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Theology Thursdays: Imam Mustafa El-Amin Seeks To Follow Imam Warith Deen Mohammed As Leader Of American Society of Muslims by Mark Mueller

The imam of a small New Jersey mosque has launched a campaign to revive the nation's most prominent African-American Muslim group, which has all but dissolved since the surprise resignation of its charismatic leader earlier this year.

Mustafa El-Amin, 46, a high school history teacher and the spiritual leader of the Ibrahim mosque in Newark, said the collapse of the Society of American Muslims has silenced a leading advocate for the nation's estimated 3 million African-American Muslims.

"It made major contributions to the achievement of Muslims in America," El-Amin said. "It gave them a voice. We need to get that voice back."

A Rutgers University graduate and the author of nine books on Islam, El-Amin announced his intention to reconstitute the group -- and by extension seek its leadership -- in a paid advertisement in the Muslim Journal. He said he will make a formal announcement in Newark Dec. 21, then tour the country to meet with influential imams.

The Chicago-based group has been in disarray since August, when its founder and leader, W. Deen Mohammed, abruptly quit. He later said too many imams did not support his vision of integrating African-American Muslims into the broader Islamic community.

Mohammed, 70, is widely considered one of the most important figures in American Islam. The son of Elijah Mohammed, the founder of the Nation of Islam, W. Deen Mohammed rejected his father's militant views, transforming the Nation of Islam into the Society of American Muslims after Elijah Mohammed's death in 1975. Louis Farrakhan later resurrected the Nation of Islam.

The younger Mohammed has steadfastly advocated integrating black Muslim practices and beliefs into more traditional Sunni Muslim beliefs.

In the wake of his resignation, scores of imams -- representing hundreds of thousands of worshipers across the country -- pulled out of the society and its operating committees, effectively gutting the organization.

El-Amin was among those who quit, but he said that during a recent visit to Newark, Mohammed told him he did not intend for his resignation to spark the society's collapse. Mohammed, El-Amin said, spoke of the need for a strong new leader to reunite the imams.

El-Amin said Mohammed gave him his blessing to be that leader, though Mohammed has not done so publicly. Moreover, a national spokesman for Mohammed denied yesterday that his boss had anointed El-Amin to succeed him.

While calling El-Amin a noted author and respected member of the Islamic community, the spokesman, E. Abdulmalik Mohammed, said W. Deen Mohammed recently identified imams from Los Angeles, Atlanta and Washington, D.C., as possible replacements. El-Amin's name was not among them.

El-Amin, a Newark native who opened his mosque on Chancellor Avenue in February of this year, has worked on the society's Islamic Affairs Council, a high-level body that reported directly to Mohammed. That experience, in addition to his many books, has given him fairly wide exposure in the black Muslim community.

Since he placed his ad in the Muslim Journal, El-Amin said, he has received phone calls of support from imams across the country. But observers say he faces a difficult task.

Some imams who resigned have gone on to form their own coalitions. Others might not be persuaded to return without a compelling figure like Mohammed to lead them.

"We wish Imam El-Amin well, but right now I can't put the spin on it that the American Society of Muslims will be revived to its old state," said Ayesha Mustafa, a member of the group and the editor of the Muslim Journal. "It also remains to be seen if he could generate support to remain at the helm even if he reorganizes it."

This article first appeared in The Star Ledger

Copyright 2003 All Rights Reserved.

Thursday, December 4, 2003

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