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Monday, February 18, 2019

This #BlackMuslimReads salutes our sister, 
Author Ameenah Muhammad-Diggins

Umm Juwayriyah:  You have an upcoming play based on your latest children's book that #MuslimGirlsRead loves, Bashirah and The Amazing Bean Pie: A Celebration of African American Muslim Culture. Can you tell us about the book and why you wanted to bring it to the stage? Also, can you give some insider details on the play itself?

Ameenah Muhammad-Diggins: Bashirah and the Amazing Bean Pie welcomes readers  into the world of young Bashirah  who is preparing  for Culture day at her Islamic school and the Eid holiday. Bashirah  and her family are African American Muslims and she plans to share a Bean Pie for her cultural dish. Bashirah gets help from Pop-Pop (grand-father) to learn how to make the traditional African American Muslim dessert. Honestly, I had intentions for the message of the book to reach 1 million people. I did not have any specific intentions to make the book into a play. I truly believe that Allah brings beautiful opportunities to us when we are ready for them. We do not necessarily know in what form the blessing will arrive. I was approached by the head of the theatre department at The Please Touch Museum to transform the book into a play. Now museum goers can see Bashirah and Amazing Bean Pie  from February 16th - March 7th for a total of 15 shows:

Please Touch Museum
4231 Avenue of the Republic Ave
Philadelphia, PA

Umm Juwayriyah: Knowing the story of  Bashirah and The Amazing Bean Pie, I wont give it away, but can you explain a little about how you came up with the story? Why is the Bean Pie so significant and to whom?

Ameenah Muhammad-Diggins:  For me it represents a connection to the past, economic upward mobility, self-sufficiency, family, and community. I wanted to write a story that would have readers immediately know that the book was about African American Muslims. I (also) didn't want the current generation of Muslims to forget about the struggles and accomplishments that generations of African American Muslims made to the fabric of America  and the establishment of Islam in America. I wanted to honor the history and the thousands of Black Muslims who converted to Sunni Islam from NOI.  You would be hard pressed  to visit  a masjid founded by African Americans  and not find a bean pie after Jumu'ah.  It is ingrained in our culture as American Muslims. (Also) My father owned a Bean Pie factory. He employed  most of his family and baked thousands of pies a day.

Umm Juwayriyah: As this is Black History Month, how do you think Black American Muslims fit into the celebration and history?

Ameenah Muhammad-Diggins: Black American Muslims are Black Americans! We share the same history (and month of celebration). Many people don't know or choose not to acknowledge that between 10% to 30% of free Africans enslaved in the Americas between 1711 and 1808 were Muslims!

Umm Juwayriyah: Your books often showcase Black & Brown Muslim characters. Is that a conscious decision for you?  Why is it important to you to represent Black & Brown Muslim characters in literature?

Ameenah Muhammad-Diggins: It is important because Muslims have origins  from all over the world. It's all about the education and representation. If you don't highlight topics that are important  to you which in my case is the showcasing  of Black and Brown Muslims, who will? We cannot complain about the lack of diversity in children's books, media , etc. if we are not willing to do something about it. Heroes are born everyday. We have to be the change we seek in the world.

Umm Juwayriyah: Because it is #BlackHistoryMonth and #MuslimGirlsReads supports the #BlackMuslimReads initiative, please share your top five (dead or alive) #BlackMuslimReads.

Ameenah Muhammad-Diggins: 1. Servants of Allah by Sylviane Doiuf 2. Taking Action by Barakah Hassan. 3. Proud by Ibtihaj Muhammad 4. Tried & Tested by Umm Juwayriyah 5. If I Should Speak by Umm Zakiyyah

Umm Juwayriyah: As a Muslim mother and entrepreneur, you're quite active, mashallah! What two pieces of advice can you share with our readers, especially mothers & youth, who want to actualize their passions and goals?

Ameenah Muhammad-Diggins: Do what scares you but speaks to your heart! Keep your intentions pure and focused on pleasing Allah (swt).

Umm Juwayriyah: How can our readers stay in touch with you?

Ameenah Muhammad-Diggins: 

Instagram: @ameenah_diggins
Facebook: @AmeenahDiggins

Books by Ameenah Diggins

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

#BlackMuslimHistory: Ustadha Omm Rafiq - The First Black American Female Graduate of Umm AlQura University, Makkah


This is an article I've waited 20 years to write. Every time I have an opportunity to chat with this sister, listen to her speak, or read some of her writings on a variety of topics it always - always rekindles my love for the Most High. Alhamduleelah, I used to be able to attend some of her online halaqat weekly. Now, not at all. But I have never forgot many of  her words, the adeeya she shared, and her "Deen Clips"! Nor had my desire to write her story waned, Mashallah. I was in my early teens when we were first acquainted. With no husband or children or responsibilities, I had the time to write and travel freely. But it was actually my first time living in Khartoum, North Sudan that connected us. She too many moons ago had lived near the Nile River and studied Islam there with her family. 

Time moves too fast though. Twenty years later, she was in Makkah and I was in Kuwait.  We had remained connected through our travels and friends of friends. I reached out to her  trepidatiously - not knowing how she would respond to my request. Omm Rafiq isn't known to be a harsh sister in the least. In fact, she is quite the opposite: low key, soft spoken, and very focused. She had always flown under the radar - but still remained a legend in many circles of sisters I moved through Sudan, UAE, Saudi, Kuwait and the United States. Mashallah. I knew Allah had sent me a sign that reach out to her again. However, my request to interview her about her life's accomplishments seemed very bold and the opposite of how she had lived. I thought it was going to be a hard sell. I pitched my ideas to her cautiously. I sprinkled heavily reminders to her of the sisters in the West and our youth around the world who needed to hear modern stories of sisters and brothers from cities and states like their own. I discussed how beautiful inspiration could be, yet for many Muslims today, young and old, very hard to find and relate to. Alhamduleelah, she accepted without any hesitation. I present my interview of:

Omm Rafiq ~ The first Black American Female Graduate of Umm AlQura University
Makkah, Saudi Arabia

As a Muslimah writer, I know that it is important to document modern Muslim history and to show representations of Muslim Americans, especially, to the next generation , bi'ithnillah. Can you answer the following questions:

Umm Juwayriyah:  Tell me about your background? Were you born Muslim or did you revert to Islam? 

Omm Rafiq: I am originally from California. I embraced Islam in 1972  after a series of what seemed "accidental" or "incidental" events that eventually lead me (and my husband)  to the guidance of Allah. I had been raised Catholic (and my husband was raised Baptist). We met some Muslims in Boston, Massachusetts where my husband was in college. We embraced Islam in Boston  and then returned to California. We went there for him to get a Master's degree, but left as Muslims, on a new path. Alhamdulilah.

Umm Juwayriyah: How did you end up studying in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia? 

Omm Rafiq: When we first became Muslim in 1972 all we wanted to do was study Islam. There were precious few books in English available (in the United States), so we applied to the Islamic University of Madina. My husband received a response with one ticket to study. By that time our oldest daughter was born (so we didn't go). A few years later my husband met the Dean of the Islamic University of OmDurman (of Sudan) at a conference in the States. He invited my husband to study at the university with a scholarship. We sold all of our belongings and traveled to Sudan for a year. Things didn't work out as we had planned (the dollar was half its value and the scholarship was about 25 pounds a month. It was equivalent to roughly $50 a month. ) Unfortunately, it didn't cover the cost of living.  My husband traveled that year to Jeddah and applied to King Abdul Aziz University where he was hired.  We left Sudan and have been here in K.S.A ever since.  We lived in Jeddah for the first year and a half. Because we wanted to study Islam, we put in a transfer to Makkah.

Umm Juwayriyah: Can you explain your studies? What did it entail?

Omm Rafiq: In order to enter Umm AlQura University in Makkah, one has to first learn Arabic. So the first step was to study in the University's Institute of Arabic Language (non-Native speakers). At that time, it was a three year course. Now it has been lessened to two years. After the completion of the Mahad, then one was able to enter the University. I choose to study Aqeedah - Islamic belief (my husband studied fiqh and its origins). It took us four years to complete our Bachelors' degrees. However, I had my 6th child while I was studying, so it took me a little longer than my husband as I didn't take a full load of classes for two semesters after I gave birth to my son. For each level of study, every student had to take a course in Qur'an as well. In other words, it was required to memorize a juz (1 part of 30 parts of  the Qur'an) each year. 

Umm Juwayriyah: Were you the only Black American in your courses? 

Omm Rafiq: At that time, there were no other Black Americans in my courses. But several Black Americans were in the Mahad (Arabic Institute for non-native speakers) while I was in the University. There were also a few Black Americans there before me studying but circumstances did not allow them to finish, Qadr Allah, mashaa f'aal.  But Alhamduleelah, after I graduated, I knew of about three other African Americans studying studying there along with their husbands. 

Umm Juwayriyah:  We hear so much negativity about the mumlaka (kingdom) - in the news and media and from modernists. For those who have never been to Saudi or had the opportunity to take a class there, how were taalibatul 'ilm (female students of Islamic knowledge) treated in Saudi Arabia?

Omm Rafiq: The women were treated like other students - I mean the foreign students were treated the same! Most people (Saudis) had a great respect for those of who chose to study Islam. And the students held their professors in high regard. Those students who were just studying and not working as well - their path was bit difficult as the stipend from the university was not enough to support a comfortable life. Those students had to seek funds elsewhere and some had to even send their families back home. My husband taught at the University in the English, so his salary was enough to support us (and study).

Umm Juwayriyah: What sort of challenges did being a wife and mother (to many) add to your studies? 

Omm Rafiq: If I could have, I would have devoted all my time to my studies. But I had six children. Our day was something like this: get up at Fajr (before sunrise), pray and then get everyone ready. School began very early here because of the heat. A typical school day was from 6:45 am until 12 noon. By then the day was really heating up and by 2:00 pm it was extremely hot. That was the time everyone was home until Asr (midday prayer). Everyday my husband would drive the kids to school, then drive across town to drop me off at the women's campus, and finally he would have to drive back across town to go to work. At the end of the day it was the reverse for my husband. He would pick up the children, pick me up, and then we'd all go home. It was exhausting - cook lunch, short naps, and then the children's homework. All of this left little time for my (own) studies. Once I was complaining about this (exhaustion) and my husband quickly cleared my thinking. He advised me: "If you study hard and get all A's, but your children do poorly in school, then you have failed. If you help your children and do your studies and you receive C's and they succeed, then you have succeeded as well." Khalas! I continued to try my best to work everything in. Some nights, I just wasn't able to give my all  to my studies. Alhamdulilah! 

Umm Juwayriyah: What was your most memorable experience  from your studies? 

Omm Rafiq: There were many, but I think this one was significant: At this time TV stations would come on with recitations from the Qur'an and they would close with the Qur'an. One night I was studying late while everyone was asleep. Shaykh Ali Jaber (may Allah have mercy on him) recited an aya or two from Surah al Baqarah. He recited very slowly and distinctly:

قَالَ اللهُ تَعَالَى :كَيْفَ تَكْفُرُونَ بِاللَّهِ وَكُنتُمْ أَمْوَاتًا فَأَحْيَاكُمْ ثُمَّ يُمِيتُكُمْ ثُمَّ يُحْيِيكُمْ ثُمَّ إِلَيْهِ تُرْجَعُونَ {28

I felt a shudder as I understood every _ single_word and thus the seriousness of the aya (verse)! It was then that I realized that I was (actually) absorbing and learning. Sometimes, I had thought, I would never get it (Arabic). I had began studying at the Mahad the age of 35! That isn't the ideal age to take on a new language. The Arabic language is complicated and I (some times) further complicated it by thinking I had to replace every word I knew in English with an Arabic word....impossible. Allah showed me I could it -- I was doing it!

Umm Juwayriyah: Did you know when you started studying that you were among the first Western Muslimat to join Umm AlQura and graduate?

Omm Rafiq: No, that wasn't something that I thought about. As I mentioned earlier, there were other sisters there in different programs from Canada, the US, and Germany. I was (just) there for knowledge, not recognition. 

Umm Juwayriyah: What degree do you hold?

Omm Rafiq: I hold a BA in Aqeedah from Umm AlQura University in Makkah

Umm Juwayriyah: What year did you graduate? 

Omm Rafiq: 1992

Umm Juwayriyah: Subhan'Allah, I was just starting middle school around that time. What advice do you have for your Muslim sisters back in the West - especially the youth?

Omm Rafiq: Strive to be best possible Muslimah you can be. Don't make comprises. Comprises start small and then they become bigger and more frequent.  Choose good companions who remind you of Allah and are not all about the dunya! Always ask Allah for help and to keep you on the straight path sincerely. 

Deen Clips: Imam Azza
Written by Omm Rafiq

It's early in the morning; fajr was about an hour ago. School is on the Ramadhan schedule (about 10 am til 3pm) so the house is quiet while everyone is taking naps. The weather is cool for here but not yet cold. The windows are open and I can hear an occasional bird chirping. While reading Qur'an and working on memorizing a surah, it made me think. It takes me back to our first arrival in this country. This is a continuation of a deen clip from my experiences as a Muslim. Often, we become affected by a person, some little thing they did or said. I want to tell you about my neighbor in Jeddah, a mother of six when I first met her who planted a seed and then kept tending it and watching it grow. She was just Azza then, but now they call her "Imam Azza".

We moved to the new apartment building after being in Jeddah for six months. My children were aged 7, 5, and 3 and were all going to school. My housekeeping routine was easy. I found myself with extra time. I wanted to study Qur'an. My husband had been going to a local masjid for several months. One day he came home and told me that one of the brothers said his wife held classes at her home. The lived in the building right next to ours! I didn't know this woman. I had never seen her so I was a bit nervous to go to her home for the first time. 

She opened the door, welcomed me, and brought me to her guest room. She was from Egypt and a Qur'an teacher in one of the public schools in Jeddah. She was also eight months pregnant. Twice a week on Sundays and Thursdays she had women and girls come to her house to study Qur'an with her. Her home was a small three room apartment. In the first room, the sisters were studying Juz' Tabarak, in the second room the women were studying surah Al Baqarah. In the third room, the women were study another juz, but the name escapes me now. Her place was small, but was filled with women and girls learning. Imam Azza had another one other teacher come in to the lessons and help while she circulated the rooms teaching. I was put in the first room with the sisters working on Juz Tabarak. The students were working on surah Haaqah. Imam Azza opened her mouth and began her recitation. It was so beautiful, clear, and it had a nice rhythm to it. I sat as if in a trance listening to the beautiful sounds flowing from out of her throat. Then the students repeated after her. I repeated with them. I think they were assigned the first page of the surah to memorize by the next class. When maghrib came, all the women gathered in the guest room and Imam Azza provided all of us with long flowing salat veils to wear. After we prayed, Imam Azza served everyone a glass of mango juice. I remember that pointedly because there were so many of us there and yet, she had not just taken time out of her day to teach us, but to serve us refreshments as well.

We all left after the the refreshments were finished. I remember the exuberant feeling that engulfed me after having spending times with those sisters and Imam Azza. I continued to attend regularly her classes. It wasn't long before she had her baby. She only missed one lesson before she was back to teaching us. I had been amazed at her energy and dedication. It was then that I learned first that women could recite and touch the Qur'an while on their menses and with post-partum bleeding. Soon I finished memorizing surah Al Haaqah, but it had been very difficult for me. Imam Azza suggested I continued with Juz Amma as it was better suited for me until my Arabic and reading improved (and it did eventually). I began memorizing the last chapters of the last Juz of Qur'an. Then summer came.

I was pregnant then with my son Muhammad so we returned to the States. When I returned to Saudi Arabia, it was Ramadhan. I continued to study with Imam Azza until I gave birth. While I was in the hospital, the Naseef family (specifically Saddiqah Sharifuddeen) opened the first Qur'an school for women in Jeddah (and the first in the Kingdom). My neighbor and Qur'an teacher decided to no longer teach out of her home. She decided to join the Qur'an school for women with Khalah Saddiqah.

As soon as I was able, I signed up to join the women's Qur'an school. Imam Azza was no longer my teacher. I used to see her every time I went to school though, but it wasn't the same. A couple of months later, I finally completed juz Amma at the school, then my family moved to Makkah, Alhamdulilah. Azzah stayed in Jeddah and worked at the Qur'an school for many years. Then I heard that she had finally opened her own Qur'an school for girls. I was really happy for her. By that time, I was involved in my own studies at Umm AlQura, but I kept hearing about Azza. She had opened another school and then another, and yet another. Many of my friends put their children in those schools to learn Qur'an, just like I had done. Everyone loved the schools, teachers, and their leader -- Imam Azza!

In all, Imam Azza opened 16 Qur'an schools through out Jeddah - 8 for girls and 8 for boys! May Allah reward her and her family greatly. I always think back to her little apartment in Jeddah and her children scrambling around while women and girls recited Qur'an. I always admired  how her husband and older sons would vacate their home for us twice a week for Muslim women and girls they didn't know to learn Qur'an.  

The last time I saw Imam Azza she had came to Makkah with some friends to offer condolences to me on the deaths of my two daughters who had died in an automobile accident. Imam Azza was the mother of 10 who had started 16 Qur'an schools.

Please make dua for her an her children. Please make dua for my two daughters who passed away. Allah have mercy on them.

 اللهم  أجعل خيرَ امرنا  أواخرها, و خيرَ عمالنا خواتمها, و خيرَ أيامنا يوم نلقك

Allahumma, aj'al khaira 'amrina awakhiriha, wa khaira 'amaalina
khawatimaha, wa khaira ayyamina yaum nalqaka.

O Allah, let our last days be the best days of our life and our last deeds be the best of our deeds, and let the best day, the day we meet you.

Omm Rafiq  
3 Ramadhan 1419/ December 21, 1998

Sunday, February 3, 2019

#BlackMuslimReads - Righting Wrongs By Writing Our Stories, Empowerment & Leadership


A mainstream African American women's magazine finally decides to feature a Muslim woman in hijab on the cover. They can't find one Black Muslim woman -- even though hundreds of them purchase their publication.

A prominent non Black Muslim organization questions a prominent non Black Muslim leader on issues about Black American life and trauma and police brutality only for the non Black American Muslim leader to spew the criminalization of blackness as he tried to White wash away White privilege.

A major non Black American Muslim organization moves their major conference into a metropolitan  area that is over 63 percent Black American and schedules a conference the same weekend as the largest Muslim women's conference that has been running for over 30 years and run by Black American Muslim women.

 A group of Muslim leaders gather together to protest DACA on Capitol Hill and are arrested in their support of young immigrant Dreamers. Boom - It Goes Viral!

Young African American Muslim girl in Philadelphia prevented from playing in a school basketball game because of  her hijab. No one knows her name!

Do you see where I am going with this? Too many times these types of situations occur in our communities and we either disregard it or get mad, Twitter fight over it, and forget about it until the next upset occurs. 

But what if we jumped out of that matrix? What if we stopped reacting to negativity? What if we beat a new path where we controlled our own narratives? 

#BlackMuslims have the numbers and efforts to lead! If we just looked to see the positivity in our own communities, we would have enough stories to write about for the whole year! 

We have sent many community members to study abroad and learn not just secular studies, but many in our communities have traveled to study Islam and Arabic. It is important that we write about these young scholars and honor their pursuits. It's important for us to support them and give them opportunities to share and speak and have a place at our tables.

We have many Black  Muslim sisters in our communities raising and rearing Muslim children successfully. Many of our sisters who have birthed five or more children go unnoticed and uncelebrated in our communities as if birthing one child is easy, let alone five or ten! They are a wealth of knowledge and experience and love that we have to take the time and energy to care about. We have to write their stories! We have to validate and cherish their experiences. We have to make room for these sisters in our communities to share and teach other young expecting Muslim women what they know. 

We have so many Black Muslim entrepreneurs in our communities across the United States. Many of these talented and creative brothers and sisters make clothing (that always gets copied), clean houses and businesses,  cook halal meals and desserts, tutor the youth, design websites, teach the Qur'an online and in their own store fronts and they deserve their story to be told!

We have so many Black Muslim educators, Alhamduleelah!  They are sharp-minded academics, dedicated teachers, professors, paraprofessionals, researchers, administrators in every type of school/college/university in the States and abroad. They get up before Fajr and they go bed way after Isha five days a week making sure their lesson plans are on point and that their students will be well prepared. They spend their own money to provide the essentials for their students and many of their students are our own children! We have to write their stories! We have to support and champion their works. We have to create and support tables for Black Muslim educators to come together and network. We have to be proud of them and encourage them to continue teaching. 

We have so many dedicated Black American Muslim fathers mentoring their children and other children in our communities. These brothers are our Abus, Babas, Daddies, Stepfathers, uncles, brothers and grandfathers, too in the communities who volunteer at every event, encourage and cheer on all the community, help and love up their wives without being asked, work hard and tirelessly to support their families and give sadaqah. These brothers need their stories written. 

As you can see we have important stories in our communities! We don't need to sit around and wait for something foul to happen to us. We can and should happen to us! We have to support us and raise up our leadership. We have to empower our youth and children to feel good about the good they do without others from outside of our community clapping. We have to right our wrongs by writing our good stories. And don't stop at just writing! We have to be proactive. We have to gather to support each other. We have to create, engage, and work on being the best community we can be to each other!