New Islamic Directions

By Imam Zaid Shakir

Remembering Imam Luqman Abdullah

Posted in notes by Imam Zaid Shakir on 2009-11-11

Note: This essay was started before the tragic shootings at Fort Hood, TX.  I have much to say on that issue, but I felt I should finish this essay first. The poor people, including poor Muslims, are oftentimes denied a voice. The meaning of their lives and their legacy is then left in the hands of an oftentimes unsympathetic media to define, shape and mold. Hopefully, these words will help to provide a little insight into who Imam Luqman was and the context that shaped him.

On Wednesday, October 28, 2009, Imam Luqman Abdullah, a humble servant of America’s underclass, was killed by a fusillade of bullets fired by government agents, some of whom had played an integral role in helping to stage the crimes he was accused of committing. His story, like that of all humans is a complicated one. Unfortunately, most people in this country will never learn of Imam Luqman Abdullah, the complicated man. The complexity of his life will be drowned out by the simplistic images of the homegrown Muslim extremist –a caricature.

The nuances of his story, his dedication to family, friends, and community; and his struggle to live a dignified life despite the crushing weight of poverty, will all be lost. With their loss, America loses yet another opportunity to attain a small part of the understanding so vital to move this country towards the sort of policies it needs to pursue, both domestically and internationally, if it is to avoid the consuming trap of imperial hubris and the inevitable ravages her twin sister, who is never too far behind her -Nemesis.

Imam Luqman was no fan of the American government. It is difficult to find many people living and working in one of the poorest neighborhoods in Detroit, one of the poorest cities in this country, who are fans of the government –regardless of their religion. Too much of the country’s sordid underbelly is exposed in such communities to engender much affection for its government. Too many souls are lost to the liquor that flows too freely. Too many lives are fractured by crack and other debilitating drugs. Too many dreams are deferred by the crushing combination of poor schools, dysfunctional families, and inadequate opportunities and services –in housing, employment, and healthcare. And far, far too many people are gunned down by the bullets flying too freely from guns that are too easily available. In most instances the trigger is pulled by the brown or black hand of a lost soul hailing from the same neighborhood as the victim, but in far too many instances it is pulled by an agent of the state.

Imam Luqman knew that violence well, on both ends. He was shot and nearly killed by a robber who assailed his vehicle during the time he was a struggling cab driver, and his life finally came to an end at the hands of government agents who had lured him to the warehouse where he was gunned down after allegedly shooting a dog that had been unleashed against him.

However, despite the poverty, the pressure, and the pain existing in communities such as his, there are heartwarming stories of human dignity and decency. Imam Luqman Abdullah was the author of many of those stories. He wrote those stories with his service to the community, the people he assisted, day in and day out, such as providing rides to people lacking vehicles, arranging for a heater to be repaired before the onslaught of a brutal Detroit winter, and in countless other ways. He also wrote them in his commitment to his family. The Imam has thirteen children. Not all of them are his biological children, but all of them affectionately call him Abu, or Papa, because of the sincere advice and guidance he had provided them over the years. He loved his community and his family, and he also loved his religion.

Imam Luqman loved Islam. The depth of that love can never be appreciated by one who has never experienced the intensity of conversion. Many will point to that intensity as one of the factors feeding what is viewed as a brooding radicalism among African American Muslims. However, for every African American Muslim who has, in an unprovoked manner, done something to harm the interests of this state, hundreds of thousands of lives have been removed from the ranks of the living dead and ushered into the ranks of the morally and spiritually quickened, and those revived lives have contributed immensely to the betterment of their communities and this country.

For the likes of Imam Luqman, Islam provides a vision for a new and better life. It has showed him, and legions of others, how to live. For many African Americans, this is something that the country herself still cannot do. Despite the tremendous progress made in some facets of race relations in this country, it is sad that the deep musing of Richard Wright, found at the end of his powerful classic, Black Boy, are as relevant today, for many, as they were when penned several decades ago:

Well, what had I got out of living in the city? What had I got out of living in the South? What had I got of living in America? I paced the floor, knowing that all I possessed were words and dim knowledge that my country had shown me no examples of how to live a human life. All my life I had been full of a hunger for a new way to live…

Through Islam, Luqman Abdullah and countless others have found a new way to live.
The political rhetoric sometimes employed by the Imam has led his detractors to argue that he is responsible for his own death. After all, they argue, falsely, he was an advocate for a violent Islamic revolution in this country. However, those close to the Imam present another picture. They say that ultimately his vision of Islam was far removed from any grandiose delusions of overthrowing the American government. His was a vision of creating a space where children could play and develop free from the influence of drugs, consumerism and the ever-present threat of violence, where young men could grow up without being stalked by the pernicious spectre of gangs and gang warfare, and where families could establish networks of mutual support and assistance. If his neighborhood in Detroit could have been cleaned up to the degree that such conditions prevailed, then that neighborhood would have become Islamic in his view.

One could debate the Imam’s political ideology, just as one could debate if the Imam would have ever been moved to a point where he would have become involved, unprovoked, in an act of violence against the state. However, if agents of the state had not infiltrated his mosque and set in motion the series of regrettable events that culminated in his death he would still be alive today. That is a fact beyond dispute.

It would have been inspiring if the agents who had come into his community brought access to the resources needed to make the healthy community he envisioned a reality. They would have found the strongest ally in Imam Luqman. Instead, they brought intrigue, violence and yet more social devastation. Unfortunately, this is something they had to do, as they were fighting a war on terror. Although Imam Luqman had not been implicated in any terrorist related charges or conspiracies, he would become an unsuspecting victim of that war. In that sense, he is not alone.

In a final, but telling twist to his story, his life came to an end because he allegedly fired the shots that would kill Freddy, the government dog that had been unleashed against him. As his own bullet-riddled body lay handcuffed in a pool of blood on that cold, hard Detroit warehouse floor, Freddy was evacuated by helicopter to a hospital for possible life-saving treatment. Folks familiar with communities like those Imam Luqman lived and worked in would not be surprised by that prioritization. As an old song goes, “…it’s an everyday thang, in the ghetto.

Imam Zaid Shakir


By eman on November 11, 2009 at 11:57am

Assalam aleikum, Jezakala Zhair for a beautiful article.So many times i find that muslim of african descent are left by themselves to solve there problems.Even though they are surrounded by other muslim communities who have the money and the ressources to help,but choose not too.

By Francesca on November 11, 2009 at 2:51pm

ASA. Thank you to Zaid Shakir for writing this and enlightening me to who Luqman Abdullah was. I wish his tragic end was a rarity, but it seems many Muslims are being falsely accused ... and those who lead, such as Imams, or speak the loudest and publish books, seem to be most targeted ... an unspoke & illegal censorship of sorts. I pray Allah guides us through these rough waters and make us steadfast to our deen, as that is the only way to be successful, in this life and the next. Allahu hafiz.

By Dustin Craun on November 11, 2009 at 3:13pm

Thank you Imam Zaid for your words, I myself am working on my own article about Imam Luqman and COINTELPRO, I will send it to you soon, Inshallah.

By Jamil on November 12, 2009 at 11:48am

AsSalaamu Alaikum, Beautiful insight which typifies all the writings of Imam Zaid. Thought provoking as well. hopefully leaves the reader with a sense of responsibility to lead, follow, or at least not block the way!

By Tim on November 12, 2009 at 1:54pm

Shakir, they should take you outside Ft. Bragg strip you naked and cut off each one of your balls and let you hang for everyone to see. Then everyone that passes by can take their turn beating your bare ass.

By Mansour Ansari on November 13, 2009 at 2:40pm

Sensitively written by Imam Zaid. His outlook is based on real life and I am sure that, as Allah Most High has said through the Prophet's saying, the intention in the heart of Imam Luqman will be the thing paid attention to on the Final Day.

By anonymous on November 13, 2009 at 11:07pm

I dont understand what happened to the Imam. Why was he lured to the warehouse? Why did they want to frame him and kill him? How could this happen? Please clarify this Imam Zaid.

By Mujaahidah Sayfullah on November 20, 2009 at 7:19am

As salaamu alaikum wa rahmatullahi wa barakartuhu, I did not personally know Imam Luqman, but through your words and detailed essay I was able to feel his passion and may Allah grant him Jannatul firdous insha Allah. I deeply feel indifferent when a Dog has more precedence than a man, when a dog is honored and a man is slaughter and slandered because of this dog, that dog did not contribute to a better community or help the poor subhanallah! May Allah protect us all from this type of harm! Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts Imam Zaid Al hamdullilah Fi aman Allah Mujaahidah-

By Dawolu Jabari Anderson on November 27, 2009 at 4:08pm

"...All my life I had been full of a hunger for a new way to live

By Ahmed Kamel on December 30, 2009 at 12:59pm

Assalamu Alaikum I met Imam Luqman on several occasions, a towering yet unimposing, calm reflective figure. All I know of him is that gave a eulogy at the burial of a Muslim, accepted meat during eid for the soup kitchen at his masjid, and giving receipts for zaka(t) he collected for the single mothers in his community. Of all the ways he could have died, I would never have imagined it being through violence. To Allah we belong, and unto Him is our return. Congratulations Imam.

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By T.P. on October 29, 2010 at 4:16pm

Subhanallah. I would suggest that everyone google this man and the intelligence collected against him. Why did they send the dog on him in the first place? Because he refused to comply with law enforcement and come out. Imam Zaid: isn't it you who preaches we are under an aqd in this country and we should be true to the aqd? Why couldnt Luqman Abdullah simply comply with orders if he was innocent? Why don't you mention why the police were coming there in the first place? I have to be honest here: Imam Zaid you are omitting a lot of things here, and if this were a crazy white man preaching government overthrow we would all say "oh well he's a crazy white guy, glad they took care of that." If you preach government overthrow and all that nonsense, why not emigrate overseas? I'm shocked and dismayed at this article.

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