to get in the habit of eating more healthy, you know. And I think that's what it was, and I think it really, really helped. And we were taught to eat once a day, one big meal a day, or a good meal a day, and I think that's -- that's why food was important to us at that time. We thought about what we were putting in ourselves before we really ate it. Yeah.

ALI: So, you joined the Nation in '64, you were working at the Shabazz 29:00Restaurant in Harlem. Tell me, when did you meet your husband, or when did you begin your family?

SABIR: Let's see, Aminah was born in '65, '68. I should remember this. So '68, '68 we met. And it didn't last with this guy. And I'm gonna say "this guy" because, you know. He had a beautiful mom. As a matter of fact, she's in a nursing home now in Virginia. I go see her. But he was a trip and a half, so. 30:00And I'm gonna leave it at that. I'm not gonna describe him or anything like that. But yeah, so that was that. And then I met my husband now in 1972, and that's what Allah intended for me to have. And I think -- you know, when I think about it, I used to say names and stuff, but I don't, I don't anymore, because I feel that it was a stage of growth for me, and it showed me that no matter what, you hold on to your Islam, you hold on to your faith, and Allah will send you someone. And sure enough, he did. So.

ALI: So the 1960s was a period of significant change in the country, and 31:00certainly this was seen in New York. Tell me what it was like to be Muslim in the midst of all of the changes that were happening. What were some of the changes that you saw happening in the country or around you, and what -- how did you relate to that as a Muslim?

SABIR: I -- you know, being Muslim, to me, is just doing what I do. I don't -- I never took it as, "Because you're Muslim, how do you deal with this or deal with that?" I just felt that -- and I still today don't understand what's all the hype about? It's just a way of life that you choose to live. And some of us, I feel that their life becomes difficult or involved is because they go too far to the left or too far to the right and just -- I don't know, I just feel that that 32:00is what happens to us. We get caught up in the hype instead of staying focused on what we believe in. And if it's something you can do something about, you work hard and you do it, and if you can't, then you can't. And that's my motto in life, you know. Like I tell Imam Adib [resident imam of Masjid Abdul Muhsi Khalifah], I said, "There are two things around this masjid that I just feel obligated that must happen, and that's the two Eids." I said, "But beyond that, y'all gonna pay me. Now, whether you pay me discounted, I don't know, how I feel," I said, "but the Eids..." And Allah just gives me the wherewithal, and I'm happy, you know.

And that's what religion -- religion isn't to me -- I don't have to leave out of here and tell people that, "You know, I'm Muslim." No, let me live the life so that you might not know that I'm Muslim but you will know that I'm different. 33:00You will know that I'm different. In what way? I don't feel that I'm better than you, but if you do things that's beneath me, then what? I have to rise to the top. And I don't like the better-than-thou syndrome. I never condemn Christians, because they were here when Islam came. They were here. The Christians saved our beloved prophet. You know, so when I look at things, I says, Well, you think Allah's not going to reward them for none of that? And it says in the Book, had Allah intended for everyone to be Muslim, he would have made them so. So he had us divvied up in different tribes and different religions to -- I guess to see where you're going.

And if you say, "Well, I'm a Christian, and this is my path here" and "I'm a 34:00Muslim, and this is my path here," but I don't feel that there's nothing wrong with -- I invite you to my house, and when you invite me to your house, I'm gonna go with you. And I think that's the way that we're supposed to be as people. But are you afraid that if you go into the church that some spooky gonna happen and you're gonna become a Christian? Not if you're -- if that's your faith, if that's what you believe in, and then people will open up to you. You know. I've had people that say, "Beatrice, you know, you are such a sweet person, but you're different," you know. And they will say, "Well, I met some Muslims, and they this, they that, they think they're better, they downtalk people and stuff" -- and we gotta get away from that, because I've never seen noplace in the Qur'an where the Prophet talked down to nobody. You know, and we -- these are things that nobody has to tell you that. It's common sense. So what 35:00is common sense, though. Right? Okay.

ALI: So there -- so I'm interested in hearing what it was like in New York in the late '60s, early '70s, because one of the things that happened in the early '70s, in 1972, I think, was Black Family Day.


ALI: It was '72 or '74, I can't remember, but --

SABIR: On Randall's Island.

ALI: Randall's Island. So tell me -- tell me about that, 'cause this was a huge gathering.

SABIR: Oh, was it. And they worked us like a slave, you hear me? But it was such a wonderful event. Just Muslims from all over, and they came, and people, you know, brought their little stalls, their little spaces, and of course the temple did most of the cooking and stuff. My word. It was just -- let's see. It was 36:00like a rock concert. I've never been to a rock concert, but I've seen them on TV. Yes I was; I was a vendor at one on -- what's that thing, coming across the Triborough Bridge you see it? Randall -- no. [phone rings] There's another island. But anyway, they had those rock concerts there.

ALI: I'll pause.

[Interview Interrupted.]

SABIR: So that's what it was like --

ALI: Wait, hold on.


ALI: Sorry.

SABIR: That's okay.

ALI: Okay. So Randall's Island.

SABIR: Yes. It was one of -- like I said, there was entertainment, there was booth spaces, there were all vendors, there was just --


ALI: How many people?

SABIR: Oh, I don't know. I don't know. Tens -- ten thousand, fifteen thousand people? It was a lot of people, lot, lot, lot, lot.

ALI: What, what kind of work did you have to do to prepare for that?

SABIR: Work all day, all night, 'cause they kept the vans coming back to load food to take, take back, take back, take back. Then you were lucky if they said, "Okay, you need to relieve somebody," so you got to go on the island. You know, just a little [inaudible]. It was -- I, I -- I don't know. It was just mesmerizing. It was, like I said, a huge rock concert where people just came. They just -- buses from, up and down the east coast, from north to the east, 38:00from west to the east, and it was, it was, it was a lot. It was great. It gave you such a magnificent feeling to be a part of what was happening at that -- Randall's Island that day. Yep.

ALI: Another significant moment in the community in New York was in I think 1972 when police tried to enter the mosque in Harlem or the temple in Harlem. Were you there at that time? Do you remember that?

SABIR: I was coming to work, and they detoured the train, I think. So. And my husband was -- as a matter of fact, it's mighty funny. We were talking about that just last week. And he takes huge pride in that thing. He says, "You know" 39:00-- this is how he said it to me. He says, "You know, nobody was ever really arrested for that." Louis Ali -- he's still alive, Louis Ali -- said that they took him in for a few days, but he was released, and he says that the brothers were lined up around the building, shoulder to shoulder, and said, "We were ready to die that day for what we believed." And, you know, so I wasn't there, so, of course, he was -- and just today -- last week, last weekend, this past weekend -- and he was saying about -- and says that the policeman that got shot, they -- I don't know how they -- I don't know how they -- how the other 40:00policemen got to the building or what it was, but I think Captain Shah and somebody, you know, talked to them, and this was this and that was that, and I don't know. But, like I said, I didn't -- I wasn't privy to that, but all of it revolves around the people -- some of the people that I knew. Yeah, [inaudible].

ALI: So one of the prominent ministers in New York, or who was the minister of New York, was Minister Farrakhan. He was Louis X in Boston, and then he was Minister Farrakhan. Can you tell me some -- a reflection of any of your experiences you'd like to share from that time?

SABIR: I thought he was very -- he was an entertainer, right? Okay. See, and I thought he brought that to the stage when he spoke. And he -- he had the 41:00charisma to captivate an audience, which he did extremely well, and he still does now. So -- but as I -- you know, that was then. I mean, he -- you know, I just enjoyed, enjoy-joy-joy-joyed listening to him. But as time moved on, and in 1975, I -- to me -- I thought that he was kind of selfish in not joining up with -- because the Honorable Elijah Muhammad told us many, many times that -- he says, "What I'm teaching you is not true Islam." Toward the end part, he did 42:00tell us that. He said, "But there's someone coming after me that will take you into true Islam." And of course, the way that Warith Deen [Mohammed] was teaching Islam was from the book. So you didn't have to -- and he would always say, "Read what I'm telling you. Find it in a book and read." So I thought he was kind of selfish about that, and I thought some of the things he told the people about, says that the messenger was not dead, he was someplace over here and someplace over there and all that kind of stuff, to me, that was all -- I don't know why he would say that. But anyway.

ALI: So do you remember where you were when you learned of the messenger's -- the Honorable Elijah Muhammad's transition?


ALI: Tell me -- tell me about that, that moment.


SABIR: We owned a bakery on East New York Avenue in Brooklyn here, on East New York Avenue. And that's when I heard of it. But, you know, I told you I was always curious. I knew nobody was going to live forever, and when they had presented us with some of their -- some of his conditions, I was -- I would tell my husband. He said, "Well, honey, don't say that," you know, said, "Allah can cure anything." I said, "Yeah," I said, "I know that, but you're not a realist? You don't believe that he's gonna die?" So. And there was a young man working in the bakery, his name was Robert, and when he heard it, you know, it kind of -- he was Christian, too, or he wasn't Muslim. I don't know how much of a Christian he was. But he did say -- he said, "So what do y'all think? He's immortal or something?" Say, "Everybody's going to die one day; we might as well get used to 44:00it." I says, "But he's more than just a regular person." He said, "Yes," he said, "I understand that." Now, this is coming from somebody else. He says, "But you're gonna die, I'm gonna die, and everybody in this building is gonna die one day." And we were taught that not -- see, this is -- this is -- we were taught that not a leaf falls from the tree except it be the will of Allah. So my thing is, why do we question certain things and not the other thing? Is one thing not the will of Allah, but over here, this is the will of Allah? How do you -- the balance between that? So that's kind of where I am with my life, period, you know, and that's why I try to stay focused on belief and faith. You know. So. 45:00That's that.

ALI: Okay. So you mentioned the baker in East New York. Tell me when -- when did you decide to establish that bakery, and what --

SABIR: Nineteen seventy-two, because the Nation's bakery had defunct, and my husband worked for that bakery. So what was he going to do? Pretty much that was his life, that was his baby, that's what he loved. So we rented for a little while. There was this old Italian bakery, and it had ovens already, and it had the wooden tables and stuff like that. So we rented for a little while, and the owner -- and that's another thing. See, the Honorable Elijah Muhammad told us that we should have friendships in all walks of life. The owner was an Italian, 46:00and he owned all the property around there. So he, after we were there for about two years, he came over and he says, "Benjamin," he says, "why don't you buy this place?" [inaudible] said, "Well, I don't have" -- he said, "I'll hold the mortgage." And once again, when we went home -- to me, it was Allah's working, and that's what happened. We bought -- it was five lots altogether, so we bought the property there, and when the Nation business closed, we opened up over there.

ALI: And what was that called?

SABIR: What was it called at that time?

ALI: Mm-hmm.

SABIR: Neighborhood Bakery, but the corporate name was Payoo, P-A-Y-O-O, and it meant "Practice after your own occupation." So. And we stayed there till 1991, 47:00and after that -- and we did buy the property. And a little bit down the road -- quite a bit down the road -- a tax thing came up and, you know, it generated a lot of stuff. So what we did was -- and the building itself was in very bad -- you could go in the basement and crumble the bricks with your hands, so we knew -- and the railroad came right through there -- sooner or later the whole thing was going to crumble. So we sold it. And we moved into where we are today. We're still there. It was a government -- what do you call those things? Where there's more than one company in a house, housing situation? But it was excellent for us, so we were able to get in there, and we're still there now. But going back 48:00to this. What did you -- what was the question?

ALI: I was asking -- yeah, I was asking when you started your own business.

SABIR: Yeah, 1972.

ALI: Yeah, 1972.

SABIR: Yes, February, as a matter of fact.

ALI: What -- besides the need to do this because your husband now needed to find employment -- he could have maybe worked at another bakery. Tell me -- tell me --

SABIR: Well, we realized we were an opportunist. It was a thing of everybody was calling about pies. So it was -- the market was open, wide open. And so we started, and we first started selling in Jersey because they said, "Oh, you can't sell pies in New York." See, things like that --

ALI: Who said that?

SABIR: The powers to be.


ALI: [laughter] Who -- when you say the powers that be, in, in the Muslim community?

SABIR: Yes, yes, you know.

ALI: Okay, so there was this sense of like marking off of territory kind of thing.

SABIR: Yeah, you know. But that never frightened me. I said to my husband, I says, "Well, there's no patent on the bean pies." I says, "And if there is, you helped to create a patent." I said, "So there's no bakery, so you're not infringing on nobody, so we're gonna go full blast ahead. I'm gonna start doing some things and calling some people, and we're gonna make this work." So. And it did.

ALI: The -- did he -- did you use the same recipe? Because the bean pie tastes different. There are so many different kinds of variations on the pie.

SABIR: Well, let me tell you -- with the -- he's -- his -- he uses the same basic recipe. The only thing is that we use vitamin C, because we're into 50:00supermarket chains now. The federal, state, or the city is kind of -- they, they closed most of the facilities to city. But that's about the only difference, because, you know, you have to be a little -- for shelf stability. So that's one of the things, in order to become commercial.

ALI: So tell me, how did you transition from a neighborhood bakery to doing retail to wholesale? Tell me about that transformation.

SABIR: Okay. And -- so we were just doing regular, going to stores, the Steak 'N' Takes, which were very, very popular back in those days too, the Steak 'N' --

ALI: These were also Muslim businesses.

SABIR: Yeah, yeah, Steak 'N' Takes. But now the Italians, like in Philly and stuff, they don't have too many real Steak 'N' Takes around here in New York, but we go out to Philly once a week, my husband and I. That's our vacation. I 51:00mean, once a week. We take a vacation, like, after the season, you know, and -- where was I going?

ALI: You were talking about the -- well, I'd asked about how you moved from retail to --

SABIR: Oh, demand. Demand. And the more we baked, the less -- we could never accumulate enough. So then we had to -- that place had two revolving ovens, then we put in another one, so that made three. So then we were able to kind of -- at one time, we were -- we employed over 45 people, day and night shifts. Yeah. So. It was a good time. It was a good move, actually. And then we did restaurant in 52:00the same place. There was this huge, huge hospital, I think it was St. John's, and this -- what was his name? He was a reverend, and he had a church, and they were demanding that we open on a Sunday to serve them. It was a captured audience. The audience was a captured audience. So we remodeled the front and we made a restaurant there. Small, but it'd seat like 12 people. Anything over 12, then you have to have a bathroom for them, so we kept it under 12. So anyway. So that's -- and the demand started coming.

And then we, of course, did some legwork, and we made -- we went to the City of New York, and they gave us one test facility, which was Brooklyn House of Detention, and it was a $80,000 contract. They blew it out. And it was supposed 53:00to last for six months. They blew the contract out in less than four months, so now we had to go back to the city and renegotiate that. So. And we were saying that if it does that at Brooklyn House, what can it do at the other places. But then now, you know, if you want to play with the big boys, you've got to act like the big boys. So they put us on a bid list, and we bid, and we got it. And then for many years we had it, until white-collar crime started creeping around and, you know, then they start eliminating sweets from this and that, and -- long story, but.

ALI: So tell me about -- so you were living in Queens --

SABIR: Mm-hmm.

ALI: -- right? So tell me how, how did -- but you used to come here for your Muslim Girls Training classes.



ALI: So after 1975, with the transformation in the community, how did you -- what kept you coming to this? Or when did you kind of formally decide this was your home masjid, this in Bed-Stuy?

SABIR: From that time of the bakery. See, the bakery was right on East New York Avenue, and there was another bakery where Minister Farrakhan, the dark Farrakhan -- you know, you have to differentiate. This one is -- you know, Farrakhan, this Farrakhan was really dark, and he had a masjid over on Lincoln Place, I think it was. And that's how I started coming, actually, coming here. And they knew we had the bakery there. It started out with cooking food for an Eid, and we agreed that we would do it and bring it down here. And the camaraderie was, you know, very nice, and that's just how I -- because, 55:00remember, I used to come here when they had the MGT classes here, but then in moving and becoming my own young lady, we started going to Manhattan. And then so when the bakery was over here, of course I migrated here. Because we used to have lots of different little shows, little talent shows and stuff, and then they would buy the product to resell and things like that. So that's how it -- that's how I got hooked here.

ALI: So how long would you say you've been -- this is -- how long would you say this is -- Masjid Khalifah's been your home, home masjid?

SABIR: Maybe 25 years. Yeah, something like that.

ALI: And how have you seen the community change over those 25 years?

SABIR: A lot. A lot change. We used to have so, so many people here. You know, 56:00there was nothing that you just had to do on your own 'cause there was enough people to help you. Now, it's not the only place that I hear that, you know, the membership is falling off, and of course death generates, a lot of moving. You know, families, youth families, that's moving away, so that's taking two people and four or five children away from the community. So. That's what I find, that you don't -- we definitely don't have the people here that we used to have. I mean, it would be, whew, mind-boggling, you know, on a Friday for jummah. But.

ALI: Do you -- do you still serve on the board of directors?

SABIR: No, not -- I served my term, and I'm not on the board now.

ALI: What kinds of programs happen here, or would you like to see happen here?

SABIR: I would like to see more things for the youth and the seniors. You know? And if you could capture that, then the in-between will rise on its own. You know. I would like to see that the youth can come on a Saturday night or 57:00something, chaperoned, have them a dance, because if they don't dance with us, they're gonna dance with somebody else. You know, and it's just -- it's just a part of culture to move, you know, and they want to do the same thing. My thing is I ask parents all the time, "What were you doing at their age? They're doing better than you were doing at their age." So what -- let them come out. Get them a pool table. Let them let off some steam. Let them let off the steam under our supervision. Not that we're going to be peeking -- and you'll be there to make a little food for them, to monitor -- you know -- them, and you don't pay -- we won't play slow music. Line dancing and all that kind of stuff that just -- you don't even have to touch one another to do that. You know, but -- that's what I say, that we should have -- begin to have glee club. Of course have Islamic 58:00studies for them as well, but glee clubs and -- 'cause our children has gotten to the point now that they feel that all you do here is just teach us on Friday. When my girls were coming up, we used to have a Saturday school, they used to go to diff-- a lot of different places, you know. It's -- I don't know. We have kind of lost them, and if we don't do something fast, we are going to lose them for real. You know, that bothers me.

The seniors. Now, this is the room that they have jummah in. This is the conference room for the offices that's here, but on Friday, this belongs to the seniors. We bought this TV for them, a group in here and myself, 'cause they had 59:00a little small TV. I said, "No, they have to even look" -- so we bought that, and they can see and hear much better now. So we try to keep it where when they come in on Fridays, they feel like they're still a part of. So that's what I would like to see. I would like to see more youth participation and, you know, more things for the seniors. That's kind of like where I am right now.

ALI: Mm-hmm. So along that theme, looking back at your own history, what would you want to make sure of your generation's knowledge and experience that young people benefit from?

SABIR: Well, of course I would love to see some of them take over the cooking. I'm not gonna be here to do it forever. But when I try to pull them in, 60:00[laughter] "Oh, no, it's too hard." You know, it's always an excuse. And I would like to see us have, even if it's like -- for the seniors especially, I would like to see maybe every other month, the person in the community who knows what they're entitled to -- a lot of them don't even know what they're entitled to. They don't even have a clue. So bring that information here and share it with them and let them know, and if they don't know how to fill it out, let -- you know, say, "Okay, we need two, three of you guys to come help them today. This is for the seniors." Then with the youth. You know, a lot of the youth don't even know who owns the business, you know, how the struggle to maintain that, how it's -- you know, how it has influenced the community. There are sisters 61:00right now, if you ask them, "Well, who is Sister B?" they know me as, oh, the sister that runs the kitchen or something like -- they have a clue as to my mainstay. You know, and they'll see the pie or something and they'll buy it, but if I'm in the setting and we're talking and I tell them, "Well, that's my product," they say, "Oh, Sister B, you're kidding. I've been buying this forever." But they don't know, because I don't talk it. But if we have an environment where a who's-who in this community and reaching out -- and I do find that there has been a divide in leadership in all of these different local masjids. You know, this one have -- they have the better-than-thou syndrome, you know, and we're all dropping like flies, every single day, so why can't they come together, the imams, and say, "Well, what's working for you? How do you do 62:00this? How do you develop? Why aren't we going up? Why aren't we rehabbing?" Not with a handyman from his -- this is a huge place. You been upstairs lately, all through? You know, so these are the things that annoy me. It really annoys me because they say there's no mortgage on the building, so what are we waiting on? I think it's fear. Fear that if someone invests in here to do X, Y, Z, you lose. Come on, get on board, learn. Learn. You know. [sighs]

ALI: How do you -- how -- how do you deal with these challenges in light of the experiences you've had in your going on -- over 50 years in the Muslim 63:00community, right?

SABIR: Yes, it is --

ALI: 'Cause '64 --

SABIR: Yeah.

ALI: Yeah, so over 50 --

SABIR: Nineteen sixty-four, yeah.

ALI: -- over 50 -- almost 54 years, right, 54 years in the Muslim community. So you've certainly faced challenges.


ALI: Right? What lessons of those challenges in the past do you think are important for this generation to learn from or hear about?

SABIR: Unity. Self-respect. Because I feel that when you lose respect for yourself or your surroundings, you've lost everything. That's my motto. I teach that to my girls. My oldest is -- what is she, 49? -- gonna be 50, yeah, something like that. I tell them that, you know, when you stop respecting 64:00yourself, then your morals are down the tubes, you know. And I -- I'm not saying that they have to do this hard work like we did, but you're supposed to be smarter. You've got gadgets now. You should be bringing something back to the community to make it better. Well, instead of you doing -- you know, they kill me, my children. They -- "Momma, you still write with a pen?" I say, "Yes. I use the computer as best I can. I'm not computer savvy-savvy," I said, "but I can send out an invoice and I can collect my money. Those two things I do extremely well. So the other things you want me, teach me, teach me, and don't criticize." I said, "But I bet you, at the end of the day, I'm not off one penny." So. My 65:00granddaughter, she's getting on board with what I'm saying, you know, so she's like, "Momma, I see just what you're talking about." And I say, "That's all it takes. Hard work never killed -- I'm still here." I'm 71. I'm still here. I do thin-- the brothers see me running up the stairs say -- they don't -- I don't tell them how old I am, 'cause I don't think that's important. I think age is a number, and I think age is something that it's a part of you but it doesn't have to be you, you know. So. And that's me. That's just where I am in life, and I'm a very strong advocate of if something arouses and I can do something about it, I'm gonna help to do it, and if I can't and know that I can't, I will pray that 66:00Allah gives somebody else the wherewithal to do it. And that's just how it is with me.

ALI: I think that's a good place to, to stop.

SABIR: That's where I am in my life right now, you know.

ALI: All right.

SABIR: So, not in a whole bunch of aggravation. Don't bring too much garbage to me, 'cause I don't -- really don't want to hear it, you know. But, I love life. I love being a Muslim. I enjoy what I do, and I'm happy. I really am. And if I have a ch-- if I had a choice to do it over, I think I would go back to '64, but I would do a lot of things differently. But I have to have the knowledge that I have today, right, so that's not [inaudible]. That's it.


ALI: All right. I think that's a good place to stop.

SABIR: You think?

ALI: Yeah.

SABIR: Okay.

ALI: Unless there's anything else you want to make sure.

SABIR: No. I, I just regress a little bit when you asked the question, What was it like being Muslim during that time. And I just can't recall being anything else. You know, I don't -- because to me, when I get up in the morning, I don't have to wonder about -- 'cause I tell them right now, I says, "Listen, I've paid my dues to wear daisy dukes if I like, but I have never had on a pair of shorts." I said -- and I tell them, I says, "And I don't have to wrap my head." I said, "I paid my dues not to wrap it." I said, "That's why I keep it cut 68:00short, and when I don't want to wear this headpiece, I don't wear it. When I get too hot, I just pull it off." That's how come when you rung the bell, I don't have any sleeves under here, but I'm in my office by myself. There's nobody in there, so when I have to answer the door, cover this up. If I feel like it. I -- listen. You know, because we get too hung up on, Oh, her dress isn't long enough. Her hijab isn't big enough. Her -- why are you worrying about that? How is her heart? What about her heart, or his heart, you know? Because, brother, let me tell you, from '64 to now, I could tell you some stories that would make the hair on your head rise, but this -- it's not for this setting, you know. 69:00We're talking about the history, you know. But all of this came out of the history, and like I tell imam sometimes, I say, "You don't want me to open up Pandora's box," I said, "'cause I've seen and heard a lot." And I keep it to myself.

ALI: Do you think that there are people who would benefit from the stuff that you've seen and heard from hearing it as well?

SABIR: I don't know. It could do a lot of damage. I wouldn't do it.

ALI: Why do you think it didn't do you that?

SABIR: 'Cause I told you, I don't -- I never just -- you know, because they had this part -- you can erase some of the stuff about the mothership and the this and that, and if you didn't weigh 150 pounds, you weren't going to get on the mothership, and the this and the that. I read that book, and I closed it, and I never opened it again, 'cause to me it just -- what?! You know, some things just don't -- just doesn't seem right. Just -- you know. So you're a good Muslim, I'm 70:00a good Muslim. I weigh 300 pounds, and I've been a good Muslim all my life. You weigh 150, so what's gonna happen, you're gonna get on the ship and not me? And where's the ship gonna land at? You know?

ALI: So I'm interested -- what kept you, then? What were the core things that you think kept you here in spite of maybe --

SABIR: Of it all?

ALI: -- the aspects of the theology that you didn't subscribe to at the time?

SABIR: Faith.

ALI: In...?

SABIR: Just faith in, in, in myself too. Faith in myself, faith in the religion. And I tell people right now, I say, "If I can't -- if you, if you're gonna condemn me about something, show me in the book. Show me in the book." And then, like I tell them, "I don't understand everything in the Qur'an, because I don't 71:00understand the thee, the thou, the thu, the thu [phonetic]." I read, and I read footnotes and try to understand for myself. But, like I say, if you -- just living -- I just live. I just -- I live my life. If I want to go to a concert, I'm going. I'm going.

ALI: So what -- so what of the --

SABIR: I don't smoke, I don't drink. I cater, yes. Do I cater for -- if it's in a bar? But I don't know how to mix a drink. I have a young lady that went to bartending school, her name is Monica, and whenever I have to provide that for a client, I get her to do it, and you set up over there, you know.

ALI: Have people ever challenged you on that?


ALI: And, and what is your response?

SABIR: You do -- I'm doing me; do you. That's it. You know, and we have t-shirts. I have a Neighborhood t-shirt with -- it says some Neighborhood Halal, 72:00and something in the front, a little writing, and in the back, it says "Neighborhood Bakery and Catering" and a phone number. So lots of times, if they don't have the card, they'll let the people take their picture. So it's a t-shirt; it comes to about yea. I had -- she's an older sister, and she says, "Well, Sister B, why don't you wear something under your shirt?" I said, "When you stand one day behind four fryers, a stove, and a grill, like I do in the summertime," I said, "then you come and ask me that question." I says, "But until then, I am very modestly dressed, and don't bother me." People don't bother me. They're very selective when they come to me, because they know I will -- it's just me. I, I -- you can't -- you can't judge me. You can't tell me anything.

ALI: Do you think that you get more scrutiny because you are a sister versus a brother?


SABIR: No. I don't think so, 'cause like I told you, they don't bother me. Because that's me. I'm me. You can't tell me beyond the Qur'an, do this and do that. I'm not a yes-yes person. If I don't agree with what you're saying, I'm not gonna -- I just don't. I'm not -- that's not me. I -- I don't know. Maybe it's good and bad, I don't know. And part of that, part of me is that I only had one brother, and I'm the -- well, he's passed. Last June he passed. And I -- the oldest. So all -- I never had no one to protect me, so I had to keep my guards up and protect myself. And I felt that people would take advantage of me if I allowed them in my space too much. So you can't come too close into my space. 74:00This is my little world right here. Stay on the outside. But that's just how I've been all my life. So I'm not gonna change now. But I'm very kindhearted. That I know about myself. Maybe sometimes too kindhearted, but who's to say that? But that's it.

ALI: Okay. Well, thank you.

SABIR: Yeah, with me, what you see is what you get.

ALI: Yes, ma'am.

SABIR: Don't look for a whole bunch of different stuff or "Well maybe tomorrow." Nope, I'm gonna be the same way tomorrow as I am today. That's just it. And I pray that Allah will strengthen me and you, and I pray that whatever good comes from this, that it will help those that don't know or didn't know and bring some light to our community. And you mentioned earlier about Islam here in America 75:00and the Arabs and the Egyptians and the other, other, other, other people that has come here. For us to be here in slavery and to rise up to some of the things that we have accomplished is a great fight. It's a great history. We shouldn't -- we had no control over it, so we shouldn't be embarrassed, but we take back and move on. Don't let it -- you know, like the -- what is the thing, tornado? -- don't get caught up in the base of the tornado. Keep moving, revolving up, and doing things that you can do for yourself, and stop asking people [phone rings] to do everything for you. It wasn't easy for us to maintain this thing and raise four kids, and three of them went to college. This is --

[Interview Interrupted.]


ALI: Okay, so we are -- we're back. And just -- you were saying -- you mentioned the phrase "do for self" and how hard it was to do that. Can you tell me what that phrase means to you, and why is that phrase important to this -- to the tradition of this community?

SABIR: Because there's a -- there's a great feel out there, and what portion of that are we gonna get for us, if nothing is gonna be given to us. See, one thing about us, though: if it doesn't succeed the first day or two, we're ready to throw in the towel. If we don't have a bankroll carried around in our pocket the first four or five years, they give up. We could have given up, along with other, you know, people that have businesses and stuff, but we were determined. 77:00We went through two bankruptcies with A&P [grocery stores] -- two of them! -- but still we stand. Totaled about maybe 45, 50 thousand dollars, these products you done delivered, bankruptcy, you don't get no money. You know. One isn't completely, completely settled yet, but it's all part of doing business, you know. You -- I can't tell you not to bankrupt your company tomorrow and you owe me money. You bankrupt for your-- because this is the need, this is what I have to do. So. But yeah, we don't want to -- we're afraid of hard work, hard work, and it's, it's not -- I don't, I don't see it happening without hard work, but it's, it's not all that you have to work hard, hard -- smarter. You know, things that I'm learning now, had I known it 20 years ago, I would have certainly have 78:00used it, that I'm beginning to learn how to use it now. And we as a people, all the free things, free classes, free whatever it is, take advantage of it, you know.

ALI: You, when you, you joined the Nation in '64 and then you started working at the Nation of Islam--run restaurant --

SABIR: At the restaurant, yes.

ALI: -- and your husband was working at the NOI-run bakery, and then you started your own business, there is a reputation that I think especially African American Muslims have, of being entrepreneurs. Can you tell me where that -- is that -- do you think that's a fair statement to make, a tradition of entrepreneurship out of the -- out of this community?

SABIR: When we put the fear of not succeeding in our back pocket and sit on it, 79:00zip it up, put it in the back pocket, zip it up and sit on it, and focus and say, "I can succeed." Like I told you, we've had upward of 45 people. We sent -- there's one guy that started with us in -- Jamal came with us in '76. All his kids gone through college, from Neighborhood. We maneuvered the little things to help him, but fear. I think fear holds us back a lot. And because we don't hear people talk about the things that they would -- years ago, my husband and I would go to baker's convention. You could count Black people in your hand. We would go up to Massachusetts to bakery shows, just the two of us, we're the only black things in there. But they didn't bother me. They were looking for the same -- I felt like they were looking for the same thing I was looking for: a piece 80:00of equipment, an easier way to do this, an easier way to do that. So I would go there with my notes and take all my literature; we'd come back home and start sifling through it, and this -- and fear, fear keeps us back from doing so many things.

ALI: And why do you think you and your husband don't have that fear, or haven't had that fear?

SABIR: Because we, we have proven that it can work. We have -- we're living proof that yes, it can work. You know. So the fear that we might have had in the beginning -- I've dealt with everything. Internal revenue --

ALI: How did you -- so how --

SABIR: -- everything. I --

ALI: -- how did you push through the biggest challenges in your business? What do you think explains why you, why you didn't give up like other people may have?

SABIR: Because I could always see the light at the end of the tunnel. When it 81:00got hard, when times got tough, and you see the sales and went, "How are we gonna pay this?" But I've always been the type of wife that -- now, I don't know if I should tell you this or not, but I'm gonna tell you -- if a dollar came in that house, I'm gonna put away a quarter. So my husband would say, "Well, you know, we need so-and-so and so-and-so." I said, "Well, just work at it today. Something's gonna happen." And sure enough, I says, "Dag, I hate to give him these two, three hundred dollars," but some kind of way. You know, just like Allah says, "I will never leave you alone." Just know that. And did it happen the next day? Maybe not, but before the week's end, we were back on the top of 82:00our game. How it happened? A lot of it -- I -- I can't explain it, but it's because you strive, you treat people right, and I just -- you know, I don't know. I just -- and like I told you, I just always been very optimistic about stuff, that it's gonna happen. Took my girls -- there's four girls -- three of them through college. One went to St. John's, one went to NYU, one went to Claflin, I think it is, South Carolina, and one just went to nursing school. She quit, but hey, that's her prerogative. But it has given us a very good life. You know, so. And I'm here to tell the story today, and to enjoy a little bit of the light that it is has given me at my age. Yeah, so.

ALI: Well, thank you very much for telling that story, and I look forward to 83:00people being able to listen to it and benefit from it.

SABIR: Okay. You're gonna let me know when you do it?

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Interview Description

Oral History Interview with Beatrice Sabir

Beatrice Sabir was born in 1947 in Sumter, South Carolina. She moved to New York City as a young adult and joined the Nation of Islam in 1964. She worked in the Nation of Islam-affiliated Shabazz Restaurant in the Harlem neighborhood of Manhattan before opening Neighborhood Bakery with her husband in 1972 in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn. The bakery's market grew to include contracts with correctional facilities; accounts with local grocery stores, delis, and restaurants; and catering for cultural events. She also served on the board of directors of Masjid Abdul Muhsi Khalifah in Bedford-Stuyvesant.

In this interview, Beatrice Sabir discusses her childhood in South Carolina and Boston. She speaks on her exposure to Islam as a child, joining the Nation of Islam as a young adult, and her memories of Black Family Day on Randall's Island in 1972. She expands on her ongoing involvement with Muhammad Mosque No. 7C (later known as Masjid Abdul Muhsi Khalifah) in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn, including participating in Muslim Girls Training - General Civilization Class (MGT-GCC) as a young woman. She also talks at length about opening Neighborhood Bakery with her husband, including the bakery's transition from retail to wholesale and its emphasis on the bean pie. 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.


Sabir, Beatrice, Oral history interview conducted by Zaheer Ali, August 28, 2018, Muslims in Brooklyn oral histories, 2018.006.29; Brooklyn Historical Society.


  • Masjid Abdul Muhsi Khalifah (Brooklyn, New York, N.Y.)
  • Masjid Muhammad 7C (Brooklyn, New York, N.Y.)
  • Nation of Islam (Chicago, Ill.)
  • Neighborhood Bakery (Brooklyn, New York, N.Y.)
  • Sabir, Beatrice


  • African American cooking
  • African American Muslims
  • Bakeries
  • Black Muslims
  • Family-owned business enterprises
  • Food
  • Grocery trade
  • Islam
  • Martial arts
  • Muslim converts


  • Bedford-Stuyvesant (New York, N.Y.)
  • Brooklyn (New York, N.Y.)


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Muslims in Brooklyn oral histories