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 variety of mental complexes. It was then in 1966 at the age of thirty two and with a seventh grade education behind me that I embarked upon the conscious eradication of my own ‘hang-ups’, a pursuit which has continued to this day thanks to the strong encouragement of this wonderfully gifted spiritual counselor.
Within weeks of his counsel I registered in a GED program and have continued to develop both in and out of Academia until this day. The phrase I often use: “Attempting to Make sense out of Nonsense’ although borrowed from an old friend, Dr. Jerome Long Professor of Religion, during my undergraduate studies at Wesleyan University – is the code name for my personal Jihad Al Akbar.
The Shaikh could often be heard saying: ‘Beards, costumes, exotic names and affectations were insufficient to the task at hand.’ He would remind us that being a Muslim had nothing to do with the Hollywood depiction of Muslims, As Hollywood was responsible for creating negative caricatures of the Black Community it had also contributed to the creation of negative caricatures vis-à-vis Islam and Muslims.
I cannot begin to convey to the reader how devastatingly honest he was at all times – like a true parent he demanded the very best from his students and his audience.
Shaikh Daouds presence on the world stage was antecedent to Frantz Fanon’s arrival but both came with experiential knowledge of the devastating effects that Colonialism had on the African both in the Diaspora but also in his native land. They both shared first hand experience in dealing with the psychological damage that cultural and spiritual dispossession leaves in its wake. Both tended to the sicknesses of the mind and the soul that pervaded within the so-called First World (Europe and America) & The Third World (Africa, Asia, Middle East) with its Muslim component still reeling under foreign domination in the wake of WWII and staggering to its feet from a deep amnesiacs slumber.
It would be prudent to remember that the Third World also had its European components as well – and many of them found their way to both Fanon and Shaikh Daoud. You could in many ways liken The Islamic Mission of America to a Sanitarium –‘where one would come to regain his sanity and equilibrium.’
Another amazing fact that will come as a surprise to many is the fact that Shaikh Daoud was a Muqadim (representative) of the Algerian Sufi Shaikh Ahmad al-Alawi. See image below left.
This came about as a result of the steady arrival in the Port of Brooklyn of Merchant Seamen – many from North Africa, Yemen, Sudan and Somalia who had recently been under the spiritual influence and tutelage of Shaikh Ahmad Al Alawi in the Mediterranean Port of Mostaganem (please see: A Sufi Saint of The Twentieth Century /Martin Lings, George Allen and Unwin, UK, 1961.)
Oddly enough many of the docks in the port of New York in Brooklyn can be found at the feet of both Atlantic Avenue and State Street. Atlantic Avenue was the hub of Arab and Middle Eastern culture. And running parallel to Atlantic Avenue is State St. with its imposing Brownstones and cobbled stone streets, the pride of Brooklyn Heights. 143 State was the residence of Shaikh Daoud, out of which The Shaikh and his wife Khadijah had operated a School of Elocution prior to the buildings eventual conversion to The Islamic Mission of America. According to descriptions given by The Shaikh and his wife the school was in many ways a turn of the century styled finishing school – whose clientele were the children of the wealthy residents of Brooklyn Heights. The Shaikh was a true Renaissance man.
As Fanon was and still is misunderstood by many Africans on the continent so was Shaikh Daoud during his tenure as a spiritual counselor to: – To quote The Honorable Elijah Muhammad: ‘The lost-found … wandering in the wilderness of North America.’
One of the most pernicious of all of the effects of colonialism lies in Denial. Shaikh Daoud was quick to spell out the dangerous effects of wrongly identifying ones self – taking into consideration that most within the Diaspora were the final product of a protracted and carefully calculated spiritual and psychological holocaust – methodically carried out to render a once proud and independent people into automatons, who had no historical identity and no memory beyond their recent servitude and an emancipation of mythic proportions.
The fact remains that there was a sizeable percentage of Muslims who were brought to the ‘New World’ as captives from Africa, some of them may have been slaves before their arrival but history reveals that many (if not most) of them became slaves after their arrival in North and South America. These Muslims should be of great concern to Muslims everywhere, but interestingly enough they are not. One must ask the question Why?
As I mentioned earlier, It is to Shaikh Daoud’s credit that he attempted to remedy many of the ills that beset an ailing humanity: “A small flame lit in a very dark room.”
To be Continued…
(Please see; Frantz Fanon’s: Black Skin, White Masks, and The Wretched of The Earth. And Carter G. Woodson’s: The Mis-Education of The Negro)
(Please see my paper: ‘African Muslims in America, Free, Slave & Amnesiac’ –particularly the bibliography)
Muslim Legal Certificates
(click to enlarge)
AFTERTHOUGHTS AND ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
I am grateful for the constant reminders that I have been given by the former students of Shaikh Daoud and his wife Khadijah (ra) and members of The Community of The Islamic Mission of America 143 State Street, Brookln NY, many are now deceased but I laude them posthumously.
The late Bilal Abdurahman (Educator & Musician) and his widow Rakhia and their daughters who still reside in Brooklyn, NY. All of whom were students of Shaikh Daoud and Mother Khadijah and who are among the staunchest of Islamic Mission of America Supporters.
The late Jamil (Green) Karimudin former Secretary and Treasurer of The International Islamic Society,303 125th St. NYC and his widow Lois (Balquis) Green who left NYC in the 1960’s and made St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands their home.
Jafar Muhammad Abdellah, former Secretary and Treaurer of The Islamic Mission of America. A great friend and ally to many who poured through the doors.
The late Ahmed Abdul-Malik, Musician & Educator (Bassis & Oudist) and his family strong supporters of The Islamic Mission. Now deceased.
Rajab and Lailah Abdul-Wahab and their family, Among the supporters and reminders. Now living in Atlanta, Georgia.
Ayyub Abdullah (Musician & Educator) and his wife who recently came back into my life and filled me in on many details of the fate of the Mission after the demise of Shaikh Daoud. He was amongst the group (may Allah bless them all) that finally had a tombstone placed on Shaikh Daouds grave In 1989. An account of this event will follow in due time (Insha-Allah) They now live in Orangeburg, SC.
A special thanks go out to the spiritual contributions and the memories of the following people: Malay Sufi: Hajji Babarik, Hafiz of Quran: Maqbul Ilahi (Pakistan), Ibrahim Ghuled (Somalia), Luiij-Hassan Dhrepaulez (Ethiopia/Somalia), Sister Doriah (303), Hajj Muqtar (143 State St.) Hajj Yusef the Somali Coffee seller who was killed on 125th during a robery. Legal Expert: Hanifi (303 125th St.) Ghalib Mohammad and his wife Afifah, the many Sudanese and Yemeni merchant seamen who streamed through our lives and shared the Diwans of Shaikh Ahmed al Alawi, The Tatar Community, The Moorish Science Temple Community of Staten Island, Newark and Philadelpia, brother Hamdi Bey, brother Ameen Nuraldeen, The Malay/Polish contingent of 143 State St., – the list is endless…. To all of these generous heroes I owe a great debt.
Please forgive me if you do not see your name listed here – It is my intent to remedy that situation by mentioning as many people as I can in the near future. I hope and pray that I will be able to obtain a grant or financial aid from interested parties to travel to NewYork City to complete a more complete work on this subject. Time is running out and many of the survivors of the Community of The Islamic Mission of America and The International Muslim Society of 303 125th St have left us, may Allah bless them all.
For those readers who are interested in Shaikh Daoud and The Islamic Mission of America I suggest you consult my articles and short stories.
Forgive me for anything I may have said or alluded to that may have been offensive to anyone. I meant no harm.. I am solely responsible for the contents of this paper.