1 Dead, 7 Injured. In memorium: The Awad family.
This horrific thing happened to my old dear neighbors last night and I’m reeling. From 1987 to 1995 the Haifa Food Market on Flatbush, between 6thand St. Marks’ Avenues, was the family bodega. If you knew Brooklyn before it got hip maybe you know how the Awads, the Palestinian family who ran the place, became something like family. When Nevine and I moved in we’d just been married in Cairo and they found my bad restaurant Arabic amusing. Amin Awad, the father of them all, was an Iman from Haifa who’d had lost everything in the troubles and emigrated to Brooklyn. I never asked him why Brooklyn anymore than he asked why I’d left the East Village. Of course, Brooklyn.
Having had a quasi-mystical experience, I was immersing myself in all things Egyptian. While I married into a Coptic family, I’d enjoyed a particularly inclusive and enlightening introduction to Islam by a family in the fellaheen village on the necropolis of Thebes. Across the street from the Ramesseum, with Hatchepsut’s temple out back, Mohammed Ahmed al-Saidi, that family’s patriarch and the street Sheikh of Qurna, regaled me with stories of the Hajj he’d painted Wild Style on the family compound’s walls. He put the fun in the fundamentals. I came away impressed by Islamic tolerance with me, Christianity and Judaism.
Back in Brooklyn I’d enjoy more of the same with Haifa, which is how everyone in the neighborhood addressed Amin. Maybe twenty years older, Mr. 5×5 (“…five feet tall and five feet high – he don’t measure no more from head to toe than he does from side-to-side“- Jimmy Rushing), the man had a fashionless sense of style. The way he wore his suit impressed me as much as his air of piety. He was cool because he was cool headed, hip in a way that didn’t hurt.
He was a religious man, a homely man who ran the halal bodega I was in and out of two, three times a day for eight years. Al Sharpton lived on the block and I’d run into him there. These were the Tawana Brawley years. Amin’s wife, once Belgian, was as Palestinian a woman as I have known and I have yet to meet one I didn’t like. Her I loved. Bubbly then, in critical condition now. His daughter, Houda, was the only person I could trust to babysit Ad. Curiously, none of the female casualties are named in the papers. Basam, who fell from the top floor, known as Sam, who was graduating high school, talked to me about continuing his education. His younger brother, Abdurahman (a.k.a. Omar) presently in shock, venerated Sam. His respect was no less sincere for being rote. It came that easy.
After I became a father and I walked into the store I was getting some respect too and it was “Abu Adam” this and that. My man, Abu Basam, was the Iman at Riker’s Island, and in ’93, after the first bombing of the World Trade Center, some unaccredited journalist credited him with converting more people to Islam than anyone else in America. The FBI made themselves conspicuous, parking up in front of Nkiru Books, staking out Haifa, pissing off Adelaide Miller and her staff. Nkiru was THE black independent bookstore in Brooklyn then. Talib Kweli and Dante Smith (a.k.a. Mos Def) were clerking there back once upon a time. The neighborhood was still radical. I still liked it.
The Feds made a surveillance show of themselves, parked up on the triangular traffic island under that big clock out front on Flatbush for about six months but they didn’t leave it at that. Haifa, who was one of the clerics at Masijd Al Farooq, the big mosque a couple blocks down Atlantic past 4th Ave, called out their false accusations equating Islam with “terrorism” straight. The papers were quoting him: “Islam is not a religion of terrorism. It is the religion of peace,” said Imam Amin Awad, leader of a Brooklyn-based mosque, where the sheik also has preached. … “The media is not representing America,” Awad said. “It is representing some kind of special people in America and it is representing their special interests.”
It was not just the media misrepresenting America’s best interests but, Jack, that cat was clean. There was nothing under Amin’s cover for the snoops. Still, they didn’t give up. In 2003 Ray Kelley’s saying, “They did their fund-raising right here in our own backyard,” meaning Atlantic Avenue’s Al Farooq Mosque, where Amin headed the board of trustees. The Commissioner contended their Islamic charity was donating to a terrorist cause but he couldn’t say which.
It was, in fact, incredible. That there was no proof was still not enough to stop the cops. As the Prison Legal News (Sept. 15, 2003) spells it out, in “a full scale witch hunt due more to unfounded fear than logic,” after five years service, Riker’s Island Jail’s Muslim chaplain [Amin] was banned from his ministry “for no good reason…There appears to be no allegation that Awad was personally involved in any of this. ”
I saw him before I left Brooklyn for Harlem in 2003 and he wasn’t his usual buoyant, animated self. Neither was I. That was our last long talk. My dentist was in the old neighborhood and I walked in unannounced to pleasant surprise. We talked as best I could, which was to say I’d read about his travails. “Oh, it is nothing. How does one deal with ignorance? Some say it serves us right to suffer.” Maybe.
From today’s Daily News: “My brother’s wife is in the hospital, his sons are in the hospital,” said Awad’s brother Abdurahman Awad, 36. Awad and his brother lost their father recently, he said, fighting back tears. “I lost my brother and I lost my dad a couple of months ago,” he said, staring at his burnt and pitted building. “I lost my property. I lost my family.”
Rest In Peace
If you can find it in your heart to contribute to the Awads, please: