by Fatima Bahloul
It is easy to understand why the Urban Edge newsletter chose to feature Abdull Hasan Wasi as IMAN’s first Shining Star. During my first formal introduction to the long-time IMAN member, I was immediately struck by his generosity. “If anybody needs me,” he said, “I am always there for them and I will always be that way. If you get to know me, I wouldn’t have to tell you that; you would just know. You can always see it. I try to be kind and courteous to everybody.”
There are no exaggerations to Abdull-Hasan’s self-description: he is unwavering in his generosity and gentle in his behavior. Cracking jokes and speaking vociferously just isn’t his style. In a world of noisy chatter, Abdull-Hasan prefers the ways of the pious: quite, tempered, and always to the point. In fact, there’s a strange irony in spotlighting a man whose life is marked by its deliberate shying away from such spotlight.
When we met for an interview, Abdull-Hasan – or Hasan, as his friends affectionately call him – began by reminiscing about his sports-filled childhood in Chicago’s Stateway Gardens on 35th street. Notorious for its deadly past, Hasan recalled the Garden’s “good times.” “I remember ice-skating, riding bike, and snowboarding down the hills we had. In High School, I was on the basketball team, baseball team, and track team.” His quickest time of 9.5 seconds for a 75 meter dash, he added, won him the first prize in middle school. Today, even though Hasan is 51 years old, he still looks a s athletic as the boy he described.
A striking characteristic of Hasan is his ability to see the beauty in simplicity – a characteristic that, he explained, is in large part a result of his incarceration in a Chicago state penitentiary for 27 years. “When I was in prison, my hopes for myself were to get out, reunite with my family, and reestablish myself. I wanted to live the status quo and live comfortably. I didn’t want to try to build too high.” When some formerly-incarcerated individuals reenter society, Hasan explained, “They feel like they missed out on everything. So they start chasing after material things. But you really don’t need too much to live.” It was important, he said, just to be around his mother, daughter, and four grandchildren after his incarceration. His eyes sparkled when he spoke about visiting his grandchildren as often as he could.
Although Hasan is mellow, it would be a mistake to think of his as anything but dynamic and lively. His appreciation for life makes him productive with his time. While some might think of penal lock-up as only a waste, Hasan saw it as an opportunity. After having been incarcerated for 11 months, he received his GED. He also received a certificate in welding and another one in building maintenance, and he completed nine credits at Lewis University in Romeoville, Illinois. “I accomplished a lot, Hasan grinned. “There’s an old saying, ‘You do the time or the time will do you’. So I did the time and made it worth my while.”
In 2007, Hasan became the first person to live in IMAN’s Project Restore transitional house. The house was part of a series of services and advocacy designed to help reduce mass incarceration and to address recidivism. The transitional house also offered the spiritual and brotherly support needed by those removed from their families and
friends for extended periods of time. “It felt good just to be around my brothers and the sisters. That really felt good. It was a desire of mine when I was incarcerated to come out and be surrounded by the [Muslim] community.” Beyond seeking the company of his fellow Muslims, Hasan also wanted the opportunity to be a productive member of his community. This opportunity, he explained, came in the form of working at IMAN. With physical strength developed from a lifelong love for sports and training in construction, he quickly became a supervisor of construction for Project Restore. Although established long before he joined the program, Project Restore still captured his vision of civic contribution: “Project Restore is a personal vision of mine because it’s a way to give back to the community, a way to assist my brothers and sisters.”
Nowadays, Hasan is working on Green Reentry – a project that seeks to convert foreclosed and vandalized properties in the Chicago Lawn neighborhood into vibrant, environmentally sound (green) transitional housing for formerly incarcerated individuals reentering society. With the assistance of the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) and the Zakat Foundation, the first Green Reentry house on 6053 Washtenaw Avenue will be fully constructed by mid-August. Every morning at 8 AM, Hasan and a group of other construction workers join forces and begin banging and hammering away at the old house. But for Hasan, the Green Reentry project represents much more than work. He says he can’t imagine doing anything else: “It wouldn’t be right not to feel this way. You have to help somebody.” It’s a blessing, he explained, that he has an opportunity to do that.