By Aïdah Aliyah Rasheed
Histories cannot be more certain than when [one] who creates the things also narrates them. -Vico
Far too often we forget that there was a time when it was illegal for African-Americans to read and write in the United States. Slave narratives were some of the first autobiographies, which became a foundation for a collective communal experience. As James Baldwin put it so well, “While the tale of how we suffer, and how we are delighted and how we may triumph is never new, it always must be heard. There isn’t any other to tell, it’s the only light we’ve got in all this darkness.” Right now the African American Muslim community has relatively few autobiographies, and we are in need of more stories and reflections.
Sister Bayyinah Muhammad with children, circa 1979
When Sister Bayyinah Muhammad gave us permission to share her beautiful poem regarding her one-of-a-kind journey we were tremendously grateful. With creativity and grace, each stanza beautifully represents colorful chapters on her path of Al-Islam. Check out this unique reflection, and we pray that this work becomes a means for others to share their stories so more can bear witness.
Bayyinah Muhammad has taught about 1,000 students over a career spanning forty years. In 2003 Muhammad enrolled in grad school for theatre in hopes to combat Islamophobia through a piece she created called, Unveiled: Stories from the Lives of Muslim Women. Performed at several colleges and conferences, the show was followed by a question and answer session that seemed to deconstruct some of the myths and stereotypes about Muslim women. Her children’s book, If everyone Were Just Like Me, serves as dawah for youth. She is currently working on her memoirs and a series for girls of color. She has also been featured in Azizah Magazine.
The arts have always played a big part in Bayyinah’s life. As a teen she was a member of Luther Van Dross’ first singing group, The Shades of Jade, and has sung, danced and acted in many camp musicals and school productions. She was the Lady in Red in a Santa Fe run of For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide when the Rainbow was not Enough in 1992. After her recent five year stint teaching English, Math and Science in the Emirates, a desert girl at heart, Muhammad retired to sunny Arizona where she enjoys reading, swimming, tutoring, attending halaqas and arts events while enjoying her children and grandchildren who relocated there as well.
When asked how she came to Islam, Bayyinah decided to share her journey through the poem you just heard. It loosely recalls three very distinct and different phases of her life as a Muslim. The poem was performed by her at the premiere event Muslim Family Reunion, in Abu Dhabi UAE 2014.