by Kameelah Mu’Min Rashad
This day represents the beginning of the second half of this blessed and holy month of Ramadan. At this point, our physical bodies may have adjusted to the arduous demand of a 16–17-hour fast, but our hearts and spirits continue to strive to find meaning and purpose in this annual obligation and intimate act of submission to His will. For me, this striving includes a desire to read each juz’ closely and patiently, praying to the Most High for clarity and a deeper understanding of the truth of every word.
It is only fitting that as we embark on the second half of our Ramadan journey, Juz’ 16 summarizes the stories of the Prophets Zakariya, Yahya, Musa, Harun, Isa, Ibrahim, Ismail, Isaac and Yaqub, Idris and Noah (peace be upon them). These noble messengers struggled with their own families and communities, earnestly calling them to reaffirm the oneness of God, establish regular prayer and repent to the Creator when they inevitably strayed from the light of truth.
Those were some upon whom Allah did bestow His favor from among the Prophets of the descendants of Adam, and of those we carried in the ship with Noah, and of the descendants of Abraham and Israel, and of those whom we guided and chose. When the verses of the Most Merciful were recited to them, they fell in prostration and weeping.
But there came after them successors who neglected prayer and pursued desires; so they are going to face destruction.
Except those who repent, believe and do righteousness; for those will enter Paradise and will not be wronged in the least — 19:58–60
I am struck by the (seeming) simplicity and straightforward nature of the repeated revelations and the patience, mercy and compassionate manner in which Allah reminds His servants about their obligations to Him. These esteemed Prophets were all honest, humble men who submitted to the will of God, and confided in Him their hidden fears, doubts, desires and insecurities.
The trials and tribulations of prophets are well-documented and certainly instructive. Yet, as I sat reading this juz’, I was drawn to the stories of the challenges and difficulties borne by those whose voices and experiences have also shaped the course of human history — the Mothers of the Prophets. Although their stories are often hidden or embedded in larger narratives of the lives of the Prophets, they are equally important.
The extreme tests of faith and fortitude experienced by the Mother of Musa (may Allah be pleased her) is recounted in a few verses of Surah Taha. Allah reminds Prophet Musa (saw),
And indeed we had already conferred favor upon you another time
When we inspired your mother with the message
Saying: ‘Throw the child into the chest, and throw the chest into the river: The river will cast him up on the bank, and he will be taken up by one who is an enemy to me and an enemy to him. But I bestowed upon you love from Me, that you would be brought up under My eye. — 20:37–39.
Through these short verses, we learn of the sacrifice, obedience and faith of this incredible woman. However, for just a moment, let’s imagine the fear that may have gripped the heart of Umm Musa. Pharaoh had already begun waging war and genocide against the Bani Israel — ordering the slaughter of all male children. This nursing mother was instructed by God to throw her child into the river, and into the arms of the oppressor who terrorized their community. Imagine the consternation she felt: torn between her love for her baby and her deep and abiding faith in the mercy of the Most High. She fulfilled God’s command, assured that baby Musa would be protected. But this did not stop her from crying out in grief and distress. We can surmise the degree of Umm Musa’s anguish from the following ayah:“…so we restored you to your mother that she might cool her eyes and she should not grieve” (20:40). As a nursing mother myself, I also imagine the very real pain she felt in her swollen breasts during baby Musa’s absence; unable to nurse and soothe him during that period of separation.
As a Black American, a descendant of enslaved Africans, Umm Musa’s love and sacrifice triggers for me memories of many enslaved mothers who bore children who were taken from them and literally “sold down the (Mississippi) river” to plantations in the Deep South. I am certain that they too called out to their Lord, asking that He protect and bestow love upon their innocent babies. But what of their grief, their distress, their swollen breasts and tear-stained faces?
To learn more about our ancestors’ sacrifices, I visited the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, DC, on the last day of Black History Month this year. Words cannot describe the depth of sadness and rage I felt as I journeyed from the bottom level and through exhibits chronicling the history of the Maafa (the TransAtlantic Slave Trade) and brutal enslavement of African people.
I lingered for several minutes in front of an exhibit titled “The Weeping Time.” The inscription on one plaque stated,
After the men were all sold, they then sold the women and the children. They ordered the first woman to lay down her child and mount the auction block; she refused to give up her little one and clung to it as long as she could, while the cruel lash was applied to her back for disobedience. She pleaded for mercy in the name of God. But the child was torn from the arms of its mother amid the most heart rending shrieks from the mother and child on the one hand, and the bitter oaths and cruel lashes from the tyrants of the other. Finally the poor child was torn from the mother while she was sacrificed to the highest bidder.
Reading this firsthand account from the Black abolitionist Henry Bibb made me weep. I struggled in vain not to cry, but my heart began to pound, it became harder to breath and I felt faint. I thought about my own beautiful Black babies, and the dangers that await them; the ways in which the daily microaggressions and overt acts of racism serve to tear them away from me as the lash and auction block tore my ancestors away from each other hundreds of years ago.
As the mother of a 12-year-old Black boy, I live with the reality that I am also casting him into the proverbial river of our own Pharaoh — White supremacy in America. Every day, I kiss Bilal goodbye and send him off to school, to run errands, or to soccer practice, I am acutely aware of the racial violence, brutality and discrimination he is vulnerable to given this country’s insatiable appetite to degrade and dehumanize Black men, women and children. Yet, when this fear threatens to overwhelm me, I remind myself of the deep conviction and strength of Umm Musa.
As Muslims we are instructed “[to give] reverence [to] the womb that bore you.” Women are the vessels through which many of the most awe-inspiring miracles of God have been realized. Indeed, as stated above in verse 37 of Surah al-Taha, before Prophet Musa embarks upon his mission to warn Pharaoh of his transgressions, our Lord reminds him of one of the first favors he bestowed upon him. This favor is that of an inspired faithful Mother who heeded the message of al-Razzaq, the Sustainer, of al-Qadir, the all Powerful.
Therefore, we should take from this lesson a profound admiration for the love and sacrifice of a Black woman and mother. Collectively, we must ask ourselves if our words and behavior show respect for the hardships and silent pain Black Muslim women endure on behalf of the community. We must ask ourselves if our words and behavior acknowledge the historical trauma and heartache Black Muslim women carry, passed down from our foremothers. If we fail to protect Black Muslim women from abuse and toxic masculinity, perhaps we are also denying the ummah the blessing of a vessel through which may be borne a Believer, who like Prophet Musa, will lead our people to truth and freedom.
Kameelah is the Founder and President of Muslim Wellness Foundation (MWF), a nonprofit organization dedicated to reducing the stigma associated with mental illness, addiction and trauma in the American Muslim community through dialogue, education and training. MWF sponsors the Annual Black Muslim Psychology Conference in Philadelphia, Pa. Kameelah also serves as the Fellow for Spirituality, Wellness and Social Justice at the University of Pennsylvania. In this capacity, Kameelah supports students in their exploration of faith-based activism, spirituality, emotional well-being and healing. She is currently pursuing her doctorate in Clinical Psychology at Chestnut Hill College.