tragedy claimed more victims than any mass killing in that city's history. On
the afternoon of Jan. 18 a group of men numbering at least four, and perhaps as
many as eight, entered the Moslem house, which is located in a well-to-do
section of northwest Washington. According to Abdul-Jabbar, the two adult males
in the house were told to assume the traditional kneeling prayer position so
they could be shot in the back of the neck. When the men resisted, they were
pistol-whipped and then killed. Four of the children were drowned, two of them
reportedly while their mother was forced to watch. Two women who were shot and
left for dead survived; one of them was found with seven slugs in her head. At
one point in the atrocities the assailants reputedly stopped and fixed
themselves something to eat.
Although the Black
Muslims deny any part in the killings, Abdul-Jabbar, his spiritual mentor
Hamaas Abdul Khaalis, the leader of the capital's Hanafi community, and the
District of Columbia police believe otherwise.
Islam in its
orthodox form is the world's third largest religion and has existed for 1,300
years. It is composed of two main groups called the Sunni and the Shi'a. There
are about 100,000 Moslems in the U.S., of whom Abdul-Jabbar says 65,000 are
immigrants from Islamic countries and 35,000 American-born converts. Most U.S.
Moslems, virtually all of whom are Sunni, do not identify with a particular
interpretive approach to the Qur'an, such as the Hanafi's. According to
Abdul-Jabbar, the difference in interpretation among the four major Sunni
Moslem groups are far less than the disparities in the various Protestant
sects' views of Christianity. As far as he knows, the Hanafi community in
Washington numbers some 100. The Hanafi is no splinter group, however. Its
worldwide membership runs into the tens of millions; for example, Turkish
Moslems are largely Hanafi.
believe that Allah is the prime being, that the last of the great prophets was
Muhammed, who died in 632 A.D., and that all races are equally welcome in their
community. The Black Muslims hold that 6,000 years ago a malcontented black
scientist named Mr. Yacub created white men out of germs, that an itinerant
silk salesman and storyteller variously called W.D. Fard, Wall Farrad and
Professor Ford who showed up in Detroit in 1931 was, in fact, Allah, and that
Fard's assistant, a man named Elijah Poole, is one of the great prophets.
Before Fard mysteriously disappeared from Detroit in 1934, he had given Poole
the name Muhammad. Today Elijah Muhammad heads an organization of undetermined
membership, including Muhammad Ali, now "suspended," and musician Joe X
(AKA Joe Tex).
The Black Muslims
gained recognition and economic power during the era of rising black
consciousness in the '50s and '60s. Their surge stopped at about the same time
a young New Yorker named Lew Alcindor was questioning his own religious
beliefs, ultimately deciding that the Catholic Church in which he had been
brought up was a racist organization. Those also were the years of Malcolm X's
greatest influence in Harlem. Malcolm had been one of Elijah Muhammad's most
trusted lieutenants. He broke with the Black Muslims after a trip to Mecca had
shown him that orthodox Islam embraced people of all colors. Malcolm's teaching
following his return to the U.S. drew many of the brightest young members of
the Nation of Islam away from Elijah Muhammad. In 1965 Malcolm was gunned down
by assassins who are widely assumed to have been Black Muslims.
Khaalis was an associate of Malcolm's who underwent a similar change in his
convictions. When Hamaas and Alcindor met, Lew had already begun his own study
of Islam at UCLA. The two have had a continuing association ever since. In the
summer of 1968 Alcindor made a confession of faith, declaring his devotion to
Allah and receiving the name Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. He adopted it legally three
years later. "It was a final public acknowledgment of my belief," says
Abdul-Jabbar. "I didn't do it sooner because I wanted to make sure that my
feelings were not a passing thing."
Four other pro
basketball players have changed their names for religious reasons: Jones, who
altered the spelling of Wally to the Arabic Wali, meaning friend; Denver's
Warren Jabali (formerly Warren Armstrong, whose new surname means rock in
Swahili); Phoenix's Shahid Abdul-Alin (still known as Charlie Scott in box
scores and sports stories); and Golden State's Mahdi Abdul-Rahman, heretofore
Walt Hazzard. Abdul-Jabbar has helped both Abdul-Rahman and Seattle's Spencer
Haywood, who has not changed his name, with their Islamic studies.
conversion, Abdul-Jabbar has made a pilgrimage to Mecca, taken Arabic at
Harvard in preparation for pursuing a graduate degree in Islamic studies and
bought the house on 16th Street N.W. in Washington. He deeded it to the Hanafi
community last year, and it has been recognized as a tax-exempt place of
worship. He traveled there last month to help wash the bodies of the slain and
like my family, like seven brothers and sisters," Abdul-Jabbar says. "I
cannot feel sorrow for the martyrs because they were in Paradise before their
blood touched the ground. They died doing what Allah ordered. They died
defending their faith.
"But I want
people to understand this is not a religious war like some have said it is.
It's not a war because we're not fighting. Our beliefs direct us to try to keep
a pure mind. We are ordered to exert a positive effect on our surroundings.
That's why we fly the American flag outside our community and paste flags in
the windows. We want to show that we hope to do good here, to work for the
improvement of the whole environment and to work within the framework of the
Constitution, which guarantees freedom of religion. We are not allowed to fight
unless we are directly attacked and we are required to negotiate whenever we
can. In the Qur'an the things most frequently mentioned are compassion and
mercy. The Prophet admonished us to be forgiving, and the problems involved in
merely saving yourself, in trying to submit yourself to what Allah has ordered,
are too great to allow you to carry a grudge. There's too much else to be