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The Imam of America From the Nation to Islam

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Siraj Wahhaj

Channel: Siraj Wahhaj

Episode Notes

 After Hours

Episode Transcript

© No part of this transcript may be copied or referenced or transmitted in any way whatsoever. Transcripts are auto-generated and thus will be be inaccurate. We are working on a system to allow volunteers to edit transcripts in a controlled system.


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Ah bla hamdu lillah wa salatu salam ala Rasulillah I just like to say the same I filled up my bad said it quite a lot but I gotta do everybody. Welcome

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our first session of after hours your regular hosts here should have shed on mushroom. I'm not sure but I don't know what I'm doing. Dr. Omers today man, and we have amongst us for starting. We are starting with the best inshallah to Allah we're starting with Brooklyn's Finest, the living legend. Hola, agua de La Jolla, which

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wouldn't have been appropriate to start with anybody else, you know, so, we were gonna, we were gonna put this podcast off for like three months until we're like until you are you brothers trying to embarrass me?

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Honestly, man, you are embarrassing me. I'm just a little guy, man. Honestly, real. Many people on the court you mom, so we got to talk about that.

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You broken some ankles over decades. And Sally knows what I did. I probably broke the ankles a couple of times.

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Imam Suraj, of course needs no introduction. But he's been the Imam at Mercy. The taco for over a year is almost 40 years now. Yeah. 4041 42 years. Absolutely. 4142 years hamdulillah Brooklyn, New York. It is a staple community in New York City. And you know what? I wouldn't trade I wouldn't trade. I I wouldn't trade this machine for no magic in the world. You know, they were advertising for two masters in California, right paying the Imam $250,000. I said, you're serious. Right. And you know what? I'm very grateful for what my community give me from the law. I mean, and I don't I don't complain. I love this community. Allah blesses. Now, you know, we first started, we were like,

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25 members, 100% African Americans. Now on average, Joomla you're talking about, like 1300 people.

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And we have now like 30, about 39 different nationalities. So now the African Americans in my community, maybe 20% Maybe 25%. So it's been expanding. And people they just come the more we expand the more people come up from the line and we appreciate it, you know, we the average salary we have we have hundreds of people average salon, and it's like, I love it. I mean we love each other we you know, we come and we actually love each other every day we come to the masjid and it's an absolute pleasure

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to be in this message from the Lord.

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Masha Allah. I have a couple of questions just from that Imam Suraj. The first is, I've seen a couple of times masajid be built with the purpose of serving a particular demographic I've seen besides that are built just for converts like this is this is or, you know, particular ethnic group or what have you. And then it almost seems like it's just inevitable that it becomes

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a not a monolith monolith, but rather something that's representative of how pluralistic our society is ethnically. Is that something that you see as being positive? Is that something that you do you wish that there were more massage, for example, that specifically served particular communities

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all of the above. I, I support any kind of Masjid anywhere.

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I've gone to mash it's helped to build messages for one ethnicity, for instance, it's okay. There's some localities where certain people live in a certain area. And so we are called upon to help them. So I think whether you will build an app for, you know, our community, our grown community, like like, like my community, that have some senior citizens, whether you're doing it for the youth or whatever you don't know for I think all of it is good. And I love to do it. I love to participate. I love to help.

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And in anywhere. One of my favorite organizations is maths. We have a fundraiser this weekend for maths in New York, and can't wait. Can't wait to participate on one of the one of the speakers and weathers ignor, maths

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mana, all of these different organizations that seek our support, happy to do it in sha Allah

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so much that I'm gonna I'm gonna give a little bit of a personal journey before I do the question. So hamdulillah like I've known you for far longer than you knew me Hamdulillah I kind of grew up grew up in your saddle. So my my father and father in law I mentioned this actually were part of the organizing team of the AMA did that Jimmy Swaggart debate at LSU

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Oh,

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yes. And you were the beautiful moderator still beautiful. Mashallah, by the way, I just came back from South Africa.

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Oh my

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stuff. Yeah.

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Yeah, in commemoration of the death and the great work that Allah subhanaw taala. So you have that history shift, you got the history, your own history there in New York. I mean, I, I've heard it many times, and I could hear it over and over again, obviously, many of us grew up in the Dawa, listening to your cassette tapes, we didn't live in New York, but you know, grew up on your cassette tapes and hamdulillah from as a top while still, I've still got them, by the way, have good luck. I'm going to try to sell them for a million dollars and, you know, 20 years,

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still around. But, and then, you know, I remember coming on to the Dallas scene. And, you know, I used to attend your lectures at conventions and stuff like that. I remember the first time having to speak on stage with us in Atlanta, probably 2008 or 2009. And having to be on stage with you and being really humbled by that. And then somehow even Hurricane Katrina,

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you talked about this love that you've had for everybody. When Hurricane Katrina hit, I remember you driving to Baton Rouge, Louisiana where we had our cell to their episode. I remember that. I remember receiving you there and Louisiana 2005 and does everything I mean, there wasn't a time that I that I called upon you personally, I can testify to this for anything with the masjid

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except that you came down and that you honored that request. And I just want to ask you, I think off the bat, you know, mashallah, you mentioned this, this love and Hamdulillah that you've had,

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you know, as someone who has responded to the calls of organization organizations and massage it and, you know, built so many institutions across the country, does it ever get tiring shift? Are we have we taken advantage of you have, you know, I want to hear directly from you, because this is after hours, you know, we're just talking a lot. No one else is watching us. Just, you know, you, me and Ahmad, are you? Are you tired of us share? Have we exhausted you at this point?

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Not at all. You know, when I was born, I don't know if you ever heard this. My mother told me that my uncle saw me and the day I was born, he said

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he's going to be a preacher. Right? And so when I was in the in the church, I taught Sunday school. In 1968 69, I joined the Nation of Islam, I became a minister in a nation of Islam, and 1975. But hamdulillah when Allah bless us to follow the Sunnah of the Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon them, I became an imam. So I can help myself like it's in my blood, that I know that people told me that, you know, when I was young, what my uncle said, but my mother told me recently, that my aunt said the same thing when I was born, he gonna be a preacher. And all I can say is that this is the great love that I had. I remember that when I was seven years old. I was living in mossy

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projects was a Sunday, and I was getting ready to go to where to go to church, and I was getting dressed. And I said to my mother, and I want to look at the body language. Why have you got to go to church anyway? So my mother took out a belt. Hit me twice. So now you understand why you got to go to church. I said, Yes, ma'am. But Hamdulillah I was blessed three, four months ago, to give my 89 year old mother shahada from my hands, law. The same one, maybe go to the church, now from the last Muslim and made me the happiest, happiest man hamdulillah sir, you know, I knew that you were trying to give your mom down I never knew she took shahada Subhan Allah so Masha Allah Tabata, Colombia

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Allah give you the reward and give her about and firmness on this faith and

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allow you know what, let me tell you something, you know something? I don't get tired of this, man. I don't. I love it. You know, it's, um, you know, I just love I love people. Even in my own community. I'm telling you, every salon, there's like, it's crazy. I got to shake everybody's hand. I can't shake everybody's hand every salon. But we love each other hamdulillah and I'm so grateful to be a Muslim. Have you ever heard of Lou Gehrig?

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Yeah, Lou Gehrig was a great baseball play for the New York Yankees. You know, he was diagnosed with a disease they named the disease after him Lou Gehrig's disease. And he gave a very famous speech. And he said that I consider myself the luckiest person on the face of the earth. And I really believe and feel myself the luckiest person on the face of the earth. And I'm gonna say it to be corny. I say it to be to be truthful. I'm so every day grateful. The fact that Allah guided me to this now and I'm just happy. I'm

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dissapear Imam Suraj we can't transition from this man.

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We can't transition from this. I'm stunned. I'm sitting here stunned right now. At the amazing of your mother accepting Islam. We can't go home there. We cannot go for viewership. I need to hear every detail. Wash a lot, a lot of love. And so let me tell you something. On the right, see one of the beautiful things like I was in New York University, when I joined the Nation of Islam, and my mother was always supportive of me. Always, you know, and,

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and to be honest with you, actually, she took shahada years ago, let me tell you what happened. My mother, and my stepfather Loisaida. We loved him. Me and my brother loved our stepfather as much as we love that dad. But anyway, my mother invited us for dinner.

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And

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my son Muhammad at that, at that time was five years old. So my mother said bless the table.

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And my son said to my to my mother, he called a granny. He said, granny, When are your Pap are going to become Muslim anyway? Right. So my mother said, and my stepfather, Lloyd sage, we call them Papa, we say we must be we might as well do it right now. So technically, they took shahada then, mashallah, those years ago, but they didn't.

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So this time hamdulillah few months ago, my mother took that for me shahada from I have a lot of friends share who obviously they converted to Islam and it weighs heavy on them, you know their parents and so I'm sure it weighed heavy on you for a long time. And so my question is, is

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you know, how did you resolve it? What was your patience like what was your endurance like what was your like? What was your

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you know, expectation if she didn't pass if she if she passed away, without having come to this moment, you know what, you know, we in the color

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of Allah can allow you to manage Manisha you can guide people whom you love it Allah guide to the straight path from every pleases, so we never stop. And because my mother was so accepting six steps that everything she never, she never gave me difficulty. I've always believed that she would eventually take Shahada. But, you know, it's something that I wish all members of my family become Muslim. So, you know, you you you make effort as much as you can. And my mother is an incredible, credible lady. She was a nurse for many years. And then she became a guidance counselor, the school smart, tickling,

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you know, and loving. So she was always very good person. Um, you know, I always think the love for her and just all I can do say Be patient with anybody, anybody our friends or family members, just be patient and try to be the very best example. You could and she loves her son she can I tell you my nickname from my mother. And I say publicly, she

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called me last Milo. So Oh, my marshmallow marshmallow.

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ASALA Masha Allah. Um, so I was like, we, you know, on a personal level Subhanallah my entire Dawa? I, all I think about as my mom, you know, that's literally all I think about is you know, in sha Allah that Allah accepts this on her behalf. You can't I can't tell you how happy I am. Because, you know, I pray that Allah azza wa jal will accept all that you do now, and she'll have a share of that as well as her own, taking, taking shahada towards the end of her you know, well May Allah give her a long life but in this old age Subhanallah like that is I mean, that is stunning and I'm grateful I'm grateful to Allah and him that in

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you know, on the prophets lie, Saddam

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came back to Mecca the story of Rebecca's father, I will have her taking shahada at that point, I will record all the law and who crying because he said I knew how much the prophets lie some wanted that for herbal Taalib knew how much he wanted that, perhaps. And it is sometimes really devastating to the heart to and of course, more so the person that's in that situation, you know, some of the best people, some of the people that dedicate their lives to Darwin, they don't get to see that moment with their parents. May Allah subhanaw taala make it as such, for all of those noble brothers and sisters that are in the data that they see that special shahada of their parents as well. As

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they see the parents embrace Islam as well. Well, I'm working I'm working on my brother now he's one year older than me. And he knows all about me Yeah, Imam Suraj Wah.

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So you never know, you know, so we talk very, very, very

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smart man, very educated man from the law, Allah give him he die on your hands. Everyone who's watching say I mean, I mean, most parents, I'll give him He died on your hands. Yeah, but on I mean,

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even a mom, I have to ask you, you know, as well so Pantalon and this is it's hard to move on from that like Like, like, say from Martha, we can just stay on that the whole time, you know, just the parents. But

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when you became Muslim, when you first came to the realization of the truth of Islam, that this is it and and it entered into your heart.

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I remember you talking about how you wanted to give Dawa to everybody. Like you wanted to write letters to everybody, you wanted to just give data to everybody.

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If you're sitting, you know, however, many decades ago,

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in your room, and you're thinking, you know, 30 years from now, I want to look back 40 years from now I want to look back.

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And this is what I want to see as in regards to the fruit of my doubt. What would that be? What would Imam Suraj 40 years ago be thinking about when he's sort of mapping out, you know, Dawa in, in my family Tao in my community down in New York, that will be on what what was going through your mind? You know, it seems to me that as much as I have done, I can do so much more.

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I you know, I think back in the days of Nation of Islam, Malcolm X, you know, Muhammad Ali, in all of that, and I remember what I did, in the Nation of Islam.

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I knocked on 1000s of doors,

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trying to invite my people, African Americans to Islam as I understood it.

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One day, I was the minister over the temple in New York and Brooklyn. And I told the Captain Richard Adx, I said, and he said, drive a school bus by for the children. I said, Can you get the bus? He said, why I said, I want to go drive around the neighborhood. And he got the bus and we drove around, it came to a park. And I said, this is what I want. I saw a group of people.

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And I went in the midst of them, black people. I said, Islam is the religion for black people get in the bus. And about 13 of them got on the bus. And we took them to the temple.

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I'm saying, did we, Allah blessed us to come into the fullness of Islam from the law? Why don't we do stuff like that? How could I leave my job?

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To sell a 25 cent newspaper every day, and to go knock on 1000s of doors, I want to have the same kind of spirit so that we can have a better impact on the people, I think that Muslims can do much better. So we have to organize better. You know, the audience is bigger. The audience is not just black people. It's including black people, but it's also the our neighbors. It's everyone else in the country. And I think more than ever, the world needs Islam. America needs Islam. I watched the news every day. And I'm saying, gee, we got we just got to do better. And whether the people accept or not, isn't the issue. The issue is, are we at least striving to do that? So if I can look back

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and say, What could he have done? I say we could have done more in the field of Darwin. My love is Darwin. So I want to see us do more. And I intend to do that. People, my community know that we have some plans to go back to God go into the society and, and try to have a better impact.

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You know, I'm, what's his name? Albert Einstein. He said, The world will not be destroyed by people do evil, but by those who watch them do nothing about it. So it's happening right now all over the world, you see it happen in this country? And so yeah, there are people do evil, but what are we gonna do about it? So Imam Suraj, you know, you hearken back a lot to the the Dawa, or the what you learn through the Nation of Islam? And it seems like they took you through a particular developmental process, like, did you? Do you feel like much of that was taught to you? Or was it that you were, you know, a lot of it is part of your innate personality? Because how do we replicate

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it? And how do we scale it ourselves as the Muslim community?

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Let me tell you, the number one thing I got from from the Nation of Islam, in this when I told you I was at the DoubleTree Hotel years ago, and never forgot that every room had a card that says when you care, it shows and really when you look at the Nation of Islam, say what you want to say about the Aqeedah say, Well, you know, they're not fully practicing Islam or whatever, they didn't know the Quran. One thing they had they had love and care for the people. I had. That's that was the process and the Nation of Islam. If anything else what we love we learn to love ourselves.

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was because you can remember,

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like people used to hate themselves.

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The one of the great things about the Nation of Islam, they taught black people to love themselves. selves, you know, to when I stood at New York University, and I had a big afro, my afro was so big, you can land a plane on it. So I was into the black, you know, had me guilty and, and had wore dashiki. So that was the time that we started, you know, to love black people. I remember the very day I joined the Nation of Islam, I know the very suit that I wore. And And my point is, the number one thing we learned is to love black people. That was the process to learn to love yourself. And, and I think and in a way we win. And then from there

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learning to love black people, the learning to love people. And you know, when I became a Muslim in 1975, I have a love for people. Like I'm telling you 3639 nationalities in my masjid, we have every kind of complexion. And I love them all. So now all of this is expanding. You know, just a testimony to what you said, I know, chef in New York, who, you know, New York was probably the hardest community other than maybe DC that was hit after 911 Just under the radar and under. And he got caught up in a case after 911. And nobody wanted to go to his court hearings. Nobody. He's Egyptians. Yeah. And so he said, he said, one person that I remember seeing in the courtroom was

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him. I'm so much is that right? Yes. And he said and he was like he said to me, z and acid. He said he was like a lion in the courtroom, just just going like this to me, like keep your head up. So he said, I never forgot that. And so one thing that I do want you to mention is how important is it? Like you probably don't even remember this, but how important are these little interactions as an imam as a data Yeah, to be there for people in their moments?

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Has we have to do it you know, become second nature now. In this it you know, the Prophet peace and blessings be upon him said let the colajanni to me know well actually know how to to humble. You never got a genuine to you believe he never believe until you love one another. So we have this genuine love, you know? So Allah put it in our hearts. He knows how much I love my community. We have a brother in my community from Bangladesh, right Fajr he was coming to fudge with his son. And I noticed lately I hadn't seen his son as a widget son. He said bad news. I said, No, you tell him I'm sure I'd want to see him. And so a couple of days later, he came he came for a couple of days.

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So they haven't they haven't struggled. But I'm saying to you I love at the brothers and msgid The sisters in the masjid the African Americans in the masjid, those from different ethnicities, we love them a lot, put this love in our heart. So wherever the Muslim is, you know, everywhere, you know, whatever struggle they have, then we're going to be with them. And inshallah and also I still have the love for the people, I want to go and do better, I'm not satisfied with what we have done. In terms of the people we need, we need to get on it. Muslims everywhere need to get on it, and show that we really care for the masses of the people.

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Now, so that's I think what, you know, when you're talking about the love that that you had for black people, and then being your own people, and then the love that you had for all people. I think there's also something else with the Nation of Islam. And I think you would agree there was also a courage, right? The boldness of that, right that it wasn't just the courage to go out there and to express that.

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And what I'd want to ask you is, you know, you saw Muslims pre 911 And you saw Muslims after 911 No, you think about this think? Oh, my think think about this, right? Think about

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can you hear me? Yeah, we can use it. Yeah. Yeah, the thing is,

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I have to admit, Nation of Islam.

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Courage, you said it, just think about this for a moment, right? Me selling by myself, a 25 cent newspaper, going into the projects, going to the roughest areas.

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And you know what, they never bothered me. They never bothered me, because there was a certain respect that black people had for the Nation of Islam. They felt that the Nation of Islam two things that number one, they love their people. Number two, they don't take no mess, which train all of us we study, we study martial arts, all of us mystery, you know, and we're not one afraid of nobody. And there's instances I've spoken about publicly where I go I went into a building when I saw two guys there and I knew they were going to try to rob me. I knew it. And I still went in and

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took out a newspaper and put her under the arms of each one of messages give me 25 cents. And one guy to my right took out a gun and said, You know what, you just can't rob a Muslim, put his gun back in his paper and give me 25 cents for the newspaper. So there's a certain kind of courage that we had in the Nation of Islam and a certain kind of respect. Imam Talib told me once in Harlem, there was an African American woman, she was walking down the street in the evening, and some two men will look like they will follow her. So she picked up a pace, and they picked up their pace. And she started to run, they started to run. And just when they're about to grab her, she had a hoodie

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on the hoodie fell off, revealing a chemo, and they stop. So oh, so um, so we so sorry. Oh, please, please forgive us this be sorry. So the Nation of Islam had a certain kind of respect in the community, because what they showed in their love for the for the for the people. So I think that's part of it. So she, you, I think the connection that you're hitting on, you know, not just love and courage but self respect versus the, you know, or how that's tied to the respect that others have for you. And you know, a lot of why we launched this podcast, and it's kind of a perfect conversation is, you've seen the dow a pre 911. And the way that the Dawa has changed after 911 And

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maybe the tenor of the Dawa, and the community sort of going into self preservation mode, and a fear overtaking the community that definitely affected the tone of the Dawa. But it might not all be bad, you know, maybe we shifted in some good ways. Maybe we shifted in some bad ways. I know you're an optimist. And I say Hola, so you always got good things to say. But what have you seen over the last?

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What have you seen the shift? How did how did 911 affect particularly the Dawa, as you see it, and the way that the community views itself and views? You know, our brothers and sisters who aren't Muslim, and humanity, right. You know, there's a saying that African Americans had, right, these are white folks. So, like, we, you know, we have a saying, like, we don't we don't eat rabbit meat. We ain't afraid, right. And I know that what happened 911 People were scared, Muslims are scared. They were nervous, you know, they wouldn't, they wouldn't go out. And we did just the opposite. We felt that is necessary for us to represent ourselves. So I think people coming out more now. I just got

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came back from Detroit. in Dearborn. Some of the Muslims are fighting, arguing about pornographic books and stuff that they're putting in into the schools. So they're coming out now and all over in America, you see Muslim standing up as they should, in every part of the country. So I think that Allah has given us some courage. And may Allah Spano to continue but the courage is it to say that we beg guys, your mayor with tough no courage is that this is Islam, and we here to benefit.

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What's the name 20. On Toynbee said that Islam is the only answer for all of the the form for America for America to be to become better for the world to become better. Islam is the answer. We believe that so we're not trying to, you know, get something from, you know, we're trying to give something and what we're trying to give, is this, this message that will be beneficial for everybody.

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Imam Suraj with the love that you have for the Muslim community, have you ever been disappointed in the Muslim community? And number them the what? Have you ever been disappointed in the Muslim community? And number two, how do you deal with disappointment? I can't, you know, I can't be disappointed. It is what it is shake. You know, when you study history, you find out people are, who they are. But you keep on going. And you keep on you know, you keep on preaching. Let me tell you something about a man that you heard about named Muhammad Ali. I hung out with Muhammad Ali. And you know, he was great brother. Most people don't realize there was a brother in Chicago named Ahmed Ali

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used to make these Dawa pamphlets. What is Islam who was Muhammad? And people don't know that Muhammad Ali would buy is because of that. And whenever people ask for his autograph was always I'm walking on the street in Manhattan, cops are stopping to get your autograph. So Muhammad Muhammad Ali gets one of these these pamphlets about what Islam is signs and you give it to them. So the thing is, that people are, how they are, you know, people, and so we have to be who we are. And the Prophet peace and blessings be upon him didn't have easier than we have these people for them. They tried to kill him, they killed some Muslims, and yet the Prophet peace and blessings be upon him. He

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kept on and kept on and we have to keep on you know, keep on and I'm an optimist, you know, and I believe that that it'll make a difference. It'll make a difference. Constant dripping of water on a stone will drill a hole in the stone. You know, not

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Tornado earthquake, you know, hurricane, what is consistency? And keep on letting people know who we are you see you changed some hearts, but you

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know, you've got to know you've got to run.

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I just wanted to this is sort of a comment and a question and Sharla sort of in closing, but a lot of times we don't tell people how much we appreciate them and or we don't tell them how much we appreciate them in public. Imam Suraj we love you for the sake of Allah, we credit to you, the work that we do, your pain is on your scales. If I told you that when you came to visit us here at hamdulillah

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is on your skills. Sheikh Mohammed Sharif Rahim Allah always talks about you and how much he loves you I remember when we spoke about about you together, actually can remember the vivid conversation of Sheikh Muhammad Sharif and I, speaking about how we need to do more for Imams that are more for your community more to honor you and the legacy that you have. So a lot of times we don't tell people how much we appreciate them, Imam, I just want you to know, all these, all of us our children on the Tao was seen and you know, we we've learned from you and we've benefited from you and we continue to benefit from you. And we ask Allah to reward you for it. And we ask Allah to bless you

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for it and we ask Allah to forgive any shortcomings on your behalf and any shortcomings that we have in carrying the torch forward, that you've handed to us with with strength that 100 inaudible Amin May Allah forgive us for that.

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Advice, Imam Suraj What's your blood? How much? How much? Wait a minute, wait a minute, but how much have I gotten from you? And the rest of the Muslims, you know, I appreciate it that

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the Muslims work. commend us, you know, and with all

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our show, commons, you know, they welcomed us. And may Allah bless I remember years ago, I forgot it. But I will go to my notebooks, you know, and I learned so much. And I think I remember one day someone said to

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the President of Israel, you know, this guy Suraj Mohan she, you know, he can he can give a talk. And I remember my first talk is not they put me down. So let's Okay. Put this you know, put them with Miss use of Islam, right.

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First talk, I gave this and I never forget, when I finished my talk about 13 people came up to me and said, Can we get your contact? And so that's, that's when it began. So it's a it's a mutual love, man, really. And you too, are all yours and all the, you know, the wonderful things that you have done, you continue to do. May Allah subhana wa continue to bless you Yaqeen all of the work that's been done so good. I'm just a little guy, man. Man, I'm trying to make a little contribution. But, you know, I don't know if if you were aware, even when speaking about AdMob with Misha Hamad the sheriff when we did Film Fest in New York, way back in the day we had a conference and we had

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him upset hydro hydro, this a surprise guest actually, Mohamed Rahim Allah He made this beautiful video. I think it's still available online of a testimony to Sheikh Mohammed and he told him that when he went to the University of Medina and the chef was interviewing him asked him and he said, Who do you want to be like? And he said, I want to be like you've obviously lacZ and

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unmolded and you're feeling Sharla much more than that are on your scales may Allah subhana data protect you and preserve you and accept from you. Thank you

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so much, man. I appreciate love.

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Keep up the great work that you do.

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We love you to Imam and we appreciate your time and we don't want to take advantage of it. We're just gonna tell everyone to please. Imam Suraj how can people support Mazel Tov one How can people find your work online? What's where can people find you we're gonna send some we're gonna send we'll send out shortly maybe the next day or two similar ways you can help you can always you can always send some money that have helped but we want to send the plans and exactly what we intend to do and then you get the information inshallah.

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We love you, Zack, good luck. Thank you, mutual.

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Bla