Muslim Students Are Leading A New Generation In the Fight to Free Imam Jamil Al-Amin
"'The masses will never ever believe Imam Jamil is the same Black Muslim revolutionary he is because of the the repercussions of surveillance.'"
📝 Monthly Round-Up
H. Rap Brown / Jamil Al-Amin: A Profoundly American Story, Ekwueme Michael Thelwell — If you’re unfamiliar with Imam Jamil, this article provides an excellent introduction to his life and work.
The Imprisonment of Imam Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin: Is It A Government Conspiracy?, El Hajj-Mauri Saalakhan — I try to avoid listing books here but, when interviewing the Students for Imam Jamil campaign, this was highly recommended. So, I’ve got the pass the word along.
Leaving No Others Behind This Ramadan, Vanessa Taylor — I also normally avoid listing my own work here. But in my profile of Believers Bail Out, I spoke to someone who grew up under Imam Jamil’s leadership. Read this to see what role Black Muslims are now / have always played in abolition.
On March 16, 2000, as Eid al-Adha waned, two Atlanta deputy sheriffs attempted to serve an arrest warrant to Imam Jamil al-Amin for missing a court hearing regarding a traffic stop. Rather than finding Al-Amin, the deputies ended up in a shootout, leaving one dead and the second critically injured. Another man, Otis Jackson, later confessed to the shooting, but he was pressured into recanting while Georgia officials focused their targets on Al-Amin.
Eventually, Al-Amin wound up on trial and, with Jackson’s confession kept from the jury, he was sentenced to life in prison. These actions against Al-Amin were a culmination of years of targeting by the state. Formerly known as H. Rap Brown, Al-Amin once served as the Chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and the Minister of Justice of the Black Panther party. His status as a revolutionary and leader of a Muslim community in Atlanta’s West End had long made Al-Amin a person of interest.
Since his sentencing, Al-Amin has spent most of his time in solitary confinement with an unofficial gag order on his case. In 2007, Georgia prison officials sent Al-Amin to the federally run Administrative Maximum Facility (ADX) Penitentiary in Florence, Colorado, although he has not been convicted of any federal crime. But the struggle to free Al-Amin carries on and, this summer, a new collective reminiscent of the imam’s own organizing history joined the fight.
In August, a coalition of student organizers launched the Students for Imam Jamil campaign ahead of a runoff election between then-incumbent Paul Howard (D) and Fani Willis (D) for the Fulton County District Attorney seat. Wasiq Javed, a student at the University of Houston and the national lead for the campaign, tells NAZAR that upon learning of the election, he thought, “Well, we got to turn up the whole city of Atlanta and make sure that we put the pressure on those officials and use the political sway of the election to raise awareness for Imam Jamil.”
Mehreen Arshad, a member of the campaign’s Houston team, says she first became aware of Al-Amin’s case after Javed reached out in a group chat to organize Muslim law students. She says part of why she joined goes back to reading verses about justice being a cornerstone of Islam and, “At some point, you realize reading about what Imam Jamil has been through and what people like him have been through…I think it just hit me that I need to do a lot better showing up and doing my part.”
In coordination with other groups, Students for Imam Jamil called for the reopening of Al-Amin’s case. One day before the election, which Willis would win in a landslide, she gave organizers some hope. In reference to Al-Amin, Willis said, “The District Attorney’s job is to make sure justice is done, not just convict people. That’s why, as District Attorney, I will always consider information that calls into question past convictions.”
As a summer defined by a series of national uprisings comes to its end, Al-Amin’s story — and the influence of surveillance on his life — seems particularly poignant. Following nationwide revolts in 1967, including one in Cambridge after a speech by Al-Amin, then Brown, the FBI established the Counter Intelligence Program or COINTELPro. Its top targets included Stokely Carmicheal, Martin Luther King Jr., and Al-Amin. Then, in 1968, Congress passed the “Anti-Riot Act” or “H. Rap Brown Act” as part of the Civil Rights Act. In June of this year, the FBI used this law to charge four protesters based on social media posts.
And yet, Al-Amin’s legacy as a Black revolutionary targeted by state surveillance — who converted to Islam in 1971 after being incarcerated for five years in New York’s Attica Prison — and his position today as a Black Muslim political prisoner is forgotten in many circles. When first learning of Al-Amin’s case, Arshad says, “What was most shocking to me was that [Al-Amin] had largely disappeared from mainstream conversations about justice. There were still a group of his supporters working for his freedom but it seemed like even the people who are involved in social justice, organizing, movement spaces…Whenever we talked about that work, his name was never brought up.”
Arshad adds that she never knew Al-Amin was targeted by COINTELPro until preparing for a surveillance workshop for Muslim Student Associations across Texas. She says, “It was interesting and also sad to see that this program that started way back when, long before we were born, had victimized Black Muslim and Black leaders, labor groups, women's rights groups, and marginalized people and there were forms of that today like in the form of like [Countering Violent Extremism] and [Targeted Violence and Terrorism Prevention]. “
Some warn that the disappearance of Al-Amin from ongoing political conversations is no accident. “Kairi [Al-Amin, Imam Jamil’s son] makes a great point to this,” Javed shares. “The government and the state realized that they screwed up by killing MLK and Malcolm X because their goal was to end the movement by eliminating the intellectuals and leads of it. But then, they became martyrs and were portrayed throughout history as these heroes.”
“So then, they were like…If we portray them as a murderer, if we frame them, then skepticism and doubt — that's, in a spiritual context, literally the devil and the shaytaan — infiltrates the mass consciousness. The masses will never ever believe Imam Jamil is the same Black Muslim revolutionary he is because of the the repercussions of surveillance,” Javed continues. “It’s very intentional, why these programs exist, it's very effective, and we have a responsibility to combat those systems.”
With this in mind, Students for Imam Jamil are not waiting for Willis to take office in January to continue pressuring Georgia officials. This month, the campaign re-launched to virtually mobilize campuses across the nation with plans to culminate efforts in an Atlanta rally on October 4, Al-Amin’s birthday. To Javed, the continuation of the student-led effort is significant, because, “Imam Jamil himself was part of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. Us now fighting for his liberation, being students for Imam Jamil...We’re a new voice to the movement for his liberation.”
He adds: “By passing that baton onto the next generation…We can revive his legacy, revive his history, and revive him amongst our generation. We can help be that push...unify with the elders and unify with youth to help achieve his freedom.”
Students for Imam Jamil — Of course, I embedded the campaign’s linktree within this article. But if you missed it, here you go. Remember to check it out!
Imam Jamil Action Network — Although it seems to not be recently updated, you can learn more about Imam Jamil here. This site provides an abbreviated timeline of Al-Amin’s activism and life.
Believers Bail Out — I may have shouted them out in a newsletter before. If I have, oh well! Our fight against the carceral system cannot end with political prisoners. This is an excellent organization working to free detained Muslims.
Note: This edition of NAZAR is late thanks to technical difficulties. By that, I mean my cat spilled water on my old laptop, it fried, and waiting for a new one set me behind. Everything is back on schedule now, though, and I thank you for your patience!