Little Bits of History

March 9

Posted in History by patriciahysell on March 9, 2017

1977: The Hanafi siege begins. Hamaas Abdul Khaalis (born Ernest McGhee in Indiana in 1921) was discharged from the US Army on the grounds of mental illness. He went on to work as a jazz drummer in New York City and then converted to Islam and changed his name. He worked diligently for the Nation of Islam, helping with ministry and schools during the early 1950s. He split with them in 1958 and founded the Hanafi Movement. In 1968 he was arrested for attempted extortion but was released, again for mental illness. In 1972, Khaalis published an open letter attacking the Nation of Islam and its leadership. In 1973, five men broke into his house and killed five of his children, his nine-day-old grandson, and another man. The assailants were all arrested, convicted and sentences to life in prison.

On this day, seven of his followers broke into the B’nai B’rith headquarters in Washington, D.C. where they took over 100 hostages. Three more men took 11 hostages at the Islamic Center of Washington less than an hour later. At 2.20 PM, two more Hanafis entered the District Building where city hall was located on the fifth floor. As they were waiting to enter an elevator, the car arrived and opened with Maurice Williams exiting. The Hanafi gunman thought they were being attacked and killed him. Also in the car was Mark Cantrell who survived the incident but died days later. Marion Barry, then councilman and future mayor was injured but recovered. Two others were also injured.

Khaalis demanded the men who killed his family be released to him, probably for execution. He also wanted a $750 fine erased. He asked to meet with Warith Deen Mohammed and Muhammad Ali, neither of them showing up. Khaalis was outraged by the recently released film Mohammad, Messenger of God and demanded it be banned. He was under the incorrect assumption that the Prophet appeared in the film, which is considered sacrilegious.

Three Muslim ambassadors, Egypt’s Ashraf Ghorbal, Pakistan’s Sahabzada Yaqub-Khan and Iran’s Ardeshir Zahedi worked closely with the US law enforcement teams to talk with Khaalis and eventually were able to persuade him to give himself up without harming any more of the hostages. It took 39 hours before the standoff was resolved. All three sites were surrendered and Khaalis and all the Hanafi followers were taken into custody. All were tried and found guilty with Khaalis receiving a 21 to 120 year sentence. He died in prison in 2003.

[The ambassadors] read to the gunmen passages from the Quran that they said demonstrated Islam’s compassion and mercy. They urged the gunmen to surrender. These ambassadors relied on their religious faith for compassion and tolerance. – Daniel S. Mariaschin

[They] wanted the government to hand over a group of men who had been convicted of killing seven relatives – mostly children – of takeover leader Hamaas Khaalis. They also demanded that the movie Mohammad, Messenger of God be destroyed because they considered it sacrilegious. – Theresa Vargas

That the toll was not higher was in part a tribute to the primary tactic U.S. law enforcement officials are now using to thwart terrorists—patience. But most of all, perhaps, it was due to the courageous intervention of three Muslim ambassadors, Egypt’s Ashraf Ghorbal, Pakistan’s Sahabzada Yaqub-Khan and Iran’s Ardeshir Zahedi. – Time magazine

The Jews control the courts and the press. – Hamaas Khaalis (referring to the Jewish judge who sat on his family’s murder trial)