Muslim on quest to trace Bajan roots
Dr Abdullah Hakim Quick’s Barbadian roots are deep and though he hardly knew his Barbadian grandmother Edna Brantford-Bourne, who migrated to the United States in 1917, he attributes a lot of his life’s grounding to the foundation she gave her descendants.
This is why the American-born Muslim historian, social activist and religious leader is on a quest to dig deeper into those Bajan roots and to build stronger links with Barbados, especially among the local Muslim community.
“I did not know much about my Bajan roots,” Quick said during a visit to Barbados last week. It was when he migrated to Canada from the United States and encountered several people from the Caribbean in the predominantly black community in which he settled, that he said he was “reintroduced to my Caribbean roots”.
Living in Canada in the 1960s at the height of the black consciousness movement and moving from the US in the era of gangster rap where he noticed an attempt to project “pimps, hustlers and criminals” as the heroes of blacks, Quick decided then that there must be an uplifting and positive message for young, black people.
And while in Barbados to deliver a lecture on the origins of Muslims in this region before Columbus, the author of the book Deeper Roots and producer of the documentaries Untold Ethiopia and Timbuktu: Empire of Knowledge urged young Barbadians to research their own history.
Why was it important to find those roots?
He said: “As African people in the West, we lost our identity to slavery. In the spirit of the search for roots, we want to take it deeper. It is more important for our younger generation.”
While he was growing up in a section of Cambridge, Massachusetts in a housing project, discrimination was real. He saw the disillusionment of his own father, a World War II African-American soldier who had served as a military policeman and had put his life on the line in war zones, only to return to a United States that did not recognise his contribution and to the kind of discrimination that hurt deeply.
“He was angry about what happened to him,” Quick said. At that time, the young Quick was Christian, worshipping in a Massachusetts Episcopalian church, but questioning in his mind the “very stratified” groupings in the church and the notion of a “white” Christ projected there.
“I was upset at the time. I was religious; I kept my belief in God, but I could not accept the concept of a European Christ.”
This is why he migrated to Canada and became Muslim in 1970. It was there he met his Jamaica-born Muslim wife Kareema, who was then an activist among other Toronto-based Caribbean activists such as the late Dominican Prime Minister Rosie Douglas and Guyanese novelist Jan Carew.
Quick was one of two Canadians to win scholarships offered by the government of Saudi Arabia and with his wife, he went off to the Holy City of Medina, living in “simple Bedouin settings” for seven years and continuing his education.
His first formal qualification was the Bachelor of Arts degree in Islamic studies from the Islamic University of Madinah. He later obtained a master’s in African history from the University of Toronto and a PhD in West African Islamic history.
Quick has travelled to over 50 countries during his career. Doing field research during a stint in Nigeria, he met many Nigerian Islamic scholars, opening up his horizons to the value and depth of Islam.
The exposure influenced him and his wife to open a social service centre in Toronto, the first such Islamic institution to be engaged in counselling in that area. For over ten years he was director of the Islamic Social Services and Resources Association, counselling hundreds of people from all walks of life and various religions. He also developed one of Canada’s first Muslim food banks.
In the 90s the couple was counselling HIV-positive Muslims in Toronto when few Muslims were even prepared to talk about the subject.
Quick believes that by investigating their cultural background, young Blacks would be led to the moral compass many of today’s young people lack.
Young people are losing their bearings, he said.
“If you don’t have a strong family, if you don’t know your genealogy, if you don’t have moral traditions, you can get caught up in confusion and you can see the spread of drugs, alcohol, unwanted pregnancy, crime.”
Today, he sees a lot of “angry, confused young people who don’t know who they are”.
“We are trying to break the cycle of crime and ignorance and broken families. It begins, I believe, with the spirit and the mind, so our roots are very important,” said the learned Muslim.
That so many young people are attracted to radical organisations in the name of Islam is a matter of concern to the one-time Imam in a big Toronto Islamic mosque, and he left no doubt about where he stands when he stated: “Isis is an extremist organisation that does not represent Islam.”
However, he conceded the radical group had “a good system of propaganda” and painted “a good picture” which was proving to be attractive to many “frustrated and disillusioned young people in search of adventure”.
“They go there; get married. Unfortunately when they get there they find it a living hell and they are dying in the war.
“This is a big tragedy for us,” Quick said.
But he advised anyone considering joining radical Muslim groups to look back at the life of the Prophet Mohammed. (GC)