Tag: history

BlogHistory

Dr. Shakeela Hassan and the Making of a American Muslim Icon

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.

BlogHistory

The Nation of Islam Mourns Elijah Muhammad

From Ebony Magazine, May 1975

The final post in our series on the Black press’s coverage of Black Muslims in the mid-twentieth century comes from Ebony Magazine’s article on the funeral and legacy of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad. The head of the Nation of Islam (NOI) passed away on February 25, 1975, of congestive heart failure at Mercy Hospital in Chicago, Ill.. Muhammad had been at the helm of the NOI for nearly 40years at the time of his passing. His seventh son, Wallace D. Muhammad—later to be known as Warith Deen Muhammad—succeeded him the following day at the annual Saviours’ Day festivities.

Ebony Magazine published an eight-page spread on Muhammad in May 1975, memorializing his role in “shaping the destiny of black people.” The article recounts his humble origins in Sandersville, Ga., his refusal to register for the draft during World War II and his rise to prominence as “the Messenger of Allah” for Black Muslims in the United States. However, the article demonstrates just how little the general public knew about the radical shifts within the NOI leadership. It notes that “[l]ittle is known about Wallace’s personal life” except that he “tried hard to reconcile the differences between Malcolm X and Elijah Muhammad” and that he was “believed to be less rigid in his interpretation of Muslim theology, more of a scholar than his father.” The fact that Wallace D. Muhammad was a Sunni Muslim who would soon guide most of the Nation into Sunni Islam was still a closely guarded secret.

The article is perhaps most remarkable insofar as it demonstrates the respect, and even awe, that the NOI commanded among Black Americans by the1970s. It wholly avoids narratives popular in the White press that detracted from the NOI’s religious authenticity by suggesting that it was in fact a purely nationalist movement. Indeed, the article seems to write this perception off as paranoia when it states that “White America heard itself denounced as evil incarnate and doomed to destruction, and the implication was drawn by many that the highly disciplined and secretive Muslims would be the instrument of that destruction.” The authors at Ebony were far more interested in the “strong and viable socio-economic organization [that was]… too real to avoid, too pertinent to dismiss, too large to ignore.” They instead highlighted that “Muslim holding[s]… estimated at $80 million,’ which included a weekly newspaper, restaurants, Guaranty National Bank and Trust Company, a fish import network, grocery stores, meat packing companies, bakeries, department stores, investment realty, and more than 15,000 acres of farmland across Michigan, Georgia, and Alabama.

Elijah Muhammad spent his life spreading a “do for self” program of personal and economic uplift rooted in Islam. Thanks to his leadership, the NOI became the face of Black self-reliance and nation building in the United States. Ebony’s coverage shows that, by the time of his death, Black Americans, Muslim and non-Muslim, had heard the message.

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BlogHistory

Dr. Sulayman Nyang: Philosopher, Sage and Teacher

By Muhammad Fraser-Rahim

OH, East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet,
Till Earth and Sky stand presently at God’s great Judgment Seat;
But there is neither East nor West, Border, nor Breed, nor Birth,
When two strong men stand face to face, tho’ they come from the ends of the earth!

Rupyard Kipling

As a I sit here writing about Dr. Sulayman S. Nyang in his hospital room in Washington, DC as he recovers from a recent stroke, I am reminded of the timeless words that Dr. Nyang has said to me on numerous occasions encouraging myself, and thousands of others (perhaps more) to understand the interconnectedness as human beings, citizens of the world and people of African descent. As you may have heard by now, Dr. Nyang recently suffered a stroke, one of many over the years, but in no way diminishing his continued resolve, and yet again he is rebounding and recovering strong, showing signs of amazing progress, despite all odds and truly having faith in the transcendental other as he would call it, for giving him countless blessings and being the greatest movie maker of us all.

SulaymanNyang

Dr. Sulayman Nyang (c) Aadhil Shiraz

Like those thousands of other students of diverse religious, cultural and academic experience, I too have had a personal relationship with the “sage” as many of us call him. I first met Dr. Nyang when I was 8 years old in my hometown of Charleston, SC where I grew up and we stayed in touch as pen pals up until I was ready for college. After finishing undergraduate, and preparing for graduate school it was not Harvard, Yale, Oxford or Cambridge as the leading contenders or strong options for me to attend with my interest in Islamic and Africana studies, but instead Howard under the tutelage of Dr. Nyang. Like so many others, we decided to study with the de facto “Shaykul-Islam” of Islamic and African Studies and to find the deep meaning of life, purpose and at the same time receive a proper academic training in our doctoral studies. Myself and countless others are no exception in deciding that we would devote our attention and all of our personal and academic time meeting with Dr. Nyang at coffee shops, in hotels, at this home or wherever he was. In fact, we were and still are in fact disciples of Dr. Nyang’s work and intellectual legacy in which we see the huge shoes to fill and to carry on his legacy as he recovers. What Dr. Nyang means in his humility, his almost photographic memory and kindness is in fact the extension of a father, friend and teacher. Part of the historical legacy for many who have been exposed to an African/African American or Muslim aunt or uncle is his love and timeless patience.

It is that sentiment in which we continue to move forward our philosopher, our teacher, our sage and continue his legacy along. At present, we have established the Dr. Sulayman Nyang Foundation which will immortalize his work of spreading the message of religious pluralism, cross-cultural understanding and the preservation of sacred knowledge from Africa, the Middle East and around the world.  The Foundation is a bridge building institution that seeks to nurture the human intellect of all individuals, regardless of their social status, religion or worldview, and seek to keep alive the continued use of positive and uplifting ideas to our “mental furniture” in the words of Dr. Nyang. This foundation will keep alive his intellectual brain trust in the areas of Islam, Africa, Philosophy and U.S. history and seek to make the necessary connections to societal thought, art and civilization.

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Dr. Sulayman Nyang with Usama Canon (c) Aadhil Shiraz

Lastly, the establishment of a foundation of this kind will aide in the following:
1) The identification of a building/office space to serve as the intellectual hub of engagement amongst students, scholars and others in the tradition of Dr. Nyang;
3) Establishment of a Scholarship Fund for students at Howard in the field of Africa, History and Religion;
4) Working in concert with graduate students and academics in assisting in journal publications in the areas of specialization of Dr. Nyang;
5) Working toward an endowed Chair position titled, Dr. Sulayman Nyang Chair of African and Islamic Thought;

To support his foundation –
https://www.gofundme.com/sulaymannyangfound

For those unfamiliar with Dr.Sulayman S. Nyang:

Dr. Sulayman S. Nyang, recently retired from Howard this year as professor and former chairman of the African Studies Department at Howard University in Washington, D.C. He joined the faculty of the African Studies Department at Howard University, shortly after obtaining his Ph.D. in Government in 1974 from University of Virginia. Originally from the Republic of the Gambia in West Africa, Dr. Nyang’s career in academia, local, national and international service and activism spans more than 37 years.

At Howard University, he has been responsible for designing, developing and teaching courses on various topics in African and Diaspora Studies, particularly Islam, Politics and Philosophy. He has mentored and supervised the work of more than 200 graduate students and many more undergraduates, both at Howard University and other institutions of higher learning outside the US. His prodigious corpus of publications on Islam, African political, cultural, social and development affairs include 11 books and more than 70 articles and monographs, such as: Islam in the United States of America (1999); A Line in the Sand: Saudi Arabia’s Role in the Gulf War, co-authored with Evan Hendricks (1995); Religious Plurality in Africa: Essays in Honor of John S. Mbiti, co-authored with Jacob Olupona (1993); Islam: Its Relevance Today, co-edited with Henry Thompson (1990); Islam, Christianity and African Identi-ty (1984); Reflections on the Human Condition (1984); Ali A. Mazrui: The Man and His Works (1981). Since 2001, Nyang has been a regular contributor to the Washington Post’s “On Faith” online forum where he has written many articles and thinks and opinion pieces. One of the most significant being apiece entitled, ‘What Near Death Taught Me About Life’, a reflection on his miraculous recovery from a serious cardiac arrest on May 31 2004. Embracing new technologies of knowledge dissemination, Nyang has authored many audio and visual recordings on various subjects, and made them available from sources, such as Islamondemand, YouTube and iTunes.


muhammad_yarrow (1)Muhammad Fraser-Rahim is a Ph.D candidate at Howard University in African Studies with a focus on Islamic Thought, Spirituality and Modernity. His dissertation research focusing on Islamic Intellectual history in America and across the globe infusing original Arabic sources under his translation, and is leading the way on a seminal study on the 21st century Islamic revivalist, Imam WD Mohammed.