Rashid Ahmad was born in East St. Louis, Illinois, on March 26, 1923, under the legal name of Rudolph Thomas. In those days, Prohibition was in full swing, creating an underground mafia network for criminal activity, while urban streets were rife with gangs, gambling, and prostitution. Segregation and racial inequality were accepted norms across America.
Around 1945, at the age of 22, Rashid moved to Chicago. Amidst the chaos, Rashid Ahmad embarked upon a quest to find the True God. Every religion he came across sponsored some form of institutionalized racism or material pursuit.
In 1946, he came across the unusual sight of a man on a street corner crying out that Jesus did not die on the cross. Rashid was intrigued enough to visit the Ahmadiyya Muslim Mosque at 4448 Wabash Avenue on the near south side of Chicago. He continued learning about Islam until he formally accepted it in 1947.
The book that convinced him was Ahmadiyyat, the True Islam by Mirza Bashir-ud-Din Mahmood Ahmad.
Rashid left a life on the streets—drinking, gambling, and drugs—never to look back. In 1949, he grew inspired to the extent that he dedicated his life to Islam. That year, he would go on record as being the first man born on American soil to enroll in an Islamic seminary to formally qualify as a Muslim missionary. The remainder of his life would be devoted to the preaching and propagation of Islam to the American people. During the five years from December 1949 to December 1954, Rashid was trained in Quranic exegesis, the Hadith, the Arabic and Urdu languages, and religious polemics.
He returned to the United States in 1955 as Imam Rashid Ahmad American to spiritually lead thousands of American Muslims. He continued doing so until his very last breath on February 7, 2015.
Of his notable posts, he was an active missionary in the Midwest Region of the United States, leading congregations in St. Louis, Chicago, and Milwaukee. He also acted as the first national president of the American Ahmadiyya Muslim Community in the early 1970s and led various schemes and initiatives throughout this career. He performed the Hajj in 1998.
Al-Haj Imam Rashid Ahmad American’s life is one we celebrate this Black History Month as a beacon of light that transcends the boundaries of any one nation, people, or race.
Naser-ud-Din Shams is the author of Perseverance, which relate the life experiences of Al-Haj Rashid Ahmad American.
Last modified: February 2022