I was very interested in interviewing Minister Abel Muhammad (of Mosque Maryam in Chicago) because of his commitment to helping communities of color. He is connected with Boriqua Chicks on social media, so I have been able to see some of the important work he is doing. Rebecca and I have also had the pleasure of meeting his beautiful Afro-Latino family; he has been married for 14 years and has 4 children.
Minister Abel has a unique perspective on issues that impact the Latino community. He has served as director of Centro Sin Fronteras Immigrant Legal Assistance program, worked for the Puerto Rican Federal Affairs Administration’s voter education campaigns, and he traveled to Cuba in 1995 with the late Rev. Lucius Walker and Pastors for Peace.
He often speaks about the need for unity of oppressed people and the demand for social justice during his various speaking engagements at churches, mosques, universities, and panels. He was instrumental in organizing Latino participation in the Million Family March in 2000 and the Millions More Movement in 2005. He also served as a spiritual advisor in the case of Elvira Arellano—an undocumented Mexican immigrant who lived and worked in Chicago and found sanctuary in a church for one year in 2006, after being faced with a deportation order that could separate and destroy her family.
You hear a lot of people talk a good talk about what needs to be done, but Minister Abel doesn’t just talk the talk. He walks the walk.
Check out our conversation below.
Last year PBS did a special report on the increase in Latino converts to Islam; in your opinion, what has sparked the rise in Latinos converting to Islam?
Islam means Peace. It is the peace one feels when we stop fighting the nature we were created in, and submit our will to do the will of God. The stressful and terrible world we live in, this kind of world and society of violence and mayhem…in a world like this, there really is nothing greater that we could have than peace. So as I see it, as Latinos we are returning to Islam, which is our nature–because we find in that way of life, relief from the stress and pain of this world. It is not us converting to an Arab religion. In Islam we find a connection to our past, our history, and our ancestors. We are able to grab on to the best of all the cultures and people that are part of the make up of us as Latino people today.
I read that you were introduced to the Nation of Islam while you were a student at Whitney Young High School in Chicago, what inspired your decision to follow the teachings of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad.
I wanted to become a follower of the honorable Elijah Muhammad because I was inspired by the book I read by him, Message to the Blackman in America, as it fit all the conditions of my own Mexican people. In my mind, when I read the word black, I just substituted it with Mexican. I saw in the teachings a remedy to many of the ills that affect our people and I applied it to myself first. In high school I was smoking, drinking and cutting classes. I was coming home really late and I was disrespectful to my parents. I now know that this was because I didn’t see value in myself, as I was lost and angry. The Teachings of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad caused me to know, love and respect myself. And I knew if it had this effect on me, I wanted to share it with my people–not only Mexicans but all Latinos. I felt it would make us a strong and righteous people. I still feel that way and it is why I do what I do.
Born in the 70s to Mexican parents from Querétaro, Mexico, you describe yourself as the “true son of the Latino immigrant experience,” what do you mean by that?
Like many, my parents came here to find a better life. I was the first of my siblings born in the United States. Like many of us I grew up in 2 worlds. My home was grounded in Mexican tradition, but we were ensnared in American culture. I know what it’s like to see your parents get up long before dawn, and get home after sunrise to go make a few dollars so the family can eat. My parents didn’t come out of a desire to leave Mexico, they came because they saw it as the best way to survive. I, and in truth all of us who are born out of our parents’ flight from oppressive conditions created by unjust U.S. policies and corruption, we’re born to change the conditions of our people. We understand both cultures, both worlds. We’ve learned to dance to the rhythm of American life, but we do it with an eye towards correcting and changing the system that brought us here to begin with. Being a son of the Latino immigrant experience, to me, means that I have not lost sight of who I am. I will not conform to this place, I respect it. But I owe it to my ancestors to remember their words, their way and recognize that nothing this world can offer me is better than the great gift they already gave me–a culture and history of my own.
What are your thoughts on the current state of immigration in the United States?
The Immigration issue continues to be manipulated by the political parties to manipulate our poor people with continued promises that “if you vote for us, we’ll fix it.” This has proven time and time again to be nothing but lip service and lies. In truth this system cannot be reformed because it is based on the premise that Caucasian people have a greater right to live here than those whose ancestors the Caucasian took the land from. We–the children of the Native people of this hemisphere–aren’t immigrants anywhere on the Americas. We are the Original people of the planet. We have the God given right to travel anywhere in this hemisphere or on the planet.
The issue of immigration is stagnant and not moving because I believe we are using the wrong tactic and argument. We keep trying to appeal to the moral conscience of Caucasians and the wealthy–convince them that we’re not criminals, that we’re good neighbors and that we’ll work hard for them. Our argument should be a moral one that reminds those who rule, that they built this country on our backs. We have to make this a moral argument reminding the world that these lands were taken by war, schemes and lies. These people don’t have it in their hearts to care about our children and grandparents and the sanctity of family and the need for families to stay united. They see us as a commodity. So we should make a demand that our rights as Indigenous people, as human beings, be respected. And we can make the changes we seek and end the debate if we would unite. If all Latinos came together, this would not even be an issue. But because we are divided, nothing changes.
As a Student Minister of the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan and Representative to the Spanish-Speaking Community of the Western Hemisphere, what has been one of your most memorable experiences?
I’ve been blessed to travel across the country into prisons, schools, community centers or just out in the streets with our people. The greatest experience is seeing our people respond to the truth. It is getting a letter from a brother that is locked down telling me what I said affected him and he’s studying Islam now. It’s getting a message from a Latina college student telling me that what I shared made her reevaluate herself, her value, her life. It’s seeing the beautiful faces of our people as we speak to them and give them hope. The greatest experience is seeing my people feel better and try to live better based on what I share with them from my Teacher.
Also, what has been the most valuable lesson taught by the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan?
The greatest lesson that my teacher, The Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan, has taught me is to accept my own and be myself. When I first met him he told me to go study my people’s history because there is value in knowing who you are. That made me fall in love with my Indigenous roots. It made me discover my African roots and love that too! He has never tried to make me into something else. He has always guided me to discover and strive to be myself because that is what God created me to be. That really is the essence of what he teaches. I was with him one day and a young Italian man came to greet him. The Minister started teaching the young man about Italian history and asked him if he’d ever been to Italy. He told the young man to go talk to his mother about her home. He told him to go study his history and try to take a trip to Italy so he could learn and see all that his people have gone through.
My teacher is so much more than what the media would have people think. If he was a hater why would he take the time to teach this young man? No, he loves very deeply and profoundly because he sees in each human being their essence, which is unique and divine. So he encourages every human being to go learn about themselves. As we learn ourselves, we see the pain that different people have suffered and it allows us to be sympathetic to the pain of others. It gives us purpose to help our people and improve our condition. It makes us full human beings, not immature and selfish. That’s the great lesson I have learned from him, that the greatest service we can offer is to help people to be free to be what God has Created us to be.
You have been very active in addressing issues that impact Black, Latino, and Indigenous peoples in the United States, what are some of the major points that you notice are being left out of the mainstream conversation?
The environmental terrorism that is aimed at the places where we live and the foods we eat. It is not heredity causing our illnesses. It’s not that we are predisposed or weaker. It is that we are targets of corrupt corporations and paid off policy makers that care more about money than the lives of human beings.
This affects us not only physiologically, but psychologically too. So if you are a brown girl in America the depression and suicide rates are through the roof. All of these things are preventable, but the same greedy merchants that contrive these conditions for us are in control of too much of what is in the media. So the news today reports more about celebrities than actual events. They are dumbing down our people. So we don’t know about what’s happening in Ayotzinapa, but we know all about the latest song and movie. Our children don’t know about Oscar López Rivera and the campaign for his freedom, but they know all about the release date of the latest pair of Air Jordans. This is why our own media is so important. Latino media has to accept a greater responsibility to cover the issues that the mainstream refuses to show. You are the voice for a suffering and voiceless people.
The Justice Or Else! Million Man March 20th Anniversary is on 10.10.15 in Washington, D.C., what can attendees expect to walk away with, from this historical event?
10.10.15 – the theme is Justice Or Else. This isn’t a march. It’s a sacred gathering of human beings: male and female, black, brown, red, yellow and white. We are coming together to put our grievances before this government, to give them a chance to correct some of the many wrongs that they have done to us. We are coming together as a united front to demand Justice. And if we don’t get it, what’s the “or else?” It is our organized and unified economic withdrawal. We will redistribute the pain, as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, by boycotting those merchants and companies that refuse to do right by us. All are rich because of what they have done to the Black, the Latino and the poor. We are going to D.C. to make a statement that things are going to change. We will present legislative solutions to remedy some of the terrible injustices that affect all our people, from police brutality to unjust immigration laws to native land rights. We intend to forge a unity that will bring us the change we have been looking for and that only our unity can secure.
What music song has been on repeat for you lately? Why?
I love music. You know I grew up listening to Los Panchos and Sonora Santanera. But my love is Hip Hop. I met these young Brothers in Detroit; they go by the name Awkward Theory and I just love their music! They are super talented and humble young Brothers. They have a song out called Orale that I can’t stop listening to. Their whole album, I just love it. They sing, rap, and play guitar. The music is amazing, lyrics have depth. I want the whole world to hear them. That’s all I listen to right now. Their music inspires me and gives me hope.
Is there anything else you wish to share with our audience?
I would encourage everyone to try to make it to 10.10.15 in Washington D.C., #JusticeOrElse. This will be historic. Don’t get left on the sideline watching it; be a part of it. And lastly, listen to what it is the Nation of Islam and Minister Farrakhan teaches for yourself. You may not agree with it all, but grab on to the part that resonates with you and apply it to your life and live a happier and better life. That’s success, our people living better. Towards this end we invite all Latinos to come hear Minister Farrakhan for yourself in Pilsen in Chicago on September 18. Follow me on social media to get all the details. I thank the Boriqua Chicks for the great honor and privilege of this interview and I pray something shared can positively affect our people’s lives. I pray for your success and well being in all that you do. Peace be unto you.
Stay connected with Brother Abel Muhammad at the channels below.
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