Thursday, May 12, 2005
remember imam jamil al-amin
A recent conversation made me think about what kind of work (political activism, community services, rehabilitation programs etc.) orthodox Muslims have been doing (or not doing) in the inner cities. And a related question is which Muslim leaders stand out in terms of their stature in urban communities?
One obvious choice to consider is Imam Jamil Al-Amin (formerly H. Rap Brown)
Imam Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin was born Hubert Gerold Brown, the youngest of three children, in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, on October 4, 1943. He acquired the nickname “Rap” from the streets (growing up) as a result of his impressive dexterity with language, combining keen intellect with blunt coarseness.
He attended Southern University from 1960-64. In 1964, he moved to Washington, DC, and became politically involved in the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). In May 1967, at the age of 23, H. Rap Brown was elected chairman of SNCC, succeeding Stokely Carmichael.
By 1968, much of SNCC’s leadership had merged into the Black Panther Party for self defense, which had been organized in Oakland, California, by Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale; Brown would become the organization’s Minister of Justice.
In 1969 Brown’s first book was published entitled, Die Nigger Die! (publ., Dial Press
He is perhaps most famous for his proclamation during that period that "violence is as American as cherry pie".
He was arrested in a shoot-out in 1971 in New York.
He spent five years (1971-1976) in the Attica Prison after a robbery conviction. In prison, Brown converted to Islam and changed his name to Jamil Abdullah al-Amin.
Paroled from prison in 1976, he moved to Atlanta, Georgia, opened a community store and became the Imam (leader) of the Atlanta Community Mosque.
While H. Rap Brown was known for his fiery rhetoric and in your face confrontation, Jamil Al-Amin was known as a quiet, mild-mannered, stabilizing force in Atlanta’s West End community. In the words of 73 year old Hattie Stegall, “I never saw him angry. When someone would die in my family, he would come by and offer his hand. And when the Muslim children would fight my grandchildren, he would make them come to me and apologize.”
Imam Jamil would grow to lead a national community of Muslims, with members scattered around the US and Caribbean.
When Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin moved into Atlanta’s West End, it was reportedly a crime ridden section of the city known for prostitution and drug proliferation. Under Imam Al-Amin’s leadership, Muslims led a renaissance which has resulted in the West End becoming a source of pride for the city of Atlanta. Despite this, however, the Imam’s past coupled with his [Islamic] ori entation would serve as a lightning rod for additional struggle.
On August 7, 1995, Imam Jamil Al-Amin was arrested in connection with the July shooting of a young man who was pressured by authorities into identifying Al-Amin as his assailant. Even members of Atlanta’s Police Department openly expressed amazement when agents of the FBI, the FBI’s Domestic Counterterrorism Task Force and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms became involved in a case that the police themselves described as “a routine aggravated assault.” The charges were later proved unfounded and dropped.
In 2002, he was found guilty of killing a Fulton County, Georgia sheriff's deputy and wounding another in a gunbattle at his store. He was sentenced to life imprisonment. (The nature of the evidence against the imam is questionable, and you can read more about the case in the links below)
Just some background on Imam Jamil Al-Amin's case:
from the Student Alliance for Imam Jamil the Peace and Justice Foundation and the Unofficial Website on Imam Jamil Al-Amin and here is another summary of Jamil Al-Amin's life and impact on his community.
Actually, the Peace and Justice foundation website also has a number of links dealing with some past and recent political questions of possible interest to Muslims in the US as well (Amina Wadud, Sudan, the Diallo shooting, the US presidential election, etc.)