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BOOK REVIEWS

Lest We Forget

Book Review by Renay Intisar Jihad

Reprinted from The Muslim Journal

 

 

            Knowledge equals power. Having the right guidance can make a difference between life and death, oppression and freedom, peace and discord. The internal and external assaults plaguing our community have boiled down to a matter of survival. Addressing the topics of slavery, segregation and institutional racism requires keen sensitivity, brutal honesty, and historical to contemporary relevance. The void filled by the contribution of these two incredible authors is commendable. Each book addresses the obstacles to our quest to triumph in the face of adversity in remarkably different ways. The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness is a well-researched non-fiction book covering the system of mass incarceration affecting predominantly black and brown males. Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates is also non-fiction and is effectively written in the form of a letter to the author's son.

 

The New Jim Crow

Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness

Michelle Alexander

New York: New Press, 2012

“An instant classic.”- Cornel West

 

            This book is mainly about how today’s system of mass incarceration is an institutionalized replica of the Jim Crow laws from the Reconstruction Era.

            A big idea, how the basic human and civil rights of predominantly black and brown males are dissolved for drug-related crimes is also a profound truth. The author recounts how the prosecutors, along with the judicial system, deliberate an institution of legal slavery; one which is unparallel to any other institution in today's contemporary world.

            The fact is, reveals the author, the prison industrial complex is not an easy system to dismantle. Dismantling this institution will require a combination of "civil, private, and political entities" working collectively, consistently and continually. She painstakingly paints a picture of how private and public entities are invested in this billion-dollar industry. If the system is dismantled, big dollars are lost.

            Remember that this system is instituted by design argues the author. She writes about how every president since Reagan, supported this degrading system of mass incarceration. For decades, the War on Drugs served as a major propaganda instrument. Documented proof reveals the validity of her claims.

            A quotable quote: “Once you’re labeled a felon, the old forms of discrimination – employment discrimination, housing discrimination, denial of the right to vote, denial of educational opportunity, denial of food stamps and other public benefits, and exclusion from jury service – are suddenly legal. As a criminal, you have scarcely more rights, and largely less respect, than a black man living in Alabama at the height of Jim Crow. We have not ended racial caste in America; we have merely redesigned it.” 

as a civil rights lawyer at the ACLU that began what I now call my awakening. I began to awaken to the reality that our criminal justice system now functions much more like a system of racial or social control than a system of crime prevention and control. I wanted to share with others the facts, history [and] stories that I wish that I had known long before in the hopes that others would begin to have the same kind of awakening and commit themselves to             Michelle Alexander was inspired "to write the book mainly as a result of experiences I had workingbuilding a movement to end mass incarceration in America." A Conversation with Michelle Alexander - Teaching Tolerance website. She was also inspired by the civil rights milestones and activists of the 1950s and 1960's.

 

Between the World and Me

Ta-Nehisi Coates

New York: Spiegel & Grau, [2015]

 “This is required reading.”- Toni Morrison

 

            This book mainly deals with the black male experience in America. Written as a letter to the author's teenaged son, the book offers an enlightened clarification of the true hardships and realities associated with a black males' survival in America.

            A big idea, and re-occurring theme focuses on the author's life growing up fearful of the police, streets, and gangs "crews," to name a few examples. He talks about how the police “have been endowed with the authority to destroy your body.”

            Coates is clear about the profound truth he wants to share in this book. "The plunder of black life was drilled into this country in its infancy and reinforced across its history so that plunder has become an heirloom, an intelligence, a sentience, a default setting to which, likely to the end of our days, we must invariably return." He also explains, “Race is the child of racism, not the father.”

            The fact is, like every loving father, the author's intention is to raise his son to "grow into consciousness."  He shares memories about his life at Howard University (the Mecca) and his relationship with his father, a research librarian and local captain of the Black Panther Party. His grandmother taught him to read and write critically beginning at the age of four.

            Remember that "Plunder has matured into habit and addiction; the people who could author the mechanized death of our ghettos, the mass rape of private prisons, then engineer their own forgetting, must inevitably plunder much more." 

         One quotable quote lifted from this brilliantly written letter in which every word is deliberately crafted and poetically rendered is explicitly directed to his son. "Never forget that we were enslaved in this country longer than we have been free. Never forget that for 250 years black people were born into chains - whole generations followed by more generations who knew nothing but chains. You must struggle to truly remember the past in all its nuance, error, and humanity."

            Ta-Nehisi Coates was inspired by the fact that he wanted his son to know the following. "…you are a black boy, and you must be responsible for your body in a way that other boys cannot know." This mindset was no doubt shaped by an unfortunate event which happened to a Howard University friend and college mate. Prince Jones, son of Mabel Jones, a prominent doctor, was shot to death in September 2000 by an undercover police officer who suspected the student of being a drug dealer in George's County, Maryland. This incident most likely left an indelible mark on his life.

   The title of the book comes from a poem written by Richard Wright in 1935. Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates is available at Amazon.com.

NEWS ARTICLES

The 29th Annual Muslim Convention Lived Up to Expectations

Highlights by Renay Jihad

Reprinted from The Muslim Journal

 

 

The theme for this year’s 29th Annual Muslim Convention was A Legacy for Life. The blessings and pulse of life were felt, seen, and heard throughout the entire weekend’s event as attendees of all ages, from all walks of life, partook - in a celebratory spirit. It was held in Newark, New Jersey at the Robert Treat Hotel on August 29th to September 2nd, 2018.  

In short, there was something for everyone. Attendees relished in the opportunity to revive their spirit, reunite with sisters and brothers from across the country and just plain have a boundless time enjoying the numerous workshops and cultural offering. While this was a festive atmosphere, the serious nature of the theme was underscored by an excellent panel of presenters.

The Quran and the U.S. Constitution is one example of many. It was presented by Imam Muhammad Abdul-Aleem, who is the Imam Emeritus of Masjidullah, Inc. Philadelphia, PA and the author of Qur’anic Reflections. Being a long-time student of Al-Islam, the Holy Qur’an and the teachings of Imam W.D. Mohammed was evident in his treatment of the topic. “The book Qur’anic Reflections highlight the philosophical journey of today’s African American Muslims - showing how historical and religious dynamics merge to create fresh perspectives.” The packed audience listened attentively as Imam Abdul-Aleem painstakingly deconstructed some of the Amendments of the Constitution, specifically the Bill of Rights. He coupled his findings with Qur’anic passages to correlate and substantiate the fact that Allah, (SWT) has already given to us and ordained for us our inalienable rights as human beings.  

“Islam has some of the same rights that the human being has under this democratic system. However, we believe we can make a contribution in clarifying that the rights we want are those rights that are approved by G-d. We must always remember that it is Allah (G-d) the One who created everything, to whom we are ultimately responsible.” (Qur’anic Reflections 1918)

As Imam Warith Deen Mohammad said, “Inherent means nobody gave it to you. You had it by birth.”

 Another highlight of this event was the New Africa Marketplace. An outstanding group of vendors, selling everything from African and Afro-centric inspired clothing to books of every genre. Natural health products and Halal-certified soap powder were sold in this bustling sooq. This exotic feast for the senses conjured up images of Islamic life from other parts of the world while reminding us that the entrepreneurial spirit of our people is alive, well, and thriving right here in America. Zakiyyah Stewart, owner of Some Sisters sold jewelry, handbags, and trendy clothing. Some Sisters promote more than a marketplace. “It is a gathering of family and friends and community.” If you are looking for unique clothing for special occasions, try Maty/Aida African clothing. Just plain gorgeous. The store is located in Ewing, New Jersey. These are just two of the many participating food, clothing, jewelry, cosmetics, oils, and book vendors. For a complete list contact the Mosque Cares at 708-679-1587.

Writers of original poetry and children’s books were on display. Anika Sabree of New African Designs is an author, illustrator, artist and graphic designer. Her paperback publications for children are colorful, unique, and educational. She addresses a niche market by writing and publishing inspiring books for African-American youth. https://webuyblack.com/newafricadesigns.  Faheemah Salahud-Din of Glitter & Goon just released a new book of poetry called Ascension. https://glitterandgoon.com/products/ascension Authors interacted with attendees by generously sharing background information about their products and services. For example, Rufus and Jenny Tripplet of Atlanta, Georgia wrote an Amazon.com bestseller entitled Surviving Marriage in the 21st Century.

A notable endeavor was undertaken by a producer of an audio/visual documentary recorded the lifework of his mother who was a Muslim pioneer dating back to the early 1950s.  It is called From Harlem to Hajj – Precious Gift from God – the Life and times of Sameerah Islam. Coverage of this project will appear in a Muslim Journal subsequent issue.

Networking opportunities presented by the New Africa Group, LLC - Strengthening African-American Businesses Online-Social Media is an enterprise worth endorsing. Abdul-Rasheed Akbar is the Founder and CEO. Promote your business by contacting this Chicago-based business at akbar@thenewafricagroup.com.

The Fashion Runway Event was simply outstanding. It truly expressed the adage that beauty comes in all shapes, sizes, and tastes. There were multiple parts to the fashion show because three different designers showcased their ensembles. Inspired by Islamic and American couture, sisters donned a colorful and richly ornate array of decorative styles which demonstrated that wearing a Hijab style is far from boring. Strutting their stuff with a cool, hip, sophisticated, elegant and modest manner added to the classy and cultured distinction of the show. Fabrics included cotton, kente, Georgette, lace, sheer layers, embroidery, chiffon, silk, jersey, linen and more. Kudos to Hameenah Muhammad, designer and coordinator of the show.  Clothing designers included Rasheedah Muhammad, Debra Lloyd, Anju Tariq, Aisha Tinson Toure and Baiyinah Wright (mother and daughter duo), and Tahirah.  All outfits were presented with a flair for detail and a sensitivity to a variety of tastes.

Note: I was able to attend Friday, and part of Saturday’s, events. This is a snapshot of what I saw and experienced. Subsequent articles will cover specific entrepreneurs and workshops in depth.

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The PLUS stands for... 

Poetry

Literature

Understanding/Wisdom

Spiritual insights. 

 

POEMS INSPIRED BY THIS PICTURE

YOU AND I

Tell me your secret,

Just between you and I.

The cause of your grin,

What it shows,

What it hides.

Like a rhino’s body,

Inside a neon-colored fish,

How you sustain your plagued skin,

How you push to resist.

Challenges faced outside and in; Promise!

Only you and I will know,

The source of your bliss.

JOY

 

A laugh that crawls down your spine,

Wiggling your toes.

A laugh that makes your back hunch,

Tickling your nose.

A laugh that stains your cheeks

With salty drips.

A laugh that chills your thighs

Knees bend and dip.

A laugh erasing strain, worry, and stress.

Your laugh is a message of love and happiness.

I, BLACK BOY

 

Bursting through the door,

Bigger than life.

Breath, a strong wind.

Heartbeats like a drum strikes,

Saying, “Pay me your mind,

I’m a thunderous cannon,

I’m a bolt of lightning,

I’m the motherland draped

Over your bleeding heart.

I’m the paint on the canvas

Of your seedy art.

Walking, talking, bold and emblazoned.

You will see me wherever I reside.

Don’t worry, don't fret,

I, a black boy, wouldn’t hurt a fly."

I LIKE YOU

Like a rainbow boldly strutting

Across a transparent sky.

Like an angel with open wings,

Poised, ready to fly.

Like a bouquet of flowers

Filling a translucent vase.

Like a dancer with strong arms

Prancing on stage.

You've earned our applause

and heartfelt praise.

SPECIAL

 

You are an open-hearted dove,

formed by love.

How did you get to be this way?

Did a fine fairy whisper brave words

into your heart one day?

Did a super sentinel hold you

by the hand,

Telling you tall tales proclaiming,

“You will and you can?”

Did a guardian angel fly you

to an enchanted planet

that was formed with the rudiments

of mercy, grace?

Did your parents sit and tell you,

“You can never be replaced?”

It’s all in your pale face…unique, lovable, and fearless.

Cherished.

PLAY

Avoiding the drama

that lags and lolls

In the cryptic kingdom

of life’s never-ending droll

 

Two animated kids avoiding confusion

Life, for them, is a happy illusion

Laughter, like hyenas,

on an African plain

Drenched in joy,

embracing pleasure, not pain

They are the diamonds

in a graveled walk

They are the diamonds

in coal's black chalk

Finding bliss, that's what matters,

not idle talk

Seeking the kiss of God,

as they run or walk

Avoiding harsh words

that make others cry

Playing in the sun

like there’s no tomorrow

Swinging on the wings

of the bye and bye.

Written by Renay I. Jihad

 

 

 

 

Muslim Journal Archives - Articles Covered by Renay Jihad

OCTOBER ISSUE - From Harlem to Hajj "Precious Gift from God"

- The Life and Times of Sameerah Islam

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