Thursday, May 11, 2023

"A Good Word Is Like a Good Tree," The Life of Ahmad Karim

“A good word is like a good tree whose root is firm and whose branches are high in the sky” (Quran 14:24).

Allah gifted our beloved father Ahmad Karim with words. Intelligent, kindhearted, and passionate, he used his speech to encourage excellence in his children and every soul who met him. Whether it was with a brother in the street or a scholar, our father could hold a conversation and would impart a good word.

Ahmad Karim (1947-2023) was a servant of God, a dutiful son of Dr. Harvey and Mrs. Lavada Smith, an affectionate father of four, and a dedicated husband to Jamillah Patricia Karim. To my beloved mother Marjorie Karim, he was grateful that Allah chose her as the sweet soul to raise faithful Muslim children in “the Wilderness of North America.”

The reference to the Nation of Islam is intentional as his sojourn there to Al-Islam epitomizes how my sister Ayisha described my father, "a lover of truth and justice." He was a revolutionary in every sense of the word and his favorite Hadith was, “The ink of the scholar is more precious than the blood of the martyr."

A man of courage whose favorite book was Hajjah Amina Adil’s biography of the Prophet Muhammad , my father had to have fantasized about fighting from the front lines of Badr, but his time was the era of Black Freedom Struggle, his passion was intellect, and his gift was eloquence. An avid reader, he stirred our young hearts and broadened our minds as he regularly introduced us to topics and figures of scholarly interest, from the Moors to Frederick Douglass.  

Morehouse Chapel, 1967, Yearbook Caption: "Protest the unjust! The structure demands that we leave it alone...Offer him resistance militant ones; for without you we shall wilt."

It was the scholarship of W.E.B. DuBois and Frantz Fanon that inspired my father to lead the Black consciousness movement at Morehouse College, where he organized freedom schools, preached from the MLK chapel, and rebelled against white professors. 

He carried this legacy of resistance into his parenting. Dropping us off at summer camp, he gave us change for drinks with the gentle reminder not to buy Coca Cola products because of the company’s support for South Africa's apartheid regime. While my sister and I prepared our Sister Clara Muhammad School uniforms and chants for our annual participation in the MLK parade, my father prepared picket signs for my brothers to carry with slogans like “Down with Zionism.”

Indeed my father’s passion for Islam and Muslims was encompassing. He lived up to his name Ahmad Karim in that he truly cared for the Ummah of Prophet Muhammad ﷺ and displayed immense generosity by embracing everyone into the fold. Reminiscing on his days as Fruit of Islam, he talked about the Honorable Elijah Muhammad with a tender voice, sometimes a tearful eye. His respect for Imam WD Mohammed shone brightly as my father provided me with rare historical accounts, including the day in Chicago when Imam Mohammed gave his imams their new names: from Harvey X to Ahmad Karim, Qur’anic names. 

Imam Ahmad Karim, New Orleans, 1975

On Daddy’s busy sofa would lie a copy of the Final Call, bought from Nation brothers on Ashby St., side by side a newspaper from the immigrant masjid, both informing him of Muslim struggles around the world of which he would inform us. His decision to worship at the immigrant masjid on Fridays in the late 80s further decorated his revolutionary spirit as he began wearing thobes and Palestinian koofiyas. His foreign dress allowed him to resist the status quo without saying a word. And though he would embarrass us to no end when he would wear a thobe to Church when a beloved relative died, he made everyone know that he was still Harvey Smith as he sang Amazing Grace with tears rolling down his eyes.

Finally, my father’s generosity most manifested in how he loved lavishly, especially through praise. My brother Khalil described our father as the "biggest confidence builder in people," always imparting a good word, whether it was about your appearance, your accomplishments, or your character. "When you met with him, you always left more confident." When my brother Sultan surmounted a formidable struggle in his youth, my father reminded him again and again, “You're the strongest man alive.” As for my sister Ayisha and me, there was never an encounter where he didn't tell us we were beautiful, and the compliments grew more sweeter in his later years when he told us that he believed we were among the foremost in the eyes of Allah, alluding to a verse in the Qur’an.

Perhaps this story from Calvin Smith, the son of my father’s first cousin, captures how Ahmad Karim was a man of  “a good word.” Calvin, then a rising junior at Morehouse, had just been dropped off by his mother at the greyhound to attend a summer program at Meharry Medical College in Nashville. He was quite anxious having never taken the greyhound before. Here's the rest of the story in Calvin’s words. 

"We pull up and there by total chance is cousin Ahmad! And when I tell you the nervousness washed away and I was filled with positivity and love. His voice was so calming and as he helped me with my luggage, he imparted some gentle wisdom and put me at ease. I felt as if my father was there in that moment. I went up there and knocked that program out and the rest is history, but I never forgot that send off. I knew that God placed him there for that exact moment."

Indeed, as Allah Ta’alaa states, “A good word is like a good tree whose root is firm and whose branches are high in the sky” (Quran 14:24).

May Ahmad Karim’s good words be like trees whose roots are as firm as Georgia’s enduring oaks, their branches reaching high into the seven skies. And may His reward in the next life be endless like the infinite trees’ branches, roots, leaves, flowers, fruits and seeds. And may Allah, the Most Merciful and Forgiving and Pardoning and Generous and Most Kind, give him more than that. And may the duas and beautiful conduct of his progeny illuminate and expand his grave until he is resurrected in the company of Allah’s Beloved ﷺ and his beloveds. Ameen ya rabbal al-ameen.

Saturday, August 1, 2020

The Struggle for the Beloved Community: Radical Love Lessons from Our Mother Hajar and Malcolm X

We are Hagar: Eid 2020, Celebrating Our Mother Hajar

Eid Mubarak, Beloveds! As with all else that has shifted with Covid-19, I remembered our Mother Hajar (R) this Dhul Hijjah more in speech than in writing. “The Struggle for the Beloved Community: Lessons from Our Mother Hajar (R) and Malcolm X” is a talk that I gave for the Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center on the Third of Dhul Hijjah. I invite you to watch the video. I’m also sharing my main points here, including new personal discoveries in The Autobiography of Malcolm X that are quite exciting and illuminating.

When I went through the biggest test in my life (perhaps I’ll share in more detail in an upcoming post), I was able to survive and thrive once I embraced this: Now is my Hajar moment--my moment to be Hajar. Retelling her profoundly inspiring story, I highlighted the point in her narrative that moves us the most: the moment that she understood that her trial was beyond Prophet Ibraham (S); that is, the moment when Prophet Ibraham (S) answered that Allah (SWT) commanded him to leave her there alone. 

“We aspire to be like Hajar in the moment when she realized her struggle was between her and her Lord. It is what God decreed for her, not what Prophet Ibrahim wanted for her, and so it was the moment to fully give her heart and limbs to God. 

“The sweetness that came out of her struggle strikingly resonates for us as Muslims in America. Thousands of years later, millions annually visit Allah’s house, and one cannot visit Allah’s house without remembering Hajar and her struggle. Beyond Zam Zam, the ummah is Hajar’s gift. Every year the beloved community converges at the house of Allah and walks in her footsteps.”

And so, in my talk, I proclaimed that now is our Hajar moment. “The problem of systemic racism in this country is our Hajar moment. And the only way we can achieve radical change is through radical love- love for God, the highest love- demonstrated in the radical surrender of our father Prophet Ibrahim, our Mother Hajar, and their son Prophet Isma’il, may Allah grant them all peace. The work to resist racism can only be achieved if it is for Allah, with Allah, through Allah, and to Allah. God has to be all in it.”

As with our Mother Hajar, our reward in this struggle is the beloved community. “Who is better positioned to be the beloved community in the United States when Allah has already gifted us with a leader and a model who tells one of the world’s most compelling accounts of brotherhood? Here I am referring to Malcolm X (R), and his narrative is the narrative of the beloved community.”

I shared with the audience how illuminating it was to revisit The Autobiography of Malcolm X all these years later, especially with a more fine-tuned gender lens. How had I totally forgotten that Malcolm X’s sister, originally from Georgia, Ella Little-Collins- who raised the teenage Malcolm- preceded him in leaving the Nation of Islam for Al-Islam, had been saving up for the Hajj when Malcolm X took interest in making the pilgrimage, and sacrificed her savings to finance his Hajj?

(This would have fit perfectly in my book Women of the Nation in the section “Wallace’s Path to Dissent” where I state that “Wallace was not the only one dissenting at this time,” and tell the story of Barbara Hyman who was put out of the Philadelphia temple in 1964 because her husband supported Imam W.D. Mohammed’s early dissent.)

But the climax for me in revisiting the autobiography was seeing Hajar’s name! Many have described how singular Hajar is, such as Dr. Abdul-Hakim Murad’s noting that she is the only woman to have instituted a major ritual in all of the world’s great religions. To this I would add that the quintessential narrative of the Muslim in America (“the Muslim from America,” as written in the autobiography) mentions only one woman from the Qur’an and Sunnah*- Hajar- and presents her gift- the ummah- as the precious gift that Islam offers to a nation plagued by racism. How remarkable! How profoundly insightful! We are called to be the beloved community!  

 “You are the best community, brought forth for humanity. You enjoin what is right, forbid what is wrong, and believe in Allah” (Quran, 3:110). 

“The Mutawaf and I next drank water from the well of Zem Zem. Then we ran between the two hills, Safa and Marwa, where Hajar wandered over the same earth searching for water for her child Ishmael” (The Autobiography of Malcolm X, “Mecca,” 337).

*After writing this, I thought of the possibility of his mentioning Mary, the Mother of Jesus, peace be upon her. I asked my ten year-old son who is reading the autobiography, and he said he thought so, in a lecture he gave once but couldn't remember. If you know, let me know.

Friday, April 17, 2020

Obituary: Marjorie Karim, A Beautiful Servant Returns to Allah

By Jamillah Karim
Featuring Khalijah Karim

Hajjah Marjorie Shukriyyah Karim, the mother of Khalil, Sultan, Jamillah and Ayisha Karim, and the daughter of Lawrence Winters, Sr., and Angeletta Tilghman Winters, returned to Allah on April 14, 2020, in Sha’ban, “the month of the Prophet Muhammad” (may Allah bless him and give him peace). Marjorie was a beautiful soul with an illuminating smile, a vast heart, a generous hand, a brilliant mind, and a pure spirit dedicated to attaining the pleasure of her Most Bountiful Lord. She spread the salam most sweetly, she fed the hungry tirelessly, and she prayed in the night devotedly—all acts for which her beloved Prophet Muhammad (S) promised Paradise.

Each pillar of her faith, Marjorie embodied exceptionally. Born and raised a devout Catholic, she courageously embraced Islam for its message of self-love and liberation, and later inspired her sister, Jonetta, to become Muslim. In a community known for its unique transition to Al-Islam, she humbly led in establishing the five daily prayers in her home. 

Marjorie and Jonetta - On their way to Mecca and Cairo, Umrah 2018

Hajj 2004

So generous and unfailing was her charity that her masjid, the Atlanta Masjid of Al-Islam, awarded her “The Maintainer Award.” So far-reaching was her reputation for feeding the homeless that CNN featured her philanthropy as capturing the spirit of Ramadan—like the Prophet Muhammad (S) in Ramadan, “more generous than the free blowing wind.” So beloved was she to her Lord that five times He invited her as a guest to His holy House (the Ka’ba in Mecca), one of those times to accompany her sister and another time on behalf of a sister in faith.

1990s. In front of the Atlanta Masjid of Al-Islam

Ramadan 2007

Marjorie was born Marjorie Elizabeth Winters in Washington, D.C., on October 4, 1952. She was the third of five children, all of whom attended catechism classes at St. Cyprian and Holy Name Catholic Churches. From an early age, women exemplars of piety impressed her, especially her grandmother Clara. In Marjorie’s innocent eyes, “a great woman” meant “being pious.”  

Senior Picture, McKinley Tech High School, 1970
Marjorie was graced not only with the greatness of piety but also professional success. With a knack for higher mathematics, she excelled in school and in her career. After graduating from McKinley Tech High School in 1970, she matriculated at Gettysburg College in Pennsylvania on a full scholarship. 

Marjorie, left, connected with Pan-Africanists in her first year of college, 1970-1971

Family and community interests, however, led her to take a break from her studies. She joined the Nation of Islam in 1971 and married Howard University graduate Harvey 2X from Atlanta, GA, where she eventually moved in 1973 with the couple’s firstborn, Khalil. She gave birth to her second son, Sultan, in 1974, and was dedicated to “being there” for her “babies,” despite the financial constraints her husband met, only "working for self.” In 1975, when Imam W.D. Mohammed (R) made the transition to Al-Islam, he personally gave her husband, a minister at the time, the name Ahmad Karim. Marjorie cherished the name Karim, and humbly lived its meaning--generous and noble.

Marjorie wanted to be a nun but she also wanted to have children. The Nation of Islam was her answer: "You got to wear all the different colors and still look modest like nuns, and I could have babies." Marjorie is holding a friend's son. 1972

Marjorie in her MGT&GCC Uniform (Muslim Girls Training and General Civilization  Class), 1975

Khalil and Sultan, 1975. Marjorie made the bow tie that Khalil is wearing. She made bow ties, money pouches, and sandwiches for her husband to sell- all skills learned in the Muslim Girls Training (MGT) class in the Nation of Islam. According to Ahmad Karim, "Her bow ties were the best bow ties ever made in the world."
Marjorie made her own dresses, like many women in the Nation of Islam.

Marjorie's in-law's house (Granny's house), 1978
Jamillah and Ayisha, 1979

After a decade of mothering small children--including birthing her two daughters, Jamillah and Ayisha--Marjorie stunned everyone when she decided to return to school in 1981. “Making straight As,” she also worked part-time, including tutoring students in computer programming. Marjorie completed her Bachelors in Business Administration at Georgia State University within five years and landed her first job as a project manager in 1988 at Bell South which later became AT&T, from which she retired in 2015.

Marjorie’s community work, however, was her soul work. Not just a committed worker was she, but a pioneer. In the 1980s, she worked in the masjid kitchen during her birth month, carrying the Nation legacy of women’s fundraising--the backstory to her fame for her heavenly whole wheat carrot cake; she co-led an effort to feed the homeless at a women’s shelter in an urban church; and she served on the board of Sister Clara Muhammad School when it was courageously expanded into a high school, faithfully enrolling her son in the first class of W.D. Mohammed High School.

Annual Mosque Cares Convention - Youth Banquet

In the 1990s, she co-founded M.O.R.E. for Youth, the Muslim Organization Representing Excellence for Youth, where she mentored and inspired hundreds of young people through various projects including a Muslim teen cable talk show and organizing the youth conference of the Annual Mosque Cares National Convention, where Marjorie’s guidance and warm hugs reached across the Nation. 

Marjorie with Sister Khayriyyah, founding president of Sisters United- now together with Allah. 
Rites of Unthaa

The last two decades of Marjorie’s life were filled with service through the organization dearest to her heart, Sisters United in Human Service, Inc., of which she was a founding member. Faithfully and dutifully, she worked long hours serving on the board as treasurer, organizing an annual interfaith health conference, co-coordinating homeless feedings, and in other capacities too long to list. Her high station as “Mother of the Youth” was fortified through her twenty years at the forefront in coordinating Rites of Unthaa, a program guiding girls in their development into virtuous women. We cannot enumerate the souls she touched.

Arizona Thanksgiving, 2019

Without question, her greatest impact was on us, her children and grandchildren. Any excellence you see in us is her finest legacy. And therefore, what we witnessed of her intimately is the truest testimony of her excellence: Walking distances with us to catch the bus because she didn’t have a car. And when she finally did, offering ride after ride to sisters in need. Moving into her own house after her divorce and struggling to manage the needed repairs. Teaching us to obey Allah, reminding us when we failed, holding us through the hardship, and lifting us when we turned back to God. Treating strangers as they were old friends, and providing a warm bed and unforgettable meals for extended family and new acquaintances. 

Memories of the sweet companionship she offered us in travel as far as Malaysia and a little closer in St. Thomas, Virgin Islands. Of the affection and gifts she lavished on her grandchildren, even making her perfected whole wheat carrot cake gluten-free, all out of love. Of the radical changes she made to her diet and the constant reminders to eat well, in hopes that we not suffer as she did. Of her loading tables and trays of food into her car, even when she was ill, to transport to the homeless. Truly, in her deepest suffering, she did everything in her power to lighten the burdens of others, until she just couldn’t do it anymore. 

In a letter to Nana, Marjorie’s third oldest granddaughter, Khalijah, amazingly captures everything about Marjorie that we have attempted to share here, and more.  

To Nana Marjorie 💜,
I honestly wish I would’ve written this when your vessel, mind and soul was still here on earth but procrastination got the best of me. 2013 is when you got diagnosed. Your children didn’t know for three years and your grandchildren for five. When I found out, I laid in bed and let out a soft cry. It was early in the morning, and I didn’t want to wake up anyone in the house. As I laid there, my mind almost immediately took me back to my 12th grade year. It was the day I was really sick; every step I took felt like I was going to pass out. Dear Bro.Siddiq (May he Rest In Peace) noticed and called my parents. My mom didn’t pick up, and my Dad was away at work. When Bro.Siddiq got a hold of you, not even two minutes into the conversation, you were on your way. When you got to the school and realized how weak and drained I looked, you didn’t take me home but you took me to get breakfast and then straight to the doctor’s. We waited and talked in the waiting room until the results came back. When the doctor finally approached us, she informed you that I had to be sent to the E.R. right away because my blood was way too low. You were so worried. Nevertheless, you were with me every step of the way. You were there until my parents came, and even then you still stayed for a while. After that, you took me to my checkups. EVERY SINGLE ONE. Just me and you. Even one of the checkups, you let me get Zaxby’s- salad of course- but I was still happy. You helped me keep my blood up, and put me on to kale heavy. The liver, not so much 💜This was in 2015, two years into your illness. Now there’s a lot, and I mean A LOT of memories I could write about, but this one in particular came to my mind that day, and now as I write this, because it highlights your selflessness. You were fighting a serious battle but were right by my side when I fell temporarily ill, and I will be forever grateful here and beyond. Even though tears may fall from my eyes on the paper as I write this, diluting the ink of my pen- yes, some may be of sadness- but most of it is happiness because you won’t have to suffer or be in pain anymore. You are now up with Allah 💜. I know you will fit right in because that’s where Angels belong. I love you sweet sweetie Nana Marjorie.
From: Your Khalijah Boo

May the angels perfume Mama Marjorie’s path to the Highest Paradise.