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Friday, November 17, 2017

Beneath Her Feet by Author Umm Juwayriyah Part 1

“Surayah, get that boy off these floors! You know this is a hospital. You don’t know what germs growing ‘round here.”

“Ummi, he’s fine. Idris is big and healthy most of the times. You the sick one, let’s just focus on getting you well.”

“I ain’t got much time left, Surayah. This Lupus done wore me ragged. I can’t take much more.”

“Ummi, stop talking like that. You’re not Allah. This was just a little flare up. Enshallah, you’ll be okay and out of here just like all other times. You --”

“Surayah, listen girl, the sunnah is ---”

“I know the sunnah, Ummi. You ain’t gotta remind me. You done drilled it in my head all my life,” she said as she shook her head. A tear rolled down her dark brown cheeks and dropped onto her shirt.

“Whenever Allah takes my soul, don’t let the sun set on my body for more than three days. Get my body in the ground. Call aunty Hafsa and uncle Dawud immediately. Pay off the little debt I got on that JCPennys card and …”

“Put you in the ground to be questioned by the angels. I know, Ummi! I know! You ain’t dead yet! Can we not do this every time you catch a cold?”

“Surayah,” I had to swallowed the assortment of curse words I was ready to dart her with. She was scared and I knew it. I had spoiled her bad. Born 10 years after my oldest, Kareem. I’d been so hard on him he grew right out from under me and went running for the hills. That knuckle head landed right in a jail cell before he was 25. He did ten years behind bars for a crime he committed and it broke me down and rattled my soul for years. Surayah don’t really know Kareem well. They like strangers really. But I raised and trained him to be a Muslim man the best I could. It’s in his veins: Allah, salah, Qu’ran, and the sunnah. He’d come ‘round if something happened to me. He’d protect Surayah and keep an eye on Idris for me 'cause her ex-husband don't do nothing but bring her trouble. .

“You got Kareem’s number?” I asked my daughter as I hit the nurse call button. My chest felt so tight. It was still hard to breathe and my joints were so achy. It felt like if I turned the wrong way, I would split into two.

“Yeah. But I haven’t seen him in forever.”

“That ain’t from sunnah. Call your brother. Let him know his Umm ain’t well. Tell him I said be ready," I reminded her again.

The elderly nurse with the bad knee hobbled into the room, blonde pixie wig, beady black eyes, and tawny brown skin fell into the chair next to me smelling like Avon Skin So Soft in the winter. She was good peoples, but she needed to be in her own hospital bed. “You need something, Miss Patricia?”

“Yeah, I need some more them pain meds. My chest and my back hurting something bad. I’ll also take a strong, young husband and a new house, too. You got all that up in here, Miss Irish?”

Miss Irish slapped her thigh and giggled. “Dog, Miss Patricia! I didn’t know we was looking for the same remedies. If you find him first, we’ll have to split him up, girl!”

“Nah, not this time, I ain’t. I done did that a few times over. Wanted for the sisters, but they ain’t want for me nothing back. Both with Kareem and Surayah’s fathers - I shared them and everything I had. They left me with all the bills and tears and these kids to raise. Too old and too close to death for that mess.”

“Wasn’t Kareem’s father in that band you used to sing with, Ummi? What was the name of that group you used to sing with?” Surayah asked me.

“Yeah, that was before Islam. Jimmy played bass and I sung background for the Blue Notes.”

“Miss Patricia, no you didn’t sing with the Blue Notes. After all these years I've been knowing you and you didn’t tell me. Blue Notes was one of my favorite jazz groups back in the ‘70’s. Lonnie Jackson and the Blue Notes. Ya'll had that song Mellow Time. Ain’t that right?”

“Ummi you sang on that song!”

“I did. Long time ago, Surayrah! Before I knew who Allah was.”

“How that chorus went? Something like: Tears disappear, Crime lay down, Hate don’t live here no more…” Miss Irish began to sing.

Surayah picked the tune right up and harmonized with her, “Let - me - stand -  right - in - my mellow time - mellow time - dooo - dooo- dah -dah - la- dooo-dooo- dah la...”

Miss Irish, I’mma need you to go on now and get me some more meds. This ain’t the Soul Train room. I gotta take my meds, pray the Asr prayer and get on to sleep and rest these bones. Surayah, take Idris home. And make sure you feed my cats and call Kareem. Tell him I said be ready.”

“You one mean old lady,” Miss Irish teased as she struggled to pull herself up out of the chair. “I’ll go speak to Dr. Harris and see if you can have more meds. But you gonna have to sing me that song before you get discharged, Patricia Vaughn.”

“No, I will not. That ain’t my way no more. And you know good and well my name is Yasmeen Abdullah. Don’t play around and get my blood pressure up in here. That’s just one thing I don’t need to be bothered with.”

“Oh, chile, hush up! Ya momma named you Patricia and it’s on your charts! I’ll see you later, Surayah. Bye, Drisi-boo,” Miss Irish waved.

As the door closed, Idris dashed to the door. Surayah sprung up and chased the toddler down and grabbed him before he was able to exit. Surayah huffed as she picked her son up.

“See, that’s why I said he shouldn’t have been down there. You betta start listening to me, Surayah. Allah knows best, but I don’t feel like I got much time left. You gotta start listening and being responsible, ‘specially with my grandboy!

“Ummi, I wish you wouldn’t talk down to me like I’m some dummy! I am 25! I know a couple of things. I am managing. I’m praying. I’m still covered.”


“Really, Ummi, that’s not nice. I guess you tired though,” Surayah suggested as she packed her son’s diaper bag. “I'll come back through tomorrow after work, enshallah. Text me if need anything.”

“ Surayah, you alright? You looking tired yourself. You ain’t sick, are you? Don’t mess around and get Idris sick again. That boy get more ear infections than a little. Make sure you call Kareem.”

“I ain’t sick, Ummi!”

“Then what is it, Ray? What’s up with you?” I had to pull myself up in the hospital bed. If there was one thing that would get me out of this bed, Surayah was it. I loved that girl with all of me. “Nadir done did something again? What he do, Surayah? You know you can tell me anything?”

Surayah stopped moving to switch her son to the other side of her hip along with her weight on her plump frame. “I’m pregnant!”

That's it! This child done made my pressure shoot up. My chest. I can't breathe. Oh, Allah! Help me breathe! I am gonna kill Surayah if I make it through this. I really, really can't breathe.

"Nurse Irish! Nurse Irish, come quick! Ummi is choking!"

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Advice for Muslim Educators & Parents on Talking to their Children About Halloween

And Allah said:
ادْفَعْ بِالَّتِي هِيَ أَحْسَنُ السَّيِّئَةَ نَحْنُ أَعْلَمُ بِمَا يَصِفُونَ
Repel evil with what is better. We are most knowing of what they describe.
Surat al-Mu’minun 23:96

It's that time of year again! You know, the beginning of the holiday season for non-Muslims. As a Muslim educator and/or parent, make no mistakes about it: It is your job to educate Muslim youth about these holidays and not only to avoid them - but why and how they should protect themselves from them. Yes, long ago perhaps - the good ole' "haram, haram" label could send shivers down spines and snatch breath right out of the lungs of many pious elders in their youth - and rightfully so. Sadly, times have changed!

Our Muslim youth live in a time where through social media they are able to see, learn, imitate and fraternize virtually. They don't even have to leave their rooms to engage in something haram. And truthfully - as many Muslim parents and educators suspect, many trends that pop up and become "lit" from the media to the styles of clothing to food to drinks to entertainment -  might be rooted and founded in many things that certainly could be haram, or at the very least makruh (disliked). For some Muslim youth, especially those growing up in the West, the constant classification of everything that seemingly appears fun, cool, "harmless", and trendy as haram or forbidden can be heavy, overwhelming, depressing, and hard for them to cope with. We have to recognize this hardship of theirs and really help to fortify them with love, attention, knowledge of Islam, and solutions. We have to admit that Islamophobia is real and it is not easy for many Muslims (young and old) to face. No, it is not because they don't love Allah or because they have not accepted Tawhid for themselves. This is hardly the case. In fact, I am always hopeful for Muslim youth because those who persist and resist through these times, have been blessed with strong faith. But even those Allah has granted with strong eeman, need to feel at ease, comfortable, able to play, relax, fit in, and feel accepted.

It's important that we start opening up conversations and dialogues with the young Muslims that we are charged with. Lecturing is not always the best  approach to teach with. Ask Muslim youth questions about how they feel about these holidays like Halloween. Do they want to partake and why? Is is just about hanging out with their friends and having some down time? Do they know the history behind Halloween? Do they know what shirk is? What are some ways that we can reconcile our desires if they are leading us to do something that Allah has forbidden? May be they can journal (make sure you sign up for my Ramadhan Journaling course) , paint or draw a picture about the clash between Muslim holidays and non Muslim holidays? May be the youth can put together a panel discussion or a night to volunteer at a food bank the night of Halloween.

It's also important that we move away from ultimatums and start helping our youth to create some solutions. Many teachers and parents will just throw out the haram label like a brick. It trumps (pun intended) everything and the conversation ends before it really started. We can not be afraid to talk with our children. Yes, some will fall out of bounds and some will overstep the limits - be ready to reel them back in. Be ready to model good communication skills. Be ready to listen more than you speak. More importantly, be ready to help and lead them to a solution that will expand their minds about the topic.

If you take something away, replace it with something better. Halloween is not a Muslim holiday. We cannot celebrate All Hallow's Day, the Celtics harvest festival, the Gaelic festival of Samhain, lighting candles for the dead, trick-or treating -- all of which is rooted in pagan ideas that are completely opposite of Tawheed (Oneness of God). But that doesn't mean we cannot talk to our youth about Halloween's history, past and present. It doesn't mean that we can't help Muslim youth create fun and safe alternatives. It is our duty to help Muslim youth to navigate this world and build self-confidence in their Islamic identity until forever! Guidance is always needed for everyone.

New Book Release by Author Tohib Adejumo

Congratulations out to author Tohib Adejumo on his latest release, Beneath Her Headscarf. Enshallah, to the top of my reading list it goes and I hope you all with snatch it up as well. Enshallah, you will hopefully see it on our #MuslimGirlsRead Book Club Pick list soon come! Share, gift it, request it, and let's keep pushing Muslim Fiction all over the world. Get it here!

Author & Educator Umm Juwayriyah Does Dubai!

#MuslimGirlsRead Fall Book Pick - Read With Us!

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Can Black American Muslims Be More Than A Hashtag?

See, the way this social media thing works is that a new event means a new hashtag will drop! Ramadhan, Eid, weddings, divorces (some times), a summer conference, an all-white or all-black Muslim fashion show, or an Imam who tripped/slipped/exposed his true (racist) feelings during a lecture, buzz words like Salafi/Sufi infighting, and of course Black Muslims dressing up and out will always create some catchy #hashtags. We follow those hashtags and beam with pride: Black Muslims showing out! We reppin' for the internet streets to see! We want the world to know that we are proud, we have numbers, and we are tired of being everybody's after thought. #WeBeenHere they said! Stop speaking for us we done told ya'll. Let us in and give us a seat at the table we have demanded from Muslim organizations. Follow the hashtag - it's the clapback! It also makes us feel good and represented. But then eventually the hashtag fades away. Another Friday rolls around in your real 'hood Muslim community and it's all the same. You're sitting there on the musallah and a few will offer you a weak, fake salam! Don't they know WE out here trending? Don't they know our hashtags moves the crowd! Nah, they don't!

Out comes your smartphone so that you scroll through your Black Muslim #hashtag glory.....

Why are things still same we ponder? Black American Muslim Millennials know so much! We have accomplished so many things! We own the hashtags, but not the masajid! We own the degrees and certifications, but not the schools or universities! We been had passports and done took the trips to Dubai and Hajj (twice or more), but we don't own any homeless shelters, recidivist programs, gardens, Muslim organizations or parenting programs.....but the hashtags - now, we got those things on lock! We will text and type until Fajr creeps up on us about the injustices we face, the narratives of our lives and why they matter, and our golden, celebrity filled history. And those things do matter. And speaking up is necessary. But when do we prioritize our issues and put in the work to start fixing us? When do we Black American Muslims that are educated secularly and/or Islamically, skilled in trades and arts, internet savvy, internet activists, business owners, homemakers, and elders come together, make a plan, cooperate and start getting things done? When are we going to stop craving for the everybody to see us and love us? When are we going to come together and work together? When are we going to put in the #work?

Black American Muslim Twitters, Facebookers, Instagramers and Snapchaters have become kings and queens of hashtag marketing. It's impressive when it goes down. We beam with pride, but let's be very clear, pride don't pay the rent or change our daily realities. Our parents and elders carved their own lanes in our hoods: they built communities with masajid, schools, and businesses -- working together. They helped stamp out crime. They collaborated and shared responsibilities. They put on programs, started the dawah outreach programs in the prisons - all while selling oils and incense,. They helped spread Islam and raised the second, third, fourth, and fifth generations of Muslims. They lived Islam in America and they were happy to do what they did.

We moved up though! Yes, we have a house outside the hood, Muslim children growing up isolated, subscription to Muslim groups on social, the Lexus 300 GS and a new shayla from Saudi that matches a Coach bag that you paid outright for - but it's not enough! Some of us mean muggin' every time jumu'ah rolls around! The khutbah at the immigrant run masjid doesn't make sense to you, the same three classes been offered for the last 20 years, folks coming in and out of the community so you can't build anything meaningful and you really don't even want to waste your time trying. Times have changed. #Hashtag Bring back the old days.

We are a depressed, dissatisfied, and marginalized group of Muslims partly because our generation of Black American Muslims continue to fail to work together! We have no loyalty, we're not too cool with eachother (you know we will throw our own off it at the flick of button) we are certainly fresh out of patience, we're petty, too tired, we are on band wagons, and too bougie! We love to hashtag our talents and beauty because ultimately, that's all we got energy for! We are tired of being tired, but won't work together because that requires that we deal with our own issues by ourselves! We rather not work together because we don't want to change too much - we rather others to change for us! Cooperation also requires some level of sacrifice and sacrifice takes more effort than hashtagging and internet conferencing!

We are talented. We are important. We are excellence. We are hard workers. We are also more than a hashtag. But we are stuck. We are broken. We need us.

And hold fast all together by the rope which Allah (stretches out for you) and be not divided among yourselves; and remember with gratitude Allah’s favor on you; for ye were enemies and He joined your hearts in love so that by His grace ye became brethren; and ye were on the brink of the pit of fire and He saved you from it. Thus doth Allah make his signs clear to you: that ye may be guided. Al-Imran 3:103

Saturday, May 27, 2017

#MuslimGirlsRead Books Fundraiser 2017

Can you help #MuslimGirlsRead raise $500 to give out Muslim fiction books to Muslim youth and Muslim schools in inner-cities across the U.S. ? Low literacy rates, low self-esteem and poverty are all connected. We can help improve literacy in our communities and help boost Muslim youth morale by providing them with literature that they can connect to and inspire them to make the most of their lives as Muslims. Enshallah, I am putting up the first $100. Join #MuslimGirlsRead by donating, sharing the flyer, and nominating Muslim youth and Muslims across the US to receive books for them - by them!

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

She Writes & Rhymes 4 Ramadhan

This Ramadhan Umm Juwayriyah will be hosting a special online workshop! If you would like to join me, please Paypal your payment to

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

In The Midnight Hour: Parenting Special Needs Children

So much of what is involved with parenting is a mystery. You can by help books and sit at the laps of all the elders in your family soaking up all the mother wit you can stand. Yet there are seasons when - by the decree of Allah - you will still find yourself in places: valleys so low and on mountain tops so high that you as mother or you as father will have no clue what to do. In those moments: when you hear the doctor, therapist, or specialist tell you that your baby/child is sick, covered underneath a life long disorder that will impact his or her quality of  life, it will feel like the world has stopped for you and you have lost your way.

My dear sister - my dear brother, if no one has told you yet, let me tell you something I'd wish someone had permitted me to do when my daughter was first diagnosed with Infantile Spasms and Autism nine years ago: go on and  cry it out! Don't try to hold in your hurt, your confusion, your sadness, or your disappointment. Cry, weep, wail, and drop down on your knees and call on Allah! Cry a whole day or whole week, if you need to and don't let anyone stop you either. Don't let anyone disrupt your tears. You earned those tears and you earned the right to mourn. What are you mourning? Someone will boldly question you, no doubt. They will tell you your baby/child is still alive. They will try to force you to be grateful indignantly. What they might not understand is that your tears are mixed with gratefulness but you are facing a change in not only your life but in the whole life of your baby's. Certainly, enshallah, there will be better days and some relief, but whatever you wanted/prayed for/thought your child's life would be like before he/she was diagnosed with a special/different/challenging need, will not be actualized in this life. You will have to let that dream go. And it will not be easily buried. It will resurface many times through your life. So cry and mourn.  Turn back to Allah to find other goals with smaller steps to reach. You will have to accept the truth that your child may not ever coherently talk, walk, run, pray, read, write, or feed themselves independently. You will have to plan for the reality that you will have to take care of that baby/child for your entire life and when you die, if they outlive you, you will have to have someone in place to continue to care for them. So if they won't let you cry in peace, politely show them the door. And then cry, please! And when you are able......

Stand up in the midnight hour and continue to cry out to and for Allah's help. Do this regularly. Plan for it weekly or monthly or even daily! For sure Allah understands your hurt and your worries and He, alone, can grant you relief. And you will desperately need this alone time because there will always be some new challenge, struggle, or an all out fight to push through. The tears will continue to be necessary to shed. Happy tears when Allah grants respite and opens closed doors for you  and sad tears will also trail you too. Remember though, He, the Most High, has promised after difficulty, relief will come.

 Parenting special needs' children requires a superpower that doesn't come with a cape or some cool mask. If parenting special needs children and adults teaches you nothing else, you will learn very quickly that Allah holds all the power and might and you have none. You are weak, emotional, and prone to make so many mistakes with your child and yourself. But with Allah, your Lord, your Friend -  Ar Rahman - He has the ability to help you find some superpower strength-dedication to sort out medications, schedule and get to a bijillion doctor appointments, potty training, learn sign language, unearth research and alternative treatments, stay up all night taking care of your restless child, and work a full shift during the day. So my dear sister - my dear brother, take care of you! 

Nothing is easy, except what Allah wills to be easy. Crying isn't easy for some of us. It's hard to be vulnerable for many of us too. There are no short cuts or secrets to parenting any children and certainly not children with special needs. But with Allah, He can bring you ease and protection. So stand up in the midnight hour and seek His help and relief and guidance.

The Messenger of Allah sallallahu alyhi wa sallam said: "The closest one can be to Allah, is during the last third of the night. If one can remember Allah, the Almighty, at this time, let him do so." (At-Tirmidhi, An Nisaa'i, and Al Haakim)

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Tried & Tested Book Discussion Questions

For those of you have already read Tried & Tested or you just got your book, here are some discussion questions for you to think about as you are reading. You can also use these discussion questions at your own book club meetings:

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Essence Magazine's Bold Erasure of Black Muslim Women

A couple of days ago Essence magazine released a stunning new cover for their 47th anniversary that features 12 amazing women who have used their voices, resources, and platforms to speak out against and change/interrupt  oppression through activism, art, and film. Some of the 12 notable women includes my personal favorite writer and producer Shonda Rhimes, social activist April Reign, Opal Tometi - cofounder of #BlackLivesMatter,  Sybrina Fulton - Trayvon Martin's mother and founder of Circle of Mothers, political commentator Angela Rye, Women's March co-chairs Tamika Mallory, Carmen Perez, and our good sister and community activist Linda Sarsour in her hijab. The rallying theme of the magazine is: "100 Woke Women - How we rise up, speak out, and push the movement forward"! It's an epic cover because as far as I know, it's the first time Essence magazine has ever featured a Muslim woman in full Islamic hijab - rather than just a cultural head wrap!

So I am cheesing hard thinking I can't wait for this month's Essence to be dropped into my mail box (Ummi and I have been subscribers for many years). And yes, Linda Sarsour definitely deserves to be featured on the cover. 2016 and 2017 have been great years for our sister and we are proud of her. Happily, I watch the little video of some the honorees explaining what it means to each of them to "stay woke"! I am bobbing my head and Mmm hmming along as they mention sisterhood, love, and doing our part in our communities. It's all doable and needed encouragement. But then, hold up: I scroll down a little further on the page and these words jump out at me:

"Each woman talks about her role in the fight for Black liberation..."

Hold up! Slow down, they don't love you, like I love you, Muslim girl! I say to myself, self, is this article going to be focused on how each of these women are working to help black people get liberated in their black communities? Could have fooled me! I mean, there wasn't one Black American Muslim woman included on the cover. Why come? Historically, Black Muslim women have been fighting to liberate Black people since they dragged us off the slave boats (check the Book of Negroes)! Scroll back up, I tell myself. Someone spoke of Sisterhood? Another spoke of  Love? Boldly someone even mentioned intersectionality in the black community without acknowledging the perspective of the Black Muslimah! Ugh! I am beyond disappointment by Essence's erasure of Black Muslim women. I am dismayed and enraged.  Step down though and understand that by pointing out my disappointment and tiredness of the erasure of Black American Muslims in no way, shape, or form diminishes my love and support of other Muslim groups being included! 

See, this is a community problem among Black Americans. I can't blame no one but us for this mess. Ya'll know good and well a couple of folks up at Essence may very well have some Black Muslims in their family, friends they went to high school with, a husband, brother, or uncle who reverted to Islam while he was incarcerated - or those Muslim sisters in their  hood that they buy dinners from, have borrowed that Islamic name book from so they could see how to spell their baby Karim, Latifa, Amina, Jamilah, Imani or Malik!  Or they buy their fresh oils, shea butter, black soap, kufis, or those hijabs/scarves from your Muslim shopkeeper so you can look authentic during that Kwanzaa festival or Reggae concert.....and we see you, queens!

More importantly, Black women, you see us Black American Muslim women, too! You see us at work, at the daycare center, at the doctor's office, in the parks, at the hair salon and in the mall. We have shared parents and grandparents, recipes, red icees, jelly shoes, cassette tapes, cds, spouses, relaxers, brown gel,  milk, butter, sugar, hair grease, fears for our children - especially our sons, we sit on trains together, we correct directors/supervisors when they mispronounce either of our names, and we have such similar paths to cross - trials and tests!  Which is why when I look at that instantly classic Essence STAY WOKE cover and see all of those accomplished, amazing, hard-working, and intelligent black women who were selected to grace Essence magazine's cover come together, survey the room, spot one hijab from someone not from your family, your community, or from your journey and feel okay in your hearts and minds with your Black American Muslim sisters being excluded ...forgotten and overlooked, it's sobering. 

"Fox news is out of their mind," the black folks will say. "I am tired of media only showing those types of blacks," the black folks will say.  "We ain't all like that!" the black folks will say. 

I concur! But if we don't see each other and support and make space for each other, we all lose out. 

And check this out: the really sad part about this cover is that it is going to be dropped into thousands of black (how many Arab, Desi, Turkish, Kurdish subscribers does Essence have?) Muslim mailboxes with little black Muslim girls who will immediately spot our sister Linda Sarsour. They will smile, big and bright. "Look! Ummi she has a hijab on!" the little brown and black Muslim girls will exclaim excitedly. And then as they continue scan the cover and see all of the other melanated non-Muslim women of varying beautiful hues - without hijabs, it will hit them like a ton of bricks....

Essence magazine didn't want to include anyone who looks like me!

Stay woke, y'all! 

For a list of amazing, woke Black Muslim women making an impact in our communities and around the world, please check out on my blog, Be Inspired: Black Muslim Women Shine!

If you subscribe to Essence magazine, consider these simple actions:

1. Shoot them email about their erasure of Black American Muslim women
2. Tweet @Essence on Twitter with your views and disappointment
3. Write a blog about this issue
4. Create your own list of WOKE Black American Muslim women and circulate it on social media.
5. Open up and communicate with Muslim sisters in your community of other ethnicities about how we can support each other and truly become helpers and supporters of each other. Share what you learn with Essence magazine! 

Shout out to Steve Harvey for allowing Ibn Ali Miller to acknowledge his black Muslim mother for raising him to do the right thing on national television! 

Author Spotlight: Malik Salaam

Meet author, poet, business owner, film writer and producer: Malik SalaamThis Author Spotlight has been a long time coming and I am excited to finally share it on the blog. As an avid reader, I am always on the prowl for a good read, especially a good Muslim fiction read! Enter the big brother: Malik Salaam! He was running a promotional on his debut book back in early 2016 and I saw it and sent out the link to our readers on #MuslimGirlsRead and Author Umm Juwayriyah Facebook pages. A couple of days later, a friend wrote me and was like, "Thanks for the hook-up! Sunnah is so good and hood!" I went ahead and bought the book, too! It took about two days to get through the book due to all my other duties and shenanigans - but for sure it was a page turner. I remember the moment I finished the book, I was sitting on my bed speechless. Really! I felt a mixture of excitement, disbelief, lots of ideas, love, confusion, and a splash of "No, he didn't!" all swirling around my head.

Growing up my reading diet was diverse and lengthy. Out of the pack: Midlred D. Taylor groomed me, Terry McMillan inspired me, and Umm Zakiyyah pulled me up and opened the door for me.  But my first love is definitely Urban/Street Lit. Sista Souljah, Omar Tyree, Wahida Clark, Nikki Turner and Sapphire were writing champs in the late  90's. I was reading like three or four of their books week with wonder. I resonated with their style, but I struggled with how to merge urban Muslim life and the world-wide Muslim ummah that I was committed to targeting my work to. Urban Islamic Fiction is what I came up with - it's toned down for my demographic, but still has a little room for some edge and so far it's worked well for me. That said, when I read Sunnah by Malik Salaam, I was teleported back to my high school days. I read it and I laughed, I panicked, I worried, I got angry and I had to clutch my pearls a few times, too! I was reading Muslim Street Lit by a Muslim! And I was inspired! Without further ado, here's  Malik Salaam: (SPOILER ALERT!)

UMMJ:    Sunnah is filled to the brim with many social ills, violence, illicit relationships - what made you want to title the book Sunnah? Was there any underlying issues that you intentionally wanted your readers to get from the title?

MS:The short answer… Sunnah means the way. And I feel like as humans we are all searching for our way. Being raised Muslim, I was always taught to follow the Sunnah of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). Christians ask themselves, “What would Jesus do?” Cola Rum- an amazing spoken word artist in Atlanta- always says, “Malik, we all down here treading water, and when we see somebody treading water with more ease than us… we naturally want to join them.”

I think the search is what joins us as humans. And I think that overall, that is what I wanted everybody to walk away with. We all are rifling through life in hopes of finding our way. And that is not a surface thing… following just a way of dress or a diet doesn’t cut it. The way starts at intentions but ends with action.

UmmJ:  Mustafa (Stafa) was such an interesting, complexed, and wounded character. The opening scene with his parents really set the tone for his actions through out the story. I liked him at times and then at other times I was severely disappointed in him. Who is Mustafa to you? 

MS: Mustafa is familiar to me. He deals with the struggle of first being a black man in America. And then he must deal with the battle of being a Muslim man in America. Both roles seem to be peppered with confusion. The fact that his father wasn’t present was the first nail in his coffin. And even though he had some role models, they also had their demons to battle.

If you came up in the late 80s/early 90s the celebration of the street culture was very much a part of our lives. And being born and raised Muslim didn’t save me from that. If anything, because Islam doesn’t associate any partners with God… and I don’t have to go through “a man” to get to My Creator. It gave me a certain edge. I don’t associate man with God… so it made me fearless of men.

UmmJ:   Ayanna was another interesting character. I loved her sense of self and high purpose. My heart felt content at the end of the story when she began to frequent the masjid. That said, I was taken aback by her agreeing to mut'ah (temporary marriage) so easily and fully bothered by Stafa checking out on her the night after. Why do you think Ayanna agreed to be intimate with Mustafa so easily given her strong character?

MS: Ayanna’s contradiction, like Mustafa’s, started in her childhood. Introducing her mother’s mental illness and Ayanna feeling measured by her near-perfectly packaged sister, gave Ayanna the same longing for real love as Mustafa.

I think people no matter how strong or spiritually grounded have weaknesses. They look for things to escape into. Sometimes its sex or drugs… or food…but maybe its self-righteousness. We are complicated. I feel like the fact that Mustafa took something that could be carnal or illicit and turned it into something spiritual, though, also intrigued her… which is how, unfortunately, some men with a stronger spiritual understanding will bait a woman. The Christians call it Jesus Pimpin’ but it happens in all beliefs. But the acceptance of something as right or wrong really just depends on the lens that we look at it through. Perspective.

    Umm J: I often discuss mental illness within urban communities, especially within urban Muslim communities so I was touched by how tactful you handled and displayed Ayanna's mother's health issues. Was there any particular motive for adding and discussing mental health in the book?

MS: I feel like mental illness goes undiagnosed in the black community. We don’t believe in/can’t afford/haven’t been exposed to mental healthcare.  Although the government will dope you up if you can get in enough trouble. Mental illness is a big part of our communities and we do a poor job of identifying it. In more affluent neighborhoods, a troubled child gets help. Our children get beat, doped, and funneled through the public school to prison pipeline.

I don’t feel like we can have a healthy dialogue about the things that take place in our neighborhoods without discussing mental illness. Those suffering from depression, bi-polar disorder, narcissism, socio-pathic personality disorder walk amongst us on a daily basis and we dismiss them as trigger happy, materialistic, or junkies. The average person in good mental health would not choose some things that are widely accepted in our communities.

Umm J:   Tariq (Reek) was a mess from the beginning to the end for me. I didn't like him at all. He was so harsh and careless, but so real it made me love his characterization. But I wanted more backstory about his life and what experiences modeled his behavior. The scenes between his son and him were heartbreaking. I could tell he wanted to connect, but really just didn't know how to. For Reek "providing", by any means necessary, was the only station for a man to be respected and he seemed locked in that small role. He never showed any tenderness, even when he was with Rashida. Was Reek crafted after anyone real? What do you think made Reek so heartless? How do you heal someone like Reek?

MS: Yeah… Tariq is very real. In my mind Reek was a northerner primarily, because up-north Islam (in all forms) are very connected to the street culture. When you think of cats from DC, Philly, and New York, names like Tariq and Karim are normal. And although you can find very strong Muslim communities in these cities - there are also brothers, in particular, that blur the lines.

I can remember being taught as a young Muslim man that my primary job is to be a provider. That thought is not exclusive to Muslims, but to Blacks in general. In Black American communities, they have us completely fooled into believing that a man’s worth is directly related to his net worth. And if we accept that, then there is no wonder Black Men are out here taking penitentiary chances for crumbs… because they are taught that those crumbs are bigger than purpose. As a matter a fact, purpose is not even a part of the conversation.

If we were smart, we would recognize the game they play. It is not an accident that more Black women are graduating college than any other ethnic group, while Black men are doing the same thing in the prison system. Or that there is no government assistance with a man still in the home. We are pitted against each other with education, paychecks, and social exposure. So, a cat like Reek feels like he has already fulfilled his duty by bringing home the bacon (pardon the pun)… But that's his worth. Meanwhile he has no time  to develop the emotional depth necessary to be a father and husband.

UmmJ:  I loved how you intertwined the locking up of Imam Yusuf with the overall plot of the story. Of course, because the setting of the book took place in Atlanta, it brings to mind Imam Jamil Al- Amin (formerly H. Rap Brown) (may Allah free him, grant him health, and ease his trials) and his case. Did Imam Al-Amin's case influence your writing? How so? And how did his arrest affect the Muslims in Atlanta?

MS: I went to Mohammed Schools almost my entire life. So, I knew Imam Jamil Al-Amin. My Masjid was on the east side of Atlanta. And Imam Jamil’s was on the west side of Atlanta. But we came together for Eid, went to school together, rivaled each other at basketball games, and some of us used the two sides of town to simply expand our network.

The Muslims from the Westend always had a reputation for policing their communities and it was very clear that Imam Jamil had a stronghold on his community. The arrest of Imam Jamil reaps of government conspiracy (to me).  Imam Jamil introduced himself to the United States government as H. Rap Brown- a fiery revolutionary. And although, Islam helped him adopt a more global perspective, he never lost that fire or the love for his people.

Of course, I don’t have all the facts of the case. But as I watch hipsters buying property in the Westend and you understand that billion dollar projects like Atlanta’s Beltline make plans to run right through Imam Jamil’s community, you must know that other forces could possibly be at work.

   UmmJ:  Staying on the character  Imam Yusuf, Mustafa had mentioned how the locking up of his Imam made the community weak and he felt obligated to "protect" the ummah. His style of protection was clearly against Islam, but there are certainly Muslims with that type of mindset - where they don't know how to draw safe lines. What do you think causes that type of perversion of Islam and the Sunnah in real life? 

MS: I think we are given religion because the pull of the world is so strong. Even for people I know who work hard at staying on their deen. There is no escaping the world’s influence. A lot of Islam in the Black community, historically, has spread through the prisons. So, then there's a [criminal] perversion from the streets [that seeps in]. Also, stories of the Mujahedeen and warriors like Umar and Abu Bakr (may Allah be pleased with them) becomes the basis for young Black [Muslim) men, who know that war has been waged on them. It's  easy to turn your daily life into a “jihad”. Especially, without the proper guidance.

UmmJ:  You mentioned quite a bit of the religion of other characters in the book. The relationship between Levison and the crew was really ironic and corrupted being that Levison was Jewish and the crew were Muslims. Do you think it is difficult for Muslims and Jews to build authentic, moraled  relationships? Do you think interfaith activities have been helpful in aiding that effort?

MS: I don’t think it is as difficult as we make it. I think it benefits those in power to feed us a narrative of anti-Jew or anti-Christian. Allah says, “I made you into different tribes so you  will know each other, not despise each other”. Young Muslims are allowed and taught to throw around words like “kafir” and “believer” without true context. If we are following Islam as a lifestyle and not just as a religion, then there is no room for discord.  Most of us are around, friends with, and working with or for Jewish people every day and have no idea. 

UmmJ: Mustafa didn't really have any real guidance or real love in this story. Brother Abdullah wasn't a real friend. Reek wasn't a real friend. Ayanna was trying to be a real friend, but Stafa wasn't really ready to part with his criminal lifestyle. There really wasn't anything left for him, but death. It still surprised me how his life was taken and then the setting was shocking - again considering Reek and Stafa were Muslims - even if only in their hearts. Do you think there was anything that could have saved Mustafa and the rest of the brothers from their demise?

MS: I don’t think that he lacked any real love. The love that the streets provide, is perverse. But it doesn’t make it any less real. The conditions change. Saif loved him. Shim loved him. But their love for one another was steeped in the streets. So, it’s different… not less real. Unhealthy is probably the right term to me.

I think that had his father been in his life, Stafa’s chances would have been greater. A father figure is not the same as a father. Because a father knows his son's heart. It is the direct reflection that helps father and son both grow. Stafa needed that. And Stafa needed a more righteous war to fight. If money is our only battle, then we are bound to lose.

UmmJ: Malik,  you have a fan in me! What's next for you? What do you want your readers and soon to be readers to know about you, your passions, and your projects?

MS: Thank you! Well, to be honest… my initial plan was not to write a novel. I am a screenwriter. I decided to take my screenplays and adapt them into novels to build my audience. Sunnah is a screenplay that I turned into a novel which accounts for its brevity with certain interactions. But I am currently working on the sequel for Sunnah, as a screenplay and as a novel. I am producing a few shorts to attract investors to turn Sunnah into a feature or maybe a series. Depending on what makes more sense.

I want readers to know that I believe in the richness of storytelling. I am searching for layers and uncovering the layers of the human condition. Even when it comes to Urban Fiction or Street Lit or Hood Movies. I don’t think we are one dimensional. There is more to us than has been exposed or exploited in the media. I find it my job to paint the perfect picture.