New Faith, Old Hurdles

To be both black and Muslim in America means dealing with prejudices on two fronts while embracing a spiritual journey.

By Mark I. Pinsky
Orlando Sentinel
October 22, 2003

One by one, at sundown, they trickle into the simple building in the downtown strip of small manufacturing plants, homeless shelters and vacant lots: a bus driver, a homemaker, a martial-arts instructor, a salesman.

After long days they have come to learn a new language, a skill that will ease their way along a new path. They need to be fluent to fit into the lives they have chosen. But they are not immigrants, and it is not English they study twice a week.

They are African-Americans, and they are studying Arabic at Masjid Al-Haq on West Central Boulevard in Orlando as part of their passage to the Muslim faith.

Learning Arabic is important for understanding the Quran, Islam's holy scripture, says Imam Hatim Hamidullah, 50, the mosque's spiritual leader. Those who make the effort are more likely to be respected by those born into the faith. The members of Masjid Al-Haq say they are looking forward to the monthlong fast called Ramadan, which begins Oct. 27. Like their coreligionists around the world, African-American Muslims such as Kevin Fuller and Aminah Hamidullah -- wife of the imam -- will refrain from food, drink, smoking, secular music and sexual activity during daylight hours.

Instead, they'll devote their days to prayer, introspection and charity. In the evening, they'll feast in their homes or in large groups with other Muslims. The end of Ramadan is marked by a large celebration called Eid al-Fitr.

Despite the restrictions of the month, Muslims such as Aminah Hamidullah, 46, a business manager for an Orlando public school, view the arrival of Ramadan like the arrival of a long-lost friend. "I cannot wait for Ramadan to get here," she says. "It reminds me I have a closer relationship with Allah."

Fuller and Hamidullah acknowledge that it can be a challenge to be both black and Muslim in America today. Asked which is more difficult, each pauses.

"It's a double whammy," says Fuller, 32, who spent seven years in the Army with an artillery battery, including separate tours in Operation Desert Storm in Iraq and, later, in Kuwait.

When he is walking in his neighborhood with his wife, who wears traditional Muslim dress, he says, he gets "that stare -- the ones that don't look you in the eye."

"They don't acknowledge that you're walking the Earth," he says. Though he is proud to be a Muslim, Fuller says, he doesn't broadcast it.

Aminah Hamidullah thinks there is a difference in the two types of prejudice.

"The racial prejudice is more ingrained than the anti-Islamic prejudice," she says. "It's harder for me to be black..."

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