Nii Mensah, from Ghana, is working on my look. What an Imam concerned about “dunya”? A few years ago I was a guest on the CNN-Paul Zahn Show. I was being filmed in the Washington, DC studio and Paula was in NYC. I came dressed in my uniform-Thawb, Kufi and beard (The international symbols of an Imam) and to top it off I worn one of my best Saudi Arabian Abiya-Black with the heavy gold embroidery. Usually I get my thawbs in Mecca right off of Abu Sufyan St and always of the highest quality, Duffa Clothiers. The Kufi purchased in Medina after finishing Hajj from a Nigerian street merchant selling from a very large bag. My custom, when I arrive in Medina I am looking for those traveling Nigerian salesman to replenish my collection. I sort through the bag of brightly colored crowns selecting everyone that will fit my big African-American head. The writer Julius Lester has a theory that African-American have bigger heads than most West Africans because of natural selection during slavery times…..the big headed brothers where the ones caught because we were slower getting out of bed during the slaving raids on the villages. (Really – not funny). After buying my fill of kufis and designer thawbs I head back to America with a new working wardrobe for just a couple of hundred dollars.
Why am I concerned about my look? Maybe it’s because I represent other people, including African-Americans, other American Muslims and ultimately Americans. I don’t want Muslims to be disappointed at the frumpy or dowdy dress of their representative especially on TV. So there I am…..The official Imam Johari….you would think with this effort brothers would be sharing the love. Not long after I leave the studio I get a call from a brother that I know, love and respect, Dr. Amir Al-Islam. He said, “Imam you did a great job, but you can’t go out representing us looking like an Arab!”. I was alittle taken aback but I retorted in my defense that I do my best to look authentic. He agreed, “Yes, you ARE always authentic”.
From that time I have been lecturing about American Muslim identity and have been struggling with my uniform. And so I have been on a quest to develop a dress that will cause people to pause before they ask me, ‘What country are you from-originally?” Before speak they will think, “Maybe America”.
Tailor, Nii Mensah (firstname.lastname@example.org) is helping me to work on my look. I got some designs from one of my former students and the first female MSA president at Howard University, Kamilla Munir. She has a degree in environmental hygiene and fashion design. Mensah’s job is to make the concepts work for the new and improved American Imam Johari look. I went to one masjid to do an event and saw me an my suit and commented on the “Imam Siraj Wahhaj suit”. I still have work to do to come out from under the shadow of the fashion statements made my Imam, Siraj Wahhaj and the brothers from Imam Muhammad’s community.
I am determined to represent Muslims in American in word, in deed and in fashion.
And for: email@example.com
Yes, my favorite food: Halal Chinese, Thai, Caribbean and Ethiopian and I’m married to an African-American Muslima🙂 and my mother makes the best macaroni and cheese in the world.
So, this imam has some “N” in him, but beware not the bring it call it out. It might not be the “N” your “looking” for……………