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The African-American Muslim Journey

On Saturday, February 11th, our only event was a program at the Muslim Association of Cleveland East (MACE) Islamic Center on Chardon Road in Richmond Heights titled "The African American Muslim Journey" which offered a good lunch, several fine speakers and a chance to make some friends.

As far as making friends, we arrived early and were greeted by Ms. Humera Khan with whom we RSVP'd who arranged for Ms. Sana Farag to take us on a tour of the MACE facility. During lunch, we sat next to Mr. Bill Badders of the National Science Teachers Association and Mr. Bob Rink who works with the Cuyahoga County Land Bank and their wives. Like us, none of them had been to MACE before and were anxious to learn more about the Islamic Faith and its history in the United States.

We also talked to a man from the Unitarian Universalist Society who looked familiar to us; as it turned out, he was at the Mosque in Parma a week ago, just as we were, showing support for its members during their prayer time.

The program at MACE was moderated by Muhammad Abdus Samad who we have met several times. He smiled as he told us that he was sort of the "emcee" for the day. 

The first speaker was Shaykh Musa Sugapong, a respected and articulate young leader in the Muslim community who we had heard speak before in Parma. On this day, among the things he spoke about was the difference between racism (which can be internal feelings we have inside of us) and discrimination (which is the actual act of bad treatment) and how important it was that we realize that both are wrong and the need to undergo a process of self-cleansing through faith. 

The next speaker was Dr. Nafissa Abdur Rahim who addressed the very serious problem of Islamophobia which is unfortunately quite prevalent in our society if not the world at this time. In order to challenge the negative perceptions, she suggested:

***Avoid watching TV programs (i.e. some new channels) and movies that present a bad image of Muslims because it is possible to be poisoned against one's own faith.

***A Muslim should "stand up" and own who she/he is and not be ashamed to be a Muslim.

***A Muslim or an advocate for Muslims should educate himself/herself about the Islamic faith and its history and share this knowledge with others.

***If one overhears inaccurate things being said about Islam/Muslims, she/he should not be afraid to confront what is being said in a positive fashion.

***Make a commitment to be active in movements that uphold the beauty of Islam. 

Just before a break for prayers, we listened to a couple of readings from Mr. Dhamir Hill, a very promising young poet of the spoken word which was a very apt way to close the first half of the program and get us ready for the upcoming keynote speech which was delivered by Dr. Ihsan Bagby who now teaches at the University of Kentucky although his roots are definitely in Cleveland and he seemed like a longtime friend to several of the people at MACE.

During his presentation, Dr. Bagby discussed the history of Muslims in the U.S. from 1700 to the present and made fine use of slides which made it easier for us to document what he was saying. Among the points that he made were:

***Islam has been a part of the American fabric since the very beginning of this country-at least 10% of all enslaved Africans were Muslims and their presence has been well-documented. Most African Muslims came from the Senegambia region.

***African American Muslims have been and continue to be contributors to the American culture and society. Among their contributions are Blues music, folk stories, and techniques of growing rice.

***The presence of enslaved Africans in America and the struggle of African Americans for freedom is part of the story of colonialism and the anti-colonial struggle. What's more Islam has always been a vehicle for resistance to the injustice of racism an a vehicle for upliftment of an oppressed people.

***Dr. Bagby offered brief biographies of Muslim leaders throughout U.S. history such as Wali Akram who built the first mosque in Cleveland.

We didn't realize it before this time but in the years between the 1920's and the 1960's Islam suffered setback in the United States due to the fact that the immigration laws in place at that time did not allow many Islamic people from other countries to settle here. What kept Islam alive during this time was its legacy passed on through families.

The main points that Dr. Bagby wanted to leave us with included:

***It is vital to find balance in both understanding Islam and activism: the goal is to combine a balanced view of Islam and constructive activism.

***All American Muslims should embrace the agenda of activism to uplift the downtrodden and struggle for justice.

The program closed with Imam Ahmad Abbas leading closing pray


Michael Patterson

Community Liaison,

Margaret W. Wong & Assoc. Co., LLC.

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