Born as Clarence Reams in 1945, Abdul Alim Musa is an African-American Muslim Imam and the director of Masjid al-Islam of Washington, D.C.. Imam Abdul Alim Musa, an activist and a Sunni Imam, is founder and director of As-Sabiqun movement and the Islamic Institute of Counter-Zionist American Psychological Warfare. A critic of U.S. policies and its support for the Zionist Regime, Imam Abdul Alim Musa has served as a well-known public speaker across the world and has visited Iran on several occasions to deliver speeches on Islamic unity, oppression of African-Americans and his experiences as a convert Muslim, as well as to attend Islamic Unity conferences held in Tehran.
The following in an exclusive interview with Imam Abdu Alim Musa for Khamenei.ir conducted by Setareh Sadeqi* on various issues including the rights of minorities, black movements in the United States, his take on the Islamic Revolution and Imam Khomeini.
The full text of the interview is as follows:
As the Imam of Masjid Al-Islam in Washington, how do you assess the way the U.S. government treats minorities as compared to how Islamic teachings instruct us on treating minorities?
Right now, there is a big demographic transition in America. One example is California; California is already minority-majority, in other words there are more blacks, Latinos, Chinese, than all the races that are white Americans. That’s happening all over America. But right now, there is an anti-immigrant and anti-Islamic feelings. The anti-immigrant feeling affects two main groups of people: the Latinos who come across the border to work there and there is a lot of prejudice against them. When they [the U.S. government] need them, it’s okay but when they don’t need them, it’s not. Then the second group is the Muslims who are immigrants from around the world. They are experiencing Islamophobia to the maximum. We hear statements from politicians against Muslims and that is the environment is America.
About the blacks, the biggest group of people that is coming to Islam is blacks first and next Latinos. Probably Latinos catch up with blacks in the next 15-20 years, because they are a big minority. We [African-American] used to be the biggest minority but now Latinos are the biggest minority in America. Islamophobia in the black community is almost non-existent, because people knew us [blacks] before Islam and then after Islam. Before Islam we went for alcohol, drugs, girls and everything and now we go for marriage, family and stability in the society; so they see what Islam is. White people don’t know many Muslims personally, but black people all have a friend or relative or a parent of a child who is a Muslim. So they respect Islam because they see the transformation of values by Islam.
Do you think the high rates of conversion to Islam among blacks and Latinos has anything to do with the way Islam treats minority?
Yes. For blacks the main reason first of all was, Islam inherited the civil rights struggle. That was the Martin Luther King type of integration and that was the Malcolm X type of separation and Black Nationalism and finally Islam; then there was the Black Liberation army and the black power movement; then the people transitioned from one stage to another: from civil rights to black power to black liberation to Islam. When I accepted Islam, Islam was a natural part of the liberation movement. That’s why black people like Islam, because they feel that Islam is for them. So for black people it’s natural. Also the human qualities of Islam- for instance on racial preferences, in some cases there is not friction. Many of the mosques are mixed and Muslims come from different races but racism is generally not practiced and if African-Americans experienced racism there [in Muslim communities] they would tell you and they would stand up for themselves.
You have been part of black movements in the United States. What was the main reason for you to join such movements?
Well, the first movement I joined was the “Nation of Islam”. In 1963 when I was in prison a brother approached me explaining to me the problem of black people [in America]. He just simply said that the problem for the black man is the white man and in those days, all problems that we had, were problems created for black people by white people. That was the way it was. And if you looked around the world, that was colonialism, the world was colonized by white people. Wherever it was, the white man was there. He mentioned that to me and I knew right away that it was the truth. And also there was a racial element in it- of black superiority- which said that black people are better than white people. Well, in those days, black people thought they were inferior to white people; so it also taught that the blacker you are, the more beautiful you are. That’s why in the 1960s we had a saying “Say it loud, I’m black and I’m proud!” That was common. So I joined the Nation of Islam in 1963 when I was 18 years old and then I stuck with it for quite some time. Then I had association with the Black Panther Party because the headquarters of the Black Panther Party was right in Oakland, California where I was. Also, at that time I had become the head of the “Whip’s Best” criminal organization in the region. Our idea was different from civil rights’ and different from many of the other movements. Our belief was that America was a gangster criminal society; so, since America is a criminal system, if we control crime in the black community, you can stop people. So what happened was this: undercover we were supporters of the black movements with money and finance.
So there are two parts of the black movement that people knew. There was the Martin Luther King part and the Malcolm X side.Very few people knew about our side, in fact in Howard University last year, there was a big black conference and there were several people there, some of the people there knew me but people don’t know about that part of the civil rights struggle expect those who were part of it. So I was there to talk about it. In the 1970s many of us met again in prison; so in the 70s we were all in prison because the government found out about what we were doing in the 60s. Many of the leaders of the black movement were personal friends of ours and unfortunately most of them have been killed. That’s why I’m so committed to the struggle, because most of my friends were killed when they were 22, 23, 25 years old. So we have it as our mission to carry on that movement and that Idea; because most of the leaders in America don’t even remember those brothers at all.
What is your take on the status of African-Americans in the United States? Do you think the status of Black Americans has improved since the abolition of slavery?
Well, it depends on what you call “improve”. I’ll explain to you a transition very few people understand. During slavery, they used to hook us; they didn’t kill us because we were property and we were expensive. So they didn’t kill us, they hooked us, they kept us in line. After the slavery, if you read about Lincoln and his 13th amendment that helped abolish slavery and slavery would not be able to be practiced in any part of America except for convictions of felonies. Why is there a big black prison population? Because after slavery, they did not slave us anymore, so they had now a criminal justice system. How did it work? Since we were not property anymore, they could lynch and hang black people, because they would not have real values. The other thing is not only they lynched and hanged black people, but also they had a high black prison population; because slavery is abolished except for those who committed crime. That’s why you see many of the old pictures of black people, working on chain gangs; they were chained together working in prison factories; like today in Louisiana, the famous prison called Angola they work in the fields. Texas was also very strong with that type of control a few years ago; the prison population worked so hard and paid for themselves. So the police departments are established like the Zionist police in Palestine are designed to collect names and eventually put people under fines and jails and the sentences. That’s what Ferguson was about. The police would stop all the kids, give them tickets and they’d lose their license; that’s the system in America.
Now if you are talking about lynching, no, they don’t lynch us anymore. After the 1960s they stopped lynching us and they start shooting us. When I was born, they didn’t shoot black people much, they hung us. Now they don’t hang you, they shoot you; I mean literally like firing squads; you wouldn’t even believe it how they do. It’s like you give a white ignorant man a badge and a gun and the right to shoot a black man, what do you think he would do? He would shoot! They’d look for any excuse so they can; because he’s ignorant. And he takes out his frustration, he has a right to. You can see how many thousands of black people are killed every year and maybe one police goes on trial and that’s it. Finish.
So they don’t hang us anymore and there’s no more slavery, but they have black people and Latinos in prison, working in factories, producing goods and services for different corporations. They have contract prisons. Those who owned the prison get money from the government to put us in prison. The less money that they spend on us, on education and rehabilitation, the more money they’re going to make. So do you think they’re going to train you and educate you? No, they’re going to put you in a room and spend as less money as they can. The prison system is an apartheid sustaining system.
The original question you asked, is it better for black people on America than it was during other times? Some people say yes; I say no. I’ll tell you why. When I grew up, we had a black community. All black people loved each other; I’m telling you. To live in a black community was a joy. We just loved each other. You could live in a big city and there was maybe only one killing every few years and that was some shooting in a dice game. We were a better people in those days, more innocent. Definitely we all shared the same thing: we were all oppressed for the color of our skin. We were a people nothing like today. It’s not like that today. We are a race but we are not a people because we don’t have a common vision, common expectations. The other thing about the system is that they have black policemen, black judges, black senators, black congress people, blacks anywhere but they’re killing us. Black people now are part of the system. It’s the system that you have to change. If a white man oppressed me, I’m oppressed. If a black man oppressed me for the system, I’m oppressed! But it’s more difficult; if you have a black president, it’s harder- you know, we had more oppression under Obama than we did under Bush. You know why? If Bush did it, he was simply racist. But if Obama do it… You know, Obama is more pro-Zionist than anybody, because the Zionist put him there. So, have we made any progress? Black people are not as poor as when I grew up. We’re in the middle class. When I was born, we didn’t even wear shoes until we started the school; we were barefooted. That was in the country. So the lifestyle has changed, but we’ve lost ourselves in the transition. The black leaders started talking about this over 35 years ago, in the 1980s, that the integration was a big mistake. Before we all lived in a black neighborhood, doctors, lawyers, everybody. But when the integration came, the rich black people moved out of the black community and they’d left the poor black people and they’d left no role model, no idea of hope or change or improvement. Thus integration was a disaster. I would rather have what we had before, any time. I would rather be happy and oppressed than well-fed, oppressed and unhappy.
As a Sunni Muslim you have always supported the Islamic revolution and Imam Khomeini’s ideology, why would you support them?
It was forty years ago, I was already a Muslim and on the transition, hopefully on the straight way- not straight enough but kind of straight- when I read a book called “The Revivalist Movement of Islam” by Mawlana Mawdudi. Mawlana Mawdudi was head the Jama’a Islamiya which was a revolutionary organization in those days. The revivalist movement talks about mujadids. A mujadid is one who practices tajdid which comes from jadid which in Arabic means new, and to renovate; it means to bring something back to its pure and pristine state. So I read this book which talked about 9 categories of an ideal mujadid to be the right man to follow. I said to myself and group of us studying that literature, if that type of person appears during my life, I will follow that person. We thought it might happen in 50 years, we didn’t even think it would happen in our lifetime. Two years later, Imam Khomeini went to France. We started studying about Imam Khomeini- hearing about him- about what is an ayatollah. We hadn’t even hear about ayatollah, we didn’t know what an ayatollah is. Well, we knew what it meant- a sign of God- but we didn’t know what they do. So I started studying Imam Khomeini. And then there is also a hadith (saying) that goes with that. It said that at the head of every century- at the beginning of every century- God raises a Mujadid, one that would practice tajdid; he would revive and renew and clean up Islam and bring it back to its pure state. Studying the Imam Khomeini, I said: that’s him! That’s the man! So I started following him. The other brothers saw what I saw, they said the same thing that I said, but they didn’t follow him. I followed him because he fit the criteria. Plus the revolution- remember the hadith, “at the head of every century”- the revolution was in the year 1400 (Islamic lunar Calendar)! The hadith was too perfect. It said everything fit: the character, the morality, and the ethics that Mwlana Mwdudi had written about. I read that and I looked at the Imam and said: that’s him! From then on, there was no question. The more I studied, the more I was convinced. This is the same thing about the leader; Ayatollah Khamenei continues in that way. We studied him and we knew. In fact, I first met the leader when he was a president. He came to New York for the annual address before the UN. If you look at that speech, you will find out that was the best speech ever given before the UN.
Following the line of Imam has been easy. Other people would probably not find it easy but it was easy for me.
You have visited Iran a few times and have attended Islamic conferences. Did you meet any Sunni Iranian? What do you think of the status of Sunni Iranians? How was your experience?
I’ve been participating in conference with Sunnis from Iran. I’ve met an Iranian Sunni cleric. We’ve been speaking together on the platform since 35 years ago. I’ve known Sunnis, Arabs, Kurds, everybody form Iran. A few years ago we would hear on the media that there is no Sunni mosque in Tehran. I’d ask them is there any law that prohibits it, they said no but there is none. I said, look, I’ve been all around Iran. Sunnis are different with mosques than Shias are. Sunnis have mosques at every block. If you go to Pakistan, when you come out of your house, you could go to the mosque down there at the corner or down here next door. I went to Bandar Abbas (a port in South Iran); there were maybe 3 or 4 Shia mosques but- there were Sunni mosques everywhere. I said in Iran there is no prohibition. If there is no Sunni mosque in Iran, it’s because Sunnis didn’t open one or they go to the Shia mosques.
*Setareh Sadeqi is a PhD student in American Studies at the Faculty of World Studies, University of Tehran. She is a freelance journalist, researcher and translator based in Iran.