Abdul Haneef, Imam of the Masjid Omar Ibn Sayyid Mosque in Fayetteville, N.C., shared the experience of African American Muslims February 9 with a class on Islam at UNC Pembroke.
As a teenage sailor who grew up in rural Alabama, Imam Haneef said reading the “Autobiography of Malcolm X” changed his life.
“Reading his book was a turning point,” Haneef said of the Black Muslim leader’s book. “It peaked my interest in Islam.”
Growing up Christian, he experienced a spiritual and personal awakening and a reconnection with the past.
“As a child, I could not articulate this feeling,” Haneef said. “Christianity was the religion of our slave masters. It was the only religion we were allowed to have.
“Islam offered answers to the questions I could not find in Christianity,” he continued. “Why accept the religion of the people who enslaved you?
“Many slaves were Muslims, and if I were to research my family, it’s likely I would find this,” Haneef said. “For me, Islam is a reconnection with my ancestry and heritage.
“Islam offers freedom, justice and quality to the world,” he said. “The Islamic god predates color, religion and nations.”
The class on Islam is taught by Dr. Mordechai Inbari, a faculty member in UNCP’s Philosophy and Religion Department.
“I invited the Imam in order to let the students have direct access to a Muslim scholar and to hear from him about his history and beliefs,” Dr. Inbari said. “This is a unique opportunity, especially in this area, which is mostly dominated by Christians, to see firsthand an Islamic point of view, which is also authentic American.
“I hope the invitation and the Imam’s talk helps bridge some prejudices and misconceptions about Islam in general and Muslims in particular,” he said.
Dr.Mordechai Inbari, left, and Imam Abdul Haneef of the Masjid Omar Ibn Sayyid Mosque in Fayetteville.
The Masjid Omar Ibn Sayyid Mosque in Fayetteville is comprised of 50 families, the Imam said. Among all Muslims, even if there are only two, an Imam, or teacher emerges, Haneef explained.
Haneef said that Islamic groups and mosques in the U.S. are mostly separated by the national origin of their members. The African American Muslim experience continues to return to the traditional pillars of the Islamic faith since the death of its first leader Elijah Mohammad.
There is one other common feature among all Muslims in America today, he said.
“There are extremists in every faith, and there are those in every religion working for world peace,” Haneef said. “We look for what we have in common. The god of Islam does not condone terrorism.”
That is a message that the entire Islamic world is working to tell, he said. The discussion following Imam Haneef’s talk was lively.
A question about perceived gender discrimination in the Islamic world brought this response.
“Male and female were created from the same soul,” Haneef said. “There are some differences in the roles, but women are free to pursue education, property, income and even to keep their name after marriage.
“This is the teaching of the Koran and Mohammad,” he said. “I don’t judge the Bible by a study of Christians.”