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Carl Anthony Johnson was born in Trenton, New Jersey on February 7, 1956, to American Muslim Pioneers, Yahya and Taheerah Muhammad. He was the grandson of the late American Muslim Pioneers Maryam Pinkney Muhammad and great-nephew of the late Emanuel Pinkney Muhammad (may Allah grant them Paradise). Carl and his family were members of the earliest mosque established in Trenton. That institution is now known as the Taqwa Islamic Learning Center located on East State Street. In addition to witnessing as a young boy the social reformation work, and economic initiatives of his religious community, he was part of a hardworking entrepreneurial clan and grew up laboring in the family’s retail grocery, clothing and mobile sales delivery businesses.
The decades in which Carl grew into a young man encompassed the turbulent '60s. Growing up at a time in a peer population that would later be called the boomer generation, Carl was like a lot of youth whether inside or outside the church or mosque, he witnessed new opportunities coming to minority communities at a time when he also knew he wasn’t that far removed from a not so distant past marked with assassinations, lynchings, and the inhumane torture of Emmett…a boy that could have easily been him. His youth and young adulthood straddled a period of both hope and uncertainty.
Meanwhile, there was fun to be had as a teen about to be a man, especially one who was the kid of a minister inside a strict Nation of Islam; his maturing afforded him a new-found freedom. Again like his peers, he was tuned into a new culture including the sounds of his time…the Motown tracks belting out across the airwaves while the likes of Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder and of course the Jackson 5 soothed and moved him, though never in front of the adult Muslims. He was growing up X and learning fast about the world and getting street smart which belied the fact he would receive along the way, some of his formal education not only in the public school system of Trenton including Trenton Central High but also in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, at the private secondary religious school system called Muhammad University. The latter school experience was a social and cultural immersion occurring during a formative period inside the nationalist movement led by Elijah Muhammad—at the same time the “outside culture” was beckoning, despite the NOI’s incubator.
By the mid ’70s a major shift was taking place inside the religious community Carl had known; it was a change that forced a complete redefining of everything important he had been taught and what he believed about the world. The NOI was going through a revolution with the death of Elijah at the same time Carl and his peers were coming of age. Basic notions about man’s relationship with man, man’s relationship with society, and ultimately man’s relationship with God were being completely redefined as Black nationalism and a racial superiority dogma gave way to the equality of man, the oneness of humanity and a Creator not seen with the eye in imagery and race, but through the spiritual intellect and the heart. It was Islam proper; a pure monotheism practiced now by some 2 billion Muslims the world over.
Carl’s parents and other extended family were pioneers in the NOI before evolving to Al-Islam (true Islam). By the time the revolution was complete in the late '70s, like many youths inside the NOI, Carl had not gone through the whirlwind exactly as his parents had. He was going through the teen and young adult years in addition to witnessing the NOI’s revolution. The times could be disorienting.
But life goes on and so did Carl as a young man. He became a consummate “streetpreneur” for a good many years, a skill he’d picked up watching his father and his Uncle Omar and later his Uncle Mose make an honest living through diligent work and self-employment. Carl could sell an Eskimo a block of ice with the adept skill he had learned as a boy and with such dignity and a requisite courage as to not be daunted in the least by a customer’s “no thank you.” He had the fortitude to realize one has to be willing to take some “no’s” in life to get to the “yesses.” By his example, he may have even inspired a youngster or two along the way to consider the possibilities a “do-for-self” work ethic creates.
Whether it was Five-Points in Trenton, New Jersey, or Five-Points in Columbia, South Carolina, he’d always have an incense here…a fragrance oil there, to market and sell to a willing customer. Part of his sales appeal had to have been that broad easy smile he often wore to welcome family, friend, and stranger alike. Along the way, he found romance and love and real connection he’d said, and he was blessed to become a dad and even a granddad.
Carl was able to fulfill his aspirations to see more of the U.S. and to live in a town instead of just passing through it, especially if he felt more opportunities abounded for him there. He loved to travel and so he had friendships across the country from east coast to west and from north to south. He was not one to let fear of change paralyze him into not making a new beginning. He lived in several Florida cities, several cities in the Carolinas, and several cities in New Jersey. He’d also enjoy being out on the open road trucking it in an 18-wheeler with his close companion, his cousin Calvin; born just a month apart, they were like close twin brothers. Calvin was there to welcome his cousin back to Trenton and help him get settled into the city during his final years. The duo also enjoyed many impromptu gigs in the “neighborhood band,” both playing a mean drum or conga along with their late friend and flutist Brother Randy (God’s Mercy be on him). Then there is Mufeed-Ali, another cousin who had a brother relationship with Carl; Mufeed also helped welcome him back and checked in on him from time to time.
Through his journey, an Islamic influence remained with Carl, although he also took a more than casual interest in other religious traditions and spiritual practices, especially Christianity. But he was neither dogmatic nor necessarily strict in the Muslim faith proper. He tried practicing many of Islam’s prohibitions and prescriptions like avoiding pork, but was less disciplined, as he readily admitted himself, in staying away from some of the ills of society that pull on so many who are really instead just wanting to lead their best life.
His Muslim name ‘Wafeeq’ he chose for himself when he was a young man of about 19 years old; his name was perhaps the most visible hallmark of an earlier spiritual childhood influence. Wafeeq means successful. Sometimes in some circles, he went by Wafeeq. At other times he went by Carl, or just brother, or even “Bro.” On the phone, he would call and say “As-Salaam-Alaikum (in the Arabic language of Qur’an, the Lord’s Peace be with you)…this is Wafeeq!” And one could almost hear him smiling. The end of the call would always be the same, “Love you…As-Salaam-Alaikum!” And if someone otherwise called him ‘Carl’ to get his attention, he would just as eagerly answer while flashing that big broad smile. “Wafeeq” was a part of his consciousness kept in his heart and mind perhaps as a reminder to always keep striving forward as a goal no matter the challenges…a sort of navigation aid to help him find his way back to the path or perhaps an alter-ego reminder that would help him cushion any blows whether self-inflicted or meted out by a micro-aggressive world…a world that can sometimes close in harshly from the inside out.
Wafeeq cherished relationships with his friends and family, and especially desired to be the best dad he could be to Fayed and Rod, and granddad to Leah, and he sought to be a protecting friend to his sons’ mothers. To both Faye and Donna he would remain eternally grateful.
At his final community residence, he was remembered fondly by his residential manager and known among his fellow tenants for having a good-natured sense of humor...that in itself was an accomplishment in retaining some sense of idealism, for Wafeeq had seen up close and personal the difficult challenges individuals and families faced daily, and the sometimes inhumane treatment resulting from discrimination, poverty, injustice, and racism. The vantage point from which he observed life on the streets opened his eyes to the plight of the poor, disabled, and others denied full access to opportunity. Like life for all of us, Wafeeq lived his battling his unique challenges, enjoying the ups and accepting the downs, and his share of disappointments; but like a faithful believer he kept trying, never giving up. He stayed in the fight because life was worth fighting for…it was worth living for through all of its challenges.
On or about Monday, March 20, 2023, at 3:55 p.m. at the Capital Health System at Fuld medical campus, Wafeeq Muhammad, the beloved father, grandfather, son, brother, cousin, nephew, friend, and believer drew his final breath to complete his journey in this life. He was 67.
Wafeeq is predeceased by his parents Yahya and Taheerah, eldest sister Brenda and younger brother Hasain. He is survived by sons Fayed and Rod, and granddaughter Leah; his sister Sondra, and three brothers Mukhtar (Darlene), Omar, and Rasheed (Regina); two aunts Sahirah and General Elder Doris (Joseph) and his uncle Moses (Rhae); a great-aunt Nancy; and a host of nieces, nephews, cousins, and friends including two special friends from Sun Valley California, Donna and Richard.
We pray Wafeeq receives Allah’s (SWT) Mercy, that any faults are forgiven, and that on the Day of Judgment, it shall be said: “O’ soul in complete rest and satisfaction! Come back to your Lord well-pleased yourself and well-pleasing unto Him! Enter you then among my Devotees! Yea enter you my Heaven! Enter you among my workers…enter you among my Garden of Paradise.” (Al-Qur’an, 89:27-30)
“Be sure we shall test you with something of fear and hunger, some loss in goods, lives, and the fruits of your toil. But give glad tidings to those who patiently persevere. Those who say, when afflicted with calamity, 'To God we belong, and to Him is our return.' They are those on whom descend blessings from their Lord, and mercy. They are the ones who receive guidance."
“O Allah! Forgive Wafeeq who has passed from this life and this world, elevate his status among the guided people and look after the family that he has left behind for generations to come.