Interview with Khadijah Rose
Khadjiah Rose, more fondly known as Um Husein, sat down with Sapelo Square and reflected on the impact of the Islamic Revolution on her journey in Islam. Check out our interview with this inspirational mother, student, teacher, and trailblazer, Um Husein.
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Sapelo Square: Can you share with our readers what led you Islam?
Um Husein: I was first introduced to Islam conceptually in 1970 when I attended Western College for Women in Ohio. As a freshman I met a junior classmate named Zohreh in a comparative methodology course. She confided in me that she was a cousin to the Shah and deathly afraid of the savak. My relationship with her as she shared aspects of her faith would leave a strong impression on me. One thing she said which initially hindered my pursuit of Islam was that you need to be born Muslim; my relationship with this young Persian sister was drawing me towards a seemingly unattainable Islam.
SS: Why Shia Islam?
UH: It wasn’t Shia Islam initially. The word Shia was not something that people talked about during this time. I formally said my shahadah in 1978 at Dar-ul-Salam’s Yasin Mosque in Brownsville, Brooklyn. My understanding of Islam evolved as I pursued my studies at Temple University. Like other young Muslims at the time I began to take Arabic courses under the esteemed Dr. Ismail Faruqi who would later, along with his wife, be assassinated for his political views in support of oppressed Muslims in Palestine.
SS: What role did the Islamic Revolution play in your decision to become Shia?
UH: I was in Philadelphia in 1979, when the Islamic Revolution was unfolding. Just a month after Ayatollah Sayyid Ruhollah Mūsavi Khomeini’s return to Iran after the fleeing of the Shah, an Iran-based dawah organization began disseminating books, magazines and even pictures of the Ayatollah and Iran. Boxes full of books that included works like those of Islamic philosopher and theologian, Mulla Sadr and Ali Shariati’s “Fatima is Fatima” would introduce me to the ahl ul bayt and the Ithna Asheri madhab. In 1988, I secured a copy of S.V. Mir Ahmed Ali’s tafseer and translation of the qur’an and my life would be changed forever. I studied that tafseer as diligently as I had studied my sciences at university. As the events were enfolding in Iran I would have a chance encounter with a sister headed to Iran (the first of several pioneering African American families) and become intrigued by the possibility of going to Iran. I got my visa in 1980, but my husband was not receptive to the idea so I wouldn’t go until much later.
SS: On November 17, 1979, Ayatollah Khomeini ordered the release of women and African Americans being held in the US embassy in Iran. How did this impact the way that you viewed the Islamic Revolution and its leadership?
UH: The equating of the struggle of Prophet Muhammad’s grandson Husayn’s struggle with that of the plight of the African American endeared me to the leadership of the Islamic Revolution. Imam Khomeini advocated justice for the oppressed, be they African Americans, Africans under apartheid or other oppressed peoples of the world.
SS: You finally made it to Iran at age 52. How were you received in a post-Islamic Revolution Iran?
UH: I think that the best way to describe my welcome is exactly that; welcome. I was welcomed at an almost celebrity status. Both my identity as an American and the fact that I was African American were intriguing to Iranians, many who had never encountered an African American before. I was interviewed for radio and television programs because about my conversion to Islam and my desire to study Islam in the seminaries of Qom, Iran.
SS: During your time living in Iran were there many Americans there? African Americans?
UH: At the time that I was there I was the only American, much less African American studying at Bint Ul Huda International, a women-only howza (Islamic seminary) located in Qom, Iran. I started my studies at Jami’at al-Zahra, another howza located in Qom, but wanted more advanced studies. I was also much older than the traditional student so the relationship dynamics with my peers was unique. There were a few other African Americans and Afro-Caribbean people in Iran during my stay who also provided comfort in the transition.
SS: Do you feel like the Islamic Republic of Iran is the best place for African American Shia as they are extremely underrepresented in Shia communities and the greater Islamic communities in America?
UH: I believe Iran is the best place for anyone who is seeking solace from oppression, especially for African-Americans. Sanctuary. There is an ahadith tradition that relates that Imam Sadiq (a.s.) said: “God has a sanctuary which is in Mecca. There is also a sanctuary for the Messenger of Allah and it is in Medina. Kufah is the sanctuary of the Commander of the Faithful (a.s.) while our (Ahl al-Bayt’s) sanctuary is the city of Qum.” Especially in the times we are living in now, I am reminded of another ahadith that relates that “Qom will become the center of knowledge and virtue as well as the repository of learning and perfection so much so that no (intellectually) downtrodden person—including the secluded women—would ever be left on the surface of the earth without being aware of religion. And that time will be near the time of the advent of our Qa’im”
SS: What do you think about Louis Farrakhan’s visit to Iran for the anniversary of the Islamic Revolution?
UH: Although membership in the Nation of Islam was never part of my journey in Islam I think it is great that Louis Farrakhan was an honored guest at the commemoration ceremonies. His presence in Iran is a reflection of the Islamic Republic’s view that the Nation of Islam is an important movement in North America for Muslims.
Khadijah Rose is the descendant of Black Cherokees, the more than 15,000 free and enslaved Africans that were owned or intermarried with tribes in the early part of the 19th Century. Rose doesn’t call herself a Shia, but strives everyday to be a good human being and live by the teachings of Imam Hassan Al-Askari (a.s.) about how to be a true momin. She was the development editor of “Lets Get to Know Imam Ali” a children’s book about the life of Ali ibn abi Talib (a.s.). She is a mother of 7, but an Umi to more.