Cause Célèbre Islam: Racism, Revolution, Black Nationalism
By Daveed Gartenstein-Ross and Madeleine Gruen
Nov. 20, 2009
“We can’t just be saying, ‘O.K., everything is run by the U.S. government,’ we got to take out the U.S. government. The U.S. government is nothing but Kuffars.”
—Luqman Abdullah, imam of Masjid al-Haqq and Detroit representative to al-Ummah2
“So the goal of the government is to destroy this group [al-Ummah] and to send the message to other African Americans that the federal government will not allow any unified, organized Islamic activities to be carried out inside of the United States of America. But we have a message for them. We will not be intimidated by the government of the United States of America.”
—Abdul Alim Musa, imam of Masjid al-Islam and founder of al-Sabiqun3
The shooting of Luqman Abdullah, the imam of Detroit’s Masjid al-Haqq and a representative to al-Ummah, provided a glimpse into a movement that blends conservative Sunni Islamic practice with the legacy of black nationalism. Abdullah’s rhetoric weaves references to the Qur’an and ahadith together with the language of militant jihadism and assertions of injustice perpetrated against African-American Muslims by the U.S. government in the form of harassment, targeted raids, arrests, and “assassinations.” Other preachers similarly fuse these themes, resulting in a distinctive understanding of the faith that can be described as “cause célèbre Islam.”
For Abdullah and his followers, this doctrine provided justification for criminal behavior. In other cases, cause célèbre Islam prepares adherents for an inevitable violent revolution against the U.S. government: this revolutionary vision is at least as indebted to the ideas of men like Huey Newton, Bobby Seale, Eldridge Cleaver, and Malcolm X as it is to more typical advocates of Islamic revolution like Sayyid Qutb. Those who share this view tend to be suspicious of outsiders, and outside influences.
Cause Célèbre: An Indigenous American Islamic Movement
The “cause célèbre Islam” movement arose from a combination of uniquely American conditions and experiences. Because many of the movement’s leaders were children of the civil rights era and were active in the black nationalist movement, or had significant exposure to members of that movement, the leaders’ rhetoric fuses black nationalist themes with conservative or militant Islamic ideas.
Antecedents of this movement include quasi-Islamic sects that catered to African-Americans by trying to frankly address the reality of racism in America, such as the Moorish Science Temple and the Lost-Found Nation of Islam. However, unlike these groups, there is nothing within the cause célèbre Islamic movement—such as the Nation of Islam’s belief in W.D. Fard’s divinity and the prophethood of Elijah Muhammad—that clearly places it outside the mainstream of Islamic theology.
This issue’s article “Jamil al-Amin” profiles a significant leader within the cause célèbre Islam movement, a man who continues to serve as an ideological inspiration and who has himself become one of its causes célèbre following his conviction and life sentence for shooting two police officers in Atlanta. Al-Amin’s supporters claim he was framed because the U.S. government feared his power and influence.
Abdul Alim Musa is an associate of Jamil al-Amin, and the leader of the Washington, D.C.-based group As-Sabiqun, which subscribes to the same cause célèbre brand of Islam as al-Ummah. Speaking of al-Amin’s trial, he commented: “You know a different America than I do. I know America coming from Arkansas of lynchings, of burning, and of torture. I don’t know an America of a fair trial. I don’t know America of a Bill of Rights. I have never seen that America. Imam Jamil came out of a generation coming up out of Louisiana.”4 He has further explained his deep admiration for al-Amin, describing him as a living legend:
You know who Imam Jamil al Amin is? I’m gonna tell you who he is. You see all these movies, a last man standing, right? A guy who goes through houses being blown up. Ran over by a train. Legs ripped off, sawed in half, buried alive. Isn’t that right? And he’d come out the last man standing. Imam Jamil al Amin, they tried to blow him up in 1967. They tried to assassinate him on several occasions. Isn’t that right? They ran him into exile in the late 60’s and the early 70’s. But he came on back. The last man standing. Martin Luther King is dead. Malcolm X is dead. Medgar Evers is dead. Isn’t that right? [Huey] Newton is dead. Eldridge Cleaver is dead. Everyone you read about in a black history book that struggled against what we used to call the “white man” is dead. Isn’t that right?5
This article now turns to the revolutionary threads and criminal threads within cause célèbre Islamic ideology.
Revolution and potential confrontation with the U.S. government are overarching themes within the movement’s thinking. They featured prominently in Luqman Abdullah’s rhetoric, for example. “[W]e should be trying to figure out how to fight the Kuffar,” he said. “You see, we need to figure out how to be a bullet.”6 Further, he said, “you cannot have a non-violent revolution.” 7
There are various gradations of how revolution is seen within the movement. At their most extreme, the revolutionary ideas are pegged to the notion of establishing an Islamic state within the U.S., or more ambitiously seizing the instruments of government and imposing Islamic rule throughout the nation. At other times, the idea of revolution within the movement’s rhetoric is more secularized, with “the oppressed” (and not just Muslims) rising up against the institutions that hold them back. And in their mildest form, the movement’s revolutionary ideas are inward-looking, with fighting against ignorance and addiction seen as transformative in themselves.8
The revolutionary theme fosters an “us versus them” mentality, putting the U.S. government in the role of the community’s oppressor. This can isolate members of the movement from outsiders, and also cultivate a lack of respect and trust for the government’s authority. Members of the movement will see law enforcement action that has an impact on those within their community as calculated, part of a grand strategy to keep the movement weak. One example of this conspiratorial view is an article in New Trend Magazine, an online Islamist publication, which remarked that “Muslims of America, especially African Americans, are leaderless. The government knows this and wants to keep Imam Jamil in prison on a bogus case which should have been thrown out long ago.”9
Though Luqman Abdullah and his associates were heavily involved in criminal activity, this is certainly not the case for all adherents of this brand of Islam. Indeed, many antecedents of the cause célèbre Islamic movement, such as the Nation of Islam, prided themselves in giving followers with a criminal past the self-discipline necessary to avoid lapsing back into criminality.
Many within this movement have served time in prison, but in part this may be due to the fact that Darul Islam and similar groups have systematized prison dawah programs. Often Islam provides an attractive alternative to the violent and degrading prison environment. “Acting through the principle of freedom of worship, Islam meets these challenges and shows a remarkable capacity to redefine the conditions of incarceration,” writes Robert Dannin. “A new Muslim repeats the attestation of faith, the shahada, before witnesses at the mosque. His Islamic identity then means a fresh start, symbolized by the choice of a new name, modifications to his physical appearance, and an emphasis on prayer.”10
But not all converts to Islam leave behind their criminal past. Among other reasons, some of them may not be able to shake old worldviews and habits after adopting their new faith. Others may not even try to shake old them at all, and may in fact use their new Islamic framework to justify criminality. Luqman Abdullah, who served two prison terms (one for carrying a concealed weapon, the other for assaulting a police officer), continued to justify theft and crimes of violence after his conversion to Islam. After his conversion, he used religious justifications to argue that such activities were legitimate; when he helped arrange for a new VIN for a truck that he believed to be stolen, he described it as an act of jihad.11 He encouraged members of Masjid al-Haqq to carry firearms, which many did even though their criminal records made it illegal.
The shooting of Abdullah now gives the movement the opportunity to establish his status as a martyr, and to create another cause célèbre to rally around. As Abdul Alim Musa has declared: “[W]hat the government is doing by assassinating Imam Luqman is it’s trying to intimidate the Muslim community, especially the black community. And I say that because the immigrant community, which is about half of the Muslims in the United States, and the African American Muslim community, which form the other half, have different views about Islam in America and how it should be fostered.”12
Certainly, one cannot draw complete analytical conclusions about a movement’s theology, doctrine, and strategy based on what is disclosed in court documents: criminal complaints and other such documents are used to support a criminal prosecution, and are not meant to provide a comprehensive history or account of the subject’s activities. Therefore, in assessing the movement’s priorities it is helpful to look beyond Abdullah, and toward an active group that is part of the cause célèbre Islamic movement.
As-Sabiqun, which is another offshoot of Darul Islam, is one such group. Group leader Abdul Alim Musa was a close associate of Jamil al-Amin, and is very active in the campaign to free him from prison. In his public statements, Musa often warns of a war on African-American Muslim converts by the FBI at the behest of a “Zionist-controlled U.S. government.” He uses every incident involving law enforcement actions against African-American converts as an opportunity to bolster his claim. He also speaks of the need for dramatic change to the government:
[I]t is the responsibility of God-serving people to champion the right of self-determination—to alter that government, and to institute a new form of administration that is in conformity with the eternal principles and values of God’s Law; a government which is both human-friendly and earth- friendly. Prudent and just means must be employed to accomplish the establishment of such a government. The timeless prescribed methods to address tyranny are threefold: the usage of the hand (physical or military might), the tongue (to raise our voices in defense of Truth and justice), or the heart (to detest it internally and implore for God’s assistance).13
One of Musa’s favorite themes is the use of “snitches and FBI informants” as a tool of the government to eliminate the movement’s leaders. In June 2007, he delivered a lecture at his mosque entitled “How to Punk the FBI,” which included such pointers as: “How to bring the sissy out of your local FBI agent. Counter-harassment techniques (Did your mamma buy that shirt?) Laugh your fears away by laughing in your oppressor’s face.” And in July 2009, Musa hosted another seminar to discuss the position of the African- American Muslim community toward the FBI entitled “RE-PUNK THE F.B.I.: Practitioners of Tyranny & Oppression.”
The justification for holding the meeting was described in a release issued by As-Sabiqun in June 2009. It read, in part: “The history of the Zionist-occupied United States government has been one of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an oppressive and tyrannical world order. Prudence demands that we, the oppressed, list some of our outstanding grievances in this regard.” The release asserts that “actions, on the part of the Zionist-occupied U.S. government, has created an atmosphere of pervasive fear, that exists both nationally (via the FBI, Homeland Security, Immigration, and others) and internationally (via the CIA and its partners in crime throughout the globe).” The announcement then asked supporters to join them at their masjid “for an afternoon of courage and clarity, where Imam Musa will, insha’Allah, give a detailed discussion on two very critical and timely topics: the Re- Africanization of the Islamic movement in North America & the De- Israelization of the global Islamic movement.”14
Many followers of As-Sabiqun are ex-convicts who converted to Islam while in prison, as did Musa, who spent several years in the United States Penitentiary in Leavenworth, Kansas after being convicted of charges that included drug trafficking. As-Sabiqun engages in dawah efforts directed at prison inmates, and offers them a community where they can go after their release. According to Musa’s biography on his personal MySpace page, “His ‘street’ background helps explain part of his appeal to inner-city youths and ex-convicts, with whom he can identify through personal experience.”15 In addition, Musa travels extensively to lecture, often speaking to Muslim youth groups and Muslim student associations at U.S. universities.
As-Sabiqun’s web site is a first place to look to understand the group ideologically:
Carrying on the torch lit by El-Hajj Malik Shabazz (Malcolm X) and past homegrown Islamic movements such as the Darul Islam movement and the Islamic Party of North America, As-Sabiqun aspires to:
- make Islam a living force by challenging and breaking the grasp of social and political forces seeking to suppress and destroy the Deen.
- obliterate the hold of jahiliyyah through moral and spiritual development.
- establish Islamic homes and build model communities where Islam is lived.
- work toward total economic independence.
- stand up against those who oppress Muslims and all other human beings across the globe as well as the earth and Allah’s creation itself. 16
As-Sabiqun members are encouraged to familiarize themselves with the writings of thinkers like Abu Ala al-Mawdudi, Hasan al-Banna, Sayyid Qutb, Malcolm X, and Ayatollah Khomeini. This list is telling in itself: though a number of conservative and militant Sunni Muslims were heartened by Iran’s 1978-79 Islamic revolution, they largely turned against Khomeini in the 1980s due to their problems with Shia theology. Not so for Musa, for whom being a revolutionary seems to be a top concern.
As-Sabiqun’s stated goal is to establish the “Islamic State of North America” no later than 2050. 17 However, Musa has given somewhat contradictory guidance about this aspiration. On the one hand, he tells his followers to invite people to Islam peacefully; on the other, he glorifies suicide bombers as heroes. In a June 2008 speech delivered to a group in Dearborn, Michigan, honoring Ayatollah Khomeini, Musa said, “My enemy is the United States…. We are living under a dictatorship in the U.S.” Though he preceded these comments by telling his audience to “invite people to Islam instead of shooting,” he went on to say that “we are being harassed to a point.”10 Perhaps, then, Musa is suggesting that violence is now justifiable, given the extremes to which the Muslim community in the U.S. has been “pushed.”
The shooting of Luqman Abdullah does not eliminate potentially violent groups that fuse Islamism with black nationalist grievances. This movement, which we dubbed “cause célèbre Islam,” is broader than Abdullah, with a traceable ideological foundation based on the heritage and experience of African-Americans. It is certainly a movement that will remain on the radar of those who are concerned about the possibility of homegrown terrorism.
1Portions of this article were originally published in Madeleine Gruen & Frank Hyland, “The Threat Here—2008: As Sabiqun,” Counterterrorism Blog, July 28, 2008.return
2Gary Leone, Criminal Complaint, United States v. Abdullah, No. 2:09-MJ- 30436 (E.D. Mich., Oct. 27, 2009).return
3“Washington’s Imam Musa: FBI Assassinated Luqman Ameen Abdullah to Intimidate the Black American Muslim Community,” Press TV (Iran), Nov. 2, 2009.return
4Abdul Alim Musa, speech at Jamil al-Amin Fundraiser, University of California at Irvine, Sept. 9, 2001, accessed from the Investigative Project on Terrorism web site, Nov. 20, 2009.return
5Leone, Criminal Complaint, United States v. Abdullah, ¶ 18.return
7Ibid. See also ibid. ¶ 24, in which Abdullah states: “We are going to have to fight against the Kafir.”return
8Examples of this framework can be found in Jamil al-Amin, Revolution by the Book: The Rap is Live (Beltsville, MD: Writers’ Inc., 1994).return
9Kaukab Siddique, “Dr. Siddique Interviews Sister Karima al-Amin,” New Trend Magazine, Sept. 9, 2009.return
10Robert Dannin, Black Pilgrimage to Islam (Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2002), p. 175.return
11Leone, Criminal Complaint, United States v. Abdullah, ¶ 33.return
12“FBI Assassinated Luqman Ameen Abdullah to Intimidate the Black American Muslim Community,” Press TV.return
13“RE-PUNK THE F.B.I. (Practitioners of Tyranny & Oppression,” posted to Abdul Alim Musa’s Facebook page on June 24, 2009 (accessed Nov. 20, 2009).return
18Video of this speech can be seen at http://www.shiatv.net/view_video.php? viewkey=7dbc9960ae158598a6a9 (accessed Nov. 20, 2009).return
See the original article here.