In the early days of the rebuilding of the Nation of the Islam, the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan traveled to Boston and spoke to Don and Shirley Muhammad, who had worked with him in Boston’s Temple #11 prior to 1975. Would they help him in his rebuilding efforts of the Nation of Islam?
Shirley Muhammad asked the Minister at the time if he was serious about rebuilding the work of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad. He replied that he was serious.
“That was her testimony, and she was serious about this work from that day forward,” MGT Captain Emeritus Karriemah Muhammad told The Final Call. “She was extraordinary. She was a no-nonsense person, and she taught the sisters to do it right the first time. She wasn’t a person that allowed you to fool around when it comes to the instruction for the sisters and the way the sisters were treated. She was a good captain. I enjoyed working with her,” said Sis. Karriemah Muhammad.
“All of the people that interacted with her or if you knew you were asked to be on post to do something for Sister Shirley you knew you better do it right. There was no fooling around,” she reflected.
This legend of a woman that impacted women and girls all around the world died peacefully at home February 21, with her family by her side. She was the wife of beloved Nation of Islam Muhammad Mosque No. 11 Minister, Don Muhammad. They built a family with five children that grew to welcome over 15 grandchildren and many great-grandchildren.
This was a family that was about business from the very beginning. Their family business was named Nova Sheen described fondly as “new shine.” The Nova represented her home, the Canadian province of Nova Scotia.
It started as a dry-cleaning business, where Shirley pressed all the shirts, tailored clothes and operated much of the machinery as well.
“Every single child grew up knowing how to work at Nova Sheen,” Min. Don and Sis. Shirley’s daughter Yvette Muhammad told The Final Call. From dry cleaning they ventured into the blind and flooring business where Shirley handled most of the venetian blind work, including doing some of the bidding. In the 1980s, she opened Nu Life, a health and wellness store where she did Iridology exams and opened the window of good health to many people.
“She wanted to see the health of our community improve. My mother studied a craft called iridology where you look into the eyes and you can tell every single organ in the human body what is going on with them,” Sis. Yvette Muhammad said.
“Her passion was always health, and in the iridology field she began to study various herbs. With Nu Life she was able to assist individuals who were having difficulties with high blood pressure, and difficulties with cancer,” said Sis. Yvette Muhammad.
“Some sisters talked to her about herbs they could take to help them become pregnant. Others wanted assistance after having babies getting their milk to come in properly. The aspects of having good nutrition following the Most Honorable Elijah Muhammad’s pattern for us on ‘How to Eat Live’ was a driving goal for her.”
Sis. Shirley was a woman who defied the stereotypes of what many thought a Muslim woman should or could be doing. In addition to being a wife, mother and businesswoman, she was also a community activist.
She served the Nation of Islam for decades as an MGT Captain from the very beginning of the rebuilding efforts.
“Near the end of the first Saviours’ Day, she suggested that we collect money to give to Minister Farrakhan as a gift the same way we used to give a gift to the Honorable Elijah Muhammad,” Karriemah Muhammad told The Final Call. “We began to collect from the brothers and the sisters. It was amazing. We were surprised at the responses we were getting from people. We had so much money that we bought an attaché case to put it in,” she said.
“We worked with his (Min. Farrakhan’s) daughter Betsy Jean who was over the sisters at the time to do this. Bro. William, at the time, now Bro. Sharieff (in Atlanta) worked with us. This event breathed new life into the Believers who were invigorated into this new life called the Nation of Islam. Sis. Shirley is the one who started what is now called the Saviours’ Day Gift. When we gave it to the Minister he was in tears.”
That was just the beginning of the many new and impactful things she would do.
For most women their first experience in the Nation of Islam starts with the security experience to enter an event to hear Minister Farrakhan.
“Sister Shirley was one of the early trainers of security in the late 80s and 90s. The way that she trained the Vanguard (women and girls in the Nation ages 16-36) was always giving very detailed attention to any area of the security that would yield the best result. She did not play. She was focused. She came in with the energy that we will get this done and we will get it done with precision,” Sis. Nusaybah Muhammad, sudent southern regional MGT Captain told The Final Call.
“I carry on that manner of training to this day particularly in the area of security because of my earlier experiences with her and Sister Captain Sharrieffah, May Allah be pleased with her. Between those two, that excitement of what we were engaged in, which was getting the people safely in to hear the word of God and that had to be handled with care and precision. The ultimate goal of our assignment was to get the people to the word of God,” she added.
“The reason by God’s grace we were able to do this for so many years is because she taught us the ultimate desire which is to see our people free. If you are concerned with that, then your love and your attention to detail will be in alignment with your desire. By God’s grace, that’s what we strive to carry on today in the spirit of Sister Captain Emeritus Shirley Muhammad. May Allah be pleased with her.”
While she was a rock of support for sisters near and far, she also impacted the lives of brothers too. Final Call Editor-in-Chief Naba’a Muhammad said Sis. Shirley always displayed a kind of regal strength. “She had a no nonsense exterior but along with that no-nonsense exterior, there was also great love that I felt from her. She was really someone you could admire for her
representation of the teachings of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad, and her dedication along with her husband to rebuild the Nation by helping Minister Farrakhan.”
“She was and is a very special woman and we say this because she lives. The cause that she worked for is eternal and we must always remember her and those who gave their lives literally in this cause. They devoted their lives to Allah’s Cause. My hope and prayer is that when the history of the Nation is written she will be one of those remembered as the women of this country, the United States, how some of them are remembered,” said Bro. Naba’a Muhammad.
“She must be remembered as a foundation stone for a new reality that will benefit not just Black people but will benefit the world. I’m honored to have met her, honored to have spent a few moments with her speaking to me.”
Shirley Muhammad was also a world traveler. Her teaching and training of women and girls took her to Ghana during the first International Saviours’ Day in Ghana in 1994.
“She also accompanied Mother Tynnetta Muhammad and Mother Khadijah Farrakhan on a woman’s tour to Egypt to represent the Nation of Islam. She also went to Paris and to London to speak to the sisters there when we were first setting up our overseas mosque in those two countries,” Sis. Yvette Muhammad said. Mother Tynnetta Muhammad is the wife of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad, Mother Khadijah is the wife of Min. Farrakhan.
As well-rounded as she was, Sis. Shirley Muhammad was also a noted figure in the Boston community. The family businesses and her activism made her a familiar face with influence and a commanding presence. She was both a mentor and support for many.
She embodied courage and strength at every turn. She had an independent spirit that she took to the shore with her boat named “Shirley’s Too.” Righteousness was her only boundary.
Maalikah Muhammad, student southwest regional MGT Captain remembers her with awe.
“Sister Shirley terrified me as a new Believer because of what she represented. She was on one end of the spectrum, you knew she was so strong, so focused, determined and just seemed to know exactly what was to happen. Seeing her at events, handling things inspired me as a new Muslim.”
“It gave me something to look forward to in terms of the strength that women could have and that I could have as a new Believer and definitely as a new captain. We had an intimate exchange at an event. She was being her stern, rigid, focused self as she always was. I was being young and timid just following her around, but my stomach was upset and I saw her turn into a different person, motherly,” reflected Sis. Maalikah Muhammad.
“Sister Shirley invited me to her room and offered to get me something for my stomach. I was in shock because I had never seen that soft side of her, all I ever saw was the strength. In that moment, it allowed me to see the duality, the other side of being a soldier. I saw that motherly instinct come out and she smiled.”
The family held a memorial service for Sis. Shirley February 23 with Min.Farrakhan giving the eulogy. “When I was the minister in Boston, every morning I would go to the restaurant to have a cup of coffee and I would pass by the Nova Sheen dry cleaners and laundry,” Minister Farrakhan said during the service which was streamed online.
“In the middle in the window was a sight to behold, there was Sister Shirley; there was Yvette and Cheryl. They were making sure that every white shirt that came from their hands was clean, starched then ready for anyone who owned them to wear,” said Min. Farrakhan.
“She taught her children the love of labor and the honesty of working hard not looking for a handout but making your own way with the brilliance of your mind and the skill of your hands and the energy of your life. What a woman was my sister Shirley. She goes down in the history of the Nation as one of the great captains, examples of womanhood of the strength of women and the power of women.”
He spoke to the family about their sacrifice during her final days. “My sister had a rough life these last few years. But in everything of her life, she gave us a noble example to look at. Family members, I know the pain that all of you have suffered to see your mother gradually losing memory of what was and what is. Yet no matter what opposition or impediment life brought to her door, she gave us an example of faith,” the Minister added.
“Some may say Sis. Shirley gave so much to the Nation and she did. Brother Don gave so much to the Nation and he did. But why God why would you let them suffer this kind of disease in the closing days and chapter of their lives?” he continued.
“We have a right to ask a question like that. We have a right to question God about the misfortunes that afflict us in our pursuit of life, liberty and happiness. We have a right to expect better. But God brings misfortunes into our lives as a test to manifest the kind of character that we are, and we have.”