Monday, May 21, 2018

American Muslim Women, Still Relevant Ten Years Later

Alhamdulillah, I was quite pleased and grateful to discover these 2018 amazon reviews of my first book, American Muslim Women: Negotiating Race, Gender and Class Within the Ummah.

Dr. Jamillah Karim speaks truth to power! This brilliant book has become a cornerstone of my library and played an immense role in my return to academia as it sheds light on the lived experiences of Muslim women in America. By focusing on Muslim women within in their religious spheres along with the imbrication of race, gender, class and age--Dr. Karim delivers a richly textured account of and on American Women as they negotiate so many facets of their identity.

By fully, confronting the intra-Muslims racism of American Islam, Dr. Karim has created an opening for a new genera of study and long overdue discussion on this very real issue.

This book is perfectly suited for the non-academic as well as those within. Her brilliant methodologies foster an accessible reading.

Above all, Dr. Karim sheds light on the eloquent and nuanced dance of identity negotiation(s) that all Muslim women must perform in the richly diverse context of America. One of my all time favorite books!

Ananda W, March 2018

Ground-breaking study on gender and interminority relationships. A bold move away from studies that give a "portrait" of one particular ethnic minority. Also brings an important class analysis. A must read for religious studies, American and ethnic studies and the study of Islam more generally.

Dr. Su’ad, March 2018

Sunday, May 13, 2018

How I Kept My Muslim Faith Through the College Years: A tribute to mothers, a message to the youth

Duke University
Black Graduation Ceremony, 1997
With DST sorors, Lambda Omega Chapter, Spring '95

The sweet Mama who made it all possible, by Allah

This post is a transcript of a speech I gave to the 2018 Graduates of WDM High School
Mother's Day 2018
Senior Ta'leem: "The Wombs That Bore You"
With my sister Ayisha, also a WDM High and Duke alumna

It was May 1993 when I stood where you are today. I was in the second graduating class of W.D. Mohammed High School. Our graduation theme was “Rooted in Faith, Growing in Excellence.” I dedicated my speech to my mother, a faith-filled woman who had the vision to see that we as a community could educate our own.

As you know, not everyone had this vision, not everyone believed that dreams could come true. Our community not only educated us but also equipped us to compete with the world’s brightest and privileged. Alhamdulillah, we accomplished not only what was expected of us but also exceeded expectations.

In my case, it was earning a Bachelors of Science in Electrical Engineering at Duke University and then continuing on there to complete my doctorate in Islamic studies.

Rooted in Faith, Growing in Excellence
Honoring the Wombs That Bore You

It’s fascinating how these two themes connect. “The wombs that bore you” is a Qur’anic reference. In the Qur’an’s chapter “Women,” verse 1 states:

O Humanity, reverence your Lord, who created you from one soul and created from it its mate and dispersed from both of them many men and women. And reverence Allah, through whom you ask one another, and the wombs. Indeed Allah is ever, over you, an Observer.

The verse is telling us to reverence Allah, and second, to reverence the wombs. The Arabic word for wombs is arham. And what words do arham resemble? Allah’s names Ar-Rahman and Ar-Rahim.

As Allah is the ultimate source of mercy, the wombs are sources of mercy, love, and generosity like nothing else in creation. And, therefore, as Allah should be honored and regarded, so too should women, because each of us carry within us divine mercy. Women are the doors to mercy in this world.

To the graduates, and to all of us, the message I hope to impart is that honoring our mothers is part of our worship. It is such in the way that the Qur’an describes when it tells us to treat our parents with outstanding kindness, singling out the unrivaled gift and sacrifice of mothers:

We have commanded the human being to treat his parents kindly—his mother carried him with hardship and delivered him with hardship; his bearing and weaning took a full thirty months. (46:15)

In addition to showing exceptional kindness, respect, and gratitude to our mothers, we honor the arham, the wombs that bore us, by honoring our mothers’ vision, vision rooted in faith. Indeed, we honor our mothers by honoring faith. We walk the path of faith. Rooted in faith, growing in excellence.

What does this faith walk look like when we leave the womb of WDM High? For me, at Duke, it was several things. It was upholding my prayers, or salat. In the beginning, this meant making up my prayers at the end of the day because I would miss my afternoon prayers while out and about on campus.

I soon realized it was easier on me to make each prayer in its proper time. I found a quiet place to pray in the basement of Duke’s chapel, which stood at the center of Duke’s main campus. For your generation, it’s even easier. Many schools now have designated prayer spaces for Muslim students.

But even if we had those back then, I imagine I would have kept in mind that the whole of Allah’s earth is a masjid, a place to pray. Some of my fondest memories consist of praying near a fragrant magnolia tree on Duke’s east campus, in the spring when vibrant tulips were in full bloom. Alhamdulillah, I had come to a place in my faith and practice where it didn’t matter if others saw me pray.

And this relates to another way that I walked the path of faith: by making it known that I was Muslim through my dress. Because of it, people knew that I held values, that I refused to be like everyone else, and I was greatly admired for this, in ways that I didn’t fully understand until years later. This was so because human hearts are made to love leaders. May Allah make you leaders in faith, for surely Allah loves the foremost in faith.

And whomever God loves, the people will love. So try to forget how you look in the eyes of others. Focus on how Allah sees you, and you will gain everything, often with delay because Allah loves to see us exude beautiful qualities like patience and gratitude in the face of struggle. Ultimately, though, you will possess your hearts’ content and more.

Another way that we walk the path of faith is surrounding ourselves with people of faith, and other Muslim students in particular. From the beginning, I attended Muslim Student Association meetings every Friday evening. But after those Friday gatherings filled with great food and company, I would hang out with my African American friends.

Duke Graduation 2001
With sisters from diverse backgrounds in the MSA: Malay, African, Iranian, Indo-Pak, and Egyptian descent

By the spring of my sophomore year, I pledged a Black sorority: Delta Sigma Theta. By my senior year, I was the president of our university chapter. I share this to say that I was very much integrated into the college social scene, which is likely to captivate you as well and present some of your greatest tests. However, my intention to put Allah first, carried out through my salat, and my visible commitment to my faith, seen through my hair covering, positioned me to be a leader, not a follower, among my Christian friends.

So much so that I witnessed remarkable love from my Christian friends when I did the unthinkable and decided to step in the spring step show my senior year. And I say the unthinkable because anyone who knew me in the ‘90s knows that I was the conscientious student, not the free-flowing artist (that I consider myself now, smile).

When it was time to select outfits for the show, my line sisters went out of their way to accommodate me. Instead of choosing outfits showing a lot of leg and pretty brown skin as they normally would, our step master had our outfits tailor-made by a local seamstress. The outfit was a chic black pants suit, with stylish sleeves that complemented the flared, slightly bell bottom pants. Alhamdulillah, it was not just me covered all up, but all my sisters.

So I thank Allah for allowing me to preserve my faith—and influence others!— in an environment that can easily tear it away. May Allah grant you the same. With faith, everything else falls into place. With faith, you will excel in academics, whether at the beginning, or with patience and perseverance, at the end. Allah willed that I excel at the very beginning.

I made the Dean’s List with Distinction my first semester: an A in writing, an A in Calculus, an A in Computer Programming, and an A- in Chemistry. But this never happened again. I received more humbling grades along the way. In fact, I received my first C the semester I pledged DST.

But Alhamdulillah, I managed to finish Duke with Latin honors--Cum Laude--with a GPA of 3.6. Only 25% of Duke graduates finish with honors. This relates to another telling thing that happened at the end of my four years at Duke. But to appreciate it, let me tell you a story from the first time I stepped foot on Duke’s campus.

In February of my senior year of high school, Duke flew me in for a campus visit. It was my first time on an airplane. By the end of the visit, it became clear that I was selected with a group of African American students to receive a merit-based scholarship. The Reginaldo Howard Scholarship is offered to individuals who “exhibit a commitment to transformative leadership, intellectual courage, and social justice.”

At the end of our visit, in a van on our way to the airport, someone came up with the smart idea to share our SAT scores. As people shared scores in the 13, 14, and 1500s, I grew anxious. I wanted to disappear. I had only scored 1160.

Fast forward four years later, spring of my senior year. I received my GRE test scores, the SATs of graduate-level admissions. I scored a 700 in verbal and a 700 in math, what would total 1400 (except there was a third area for the GRE, analytical, which I scored high in as well.)

My SAT and GRE scores indicate several things. One, that from the beginning, the Duke admissions officers selected me not solely on the basis of academic achievement. They based their decision on character traits as well (and affirmative action).

My ability to excel among Duke’s top 25 percent, when my SAT test scores fell in the bottom 5 percent for Duke students, indicates that it was upon the foundation of faith that I advanced. My GRE scores further proved this. When I was placed in the same environment with rich Duke kids over a period of 4 years, I tested exactly as they did, or better. Through faith, we can perform with excellence with or without level playing field.

But as we know, the true test is not the one of academics but faith. I use this famous hadith honoring mothers to make an analogy:

A man came to the Prophet and said, ‘O Messenger of God! Who among the people is the most worthy of my good companionship?’ The Prophet said: ‘Your mother.’ The man said, ‘Then who?' The Prophet said: ‘Then your mother.’ The man further asked, ‘Then who?' The Prophet said: ‘Then your mother.’ The man asked again, ‘Then who?' The Prophet said: ‘Then your father.’ (Bukhari, Muslim).

The mother symbolizes faith, and the father, academic or worldly achievement. Time dedicated to both is undeniably essential. But your faith, your faith, your faith, you must always prioritize, and from it will pour forth excellence in every other aspect of life.

And when the tests come—and they will for sure—may you come out among the top five percent like the mother of our faith, the mother of the hajj, Mother Hagar/Hajar. I’ll end in remembrance of our Mother Hagar by reading an excerpt from a post on Hagar Lives, a blog by me and my sister Ayisha.

Hagar’s act of faith marks the site out of which the city of Mecca grew. Though reliance on God, prayer, and struggle, Hagar’s hands shaped the ground upon which a faith community, later a coveted city, and ultimately a world civilization would shine its light on the world.  

May Allah make each of you the light to the world that your precious mothers have hoped, prayed, and struggled for.

Monday, April 16, 2018

A Tribute to Sade: A Musical Journey on the Path to Radical Love

By Ayisha  Karim
Author, Ayisha, w/flower crown at Eid
Fashion designer Nzinga Knight 

I remember the magic like it was yesterday: Spring 1993. I stood in my mother’s bedroom, which was a retreat in our small home in East Atlanta. Sade’s latest cd had come out—a long-anticipated one, nearly five years after the previous one. Its name: Love Deluxe. The song that played over the radio speakers that moment was as dreamy, as romantic, as perfectly melodic as her earlier classics.

Too, I think there was something about that age. I was 14 years old, a freshman in high school. I was becoming the hopeless romantic that I am today. Sade’s music cultivated the seeds of radical love growing inside me:

There must have been an angel by my side
Something heavenly led me to you
Look at the sky
It’s the color of love

When I was led to you
I knew you were the one for me
I swear the whole world could feel my heartbeat
When I lay eyes on you
You wrapped me up in
The color of love

“Kiss of Life”

You might be wondering where this never-ending, deep love for Sade’s music began. Well, it wasn’t just her music that drew me to her. Helen Folasade Adu, aka Sade, was Nigerian-born to a Nigerian father, Adebisi, and British mother, Anne. Her name Folasade means “honor confers a crown.”

In addition to our shared roots traced back to the African Motherland, people began to tell me in my teenage years that she, yes Sade, was my celebrity look-alike. Actually, many Black women and girls found a physical resemblance to Sade uplifting and noteworthy, as did fellow hijabi and fashion designer Nzinga Knight (seen in cover collage above). For me, I’m sure it was the large forehead mainly, and the slender nose. And the reason that I even knew who they were speaking of was that my dad introduced me to her in the home. I recall spotting one of her cassette tapes in the den, a part of my father’s collection in the mid to late 80s.

Although I can’t recall if it was her debut album, Diamond Life, with the popular hit “Smooth Operator,” or the ’85 Promise album with the favorite “Sweetest Taboo,” my dad was the parent who introduced us to the groundbreaking, conscious music of that time: Sade, Tracy Chapman, Eric B. & Rakim, and others. But, if you want to get a good feel for the beginning of Sade’s career, and see her modestly seductive, sweet dance moves, check out the lyrics and video of her classic, “Sweetest Taboo”:

You’ve got the biggest heart
Sometimes I think you’re just too good for me
Everyday is Christmas, and every night is New Year’s Eve
Will you keep on loving me
Will you keep on, will you keep on
Bringing out the best in me

(For Muslims, it’s satisfying to substitute Christmas with ‘Eidul-Fitr’ and New Year’s Eve with ‘Lailatul Qadr.' Smile)

Quite simply, Sade’s music, and what it represented, had this way of making me feel beautiful, romantic, cultured, confident, and powerfully feminine. Once, my high school English teacher laughed at my poetry, saying it was more like a “short story.” It was the influence of Sade’s music that allowed me to claim my poetic brilliance in spite of the academic criticism.

In college, I found myself in a serious relationship. While hoping to make the hours go by faster at my summer office job, I was inspired to express my gratitude for this burgeoning love affair. Brace yourself for the creative, brilliant, steamy (yet corny) title and winning line from the poem. It was entitled, “It,” and one of the culminating lines was, “It…is KING.” Brilliant, get it?! “It is...Your love!” Some of you know that this line was a play on the words in the title of one of Sade’s classics, shared below.

Then, there were those bonding moments when I realized that others in my small African American Muslim community also listened to Sade’s music and had been introduced to it in similar ways. One such moment stands out vividly in my mind. During the days of walk-mans and weekend trips to festivals on MARTA (subway system), my friend Amber stood on the train in front of me, listening to Sade’s Diamond Life on cassette tape. From her mouth, the words came out humorously distorted, somewhat obnoxious, but beautiful and hopeful, nonetheless. Song: “Your Love is King.” OMG! My heart opens ever so widely every time I hear this song, no matter how repeatedly broken, how guarded, how distrusting. My broken heart opens to the lyrics, the melody, the points of emphasis, all accompanied by Sade’s sultry voice:

Your love is king
Crown you with my heart
Your love is king
Never need to part
Your kisses ring
Round and round and round my head
Touching the very part of me
It’s making my soul sing
Tearing the very heart of me
I’m crying out for more

You’re making me dance

As my friend Amber held on to the train car handles, swaying from side to side, I recognized the effect that Sade’s music has on the average person: It’s as if you’re put in a trance. You get in touch with the radical lover inside yourself, inside all of us.

Ultimately, this song could be taken as a love song for God’s healing, rejuvenating, life-producing Love: “This is no blind faith – This is no sad or sorry dream – This is no blind faith – Your love, your love is REAL!” Is there any love more real, more certain, more electrifying, more permanent than God’s?

Indeed, Sade’s musical lyrics point me back towards God, as in the title song of her 2000 album, “Lover’s Rock”: “When I need to be rescued – And I need a place to swim – I have a rock to cling to in the storm – When no one can hear me calling – I have you I can sing to – And in all this – And in all my life – You are the lovers rock – The rock that I cling to.”

If you didn’t know any better, you might be thinking that Sade’s music only reflects romantic love. NOT! I eerily realized this for myself when reacquainted with Sade’s earliest music during my earth-shattering separation (which led to divorce and a custody battle). The title of this 1985 song, “War of the Hearts,” confirms, again, why I have such a strong, personal connection to Sade’s music.

I could aim, but I could not fire
Who's calling the shots
One of us must make the peace
To have or to have not
The fire has got to cease
I'm loaded
Don't know where to point this thing
It's a sin
How we hit where it hurts

One of us (one of us) must end this masquerade
To have or to have not
Let's heal the wounds that we've made
It's a war of the hearts

As I move on lovingly, faithfully, reclaiming my heart, I still depend on Sade’s music to reveal powerful lessons on the path to radical love – “Love Is Stronger than Pride,” “Soldier of Love,” “Hang On to Your Love,” to name a few. I am hopeful in love and better equipped to take on its challenges.

A favorite photo of artist from the 80s

Sade Concert, '11 at Philips Arena in Atlanta, GA, w/childhood friends Qadara Abdur-Rahman and Fatima El-Amin

It’s not surprising that Sade released her fifth album in 2000 to mark a new era: Lover’s Rock. And coincidentally, today we celebrate the 13th wedding anniversary of my sister Jamillah, HagarLives co-author. Of course, I was thrilled thirteen years ago when they chose a Sade song for their first dance, “By Your Side”:

When you're lost
You're alone and you can't get back again
I'll find you, darling, and I'll bring you home
And if you want to cry
I am here to dry your eyes
And in no time, you'll be fine
You think I'd leave your side, baby
You know me better than that
Think I'd leave you down when you're down on your knees
I wouldn't do that
I'll tell you you're right when you're wrong
And if only you could see into me
Oh, when you're cold
I'll be there, hold you tight to me
Oh, when you're low
I'll be there by your side, baby

Jamillah Karim w/husband Hud Williams
First wedding dance

Thank you, Sade.

He [God] built a bridge to your heart
All the way
How many tons of love inside
I can't say

Hagar sings.

*Featured female artist: Nzinga Knight, Fashion designer and creator of Brooklyn Brewed Sorrel Mocktail. Visit:

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Omar Suleiman Tweets on "Women of the Nation"

This totally made my day! Popular Muslim preacher, scholar, and Black Lives Matter activist Omar Suleiman tweets that he is thoroughly enjoying Women of the Nation! Alhamdulillah!

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Ziyarah Through an African American Muslim Woman’s Eyes, Traveling Full Circle - Atlanta, Detroit, Senegal

By Jamillah Karim
Photo Credit: Hajji Hassan

Love led me to this path. The sublime thing that stirs love in the heart, we call beauty. Beauty, then, is what brought me here.

Perhaps I owe it to the beloved souls that taught me my first lessons in beauty. “Black is beautiful!” my father protested. “Jamillah means beautiful on the inside,” my mother insisted, never once claiming to be an Arabic scholar.

The goal of the path, Tariqah Tijaniyyah in my case, is nothing other than Allah. And since we come from Allah to return to Allah, the earthly journey to the path indeed begins with our first teachers: our parents.

My parents came to Islam from the Nation of Islam when they followed Imam W.D. Mohammed (R) into mainstream Islam in 1975. I was born a year later.

Fast forward 39 years later to 2015. With shining pink dhikr beads, I am sitting in the Tijani masjid, or zawiya (the Sufi term for a place of spiritual retreat), in my hometown of Atlanta. The state of my heart has driven me here. The great Sufi poet and scholar Rumi captures my heart’s condition precisely, “The lightning of love for the beloved has shot into this heart.”

I had learned through my studies both at Duke and Zaytuna that the Sufi scholars were the masters of the heart. When we seek to purify our hearts, to make them beautiful, and to fill them with the love of God, we are pursuing the level of devotion described as ihsan, beauty. Only with teachers and loving companions can one excel in this path.

When Allah favored me with the ardent desire for this path, I turned to women for guidance—various women with teachers from several different turuq (paths) and ethnic backgrounds. Ultimately, there is no explanation for why I chose this tariqah. Allah chooses.

I believe, however, that growing up in the W.D. Mohammed community greatly influenced my attraction to this tariqah. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and I found this path beautiful because of how my eye, my heart, and even my ear had been groomed in my home community.

Because of my religious roots, I easily embraced that it was a Black African who brought the great Tijani fayda, or flood, that Shaykh Ahmad al-Tijani, from Algeria, predicted. Thanks to Imam W.D. Mohammed, I had not been brainwashed to believe that only Arabs and Persians could be the greatest scholars and saints of all time.

Even the rhythm of the dhikr resonated with me because I was nurtured to value Africa’s cultures and to believe that they adorned Islamic practice, not tainted it. And finally, but probably most importantly, the sisters and brothers in the zawiya made me feel at home, many of whom I already knew from my local WDM masjid community.

Ziyarah, a universal practice

The connections between my new Sufi community and my home community continued to emerge. I had been in the tariqah now for six months. My dear friend Sumayya called to see if I was available to speak at the Shaykh Hassan Cisse Ziyarah to be held in December 2016 in Detroit. “Shaykh Mahy will be there, and like every Tijani in the country,” she said convincingly.

I imagined that the Ziyarah, Arabic for a “visit” or “visitation,” would be similar to a childhood ritual that I describe in my book American Muslim Women. “Whenever Imam W. D. Mohammed visited a city, his followers would flock there from all the nearby regions to hear him speak.” This ritual included “dressing in your finest clothes” and “seeing all the faces in your community.”

It is no surprise that the concept of ziyarah would emerge as a common thread because the practice of visiting the blessed is universal. Ziyarah, or visiting sacred places and people, living or dead, was a widespread practice in pre-modern societies, among both Muslims and Christians, Sufis and non-Sufis.

Ziyarah continues to be a common practice across various Muslim cultures in various shapes and forms. As Hajja Ayisha Jeffries Cisse noted, “For the Sufi, it can be a visit through our worship or in our memories. The Ziyarah of Imam Shaykh Hassan Aliou Cisse (R) in America is a sacred journey of our Spirit to his memory and his legacy.”

Indeed, the universal practice of ziyarah has taken on an expression unique to African American Muslims through the Annual Shaykh Hassan Cisse Ziyarah, which first took place in December 2010. Nasrul Ilm America has organized the Ziyarah annually to commemorate the life of Shaykh Hassan Cisse, the preeminent spokesperson of the Tariqah Tijaniyyah before his passing in 2008.

Shaykh Hassan (R) was a consummate Islamic scholar and guide, emerging from a long and vibrant legacy of learning in West Africa. He was the first grandson and spiritual heir of Shaykh Al-Islam, Al-Hajj Ibrahim Niasse, who led the largest single Muslim movement in twentieth-century West Africa.    

The annual Ziyarah functions as an opportunity to visit with Shaykh Hassan by celebrating his legacy, to visit with Shaykh Mahy Cisse, his youngest brother and spiritual heir (may Allah bless and preserve him), and to visit with other murids (students of a shaykh). In his speech at the 2007 International Tijaniyyah Conference in Fes, Shaykh Hassan emphasized fellowship as a central component of Ziyarah:

“In the spiritual path, the meeting of the brothers and sisters is more important, even than making the awrad, the remembrance of Allah. Because of what? The dhikr, if you miss it, you can make it up another time. But the meeting with your brother or sister, if you miss it, that’s it--you missed it, finished! You cannot make it up. You cannot bring these people back.”

Similarly, Shaykh Mahy Cisse has described the Ziyarah as the gathering of lovers. “We make Ziyarah to show our love for our shaykh.” He shared the following at the 2016 Ziyarah in Detroit:

“Allah loves Ziyarah. The Prophet (S) said, ‘A man was traveling to a village to see a brother. An angel appeared to him in the form of a human being and asked him, “Where are you going?” He said, “I am going to this village to see such and such.” He said, “Do you have business with him?” He said, “No, I just love him for the sake of Allah.” The angel told him, “Allah sent me to tell you that He loves you because you love your brother.”’

“Everybody here can have it [the divine love rewarding brotherly love] because everyone came here for the sake of love, and that love is for Allah, tabarakah wa ta’ala (T).

“The real mashayik, if you love them, but they know this love is not for Allah (T), they don’t love that. They love to see people love them for the sake of Allah. If you love them for the sake of Allah, you will follow in their footsteps, [which] is to follow the way of Rasul Allah (S), and your ending will be their ending….This is the real love.”

The Detroit Ziyarah

I traveled alone to Detroit. I had never met Malia, the sister hosting me, but when she picked me up, she immediately remembered me. “I was at the lecture you gave at Howard.” I’ve experienced this again and again in the path: the realization that other murids and I have already crossed paths.

I anxiously hoped we would make it in time for dhikrul jumu’ah and wazifah. Murids eagerly anticipate Ziyarah as a time to perform our awrad (litanies) in the company of our shaykh.
Photo Credit: ThirdEyeLenz
My anxiousness was amplified by the fact that I was new to the Tijani community. And, I admit, I couldn’t help but think about the fact that I was now in one of those “other” Black Muslim communities. It’s no secret that Muslims outside the WDM community have made judgements about our imam and community. And from our side, we’ve held our own set of assumptions and stereotypes about other groups.

But as Malia and I bonded on the drive that seemed like forever, those false walls were falling inside. And then came the moment when I knew the whole thing was divine. We arrived at the masjid for dhikrul jumu’ah, and it was the Muslim Center, a mosque community that identifies with the leadership of Imam W.D. Mohammed!

The sign above the door was adorned with the emblem that signaled home for me, a red Qur’an with the pages spread open to appear as wings, held up by the words in Arabic, “There is none worthy of worship but God, and Muhammad (S) is the Messenger of God.”

This is the emblem that Imam Mohammed chose for the community’s newspaper to signal the change in direction. And again the connections flooded in. Detroit is where the Nation of Islam started. The Muslim Center evolved out of Temple #1, the first Nation mosque. The Muslim Center demonstrates radical growth, love, and unity as it warmly opens its doors to the Tijanis (and other Sufi communities). It mirrored the radical flow of love and serenity in my heart. Just when I nervously opened myself to a new community, Allah made everything feel like home.

Now inside the Muslim Center, the multiple conversations around the prayer space, the laughter, and the embraces indicated that we had missed the dhikr. Smiles greeted me from both new and familiar faces, followed by heartfilled hugs. After praying ‘Isha, the conversation turned to visiting Shaykh Mahy.

It was between 8 and 10 pm when we arrived at the house where Shaykh was staying. It was bustling with men and women. The first familiar face was a brother I grew up with in Atlanta. We exchanged words, and then Malia and I were immediately directed to the room where Shaykh greeted visitors.

And of course, another connection was made, this time related to gender. Sitting around Shaykh, the women outnumbered the men. Within arms reach of Shaykh, women remained in his proximity even after they greeted him. I, in turn, greeted him and asked two questions. He answered them, and made dua for Allah’s ease for me in the path.

Photo Credit: ThirdEyeLenz
The gender interaction in the space certainly sustained my sense that I had left home only to return. Sure, there were gender boundaries but also signs that the boundaries were soft and flexible. A brother, for example, selling dresses and scarves from Senegal, sat comfortably among the women, his customers. A wife sitting with her husband in the midst of brothers, for they were her brothers too. This movement across gender lines indicated that women were valued and their voices were fairly heard, what I had been accustomed to in my home community.

Commemoration Night: Shaykh Mahy Cisse and Shaykh Abdul Karim Yahya

The commemoration program was filled with speeches on the legacy of Shaykh Hassan (R), dhikr, poetry of praise on the Prophet (S), and recognition of community members’ work and service. The stellar choice of speakers made the night exceptionally memorable; however, there were two talks that especially stood out to me as a new murid still internalizing Sufi concepts and practices.

The first talk was by Shaykh Abdul Karim Yahya. He gave an excellent explanation of why we seek a shaykh as part of the prophetic tradition. This practice stands upon the concept of seeking “our opening through those who have seen the one we did not see.”

This concept is grounded in a hadith in Bukhari and Muslim that ends, “A time will come where a people will go forth [fighting], and they will say, ‘Is there anyone among you who saw someone who kept the company of someone who kept the company of Allah’s messenger (S)?’ And it will be said, ‘Yes,’ and so their opening will be granted.”

What Shayky Abdul Karim imparted was that “those who see those who saw those who preceded them, it is as if they saw them or they gained that opening and that benefit.” This is the concept of asanid, chains of connection going back to the Prophet Muhammad (S).

Shaykh Abdul Karim continued with gracious recognition of the light and beauty he saw in our teachers:

“It’s not adab to mention one’s tariqah in the company of other turuq, but I’ll just say that Allah privileged me to study in the city with a group of the prophetic family that’s known as the highest concentration of ahl bayt on this earth and gaze at them and their way.

“And then we met the likes of Imam Joseph, and we saw here what we saw there. And in his sons, we saw here what we saw there. And when we had the opportunity to make hajj with Shaykh Mahy, we saw what we heard in the biographies of like twelfth-century imams that this great imam--you will have a legal question and you’d be looking for him. Go among the common people and you will find him!

“We made hajj with Shaykh Mahy, and he doesn’t want me to say this, but understand those from whom you are taking [because otherwise you may not realize his station because of Shaykh’s practice to sit with the common people]. On the hajj, he was an obscurity just lying among the African brothers.

“These asanid take us back to Allah’s Messenger (S). Imam Salim Joseph alluded to this when he spoke, and Shaykh Mahy will not mind me saying this. See in Shaykh Mahy, Shaykh Hassan. And see in him, Shaykh Ibrahim. And see in them, Sayyidina Rasul Allah (S), because to the extent of your honesty, your genuineness, the various links in that chain will dissolve and you will connect more and more to Allah’s Messenger. As our Imam al-Haddad said, ‘So through the real, let us take the knowledge of their path, hand to hand, up to the station of prophecy.’”
Photo Credit: ThirdEyeLenz
Shaykh Mahy closed the program with beautiful remarks. I especially gained from his explanation of the arrangement of dhikr in the Tijani awrad:

“Everyone comes to this gathering wearing nice clothes. Why? Because you want to meet Shaykh, you want to meet brother. So what do you think if you want to go to the presence of Allah (T)? That’s why in the awrad of tariqah, you start with istighfar. You empty yourself of all the bad things. That is the nice clothes you wear to go into the presence of Allah (T).

 And no way do you get to the presence of Allah (T) without passing through the door of Rasul Allah (S). “The Prophet Muhammad (S) said, ‘Allah is the giver, but I’m the distributor.’ So no way you can get anything without passing through Prophet Muhammad (S).

“This is what awrad Tijaniyyah teaches you. After istighfar, you say salat ‘ala an-nabi because you want to enter into the presence of Allah (T)...You make salat ‘ala an-nabi, and that salat will guide you to the presence of Rasul Allah (S) first because he will take the darkness--‘you take humanity from the darkness into the light’ [recited in Arabic]. The real nur, the real light, is Rasul Allah (S). After salat ‘ala an-nabi, that will raise you to get to la ilaha illallah...This is the way of our tariqah.”

To Be Continued