by Sapelo Square
Imagine the Honorable Elijah Muhammad and you will undoubtedly picture a man wearing a cap embroidered with a large star and crescent. This month’s post features Dr. Shakeela Hassan, the maker of those iconic caps. In this video interview with Sapelo Square Editor in Chief, Dr. Su’ad Abdul Khabeer, Dr. Hassan explains how she came up with the design alongside Elijah Muhammad at his dinner table. Her story reveals that the caps, like the Nation of Islam itself, were as much products of local, homegrown enterprise as they were of global Muslim networks. Dr. Hassan’s story is a striking example of what Professor Sally Howell calls “Old Islam” — the theologically inclusive, ethnically diverse and explicitly indigenizing Muslim communities that arose primarily in the Midwest before America’s immigration reform of 1965. Both she and her husband, Zia Hassan, found a spiritual home in the Nation of Islam as well as close friendship with the Muhammad family upon arriving in Chicago from Pakistan in the 1950s. Indeed, as she tells elsewhere, Clara Muhammad was “nothing short of a mother to me.” Their relationship was born during an era that defied current divisions between ‘immigrant and indigenous’ Muslims in the United States. The story of these caps provides a rare glimpse into not only the personality of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad, but also a bygone era that still has much to teach us.