The news came as an enormous shock. I felt an immediate sadness, a feeling of tremendous loss. I was walking out of the hospital when I learned that Imam W.D. Muhammad had passed away; I will always remember where I was when that happened. Imam W.D. Muhammad was truly an American Muslim leader: embodying all that was good about both America and the Muslim community.
“In the passing of Imam W.D. Muhammad, our community has lost a wonderful brother, a courageous and inspired leader, and a truly humble servant of God,” said Abdul Malik Mujahid, president of the Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago. He will remembered for more than simply bringing the majority of the followers of the Nation of Islam into the flock of the mainstream Muslim community. He was a great leader, educator, bridge-builder, devout scholar, community builder, spiritual advisor, international goodwill ambassador, and great friend to so many across our country and around the world.
Ahmed Rehab, executive director of CAIR-Chicago, said of the late Imam: “He was America’s Imam; there is a lot for us to learn from his life and the way he carried himself.” I remember fondly listening to his lectures and benefiting from his immense wisdom and clairvoyance. The American Muslim community needed Imam W.D. Muhammad more than ever during these times, and his loss is nothing short of colossal. He will truly be missed, and I send my most heartfelt prayers and condolences to his family during this most difficult time. Although it pains me to know he is gone, I am comforted that he passed during the most blessed month of Ramadan, and I pray he is accepted into the highest of stations in Paradise.
With his passing, the American Muslim community needs to reflect over where it is in inter-communal relations. Although I hate to admit it, there still is a glaring divide between the immigrant and indigenous Muslim communities. Imam Muhammad worked his hardest to bridge this gap as much as possible, nevertheless, it still exists. I remember the embarrassing moment in Chicago a few years ago when both the annual conventions of both ISNA and the Muslim American Society, Imam W.D. Muhammad’s grassroots organization, were held at the exact same time, in the exact same city. Yes, each conference’s participants were allowed to go to the other’s convention, but they were still completely separate. We should be better than that; we are a better community than that.
In order to truly honor his memory, the American Muslim community must redouble its efforts to be one community and one people. Indeed, there are few communities with the diversity of the American Muslim community, yet still, it should never be that a $5 million dollar immigrant masjid gets built only twenty minutes from an inner city masjid that is crumbling from lack of resources, as occurs in many cities across our country. It is not an easy task, but it is one that must be accomplished. As Dr. Sherman Jackson wrote, “Muslim-Americans are vulnerable to the attacks of their detractors because they are not sufficiently bound to their fellow Americans by enough “cohesive sentiment” to place a proper burden of proof on their accusers...The way to that sentiment is through becoming a part of the American story.”
American Muslims are still not part of the American story, as Dr. Jackson correctly notes. Yet, there is no way we can become a part of that story without the indigenous Muslim community with us, hand-in-hand. Let the passing of Imam W.D. Muhammad - God rest his soul - forever be motivation to bring about the goal of bringing our community together. Good night, Sweet Prince; truly, you will be forever missed.