The True Story of a Muslim Mystic, a Hollywood Epic, and the 1977 Siege of Washington, DC
by Shahan Mufti
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Pub Date 22 Nov 2022 | Archive Date 14 Jan 2023
The riveting true story of America’s first homegrown Muslim terror attack, the 1977 Hanafi siege of Washington, D.C.
Late in the morning of March 9, 1977, seven men stormed the Washington, D.C., headquarters of B’nai B’rith International, the largest and oldest Jewish service organization in America. The heavily armed attackers quickly took control of the building and held more than a hundred employees of the organization hostage inside. A little over an hour later, three more men entered the Islamic Center of Washington, the country’s largest and most important mosque, and took hostages there. Two others subsequently penetrated the District Building, a few hundred yards from the White House. When a firefight broke out, a reporter was killed, and Marion Barry, later to become mayor of Washington, D.C., was shot in the chest. The deadly standoff brought downtown Washington to a standstill.
The attackers belonged to the Hanafi Movement, an African American Muslim group based in D.C. Their leader was a former jazz drummer named Hamaas Abdul Khaalis, who had risen through the ranks of the Nation of Islam before feuding with the organization’s mercurial chief, Elijah Muhammad, and becoming a spiritual authority to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Like Malcolm X, Khaalis had become sharply critical of the Nation’s unorthodox style of Islam. And, like Malcolm X, he paid dearly for his outspokenness: In 1973, followers of the Nation murdered seven Hanafis at their headquarters, including several members of Khaalis’s family. When they took hostages in 1977, one of the Hanafis’ demands was for the murderers, along with Muhammad Ali and Elijah’s son, to be turned over to the group to face justice. They also demanded that the American premiere of Mohammad: Messenger of God—an epic about the life of the prophet Muhammad financed and supported by the Libyan leader Muammar Gadhafi—be canceled and the film destroyed. The lives of 149 hostages hung in the balance, and the United States’ fledgling counterterrorism forces—as yet untested—would have to respond.
Shahan Mufti’s American Caliph gives a full account of the largest ever hostage taking on American soil and of the man who masterminded it. Informed by extensive archival research and access to hundreds of declassified FBI files, American Caliph is a riveting true-crime story that sheds new light on the disarray of the 1970s and its ongoing reverberations.