A protection of womanhood and a respect for the role of the female
A special one-on-one with Minister Ava Muhammad Sister Dora Muhammad
FinalCall.com (FC): What are some of the ways a woman can prepare herself–her mind, body, spirit, home and relationships–for motherhood?
Minister Ava Muhammad (AM): The word “prepare” means to put someone or something in the proper condition or readiness. A female’s preparation for motherhood begins when she is still in the womb. We read in the Holy Qur’an, Surah 3:34, of a pregnant woman who declared, “My Lord, I vow to Thee what is in the womb, to be devoted (to Thy service), so accept (it) from me; surely Thou, only Thou, art the Hearing, the Knowing.”
In the very next verse, it is revealed that the pregnant woman is the mother of Mary, who was chosen to be the mother of Jesus. It is a proven fact that the unborn child is living an active emotional life in the fifth month of pregnancy. Mary was being prepared to be the mother of Jesus before she was born. Mary did not just wake up one day in adolescence and decide to become the mother of Jesus. She was pre-qualified for that exalted position by the actions of her own mother.
FC: Minister Farrakhan said we, as women, are marrying unproductive cuteness. What is the value of properly selecting a mate and its impact on what kind of chidren will be formed out of that union? How can we better understand and practice the science of reproduction?
AM: A spiritually evolved woman understands the difference between chasing men and choosing a husband. The difference has a profound effect on the quality of life for her, her offspring and her community. Strong married couples build wealthy families which, in turn, build affluent communities. When the majority of babies are born to single individuals, or into marriages that don’t last, you can’t sustain an economically sound community. There is a lack of physical comfort because we are not pooling resources. People are fighting over child support and stretching one income among several households.
What does physical comfort have to do with spiritual and mental growth? In a community where marriage is not prevalent, people tend to think as individuals; they don’t think like nation-builders. There is no plan to ensure air, light, trees and flowers and safe streets for children. There are loud, discordant sounds; people argue and fight and commit criminal acts due to a lack of space and a sense of deprivation. They can’t think creatively. Eventually, residents become depleted and suffer high blood pressure, strokes and cancer. So, people come in from other areas and sell us drugs, so we can escape the horror of our reality. These are just some of the consequences of being careless in choosing a mate.
FC: People are suffering from an increased pressure on their minds because we are in a world that is falling, Minister Farrakhan said, explaining growing mental imbalances and illnesses in society. What are some ways and means by which mothers can consciously raise balanced and sane children in today’s mad world?
AM: This falling world is precisely why careful planning is necessary in the mate selection process. A woman really cannot rear a balanced, sane child in today’s world without help. More than ever, the presence of a mentally and spiritually developed man is essential in the struggle for balance. Seventy percent of Black children in America do not live with their fathers. Forty percent of those children have not seen their father in at least a year and 50 percent have never visited their father’s home. Is it any wonder then that we remain on the bottom of the social and economic ladder? The absence of the father on such a large scale creates a void that cannot be filled by community centers or mentoring programs.
FC: Generations have faced teenage pregnancy and the ways of handling it varies from culture and society. In our communities, women are raising their grandchildren, due to teenage mothers–with limited education, opportunities and resources–unable to take care of them. As Muslims, we do not advocate abortion as a solution, nor do we consider these circumstances as healthy progress for our people. Is it too harsh to call teenage pregnancy a problem? Is it a failure of motherhood of the teen girls? What shifts need to happen in our attitudes, beliefs and practices of sexuality as women in order to raise our girls to maturity before they become mothers themselves?
AM: Teenage pregnancy is more than a problem, it is a crisis. In the Book of Genesis, God instructs man to “be fruitful and multiply.” We are multiplying before we are fruitful. Predatory men and misdirected boys are impregnating our young girls before they have any chance to develop self-respect. In order to be “fruitful,” we have to be ripe, or “arrived at such a stage of growth and development as to be matured and ready for use.” A female is not ripe when she grows breasts; she is ripe when she is ready to fulfill her divine purpose. Women, in Minister Farrakhan’s words, are “the co-creators with Allah (God).They are Allah’s (God’s) assistants in creating a better world.”
Again, we have to go back to the root cause of these social problems, which is the absence of stable marriages. Studies have shown that girls who grow up without a father are more likely to become pregnant during their teenage years than girls who have a father present. In the meantime, parents have to be vigilant and unafraid to impose restrictions on their children in terms of their activities and whereabouts. The part of the brain that fully understands the consequences of one’s actions does not mature until the age of 25. Hormones are raging long before that, so our children desperately need our supervision during the teenage years.
FC: Can we curb the prevalence of child abandonment which results from many pressures, manifested in poverty, little education, underemployment, indecent housing, etc.?
AM: If one is mature and properly prepared for parenthood, then child abandonment is almost beyond the realm of possibility. Parenting is like marriage; it has tremendous value, so there is a tremendous difficulty factor attached to it. If you enter it without a strong commitment and faith in Allah (God), you are destined to fail. Allah (God) declares He will try us with loss of property, even life. How can we consider abandoning our children, no matter what circumstances come about, if we have any faith at all? The prevalence of child abandonment and abuse is not the result of pressure as much as it is the result of a lack of faith and a lack of character that would enable us to withstand the pressures of life.
FC: We are seeing more cases of zero tolerance applied to children of color. In fact, there was a recent report that concluded (and partly entitled) that zero tolerance leads our children from the schoolhouse to the jailhouse. It seems that these policies openly sanction teachers washing their hands from reaching and teaching our children, while our children have suffered this reality covertly for generations. As mothers, what must we do in order to help bring the balance that is obviously needed?
AM: This country was founded on racism and the institution of slavery. Free labor is an essential component of its economy. The 13th Amendment abolished involuntary servitude except as punishment for a crime. As involuntary servitude was ending, state prison systems were being established to replace that institution. We live under a system that is structured to guarantee a free labor pool, which supports a largely nonproductive wealthy class at the very top. So, our children are being handcuffed and shackled in kindergarten. The only solution to this problem is to establish our own schools.
FC: The “Leave No Child Behind” policy of the government has been criticized as penalizing struggling schools by basing funding on test scores. How can mothers compensate for and supplement the limited resources offered by their child’s school in order to give their children a solid education, if they are unable to move them to a stronger school?
AM: In the words of Minister Farrakhan, “As long as we live with White people, we will live under them.” We cannot escape the Honorable Elijah Muhammad’s demand for a separate system of education. Parents are in no position to compensate for the limited resources offered by their child’s school. We already pay taxes to support public schools. Most parents work all day. Why should they have to supplement something they already pay for? A child is in school for six or seven hours a day. Why should they require debriefing and re-educating when they come home?
FC: In several cities in Mexico, the raping and mutilation of women is occurring at astronomical rates, while very little prosecution of criminals occurs, making these cities sadly a prime case study of impunity for crimes against women. As a lawyer, mother of girls and a Muslim woman, how should the enforcement of law be strengthened in order to protect women in society? Do we need new laws (i.e. castration laws), greater investigation (specialized law enforcement agencies) and/or stronger prevention (mandatory manhood training)?
AM: Just as crimes against Black people go unpunished because of racism, crimes against women go unpunished because of sexism. Sexism limits a woman’s freedom to study and express the Word of Allah (God). As women become disconnected from Allah (God), they produce men who are motivated by the weak germ of the mind. As men grow weaker, they cease to protect their women from outsiders, and eventually prey upon her themselves.
One of the most self-destructive acts a man can engage in is rape of a female. Violence against women produces hostility toward men. Minister Farrakhan has warned the man that a woman can dull his genetic powers by the way she thinks. Manhood training is definitely needed. The Honorable Elijah Muhammad said these words, “My beloved Brothers in America, you have lost the respect for your woman and therefore you have lost the respect for yourself. You will not protect her, therefore, you cannot protect yourself.
FC: What are your thoughts on women participating on every level of the commemoration of the Million Man March 10th year anniversary?
AM: Women participated on every level of the Million Man March in 1995. Of course, at the time, a small number of women bought into the media-produced gender issue concerning the March. No one has a problem when groups of White males gather to facilitate self-interest, or White females, or even Black females. But when Black men begin to gather, an alarm is sounded. A nation can rise no higher than its woman. But our rise has to be on the strength and character of the man. It is essential that the man, the backbone, be straightened, that he can lift us up. He must be made, not only to see the necessity of our elevation, he must be empowered to bring it about.
FC: Many misplace their criticism of Arab culture onto Islam, pointing to women now being allowed to vote in Afghanistan and Iraq as leading Muslim society in the right direction toward democracy and away from Islamic culture. What is the proper role of the woman in Islam, and, for that matter, in all religious cultures who use rituals and scripture to cover their sexism in keeping women second-class citizens?
AM: Sexism is more pervasive in the practice of religion than in any other institution. Islam, Christianity, Judaism and most religions are male-dominated and oppressive in practice, though nothing in the Bible or Holy Qur’an justifies or even rationalizes the way women are held back from expressing their skills, talents and intelligence. I believe this can be corrected only when women decide to submit to Allah (God) and take no other gods besides Him.
FC: You were the first woman to be appointed over a mosque in the Nation of Islam, and really the Islamic world, while in some countries, women cannot even enter the mosques. Recently, a Muslim woman created an “uproar” by giving the khutbah during ju’umah prayer. Why is there such a seemingly wide gap in what women feel they can do in Islam, and actually do, and how can we close that gap as women in the Nation of Islam, in our lives in particular? What, if any, is our duty and responsibility to the women worldwide in Islam, and the potential of our leadership by example and by direct action? What is our duty and responsibility to women in general worldwide?
AM: The Honorable Elijah Muhammad said, “Before there was Sun, there was a woman.” This describes someone with serious power. There actually is no gap between what we feel we can do and what we actually do. The problem is that many women honestly feel inferior to men just as many Black people still believe they are inferior to Whites. It is the product of generations of oppression.
However, when knowledge comes, we must have the courage to act on what we know is right. Muslim women must be much more supportive of one another and become advocates of the right and duty of the woman to teach Islam. Sometimes members of oppressed groups become their own enemy by spreading the perception of the oppressor. I have found resistance to the idea of a female minister to be as strong among females as it is among males. This is why you don’t see many women in the ministry. And until the woman’s perception of Allah (God) is expressed, all of humanity will continue to suffer.
FC: Thank you.