Day 8

S. Dakota

08/10/2011

58 Comments

WE ARE ALL RELATED
by Aman Ali

Basheer pointed to his gleaming skin and said the no-facial hair stereotype about Native Americans is true.

“Open up a history book and you’re not going to see Geronimo or Sitting Bull with a beard or nothin’” he said.

“Wow, I think you’re probably the least hairiest Muslim I’ve ever met,” I quipped back.

Basheer Butcher is a full-blooded Native American that converted to Islam in 2001. He hails from the Sioux tribe and grew up on the Cheyenne River Reservation in South Dakota. He now lives in Sioux Falls and is active in the Muslim community here of about 3,000 people.

We chatted at length by kicking back on some stones in front of a gaping waterfall in a nearby park. He said he may have abandoned certain traditions in his culture when he embraced Islam, but becoming Muslim actually strengthened his Native American identity.

“A lot of virtues in Native American culture are very similar to values in Islam like sincerity, courage, wisdom and generosity,” he said. “My whole life I was searching for this connection with God and with Islam I felt like I finally found it.”

Basheer has a towering physique and a distinguishable face that looks like it was chiseled from stone.  He wears a soothing sandlewood cologne and speaks with a gentle tone that brought comfort to my senses in more ways than one. When he began opening up about his life, he often reflected with brief pauses before he spoke giving me the impression it’s been a rocky journey to get to where he is today.

Basheer’s birth name is Louis Butcher Jr. and his family name is High Elk. Growing up on a Sioux reservation, he had a rough upbringing and was in search for divine answers to understand what he was dealing with.

“My father was an alcoholic and my parents got divorced when I was really young,” he said. “I had a lot of anger and feelings of resentment because I couldn’t make sense of anything.”

He also had his own demons. He battled with alcoholism and got into fights on the reservation that landed him in and out of jail. He said he never felt much of a connection with many of his Native American spiritual traditions like sweat lodges, a ritual where you ask tribe leaders to pray to spirits on behalf of you.

“I never understood why did I have to tell someone to talk to the spirits or God for me,” he said. “Why can’t I connect to God directly? My whole life that’s what I was seeking.”

He left the reservation at age 31 and moved to a small town in South Dakota called Rapid City. That’s where he met a co-worker that embraced Islam. Basheer was intrigued and in 2001 began researching the religion.

9/11 happened in midst of his studying of Islam and I asked if that tragedy altered his views of the religion.

“I already had my mind made up about being Muslim when 9/11 occurred,” he said.  “I saw what was going on with the backlash and how Muslims were getting attacked. Going through what my people have gone through for the past 250 years in this country and seeing what the Muslims were going through, I felt that connection.”

Basheer’s family speaks Lakota, a Native American language that uses many throat sounds found in Arabic. He shared with me a Lakota proverb that helped lead him on his journey to Islam.

“In Lakota, we have a saying – Mitaku Oyasin,” he said. “It means ‘We are all related’.”

Through God, he said, he felt more connected to humanity and the environment. It was the connection he had been seeking his whole life. His family wasn’t upset with him leaving behind his Native American spiritual traditions, especially his grandmother.

“When I became Muslim, my grandmother told me a Lakota proverb – Taku oyagagmi hantas ihab ichuwo,” he said writing down the proverb on my notepad. “That means ‘If you don’t understand something, then leave it.’”

I drove Basheer home to his apartment at night and we passed by a Native American woman that seemed to be drunk as she stumbled down a sidewalk. Basheer’s face began to ache looking at the window before he quickly turned away.

“Alcoholism is one of the biggest problems Native Americans face anywhere,” he said. “A lot of people deal with their issues by turning to alcohol. Before I was Muslim I had a problem with it. Inshallah (God willing) I will never have to live that life again. It took my father’s life when he was 41 years old and it took my mother’s life in a fatal car accident when she was 36 years old. Being a Muslim and trying hard to be a good Muslim made a big change in my life.”

He may not practice many Native American customs he grew up on, but Basheer emphasized he doesn’t look down on his peers for doing them.

“Everyone has their own sense of a higher power whether it be a connection to God or spirits,” he said.

This year marks 10 years since Basheer has been Muslim. Given his tumultuous past, I asked him where he thinks he’d be today if he wasn’t Muslim. It was a heavy question for him to process and he looked away and took in a few deep breaths before he answered.

“You know, that’s something that’s always in the back of my mind but I try to keep things in a positive perspective,” he said. “Allah has blessed me and I’m always trying to do something good and focus on change in my life.”

“It’s always a worry for me to slip and go back to my old ways,” he added. “But as a believer in God, our faith is always going to go up and down. It’s always important to keep that in perspective to avoid going astray.”

With Islam in his life, I asked him if he has been able to find the answers he was seeking when he began longing for his connection to God as a child.

“Everything happens by Allah’s will,” he said. “All the things I experienced, they happened for a reason and made me the person I am today. There is a connection to everything in this world through Allah.”

Our conversation ended there and I drive away and get a phone call from a friend in New York. I’m quickly pulled out of the spiritual high I was on talking to Basheer to deal with some petty drama my friend had dropped on me. While on the phone, I scratch my nose and notice Basheer’s sandlewood scent is still on my hand. I’m reminded about the connections I have to people in this world and to roll my eyes at my friend’s problem would be rolling my eyes at God’s beauty. I immediately give my friend the time of day he deserves.

Basheer is right, we are all related.

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  • julius

    MASHALLAH AMAN PLEASE CHECK ME OUT I AM A NASHEED ARTIST COME TO DETROIT AFTER YOU ARE DONE I MISS YOU BATCHA

  • Hazel L Gomez

    Absolutely beautiful. Thank you so much for sharing this. I am going to share this with my husband’s grandmother who is full Sioux. She’ll love this!

  • NewYorker

    Subhanallah. 

  • Sumthing Amazing

    This is beautiful, printing it out and letting mother read it. She’ll be absolutely delighted.

  • Rayan

    Thank you for sharing this, and I admire Basheer, mashallah.

    I lived amongst the Inuit (Eskimos) and the Gwich’in tribe for 2 years in Canada’s Arctic.  Living in Native communities, you see the damage that alcohol does.  All malice, all crime in native communities is a result of two things; the British attempting to erase their culture and alcohol. Something interesting which many may not know, but in many native tribes (in particular the Eskimos), when they kill an animal they point it to the North or Northeast (which is the direction of the Kaba in North America).  When I asked them why they do this (I would go hunting with them), they responded “Our elders told us this is where all good things come from.”

    • C Marie

      That is amazing!

  • Annia

    Beautiful story, moving photographs… One of my favorite posts, Bassam. :)

  • http://profiles.google.com/dzabdi88 Zignat Abdisubhan

    I love this guy. I can imagine the kind of spiritual high you got from talking to him. Man, so cool.

  • Yasser

    You have outdone yourself this time! 

    Keep them stories coming.

  • real nigger
  • Louie

    Subhan’Allah… this blog gives me chills… the good kind =)

  • http://profiles.google.com/irfana.hussain Irfana Hussain

    Aman that was a very moving story, and helps to prove that there is no one image of Muslims in America, and this man has more right over this land than most Americans and he’s a Muslim too! I’m loving the personal stories but what happened to the mosques?

  • Hroomana

    That was inspiring and amazing. Seem Bashir always had his fitra clean. May Allah azzawajal bless to him to be the best muslim ever, ameen!

  • Daytonian

    A moving story! Great to see how there are Muslims all over America. And its touching to here how people like him found Islam. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/chowdhuryrashed Rashed Chowdhury

    Another great story, ma sha’ Allah! I’m happy for Bashir, and especially glad that he has maintained respect for his people while embracing Islam. I think traditional Native American views have a lot to teach us, such as respect for God’s creation, and of course the fact that “we are all related”.

  • Afsheen Vaid

    loveee it Bassam! :) amazing! 

  • Abusafwaan3

    Masha-Allah tabarak Allah

  • Tanya Rahman

    Relly digging this post Aman! Good job buddy :)  

  • Rahime

    Thanks for that story, amazing Basheer’s struggle is like my own except I’m not a full blooded native american. It’s amazing too what you are willing to give up for Allah, but its not really a sacrifice.  A lot of the beliefs, are very similar, just different names.  What I have found is that there were just missing pieces in my o wn beliefs and Islam was those missing pieces.  Like a jigsaw puzzle.  Wonderful story brothers!!! Thanks for it!!! Alhamdulilah!!!

  • Aaisha B

    Great story! I love reading about different kinds of Muslims.

  • Faridi Salman

    yes indeed we are all related thx for sharing this. 

  • Haleema Shah

    This is so beautiful, I’ve always been fascinated by Native American culture and I’m glad to see that rich culture connect with Islam.

  • UrSister

    Love it.  We are all connected.  Though I have never met this brother, he is my brother and his peace reaches me.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=19706486 Mo-Kim Mohammad Almoussaoui

    mashallah , lovely story

  • Anonymous

    Asalaamu ‘alaykum wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuh.I wanna give a sincere Pilamayaye (Thank You) to brothers Aman, Bassam, Musa, and Omar for their time, efforts, understanding, friendliness, and patience. More importantly, I give all praise and thanks to our Lord and Creator, the One free from all imperfections, Allaah (Subhaanahu wa ta’ala) for the opprotunity to meet and spend time with these brothers and also to the brothers/community of Masjid At-takwa here in Sioux Falls.
    The deen of Allaah (swt) is a blessed deen and it is for all of mankind whether you are Red, Yellow, White or Black. In Lakota wisdom, the Medicine Wheel and the four colors apparent within it represent the four major color of races universally. Lakota are taught to honor and respect these four colors and also the four directions they come from. I just wanted to share this with the readers. JazakAllah Khair – brother Basheer

    • Emma Apple

      What an amazing story, jazak Allahu khairun for sharing it with us Br. Basheer and Jazakom Allahu kahriun to the 30 Mosque brothers for making the opportunity available.

      • brotherbasheer

        We have a group of Native American Muslims on facebook. The group is called Turtle Island Muslims. The majority of our memebers are Natives from Canada. We also have a yahoo group with the same group name and I am the moderator of the yahoo group and one of the administarators of the group on facebook. A brother from the group, Hasan Grooms , contacted me several weeks ago and informed me of this 30mosques event and that brother Musa who is a part of this crew, was looking for Natives Muslims to interview. Feel free to make a connection with the brothers and sisters from our group on facebook. JazakAllah Khair – brother Basheer

        • Emma Apple

          Jazak Allahu Khairun, I am a Kiwi Muslim and have long had great respect for the native cultures of north america. May Allah help all the native peoples of the world and restore their rights and protect their heritage amin.

          • Meerab127

            Who is a Kiwi Muslim? Can you pl. elaborate?

          • Anonymous

            Kiwi Muslim = New Zealand Muslim

          • Anonymous

            Kiwi Muslim = New Zealand Muslim

          • Anonymous

            Kiwi Muslim = New Zealand Muslim

        • jeffkl

          Salam-i am Muslim from Malaysia. In correspondence with a Cherokee Catholic to relate to him the fact that islam has been with the native Americans since a long time. Keep up the good work MashaAllah

  • Shahaab Uddin

    Beautiful/

  • Ms Anish David

    SALAM, Aman I’m so happy you hooked up with Brother Basheer! Subanullah. As I told you on the phone, I felt Sioux Falls had far more interesting stories to tell than Brookings…though officially Brookings has an older mosque community — its Muslim community isn’t as old as that of Sioux Falls and there are such amazing people down in Sioux Falls — Basheer & Victor (aka Br David) being two of them! Keep up the great story telling! Insha Allah

  • http://amenaskhan.wordpress.com Amenaskhan

    My mind never wandered this way…Native American Muslim-Neat!

  • Ashish

    I was seeking Allah’s forgiveness and answer to the tumult inside me .And it so happened that through cnn I got to know of these two gentlemen here and I got the very answer that I was searching for in this particular  story itself ! Alhumdullillah.

  • zain

    May Allah have his mercy and blessing on you brother basheer. I am very happy to finally see and hopefully meet one day in person  “the real American Muslim”, brother Basheer. :)

    • brotherbasheer

      JazakAllah khair. I appreciate your comment very much. I love my heritage and I love my religion. many people are always fascinated when they learn that I am a “true Native American” who is a Muslim. Understanding the teachings, traditons, culture, and  history of my people helped me to understand Islaam much easier. I always yearned to know who MY Lord and Creator was and knew in my heart that He was always there for me. Every thought thought, feeling, emotion, and action of mine, He knows and He won’t judge me for any wrongdoing or misdeed. It doesn’t matter what other people think or say. Allaah knows best!

    • brotherbasheer

      I can be contacted on facebook or e-mail. My facebook is Louis Basheer and my e-mail address is – siouxneemuslim@yahoo.com – this is for everybody.

  • zain

    May Allah have his mercy and blessing on you brother basheer. I am very happy to finally see and hopefully meet one day in person  “the real American Muslim”, brother Basheer. :)

  • IndianNtheCupboard

    Right on. As we are taught as Dine ( Navajo), life is about learning and taking the best of what is available and becoming a better person. Belief in the greatness that is Allah or God and accepting man as a product of holy consciousness is ultimately the fundamental idea of all peoples. Indigenous or invasive. We, five fingered beings, must live in equilibrium with nature and accept we are always submissive to it no matter how advanced we become. 

    Aho’lone’ee, Ahee’hee. I will speak of you when I speak to others. Thank you for sharing with the world your subtle powers to be appreciated. Today is a good day. :)  

  • IndianNtheCupboard

    Right on. As we are taught as Dine ( Navajo), life is about learning and taking the best of what is available and becoming a better person. Belief in the greatness that is Allah or God and accepting man as a product of holy consciousness is ultimately the fundamental idea of all peoples. Indigenous or invasive. We, five fingered beings, must live in equilibrium with nature and accept we are always submissive to it no matter how advanced we become. 

    Aho’lone’ee, Ahee’hee. I will speak of you when I speak to others. Thank you for sharing with the world your subtle powers to be appreciated. Today is a good day. :)  

  • Fatima Ali

    He has a very wise grandmother; and he is a wise man for listening.  Nice to see someone living for the journey.  May Allah continue to bless this gentle person.

  • Fatima Ali

    He has a very wise grandmother; and he is a wise man for listening.  Nice to see someone living for the journey.  May Allah continue to bless this gentle person.

  • IreneInTexas

    Native Americans lost this continent in much part due to alcohol use. I hope many more will find a path to escape its horrible trap.

  • seef

    “If you don’t understand something, leave it.” Wow. I love it.If there is A more succinct call to wisdom I have never heard it.

  • Fatimababau

    wow this the most amazing story i have ever heard……..yes we are related!!

    • Anonymous

      Yep we definetely are my relation.

  • Anonymous

    Yes it”s so true we are related. Native Americans especially of the plains tribe culture are from the Middle East. Similarities are astounding man cause they value cedar and so do we. We dont have facial hair and they dont. We didnt care too much for the “devils brew” aka alcohol and the same with them. Yes enough with the Siberia Myth of the original inhabitants of this great land we came from over there. I”m glad we pulled the troops out of Iraq when we did it’s time they came home and stop bullying my people.

  • Anonymous

    when 9/11 happened I was taking up for you I swear on my heart and soul.

  • Wolfclan1966

    Subhanallah! I am also Native Indian. I recently took my Shahada. This story truly inspires me.

  • http://www.facebook.com/abdulhakim.abdulrashid.7 Abdul Hakim Abdul Rashid

    Assalamualaykum.MashaAllah.I am proud to know that many Indians are Muslim and origin muslim.I am invited all of you to come to Malaysia.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_6PVRCKCPLKG4TTDIKDX6ZCMBQI steinhauershawn

    The difference between Native American Muslum and Native American Christians is that Christianity was violently forced on them while islam was not. Native Americans choose Islam on their own accord. It’s like in Asia where Christianity was not forced on Asians but Asians like South Korean and Japanese choose Christanity on their own accords rather than forced on them like Native Americans. Athough a lot of those new Koreans Christains like Peter Cho on Navajo Reserve suck white dick by entering Reservation to impose western Christainity (Missions) on Native Americans rather then let them choose what religion they want to follow.

  • Hempman144

    This guy needs proactiv

  • http://noorlucman.wordpress.com/wp-admin/post-new.php Noor_Lucman

    Native American spirit and history is Jihad personified. Other tribes should look into Islam because there are so many similarities in terms of social cohesion, love of Mother Earth and family.

  • http://www.facebook.com/wanduful247 Wanda Noneofyas

    Alhumdulillah! Before a converted to islam, I followed Native American traditions, White Bufflo woman and her people came and built a swet on my land and for a few years I had gatherings here. Now I have become Muslim and alot of the native ways are very similar and remind me of Islam. Insha Allah, I will continue in Islam taking only the best of my Native traditions with me.

  • Ahmad

    al salamu calykum. I’m Ahmad and I am also from South Dakota(Pine Ridge). I met Bashiyr in 2008 if he remembers me.


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