An Interview by Imam/Judge David Shaheed
BALTIMORE, Md. – This is an interview of Imam Earl S. El-Amin, Resident Imam of the Muslim Community Cultural Center of Baltimore, following an Iftar at the official residence of Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley.
MJ: Imam El-Amin, were you surprised when Governor O’Malley called you out by named and asked you to call the adhan (at the Iftar)?
Imam El-Amin: No. He has hosted the Iftar at the Governor’s residence for the last five years. He started this after he became Governor of Maryland. Last year, I did the presentation on Ramadan and discussed the benefits and merits of Ramadan.
MJ: Also, I noticed that he was quite pleased to receive a book from you.
Imam El-Amin: Yes. The first book that I gave him he requested. It was on the 99 Attributes of Allah. I gave it to him during the legislative session, because I happened to be there (in the State House during the legislative session).
So the book I gave him the night of the Iftar was Islam and Western Democracy (Compatriots of Justice and Religious Freedom), written by someone in our Association, Imam Fahmee Al-Uqdah. I gave him that book because I noticed the Governor reads everything; he loves to read.
Also, something that I learned from “the first experience” is we always want to leave someone with something.
MJ: You are right. That is a good practice.
Imam El-Amin: For example, when we went to Turkey last year, we took 35 Legacy of Imam W. Deen Mohammed and 35 of the DVDs – Eight Centuries of Islam in America. So we gave them to the prominent people we would meet. At the masajid, we gave them to the Imams and made a gift of them to the leadership of Turkey’s religious departments.
MJ: How long have you been an Imam in Baltimore and how did you get started in this work?
Imam Earl El-Amin: I have been the Resident Imam at the Muslim Community Cultural Center of Baltimore for eight years, and I previously served as a Chaplain in one of the correctional facilities in Maryland.
MJ: You also have a long experience in government and have served in several key positions for the State of Maryland, correct?
Imam El-Amin: I have been involved in community and involved in government as it relates to activism in the political process. I started out serving as president of our neighborhood association for almost 15 years.
I also worked for the Baltimore Urban League. Those positions led to positions in state government and working for the Governor’s Office in 1998.
MJ: What positions did you hold in the Governor’s Office?
Imam Al-Amin: I was the Ombudsman for Children in Out of Home Placement and then moved to Deputy Director for Independent Juvenile Justice Monitoring Department for the Maryland Department of Juvenile Services.
I also was Vice President of the National Center on Institutions and Alternatives, which is a human services agency which does sentencing consultation. We also are involved in re-entry programming, as well as residential and day services for developmentally disabled adults and residential services for children in the foster care juvenile justice system.
There are 650 employees in our agency.
MJ: Is there the obvious linkage between your positions in government and your involvement in politics?
Imam El-Amin: Yes. By working in community and then working in government, it gave me an opportunity to have more of a personal relationship with a lot of our political representation. Also, I must point out that until two years ago, for nearly 13 years my brother, Eric, and I were co-hosts of a weekly radio talk show, known as Dialogue with the African American Male.
It was broadcasted from Morgan State University. It gave us a great opportunity to disseminate information and the language of Imam W. Deen Mohammed on a myriad of topics.
MJ: Was it mainly in the Baltimore area?
Imam El-Amin: It covered Baltimore, Washington, up in Pennsylvania and portions of Delaware.
MJ: So this radio talk show was a good dawah tool?
Imam El-Amin: It was an excellent dawah tool and provided us an avenue to disseminate the language of the Imam (Mohammed).
MJ: During your tenure as Imam at the Muslim Community Cultural Center of Baltimore, did you had the opportunity to host Imam Mohammed and tell him about some of your efforts in the Baltimore area?
Imam El-Amin: Yes. Imam W. Deen Mohammed came to Baltimore on numerous occasions to meet with Cardinal William Keeler, Archbishop Emeritus of Baltimore, who played a prominent role in our initially going to meet with Pope John Paul II.
Cardinal Keeler also played a role in our meeting with the Focolare, because it was with the urging of Cardinal Keeler that we met with them. That is how that came about.
MJ: In addition to Governer O’Malley, I recall that you also have been on a first name basis with several other Maryland Governors. Weren’t you also associated with Governor Glendening?
Imam El-Amin: Yes. I worked in the Administration of former Maryland Governor Parris Glendening. In fact, he attended our Jumu’ah services at the Community Cultural Center of Baltimore, as well as did the former Baltimore Mayor, Sheila Dixon, and a number of City Council persons.
Also, the former Lt. Governor Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, who is the eldest daughter of Senator Robert Kennedy, attended our Jumu’ah prayer.
MJ: Do you see a link with your involvement with the community and government leaders and interfaith?
Imam El-Amin: Without a doubt. People already knew of my involvement in the community through the radio program over those years, and some of the other initiatives, like the Rites of Passage programs for African American males and mentoring programs.
People were comfortable with me already. So I had easy accessibility to those people.
MJ: In the current climate of Islamophobia and the fear that has been promoted about shariah, have you been involved in any of those discussions? Has anyone asked you to respond to those questions concerning “fear of Islam?”
Imam El-Amin: We like to champion the fact that we were one of the first communities in our association, over 20 years ago, to respond to the instructions of Imam Mohammed to get involved with interfaith dialogue and interact with other faith traditions.
Because the people knew of us and had an understanding of our way of life, we had very minimal discussions around shariah or Islamophobia. With the Imam’s language and our ability to present it, we gave them a good picture of who we are.
Also, we have Muslims serving in prominent positions, e.g. judges, like Judge Hassan El-Amin, several Muslims magistrates (judges) in the juvenile court system, and Muslims at the federal level, working in the Social Security Administration.
Therefore, people are up close and personal with Muslims, so those questions and issues were not a big priority here. I think Baltimore is one of the most progressive cities in America, when it comes to interfaith interaction.
I have to credit Imam Mohammed, but I also have to credit the leadership of Cardinal Keeler and how he pushed that interfaith interaction in everything that we did. I have been very fortunate to participate in so many interfaith programs at the Basilica.
Every year there is a New Year’s Eve Interfaith Prayer Service, and I did the homily (short talk) last year. The service runs from 8 to 9:30 p.m. and is really well done. All the major players, i.e. the Governor, the Mayor, the President of the City Council, heads of hospitals and colleges, businesspeople, are participants in the Interfaith Prayer.
It is so expansive, that we have not encountered any problems with Islamaphobia and shariah.
MJ: Are there any particular points that you would like to share with readers of the Muslim Journal on how to navigate the circumstances that we are in right now?
Imam El-Amin: One thing that is important is being a good neighbor. What I mean by that is, if we profess to understand what Allah has blessed us with, the Qur’an and the tradition of Muhammed, the Prophet, and the leadership of Imam W. Deen Mohammed, then it is incumbent upon us to be actively involved where we live.
We should always be involved. And we should take leadership in those environments. When we do that, people will see that we are just like they are. We like to have cook-outs in the back yard; we like to listen to jazz, the whole gamut.
We are the same as they, are but we have a moral integrity that makes us stand out. And we have a willingness to make friends and develop relationships and to develop strategic alliances.
MJ: Thank you for your time and what you have shared. Any other comments?
Imam El-Amin: Yes. I think this is very important for our community. What we have been given by the Imam (Mohammed), if we stick to it, then we will see a cohesive group of Believers emerge.
I make these comments based upon a conversation I had with Imam Mohammed when he was at Georgetown University for a talk several years ago. Imam Yusuf Saleem and I had dinner with him that night, and in our conversation I told him that I thought people were not moving fast enough and I was thinking about resigning.
The Imam told me that I was doing great work and to keep up the good work. But he also told me to be patient, because we won’t see the best of this community until two or three more generations down the line.
We need to understand that. If we are working toward the destiny as a cohesive group, then we are going to see the manifestation. It is already happening. We will see the manifestation in two or three more generations.