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Coronavirus Victims: 1st Muslim Prison Chaplain In Texas, Akbar Nurid-Din Shabazz

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Even before a recent surge of new cases of the coronavirus in Texas, community leaders were dying from the disease - leaders like Akbar Nurid-Din Shabazz, whose community was locked behind bars.

SARAH MCCAMMON, HOST:

In 1977, Shabazz became the first Muslim chaplain in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. He was a confidant and mentor to many, and he died of COVID-19 on April 23.

CHANG: Eugene Farooq was Shabazz's longtime friend and colleague. Farooq credits him with revolutionizing and expanding Islam in the Texas prison system.

EUGENE FAROOQ: Someone very dedicated who sacrificed a lot of pleasures in life to give attention to men who really needed it most.

MCCAMMON: Men like Basile Abdullah (ph). Abdullah grew close to Shabazz while he was in prison. He was struck by Shabazz's commitment to care for every inmate no matter their religious beliefs.

CHANG: When Abdullah's life sentence was reversed, he promised to make a contribution to his local Islamic community by building a mosque. But his prison record got in the way, which is when Shabazz told him...

BASILE ABDULLAH: Never let someone change you from your identity. Make the best of that identity. Don't be ashamed of that identity.

MCCAMMON: Finally, in 2008, Abdullah and former inmates set up a mosque in Houston.

ABDULLAH: And coming in contact with him and knowing him in the prison and outside of the prison has put me into a life that I could not have lived. I could not have - the things that I have done could not have happened.

CHANG: Akbar Nurid-Din Shabazz Jr. knew his father to be a generous man, but it took his father's death to show him just how big of an impact he had had on the people around him.

AKBAR NURID-DIN SHABAZZ JR: I mean, I never told him how proud I was of him, and I think about that. You know, of course, I told him, you know, that I love him and that kind of thing. But after he passed, I really started to hear about the impact he had on others.

MCCAMMON: Akbar Nurid-Din Shabazz died April 23 near Houston at 70 years old.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.