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Atlanta Pays Tribute to Abdul-Jami Allen (1950-2015)

Atlanta Pays Tribute to Abdul-Jami Allen (1950-2015)


Author Amr Omar by

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Photo: Abdul-Jami Allen

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Atlanta’s Muslim community lost one of its leaders when hunger relief activist Abdul-Jami Allen passed away on Aug. 1 after battling cancer. Abdul-Jami, founder of the non-profit Giving Back to Humanity, was a source of guidance, inspiration and relief for both the Muslim and broader Atlanta community over the past 30 years, family and friends say.

“Brother Abdul-Jami was a jewel in our community,” said local activist Atiba Saleem Jones. “He lived a life of selfless service. Abdul-Jami literally served thousands upon thousands of people over the past several years....”

As the leader of Giving Back to Humanity, perhaps the most successful food service program organized by Muslims in Atlanta, Abdul-Jami could be found on Broad Street every Sunday morning. There, he organized, fed and connected with Atlanta’s underserved population.

Established in 2005, Giving Back to Humanity now feeds anywhere from 300 to 350 people every Sunday. That number only drops to about 275 on days of extreme rain or cold, according to organizers.

But hunger relief was not a recent interest for Abdul-Jami. The Atlanta Muslim had been organizing and serving the needy in Atlanta since 1984.

“He dedicated his life to serving those in need and asked for nothing in return,” Saleem-Jones said. “He just wanted to make a difference in their lives. His passion for this work derived from him experiencing very hard times in his own life. Out of his gratitude for being lifted out of that state, he spent the rest of his life trying to uplift others.”

A friend echoed those sentiments.

“We have lost a good soldier,” said Atlanta Muslim Hasan Clay. “This brother did the footwork in areas many did not want to walk. He fed the homeless. He worked with men on the streets. He guided those coming out of prison. He talked to people many turn away from.”

In a recent interview with The Barutiwa Daily Times, Abdul Jami was asked why he devoted his life to helping people. He pointed to his Islamic beliefs, saying that providing food to the hungry purges a believer of his or her sins.

Before embracing Islam, Allen was actually known as the disco king of New York City, according to the Times.

“Upon first glance it is difficult to believe that this Muslim humanitarian was once the disco king of New York City during the 1970's,” the Times wrote, noting “Mr. Allen is a tall, dark brown skinned older gentleman who wears a traditional Muslim Kufi on top of his head. His appearance is humble and serious while fulminating a unique gentleness at the same time.”

Allen may have even served as the inspiration for a famous fictional movie character.

“In fact, Nik Cohn, the author of the fictional novel Tribal Rites of the New Saturday Night, publicly admitted that his book was based on the life of Abdul-Jami Allen during the 1970's in New York City,” the Times wrote. “This is important because Cohn's novel influenced the making of the Hollywood blockbuster Saturday Night Fever featuring John Travolta.”

But Allen left that life behind when he embraced Islam and dedicated years to helping those in need.

“He chose to sacrifice his personal desire for his own family and committed to embrace and align with the energies of love and humility with graciousness and now peace with those he chose to call family, “ said Antionette Fahie.

Atlantan Crystal Udqah said, “He was known for many things in his life, some quite amazing things indeed, but we remember him in his later days for being of service to the people of Atlanta. Muslim and non Muslim, he was a servant, and a leader.”

Abdul-Jami’s friends hope his efforts will inspire other Atlanta Muslims to engage in similar humanitarian work, particularly the youth.

“Abdul-Jami is another one of our pioneers and leaders who has passed on,” Saleem-Jones said. “His life and his death should act as a motivation for us, especially the younger generation, to step up and do our part, just as he did his part.”

You can support "Giving Back to Humanity" in the form of food, cash or clothing. Visit www.givingback2humanity.org.

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