Book Review: Revolution by the Book, Imam Jamil Al-Amin, First Edition: 1993, Writers’ International
Review by Bheria
There are many Muslim figures that are worthy of being given more recognition by the Muslim public, and Imam Jamil Al-Amin is one such individual.
He is a community leader and an eloquent speaker with polarizing views. One could even argue that his name should be at the top of the list.
Interestingly however, he wasn’t always known as Jamil al-Amin and even less so as an Imam.
Once upon a time, he was simply known as H. Rap Brown, a prominent leader in the Black Panther Party.
From Brown to Green
The Black Panther Party (1966-1982) was a Black-centric party known for its radical politics. Espousing a Marxist-Leninist ideology—more specifically of the Maoist variety (Black Panther Party founder, Huey P. Newton, appreciated its Third Worldism)—the party refused the assimilationist narrative, instead favoring Black separatism, and it proposed that the only way for African-Americans to secure some dignity in the US was through revolutionary politics, which also included violence.
Aside from Huey P. Newton and H. Rap Brown, other prominent figures that were attached to the party include the likes of Eldridge Cleaver, whose autobiographical Soul on Ice is not only one of the best American autobiographies but also one of the most controversial (such as his comments about sexually assaulting White women as some form of revenge).
Another seminal personality was Stokely Carmichael, who effectively “internationalized” their struggle when he forged friendships with Ghana’s Kwame Nkrumah and Guinea’s Ahmed Sékou Touré, both of whom were eminent representatives of the decolonial African socialist thought (Stokely Carmichael went on to rename himself Kwame Ture later on as a form of tribute).
This internationalism of the Black Panther Party is further accentuated by the way they sought refuge in Algeria from the ’70s onward, which they did in order to escape police brutality in the US (the Black Panther Party treasurer, Bobby Hutton, was shot dead in 1968 at the age of 17—just one of the many Black Panther Party figures who were killed or harassed by the police).
So the Black Panther Party was both internationalist and radical, and H. Rap Brown still stood out even within such an already polarizing environment. This was not only due to his physique (as someone who is 6’5” tall) but because he was actually even more radical. He was a Black Panther Party leader that was openly calling for violence within the urban centers of the US, which some viewed as being a direct call towards urban guerrilla warfare (this link being made because Brown militated against the Vietnam War and they thought he wanted to reproduce this within the US).
Brown summarized much of his existence as a political agitator in his autobiography, Die Nigger Die! (1969), a book which still enjoys a significant readership even now, decades after its initial publication.
As expected, Brown had to spend some time in jail due to his ideology, during which he not only discovered Islam (he was already familiar with its broad principles through Malcolm X) but he also looked into it more seriously. After some study and partaking in prayers with Muslims while still not being one himself, he eventually pronounced his Shahadah after his release in October 1976, after which he became Imam Jamil Al-Amin.
Imam Jamil Al-Amin would eventually become a community leader in Atlanta affiliated with Dar-ul-Islam, a “fundamentalist” organization notable for being the first mass movement of African-Americans who subscribed to normative Sunni Islam and not heresies such as the “Nation of Islam” cult.
For more on this heretical cult, you may refer to the following articles:
Before delving into the actual book itself, we thought it’d be important to introduce its author because he definitely deserves the attention considering the great richness of his story and varied life experiences.
Imam Jamil Al-Amin suffers from multiple myeloma, a type of bone marrow cancer. For far too long now (many years in fact), he has been languishing in prison (including some time spent at the infamous ADX Florence). He is serving a life sentence for a crime that he didn’t commit, the alleged murder of a policeman in 2000. To this day, his family and friends continue to petition for a new trial despite many rejected appeals, absolutely certain that he was convicted based on flimsy grounds and convinced that his conviction was solely due to political reasons.
Now that we know more about the author, let’s discuss the actual book itself.
Revolution by the Book is both a general introduction to Islam and also a kind of political manifesto. Some would say it pertains directly to “liberation theology.” You can see some hints of the former Black Panther Party ideologue, H. Rap Brown, in this book by Imam Jamil Al-Amin (this is also the reason we believed the biographical contextualization to be so essential).
It is a relatively brief book, fewer than 200 pages long. The writing style is accessible and the chapter division is such that basically every chapter has a single theme, often a pillar of Islam, which is developed through Imam Jamil Al-Amin’s commentary on resources from the Qur’an and the Sunnah.
We can peruse a few of these chapters without actually adding much in terms of exegesis, essentially giving the reader a preview into the author’s style.
Chapter 1: God Alone
After using the usual religious formulas you’d expect from a traditional Sunni work, he begins by stressing that the most important aspect of Islam is the emphasis on Tawhid, or “monotheism.”
He says that Tawhid leads not only to a successful human existence but, through Iman (faith) and Taqwa (God-consciousness), we’re also able to refuse all forms of man-made slaveries, both psychological and physical.
We read on pp.4-6:
The program for successful human existence revolves around what is known as the five pillars of Islam. The first and most fundamental pillar is the Declaration of Faith, which in Arabic is called Shahadah. That is to bear witness to the Oneness of God, whose proper name in Arabic is Allah. One must recognize and accept Tauheed, the Oneness, the Uniqueness of Allah, and testify that there is nothing greater, nothing beyond the reality of this Eternal and All Encompassing Entity.
In recognizing the dominion and sovereignty of the Lord of the Universe, we establish a relationship with God which prevents and precludes submission to anything other than God. That means that we no longer can be slaves to anyone or anything else. It means that we, as servants of the Ruler of mankind, cannot worship any man-made reality.
On the basis and strength of recognizing and believing that there is a Creator Who has established a program which overrides and controls all programs, all agendas, all matter, we can proceed with confidence towards any goal.
This confidence founded on faith, Iman, is an essential ingredient to success, for a fearful, doubtful person is unable to struggle; he gives up easily, submits to every oppressor, compromises his integrity, acquiesces in injustice, and accepts enslavement.
In contrast, a person who has taqwa, God-consciousness, fears only the Ruler of the Universe, Almighty Allah; he perseveres against the greatest of challenges, maintains his integrity, resists injustice, refuses enslavement, and fights oppression without regard to man-made standards.
Chapter 2: Born To Worship
This chapter is about Salah (prayer).
Besides quoting extensively from the Qur’an and the authentic Ahadith (prophetic narrations), as he does in all of these chapters, Imam Jamil Al-Amin also outlines the societal aspects of the different pillars of Islam.
Here’s what he writes about Salah, on pp.27-28:
And so, that success that Allah talks about comes as the result of the jamaat, the group participation. Why? Because ignorance is organized. Ignorance is not an individual kind of concept. It does not appear as individuality so that we can oppose it as individuals. It is organized so there must be an organized force of enlightenment to dispel it. In other words, Islam; it is the organized program Allah has given whereby you organize yourselves. “By those who arrange themselves in ranks and thereby are strong in repelling evil.” These are the ranks of Salaat, prayer.
Allah says that it is prayer that restrains you from harmful deeds, from bad behavior. Islam is a program of guidelines, of guidance that shows the limits; that shows you how not to transgress against yourself, and how not to transgress against other people. So, on the basis of that, we have grounds to work together. And, what is the object of working together? It is to bring about the worship of Allah. What is the worship of Allah? It is to establish what Allah has said is His sovereignty–the oneness of Allah. Allah said He has created the jinn and men but to worship Him. That is our purpose in life. That is the true reality.
Chapter 4: God’s Diet
This chapter is about Sawm (fasting). Imam Jamil Al-Amin invites us to take a deeper look into what we consume, discussing the effects of industrial chemicals in our food and the impact they could have on our behavior.
He writes on pp.49-51:
An economic decision is made concerning meat that has to be moved from Chicago to New York. To insure long shelf life, they say, “Let’s put preservatives in it.” That’s the same as embalming it, just like you embalm bodies. “Let’s embalm the cows to make more bread.”
Even before the animal is killed, there are certain hormones that are used, again based on economic decisions. Certain hormones are shot into the body of the animals to make them reproduce out of cycle, or to make them big, or tender, to yield more and softer meat when killed. But, what happens to the hormones? They are not removed in the process of cooking. Where do the hormones end up?
They put certain chemicals in the meat to retard spoilage. What is retarding spoilage? That means they keep the bacteria, which normally emerges to break down the tissue, from being able to do their work; they keep them from breaking down the tissue.
Now, you have old meat that doesn’t look or smell bad. But, what happens to the chemicals when you eat the meat? They are not removed because you cook it. What happens to them? And remember, they are toxic chemicals; so what happens?
It is said that the hormone that is most commonly used in the meat industry is estrogen, which is a female hormone. And it is said that estrogen is introduced into the male animal directly. When this is done, the male begins to develop bosoms. We look at all this with a blind eye; we look but we don’t see the kinds of things the society is doing; we play like we don’t have an understanding of what is happening.
What happens in terms of those hormones when they are introduced into the male? We see that the male begins to take on feminine characteristics. He takes on an affinity for feminine things. He wants to pierce his ears, he wants to get manicures. He becomes conscious of the feminine side of life, soft things.
What happens in terms of these hormones when they are introduced into the female? In Puerto Rico, a few years ago, it was observed among 8-year old girls that they began to develop bosoms. Also, their menstrual cycles had begun at eight years old. What was the cause of it? The question was asked, “Maybe it’s in the food?” So they traced back and found out that it was in the pork the young girls were eating. The girls had been eating pigs which had been given hormones, pigs injected in order to stimulate their growth and their reproductive process or cycle. In eating this meat, the girls were affected because the hormones were not leaving the meats.
When the pork was removed from their diet, the process reversed itself, and they became normal eight-year old girls.
Therefore, the whole sense of being aware of God’s creation, of having taqwa, includes knowing what you eat, because you are what you eat. This awareness begins with an increased consciousness of the Creator, of his laws, and of the obligations placed on humanity. Fasting is good for you if you but knew.
This may be quite a long passage to quote from the book, but we thought it merited being reproduced at length, especially because it sounds very relevant to this day despite the fact that it was written in the early ’90s.
And the entire book is written in this manner. Imam Jamil Al-Amin takes a pillar of Islam or a foundational Islamic proposition, whether this is the idea of Fitrah (the innate human disposition) in chapter 6 or the family unit within Islam in chapter 8, and he presents resources from the Qur’an and the Sunnah, along with his own personal observations, in order to help us understand it better and also to draw comparisons between these questions and more modern problems.
It is for this reason that we think, if Allah wills and ultimately with His permission, reading such a book could be beneficial for Muslims.