In an interview on her blog “We Been Here,” Kiah Glenn sat down with Sister Zewdy X Awalom to give us a picture of Sr. Zewdy’s trajectory from apathy to the embrace of faith through the Nation of Islam (NOI). Sr. Zewdy’s story exemplifies the outcome of Islam’s aim: to cultivate a meaningful, transformative relationship with Allah the Exalted and to serve the rest of creation by way of that Divine connection.
“People may have their disagreements, disapproval, misconceptions, and misunderstandings of us because of our differences, but we Muslims in the NOI stand on the 5 pillars of Islam just like the rest of our Muslim family. Allah knows best who is and who is not a real Muslim, and it is only Allah Whose approval and pleasure I seek in this life.”
Sr. Glenn’s interview with Sr. Zewdy highlights “the convert story” that many of us are familiar with. Like those of us who chose to become Muslim later in life, Sr. Zewdy demonstrated resilience in her path to Islam, struggling to find answers to her doubts and make sense of her life purpose.
“I would try apply the things I learned and found much success in doing so. I did research on my own. I read all kinds of articles – in support of and against the NOI, I bought a Holy Qur’an (Maulana Muhammad Ali version). I looked into NOI literature and purchased several books by The Honorable Elijah Muhammad, and books by NOI scholar Dr. Wesley Muhammad. I was so eager and hungry, I just wanted to get my hands on everything. I found myself getting ahead of myself and having to slow down, so that I could actually digest what I was receiving.”
Whereas many romanticized conversion recounts tend to end “happily ever after,” Sr. Zewdy’s story continues into a stark reality as a Black Muslim woman who is regularly criticized by other Muslims and Black people, which happens to so many after they embrace Islam. She continues on with the understanding that her acceptance by others is not a requisite for her identity, and that authenticity is the most valuable part of her life.
Kiah Glenn is the Student Development Coordinator for the Center for Muslim Life at Duke University, where she earned her M.A. researching women, gender and sexuality, and Black and Latinx Muslims. She received her B.S. from Seton Hall University, where she majored in International Relations and minored in Asian Studies. Glenn is a New Jersey native who made North Carolina her home in 2012. She actively seeks to work towards the advancement of the Muslim community, especially its marginalized groups.