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On The Death of A Detroit Imam

I was saddened to see the reports that a local imam had been gunned down by the FBI in a shootout. I have vague recollections of seeing Luqman Ameen Abdullah, imam of the Masjid Al-Haqq mosque in Detroit, at various gatherings around the city. He never struck me as a threat or anything close to it. Although I certainly didn't know him, he seemed like a decent guy.

But I was struck by some of the beliefs he espoused and couldn't help but be reminded once again that religion chased by even justifiable anger and paranoia can be a toxic, deadly brew, particularly for the black community.

If I'm rightly reading many of the comments attributed to Abdullah, he carried with him much of the same pain and rage that simmers in a whole lot of people who feel they've been wronged, especially African-Americans. And like a lot of us, he took shelter in his religious beliefs, finding in the Qu'ran both explanation and antidote for his circumstances.

His black Muslim group calls itself "Ummah," or the brotherhood, and wants to establish a separate state within the United States governed by Sharia law, Interim U.S. Attorney Terrence Berg and Andrew Arena, FBI special agent in charge in Detroit, said in a joint statement."He regularly preaches anti-government and anti-law enforcement rhetoric," an FBI agent wrote in an affidavit. "Abdullah and his followers have trained regularly in the use of firearms, and continue to train in martial arts and sword fighting."

Personally, I'm one of those black people who doesn't buy into most claims about homegrown cells of black Muslims set to carry out nefarious, post-911 copycat plots against "the Great Satan." I don't think this man was a terrorist. And I don't think brothers, by and large, go around trying to blow up the ports. (Even the FBI says he wasn't being charged with national security crimes.)

But that doesn't mean we can't be convinced to do, say and believe plenty of other extreme and stupid things when it comes to matters of gods and prophets and race. See, despite the breathless accounts of shock that a group of black religious separatists is out there, anybody who grew up in any sizable African-American community knows folks like Abdullah have always been around -- and are often viewed as purveyors of a sort of black political consciousness. Sure they gained popularity in the 1960s along with other elements of the black power movements, but they had been present long before and have remained long since, as much a part of the daily fabric of our neighborhoods as restaurants and party stores. Just as it did in the 1960s, during the heydey of the Nation of Islam, rejecting the Christ traditionally preached in black churches in favor of Allah or some other god or pantheon of gods often still represents an effort by many folks to establish a new identity for themselves by "throwing off the white man's religion." (Of course, there are also many black folks who dismiss these types as simply "kooks.")

And while Islam is certainly no more violent than Christianity -- and there are millions of Muslims who reject violence of any kind -- many men and women like Abdullah do indeed see in calls for Islamic "jihad" a parallel call-to-arms to fight racial inequity in America, and yes, with weapons if need be. A struggle for freedom and equality somehow comes to look like a fight to set up Sharia law.

This is the part that saddens me the most, that reach into the supernatural to speak to the real. I mean, black folks are going to be suspicious, of course. Heck, millions of Africans wound up here as part of a racist plot to get free labor, so asking their descendents not to be paranoid is just plain unrealistic and maybe even a little unfair. Furthermore, in spite of having a black President and all the claims by the magazines of high opinion that we're in "post-racial" epoch in America, black folks are still very much in social and economic pain.

But we keep trying to take the wrong medicine.

In our desperate search for answers, we keep on swallowing snake oil and wackiness. We're running around trying to establish spiritual kinship with ass-backwards Saudis hiding in mountain ranges when we need to be figuring out how to create jobs, rebuild our neighborhoods and educate our children. We need more science and math, but we keep issuing more directives from ancient books. While the world moves further into a 21st-Century economy, we hold fast to Dark Ages balderdash.

Despite the FBI claims, all of Abdullah's neighbors who've been interviewed say he was a good man who did indeed work in the community by feeding the hungry and letting the homeless sleep at his mosque. And I have no reason to doubt this, same as I don't doubt that a desire to do good drives the social works that many Christians and Jews do in the name of their religions, too.

But, according the FBI, he also apparently thought that we needed a separate nation run according to Sharia law. He also wanted to cut ties with everyone of differing faiths, and certainly with those like me who have no faith at all. And while this isn't new or stunning, it is still, to me, illustrative of how anger unchecked by reason can lead us so tragically astray. It represents the point where the pain of racism and violence and poverty in our communities begin to overwhelm good reason and where the grasping desperation leads to the embrace of ideas that lead us down dead-end paths.

Perhaps in some ways, it's no different than the white kid who turns to skinhead Christianism -- except our community doesn't have the same margin for error.

I felt the same way when I listened to Mos Def a while back as he tried to debate Christopher Hitchens about al-Qaeda. It's hurtful to see a community of people who I think are legitimately aggrieved and rightfully wary turn to bad ideas and warped logic to explain very real pain, express very authentic worry and address very real injustice.

The Qu'ran won't change the material conditions of the black community in Detroit anymore than the Bible will. And trying to help bin Laden establish Muslim supremacy in America will do no more to change what harms us than will buying the church pastor a Bentley.

As far as I'm concerned, you can keep heaven. I'll settle for figuring out ways our neighborhoods can catch a lot less hell.

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  • 1

    "In our desperate search for answers, we keep on swallowing snake oil and wackiness. We're running around trying to establish spiritual kinship with ass-backwards Saudis hiding in mountain ranges"

    "Perhaps in some ways, it's no different than the white kid who turns to skinhead Christianism -- except our community doesn't have the same margin for error."

    Darrell: I say this with concern--your rationalistic-secularism doesn't seem to be all that different in its perspective of those who disagree with you than the ones you seem to criticise. Where is the love in your words? Or, accountability, for that matter? You are becoming the wire brush of the Time blog- abrasively scrubbing off loose paint while also damaging the fine wood underneath.

  • 3

    You know the one thing that we all forget when this type of event happens is this, would it be any more emphasized if the person in question was not a man of religion? Would the crimes and the out come be any worse or less.

    The aspect that a religion being used as a bakground for the crimes and eventual death of a human being is just that the back ground. The real crime was the acts, all religions have used their faith to further a goal or to even pervert it. Christianity was and is no worse with the crimes commited in the name of a faith.

    Would this story even be worth mention if religion was not a part of it? Especially if it were Christian or jewish men perpetrating the crimes? I would hazzard to guess that the answer would be a NO.

    when a ring of car thiefs get busted do they ask or even care about their religious beliefs.... I understand that we are a worl at war with terrorists, but at one time not too long ago we our selves were the terrorists to another people, American Indians, the Incans, and peoples and cultures all over the worl were terrorized by one people or another at one time or another.

    Take the aspect of religion out of the story and you just have criminals, nothing more and nothing less. Yes there was the message in the words of faith that rang from the lips of a corrupt holy man, that lured the week to do terrible things. The trust we put into religion to solve the problems that we have made is the real evil in mankind.

    We all know what it is to do good, yet evil deeds still exist, with religion and with out it. Let go of the religious part of the crime and concentrate on the crime its self, Black, White, Arabic, Jewish, or what ever you may be. Its the crime not the religion or the color of our skin. It only when we see beyond all of that will we really see the truth of our lives.

    I know i sound like preaching, Ha ha ha I got a little wrapped up there for a moment.

  • 4

    Your comment brings more balance to your post, I think. Thank you.

    By accountability I only mean- does someone editorially read your stuff and see if it is imbalanced? I suppose this is your blog, so your perspective. For instance, you color things against the FBI agents- saying they "gunned down" someone that "never struck you as a threat." I think if he began shooting at you as he did the agents, you might have a different perspective.

    And, don't forget that rationalism has its dogmas too and has lead to many abuses of its own kind.

  • 6

    "I was saddened to see the reports that a local imam had been gunned down by the FBI in a shootout. I have vague recollections of seeing Luqman Ameen Abdullah, imam of the Masjid Al-Haqq mosque in Detroit, at various gatherings around the city. He never struck me as a threat or anything close to it. Although I certainly didn't know him, he seemed like a decent guy."

    Way to dismiss the fact he tried to shoot and kill another human being yesterday. After all, he was "a decent guy" in the eyes of those he didn't try to kill.

    Stunning myopia.

  • 7

    "My post assumes you know the details of how he was killed in a shootout, hence the link to keep me from rehashing every detail and allow me to share my own thoughts."

    Perhaps you ought to assume that I'm aware of the "he seemed like a nice guy" quotes as well, and not bring that up. Then you could stick to the theme that some people's misguided search for answers leads them down the wrong path.

    Every week in Detroit I read another article about a "decent guy" gone wrong who killed some one. The family and friends talk about what a choir boy he was while his victim gets cold on a slab. It's cliche. Your post emphasized the "decent guy" angle and minimized the "tried to kill FBI agents (and killed a FBI dog)" angle. It sounds too much like the excuse-making and revisionism I read in the Freep and News every week.

  • 9

    Bottom line is that the opening paragraph could easily be (and was by some of us) misunderstood. You have clarified that you were not trying to justify the actions of the imam, nor decry the actions of the FBI, so we can accept that.

    I don't want my comment to miss your main point, which is valuable and valid--that troubled people (people causing trouble of their own or who have experienced tragedy or dificulty through no purpose of their own) often find a mask of religion or a personality cult to hide behind. Maybe you could focus on that in another post another time and we could discuss that more.

    A side note, since you mentioned Hitchins. Have you watched his debates with Douglas Wilson at Westminster Seminary? You may enjoy watching those since it seems to be an area of interest you have.

    Thanks for the discussion.

  • 10

    While it's true that this imam did some good in his community, which is to be commended, that fact is of no relevance here. The relevant facts are these: 1) he had been identified by the FBI as a threat, holding an arms cache that was truly frightening. 2) law enforcement came to arrest the man and he broke the law by resisting. 3) most significantly - he opened fire first!

    Would we actually suggest that our law enforcement officers not return fire, once fired upon? I submit that if anyone - this imam included - were shooting at you, you'd be inclined to shoot back. And if the police or FBI were present, you would expect them to everything in their power to disable/disarm your assailant in an effort to save your life.

    They are more than justified in defending their own lives.

  • 11

    Enjoying the blog. Except, maybe, this entry.

    Mr. Dawsey is clearly an intelligent man and expresses himself well. But, in this case, the logic is all over the map.

    Poor black imam just doing what a black man has to do to live in this unfair world. Including stocking arms and spouting hate. Really? I know lots of good folks--black and white--who have dealt with unfairness and overcome it with hard work, faith, and, let's face it, good luck/blessings. And I know people who had everything anyone could want and threw it all away to choose a decadent life. It all comes down to personal responsibility.

    I agree with the posters who say leave religion out. It doesn't matter if he's Muslim, Buddhist, or atheist. His actions were criminal. He fought the law, and the law won. And good for the law.

    If your purpose was to stimulate sympathy or empathy, my sense is that no one's biting. You might want to choose your sympathetic "victims" more judiciously. This guy may have done some good, but took himself out of the running for "good guy status" when he made choices to hate and do harm to others.

  • 12

    ..Very enlightened and well thought out!.. Thank You.

  • 14

    I agree with your medicine. However, I would like to caution you from lumping all religions in one category. There are different versions of each religion. My version of Islam considers reason and pragmatism virtues. My reading of the Quran makes me value reason more and more. I know that there are other versions that are completely the opposite. Instead of attacking all faiths, how about attacking all ideologies that dismiss reason, whether they stem from religion or not? This way you don't alienate people like me whose faith is based on and promotes reason.

  • 15

    I came to this blogg because of your mention of Mos Def, and Christopher Hitchens.

    I have watched this clip several times, and there is no doubt Mos Def is trying to give intellectual cover for the Taliban, Al-Qaeda and Bin Laden.

    A few months before that “debate”, Mos Def was reported to be “adamant” about becoming the roving ambassador for the UAE.

    The UAE, you will recall, was one of only three countries to give diplomatic recognition, as well as financial aid to the Taliban.

    During the Dubai Ports World controversy, “both Democratic and Republican members of Congress expressed concern over the potential negative impact the deal would have on port security. They cited the 9/11 Commission report, which stated that two of the 9/11 hijackers were United Arab Emirates nationals, and reports that the UAE was a major financial base for the al Qaeda terror network. The country did not fund al Qaeda but money was transferred through UAE's banks without the government knowing what the money was for (because of privacy concerns).” - wikipedia

    There were also rumors of UAE Emirs falcon hunting with Bin Laden.

    What are you referring to when you say:

    “It's hurtful to see a community of people who I think are legitimately aggrieved and rightfully wary turn to bad ideas and warped logic to explain very real pain, express very authentic worry and address very real injustice.”

    , and how does this relate to Luqman Ameen Abdullah?

  • 16

    [...] some posters here have asked in the past few days, why bring up the man's religious beliefs at all? As much as I disagree with Muslims and others who profess faith in a "divine being," I also passionately believe that [...]

  • 17

    The Masjid Al-Haqq mosque in Detroit is 4 blocks from my home. I can remember the calls to prayer over loudspeaker some years ago. I also remember when a police officer smashed that loud speaker to bits while atop the roof of his cruiser. Thus-mistrust/contempt for law enforcement breeds. The men, all dressed in the traditional arab garb, would congregate in the front of the building daily, especially Fridays and Friday nights. Women as well, though they tend not to interfere with the mens' conversations, but collaborate amongst themselves while observing the children that would play in the adjacent lot. You could hear laughter, intense debate, discussion of all kind from a block away. I can recall numerous times walking down the street having to pass through this gathering of a dozen plus, unshaven, deep voiced, obviously strong men in dark clothing. Almost every single one of them would make eye contact and watch me approach with never a pause in their dialogue. I would speak (which, after dark especially, is customary around here when two people pass-almost a way to determine one's intentions as you near), "Sup ya'll?" Unanimously they'd reply, "Young Brotha." Not only was it the safest spot, but I'd venture to say it was the only joyous occassion known to Joy Rd in decades.

    I did not know the Imam personally. I would see him from time to time in passing, and I can confirm from first hand knowledge that he indeed feeds...fed those without food, sheltered those without roof, and promoted a "brotherhood" or community style of living. I can also confirm that Muslim or not, the police or law enforcement as a whole do not believe in your basic civil rights, at least around here. Any male, 12-67, 4'-7' and 78-378lbs is subject to search at any time. Its called crime prevention in a high crime area. I call it an infringement on my civil rights. Thus-lack of faith in the ability and will of law enforcement to establish normalcy, let alone prevent crime. The battle continues.

    When I first got out of the army, I visited a (not this particular one) mosque in Detroit. I'm not a religious man, but I do have faith, and I like to experience different religions before forming my own opinion. This was the first time I had heard of the Ummah. I listened to the goals stated, and the path they believed would get them to that point was outlined, and....presented. Not with terrorist rhetoric, or seperatist booklets, but with a Qaran, and by attending a wedding, and eating with the men of different races, nationalities, ethinc backrounds, and languages.

    The way it was explained to me, The Ummah was not a cell, it was not another word for brotherhood, it was the conscious of our community. It is the community.

    I say all of that to say this, I can identify with the young male on the street that wants to be apart of something bigger than what is in his face everyday. I can support a group with a call to action for fixing what has gone without repair in my neighborhood and others. I cannot dig the illegal activity that the FBI says took place, and though I didn't see any of it, its not hard to believe. I cannot dig the negative stigma a word as beautiful as Ummah will and already has undoubtedly espoused. In America today, its as bad as the word Islam, and that in itself is a damn shame.

    Mr. D, you hit the nail on the head. I enjoyed this peace very much. It is very sad that the war in this man's head got to the point that the only way out in his belief is suicide by cop. I'm not a felon, but I can understand the mindstate of one that says, "I'll never go back to prison." I believe the man started out meaning right, and went about it really wrong. But when you, as a people, as a whole, own none of the resources in your community, and do not receive assistance.......what do you really expect to happen?


  • 18

    Alhamdulillah, Alhamdulillah, Alhamdulillahi rabbil alameen! Nicely written. May Allah bless you, brother, for your clarity on this issue, even if you're not Muslim!

  • 19


    On The Death of A Detroit Imam - The Detroit Blog -

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