April 24, 2001
Imam Jamil al-Amin: From Revolutionary to Reformer
The world was at war in 1943. From the plains of Europe
to the islands of the Pacific, the world was brimming with violence. America had
entered World War II two years earlier and many of its young men were sent
overseas to bring an end to an international conflict that had been started by
the hegemonic aspirations of a few racist nations.
Ironically, America itself was built on similar grounds
that led to the eradication of entire native populaces and the importation and
enslavement of others. By 1943, though the enslavement of others was brought to
a halt on paper, many racially bigoted practices remained. Another warfront was
formed, this time within America itself. This struggle for human and civil
rights, however, would be fought with patience, unification, and civil
disobedience rather than with weapons.
This was the environment in which Jamil Abdullah
al-Amin was born. With the birth name of Hubert Gerold Brown, he was the eldest
of three children born to Eddie C. and Thelma Brown. Growing up on the streets
of Louisiana, he was able to observe the damaging effects of segregation on
blacks firsthand. He earned his nickname ?Rap? for his quick wits and
ability to win street games in which participants used rhyming phrases to insult
each other. This name was later perpetuated due to his powerful speaking style
at public forums.
In 1955, the civil rights movement was thrown
into a new stage by the daring of Rosa Parks, who refused to give up her seat
for a white man in a segregated Alabama bus. Though the civil rights movement
had been underway before this, her actions and the subsequent boycott of the
Alabama bus system by blacks brought the struggle into national focus.
Joining the Black Liberation Movement
In 1960, Rap Brown began attending Southern University
with a major in sociology. He cut his studies short in 1964, however, opting to
join the civil rights struggle instead. He moved to Washington and worked for a
neighborhood development center called ?The United Planning Organization.?
During his involvement there, he became skeptical of the federal poverty
program. He later wrote, ?It was designed to take those people whom the
government considered threatening and buy them off.?
He became an organizer of the Student Nonviolent
Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and succeeded Stokely Carmichael as its leader in
1967. This catapulted him and Carmichael into the national spotlight as they
promoted an arming of the black population for self-defense and elimination of
Jim Crow segregation. This ?by any means necessary? principle contrasted
with, and met criticism from non-violence leaders such as Martin Luther King,
Jr. As the non-violence movement was steadily losing ground amongst black youth
in the late 1960s, powerful rebellions broke out in cities across the U.S. Rap
Brown supported these uprisings as a just and powerful form of resistance. He
traveled the country, talking to campus audiences and black communities across
America. In July 1967, Brown addressed a civil rights rally in Cambridge,
Maryland. He arrived late and gave a fiery address from the hood of a car. After
he spoke, a young woman requested an escort home. As Brown and two others
escorted her up the street, assailants opened fire on them from nearby bushes.
Years later, reflecting upon that incident, Imam Al-Amin would remark, ?We
found out later the gunmen were black policemen.? After the shooting, there
was commotion in the streets that quickly escalated into a riot. By the next
morning, two blocks of the town lay in ashes.
Rap Brown was charged with inciting riot and arson. When
Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated in April 1968, over a hundred
rebellions broke out in black communities nationwide. Six days later, Congress
passed the ?Rap Brown Amendment,? which was attached to the 1968 Civil
Rights Act. The amendment made it illegal to cross state lines to ?incite?
Emergence of the Panthers
The Black Panther Party (BPP) was another emerging
movement from Oakland, California. It was dubbed by the FBI as a dangerous
force, even though the premise behind the BPP was economic empowerment and
social aid programs. The SNCC and BPP had a brief period of unity in 1968, in
which Rap Brown was given the honorary title of ?Minister of Justice.? This
unification effort was to be undermined by the FBI. In secret, the FBI developed
their ?Counter-Intelligence Program? (COINTELPRO) into a countrywide
campaign to disrupt radical organizations and ?neutralize? emerging leaders.
Rap Brown was among those who were pursued, harassed, spied on, arrested, and
targeted by covert operations. One FBI memo even called for writing unsigned
letters to create distrust between Stokely Carmichael and Rap Brown.
In 1969, Brown wrote an autobiography entitled Die,
Nigger, Die!, in which he presented an in-depth analysis of the problems
facing blacks in the time of segregation. As Maryland was preparing to try him
for the Cambridge riot, Brown went into hiding in 1970. He reappeared later in
1971 at the scene of a bar hold-up and shootout with police in New York. Police
officers shot Brown and arrested him, charging him with armed robbery and
Brown Enters Islam
A defining moment in the life of Rap Brown would occur
while he was in jail and awaiting trial in New York. Having been exposed to it
earlier in his work with the BPP, Brown embraced Islam and changed his name to
Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin. Al-Amin emerged from prison a dramatically changed man.
After his parole in 1976, he performed the Hajj (pilgrimage to Makkah).
Upon his return, he moved to Atlanta, Georgia, a particularly crime-infested and
poverty-stricken part of the city, where he established a masjid (Muslim
place of worship) and became its imam (leader). He opened a grocery
store, and began doing community work.
From that point on, Imam Jamil encouraged others to
reform their lives in the methodology prescribed in the Qur?an and expounded
by the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). The Muslim community under his leadership led a
rejuvenation of the area. The success of his efforts have been recognized by
both Muslims and non-Muslims. An area that was once drowning in crime, a place
where hypodermic needles littered the parks, became a safer place to live, where
parents didn?t need to worry about their children being exposed to drugs and
prostitution. The mayor of Whitehall, Alabama, himself a veteran of the civil
rights movement, invited Imam Jamil and his community to help with social works.
The Imam?s efforts were recognized with the mayor?s appointing him to the
auxiliary police force.
The Imam?s leadership has been accredited nationally
amongst Muslims. His organization, Jamat Community of Imam Jamil Al-Amin is a
coalition of nearly thirty masajid in the United States. He was also appointed
to the Islamic Shura Council of North America. Imam Jamil traveled to different
universities and conferences, teaching the next generation of Muslims Islamic
values. Despite his transformation, Imam Jamil?s past made him a target for
both the FBI and local law enforcement.
Hounding by the FBI & Friends
For at least five years during the 1990s, the FBI, ATF
(Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms) and Atlanta police carried out an intensive
investigation of Imam Jamil and anyone associated with him. As part of their
operations, the FBI kept paid informants within Imam Jamil?s Community Mosque.
In 1995, in their first attempt to frame Imam Jamil, the
Atlanta police pressured a man who had been shot by an unknown assailant to
point out Imam Jamil as the culprit. The man later recanted his accusation,
saying the police had pressured him into making the false identification. The
man later converted to Islam at the masjid of Imam Jamil. Strangely enough, the
investigation for the shooting involved the FBI and ATF in what should have been
treated as a routine case of aggravated assault. Although federal agencies have
spent years trying to connect him to unsolved crimes and murders in the area,
they have not been able to produce a single charge against him. Imam Jamil
remains the changed man he became upon entering Islam despite the efforts of
different organizations, agencies, and news media to connect him to a violent
past. It was during this transformed period of his life that he wrote his new
book, Revolution by the Book. In contrast to his earlier Die, Nigger,
Die!, Revolution by the Book provides a completely Islamic analysis
of the social problems which plague America and minorities in particular.
Wasting no time on rhetoric, Imam Jamil exhorts his readers to follow through
with ?the program,? meaning by this, of course, the divinely revealed
program of Islam. Two examples from his book give us a glimpse into the man he
?It is criminal that in the 1990s we still approach
struggle…sloganeering… saying ?by any means necessary,? as if that?s a
program. Or ?we shall overcome,? as if that?s a program. Slogans are not
programs. We must define the means which will bring about change. This can be
found in what Allah has brought for us in the Qur?an and in the example of the
Prophet [pbuh]… Successful struggle requires a Divine program. Allah has
provided that program.?
?For more than ten years the Prophet focused his
community on the all-encompassing power of the Lord of the Worlds. There was no
warfare, no military preparations, no economic development programs, no
political activism. First the total submission and reliance on the Creator had
to be established firmly in the hearts of the believers. Once that was
instituted all else followed instinctively, naturally, not in contrived,
artificially-induced political programs… To be successful in struggle requires
remembrance of the Creator and the doing of good deeds.?
(courtesy of http://www.al-talib.com)