She remains the only female minister in a religion founded in by African Americans looking for an alternative to Christianity—which founders saw as historically dominated by whites—and as a way to reunite a black community disrupted by the slave trade.
Christianity, Judaism and Islam—all of which are necessary for the enlightenment of humanity—all suffer from a similar affliction of being overly male-dominant, even in the interpretation of scripture. Ava Muhammad, who keeps a fairly steady schedule of speaking engagements, came to Chicago earlier this summer to give the keynote address at a conference for African American women.
The mostly female audience greeted her with loud applause. Louis, Ill. Her being a minister proves wrong a lot of those negative connotations that the media or the West have about it.
In her role as national spokesperson for the religion, Ava Muhammad, who is based in Atlanta, has been a vocal critic of the war in Iraq and the abuse of prisoners at both Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay and has spoken about these issues around the world.
She is not a member of the Nation. While Ava Muhammad is the top female spiritual leader in the Nation, other women have recently moved into prominent roles, both inside the religion and without.
The original march specifically organized men around issues such as fulfilling their roles as fathers, the importance of the black male vote and the development of business in the black community. While some women participated in the event, its focus on men drew criticism from some who saw the event as too male-centric.
This time, Nation leadership has called for women and children—as well as gays, lesbians and members of other faiths—to become active participants. The event is supported by black leaders such as Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, although Abraham Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League has asked them to reconsider their support for the upcoming march.
The Nation and Farrakhan have long been controversial due to their teachings that the black race is the original and superior race, though they have historically reached out to Muslims of other races and black leaders from other faiths. The Nation of Islam still maintains rules such as a ban on interracial dating, a dress code for women including head coverings and no makeup or tight clothing and a focus on traditional gender roles within the family.
While women often work outside the home, they are generally expected to take the lead role in running the household and raising the children. The religion splits with the more widespread form of Islam in many ways, including its exclusive racial makeup.
Muhammad points to Hillary Clinton as helping to redefine what women can accomplish in a male-dominated field.
She adds that women will continue advancing in the Nation as they are in the nation as a whole. Jeff Fleischer is a Chicago-based journalist.
Fourth in a series on religion. Jeff Fleischer August 2, Traditional Gender Roles The Nation of Islam still maintains rules such as a ban on interracial dating, a dress code for women including head coverings and no makeup or tight clothing and a focus on traditional gender roles within the family. Officials Investigate Abortion Pill Deaths.
Rebecca Vesely August 1, Feeling Old or Ugly? Take Another Look. Margaret M. Gullette August 3,