Exclusive Interview with Sister Karima Al Amin

 
Interview with Sr. Karima Al-Amin, wife of Imam Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin
July 6, 2003
Philadelphia, PA

Q:
What's been written about him? His private life?
A:
The Imam wrote "Die Nigger Die," an autobiography and I helped to edit it and type the manuscript in 1969. I call him Imam, and that's just what I have always called him after we came into Islam. Not much has been written about his private life, his family, because it was his way of protecting his family; at that time, we were experiencing a lot of upheaval so our private life had to be peaceful, stable. It was common for him not to share that part of his life with the public. He really did keep it private.

Q:
Take us back to that time, what was the private life like?
A:
Well, I will begin with our marriage. Of course, this is before Islam, so we actually had a civil marriage ceremony on May 3, 1968 in Mamaroneck, NY, at the house of William Kuntsler, the Imam's attorney. The ceremony was not religious in nature, and we had a few family members and two of the Imam's attorneys from Atlanta, Georgia and Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Again, as I mentioned before, the Imam emphasized privacy, and so this was a rather private, intimate ceremony. I do want to offer a little more on the background to his being persecuted for the past thirty-six years. Pre-Islam, we spent time with major entertainers, people like Muhammad Ali, Dick Gregory and others. Entertainers, such as the late Nina Simon and Curtis Mayfield, were always inviting the Imam to performances. He energized them, and I believe he inspired them in their performances through the messages that he shared with them about the sociopolitical climate of the time. Even professional athletes used to call on him to stand by their side if they faced challenges with negotiating their contracts. I remember one day, when he came back from one of those negotiation meetings, and I inquired about how it went, he calmly replied, "They signed the contract."

Q:
Describe his presence, if you will
A:
Early on people realized his significance. They knew that if they ever had a need, they could call the Imam and he would come to their rescue. A neighbor remarked one day that she had seen the Imam holding a child and was quite surprised. I asked her why she was surprised and she replied that she had never imagined the Imam was gentle. You see, the media portrayed him early on in his life as someone to be feared. On the contrary, he is very compassionate, and has a gentle presence. He was and has always been a gentle person.

Q:
Would you kindly tell us about his SNCC days?
A:
SNCC, or the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee was originally based in Atlanta, Georgia. In 1967, SNCC also had an office on 5th Ave in New York. In those days, SNCC was basically the political part of the larger movement. In 1966, The Imam was a field director for SNCC in Alabama, and those were tough days. SNCC workers worked with very little resources, but with the support of the local residents. The Imam became the chairperson of SNCC when he was only 23 years old. He was never paid as the chairperson, and he traveled, and gave speeches without any compensation. He was not in it for any personal gain.

Q:
Tell us a little about the Imam's outlook in those days?
A:
He was and still is a person who tries to unite humanity. Back then, with all these divisions taking place, the Imam was very involved in trying to get all groups to work on common issues despite disagreements they had. He wanted to keep people together as much as possible, but he did not back down from change when it was necessary. For example, there came a time the workers and leadership of SNCC decided that the time had come to move from being a college-based organization to being a more national student movement. I am not sure of all the reasons they gave at the time. I do know that, under the Imam's tutelage, the name was changed to Student National Coordinating Committee. The government harped on that name change and the media basically portrayed the organization as not being "non-violent" anymore. This portrayal began to affect the degree of financial support.

Q:
What can you tell us about his involvement with the Black Panthers?
A: The Imam's involvement with the Black Panther Party stemmed from a formal title of Minister of Justice given to him by the Party. Two other SNCC members, Kwame Toure and James Foreman, also received titles of leadership. This act may have been seen as an attempt to merge the two organizations, however it did not occur. The Imam did manage to have a working relationship with members of the Party, and in many cases that relationship can be seen currently by the support he has received from former Black Panther Party members and leaders. The Imam, however, did shy away from nationalistic organizations and those espousing the party spirit. Even now, he is very much against those ideas, but he always stood ready to work with others whenever feasible.

Q:
Can you comment on the COINTELPRO Program?
A:
Perhaps, one of the greatest challenges facing our work were the attempts by the government under its COINTELPRO program to disrupt and destroy the work certain individuals and organizations. They would literally create turmoil between organizations through agent provocateurs and paid informants. They were bent on destroying the organizations and the leadership of those organizations. The Imam was a target of COINTELPRO, as mentioned in J. Edgar Hoover's August 25, 1967 memo to FBI field offices. This program was dangerous and obviously very effective for the government. Many people were killed and jailed as a result.

Q:
What message do you have for students and others aspiring to be agents of change?
A:
First, they really need to read what the students went through and how they fought in the 50s and early 60s. They have to read to truly appreciate the energy and significance of the student movement on the total movement. The students must be much more active on campus. The MSA chapters need to deal with many political issues that are important to Muslims not only in the West, but also all over the world. In our time, we talked with great appreciation and respect for the sacrifices of people like Nelson Mandela and El Hajj Malik Shabazz (Malcolm X.) Today, there are a significant number of political prisoners that are incarcerated right here in the U.S. The students need to bring their cases to light. Imam Jamil for example, is a political prisoner. He is a public figure, and remains a critical part of the human rights struggle. They have something to latch on to, and they do not have to deal in abstracts when they study his life and the struggles for justice that he has been a part of. We urge the students to write letters to the Imam and to all the political prisoners. Write to the Imam, and tell him how much they appreciate his struggle. END OF INTERVIEW

NOTE:
This interview was conducted by Altaf Husain, former president of MSA National, in cooperation with Young Muslims (YM).  
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-The Book "The Case of Imam Jamil Abdullah al-Amin: Is It a Government Conspiracy?" by El-Hajj Mauri Saalakhan is now availalbe at our our online store at: http://www.ymsite.com/store/IJ00000001.html

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