“A Blessed Family Journey”

By John Saleem Bilal II 

WASHINGTON, D.C. – It was 1956, on a mild September night in Washington, DC, when John Hutchins and Ruth Annette Green met during a fluke blind date orchestrated by their close friends. 

Within the next few months, they would become close by speaking frequently on the phone and keeping each other company. Ruth was a secretary at the Pentagon, and John was an Airman First Class in the Air Force stationed at Bolling AFB. 

John had the street smarts, and Ruth had the book smarts. He instinctively knew what to do when the chips were down, and she knew what to do when John’s evaluations were due and when documents needed to be handled – they complemented each other.

Ruth had always enjoyed photography as a hobby, and John was becoming a skilled professional boxer on the Air Force Boxing Team. 

He fought until 1960 alongside the famous Doug Jones, Bobby Foster, George McCorkle, Bill Cherry and Coach Roy Nakamine. 

John competed in the same Western Olympic Trials that sent Muhammad Ali to his great destiny. It seems Allah had another plan for John.

Within a year, they’d be married and met each other’s parents. Their parents were strong Christians: hard working, very religious, and principled people, who believed in sticking together as a family and in the holy bonds of matrimony. 

With family help, the young couple began raising a family of their own. Within 10 years, they had given birth to seven children. On a young airman’s salary, the two-faced every hardship together and it wasn’t easy. 

John was often away from home needing to work two or more jobs to make ends meet. Ruth was too busy to feel hardship since her days were filled with non-stop housework and the oscillating laughter and crying of her children.

In 1959, the Hon. Elijah Muhammad came to town and spoke at the Uline Arena. He spoke in the strongest terms about the devilish nature of the “white-man” and the failure of the U.S. Government to help the awful state of the “so-called American Negro.” 

John heard this language and said to himself, “They’re going to kill this man!” John watched and waited and the movement called the Lost-Found Nation of Islam was getting stronger and stronger. 

John was impressed and shared his thoughts with Ruth. They decided to join the “Nation”. They both wrote the required letters and received their “Xs”, Sister Ruth 5X and Brother John 54X.

At the time, members of the active-duty U.S. military were disallowed from active membership in the Nation of Islam, which meant John would be a silent supporter for several years, but Ruth became very involved from the start. 

Although she had limited time to participate in Temple meetings and other duties of the very structured and disciplined life offered by the movement, she would attend as often as she could.

She was very excited about the new way of life. She learned and taught her children many new terms, such as Allah, Muhammad, F.O.I., MGT/GCC, As Salaam Alaikum, and Wa Alaikum Salaam. 

Ruth established the Muslim dietary restrictions in the home and taught the children the “Lessons” – the esoteric teachings of the Hon. Elijah Muhammad. She would share the teachings with her own sisters and brothers, some of whom followed her into the Temple. 

Ruth and her sisters were members during the time of Min. Malcolm X’s brief tenure at Temple #4, now called Masjid Muhammad or the Nation’s Mosque, in Washington, D.C. They were escorted home by Malcolm X on several occasions. 

Meanwhile, the children came to know culture, such as bazaars, Savior’s Day and drill teams, as well as enjoy the culinary delights of the Bean pies, Sister Hattie’s Mr. X Burger, Shabazz Bakery Whole Wheat cakes and cookies, the Gingerbread and other delectable foods.

In 1963, John was reassigned for three years to Evreux AFB in Fauville, France, and it was decided that the whole family would go. At the time, there were five children. Flying overnight on a Pan Am 707 jetliner with real china and silverware was a real treat for the children, and the entire trip seemed to be a great adventure. 

With five children in tow – Michael, Devonne, John Jr., Angel and Melanie – John and Ruth were buckling their seat belts again, attempting to manage the unmanageable, while continuing to expand the family and keep all things balanced on a paltry Airman’s salary. 

Faith in Allah, hard work, and patience held it all together. Life was always bringing new challenges. John struggled to advance in his work in order to provide for his family, and Ruth was still so busy with the children that she spent most of her time pinching pennies, keeping food on the table and maintaining a household. 

The children were in French bilingual schools, struggling to learn French and trying to make new friends in a place where there were few children who looked like them. Meanwhile, family excursions and school field trips took them to see the cultural attractions including villages, intriguing Cathedrals and scenic places in France and Germany.

Although the Nation was still in their hearts and minds and shaped the household, life in France was very different from being among the Temple folk. John and Ruth would hear turbulent news about the Nation from the television and radio and in letters from their relatives. 

President Kennedy would be assassinated, Malcolm would become estranged from the Nation and then assassinated, many new temples would be established, and the spirit of the movement would grow and regress in remarkable ways. 

With all the difficulties they faced, they still found the strength to stay together as a couple and move forward. While in France, two more children were born and they were given Muslim names: Aishah Mahomet and Omar Ali.

In 1966, John received orders to Wright Patterson AFB in Dayton, Ohio and the family moved back to the United States. They lived in Dayton for three years and in 1968 welcomed the birth of another daughter – Pearl (later renamed Rasheedah Intisar).

Rasheedah was born about a month after Dr. King was assassinated and just after the Civil Rights Act of 1968 was signed into law. As parents, they did the best they could and gave all that they had to give in order to maintain the family. John was a strong disciplinarian, a good teacher and an avid fisherman. 

He taught the children how to fish, how to appreciate nature, and how to work small jobs to provide themselves with pocket change. Ruth was always there to nurture the children and had her fingers on the pulse of the family’s inner life.

For instance, she knew who liked to eat what; knew what were their favorite colors, clothes, and hobbies; who was naughty and nice; and what were the children’s learning styles and intellectual gifts. She did her best to keep life balanced for everyone.

The years were ticking away in a flash for the seasoned couple. In 1969 the family would move back to Washington, DC, and all the children were enrolled in the University of Islam at Temple #4. 

A year later the family would move to McCoy AFB in Orlando, Florida, and by the summer of 1972 John retired from the Air Force at the age of 38. The family moved to Capitol Heights, Maryland in the suburbs of Washington, DC. The school-aged children all returned to the University of Islam. 

During that time, two daughters, Daaiyah Mahasin and Shalamar Baaiyah, were born and in 1974 at the age of 40, John would father his last son, Shareef Zakee; Ruth was 36. John searched for work as a civilian and attended Lincoln Technical Institute where he took up refrigeration, heating and air conditioning. 

Based on a referral from his son Michael, he eventually found work on Capitol Hill as an air conditioning technician for the Architect of the Capitol. He would retire in 2010. 1974 was the year of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad’s last Savior’s Day address. 

In that address, he said, “We must do something for self and stop charging the old slave master with being our hindrance cause [sic] – it is ourselves [sic]. He’s not (to blame), it’s ourselves [sic]… it’s ourselves.” 

“Doing for Self and Kind” was the mantra of Elijah Muhammad that attracted John to the movement in the first place. No one knew it would be Mr. Muhammad’s last address. In the following year the great leader, the Honorable Elijah Muhammad, passed away the day before Savior’s Day, Feb. 25, 1975. 

Some asked, “Would the Nation die with him?” On the stage that Savior’s Day, Minister Wallace D. Mohammed, the seventh child of Clara and Elijah Muhammad was lifted into the leadership and many things would be changed for the better.

The upheaval was a tremendous one for the family. The University of Islam at Temple #4 was closed down and the children were placed into public schools. A sea of change in influences commenced. Several children had to take the GED test to qualify for employment or advanced degrees and several were placed in advanced studies or skipped grades under the public school setting.

Muhammad’s Temple of Islam #4 was renamed, Masjid Muhammad. A new minister was assigned. There were no more F.O.I. or MGT uniforms, F.O.I. close-order drills ceased and Imam Wallace D. Mohammed carefully and personally presided over long meetings via national telephone and satellite “hookup” to help the former followers of Elijah Muhammad make the transition to the correct religious practice of Al-Islam.

Bro. John and Ruth were plugged in from the start and began to collect a virtual library of books, videos, photos, and artifacts of the “transition”.

The proper import and priorities of reading of the Qur’an and the proper performance of prayer were the biggest functional improvements. It was 1976, in a momentous act, John and Ruth decided to change the family surname from Hutchins to Bilal.

They changed for themselves, after learning the powerfully meaningful history of Bilal Ibn Rabah (AS) who was the first caller to prayer, Treasurer, and of the dearest companions of Prophet Muhammed (SAW). 

Many of the family members were given the choice to change their first and or middle names as well. In February of 1977, a month before Ruth’s 40th birthday, another daughter, Ni’mat Adilah Bilal, was born. 

She would be the last of their 12 children. The couple had a total of eight girls and four boys. Interestingly, in the prior year, Ruth had changed her middle name to Shukriyyah, meaning ‘to be thankful’.

Quran, Surah 46 Al-Aqhaf Ayat 15 – In time, when the child reaches their prime at the age of forty, they pray, “My Lord! Inspire me to (always) be thankful for Your favors which You blessed me and my parents with, and to do good deeds that please You. And instill righteousness in my offspring. I truly repent to You, and I truly submit (to Your will).” Am

In 1983, Imam Warith Deen Mohammed was actively promoting a forward thinking program to collectively purchase commodities for the economic advancement of poor people and to benefit his own followers. 

The program was initiated to help end the trenchant dependency and lack of establishment among descendants of formerly enslaved Americans. It was called AMMCOP, the American Muslim Mission Committee to Purchase One Hundred Thousand Commodities Plus. 

John and Ruth were enthusiastic supporters of the program; they made investments and gave direct support to the effort.

Their vital support was recognized by the National leadership and as a result, John was recruited as the Chairman of the Washington D. C. AMMCOP Chapter. This meant lots of organizing and coordinating local resources to achieve the group’s goal – to permit poor people to pool their dollars to buy bulk quantities of the commodities they used every day direct from manufacturers. 

To accomplish the task he enlisted the talents of his children to meet the demands of the work – Michael would provide security, Devonne provided secretarial work, Melanie provided accounting, Omar and John provided graphic artwork, and the younger children helped with whatever they were asked to do. 

The AMMCOP effort would be short-lived; but while it lasted it gave the family the opportunity to work together as a team for the benefit of the larger community.

Ruth has been a housewife for most of their marriage, but she has always maintained close friendships over the years. Keeping up with friends and family members is what she is most comfortable doing. She continues to enjoy photography and videography. 

John retired from work with the Architect of the Capitol in 2010 and being a “true green thumb,” he spent most of his free time tending his large garden in Upper Marlboro Maryland. From that garden, he continued to feed his family and friends until the garden plot he was renting was sold. He also spent time hunting game. 

John is skilled in the use of compound bow, black powder musket, single shot rifle and shotgun. Nowadays, John and Ruth spend as much time as they can connecting with and providing counseling and support to their large and growing extended family.

Today is the first day of the year 2021. John and Ruth are 85 and 82 years of age respectively and are still actively engaged in the growth and development of their family. Two of their children have predeceased them by Allah’s permission, and their passing strengthened the family’s resolve to improve family and community life. 

The other children still enjoy their parent’s love and counsel by way of weekly family meetings and daily calls. Both are students of the Holy Qur’an and staunch supporters of Masjid Muhammad in Washington, DC, the Ali Khan Islamic Center in Prince Georges County, Maryland, the MACA Center in Peoria, Illinois, the Muslim American Logic Institute (MALI), Study Al-Islam and a host of other outstanding groups. 

On any given day, John can be found at his dining room table with his I-pad, Qur’an and Arabic study materials. To study with him is a treat. Ruth is also studying Qur’an routinely and is always reaching out to her children and their families. She is known by the entire community for being everywhere-at-once supporting good causes including actively participating in civic association events. 

When asked about their love for Al-Islam, John says, “I love Al-Islam because it’s the truth and the reality. Life is not a soap opera, a passing fantasy or a figment of someone’s imagination. 

It’s real and Al-Islam is a reflection of that reality.” Ruth says, “I love Al-Islam. It’s the truth without a doubt – it helps you to live your best life. Al-Islam keeps families together. The immediate family and the human family need to stand together for good, right and wholesomeness – Al- Islam makes family possible.”

As of their anniversary date, December 4, 2020, the loving couple has been married for 64 years and has raised 12 children who have by the grace of Allah given them 28 grandchildren and 13 great grandchildren.

May Allah ever grant Bro. John Bilal and Sis. Ruth Shukriyyah Bilal the peace and tranquility only Allah can bestow. It is their fervent wish that all human beings who have benefited from Allah’s grace choose to heed Allah’s guidance and warnings, observe and marvel at Allah’s mysteries and miracles, and from that gift, assiduously choose to obey Allah with gratitude to earn Heaven here and in the Afterlife. 

Ameen.

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