Tuesday, August 29, 2017

In the Footsteps of Hajar, Part 2: Moving Hearts Toward the Beloved Community, ISNA 2017

ISNA 2017 with the luminous Yasmin Mogahed
Photo by Rabia Khan (RabiasTravels.com)
In Part 1 of this post, I ended with how I was touched when the host of ImanWire, Mohammed Saleem, read a quote of mine about God having put the love of Muhammad Ali and Malcolm X in the hearts of non-Black Muslims as a gift  to facilitate their connection with and care for African Americans in general.

Even before that sentimental moment, I was impressed by the way Saleem sought to explore in the interview various aspects of my book with sincere enthusiasm and interest. Perhaps this is his job, nonetheless he carried it out with beauty and care. Alhamdulillah, I am reminded of the great honor Allah, the Most Great, has bestowed upon me to tell the history of my community. On top of that honor, I am moved that others value Allah’s entrusting me with the narratives of African American Muslim women especially. That Saleem is a man, of South Asian background, and feels this connection, amplified my feeling of gratitude for Allah’s beautiful gift and plan.

The quote on the love of Ali and Malcolm in the hearts of non-Black Muslims also worked well for Saleem because he wanted to end on a spiritual note. He wanted to move the hearts. And so I responded with comments from my last ISNA talk, where I also aimed for the hearts.

And this is truly the beauty of our mother Hagar as a perfect symbolic fit for the kind of scholarly activism to which I aspire. I am inspired to write passionately about race and gender, but my ultimate passion is being touched by and touching the hearts of people who desire God and His Beloved Prophet (S), above all else.

It is the expression of sisterhood like that between me and Yasmin--crossing race, built on love of God--that inspires my spiritual, scholarly activism.

Mother Hagar embodies the race, class, and gender struggles that I bring to light in my scholarly work, but more than that, she represents the exemplary human being that finds satisfaction with God in the ultimate moment of distress, and as a result, changes the world forever!

With Hagar I ended my ISNA 2016 talk, remembering her as the one who took the primordial footsteps that forged the way for the Blessed Prophet, prayers and peace be upon him, to later inspire hearts to become the Beloved Ummah. With Hagar, I opened my 2017 talk, aspiring again to inspire us to become the Beloved Community.

And so I answered my gracious host--after he read my comments on hearts loving Ali and Malcolm-- with my latest reflections on becoming the beloved community as shared at ISNA 2017. Below I share an excerpt of my talk, which can be viewed in its entirety here.

What community is better positioned to be the beloved community? Who are the people of brotherhood and sisterhood? Who are the people that have as its leader, its teacher, guide and model, a human being who embodies the utmost beauty? This human being is none other than the Prophet Muhammad, prayers and peace be upon him.

But have we made the Beloved Ummah a priority? Do we ask for it in our dua?

Ask any Muslim, “What is the American Muslim struggle?” All of us would say the fight against anti-Muslim hate and bigotry. We’ve made that fight our priority. But what is the most effective way to fight anti-Muslim racism in this country?

The scholar and saint Abul-Qasim ibn Muhammad al-Junayd said, “One cannot struggle against his enemy outwardly except he who struggles against his enemies inwardly (and the inward enemies are the desires of the ego). Then whoever is given victory over them will be victorious over his (outward) enemy, and whoever is defeated by them, his enemy defeats him.”

If we do not prioritize the internal struggle--the fight for beautiful hearts--then how can we fight the external enemy of anti-Muslim propaganda and bigotry.
The Qur’an guides us in this regard through the example of the early Muslims, the Emigrants who left Mecca because of religious persecution and the Helpers, the people of Medina, who gave them refuge in their new city.

“...The poor emigrants who were removed from their homes and their possessions. They seek Allah’s grace and pleasure and assist Allah and His Messenger. These are the ones who are true. Those who were already firmly established in their homes [in Medina], and firmly rooted in faith, show love for those who migrated to them for refuge, and harbor no desire in their hearts for what has been given to them. They [the Helpers] give [the Emigrants] preference over themselves, even if they too are poor. And those saved from the covetousness of their own souls—they are the successful ones.”(59:8-9)

How refined were the hearts of the Emigrants and the Helpers! And herein lies the lesson to take home. The early Muslims, their hearts were made beautiful first--love was established in their hearts first--and then they fought and won battles together.

We want to be a beloved community in the eyes of American society, and that is an important and legitimate struggle, but our first priority, and sole concern really, is to be beloved in God’s eyes. “God does not look at your external forms but gazes upon your hearts,” said the Beloved of God, prayers and peace be upon him.

Let us get to the work of making our hearts beautiful, and that is the work of becoming the Beloved Ummah. Our survival and our position in this country depend upon it. We need each other to reach the heights of faith and beauty, the heights of iman and ihsan. For verily, our faith is not a complete faith until we love for our brother and sister what we love for ourselves.

Until we love Malcolm and Ali, and we love the people they loved, Muslim and non-Muslim, Black and non-Black.

Wow! The women outnumber the men on a main Saturday evening session having nothing to do with women's issues. Tayyibah Taylor, may Allah have mercy on her, would be so proud! Mashallah!

Sunday, August 27, 2017

In the Footsteps of Hajar, Part 1: Black Muslim Women Pioneers

By Jamillah Karim

Photo by Joi Faison, Eid al-Fitr 2017
Connecting to our foremothers with fabric from the Motherland
My dress: Fabric from Nigeria, made in Dakar, Senegal
Ayisha's dress: Fabric from Dakar, made in Atlanta by designer and beloved Audra Karim
In the legacy of our community mothers, celebrated in my post
 "Our Black Muslim Mamas Been Rocking Hijab Since Before We Were Babies"

O Allah, honor us by making us 
the beloved community, and there is no honor except by You. And finally, in these special days, when the selected among our community prepare to walk in the footsteps of our mother Hajar, or Hagar, make us faithful and content with You, as was she when she faced the adversity of being left alone in a new land that You, O Allah, made her home and the home of Your beloved Muhammad, prayers and peace be upon him. And like her, O Allah, may we struggle for Your pleasure so that our children can be at home in this new land, thriving in this new land where the people of Muhammad (S) will shine with your light and love. Ameen.

I made this dua before an audience last year at ISNA 2016. Dhul Hijjah, the month of the hajj, was about to commence.

It’s that special time of year again, and though I hadn’t planned it, Allah so beautifully planned it, that I would have another opportunity to remember Mother Hagar, peace be upon her, on a public platform.

Mohammed Saleem interviewed me for the latest ImanWire podcast, which was released just days before the commencement of Dhul Hijjah 2017. Please listen to "In the Footsteps of Hajar: Black Muslim Women Pioneers" here. Here’s a summary of what we discuss:

“Despite facing the challenges of being marginalized at the crossroads of their race, gender and faith, Black women have been pioneers in the Muslim community in America. In this episode, Dr. Jamillah Karim, author of "Women of the Nation: Between Black Protest and Sunni Islam", details the rich history of Black Muslim women in their journey from the Nation of Islam to the Warith Deen Mohammed community. In focusing on their narratives, Dr. Karim discusses the importance of amplifying their voices and their relevance in helping guide the community at a time when racial and gender equity still remain elusive.”

Saleem opened with a lovely tribute to Mother Hagar, and then connected me and the women of my community to her legacy. What an honor! We discussed my book Women of the Nation for most of the episode, and then he almost had me in tears when he closed with a reading of his favorite quote of mine, from a post here on “Hagar Lives.”

“And don’t think that because you love Muhammad Ali and read the Autobiography of Malcolm X, it means that you are down with my people. Rather, it means that Allah has chosen White and immigrant Muslims to be leaders in recognizing what has been done to Black people in this country, that it is your moral duty to truly be brother and sister with Black people, and that God has given you an advantage in the fight for and with Black people by putting love for Ali and Malcolm in your hearts.”

To be continued here, “In the Footsteps of Hajar, Part 2

For Mother Hagar’s full story and why my beloved sister Ayisha and I remember her through our words, revisit this post.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Keepin' It Real with Muslim Men: What We Muslim Women Want and Need

By Ayisha Karim

This photo was taken within the first three days of Ramadan. My summer vacation as a high school teacher was in full effect, and I’d come to terms with the fact that my two young children, Aasiya and Hasan, would be spending most of it with their father. So, I think subconsciously, I was coping with the reality that I’d be at home alone most of our holy month of Ramadan--a month which had previously been spent deepening family bonds and cherishing early morning and evening meals with family, which served as a buffer between ourselves and the physically trying fast from food and drink during the daylight hours. I must’ve told myself that I could manage by having another living organism in the house with me, even if it was in the form of a plant, as seen in the photo, ironically in my almost five year old son’s carseat.
For single Muslim women, Ramadan is a critical time: 1) We become acutely aware of our singleness (and remember, I’ve only been single for 3 years), and 2) considering that “the gates of Hell are closed,” miracles are likely to occur, and prayers are easily answered, we spend great periods of time praying for an ideal mate. Well, let’s just say I wrote the core message of this post, which follows below, in the last ten days of the month. Perhaps it was my last plea to the Universe to expedite delivering my ideal mate to me. Just kidding.

Lastly, I’ll say that the peculiar dynamic existing in the African American Muslim community is the backdrop to the message below. Considering that many of the African American, single Muslim women that I associate with, and myself first and foremost, are already financially ‘ok’ as professional, salary-earning women, we are not hard pressed or inclined to desire and look for a mate who will solely be a financial provider. We’re looking for other traits in treatment and maintenance from our men. I argue that we’re often primarily looking for a mate who will protect and maintain the purity of our hearts, or at least assist in that process, as we seek entry into Jannah. Please, enjoy the following, and stay tuned for co-writer of HagarLives blog, Jamillah Karim, who has more to say about singlehood of Muslim women in particular.
June 20, 2017 (Ramadan 25, 1438)
**Important Message for Muslim MEN, married and single (and their wives, and the women who love, support and seek them out)

I'm sharing now what's been on my heart recently and which recent events have made more pressing and relevant: the ROLE of Muslim men & what we, women, need (crave, desire, and hope to receive) from you.

1. God, in our Holy Book, has already instructed you to be the “providers/maintainers and protectors of women.” Many of you (and your wives) focus on the “providing” part of that: material provision. Yes, that's important. BUT realize that God created you with that already in your very essence and nature. Thus, you WILL do that in your own way, using your allotted material means to provide for the woman/women in your care. Plus, society reinforces this definition of male “provider.” BUT THAT'S NOT ALL. What are the women looking for in the MAN?

2. I believe that times are calling for us to return to this ayah and God's assignment for MUSLIM MEN. Particularly, I want to focus on the PROTECTING and maintaining part: both the physical and, maybe more so, the spiritual/emotional/psychological part. If we don't focus on ALL aspects of this CRITICAL role of Men, as ordained by God, then there will continue to be a harmful imbalance in our communities.

*SO, to MY STRONG, WONDERFUL, STRIVING Muslim Men: We, women, need you to PROTECT both our physical bodies, and right along with that, our emotional, spiritual bodies and lives. Furthermore, we need you to protect our HEARTS! After all, if so much of our faith revolves around the constant PURIFICATION OF THE HEART, what better way is there for a man to *provide & protect* for his women than by familiarizing himself with the matters of the heart and the nature of women, and doing all in his power, in his God-given male makeup, to serve, provide, protect, and cultivate that essence? Ameen.

Should I be more explicit? Well, for starters, in more worldly terms, stop with the games!! There is a time and place for strategy. Let God's Word guide and dictate your actions more than your EGO! Don't be greedy! And if you're considering polygyny, come correct!! Do so in a way that includes, honors, and protects your wife, children, family, and community. **We, women and children, are watching. We’re wiser and more in tune with our spirituality than you think. We SEE the inconsistencies in your thinking and method and the weaknesses in your heart.

3. “HOW does the male go about doing this?” you might ask. "How does he best equip himself to fulfill such an honorable role?" First, by constantly striving to purify his OWN heart by SIMPLY, sincerely submitting his will to God, i.e., acting like a “Muslim”:
Say: I am Muslim, I believe, and thereafter be UPRIGHT! Study God's word, Qur'an. Next, study the Sunnah, character and way, of our beloved Prophet (saws)!! Alongside that, read up on and explore his relationships with the women around him, particularly, his wives, the Mothers of the Believers.There are some beautiful stories, books, out there. Be taken by, and fall in love with, the ways in which he honored and protected and invested in the woman around him...and NOT just his wives, but ALL of the women in his community. Hmmm... <3

4. And WOMEN/Ladies!! Let the men carry out their God-ordained roles in PEACE!! With all due respect, sometimes we either restrict or try to control how our men navigate their role as provider and protector (married women in particular). OR we gradually weaken their inclination to do so by NOT demanding that they act honorably with us women, in general, and single, seeking women, especially.

LET ME SAY THIS and clarify with examples: Married women, your husband does NOT belong to you! He belongs to God. Let his relationship with God, his striving to reach and please Him, COME BEFORE his relationship with YOU! (Feel me?) And don't worship, believe in, and seek to please your man MORE THAN you strive to please God.

TRUST your husbands when they go beyond the marriage bond and seek to honorably engage with other God-fearing women in the community. Don't let jealousy and Satan's whispers drive you to insanity, paranoia, and the weakening of the sacred bond that you have with your husband. Although it may be difficult, try to get away from this "MY MAN" mentality. (Note to self too.) Trust me, I sometimes struggled with this very thing when I was married. And funny, even now, when I find myself attracted to a man, I feel that POSSESSIVE spirit kicking in, I seek refuge, and remind myself that these men don't and never will BELONG to us! Yes, we have rights over them, and they over us, but the moment we start thinking we own them as our husbands, we begin to lose that FREEDOM and salvation from the Hell Fire (on earth) that God has intended for us. (And by the way, since this message originally began to the men, your wives do not belong to you either.)

Single women (myself now included): DEMAND respect. Yes, and trust me, I know this is not always as simple or cut and dry as others make it seem. But we must encourage men to be men, honorable men. If we allow men to disrespect us, they are likely to disrespect themselves, the wombs that bore them, and other women later on. WE ARE BUILDING COMMUNITY; WE ARE KHALIFAH. We gotta keep it tight; our survival and success as a community depends on it.

Don’t let us be the ones who contribute to our men losing their rightful place in Heaven (on earth). Instead, let's encourage one another to hear & obey. **I know, I know, it's hard. It's not easy or fun living the single life, but let us be patient and know that God's promise is true. And lastly, let us step aside and give our men space to choose and get to know their future mates. May we want for our sisters what we want for ourselves. Let us be dignified and honorable. I'll stop there. <3

Oh, Allah, give us Allah in all that we do, in all that we seek and strive for, and in our relationships and marriages. Ameen.

Oh, Allah, God, please, let not my writing this prolong my search to find my mate :-). Instead, bless me and my sisters with mates that are a comfort to our eyes and hearts. Bless us with mates, in whose very makeup and essence we see You, O God. Let them possess many of your divine qualities on a human scale. And, let us recognize and welcome them when they arrive.

You are the Most Merciful of those who show Mercy, Ar-Raheem; you are the One who provides, Ar-Razzaaq; you are the One who protects, Al-Muhaymin; you are the One who Loves and places love & mercy between our hearts, Al-Wadud; you are the most Wise and Know what is Best for our lives, Al-Hakeem, Al-Aalim; and you are the One who will carry us on this path with gentleness and ease and with a patient spirit, Al-Lateef, As-Sabur.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Free Yourself: 5 Ways to Start Practicing Forgiveness Now

By Ayisha Karim


So, if you’ve been reading my contributions to this blog for any amount of time, you’re probably aware that I’ve recently gone through a divorce—at times a very contentious, soul-stirring, paradigm-shifting, drawn-out transition from the very beautiful, stable marriage I once knew. Well, recently, I shared with many when I reached the three-year anniversary of our official separation, and though there was a range of reactions from friends and family, the one that stood out to me most was the one in which I was informed that I was still “processing” it all. I took it as, poor Ayisha, you haven’t gotten over this yet, you haven’t forgiven yet. But in reality, I had forgiven, even forgotten some, and moved on. One of my favorite authors on the instinctual nature of women, Clarissa Pinkola Estes, has the following to say about forgiveness:
“There are many ways and portions to forgiving a person, a community, a nation for an offense. It is important to remember that a ‘final’ forgiveness is not a surrender. It is a conscious decision to cease to harbor resentment, which includes forgiving a debt and giving up one’s resolve to retaliate. You are the one who decides when to forgive and what ritual to use to mark the event.”
For me, however, forgiveness has been a surrender—not a surrender to the one to be forgiven or to the situation that created the need for forgiveness, but a surrender to God’s perfect Will. I will proudly say that I have ceased to harbor resentment, knowing it only taints my soul and heart (while the one who hurt me is likely going through life in a carefree manner). As far as retaliation is concerned, I don’t have a spiteful, revengeful bone in my body, Ms. Non-Confrontational. But again, I’m of the opinion that the Universe has a way of establishing justice and that karma is real; furthermore, as our holy book the Qur’an, says: “Truth stands out clear from error” (2:256) and “God does not ignore the reward of those who do good” (9:120).
In agreement that there are many ways, reasons, and portions to forgiving a person, I wish to proclaim a few of them here. As you read, I invite you to offer forgiveness to those you have not, or think about how you’d add onto, expand, or adjust the following to fit your own experiences. Let us heal together.
1. Forgive Yourself:

Forgive yourself for not being stronger, for not standing up for yourself that one time when it could’ve made all the difference.

Forgive yourself for making such a fool of yourself, i.e., exposing your heart, sharing your deepest secret, your dreams, revealing your true self to others, and yet not receiving the positive feedback that you hoped for and craved.

Forgive yourself for wrongfully covering the actions of someone you loved—a spouse, a child, or a friend—who abused or took undue advantage of another innocent person. You did it because you were in a state of panic, heartbreak, and you thought you were acting out of love, and perhaps felt that you were acting for the greater good. If you haven’t, address and rectify the injustice to the wronged person to the extent that you are able, but still forgive yourself.

Forgive yourself for not believing in yourself enough to follow your heart’s desire and live your life to the fullest.
2. Forgive Your Friend:

Forgive the friend who didn’t show up for you in a manner you deemed appropriate or sufficient. Don’t read too much into why you were not invited to the big party, wedding, or baby shower.  

Forgive the friend who didn’t offer the kind of support that you desired when you were going through that crisis or transition in your life, e.g., job loss, depression, divorce, marriage, childbirth, illness, or death.

A personal plea: Forgive the friend who comes to your hometown and didn’t notify you ahead of time or contact you to connect once there.

Forgive the friend who betrayed your trust and compelled you to end the relationship to maintain a sense of integrity for all parties involved.

Forgive your friend for turning into someone you no longer recognized.

Forgive the friend who chose someone, some cause, some story, some opportunity over you, yours, or the friendship you shared. Remember that he or she is striving to manage their event and emotion-filled lives in a purposeful, meaningful way, as you are.
3. Forgive your parents:

Dear Lord, forgive your parents, even if takes all the strength your fragile heart possesses. Forgive them for not showing up when you needed them most, which could’ve been everyday (depending on how old you were).

Forgive them for not making that school performance, the sports event, or the anticipated family gathering. Forgive your parents for not being perfect. Forgive them for not showing you how to do everything that you’re suddenly forced to do or become in adulthood.

Forgive them for not being a good example. Chances are, they did the best with what they’d been given. Forgive them for not adequately loving or caring for those that you did, to a similar degree, i.e., your child, your spouse of choice, your lifestyle, etc.  

Forgive your parent for choosing to live his or her life without your other parent by their side.  Forgive them for those awkward, painful times when you called them on their lack of care and negligence in these areas, only to be dismissed as overly sensitive, irrational, selfish, petty, or disrespectful even.

And always remember how God hath placed our parents in high regard: “And out of kindness, lower to them the wing of humility, and say, ‘My Lord! Bestow on them thy Mercy even as they cherished me in childhood’” (17:24).

4. Forgive Your Spouse:
(Breathe in. Exhale.)

Forgive your spouse for ever promising to be a certain kind of man or woman, because the minute they broke their promise in any manner, your heart was broken as well. If only they’d never uttered or written those words. If they had made no such promises, forgive your spouse for not measuring up to the man or woman that you had envisioned or senselessly fantasized about.

Forgive your spouse for not guarding your heart in a way that you deemed only right or allowing others into your sacred circle to wreak havoc upon it.  Forgive your spouse for never actualizing into the kind of father or mother that you felt your children needed or deserved or for not modeling their best self to your children.

Forgive your spouse for putting others before your trusts, your interests, your dreams, your health, or your heart. Forgive your spouse for criticizing you and reminding you of your shortcomings, or requesting that you grow in certain areas. Most likely, they acted from good intentions yet failed to advise with compassion and tenderness.

Forgive your spouse, though it may take everything in you, for turning to the arms and heart of another man or woman, seeking validation, affection, healing, connection, friendship, or time, when they should have sought and fought for that in you.

Forgive your spouse for being human and reaching those low spaces where they lose their faith in God. Your spouse is destined to return to good, for it is God’s Will to be known.
Note: Forgiveness does not mean sticking your head in the snakes’ basket, “but instead responding from a stance of mercy, security, and preparedness” (Estes). Similarly, a dear friend of the heart reminded me to watch out for “the poison of revenge and anger, which truly poisons the love that pours out of you.” This friend reminded me that, “by generating anger towards him [or her], he still has a power over you that he does not deserve.”


**And for those needing to forgive an ex-spouse, Dr. Estes reminds us: “You are free to go. It may not have turned out to be a happily ever after, but most certainly there is now a fresh Once upon a time waiting for you from this day forward.”
5. Forgive anyone you have ever loved or anyone who has ever hurt you (or someone you love):
Forgive because forgiving is a divine act. God is Oft-Forgiving, as our faith tradition reminds us constantly.
“Those who are merciful will be shown mercy by the Most Merciful. Be merciful to those on the earth and the One in the heavens will have mercy upon you.” (Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him)


Friday, March 10, 2017

Our Black Muslim Mamas Been Rockin' Hijab Since Before We Were Babies

By Jamillah Karim, with Joi Faison

Mama Marjorie, "She's the True Cover Girl"

I love Deen Squad’s new video “Cover Girl” with chorus “She Be Rockin’ That Hijab.” It captures much of what drives my writing on American Muslim women: that we cover not only for God but with style and beauty; that it is our choice; that it does not prevent us from accomplishing great things; and that Western society’s portrayal of Muslim women betrays its racism when Mary the Mother of Jesus' covering is honored and ours is vilified. 

This picture of Ayisha with child reminds me of depictions of Mary the Mother of Jesus

What better way than to convey this message than with beats, lyrics, and images portraying Muslim women around the world as cool, beautiful, and stunningly stylish?

And yet there is a better way, one that evenly represents us all. My dear sister Ayisha brought it to our attention first on her fb wall, “I'll admit, I was on the edge of my seat, thinking where the HECK are the Black Hijabis??!! I started to see one or two, but all was better when sister Ibtihaj came up on the screen!! Whew!”

And then my dear friend Joi said it:

Joi and Jamillah, Eid al-Fitr 2015

“Sometimes as an extra brown girl, of the deep earth hue, I get real tired of seeing others repped where I should be too. I gets tired of barely cameo appearances, the sidelines, and periphery. I gets tired of the invisibility, of the dismissiveness, of the ghost whispers of existences. Cause Lawd knows I gots bones and breath and feeling and prayers and fasting and giving and giving and forgiving. Lawd knows I show up on my mat daily to meet my Maker and He hear the dua of my mother tongue, learned Arabic, and the ‘Allahumma helps’ in the dark of the night, wrapped around balls of tears....Making me feel like doing a Sojourner Truth rendition of ‘Ain't I a Muslim.’”

And when Joi said it, I knew it was time to be like Hagar again and write as a worshipper-scholar-activist must do.

Courtesy of Nassar Madyun, Atlanta, GA

Black Muslim women of my mother’s generation, and even before her, women who embraced Islam in the 1940s, ‘50s, ‘60s, and ‘70s, made it cool and bold and beautiful to wear the scarf and the khimar when it was terribly unpopular or even unthinkable to do so. And yes, that’s what we called it back in the day, the scarf and the khimar, before immigrant Islam asserted its authority and called it the hijab.

Women in the Nation of Islam will quickly remind you of this fact, that Black women were the first to publicly identify as Muslim in America. One Nation woman told me in an interview for my second book, “I strive to let... [people] know that if it wasn’t for the sisters prior to me before ’75, I wouldn’t be able to wear a khimar, headpiece, veil or whatever; none of us would. I wouldn’t be able to carry the name Muhammad.”

Courtesy of Bilalian News, circa 1975

In multiple ways, Black Muslim women carry a serious legacy of Islam in America. Whether our Mamas were drilling at the Temple, taking care of their babies at home, or out in the street selling community newspapers (after Imam W.D. Mohammed became leader), they were rockin' hijab regally and courageously.

The Vanguard, the drill team unit of MGT, in pant-skirt uniform, Harlem, 1971

Jeanette Nu'Man, Atlanta
Maryam Sharif, Shahidah Sharif's Grandmother, circa 1976, NY
Shahidah Sharif's mother baked hijab cake for sister's birthday

Here are just a few moments from my adolescence in the Warith Deen Mohammed community in Atlanta that stand out, demonstrating the way our Black Muslim Mamas made it possible for Black, Brown and White Muslim girls to be rockin’ hijab today.

First Memory, 1980s - In the basement of a humble house in Decatur, GA, five African American women gather to design and sew clothes for a Muslim women’s fashion show. Sister Amira Wazeer, founder and designer, started the modestly attended show “Celebrations” to nurture and celebrate style and modesty.

Second Memory, May 1992 - Beyond the basement for some years now, "Celebrations" is a first-rate show featuring designers from across the country including Shukuru, Lateefah Treasures, Ikhlas Muhammad, Lubna Originals, Lady Zakiyyah, Hanifah’s Secrets, and Anju.

Amira Wazeer

Celebrations featured in AJC, May 10, 1993

Five hundred women from Atlanta and beyond meet at the Hyatt Hotel for Celebrations, now the biggest fundraiser for the Atlanta Masjid. In her royal dress, Sister Amira proclaims to the crowd of sisters in delightful, majestic garments of various hues and expressions both modest and striking at once,

“You are royalty, you are the vicegerent of Al-Malik (The King of Kings). Dignity of dress therefore is required. Hesitate not! Seize the opportunity to be recognized as a believing woman.

“We are trendsetters. Europeans have copied Islamic design. We have influenced the garment industry to the point that Islamic style is in. Head wear is in. What we have been doing for years is now vogue.”

Third Memory, July 1992 - Before my senior year of high school, I finally embrace the scarf on my own after my mother has been encouraging me to wear it for the last four years. And I make the choice not when it is easiest and most convenient--that is, during the school year where I attend Warith Deen Mohammed High--but during a summer program at Clark Atlanta University. My mother seizes the opportunity to make me feel beautiful in my scarf. I recall it vividly. After a quick trip to the material store, she brings to my dorm room scarves of every color you can imagine--pink, purple, white, navy, yellow, red, black, and sky blue--in material easy to wrap the way the women in my community have long rocked it.

Fourth Memory, July 1992 or 1993 - On a hot afternoon in July, a congregation of nearly 100 Muslims stand on the parking lot of the Atlanta Masjid of Al-Islam to view a press conference in response to “Women of the Veil,” a 12-page report featured in The Atlanta Journal Constitution. Although no members of the invited press attend the conference, the five African American Muslim women panelists--including a pediatrician, a computer analyst, and a school principal--express their dissatisfaction with the manner in which the Atlanta newspaper covered Islam and Muslim women in the Middle East.

And so when I watch the Deen Squad video, not only do I feel sentiments like those of Joi and Ayisha--Where are the Black Hijabis?-- but also I feel indebted to the women of my mother’s generation. I feel called to write their stories once again.

Always, I carry deep respect and recognition for our Black Muslim Mamas, even on the day I took my highly anticipated picture with Ibtihaj Muhammad. After my picture with her, I took one with her mother, Sister Denise. We all know that it was her mother, always conscious of God and modesty, who spotted girls fencing in a schoolyard and directed Ibtihaj to the sport that would make her famous and us proud.

September 2016

How I would love to post my picture with Sister Denise except that she requested that I not share it on social media. And that’s how our Black Muslim Mamas be rockin’ it: always humble so their daughters can shine. My Mama, yo’ Muslim Mama, Ibtihaj’s Mama, our modern day Hagars.

I could go on. Of course Deen Squad's video evoked gratitude for my spiritual Mama Tayyibah Taylor, the first to make us Cover Girls via her creation Azizah Magazine. But I’ll stop here, and since we are celebrating Women’s History Month, I'll end with an excerpt from my book Women of the Nation: Between Black Protest and Sunni Islam, co-authored by Dawn-Marie Gibson. 

With Tayyibah Taylor in front of MLK statue at Morehouse Chapel, March 2014

This excerpt is from one of my favorite sections, “Women Worshippers: Dress and the Practices of Sunni Islam,” where I describe the way in which Imam Mohammed immediately introduced the five pillars of Islam and other practices in 1975. (In the late 1970s, the new Nation of Islam community is called the World Community of Islam in the West, WCIW):

Modesty was still emphasized as an Islamic value, but women could now wear mainstream clothes. Women were happy to design new styles or shop at the store. Amidah Salahuddin notes, “Imam W. D. Mohammed eliminated the garments in the Nation of Islam [as part of] transitioning us to become more Americanized so that we would fit into American society and in our workplace and not seem as though we were different.”

Women in the WCIW developed a unique form of dress that continues to set them apart as women under the leadership of Imam Mohammed. This distinction results from the challenge he left for women to figure out for themselves how to create a uniquely American or African American Muslim style. This was very different from other Sunni African American Muslims at that time, who simply adopted the dress styles of other Muslim cultures. 

Atlanta Muslim women continue the legacy of Celebrations with a show organized by our generation, The Sealed Nectar Fashion Show, led by Naimah Mwenda Abdullah

“The challenge,” Jeanette Nu’Man describes, “was trying to figure out what to wear that was appropriate and understanding the Qur’anic guidelines in terms of what modesty really means.” Fashion shows became popular in the community, recalls Fareedah, as Imam Mohammed invited fashion designers to “come forward with some ideas.” 

The two hijab styles that evolved and most set this community apart were the “scarf,” a square scarf folded into a triangle and tied around the back, and the “headwrap,” or gele. Early on, some women wore the scarf loosely tied with bangs slipping through the front. Eventually more women adopted the headwrap, which Jessica describes as a peculiar trend in which women went from the very conservative uniform headpiece to a more relaxed version—that is, the lightly tied scarf—to a more conservative form in which women again covered all of their hair in the headwrap or the scarf. Here is why she moved to the headwrap: “For many of us, it was getting back to a personal identification or expression of our covering. For instance, a lot of us were Afrocentric and chose to use more African ways of covering versus looking at Chicago [namely, the Bilalian News] for our style. And then the fashion started kicking in and we saw different ways of expressing our modesty.” 

Jeanette also chose the headwrap because she had worn Afrocentric clothing in college prior to joining the Nation. While Jessica and Jeanette were embracing their African heritage in Atlanta, Amidah observed women in the WCIW being influenced by a variety of ethnic Muslim groups in the more cosmopolitan setting of Harlem:

We had the Senegalese sisters with all their headwear on. And then we had a lot of the immigrant sisters from Pakistan . . . and Egypt. So the khimar [a hijab with the material draped beyond the neck, either to the back or the front] came in and sisters were doing that beautifully. . . . We had so many influences that you could pretty much [come up with any style]. And then we had sisters like Lubna, African American sisters who were designers coming up and developing their own fashion wear for sisters of African American background, so that they have their own expression.

American clothes, either store-bought or handmade, eventually predominated as the style that came to characterize women in Imam Mohammed’s community, but because of modesty requirements, even the American clothes took on a uniquely African American Muslim expression. “Short dresses over pants,” recalls Fareedah, were an example. “They were very attractive.” On top of such modest arrangement of garments, the headwrap mostly, but also other hijab styles, would unmistakably mark these women as Muslim, which most women desired.

I invite you to purchase a copy of Women and the Nation to read more. For now, enjoy more pictures that Ayisha and I found in our personal collection. Many of them were taken during the Eid Holiday, our favorite time to rock our head wraps boldly and beautifully.

Shukuru's Daughters