Tag Archives: christianity

God, Did We Just Kill a Child? (George Stinney)

I want to write about this child, who was the youngest ever executed in America. Well, I don’t have time to really write anything, so I’m going to do a cheap cut-and-paste job.

You’ll get my input on part II. In the meantime, #knowyourhistory

Thanks for visiting my blog.

(The following taken from Wikipedia)

George Junius Stinney Jr. (October 21, 1929 – June 16, 1944) was, at age 14, the youngest person executed in the United States in the 20th century.[1]

Stinney, of Alcolu, South Carolina, was convicted of murdering two young girls after police said he confessed to the murders. But the question of Stinney’s guilt, the validity of his alleged confession and the judicial process leading to his execution has been criticized as “suspicious at best and a miscarriage of justice at worst”,[2] and as an example of the many injustices African-Americans suffered in courtrooms in the Southern United States in the first half of the 20th Century.[3]

Following his arrest, Stinney’s father was fired from his job and his parents and siblings were given the choice of leaving town or being lynched. The family was forced to flee, leaving the 14-year-old child with no support during his 81-day confinement and trial. His trial, including jury selection, lasted just one day. Stinney’s court-appointed attorney was a tax commissioner preparing to run for office. There was no court challenge to the testimony of the three police officers who claimed that Stinney had confessed, although that was the only evidence presented. There were no written records of a confession. Three witnesses were called for the prosecution: the man who discovered the bodies of the two girls and the two doctors who performed the post mortem. No witnesses were called for the defense. The trial before a completely white jury and audience (African-Americans were not allowed entrance) lasted two and a half hours. The jury took ten minutes to deliberate before it returned with a guilty verdict.

The case

Stinney was arrested on suspicion of murdering two white girls, Betty June Binnicker, age 11, and Mary Emma Thames, age 8, in Alcolu, located in Clarendon County, South Carolina, on March 23, 1944.[4] Alcolu was a small, working class, mill town where whites and blacks were separated by railroad tracks. The girls had disappeared while out riding their bicycles looking for flowers. As they passed the Stinney property, they asked young George Stinney and his sister, Katherine, if they knew where to find “maypops“, a type of flower. When the girls did not return, search parties were organized, with hundreds of volunteers. The bodies of the girls were found the next morning in a ditch filled with muddy water. Both had suffered severe head wounds.[5]

Stinney had joined the search party and he related to another that he had talked to the girls on the day of their murder.[6] As he and his sister had been the last persons to admit seeing the girls alive, Stinney was arrested a few hours after their bodies were discovered. Stinney was suspected simply because he mentioned he had seen the girls earlier in the day. [7]

He was interrogated by several white officers in a locked room with no witnesses aside from the officers; within an hour, a deputy announced that Stinney had confessed to the crime. According to the confession, Stinney wanted to “have sex with” 11 year old Betty June Binnicker and could not do so until her companion, Mary Emma Thames, age 8, was removed from the scene; thus he decided to kill Mary Emma. When he went to kill Mary Emma, both girls “fought back” and he thus decided to kill Betty June, as well, with a 14 inch railroad spike that was found in the same ditch a distance from the bodies. According to the accounts of deputies, Stinney apparently had been successful in killing both at once, causing major blunt trauma to their heads, shattering the skulls of each into at least 4-5 pieces.[5]

“Because there were no Miranda rights in 1944, Stinney was questioned without a lawyer and his parents were not allowed into the room. No written confession exists, only a few handwritten notes of a deputy who was present during the interrogation. …Reports said that the officers had offered the boy ice cream for confessing to the crimes.”[8]

The next day, Stinney was charged with first-degree murder. Jones describes the town’s mood as grief, transformed in the span of a few hours into seething anger, with the murders raising racially and politically charged tension. Millworkers threatened to storm the local jail to lynch Stinney, but prior to this, he had been removed to Charleston by law enforcement. Stinney’s father was fired from his job at the local lumber mill and the Stinney family left town during the night in fear for their lives.[5]

This was South Carolina in 1944, with a black male defendant, two young white female victims, and an all white, male jury. Stinney never stood a chance.
—Zerlina Maxwell, as quoted by The Grio, NBC news

The trial took place on April 24 at the Clarendon County Courthouse. Jury selection began at 10 a.m., ending just after noon, and the trial commenced at 2:30 p.m. The courthouse was packed with a completely white audience as African-Americans were not allowed entrance. Records indicate 1,000 to 1,500 people crammed the courthouse. Stinney’s court-appointed lawyer was 30-year-old Charles Plowden.[5] “Plowden had political aspirations, and the trial was a high-wire act for him. His dilemma was how to provide enough defense so that he could not be accused of incompetence, but not be so passionate that he would anger the local whites who may one day vote for him. While Plowden was preparing a run for state House that Spring, he was not the only one for which the trial held political implications. As elected officials, Sheriff Gamble, Judge Phillip Henry Stoll, Gov. Olin Dewitt Talmadge Johnston, Coroner Charles Moses Thigpen and State Sen. John Grier Binkins, who were all involved in the case, were also beholden to white voters.”[8]

Plowden did not cross-examine witnesses; his defense was reported to consist solely of the claim that Stinney was too young to be held responsible for the crimes. However the law in South Carolina in 1944 regarded anyone over the age of 14 as an adult. The prosecution merely responded by producing Stinney’s birth certificate which showed him to be fourteen and five months old. Closing arguments concluded at 4:30 p.m., the jury retired just before 5 p.m. and deliberated for 10 minutes, returning a guilty verdict with no recommendation for mercy.[5] Stinney was sentenced to death in the electric chair.[4] When asked about appeals, Plowden replied that there would be no appeal, as the Stinney family had no money to pay for a continuation. When asked about the trial, Lorraine Binnicker Bailey, the sister of Betty June Binnicker, one of the murdered children, stated:[5]

Everybody knew that he done it, even before they had the trial they knew that he done it. But, I don’t think that they had too much of a trial.
—Lorraine Binnicker Bailey, sister of victim Betty June Binnicker, as quoted by Jones, Mark R., South Carolina Killers: Crimes of Passion, pg. 41.

Commenting on the 2011 attempt to file a motion to re-open the case, attorney Steve McKenzie said:

Stinney was a convenient target. But how do you exonerate somebody where there is absolutely no evidence one way or the other? There was only a coerced confession. The confession was never written. It was an oral confession testified to two white officers and told to an all white male jury.
—South Carolina attorney Steve McKenzie, as quoted by The Grio, NBC news

Local churches, the N.A.A.C.P., and unions pleaded with Governor Olin D. Johnston to stop the execution and commute the sentence to life imprisonment, citing Stinney’s age as a mitigating factor. There was substantial controversy about the pending execution, with one citizen writing to Johnston, stating, “Child execution is only for Hitler.” Still, there were supporters of Stinney’s execution; another letter to Johnston stated: “Sure glad to hear of your decision regarding the nigger Stinney.” Johnston did nothing, thereby allowing the execution to proceed.[5]

Execution

The execution of George Stinney was carried out at the South Carolina State Penitentiary in Columbia, on June 16, 1944. At 7:30 p.m., Stinney walked to the execution chamber with a Bible under his arm, which he later used as a booster seat in the electric chair. [5] Standing 5 foot 1 inch (155 cm) tall and weighing just over 90 pounds (40 kg),[4] he was small for his age, which presented difficulties in securing him to the frame holding the electrodes. Nor did the state’s adult-sized face-mask fit him; as he was hit with the first 2,400 V surge of electricity, the mask covering his face slipped off, “revealing his wide-open, tearful eyes and saliva coming from his mouth”…After two more jolts of electricity, the boy was dead.”[8][9] Stinney was declared dead within four minutes of the initial electrocution. From the time of the murders until Stinney’s execution, eighty-one days had passed.[5]

Latest evidence

South Carolina lawyers Steve McKenzie, Shaun Kent and Ray Chandler are supporting George Frierson in an attempt to obtain a posthumous pardon for Stinney. Frierson is a researcher from Alcolu who came across the case in 2005 while doing black historical research. McKenzie in an interview in 2011 said he has no doubt this case was an injustice. He said that the lack of preserved evidence made clearing Stinney’s name difficult, but he hoped that the affidavits of three new witnesses, one of which could provide an alibi, would be enough to re-open the case.

If we can get the case re-opened, we can go to the judge and say, ‘There wasn’t any reason to convict this child. There was no evidence to present to the jury. There was no transcript. This case needs to be re-opened. This is an injustice that needs to be righted.’ I’m pretty optimistic that if we can get the witnesses we need to come forward, we will be successful in court. We hopefully have a witness that’s going to say — that’s non-family, non-relative witness — who is going to be able to tie all this in and say that they were basically an alibi witness. They were there with Mr. Stinney and this did not occur.
—Steve McKenzie

George Frierson stated in interviews that “…there has been a person that has been named as being the culprit, who is now deceased. And it was said by the family that there was a deathbed confession.” Frierson said that the rumored culprit came from a well-known, prominent white family. A member, or members of that family, had served on the initial coroner’s inquest jury which had recommended that Stinney be prosecuted

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The Good Ones, by Alice Walker (R.I.P. Hugo Chavez)

I admired this man from a distance. Before I ever knew who Hugo Chavez was, I knew that America hated him. And that fact alone meant that I needed to find out who he was and why this must mean that he was my friend. There is a saying, that the enemy of my enemy is my friend–and this proof of that. As my father once said “Ain’t no VietCong ever called me Nigger.” My father served this military anyway, and did so honorably, because in what bad or evil that you find–there is almost always some good. I have no reason to hate Chavez, so the propaganda that was used as a weapon against my Black brothers, my Muslim family, my Asian mother… has NO effect on me.

So forgive me if I hear the reasons why we should hate Hugo Chavez, and not only do I hear “Because he doesn’t serve our agenda”–I’d like to answer with a big FUCK YOU.

I was in the process of thinking up a poem about Hugo, and I came across this one, penned by the great Alice Walker. I think she did an awesome job, and I am looking forward to God granting me the words to write one of my own.

Either way, enjoy!

The Good Ones

For Hugo Chavez

March 5, 2013

©2013 by Alice Walker

.

The good ones

who listen

to women

to children and the poor

die too soon,

their lives bedeviled

by opposition:

our hearts grieve for them.

This was the world my father knew.

A poor man

he saw good men come and mostly go;

leaving behind

the stranded and bereft.

People of hopes, dreams, and so much

hard work!

Yearning for a future suddenly

foreclosed.

But today

you write me all is well

even though the admirable

Hugo Chavez

has died this afternoon.

Never again will we hear that voice

of reasoned anger

and disgust

of passionate vision

and of triumph.

This is true.

But what a lot he did in his 58 years!

You say.

What a mighty ruckus

Hugo Chavez made!

This is also true.

Thank you for reminding me.

That though life –

this never-ending loop –

has passed us by today

but carried off

in death

a hero

of the masses

it is his spirit

of fiercely outspoken

cariño

that is not lost.

That inheritance

has gone instantly

into the people

to whom he listened

and it is there

that we will expect it

to rise

as early as

tomorrow;

and there

that

we will encounter it

always

soon again.

Hugo Chavez

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Them Dang Poon-Jabs….

In case you hadn’t noticed, I added a few category. It’s duly entitled “Message to the White Man”–for a book I decided to start writing entitled “Message to the White Man in America”. That’s the only teaser I’m going to give you for now; more on this later. This is my first installment on this subject.

What is the number one problem in America? If you’re White, you will probably say the economy. If you’re a person of color, you’ll probably say it’s something domestic and/or socioeconomic. If you’re Black, my money’s on “racism”. So what is the answer?

Sorry, but “all of the above” is not a valid answer. Remember, the question is “What is the number one problem…”  Every nation has problems, but each nation’s problems are rooted in something else. Some nations’ can trace all of their problems to drugs as their root. Some, tyranny. Some are rooted in ethnic violence or disunity. Others are traced to greed or corruption. In America, there is no denying that America’s “Original Sin” is slavery. We have a great design–the combination of the Bill of Rights, our commitment to Democracy, the separation of Church and State, and our system of checks and balances. Yet we still suffer from poverty, economic strife and domestic problems, because at the root of all good in America lies the evil of Chattel, Black Slavery. Our rise to economic growth was based on the fact that unlike the rest of the world, we were able to build our infrastructure and the entire Agricultural and Industrial industries on FREE labor for 400 years. America is a country addicted to cheap or free labor. We were based on having groups of people we were able to oppress:  Slave labor, the acquisition of land from the Native American, the suppression of any voting power of anyone who was not White and male… We owe our greatness to every group of people we ever wronged, and we never truly had to reimburse them for what we took. The War on Terror, for example, is an extension of our addiction to simply taking what we want by force or manipulation and while we now have to pay for labor–we have fooled the American taxpayer into financing it. I could go on.

And foo-foo to those of you who think that “God Blessed America”. Let me remind you what happened when Satan approached Jesus on the mountain:  He said, “Bow to me and all of this will be yours.”  America was at that mountain top, she did Satan’s work with every group of people she ever encountered in the history of this nation, and she was rewarded well. So when you look all around you and you see what looks good:  Wealth, Beauty, Prosperity, Power–know that Satan has his hand in all of it. There is nothing that exists in America that can be called “better” than what is found someplace else that does not come with a heavy price. But more on that later.

When America makes it right–when her people who enjoy the fruits of the evil labor of their ancestors finally acknowledge and make an attempt to right the wrongs–then maybe the Creator of the Heavens and the Earth will finally allow us to enjoy what we’ve built without having to look over our shoulders.

That said, I have a theory. Racism today exists not in the form of epithets and vile hatred and commitment to violence like we’ve had in the past. It exists today in the form of mild feelings that we can mask and deny (or not even notice), in soft discrimination, in comments we make and passive-aggressive acts and feelings, and in the form of resentment.

A few years back, I had a business in Yuba City, California, about an hour north of Sacramento. I went to see a shopping center in the area and waited for the owner, who is an older East Indian man named Mr. J. Mr. J had an interesting history. He arrived here dirt poor, without his family, who was still in India. He was staying with friends in Los Angeles but could not find a job in those days, because as he put it–he was so dark that they “treated him like a Black man, only worse–even worse than a Mexican.”  A man he met was recruiting laborers for a farmer who did not want to hire illegals. He was providing a free place to live and a certain amount of money. He sold off the few belongings he had, paid the recruiter for the job lead, and took a bus to Yuba City where he was hired right away.

He turned out to be just a few notches above a slave. He was paid very little, and out of that, had to pay for his lodging, his food, and was fined for everything they “did wrong”. He sent money home to his wife, paid off his debt to his employer, and saved enough money to finally leave the farm. He took a job with a restaurant, and one thing led to another, and he bought a house. He brought his family to America, educated his children, opened an alterations shop and laundry… soon the man owned property all over Northern California, including a restaurant, a fabric store, a convenience store, and a few retail centers–including the one I put my business in. Along the way, he helped many men of White, Black and Hispanic descent get on their feet and  improve their lives. God, my friends, blessed this man.

So, while I’m waiting for Mr. J, a young White man in his late 20s came out of the liquor store near my space-to-be and asked if I was planning to open a business there. Yes, I answered. He asked what I would open, and after some questioning he gathered the courage to question my ethnicity. I answered that I was Black and Filipino. He told me, in a low, resentful voice:  Good, because them goddang poon-jabs are buying up everything.

Racist.

I had about ten minutes to take this young man to school.

But not today, we’ll have a part II to this article. But let me say this. Racism has taken on a new form, and if you’re not in the know–you wouldn’t even know it was there. You might even discover that you may harbor some racism yourself. Economic hardship and a little genetic engineering (or biological warfare, depending on how you look at it) has caused this centuries-old disease to fester and linger in this country. This category is to diagnose and help you find a cure.

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Break Him Out

The minister Louis Farrakhan has gotten a bad rap.

You may have heard that he is anti-Semetic, anti-white, blah blah blah. But he is Pro-Black in an unapologetic way. Keep in mind, he came up in a time when this government was assassinating any Black man who was attempting to free Black people from the brutal treatment we suffered at the hands of America. Yes, he carries anger. But not much different from the anger you carry from 9-11. And 9 times out of 10, I guarantee you most likely did not lose any loved ones in 9-11, nor have you personally been attacked by any Islamic terrorist.

I say that because he experienced this brutality first hand and is entitled to feeling how he feels about the way things happen here in America.

Anyway, our MO as a nation is to demonize anyone who is a freedom fighter. We always did it. We even did it to Martin Luther King. Let’s keep things real, can we?

What I want you to do is let Minister Farrakhan out of the prison our media has put him, and loosen your grip on your opinion of him–and hear him speak from his own words.

I love what he says here–he is asking Black people to change how we act, think and behave. And I would like to share it with you. Please take 20 minutes, and listen to his words yourself.

http://youtu.be/LP_ZKU-37UQ

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Reblog: An Apology

I just read this very real and hard-hitting subject for Muslims:  Racism in Islam. Azhar Usman is an Indian comic who attended the funeral of the late Imam Warith Deen Muhammad, who restructured his father’s Nation of Islam to follow Orthodox Islam. Perhaps at another time I can explain this subject further for those who may be lost when it comes to modern Islamic matters. For now, we will just re-blog the orignal letter, found here:

 

An Apology by Azhar Usman (Muslim Comedian)

I attended the funeral of Imam Warith Deen Mohammad last week and was truly moved to see the number of people who showed up. Some estimates were up to 8000 people! wow.. Imagine a man with such a character that could draw that many people to his funeral.  Well, Imam W.D. Mohammad did, and for a good reason.  He brought light to so many African Americans living in the neverending cycle of societal oppression here in the US.  He brought true guidance and a true sense of self-worth to the community.  After I read this email by Azhar Usman, it honestly brought tears to my eyes.. I do not know if I am getting more soft with my old age or if the presence of injustice and irrational thinking is just really getting to me.  Please read the email below and tell me what it means to you!!!

An Apology by Azhar Usman (Muslim Comedian)

I attended the funeral of Imam Warith Deen Mohammad last week and was truly moved to see the number of people who showed up. Some estimates were up to 8000 people! wow.. Imagine a man with such a character that could draw that many people to his funeral. Well, Imam W.D. Mohammad did, and for a good reason. He brought light to so many African Americans living in the neverending cycle of societal oppression here in the US. He brought true guidance and a true sense of self-worth to the community. After I read this email by Azhar Usman, it honestly brought tears to my eyes.. I do not know if I am getting more soft with my old age or if the presence of injustice and irrational thinking is just really getting to me. Please read the email below and tell me what it means to you!!!

An Apology Heartfelt reflections on the passing of a legendary Blackamerican Muslim leader On September 11th, 2008, while countless American flags whipped in the wind and the television and radio waves were dominated by remembrances, recordings, and stories about the terror attacks of seven years ago, I attended the funeral of Imam W.D. Mohammed (may God be pleased with him). For me, it was a somber day, but I found myself mostly lost in thought: about African-American Muslim communities, about the challenges ahead in American Muslim institution-building, and about the future of Islam in America. If you don’t know who Imam WDM was, you should look him up. The Sufis say: “The true sage belongs to his era.” And of the many gifts given to Imam WDM by God,20perhaps the most obvious and beneficial one was the Imam’s profound understanding of the principles of religion, and his adeptness at intelligently applying those Islamic principles in a socially and culturally appropriate manner befitting the everyday lives of his North American followers. While carefully respecting sound, traditional jurisprudential methodologies of the Islamic religion, and the collective religious history and time-honored scholarship of classical Islam, he promulgated creative ideas and dynamic teachings across many domains of human endeavor, including theology, law, spirituality and even ethics and aesthetics, that together articulated a vision for a quintessentially “American Muslim” cultural identity. And he did all of this before anyone else, with quiet strength and unending humility—a true sage indeed. So I stood before his final resting place, brokenhearted. And I suddenly began to feel the weight of the moment, realizing that when God takes back one of his dearly beloved friends, those who are left behind should cry not for the deceased, but rather for themselves. For the fact that they are now without one of God’s friends in their midst, and, in a sense, they are orphaned. And the tears began to well up, for I became acutely aware that I was standing in front of the grave of my spiritual grandfather, who was himself a spiritual descendant of Bilal al-Habashi (may God be pleased with him), the mighty and beloved companion of the Prophet himself. Bilal was the first Black African to convert to al-Islam at the hands of the Prophet Muhammad (may God bless him and keep him) in the sands of Arabia nearly a thousand and a half years ago. Undoubtedly, some measure of that love, mercy, compassion, and spiritual stature that inhabited the heart of Bilal has found its way down through the ages, and I found myself begging God to transfer to my own heart some glimpse of these realities now laying before me. Almost five years ago, my business partner, Preacher Moss (who is a member of the WDM community) founded the standup comedy tour “Allah Made Me Funny,” and he invited me to be his co-founder. Needless to say, it has been nothing less than an honor to work with him on the project. But to many, it was an unusual pairing: a Black comic and an Indian comic? Both Muslims? Working together? And before we ever even announced our partnership publicly, we met privately and swore an allegiance to one another—a blood oath of sorts—which was this: No matter what happens, in good times and in bad, we have to be the brothers no one expects us to be. And bui lt on this promise (and premise), we brought on our first collaborator, Brother Azeem (who is a member of Minister Farrakhan’s NOI), with whom we toured for over two years (2004-2006) before parting ways amicably. Then we brought Mohammed Amer onto the team in the fall of 2006 (a Kuwaiti-born Palestinian refugee who grew up in a Sunni Muslim family in Houston, Texas). Mo, Preach, and I are still going strong together, and we are grateful for the unqualified support, love, and blessings that Imam WDM and the entire community have always given us. But today, as I observed the funeral proceedings, I felt sad and heavy-hearted. Something wasn’t sitting right. Something was physically paining my heart, and it felt like remorse, shame perhaps, maybe even guilt. I began to realize that the tears flowing from my eyes were as much a function of these feelings as they were any lofty spiritual aspirations of mine. You see, I attended an interfaith event a couple of years ago on 9/11. A group had assembled to commemorate the tragic event, to honor those who perished that day, and to pledge ongoing in ter-community support and bridge-building to fight ignorance, hate, and intolerance. At that event, there was this short, middle-aged, sweet, extremely kindhearted, White Christian woman. When she took the microphone to speak, she was already teary-eyed, and I assumed that she was going to make some comments about the victims of 9/11, as so many others already had that night. But she didn’t do that. Instead, she explained that she had become utterly grief-stricken by the constant barrage of news stories she witnessed about Muslims and Arabs being harassed, profiled, and mistreated after 9/11. She explained that she felt powerless to do anything about it, and that it made her sick to her stomach to hear of hate crimes against Muslims and Arabs, and especially to hear of Christian preachers denigrating Islam and its Prophet. She started to cry, and so did many others in the room, humbled by the magnanimity of this simple woman. And then she did what I thought was a strange thing: she apologized. She prefaced her apology with all the logical disclaimers, such as “I know this may mean nothing to20you,” and “I know that I am not the one who did these horrible things,” and “I know that you may dismiss this as empty rhetoric until you see some follow-up action on my part, but anyway,” she continued, “I want to apologize on behalf of all the Christians and all non-Muslims and non-Arabs who have been attacking your communities, harassing your people, and accusing your religion of all these horrible things. I’m sorry. I’m very, very sorry.” I was stunned. Speechless, in fact. Though all of her disclaimers were true, and my skeptical mind knew it, her apology melted our hearts. Here was this powerless servant of God sharing some of her most deeply felt emotional vulnerabilities, and she was apologizing to Muslims for something she didn’t even do? Jesus (may God bless him and keep him) once famously remarked: “Make the world your teacher,” and so I immediately took this woman as a lesson in humility. Admitting her powerlessness made her incredibly powerful. And this brings me to the point (and title) of this essay. I would like to unburden myself of something that has been sitting like a ton of bricks on my heart for my entire life. I want to apologize to my Blackamerican brothers and sisters in Islam. I know that this apology may not mean very much; and I know that our American Musli m communities have a LONG way to go before we can have truly healthy political conciliation and de-racialized religious cooperation; and I know that I am not the one who is responsible for so much of the historical wrongdoing of so-called “immigrant Muslims”—wrongdoings that have been so hurtful, and insulting, and degrading, and disrespectful, and dismissive, and marginalizing, and often downright dehumanizing. But anyway, for every “Tablighi” brother who may have had “good intentions” in his own subjective mind, but behaved in an utterly insensitive and outrageous manner toward you when he suggested that you need to learn how to urinate correctly, I’m sorry. And for every Pakistani doctor who can find money in his budget to drive a Lexus and live in a million-dollar house in suburbia, and who has the audacity to give Friday sermons about the virtues of “Brotherhood in Islam,” while the “Black mosque” can’t pay the heating bills or provide enough money to feed starving Muslim families just twenty miles away, I’m sorry. And for every Arab speaker in America who makes it his business to raise millions and millions of dollars to provide “relief” for Muslim refugees around the world, but turns a blind eye to the plight of our very own Muslim sisters and brothers right here in our American inner cities just because, in his mind, the color black might as well be considered invisible, I’m sorry. And for every liquor store in the “hood” with a plaque that says Maashaa’ Allah hanging on the wall behind the counter, I’m sorry. And for every news media item or Hollywood portrayal that constantly reinforces the notion that “Muslim=foreigner” so that the consciousness of Blackamerican Muslims begins even to doubt itself (asking “Can I ever be Muslim enough?”), I’m sorry. And for every Salafi Muslim brother (even the ones who used to be Black themselves before converting to Arab) who has rattled off a hadith or a verse from Koran in Arabic as his “daleel” to Kafirize you and make you feel defensive about even claiming this deenas your own, I’m sorry. And for every time you’ve been asked “So when did you convert to Islam?” even though that question should more properly have been put to your grandparents, since they became Muslims by the grace of God Almighty back in the 1950s, and raised your parents as believers, and Islam is now as much your own inheritance as it is the one’s posing that presumptuous, condescending question, I’m sorry. And for every time some Muslim has self-righteously told you that your hijab is not quite “Shariah” enough, or your beard is not quite “Sunnah” enough, or your outfit is not quite “Islamic” enough, or your Koranic recitation is not quite “Arabic” enough, or your family customs are not quite “traditional” enough, or your worldview is not quite “classical” enough, or your ideas are not “authentic” enough, or your manner of making wuduis not quite “Hanafi,” “Shafi,” “Maliki,” or “Hanbali” enough, or your religious services are not quite “Masjid” enough, or your chicken is not quite “Halal” enough, I’m sorry. And for every Labor Day weekend when you’ve felt divided in your heart, wondering “When will we everdo this thing right and figure out how we can pool our collective resources to have ONE, big convention?,” I’m sorry. And for every time a Muslim has tried to bait you with a question about the Honorable Elijah Muhammad, trying to force you to condemn him—turning it into some sort of binary litmus test of true iman—with reckless and irresponsible disregard for the historical fact that he was among the first Black men in America to ever do anythingmeaningful for the upliftment and betterment of Black people, I’m sorry. And for every20time you’ve heard of an African-American brother who tried to bring home a South Asian or Arab sister to meet his parents, only to learn that her parents would rather commit suicide than let their daughter marry a “Black Muslim” (a/k/a “Bilalian brother”), even as they cheer hypocritically at stadium style speeches by Imams Siraj Wahhaj, Zaid Shakir, Johari Abdul Malik, or others—or get in line to bring one of them to speak at their multi-million dollar fundraiser for yet another superfluous suburban mosque, I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m very, very sorry. From the bottom of my heart, I want every African-American Muslim brother and sister to know that I am ashamed of this treatment that you have received and, in many cases, continue to receive, over the decades. I want you to know that I am aware of it. I am conscious of the problem. (Indeed, I am even conscious that I myself am part of the problem since curing hypocrisy begins by looking in the mirror.) I am not alone in this apology. There are literally thousands, if not tens of thousands of young American Muslims just like me, born to immigrant parents who originate from all over the Muslim world. We get it, and we too are sick of the putrid stench of racism within our own Muslim communities. Let us pledge to w ork on this problem together, honestly validating our own and one another’s insecurities, emotions, and feelings regarding these realities. Forgiveness is needed to right past wrongs, yet forgiveness is predicated on acknowledging wrongdoing and sincerely apologizing. Let us make a blood oath of sorts. When the bulldozer came to place the final mounds of dirt over the tomb of Imam WDM, I was standing under a nearby tree, under the light drizzle that had just begun (perhaps as a sign of mercy dropping from the heavens as the final moments of the burial were drawing to a close), and I was talking to a dear friend and sister in faith, whose family has been closely aligned with Imam WDM for decades. She shared with me a story that her father had just related to her about the passing of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad in 1975 (the same year I was born, incidentally). She told me that her father described the scene in the immediate aftermath of Elijah’s demise: utter confusion and chaos within the NOI and the communities surrounding it. There was much debate and discord about what direction the NOI would take, and many were still in shock and denial that the founder had actually died. Out of the midst of that confusion arose Imam WDM, and along with his strong leadership came an even more, perhaps20surprisingly courageous direction: the path away from the Black nationalism, pan-Africanism, and proto-religious beliefs of his father, and instead the unequivocal charge toward mainstream Islam, the same universal and cosmopolitan faith held and practiced by over a billion adherents worldwide. In this manner, her father explained, the death of Elijah Muhammad became a definitive end to a chapter in our collective history, and the resulting re-direction by Imam WDM marked the beginning of the next, far better, chapter in that unfolding history. Maybe I am just an idealistic fool, or maybe Pharaoh Sanders was right about the Creator’s Master Plan, but I sincerely believe that all we have to do—all of us together: Black folks, South Asians (Indians, Pakistanis, Bangladeshis), Arabs from every part of the Middle East and North Africa, Southeast Asians (Indonesians and Malaysians), Persians, Turks, Latinos, assorted Muslims of all stripes, colors, and backgrounds, and yes, even our White Muslim brothers and sisters—is live up to a simple promise to one another: No matter what happens, in good times and in bad, we have to be the brothers and sisters no one expects us to be. It is hoped that the passing of Imam WDM will also mark the end of a chapter in our collective American Muslim history, and perhaps now, in earnest, we can all look together toward The Third Resurrection. May God mend our broken hearts, lift our spirits, purify our souls, heal the rifts between our communities, unify our aims, remove our obstacles, defeat our enemies, and bless and accept our humble offerings and service. ——————————————- © 2008 Azhar Usman | 10 Ramadan 1429 | 11 September 2008 About the Author Azhar Usman is a Chicago-based, full-time standup comedian. He is co-founder of “Allah Made Me Funny—The Official Muslim Comedy Tour,” which has toured extensively all over the world. He is frequently interviewed, profiled, and quoted in the press, and he is an advisor to the Inner-city Muslim Action Network’s Arts and Culture programs. Mr. Usman is also a co-founding board member of The Nawawi Foundation, a non-profit American Muslim research institution. He considers himself a citizen of the world and holds degrees from the University of Illinois at Chicago and the University of Minnesota Law School. Born and raised in Chicago, his parents originally hail from Bihar, India. DISCLAIMER: The views and emotions expressed in this essay are those of the author and are not necessarily held, advocated, or even endorsed by any of the institutions with which he may be affiliated.

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The Eternal-ness of Love

12th Century Poet Jalāl ad-Dīn Muḥammad Balkhī –also known as Rumi–once wrote these beautiful words about love and lovers:

Lovers don’t finally meet;

They’re with each other all along…

This is a statement about the absoluteness and the omnipresence of love. Aside from what we know of Rumi’s work (his “love” poems were not actually about romantic love of a mate, but of a religious believer’s love of God), these words seem to question whether or not we are predestined to meet our lovers, if that love has a beginning and an end, and (my take) if the lovers we take are just mates we fill voids with. I’ve thought about this, as one who has been married umpteen times. A question:  Do we just have love in us and are looking for someone to pour that love into? Or are we not in love until we meet a person who excites our spirit and it lights the spark that becomes the feeling of falling in love? Rumi seems to believe that we are born with this characteristic or desire. Our first love is always our parents and perhaps siblings. The way a child longs for his father when his father is away at work (or not living in the household), or the way he longs for his mother when she first sends him to daycare or school–we have this longing when away from “the one” we love. Some of us have these special relationships with our siblings; we are miserable when we do not have communication with brothers and sisters. We cry when they marry because we know life will never be the same for us. We get jealous when their spouse now receives all the attention. We mourn their death as a parent mourns the death of a gone-too-soon child. Sometimes the love we have transferred to a parent or sibling or child corrupts our ability to enjoy a normal, healthy love relationship with our spouses. We call these people “momma’s boys” and daddy’s princess”…

I believe that in order to understand the dynamics of relationship and marriage (including the stages leading up to marriage), we must understand the totality of love. It is not a phase, as some would consider it. It is not a foolish feeling that one must supress. Yet love is an incontrollable urge that can be a man’s downfall if he misprioritizes. If he is not careful he may fail to ensure that his worldly life is in order while pursuing the dreamy ecstasy that love can lead him to.

Love is a God-given gift that even the drunk in the gutter, the least fortunate of us, the least attractive, the wealthiest, the oldest, and the most naiive adolescent will all experience. Where you find a man or woman who does not allow themselves to experience–or deny it’s effect–you find a spiritually (or otherwise) unhealthy person. Perhaps that person has been hurt and does not want to feel that way again. Or he or she is addicted to sex and will self-sabotage any fruitful relationship they have potential to enjoy. Or–in the extreme–this person is a cruel manipulator who seduces and uses the feelings others develop for them, for their personal gain. And then you have those who long for a lifelong companion, but they lack the qualities that others find appealing. This is the person we have the most sympathy; the addage “someone for everybody” does not seem to apply in this case. These people die alone, in a convent somewhere–having devoted their life to chastity, or while taking care of an elderly relative all their lives until they were finally alone and never had the pleasure of a mate.

And love has no end. When you loved someone, only in the rare circumstance that your lover has hurt or angered you immensely would you be left without feelings for that person. We may understand that she is not the one for us, or that we have wronged her and therefore do not deserve her company–or any number of reasons–but the feelings of affection and concern will never leave. It is why, 20 years after divorce, the death of an ex spouse can leave an ex-wife crying at the funeral, although she is remarried and had moved on. God never intended for man to be without love of someone. It isn’t normal for us to be alone, and I would go so far as to state that it is impossible for a man to be alone, without an object of affection.

I’d like to introduce you to German poet Ranier Maria Rilke (he’s a guy, folks) is the Christian version of Rumi. Also a consummate love/religious poet, he explored the expanse subject of love and likens a man’s love of God for his love of his woman. Rilke agrees that love is an ever-flowing stream from the soul of a man and it reaches all who enters within its grasp, and those who receive it, “inherit” this love as a boy inherits his father’s fortune… only to bequeath it to his son. My favorite Rilke poem on this subject is Poem 10 from his “Book of the Pilgrimmage”. I’m sure you will agree that he paints a beautiful picture of the passing of love from one to another. The poem follows in it’s entirety. Enjoy!

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And you inherit the green

of vanished gardens

and the motionless blue of fallen skies,

dew of a thousand dawns, countless summers

the suns sang, and springtimes to break your heart

like a young woman’s letters.

You inherit the autumns, folded like festive clothing

in the memories of poets; and all the winters,

like abandoned fields, bequeath you their quietness.

You inherit Venice, Kazan, and Rome;

Florence will be yours, and Pisa’s cathedral,

Moscow with bells like memories,

and the Troiska convent, and that monastery

whose maze of tunnels lies swallowed under Kiev’s gardens.

Sound will be yours, of string and brass and reed,

and sometimes the songs will seem

to come from inside you.

For your sake poets sequester themselves,

gather images to churn the mind,

journey forth, ripending with metaphor,

and all their lives they are so alone…

And painters pain their pictures only

that the world, so transient as You made it,

can be given back to You,

to last forever.

 All becomes eternal. See:  In the Mona Lisa

some  woman has long since ripened like wine,

and the enduring feminine is held there

through all the ages.

Those who create are like You.

They long for the eternal.

They say, Stone, be forever!

And that means: be Yours.

And lovers also gather your inheritance.

They are the poets of one brief hour.

They kiss an expressionless mouth into a smile

as if creating it anew, more beautiful.

Awakening desire, they make a place

where pain can enter;

that’s how growing happens.

They bring suffering along with their laughter,

and longings that had slept and now awaken

to weep in a stranger’s arms.

They let the riddles pile up and then they die

the way animals die, without making sense of it.

But maybe in those who come after,

their green life will ripen;

it’s then that you will inherit the love

to which they gave themselves so blindly, as in a sleep.

Thus the overflow from things

pours into you.

Just as a fountain’s higher basins

spill down like the strands of loosened hair

into the lower vessel,

so streams the fullness into You,

when things and thoughts cannot contain it.

Poem 10

Book of Pilgrimage

Maria Ranier Rilke (1875 – 1926)

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Sincerity

And I’m back.

I’ve run into a mental road block, and with life comes strife so I hadn’t been much of a writing mood lately. Over the last few months I have had ideas–the most recent being a humorous one inspired my James Westray–but I decided to go with a subject as rare as a three-legged man. Joke intentional.

Relationships fail when they lack sincerity. Endeavors fail when the one who strives lacks sincerity. Intentions may accomplish simple goals, but the best of intent fails when it lacks sincerity.

Let us define sincerity first.

Sincerity:  Freedom of deceit, hypocrisy, or duplicity. Synonyms–truth, condor, frankness. See honor

Simple enough? I would like to take the definition a step further:  “Having intent completely in line with a stated purpose.” (This one is mine)

I know some folks who are very good at appearances. They love to pray publicly, speak of religion constantly, question the faith and sincerity of others, quick to call others a hypocrit–but cannot be counted on to keep their word for anything. Sadly, everyone seems to know where they stand except those they manipulate and themselves. I would say that such people lack sincerity.

  • Doing a good deed for praise
  • Achieving excellence for admiration of others
  • Pursuing a goal for any reason other than simply acheiving that goal
  • Being selfish

Let me relay a story.

The Prophet Muhammad (SAW) walked in as his wife had washed some clothes, and was folding the clothes and applying perfume. As she packaged the clothes up to take from the house Prophet Muhammad asked her where she was going. His wife answered, to give these clothes to the homeless.

No one could see what she was doing in the house but her husband. She was giving her clothes to the poor, and treated those clothes as if she were giving them to a queen. No doubt, the blessings she would receive for the deed were increased because of the sincerity she must have had in doing so. I would like to suggest that we all have various reasons for the things we do. Sometimes we do those things for money. Sometimes we do things for love. Sometimes we do them for pride and ego. But the greatest reason for doing anything is for the pleasure of God–we do it because it’s the right thing to do, and because God would want us to.

I have seen God-fearing men open liquor stores and night clubs. Celebrities and organizations publish press releases when they hold benefits for the poor. Gifted athletes create million dollar organizations in order to give 50 kids a single summer of football camp. No person knows our intentions when we do a good deed, but God always knows. When our intention is pure, and contains no selfish motive–no deceit–the outcome is concentrated and pure. When it is laced with ego, greed, and hypocrisy–it becomes watered down and diluted.

Today I heard a beautiful sermon that confirms something I have been doing for years. The Imam spoke of men dropping on their knees to ask Allah to get them out of a financial bind. But when we get up, do we just wait for blessings to drop out of the sky? Or do we get to work and hope that our prayer had given our efforts a shot of energy from our Creator? One thing we can do is purify what little wealth God has given us regularly–whether we want something or not. We purify this wealth by sharing the little we have with someone who has less. It cures us of selfishness, and makes us grateful for what we do have. God says that  He blesses us so that we can bless others. How arrogant are we to think that we deserve all that we have just because WE deserve it! He gives us an abundance for the benefit of others. And remember this:  God tells us that when we give Sadaqa (charity) it reaches HIS hands before it reaches the poor. If you were giving expired food from your cupboard to the poor–and you think that is a “good deed”–would you give that same unhealthy food if the one who was to eat it was God Himself? Remember, all of our good efforts will be rewarded, but they are rewarded extra when they are sincere.

Another thing we can do is to be sincere in our work. If we work with the knowledge that God has our back, would we be pessimistic or optimistic? If you work while knowing that your effort is going to be successful, the outcome would certainly be different if you thought you were working alone.   <—- This is some advice I could use right now.

So today’s post isn’t old know-it-all Mustafa Akamo lecturing you all on some shit I’m trying to teach. I’m just having some thoughts about what I need to remember, and I’m letting you in on the conversation.

The soapbox will be back tomorrow, and I’ll be back to my old cocky, smart assed self. Thanks for visiting my blog.

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