Al-Hajj Talib Abdur-Rashid was born in 1951 in Greensboro, North Carolina, and moved with his family to the South Bronx, New York in 1959. He recounts that as he came of age in the Sixties, he “was heavily influenced by pan-Africanism, by black nationalism, by the antiwar movement, all of it.”
In 1968 Abdur-Rashid read The Autobiography of Malcolm X, which introduced him to Islam for the first time. In 1971 he read a short book titled The Elementary Teachings of Islam, and he became a Muslim that same year.
In the mid-1970s, Abdur-Rashid became a Muslim community liaison to the New York Police Department (NYPD). Around that same time, in 1975, he began a 13-year stint as assistant imam of the Harlem-based Mosque of Islamic Brotherhood, a Sunni house of worship founded in 1964 by followers of Malcolm X. In 1989 he became the imam of this same mosque, a position he has held ever since.
In the 1990s Abdur-Rashid became increasingly outspoken in calling for police reform, particularly after three unarmed black men — Shu’aib Abdul Latif, Amadou Diallo and Ousmane Zongo — had been shot and killed by NYPD officers.
Strongly opposed to America’s post-9/11 invasion of Afghanistan, Abdur-Rashid helped organize a September 22, 2001 anti-war demonstration in Times Square. On several other occasions, he galvanized members of his congregation for anti-war rallies against the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq as well, sometimes coordinating his protests with Al Sharpton’s National Action Network.
In the aftermath of 9/11, Abdur-Rashid said: “The history of Islam in the West rests on the back of Black folks fighting against white supremacy. We are living in the time of the prophetic manifestation of the ‘chickens coming home to roost’.” The motivations underlying Muslim world’s rebellion against “white domination,” he added, had been well explained in Franz Fanon’s Wretched of the Earth.
At the American Muslim Council‘s 2nd Annual Imam Conference in April 2002, Abdur-Rashid complained that America’s “selective participatory Democracy … operates according to the dynamics of race and class, and religion,” discriminating “selectively” against those who had “a certain skin color, a certain level of money.”
In 2004 Abdur-Rashid said that “the recent revelation of abuses at the hands of U.S. Army personnel in both Camp Bucca and Abu Ghraib prisons in Iraq are directly related to a long history of such human rights violations at home in America.” He claimed, for instance, that the convicted cop-killer Imam Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin had been incarcerated in Alabama “under conditions similar to those in Guantanamo.”
In 2005 Abdur-Rashid defended then-terror suspect Rafiq Sabir — a doctor who had attempted to provide medical treatment to insurgents wounded in the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, and who was subsequently sentenced 25 years in prison for terrorism-related offenses — as “a humanitarian physician.”
On December 1, 2005, Abdur-Rashid published an article titled “The Pre-Columbian Presence of Muslim Africans in America Is No Myth,” where he wrote that contrary to “old, racist, European renditions of American history,” there is an “extensive body of … evidence” showing that Muslims of Western and Northern African had come to North America before Columbus. He contrasted their purportedly peaceful interactions with the New World natives, to those of white Europeans who: (a) “stole” from the continent’s “indigenous inhabitants” their “God-given custodial land — the land of the ‘Red Man’”; (b) “committed genocide against [the continent’s] true people”; and (c) “stole the ‘Black Man’ from Africa and brought him to the stolen land against his will.” Because he views the United States as a nation infested with all manner of racial injustice, Abdur-Rashid derides Americans’ annual celebration of “so-called Thanksgiving.”
In January 2006, Abdur-Rashid explained that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s frequently articulated desire to destroy Israel was an understandable “sentiment born of the legitimate anger, frustration, and bitterness that is felt in many parts of the Muslim World,” particularly in light of Israel’s “ongoing injustice toward the Palestinian people.”
At an April 2008 press conference, Abdur-Rashid called for the release of convicted terrorist Sami Al-Arian, saying that he “has committed no crime other than to have perhaps a political view that differs from that of people.”
In 2010 Abdur-Rashid was personally invited to attend two meetings at the Obama White House. One was on June 8, when he was among 41 people meeting with Associate Director for Public Engagement Paul Monteiro. The other was on July 13, when he was among 325 people to hear President Obama discuss a National HIV/AIDS Strategy.
In 2011, Abdur-Rashid voiced his opposition to the NYPD’s use of stop-and-frisk policing methods, and its secret surveillance of various mosques and Islamic community centers. Muslim community. “[T]he NYPD has declared war on our communities in the name of fighting terrorism,” he wrote in May 2012, and “has undertaken an institutional strategy of criminalizing American Muslims, spying on us and generally treating us like suspicious outsiders instead of taxpaying Americans.”
In a March 2012 blog post, Abdur-Rashid denounced Muslims who sought to aid law-enforcement’s anti-terrorism efforts as “collaborators and opportunists.” “During slavery in America they were called ‘house negroes’,” he said. “During colonialism they were called ‘the boss’s man’.”
In November 2015, Abdur-Rashid spoke at a conference that addressed the challenges which prison inmates faced when seeking re-entry into society.
Aside from his work with the Mosque of Islamic Brotherhood, Abdur-Rashid is also the president of the Islamic Leadership Council of Metropolitan New York. For a list of additional positions affiliations he has had over the years, see Footnote #1 below.
Further Reading: “Imam Talib: Put on the Whole Armor of God” (Amsterdam News, 6-2-2017); “Times Square Activists Urge Peace, Not War” (CNN, 9-22-2001); “Imam Talib El-Hajj Abdur Rashid” (Investigative Project on Terrorism, 2012); Excerpts from “The Pre-Columbian Presence of Muslim Africans in America Is No Myth” (by Al-Hajj Talib Abdur-Rashid, 12-1-2005, cited in StopTheMadrassa.wordpress.com, 8-17-2007); “In Fighting Terrorism, NYPD Must Treat Muslim Americans Like Partners, Not Suspects” (by Al-Hajj Talib Abdur-Rashid, Huffington Post, 5-8-2012).