Meet Ali R. Abdullah as he explains the importance of being an African American Muslim in the Pittsburgh area and what you should know about Pittsburgh’s role in Islamic history in the United States.
For a deeper look at what Ali discovered about his own family’s connection to religious history in the area, read the story by PublicSource faith and religion reporter Chris Hedlin: “Pittsburgh was once a haven for black Muslims.”
Jourdan: Hello everyone, welcome back. It is me, your host, Jourdan Hicks, community correspondent for PublicSource. Welcome back to another episode of From the Source. Now this week we have another interesting Pittsburgh man to meet and someone to learn from in order to expand your worldview of our region and the people who make our region come to life. Unlike previous episodes of From The Source, this episode is not a stand-alone piece. “Pittsburgh, a haven for black Muslims,” written by our religion reporter Chris Hedlin, focuses on the Braddock Abdullah family and their family’s deep connection with the spread and practice of Islam by black Americans in our region. On the audio side, you will meet Ali R. Abdullah, the source for Chris’ story, and a proud father, father, Muslim, African American man who wants to challenge the monolithic representation of black and Islamic practicing people in our area and how they are portrayed and why it was important to him to learn, teach, and record the history of his own family.
Related: Pittsburgh was once a black Muslim refuge. Here is the story of a family.
But: Unfortunately, we as a people really don’t connect with it in any tangible way. Some of us don’t get me wrong. Some of us do. Some people return to the point of no return. People do DNA tests. Some people are doing all sorts of things now, but in large part it’s not something we were looking for, and not only is it not something we were looking for, I think it’s something that actually many of us have run away from . You know what I mean? You know, because of the psychological brainwashing that has been done to us, you know, to tell us that certain things are bad and, you know, just all the mindset that we have.
Jourdan: It’s almost like going through this period of confrontation and unlearning to understand the deep disruption that racism and oppression had in many of our family lines, family lines, family histories, our culture, and our relationship with one another. how we move in the country, around the world. And it really takes a lot of steadfastness, commitment and bravery to delve deep into history and see on paper if you can find it, the life that your family members have led despite the circumstances that have led them were placed in.
Jourdan: Unfortunately for black Americans and many black people around the world, it is not that easy to open the family tree, connect the branches and go backwards line by line, and then at the same time live in a time when there are likely to be more positive affirmations about black life and black families in the media, but at the same time there is a social justice movement that claims the value of black life so it’s like these dueling dispositions. Just like what the world is telling you and who you believe you are while trying to find the truth about your family.
But: So that one-two punch, you know, I mean, from all the points of view you could fathom to basically denigrate us by leaning on at the same time. Law? So that’s psychologically like a double punch. Everything connected with you is bad and everything connected with us is good, and this country is the best. There has never been another civilization that has ever been better than here. As if that’s basically what was brought out. Law? And so and a lot of people like, you know, I think I mentioned it to Chris, unconscious infiltration. You only eat what is projected onto you, don’t you? You’re just like that, OK, yeah, I make sense. I am you know I roll with it. And especially when you have nothing to compare.
Jourdan: Law. Law. What is it about your family history, legacy, that makes it important, valuable, and worthwhile, other than the fact that it is yours to be shared?
But: I mean, it’s a completely different thing from me. I mean, it’s obviously because I’m connected to it, but when I’ve moved away from it it’s something I think I think the only reason is that it’s very unique. The entire population in the United States, when we talk about history, is in my opinion a key piece of history that is left out in the context of American society like Islam in general. A basic example is that Morocco was the first country to recognize the independence of the United States. It was as if a Muslim country was the first to recognize America’s independence. If we just look at it from a historical perspective, just look at Islam and then I think we’re dealing with some of the things that we have just talked about with African Americans in our history and with people trying to trace back or understand their ancestry Who They Are Basically in all of these aspects of their culture – religion, social status, types of jobs – types of education. I think it all has to do with it. I describe myself as the typical African American in many ways. But then this situation is atypical in many ways, right, because for an African American family, Islam is something that they chose with the mainstream religion of the time and that they have continued in recent years. Me and some of my friends had discussed it. And it’s like moving on. I will say that our generations of Islam, even here in Pittsburgh, are probably over 100 years old based on my research just because we are among African Americans. This is something that a lot of people don’t know or don’t even notice.
Jourdan: And if you could give me a brief feel, what is the story of the black Islamists, the Muslims in Pittsburgh?
But: It really started with Indians from India who were here basically preaching the Ahmadiyya faith. For many African Americans, this was one of their first inclinations towards Islam. And they became Ahmadiyya Muslims, and then when they found out about Sunni Islam, they basically became Sunni Muslims. But also that you have the nation of Islam. Law. What is not, it is basically a pseudo-Islamic movement that was created here in the United States. Law. You know, that wouldn’t be considered Orthodox Islam, but it needed a name and maybe certain basic attributes. And there are many lines that run through these various movements that I am talking about right now. Marcus Garvey’s UNIA Movement, Universal Negro Improvement Association. Well, my grandfather, he was actually a member once. So if you go to college it was more of a black nationalist movement. Most of the people who were Sunnis and Ahmadiyya by default were African American because they talked about some other things for a while as if immigration was restricted to certain groups and then open to other groups. Hence, the majority of immigrants at the beginning of the century were very open to Europeans. Law? While other groups were checks and balances. You may have some of these groups, but you may not have had tributaries or ships from Indians, or ships from Arabs, or ships from Africans, with the exception of the transatlantic slave movement.
Jourdan: How does this affect your story today? All you know, the process of realization that you have gone through from birth to this day, I only have one Arabic name: “I know we don’t eat pork, about the history and legacy of your family and the stamp in ours Region to really take into account when it comes to being prominent and proud black Muslims.
But: I think it informs who I am and it definitely inspires me through my childhood through to the age of 25. It was like an evolution. Law. But it was more about self-discovery. So it was more about understanding and finding out who I was, a person who really did not grow up in the Orthodox Islamic household and who prayed five times a day or held weekly services or celebrated various Islamic holidays like this did not want to happen. You know, I had an Arabic name, you know, an Islamic name, and I knew how to be poor. But that was obviously an extremely small part of it, like the lifestyle and beliefs and all that stuff. I mean, it informed me in so many different ways, like one, you know, it gave me meaning as a person. And you know, it put me in touch with my humanity. There was, it made sense to me. You made sense of my humanity culturally, you know, a lot of what my grandparents got on both sides was probably in what is nothing wrong with it. But it was nothing more than coming from your own perspective. The same goes for our schools when teaching children or not just by people who look and love them, but also by information. Your own perspectives – that is exactly what strengthens your training. So basically they got their Islam from an Indian or Pakistani perspective a lot of the time, which is fine. But it didn’t put you in touch or connect you to Africa. And as an African American, growing up it was one of our go-to places or a staple of my life, and probably for many blacks over the years, black music has been general and I specifically hip-hop. And so you threaded this message that you received this message about being black.
Jourdan: To learn more about Ali Abdullah’s story. Please, please, please, please, please read Chris Hedlin’s new piece: “Pittsburgh was once a haven for black Muslims. Here is the story of a family. “So easy to read and you will learn about the rich, deep, dynamic, diverse and comprehensive version of the role religion, people, place and movement play in the history of the Pittsburgh area. Many Thanks. Stay safe. Be all healthy. Until next time. Bye.
Jourdan: This podcast was produced by Jourdan Hicks and Andy Kubis and edited by Halle Stockton. If you have a story you would like to share please contact me. You can email me at JOURDAN at publicsource dot org. PublicSource is an independent not-for-profit newsroom based in Pittsburgh. You can find all of our reports and stories on PublicSource.org.