This talk with Sam Hamod (SH) is done by Jamouli Ouzidane (JO) For Algerie Network
J.O- When I read the resume of your biography, I felt amazed by this rich multifaceted life that spread all over the fields; an academic and researcher, a teacher and professor of literature in prestigious universities like Princeton, Iowa, Michigan, Wisconsin, Howard and more, a critical political writer, a healer, an editor, a spiritual, a religious Muslim leader who ran The Islamic Center in Washington, and most of all an activist for the defense of your community. You have also been a nominee for the Pulitzer Prize in Poetry. What drives you really on !
S.H. i driven by an old arab in my mind, maybe my grandfather, Hajj Abbass Habhab, and by Islam, and the desire to help our people, to help all people, as a professor and in other parts of my life. i just have a lot of things to do on the earth, and i hope to remain here a long time. one of my heroes was Nasser and later, Qaddafi; both wanted to help their people without, knowing that many would not be happy with their actions but i felt they were men who had the interests of their country and their peoples; i feel the same way.
In my case, i have been given the gift of poetry by Allah, and i feel privileged to write what i do; i feel we need more love poems at this time of hate and warfare–so i write more love poems, but, if u look at such poems of mine as « Sabra and Shatilla in Sorrow », or « After the Bombing: Fakhani, the Shoe » and « There must be something dangerous about a zoo in Rafa » u will see that i also write harsh poems just as i did with the award w inning anti war poem, « with my boys in Iraq. » as to the Pulitzer prize, I will never win it, because i don’t’ write like most American poets, and I’m a stronger poet than my Arab American colleagues who compromise with their work, they often lack fire, fire, fire, passion and more–they often write poetry, i want blood, deep blood, as in The Duende of Lorca.
J.O- You have a universal rich biodiversity background; coming from a Lebanese Muslim immigrant parents, you lived during 5 years in a boarding house hotel in Gary (Indiana) and continued all through your life to be engaged in inter-community dialogues. Does this diversity of living help you to be more aware, tolerant and compassionate with the others minority groups and communities.
S.H ; yes, i was blessed by Allah to grow up in a boading house hotel, with men from around the world who worked n the steel mills, on the railroad, drove garbage trucks, painters, etc; it made me from a very young age a citizen of the world, not just an American kid. these men, 40 plus men, were from turkey, Russia, Poland, Mexico, Cuba, Puerto Rico, Czechs, Slovaks, Hungarians, and from all over America, Tennessee, Alabama, Kentucky, California.
Then when i was 6 years old, my father bought a bar and i was in the bar 6 nights a week, from 6 pm to midnight, the customers were all black, so we had blues ,jazz, rock and roll, and more, we had lawyers, pimps, steel workers, garbage men, railroad workers, bounders, killers, you name it and they came to the bar, because it was the biggest place in the whole Chicago area because my father got some bootlegged Canadian whiskey, and great bands, the place just rocked and rolled every night. as u know in Islam, there is not color barrier, and this just reinforced it, also among the customers were what were called « nation of Islam » from hon. elijah muhammad in Chicago, Moorish science temple, all would come in to talk to my father about Islam. great life.
J.O- During your youth, your father opened a bar in Gary, and you use to spend nearly every night listening to the jazz and later on to hillbill, Indian and Arabic music. Later on, you returned to Gary to open The Broadway Lounge, where you hired prestigious name like B.B.King, Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Red Fox …. this return to your memory reminds me of the concept of return of History by Nietzsche. You also play jazz and singing the blues as a professional ! This sense of music or arts seems to be natural with your sense of poetry, your true love, and of life … Can you tell me how much Art has played int your life !
S.H ; Yes, when i was young in the hotel, i got to hear Mexican, Cuban, Russian, polish, Turkish, Arabic, hillbilly, all kinds of world music, e even had some records of Hindu Indian music, then later blues and jazz; yes, i want my poetry to have a feel of music in it, because English is a very flat language, so u have to use words in a certain way to make a music, a rhythm to make the poem sound, and move as u want it to move so that the emotion u feel comes alive. if it doesn’t, then the poem fails, at least for me. yes, as the man said, « feel so bad, feel like a ball game on a rainy day, » sometimes, bu other days, the sun breaks through and u just laugh and sing, sing sing sing
Yes, music, from arabic, to blues, to jazz, to hillbilly mountain music in America, and classical music from Europe to india/Pakistan, have all have influenced my poetry; i find if poetry does not have music in it, as well as something to be heard or to be learned, then the poem falls flat. too many poems lack music, the fl ow of language that makes the poem sing. poetry is, after all, born from people singing in the old days, even in arab culture, the Qur’an and poems were sung, not just recited; they had emotion, not dullness and just flat words.
One of the great problems poets have in English is that English is a fl at language; it does not have the musicality of Italian, Arabic, Spanish or French; thus, the best of our poets must make the poetry come alive so that it is not have dull sound. our greatest poets in English, had that sense of music, whether it be Whitman, or Keats, or Chaucer, and it was so with the Greeks, with Homer—but too many of our contemporary poets don’t have it; on the other hand, there are a few like me who thrive on it, the great poet, Amiri Baraka, Sonia Sanchez, and her late husband, the great Ethridge Knight (most of us are not white anglo saxon poets, we are either African american or in my case, arab).
there are these great lines from an old blues song, I love to sing at at times, and it’s great poetry:
“Feel so bad,
feel like a ballgame on a rainy day,
Feel so bad,
feel like a ballgame on a rainy day,
Guess I’ll take my raincheck,
take my hat and walk away…”
The song goes on, but I know you can feel it; u feel the rain, the despair, and I like the way he says, “guess I’ll take my raincheck, take my hat and walk away…”
There is that sense then, that though I’ve got the blues ( and I personally have really had the blues at times), I’ll just take my raincheck, take my hat and walk away, just to carry on. in my case, I think it was my mother’s influence, to just believe in Allah and to persist and all things will somehow work out. so too with the blues singers, they always felt, like Shakespeare, that things, redemption would come, and so do I.
J.O- Your father get convicted in a trial for killing a man in self defense at the bar. What does this part of critical life has taught you as a young man about tragedy !
S.H ; As to my father killing the man in self defense;he was first charged with last degree murder. and that sad chapter, i don’t remember much about it except that we just carried on, my mother and us, and my uncles came to help. we also, to keep things calmed down, hired St. Louie, a man who later became a friend of mine when i ran the bar, a big burly guy, who was known to have killed at least 6 men with his 45. i guess it was just part of who i was, that no matter what happens, u just carry on, u get through anything, because u have to; life is that way,u just keep going, knowing tough times will come, but that Allah is always with u,even if u forget him.
My father shot a man in self defense, but because of corruption in Gary, Indiana, and an anti-arab and anti-muslim attitude from the Jewish mayor, they charged him with lst degree murder, even though all the witnesses said it was self defense. this went on for 2 years, during which time our house was shot up, and the bar was under constant police harassment, and problems, but we weathered it.
I became the man of the house at 12 yrs old and my mother told me, though I don’t recall doing it, that I chose my father’s defense attorney and fired the lst one she’d hired. the man we hired, Robert Moore was a great defense attorney, but I just felt he was the right one, but don’t know why. later, when I went to law school at the University of Chicago, I understood from the Dean of the Law School, who later became Attorney General of the United States, Mr. Levi, that Moore was one of the best trial lawyers in the entire American Midwest.
During the time my dad was in jail, for his safety, they had him moved by change of venue to Rensselear, Indiana, where he spent his time in a small jail cell in this small town. My dad got along well with the sheriff, a Mr. Bill Webb, and so he hate dinner with he and his wife each night in the jail or at times, the sheriff would let him walk around town in the daytime but he had to stay in town and sleep in the jail at night.
I remember, aside from the fear of a court decision, that it was always peaceful to go to see my dad in Rensselear, because it was Dutch settled farm country, and my mother loved it as well because she grew up in Fort Dodge, Iowa, a farming community, in an early Arab Muslim family; thus we all got along well. I even became friends with the grandchildren of the sheriff, the DeWees family, and we remained friends for many years ,but as time goes by, you lose connections, but I still remember them well.
My father at the time, made a promise to my mother and Allah that if he got out of this situation, we’d sell everything in Gary, and move to Cedar Rapids, Iowa and live a peaceful life. Fortunately for us and my father, the judge threw the case out without a trial because all the witnesses came forth with proof of the self defense.
Unfortunately, my father did not keep his word to us or to Allah, and we resumed a rough life in Gary, where things were always rough in a steel mill town, where peace rarely lived.
From this experience, I learned that the law is pretty corrupt, as I had known, but worse than I had imagined, but that also Allah sends “angels’ to help you, as with attorney Moore, Sheriff Webb and the judge who threw the case out. I remember from my lst week in law school at the U. of Chicago, the best law school in America at the time, the professor of trial law said, “40% of the judges are corrupt, 40%are ignorant and shouldn’t be judges but are there because of politics, and 20% are good judge; so don’t expect the law to be about justice, but try for justice as much as you can. Law is about law, not about justice.” so true, so very true; even in this world in which we live.
Even the famed Nobel Prize has lost its luster when they could give a Peace Prize to a warmonger like Obama; pretty soon, they may give one to George w. bush or tony blair, these days these things are not too far fetched.
Also, later, I wrote speeches while at northwestern university for the famed Richard Daley, mayor of Chicago; I saw even more corruption then. thus, I am still innocent and believe in the good things of life, but I have never been naive, so I know the devil is around the corner all the time.
J.O- You then went into contact with many religious experiences like the Moorish Science Temple and Ahmadiya Muslim sects, and you got some tutoring in Islam. how much those spiritual quests shaped your life later on …
S.H ; The various sects of Islam didn’t matter to me; i felt, and still feel we are all Muslims and i wish that so many would just forget about this sectarian nonsense and stupidity. there was the prophet Muhammad, the Qur’an, and that was it (as well as the other prophets Allah sent). i was tutored well in Islam by my grandfather, by his example, Hajj Abbass Habhab, and by varous Muslims at Al Azhar and Najaf; and by my private tutors, Dr. Mahmoud Hoballah,vice rector of al azhar, and sheikh mohammed Jawad Chirri, who was from Lebanon and who studied at Najaf,and of course, from my own reading of the Quran.
I’ve also doubted even the all egedly best hadith, because they were recorded over 200years after the death of the prophet. in my communications classes we did this small experiment and it always came out this way, i would whisper something in the ear of a student, who would whisper it in the next student, after 10 students, most of the time, the message would be the opposite of what i’d said, or so distorted that it was not my message at all–so much for men passing on hadith, etc. but, as we say, « to each his own, » but the Qur’an is my guide,not the hadith because too often they are twisted for he use of someone’s desires or position.
I heard of how to live from my grandfather, Hajj Abbass Habhab, and read the Qur’an at an early age; both influenced me strongly. I saw how tough, and at times, cruel, my father was, but how much stronger and much kinder my mother’s father, Hajj Abbass was, so I modeled my life after the Qur’an and the Hajj.
When my father was in the bar business, and in the hotel business, I met many Muslims from around the world, and from America, from The Nation of Islam, Moorish Science Temple, Ahmaddiya, and sufi like Sufi Bengalee (from Bengal, India), and read books on Islam, but primarily the Qur’an. I also had learning in Islam at a mosque they set up in Michigan City, Indiana on Sundays, and also at times in CedarRapids, Iowa where they had set up an early mosque, now called “the mother mosque” because of its early founding in the USA.
Later, I had tutoring from Dr. Mahmoud Hoballah, the Vice Rector of Al Azhar, and Sheikh Mohamed Jawad Chirri who had taught in Lebanon, in Soar, and in Najaf, Iraq; thus, I understood Islam as one, but never believed in the split between the Sunni and Shi’a and to this day, I think this is nonsense, because it does not belong in Islam, and is about politics not religion. We must live in the present.
I remember once, I was in New York city to speak on TV after 9.11,and was with my friend, the great jazz pianist, Ahamad Jamal, and we were going out to dinner. his driver, a fellow muslim said, “Dr. Hamod, it is good that you will be speaking, but it should be on the radio not on TV.” I asked him why? He said, “because you cut your hair short and you have no beard like the prophet.”
I answered, if the prophet had a regular barb er I’m sure he’d have his hair cut shorter to be cooler in the desert, and if he had a Norelco or electric razor, he would have shaved.
Still unconvinced, I then told the brother, “if the prophet, pbuh, was here today, in this heat, do you think he’d rather ride a camel or in this Cadillac?” he had no answer.
I’m sure, if the prophet were alive today, pbuh, he’d adjust to contemporary life; thus, we should follow his example, but not the limitations of his physical life,etc.
I just took each group of Muslims as fellow muslims who wanted to go in their own directions, and to this day I feel the same, but I do not like them attacking one another because this is wrong, and against the true spirit of Islam. Live and let live, and let Allah make the final decisions; they are beyond our wisdom, and we have no right to play and judge as if we are Allah.
JO ; What is your view of Islam ? What do you think of all the hate against Islam and Muslim after 9/11 while it’s the Muslim word that suffered the most in Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan and now in Syria ? How do you live this hate in America in your every day life ? What is the life survival in the America Dream for you since you book deal with this in general; Surviving in America (with Anselm Hollo and Jack Marshall) ? Is Amerasian still the dream land or is it turning to hell jungle for survivals?
What is you perspective for this conflict between West and Islam ? After centuries crusades and colonization, the game of predation seems to be endless. Are we going to an End Game ; a kind of chaotic destruction of the human mankind or is it just a transitional misunderstanding ? How do you see the future ?
What is your point of view for the Arab spring. Are the Arab and Muslim word cursed for barbarian way of life and still immature for modernity living in eternal tribes and civil wars as depicted by Ibn Khaldoun. The Islamic pest seem to follow the cholera of the dictators. Are we cursed ?
SH; since 9.11, being a Muslim I America has become harder because there is so much hate that Cheney and G.W. Bush perpetrated, and this is continued and expanded on by the u.s. gov to make us “the enemy”, and this is aided and abetted by the Zionists and their evangelical allies (who they pay off financially, but some day Allah will jam that money down their throats and send them to hell, inshallah). but we persist.
unfortunately, the Muslim organizations rarely work together; they are run by egotists and people looking for money from Saudi Arabia;
Thus, we have a lot of wahabi imams now, a lot of very reactionary Pakistani and Indian Muslims, and many who converted who think this is Islam; Islam in America has gone backward and is killing itself from within, at the same time, the u.s gov is doing all it can to put spies into the mosques, setting up naive Muslims who they entrap into anti gov plots then arrest them; it is a mess. also, with all the new laws that bush and now Obama have passed, they can arrest a person and hold him or her without charges, no habeas corpus anymore, and no trial; a lot like Guantanamo for all of us is possible.
The “arab spring” in Tunisia was allowed to be run by the people, but now, the Americans and west have their hands in it, just as they have their hands in Egypt and terribly so in Syria. the west and wahabis have hijacked the Syrian revolution; the Assad family was cruel, but these new jihadists will be worse, they are out and out salafis, and they are not real Muslims, but people who wear the mask of islam, as did khomeni, but use it for their own power and greed, not caring about the people or the country.
Also,when some of them talk of shari’a, it is apparent they know nothing of shari’a, but make it up as they go to suit their own ends; ;this is a disaster. This was an “arab tornado” not an “arab spring” taken over by the killer west and the salafists.
Islam was to set up free, and the religion is good, it’s just the people who are crazy and who screw things up. yes, ibn khaldun’s comments are still appropo today, sadly enough. we are not cursed, it’s just that we’ve had too many crazies in Islam that forgot the opening lines of Al Fati’ha, In the name of Allah, the beneficent, the merciful…
JO ; You have been nicknamed as the Poet with the 5 senses ; sight, sound, smell, taste and touch. This join a bit the concept of poetry by Baudelaire but I can see if you allow me a sixth sense ; Imagination ! Can you explain your concept of poetry and sense or sensuality. what makes a poet ?
SH ; Yes, we use our 5 senses, plus imagination, and I’d add another sense, a 7th sense, that of spirituality in my poetry. as with Shakespeare, and the Qur’an, I always try to find what is good, even in tragedy, because, if we persist, we find ways to make life better for ourselves and others. I always feel ike there is a sense of the leader in me, as if there is an Imam in us, that stays alive and is to lead and share with others, whether it be in politics, as I did with my newspaper, Third World News in Washington, DC, to give a voice to the Arabs and Muslims, and third world peoples, or in poetry, or in articles; we have to give a voice for those who are afraid or who have no voice, or way to express what they feel,as we feel and speak.
I agree that imagination and sensuality is there in Beaudelaire, but I want to go further; not live in despair, but to go beyond it. as I said earlier, as with the blues and my life, as I told a friend once who thought I was a bit too soft, “Never fear, when I carried those guns, and if my life was on the line, there was no doubt I’d shoot and think later; I’ve never been naïve, but prefer to remain innocent.” the same is true of my poetry. it was interesting, once a lady I was in love with said of my poems, “but they are just words,” I told her, “no, they are my heart, they are my life in truth.” a few months later, I came across a quote from Rumi that said the same basic thing, his poems were his “heart.”
JO ; Your first book was in poetry in 1965, Beaten Stones Like Memories. What is your sense of time and history. Your Memories sound like a ghost in Hamlet’s mind while Krishnamurti teaches us to reprogram our mind and neurons for new horizons. Is this conscious of memory, time and space, personal and community, a curse or a benediction. there is also the memory of death where the past death is waiting for us in the future. Is this god of death what keeps you writing to fight hopelessly death of time but the universe is irreversible ! How do you want to be remembered, what is your legacy ?
SH ; We use memories, but we are not trapped by them. but in a sense, for me, all time is NOW, past, present and even possibly the future; time for me is vertical, all now at different levels. I remember a great play by Giradoux, Ondine, where at lst I couldn’t figure it out, but then after a while, I realized that he and I had the same sense of time, that it was all NOW, and even those we think are gone, are still here, with us, n our memories, but even perhaps around us in a diff dimension we can’t see, but at t imes can feel. I remember once, when I was in a difficult situation, my dad came back in a dream and told me what to do, and told me if I didn’t do it, I was a dummy. he was absolutely correct; thus, for me, everything, all time, all things are possible.
As for the past and present. I remember when I was young, dr. hoballah, sheikh chirri and my father all said that one day I would be director the The Islamic Center in Washngton,DC. I said, “no, I don’t speak Arabic or read or write it, don’t pray 5 times a day, and beside, they always choose someone from an Arab l and, not from America.”
But, as circumstances evolved, and the Khomeini group took it over by force; the Muslim ambassadors turned to me to oust them and to run it; thus, I was able,with Allah’s help, to do it, not for Sunni or Shi’a but the sake of keeping the center open for all Muslims of all sects and races (because the Khomeini group wanted only their own inside and no one else and they often beat or shot those who disagreed or stood up to them.).
While I ran the Center, I was featured every week in Iran as “big shaitan”, with my photo etc,and they tried to kill me, but all went well with Allah’s help, I left after 3 years and went back to being an educator and professor and that is another story for my time as the AcademicExpert for Qatar and then as writer in residence at Howard University, the most famous African American univ. in America.
I’m not sure if there is another life after what we call ‘death” or not, but I hope so, and many wise writers believe so; thus, we believe, but in the end, we know nothing. I do not want to die, and I fear death because I have no idea if there is any more than this life, but I still hope and try not to think about it very much while I still have time to live this wonderful life Allah has given me, al humdillilah.
JO – last but least a question from a fan of your Serap Balaman Morel; I wonder while humanity is passing through very violent , dark , no pity, no justice, no new creation of beauty , consuming everything had been done before , reshaping, stealing, presenting as new, and very confused times in all aspects of life, when our food, education, health, life and future is being under threat of BIG MONEY , are you still optimist about the future of humanity.
SH- A Hungarian man asked me, he was an immigrant, what I thought the religion of America was. I asked him what he thought, he stood up, and said, in a strong voice, “america’s god is money, pure and simple, money and greed.!!” I told him I agreed with him. I told him at one time I would have disagreed, but as I’ve gotten to know our true history,I’m sure it has always been money and greed since the “puritans” and “pilgrams”landed and lied with Columbus who said they “discovered America.” in truth, they came and stole it by theft and by killing from the native Americans and have at this time are trying to steal the whole of the earth, but America cannot and will not succeed, but America may destroy the earth in the process with either greed or war with china.
America, obama and hillary clinton have the blood of qaddafi on their hands. qaddafi gave Libyans free: education, housing, medical care and if necessary, free food; no one else has ever done this,and he did nothing to America. even the Reagan lies were all lis, as even former sec. of state George Schultz admitted ind 1986 to a joint committee of congress that it was all pure disinformation to “make America ready for the future of terrorism.” I remember qaddafi told me early in the 1980s, “im no fool, I know america could wipe out Libya in a matter of hours, I have no interest in killing that stupid cowboy Reagan.”
But, as we all know, they also killed qaddafi because they wanted to stop the money to the African Union so that the american “African command” could help nato rape Africa as they’d done for centuries.
The world is in a mess and it’s getting worse; the theft of people’s money to pay for bankers’ gambling in the markets is illegal and the bankers should be hung, not saved; just as in America, they should be jailed or hung, but obama and atty general holder do not want to prosecute them. thus, evil walks and reigns while justice loses and the people suffer. I saw a statistic about America, that since 1966, 1% of the people, the top 1%have gained 99% of the growth in wealth, and the average american has gained only $52.00 increase in wages during the time from 1966to the present.
I don’t have a lot of hope, but I still believe we should go on, even if this earth has become nothing more than a mega slave colony, esp. in America.
So, we carry on, with hope, in the face of a situation where we can find no hope, except in the hoped for justice from Allah, and I still hold on that hope and belief.
Thank you for his opportunity, jamouli.
I am available for lectures and poetry readings and workshops,and I can be reached at:
Princeton, NJ; usa