Veteran of the the Islamic Party Gives Rare History of Movement Once Based in DC
By Muhaafiz Khan
Muslim Link Contributing Writer
On Saturday, February 16, an aged veteran of the Islamic movement, Najeeb Abdul Haqq, stood before an audience gathered at Masjid Al-Islam in Washington, DC, to give a presentation entitled “The Islamic Party: Homegrown Islamic Movement in
A longtime committed member of the Islamic Party from its inception in 1971 to its end in 1991, Abdul Haqq provided an authoritative narrative on its history and aspirations, while members of the audience, both young an old, eagerly listened on as a story was told that is not very well-known nowadays in the DC metropolitan area despite its local origins.
The Islamic Party was born from the vision of Yusuf Muzaffaruddin Hamid. In the early 1960s, Muzaffaruddin traveled to New York as an aspiring jazz musician, where for the first time he was exposed to Islam. Many jazz musicians at that time were Ahmadiyyas, and the only Islamic books available were published by the Ahmadiyyah movement. [Editor’s note: the Ahmadiyyah religion is considered outside the fold of Islam by all Muslim scholars]. At the age of 17, Muzaffaruddin embraced Islam. Soon after, he set out to learn as much as he could about his new faith and how it could be used as a mechanism to change the condition of his people. “He read everything he could get his hands on, to get some understanding of the laws and rules pertaining to Islam. As he gained more knowledge, this took him further away from the Ahmadiyyah approach. The only thing that available to anybody in those days was the Ahmadiyyah approach,” explained Abdul Haqq.
From 1965-1969, Muzaffaruddin traveled throughout the Muslim world, including the Middle East, Africa, and Asia. He studied for a time at a university in Saudi Arabia, but left the country due to some friction that he experienced with officials there. In his travels, he established several important contacts, most importantly in Pakistan, where he became the house guest of none other than Maulana Mawdudi. He “conveyed to Maulana Mawdudi the plight of the African American in this country, at that time which was devoid of any kind of true Islamic guidance,” said Abdul Haqq, bringing forth this little-known fact. These experiences broadened Muzaffaruddin’s perspective and gave him insight as to how he would accomplish his goals back home in America.
Abdul Haqq highlighted the uniqueness and importance of Imam Muzaffaruddin’s experiences of by explaining, “You didn’t hear anything about Islam back then. When you got to world history, the only thing you saw was a funny-looking map with a dark section and the word ‘Muhammedanism’… We only knew somewhat about the Nation of Islam, which was just coming to the knowledge of people.”
Upon his return to the United States, Muzaffaruddin took a job at the gift shop of the Islamic Center on Massachusetts Avenue. To the disappointment of Muzaffaruddin, the Islamic Center did not have any active da’wah program at that time. At this point, a dialogue developed between Muzaffaruddin and a few other brothers who shared similar concerns. In 1969, one of these brothers donated some property close to Howard University for use as a masjid. Thus began Masjidul Ummah, the “Community Mosque”.
Always foremost in attempting to bring any known Muslims together, Imam Muzaffaruddin often traveled to various parts of the U.S. and established contacts with brothers in Akron, OH, Pittsburgh, PA, New York, Atlanta, GA, and Chicago, IL. A document entitled the “Declaration of the Federation of Muslim Communities” was issued, which would create increased cooperation and coordination and provide foundational principles for Muslims in these various parts of the U.S.
In December 1971, around the time that Abdul Haqq embraced Islam and became a regular attendee at the Community Mosque, the concept of the Islamic Party was developed. Imam Muzaffaruddin sent out an invitation to the Muslims he knew from these various cities to come to DC with the purpose of forming a national movement. In late December 1971, these plans materialized. A bi-monthly paper, “Al-Islam,” started to be distributed shortly thereafter.
“[Muzaffaruddin] mentioned later that his purpose had always been to establish a national organization with international interactions with Muslims. His never intended to establish just a mosque on the corner,” explained Abdul Haqq.
In its beginnings, the Islamic Party experienced slow and steady growth. Abdul Haqq took up residence in the “single brothers’ barracks,” a space allotted in the masjid for single brothers who would dedicate their time and energy in furthering the activities of the Community Mosque. In 1973, the Nation Development Bank was started in order to finance and further the growth of the movement in various aspects, including the purchase of nearby houses which would be used to shelter newly married Muslim families. Around this time, Abdul-Haqq met his wife, Naimah, who was also involved with the Islamic Party, and they were married.
In late 1973, Abdul Haqq was blessed by Allah with the opportunity to make Hajj with a few other brothers from the Party. Up until this time, he had never been out of the country. While visiting the most sacred sites of Islam, they met with Muhammad Qutb, the brother of Sayyid Qutb. The brothers visited a major publisher in Lebanon (where they also visited Palestinian refugee camps), and brought back the first English-translated copy of the famed work “Milestones” to the U.S., which they went on to publish it in its full version.
Returning to DC, the brothers found a bustling Community Mosque, which had experienced some rapid growth during their absence. An ever-increasing number of young people were responding to the Islamic Party’s message and becoming involved in Islamic movement. Due to its close proximity to Howard University campus and its dormitories, several students had gained their first exposure to Islam via the Community Mosque, and many embraced the Deen.
A bigger building on Park Road NW was purchased to accommodate this growth. What was to be called the Community Mosque Complex housed a large musalla, a room that was used as an auditorium for special events and speeches, offices, and the Community Mosque Academy, a full-time Islamic school. The movement became more organized, with a required reading list for members, which provided newcomers with an overall picture of Islam in all its aspects, rigorous Qur’anic studies classes, and even uniforms for workers. A regimen of “study and implement” was practiced. The Islamic Party was starting to develop quite a visible presence in DC, giving off an aura of unity, discipline, and purpose. The impact on the people in the community was demonstrated by their growing interest in Islam.
Several businesses were established by Islamic Party members, including a bookstore, a tea & reading lounge, a 24-hour restaurant, a bakery inside the masjid, and a cab business, all of which provided a solid source of revenue to foster the growth of the Islamic movement. This growth was not limited to DC, but was actually a national phenomenon, with branches being established in new cities previously untouched. The Islamic Party was experiencing a period of rapid growth. Issues of the official journal were being distributed nationally, and were mailed even to readers overseas, including Germany.
Concerning the political stances taken by the Islamic Party, Abdul Haqq stated with remarkable zeal, “The Islamic Party was never a static organization, sitting idly on a stump, watching the world go by... This was never what the Islamic Party was about. Quite the contrary, the Islamic Party had always been a dynamic organization—deliberately provocative, jabbing at everything that came by, testing it with the Qur’an and the Sunnah. Whether it was the governments, like the United States government, we challenged their right to govern; whether it was the Muslim governments overseas, who were presenting Islam in some watered-down version that allowed them to oppress their people and to squander resources which were supposed to be for the Muslims; whether it was the organizations over here, who were misleading the people into complacency by their cooperation with the powers that be… The Islamic Party was always looking for ways to agitate, to question the powers that be.”
Deflecting criticisms made against the work of As-Sabiqun, which is headquartered at Masjid Al-Islam, Abdul Haqq mentioned, “I’ve heard words used to try to denigrate and discredit… the efforts of some of our brothers struggling in the inner-cities, words like ‘Aw, man, that’s ghetto.’ The Islamic Party stated very clearly that it’s all about ‘ghetto’. It’s all about trying to reach the people who are most in need of this message... Is this an attempt to create classes among Muslims? There are no classes among Muslims. We all have to stand before Allah on the Day of Judgment, by ourselves.” Having been a member of As-Sabiqun for several years, he commented, “I believe that one of the primary movements in the forefront of the Islamic struggle today is right here, under the leadership of Imam Musa.”
In 1976, a decision was made to shift the headquarters of the Islamic Party from DC to Atlanta, GA, due to a preoccupation with local affairs in DC that had caused the movement to lose sight of its national aspirations. Some houses and an apartment complex were purchased. Not long after, at an MSA conference, Party members encountered a group of brothers from the Caribbean, at which point the possibility of shifting some activities to the Caribbean arose. Despite the presence of Indian Muslims on many of the Caribbean islands (who had been transplanted to this part of the world as indentured servants under the British), da’wah work was minimal or non-existent, therefore the reality was that people of African descent in these countries had limited or no exposure to Islam. Party members met with a few organized Muslims in the Caribbean and presented the Islamic Party’s program of da’wah, intense training, and concentrated efforts to present Islam to the people of the Caribbean. Shortly thereafter, the Islamic Party in the Caribbean was established. To signify this growth, the Islamic Party changed its name to Islamic Peoples Movement.
In 1978, Guyana was visited with the possibility of establishing projects there. Describing the situation in Guyana, Abdul Haqq explained that just like in the islands, “The message of Islam had never been delivered to any of the people in the African community, and these are the people who were showing interest in it. When we went down and began the program, we received very a good response. They were very receptive to the message that we had, and as a result, Islam began to grow very fast in the areas where we were working,” including, at this point, Barbados, St. Croix, Guyana, Trinidad, and Tobago. A large piece of land was also purchased in Dominica, which had gained its independence from Britain in 1978.
In 1980, Eugenia Charles was elected as Prime Minister of Dominica. At a time in the world where the two big superpowers on the world stage were the U.S. and Russia, with the remainder of the world falling under the sway of either one or the other, Charles sided with the U.S. As Abdul Haqq worded it, Party members “left the U.S. only to be confronted with the same people” in another part of the world. With events unfolding as they were in Iran, a former U.S. ally, the progress of the Party members was starting to be attacked by local propaganda in Dominica (this was perceived to be a coordinated effort). Soon after taking office, Charles expelled the group’s members from the country. Some moved back to the U.S., others to St. Croix, but by 1984, most returned to the U.S.
Back in the U.S., land was purchased in the town of Tate, Georgia. Muzaffaruddin became sick with leukemia and underwent some chemotherapy. In 1990, Abdul Haqq and Muzaffaruddin visited Honduras and established a clothing factory, and it was here that on September 15, 1991, Muzaffaruddin succumbed to his illness.
In speaking to other audience members, if there was perhaps one thing that stood out more from this event than the presentation, it was the speaker’s spirited dedication to the Islamic movement, despite the passage of years. Abdul Haqq described it best: “The Islamic Party was like a bus. It’s a lot more difficult to build a bus from scratch than it is to catch a bus. You can stand at a bus stop with your ticket, and catch a bus—you ride the bus for as long as you like, and you get off that bus at whatever stop you want to get off at, and the bus keeps going. The Islamic Party was built from scratch, by the grace and mercy of Allah. Many caught that bus. Many got on the bus at one stop, got off at another stop.” He continued, “The road that that bus was on is the struggle, the struggle between right and wrong, and the ultimate struggle is the Islamic struggle... Islam represents the ultimate movement, the one headed by the Prophets, especially Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). You don’t go beyond this. You can’t go backwards, back into trying to use some of these tactics that have long since been proven ineffective in bringing about change in society. No, there is only one way to go… the Islamic movement will continue.”
The writer is an active member of the Masjid Al-Islam community. CD recordings of this event are available at Masjid Al-Islam. Call 202-581-2800 for more information.