A Tribute to Shaikh Daoud Fasial – pt 1
I cannot in good conscience proceed without asking forgiveness from the soul of the great Shaikh (ra), who acted as my spiritual mentor, father and faithful friend for many years. I also beg forgiveness from the many people I have promised over these many long years to present to the general public a tribute to the late great, now legendary Shaikh Al Hajj Daoud Ahmad Faisal (ra). On this note I ask all who read these pages to recite Surah Al Fatiha for this wonderful man who gave so much and asked so little in return.
We will attempt to present as well-rounded a picture as possible via the aid of photographs and anecdotes, – and of these I will use sparingly in hopes that a larger more complete history of The Shaikh and The Islamic Mission of America may occur in the very near future. I do hope that this introduction will clarify some misconceptions many may have held about the “reality’ of this legendary figure and also dispel many myths that have built up around him in the past.
How to approach writing about such an important and charismatic person as Shaikh Daoud (ra) is an awesome task but I will begin by quoting one of the oldest and well respected of his friends from the early days, Ghalib Muhammad, a former Merchant Seaman and restaurateur from Yemen now deceased. According to Ghalib:
“Shaikh Daoud was like a small match that was lit in a very dark room.”
The dark room that Ghalib referred to is America, which was and still is enveloped in a spiritual darkness (ignorance) as concerns Islam, The Quran and the role of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh).
Shaikh Daoud was born in the year 1891 on the Island of Grenada, which is located at the southern end of The Grenadines in the South East Caribbean Sea. At that time and until the year 1974 Granada served initially as a colony and then an affiliate of the British Empire. France had occupied Grenada earlier, and as a result French and English were both spoken side by side on the Island.
Shaikh Daoud had been educated in English and French schools and had excelled in the literature and arts of both cultures but particularly in music. He had studied piano and voice but attained a high proficiency on the violin, which would later earn him a music scholarship in New York City.
I might add that my living experience with the Shaikh at The Mission on State St. left me with the distinct impression that the Shaikh was also gifted with perfect pitch. This will be an important find for those readers who are familiar with the theory and practice of music. In addition to his early exposure to European Classical music and Caribbean Folklore he was also apprenticed at an early age to a professional tailor in the seaport city of Georgetown where he learned the trades of both tailor and costumer. I have written several anecdotal accounts of this period as an apprentice that will be found in the larger version of this tribute. The Shaikh was reared in the old school tradition of having to learn multiple trades in addition to whatever professions he may have embarked upon – to balance one against the other.
By earliest accounts from the Shaikh and some of his intimate friends he arrived in America as a young music student at around the time of the First World War –this time period has an immediate relevance to what was soon to become the Harlem Renaissance in New York City (1920’s -1930’s) where a cultural and spiritual revolution was taking place within the confines of one of the worlds largest Black enclaves. A revolution that would ignite the creative imagination of some of the world’s great ‘third world’ thinkers and artists the world had ever witnessed. New York City with its sprawling Harlem became a huge ‘Colored’ Think Tank that would spawn schools of revolutionary activity in all fields of the arts and the social sciences that have endured to this day. (Please refer to: Wikipedia Encyclopedia/Harlem Renaissance)
Shaikh Daoud could be found plying his trades among such contemporaries such as Noble Drew Ali and Fard Muhammad as well as among his West Indian counterpart Marcus Garvey. Although deeply entrenched in The Harlem Renaissance he cannot be thought of solely as a ‘race man’ – Shaikh Daoud was by no means limited to any one sphere of social or racial activity. He was a true international man – universal might be a better word to describe him. Similar in many ways to his French and Patois speaking counterpart from Martinique, psychiatrist and humanist Frantz Fanon, Shaikh Daoud was on a mission to help heal an ailing humanity.
Where Fanon used Psychoanalysis and Political Activism in an attempt to restore equilibrium, Shaikh Daoud used these as well but sparingly, in combination with the wisdom of The Qur’an and the model of the perfect man inherent in the example of The Prophet Muhammad (pbuh).
During the decades that followed, from the late 1920’s to the time of his death in 1980 found him championing the causes of social justice amongst the most diverse communities imaginable- in the smoldering melting pot of New York City.
Prior to establishing The Islamic Mission of America at his home on 143 State St. in Brooklyn Shaikh Daoud was one of the founding fathers of The International Muslim Society which made its home on the upper floors of the building that occupied 303 125th St. just two blocks West of the Apollo Theatre.
The International Muslim Society or ‘303’ as it was often referred to was the meeting place of the most diverse group of Muslims I have ever encountered in my life. Africans from every conceivable area of the continent could be found praying and studying there alongside Chinese Muslims, Malays, and West Indians from many different Islands in the Caribbean.
African Americans were often in the minority and on occasion you would also find Indian Muslims (this is before partition and the creation of Pakistan) from the length and breadth of India and on special occasions a few Arabs (Syrians as they were then called prior to World War Two) which would have hailed from a number of different countries in the Middle East.
Once The Islamic Mission of America was born in Brooklyn during the late 1930’s members of the large culturally diverse Arab community were drawn to the Mission as well as the tiny Tatar and Albanian communities that grew in The Lower east Side of Manhattan and in the outer reaches of Brooklyn.
The Islamic Mission of America was legally registered as a Religious Organization, a place of Worship and as an Educational Institution according to the Religious Incorporation laws of The State Of New York, Borough of Brooklyn in 1944 – so reads the official raised stamp that you will find on most of the documents in this paper. Hopefully a trip to City Hall in Brooklyn in the near future will clarify many official details concerning the Missions legal incorporation.
The Shaikh had the legal authority to perform all religious duties accorded all legally registered ‘places of worship’ in The State of New York, and as such issued Muslim Birth Certificates [see images below], which were also issued when a person took his/her Shahada (acceptance of Islam), Muslim Certificates of Reclamation of Islamic Culture and Religion, Death Certificates, Muslim Identity Cards, – all of these would witnessed, signed and stamped by a Notary Public thus becoming a legal document that could be used in a court of law.
Shaikh Daoud was a man way ahead of his time anticipating at every turn the problems that Muslims from every conceivable ethnic back ground would encounter from day to day in America.
Shaikh Daoud was a keen analyst and a brilliant counselor. In my particular case he earnestly pointed out that the Muslim must be free to practice his religion with the least amount of social and psychological pressure and that the first undertaking after having mastered the ritual of prayer was to embark upon the ‘Jihad al Akbar’ – the eradication of ones personal complexes and ‘hang-ups.’ He maintained that a man or woman could not function properly as a Muslim while entertaining a