Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Book: LIOL: To Be Young, Gifted, Black, American, Muslim, and Woman - Precious Rasheeda Muhammad

'I carry the torch of an Islam predicated upon universal human excellence, to the chagrin of cynics who claim it impossible for the faith itself to do so, let alone someone of my ilk.'

Precious is a third generation Muslim. Her grandmother converted and her mother was raised as a Muslim. Her father came from the Deep South and moved to Boston, eventually joining the Nation of Islam (NOI). This is where he met and married her mother.

Born in 1975, Precious suffered from a chronic skin disease for her entire childhood that sometimes covered eighty percent of her body, including her face and scalp. Her mother would have to shave her head and her clothes would stick to her and have to be peeled off, slowly. Sometimes it hurt her to even move. She says, though, that this affliction taught her from a young age the effect that suffering had on the human spirit. It gave her an acute sense of empathy with others, no matter their pain or status in life.

'I prayed with a brain-dead patient's grieving family, read from the Holy Bible for a male AIDS patient with failing eyesight, and witnessed a premature baby take his last breaths as he was baptized before passing away. None of these people cared it I was a Muslim and I did not care that they were not. I truly believe my own sickness was God's way of preparing me for leadership by humbling me, sensitizing me to injustice and opening my heart to tolerance.'

Growing up, Precious' mother placed a high premium on the education of children. She would haul home crates of books and taught neighborhood classes in her kitchen. Aside from attending regular school, any child was welcomed and encouraged to come to their home and take advantage of the general educational tools she had amassed as well as the Islamic studies tools. Her father was a great believer in investing in the communities where they lived. On Saturday mornings, rather than watch cartoons like most children, they would go out and participate in local projects - cleaning neighborhood parks, for example. 'I was taught that a Muslim should do good works because that is what God put in our nature, not because we expect some reward.'

She was raised in a loving community, surrounded by strong Muslim women who felt empowered. They weren't kept back or barred from this or that because they were women. They were free to be who they needed to be and being Muslim was just a part of their identities, not something that hindered them.

When Precious left home for the first time, she realized that the rest of the Muslim world was not like that. She was suddenly surrounded by 'a sea of women who had been raised differently. In many of these circles it was considered inappropriate for a woman to recite the Qur'an publicly at all, let alone in unison with males, or to sit with male family members during religious celebrations, or to pray in a room that did not have a partition, or to hold positions of leadership in mixed-gender Muslim associations, and the list continued. The women who were teaching me these things were well educated. They approached the understanding of these roles with vigor and firm belief. It was I who felt oppressed, not they. No matter how hard I tried to understand, I could not convert to this way of living. It did not sit right with my soul as a Muslim nor as a descendant of slaves.'

'I had been taught to go directly to the Qur'an, to look at the life of the Prophet Muhammed for myself and use critical reasoning. That is something I could do immediately while continuing to pursue the study of Islam throughout my life. And so I simply refused to wait for Muslims to resolve their standoff between who should or should not speak for Islam while crimes against humanity were being committed in the name of my religion and anti-Islamic sentiments abounded.'

Precious is an historian specializing in the experience of Muslims in America.

'Education is the great equalizer. I believe that when we are knowledgeable about our neighbors as opposed to being afraid of what we do not know, we are more inclined to live together as one humanity, one global community, and to share in the possibilities for our posterity that universal human excellence allows. And so I have poured my heart into educating people about the growth and development of Islam in America, about the Muslim American experience, and I cannot stop now.'


  1. What a great lady! I love her upbringing and her attitude!

  2. Susanne,

    Yeah, she seems like someone with a ton of drive and energy! Someone I'd like to watch work and see where she goes. :)


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