Profile: Mother Khadijah Faisal

By Rasul Miller 

In a well known oral tradition attributed to Prophet Muhammad (s), it is said that he exhorted his followers to treat their mothers with respect and deference, informing them, “Your Heaven lies under the feet of your mother.” That Khadijah Faisal is almost always referred to as ‘Mother Khadijah’ by members Muslim communities in Brooklyn, New York and around the country who she impacted is a testament to the respect and admiration garnered by her tireless efforts as a community servant. These efforts span over the course of five decades.

Mother Khadijah Faisal was born in Bermuda around 1899. As a young woman, she migrated to New York City. There, she met a fellow Afro-Caribbean immigrant with whom she shared much in common. Both were talented musicians — her being a vocalist and he a violinist. The two also shared membership within a small community of Black American Muslims who lived in the city during the early 1920’s. Sheikh Daoud Ahmed Faisal and Mother Khadijah Faisal, as they came to be known, got married in 1924. They would spend the rest of their lives working together as an incredible team sharing their faith and serving their community in numerous ways.

Mother Khadijah

Picture form late 1950’s flyer, courtesy of Mancebomosaic. 

During the 1920’s, the two worked together to run a concert bureau in Harlem where they utilized their artistic background to educate students. Later in the decade, they moved to a brownstone in the Brooklyn Heights section of Brooklyn at 143 State Street — a location that would achieve a special place in the history of Islam in America. After opening their home to serve as a school of elocution for neighborhood children, they converted the property to a mosque, the Islamic Mission of America, in 1939. This site served as New York City’s largest and most prominent mosque for roughly two decades, and it is still used as a Muslim house of worship today.

In addition to serving as the place where scores of American converts to Islam in New York City would learn the foundational practices of their religion, The Islamic Mission of America was an inspiration for a number of other Muslim communities that would emerge in New York City and surrounding areas during and after the 1960’s. Mother Khadijah was an attentive teacher to countless Muslim women and young people over the course of her life, earning her the title of ‘Mother’ with which she is affectionately remembered. In addition, she was the mosque’s secretary and treasurer.

The contributions that Mother Khadijah made to her community along side her husband were not limited to Islamic instruction. Rather, the Islamic Mission of America functioned as a kind of community center where American and immigrant Muslim families gathered and received institutional support. American Muslim converts sought out legal services and advocacy from Sheikh Daoud — probably the first Muslim religious leader to be recognized as a clergy member in the state of New York, while immigrant Muslims and international students became acclimated to their new environment. Mother Khadijah would continue to be a pillar for this vibrant community until her passing in 1992.

Arts and culture were also celebrated within Sheikh Daoud and Mother Khadijah’s community, which was attended by a number of prominent local artists who were part of Brooklyn’s thriving jazz scene. Specifically, the women of the community planed and hosted cultural shows throughout New York City that introduced residents to Islamically-inspired clothing and the music of West Africa and the Middle East. As the head of the Muslim Ladies Cultural Society, Mother Khadijah provided women in the community with a model for active and engaged community leadership. Traveling with her husband around the country and speaking to groups of women, as well as mentoring two generations of Muslim women in New York City from the late 1930’s until the early 1990’s, Mother Khadijah had an immeasurable impact on the spread and development of Islam in the region.

Upon her death in early September of 1992, hundreds of Muslims attended her funeral. Both the size and the diversity of this crowd, which included Black American, South Asian, African and Middle Eastern Muslims, reflected the community she built along with her husband, who died twelve years prior.


A meeting of members of The Islamic Mission of America with Muslim leaders from the greater New York Area. Mother Khadijah Faisal stands in the center rear. Courtesy of Mancebomosaic.

The work and accomplishments of Sheikh Daoud Ahmed Faisal still have not received the degree scholarly attention that they warrant. And of course, as is often the case, even less has been written about the efforts and contributions of his wife. However, members of the community remember them as a dynamic duo who supported one another in their shared passion to work in service of their community and faith. In another tradition related from Prophet Muhammad (s), he responded a the question regarding how one should honor the rights of his or her parents after their death by saying, “You must pray to Allah to bless them with His Forgiveness and Mercy, fulfill the promises they made to anyone, and respect their relations and their friends.” Today, the young people that Mother Khadijah taught and nurtured have grown to maturity. They continue to pray for the woman who acted as a mother to an entire community, and implement the lessons that she instilled in them over many years. Many of the women among them have become professionals and educators, built families, and raised children of their own. Through their example, Mother Khadijah continues to remind us of the powerful and dynamic scholars, organizers, and leaders that Black Muslim women have always been and continue to be.

Rasul Miller is a PhD student in History and Africana Studies at the University of Pennsylvania. His research interests include Muslim movements in 20th century America and their relationship to Black internationalist thought and West African intellectual history.Rasul Miller is a PhD student in History and Africana Studies at the University of Pennsylvania. His research interests include Muslim movements in 20th century America and their relationship to Black internationalist thought and West African intellectual history.



Profile: Intisar A. Rabb

By Narjis Nichole Abdul-Majid

When Muslims welcome the advent of a child in their lives they tend to seek inspiration from the Holy Qur’an to bestow upon the new life a title that the child can aspire to. However you translate it, Intisar (Winning, Success, Victory, Triumphant) reads as an invitation to the limitless successes one can achieve by Allah’s grace and with His mercy. Baltimore-born, Intisar A. Rabb’s story begins as the daughter of parents who had those hopes.


Professor Intisar A. Rabb with Alice Khan binti Ahamad Khan, the acting Solicitor General of Brunei.

From a courageous and studious African American child growing up in Park Heights, Baltimore to the even more bold and confident Director of the Islamic Legal Studies Program at Harvard, Rabb has seen struggle and like her namesake she has earned many victories. It is these victories that are shaping the global discourse on Islamic law.  She has a Bachelors of Science in Government and Arabic from Georgetown University, an M.A. of Near Eastern Studies from Princeton University, a J.D. from Yale and a Ph.D. in Islamic Law from Princeton, and the list of accolades goes on, but she has done more and is about more than what is written on paper.

Her efforts as an African American scholar and leader are preparing the kind of legacy that unites the ummah and invites the world to a better understanding of Islam. Rabb is also the inheritor of a legacy. Like many African American Muslims, Rabb’s parents were part of “the First Resurrection,” and their tutelage under the Nation of Islam and later, Imam WD Mohammed, set within Rabb a sense of purpose and a commitment to excellence and good works. Rabb showed leadership early on, as young person she was an active member and leader in many youth groups, including MYNA (Muslim Youth of North America) and later was part of the first delegation of students sent by Imam WD Mohammed to Damascus, Syria to gain further training in the Arabic language and Islamic Studies that they could bring back to communities here at home.  Rabb’s experiences as a legal clerk, professor, researcher (in Egypt, Iran, Syria and other places) and world traveller have given her insights into the global and digital challenges that impact how knowledge is acquired, created and shared.


Professor Intisar A. Rabb presenting about Qadi Justice as part of the 2015-2016 Fellow’s Presentation Series at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study


When talking about history makers and game changers SHARIASource, the digital and Islamic law resource founded and directed by Professor A. Rabb, is the very definition of game changer. The word sharia, which is an integral part of the day-to-day practice and understanding of Islam for most Muslims is misunderstood, misinterpreted and misused by Muslims and non-Muslims alike. SHARIASource hopes to serve as a digital database of primary and secondary content, commentary and related content from over 1400 years of legal traditions from various countries across the globe.

The discussion of Islamic jurisprudence or fiqh is not a matter to be relegated to only the specialized scholars or jurists. The topic has far-reaching implications for understanding Islam and the history of Islamic nations.  In her first book, “Doubt in Islamic Law: A History of Legal Maxims, Interpretations, and Criminal Law” Rabb makes a critical contribution to academic and popular understandings of Sharia while creating a platform for which to discuss Islamic law differently. By focusing on how jurists deal with doubt within the tradition, she reveals complexity as part of the nature of Islamic jurisprudence, countering the idea that Islamic law is static and rigid.  The Harvard Islamic Legal Studies program and Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society consider public access and consumption of the varied and diverse resources on Islamic law a large part of their mission. It is for this reason, that in October of 2015, Rabb was was awarded $425,000 in development funds by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation for SHARIASource. This grant is in addition to the $400,000 development grand from the Henry Luce Foundation. The project is expected to have a public launch in 2016.

What is the driving force behind such a lofty project? Making an impact. Society is constantly bombarded with information in a media-saturated environment, but at the end of they day the solution to the problem, or problems, that arise require knowledge for the best response and the best plan of action. Rabb created SHARIASource to be more than a temporary solution to a growing problem. This digital tool is malleable and has unseen potential for what it will become and how it will be used. Even for the simply curious, envision a resource that could show you how legal traditions were understood in Africa before the slave trade. Imagine comparing Arabic risalahs recorded by enslaved Africans in the Americas during slavery to contemporary Islamic rulings. This isn’t simply about engaging legal tradition but history itself.

An oft-quoted ahadith tradition relates that Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.) said to seek knowledge even to the ends of the earth and Professor Intisar A. Rabb is aiming to help everyone do this with a few simple keystrokes.

So whether Professor Intisar A. Rabb is addressing a classroom of eager law school students, presenting research findings to her colleagues, serving as a global ambassador, completing research internationally, or climbing to new heights like Mt. Kilimajaro, which she climbed last year, she is proving that with hard work, focus and determination anyone can be triumphant in changing the world for the better.


For more information on SHARIASource read, “Debating Sharia Law, Digitally.”

To observe this Susan S. and Kenneth L. Wallach Professor at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study in practice watch Qādī Justice

Intisar A. Rabb’s Publications:

Doubt in Islamic Law: A History of Legal Maxims, Interpretation, and Islamic Criminal Law (Cambridge University Press 2014).

ed., Law and Tradition in Classical Islamic Thought (with Michael Cook, Asma Sayeed, and Najam Haider, Palgrave Macmillan 2012).

“We the Jurists’: Islamic Constitutionalism in Iraq,” 10 University of Pennsylvania Journal of Constitutional Law 527 (2008).

Even more on Intisar A. Rabb

Header image courtesy of The Brunei Times. Professor Intisar A. Rabb is pictured presenting a copy of her book “Doubt in Islamic Law: A History of Legal Maxims, Interpretation, and Islamic Criminal Law” to the Sultan of Brunei while she was there to study and consult about their new Islamic criminal law code.

The inset image is courtesy of the Borneo Bulletin.  Professor Intisar A. Rabb is pictured at a session discussing her book in the Attorney General’s chamber in Brunei.

Narjis Nichole Abdul-Majid is a part-time lecturer in the departments of Pan African Studies and Humanities at the University of Louisville. Her research interests focus on the African American and Native American Islamic experiences (Slavery-Melungeons-20th Century Islamic Movements-Present Day) with emphasis on minority voices.


Profile: Bean Pie, My Brotha

By Narjis Nichole Abdul-Majid

If the African American Muslim experience had a symbolic icon, the bean pie would be it. The sweet custard-like pie made from cooked, mashed navy beans has a rich history with the Nation of Islam and an even greater legacy with the African American Muslim population. In the short film called “Bean Pie, My Brotha” written, directed and produced by the documentary filmmaker Hassanah Thomas-Tauhidi she briefly outlines the history and experience of the bean pie in in the African American Muslim community. Thomas-Tauhidi’s is also the producer of the D.C. television series “Living Islam in America.

The short film outlines how the pie originated in the hands of Sister Lonnie Shabazz in New York city and then passed through the hands of the children of the Nation of Islam’s leader, Elijah Muhammad. Muhammad had instructed his followers to “eat food that Allah has prescribed” and “Even take little things such as beans. Allah says that the little navy bean will make you live, just eat them. He said to me that even milk and bread would make us live. Just eat bread and milk—it is the best food. He said that a diet of navy beans would give us a life span of one hundred and forty years. Yet we cannot live ½ that length of time eating everything that the Christian table has set for us.” As most beans were prohibited from the strict dietary guidelines laid out in How to Eat to Live, the dietary guide for the Nation of Islam, the path was paved for the simple and delicious pie that would nourish the souls of Muslims and non-Muslims alike.

The bean pie is not a sweet potato pie substitute. Anyone who has consumed a traditional bean pie will assure you that beans will be the farthest thought from your mind when the rich buttery, flavors meet your pallet.

So…bean pie, my brotha? My sista?


For more on the history of the bean pie see:

Bean pie, my brother? –Mike Sula

Narjis Nichole Abdul-Majid is a part-time lecturer in the departments of Pan African Studies and Humanities at the University of Louisville. Her research interests focus on the African American and Native American Islamic experiences (Slavery-Melungeons-20th Century Islamic Movements-Present Day) with emphasis on minority voices.


Origins of Islam in America with Imam Faheem Shuaibe

Imam Faheem Shuaibe is a pillar of the San Francisco Bay Area community. He is currently the resident Imam of Masjidul Waritheen in Oakland California. Third Resurrection (3RZ), a student led group at Zaytuna College, invited Imam Faheem to discuss the history of proto-Islamic movements such as the Nation of Islam and the Moorish Science Temple. Specifically the conversation began with Imam Faheem breaking down the allegorical language used in the these organizations to set the ground work for indigenous Islam to enjoy the prevalence it now holds.


Imam Faheem speaking with students at Zaytuna College

“You can’t understand the first resurrection, the second resurrection, or the third resurrection until you understand, resurrection from what? Resurrection from what?  -Imam Faheem Shuaibe

Check out this powerful discussion here: