Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Sultan Latif: My mentor

RIP to my beloved brother, here's an essay I wrote about this marvelous human:

A great scholar and son of Islam passes away

Sultan Abdul Latif, nationally renowned scholar, historian, teacher, lecturer, speaker, author of two books and co-producer of "A Hip-hop Journey with the ancestors" along with his wife, Naimah, succumbed early Sunday morning to a prolonged battle with cancer.

I met brother Sultan for the first time in Ramadan of 2006 in the mosque on 45th and Wabash. (southside of Chicago)I was saying my salaams to everyone after finishing the prayers and when I bent over to shake his hand and depart, he clutched my hand and gently pulled me towards him forcing me to sit down. He began questioning me about my knowledge of the history of our community and whether or not I was aware of the very long and largely unknown history of the African Muslims in America. Looking back on it, he must have known I would have been interested from observing me, because I sat there enthralled for 30 minutes while he moved swiftly from topic to topic addressing things I had never heard about before.

Brother Sultan used the metaphor of the double-edged sword when speaking of the need for members of our diverse community to sharpen the blunt edge as it applied to them as individuals. I understood what he meant and immediately felt ashamed of my ignorance and hoped to soak some of his expansive knowledge on a variety of subjects.

He touched upon Marcus Garvey, Noble Drew Ali, Mufti Muhammad Sadiq, the inter-racial tribe of Ben Ishmael and the Nation of Islam weaving several captivating stories in eloquent succession. I tried to remember as much as possible but, like his books, when Brother Sultan spoke, the information was dense and one could easily miss a key point.

I went home and researched many of the things he spoke about and found him well-respected in some communities and also found that many had read his books and benefitted greatly from them. It is said that the Nation of Islam routinely use his book, "Slavery: The African-American Psychic Trauma" when they do rehabilitation work in prisons.

After that night, I spent several hours conversing with him on the phone in the weeks that followed. He told me many stories of his youth and the political, social, and religious climate during his era and the era of Malcolm and before that, the UNIA and Moorish Science Temple. When he spoke, he made everything so interesting you couldn't help but suspend all activities and get overwhelmed in the conversation. I ended up getting his books from the library and reading them with great interest. Whether he was giving a history lesson or recalling a spiritual experience, every single time we talked, I felt infused and invigorated with an excitement and anxiousness difficult to describe that I had never felt before, only to have these feelings eclipsed when we spoke once again.

Psychic Trauma, co-authored with his wife, Naimah, is the quintessential book on cultivating knowledge of self specifically for the African-American community. It adeptly chronicles the illustrious African history and larger than life icons such as Queen Hatshepsut and Mansa Musa. Psychic Trauma then delves into a critically incisive look at the effects of the systematic and sustained 500-year, European, colonial presence in Africa, the despicable transatlantic slave trade, and the brutal physical slavery, and subsequent 'psychic trauma', which affect millions of African-Americans to this day.

As may now be obvious, Brother Sultan and this book, Psychic Trauma are the inspiration behind the track on my page, "Urban Islamophonics"

He also authored "When Nations Gather", which recounts the spiritual traditions of Native Americans and their prophecies of a Great unifying world "Restorer" whose advent in the latter days would usher in a utopian era of peace and brotherhood for all humanity after the chaos and destruction of the "Great Purification." It raises very important questions about the contemporary era and what may be in store for mankind if does not return to living in harmony with nature and the Divine Law.

Earlier this year, Brother Sultan spoke at the annual "Qiyamma" event to commemorate Black History Month in the Urban League. I was also asked to give a very brief speech to honor a great African-American, so, naturally, I asked my brother and mentor who I should speak about. He tossed out names of many influential figures, free-styling a synopsis of each individual's life and achievements. But the one he seemed to think would work best was George Washington Carver, a great inventor and man of God. After my brief speech inspired by Sultan he spoke to me about how wonderful it was while I, like everyone else, was dazzled by his own presentation on great African empires and icons, enchanting the audience with his breadth of knowledge and comforting, accessible approach. Even when I last spoke with him early in the month of Ramadan to inquire about his health, he asked me how I was feeling before I had a chance to ask him of his own deteriorating health. Of course, he changed the subject when I broached it again, preferring to speak in praise of a poet who he recently come in contact with and wanted to bring into the fold of the community.

Brother Sultan Latif was very tall; a svelte, and radiant man who moved with a sublime grace and subtle dignity. His passion for his purpose and his love of God, the prophets, his people, and humanity in general, shone brightly on his beaming face. He had an aura of understated nobility about him like the African princes he often spoke of. He always had encouraging remarks and words of wisdom and guidance for everyone who sought his company. Sultan was a humble man of modest means with a giant heart overflowing with kindness and love.

We often spoke of bringing the message of Islam, unity and brotherhood to wider segments of America, specifically the African-American community. Nothing seemed to bring his heart more anguish than seeing or hearing of Orthodox Muslims ostracizing members of the Nation of Islam and other indigenous Black Muslim groups, labeling them as heretics and non-Muslims, and thus discounting their experiences. He counseled us always to remember to love them as our brothers and sisters and take a keen interest in their personal journey to Allah in order to win their hearts and minds.

He had also been planning on touring with his movie, "A Hip-hop Journey with the ancestors", and using the platform to introduce a lot of other empowering ideas using Muslim poets and spoken word artists. This movie will premiere on November 10th in Chicago. (more details to come)

Inshallah, we will strive even harder to make this hope of his a reality now that Brother Latif has departed the world to be with his Creator. He has left an enormous void and responsibility on our shoulders.

My beloved brother and mentor, you will be deeply missed and remembered always. May Allah bless you for your efforts and grant you an esteemed station in Paradise.

Inna lillahi wa inna illayhi rajioon.

(From Allah we come and to Allah we shall return.)


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