by Nisa Islam Muhammad and Charlene Muhammad
ATLANTA—The impact of Minister Dr. Ava Muhammad serving as the Nation of Islam’s Southern Regional Minister as well as the Minister of Muhammad Mosque No. 15 in Atlanta, Georgia, from 1998 until 2000 still reverberates throughout the world as “pivotal.” Pivotal, because she was the first Muslim woman in modern history to occupy a position of authority over a mosque anywhere in the world.
Memorable, due to her remarkable labor of love. Her body of work on behalf of the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan as a staunch defender, and representative was truly unparalleled. She was at the top of the ministry class.
“This is truly a moment in time where there is immense sadness and joy. Two extreme emotions on this journey of life,” began long-time pastor and servant-leader Reverend Gerald Durley from Atlanta, in a statement released to The Final Call. “Sister Ava was my friend and an inspiration to me during her time in Atlanta. She was the consummate intellectual wise queen whom Allah draped with physical beauty.
Sister Ava touched the Christian community and enlightened all of us on the omnipresence of God/Allah across all faiths. I am experiencing mixed emotions because I am certainly sad, because her physical being will no longer grace us, but gladdened because she came our way and brought great light to our pathways. She now is at rest,” he closed.
“You couldn’t miss a Sunday lecture,” recalled then Student Assistant Minister Patrick Muhammad speaking to The Final Call. “Each week was like a ‘revelations week’ of the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan, and you did not want to miss a week. Because you would then have to catch up from the previous week. The spirit was always high,” he said. Brother Patrick, who owns the family publishing house RATSHI, which published Min. Ava’s book “Real Love,” said the pride and empowerment reflected by the sisterhood at that time was equally matched by the men of Muhammad Mosque.
“There was an extreme pride on the MGT (Muslim Girls Training) side during that time, but it was matched with a supreme pride from the brothers’ side as well. “It was female-woman empowerment, but she had a way of empowering the brothers with that same kind of fervor. She created an atmosphere to where you wanted to become a man that’s worthy of the defense the way she defended the Minister,” he said.
“So, the love that she expressed for the Minister made the FOI (Fruit of Islam) desire to become a man, like unto him, that’s worthy of such defense. So, it put a backbone in the FOI because you wanted to one day be worthy of someone like Sister Ava defending you in your work and expression of the teachings of the Most Honorable Elijah Muhammad.”
Bro. Patrick Muhammad said many of the youth impacted by her presence went on to further their education in the law and justice fields of study.
‘The Region must be fed’
When Sister Ava was appointed in 1998, the Southern Regional headquarters did not have a home. A typical week of mosque activity could land the visitor in four different meeting locations in the same week. Min. Ava would turn this nomadic experience into a strategic strength. Demographically, during her two-year reign, the region comprised mostly of study groups. Florida was part of the Southern Region.
There was no 7th Regional territory (Florida/Caribbean), and Min. Ava’s objective was to train up all the ministers and laborers in Atlanta under her charge and dispatch them throughout the region.
Those cities that were most productive found themselves the host of the Quarterly Southern Regional Meeting that would typically last an entire weekend. She deputized some of her student ministers to represent entire states. She created the annual $1,000 Saviours’ Day Gift and raised funds annually in the region through—along with her husband of 33 years Brother Darius Muhammad—the implementation of the Souvenir Journal highlighting businesses and well wishes of success for the Min. Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam.
“Minister Ava was the 10th minister and administration in Atlanta. When she came, I went to her as I had done with every administration and offered my services being that I was from Atlanta,” recalled her former Regional Captain Sylvester Muhammad. “From what I understand she and her husband Darius got together and talked.
They decided because I was from Atlanta that I should be the Regional Captain. However, it was a very different captaincy,” he noted. “Because this is the first woman minister in the Nation of Islam. She was installed in Dr. Barbara King’s church (Hillside International Chapel and Truth Center) where the Minister said that, ‘I am giving you my best.’ He said that himself,” he recalled.
“I was her captain, but her husband was her security and she made that known. She didn’t have to make that as known to us. We understood,” he said “A lot of people didn’t like that this woman was in charge of the mosque. She enjoyed working with young people. That was a big thing with her. Some of the older people had problems with her because they felt that they should have been in certain positions,” continued Bro. Sylvester.
“She came to the study groups. She headed the study groups. She would always give what the Minister gave her. She never shot from the hip.”
Husband and wife Bro. Asika and Sis. Donna Muhammad, now residing in Memphis, Tenn., were part of the ministry class led by Min. Ava. They both reflect on the empowerment and trust she had in their abilities. “Despite not having a permanent home we accomplished a lot,” reflected Sister Donna, whose last conversation with the National Spokesperson was the morning of her transition. Up until that moment, Sister Donna served as an assistant to Min. Ava. “When she first came on her post, she immediately went to take care of the region. She wanted to make sure that they were well fed,” Sister Donna recalled.
Sis. Donna said Min. Ava took part in local affairs, immediately building relationships with clergy, civic and local leaders. She went everywhere and established the Nation of Islam’s presence, she said. “She went everywhere to establish us and then she would empower her student ministers to represent.
“She re-established the ministry class,” explained Bro. Asika. “When she came on, everybody was inspired. They wanted to be a part of the class and membership grew. What was impactful to me was to see more sisters inspired to come into the class and teach,” he chuckled upon reflection. “We were always happy about studying and excited to study like the Minister teaches us and his example presents. She helped us in that class to kind of structure and be committed to studying; and that is what inspired us to come up to a level where she felt comfortable to send us out to different cities in the region that she felt could use a jolt of spiritual inspiration in terms of speaking,” he said.
“In addition to other cities, she would also send us to different organizations,” Sis. Donna said. “I will never forget. There was a professor from the University of Beijing (China) traveling in the U.S. studying Islam in the West. When he came to Atlanta, he was brought to the Nation of Islam. He was with a translator from the U.S. State Department and Minister Ava sent me and my husband. I remember being so nervous because this was a big deal. You’re talking about somebody coming over here from China wanting to talk about Islam. But because of what Asika said, how she established us, she felt confident in us to represent the Nation. And she was pleased with our representation,” she said.
Student Minister Darryl Muhammad from Macon, Ga., spoke on what he learned from Sis. Ava. “Some of the great impacts that I learned from her that helped develop this aspect of my own personal ministry was her great administrative skills, her great attention to details. Her concerns of always caring and representing Min. Farrakhan in the proper way,” he said.
Sister Ava always made sure you dotted your “i’s” and crossed your “t’s” and always try to represent yourself in a professional manner, he added.
“Now, that part,” he exclaimed, “I got from her.”
Her great study of Min. Farrakhan—the man—proved how in tune she was with him, Bro. Darryl Muhammad said. “In particular with Sister Ava, she was really astute to the Minister and real astute to being in harmony with his spirit and making sure that she was always vibing with him on the spiritual plane as the word came through her representing him and the teachings of the Most Honorable Elijah Muhammad. That was one of the greatest things I admired about her,” he added.
“The greatest impact I think she had from my vantage point is that she opened up a new reality for women, in leadership positions. Especially in Islam. She really opened that door allowing women to explore all their gifts—not being second-class citizens; and her being over a mosque in that high profile capacity; the impact she had on women—and I got a house full of women. All of them were impacted by her. She was their inspiration. My oldest daughter who is a lawyer now was impacted by Sister Ava and her presence,” he said.
“Her fearlessness. The warrior spirit she had. When it came to defending the Minister and the teaching of the Most Honorable Elijah Muhammad, she was matchless,” he said.
Battling sexism: If you stayed, you grew
A major challenge of course were men accepting a subordinate role to female authority. There were very tense times and challenges. Some men refused to even refer to her as “Sister Minister.” There were fallouts. People even left the mosque. But she held it against no one and when they returned, she would be there to welcome them with open arms.
“She shielded the reality of sexism in the Nation. That came out real hard in her post in the Southern Region,” commented Brother Asika. “I remember experiences where under previous administrations brothers were top soldiers all over the place and then just flipped when she came on. Went to become almost an enemy to her while she was on the post. But at the same time, you still had those who supported her. That was a big challenge to her,” he said.
“Those that stayed with her grew and grew and developed. Those that left—left,” said Sister Donna. “To be honest, it was a long time before I even realized the magnitude. I saw some of the sexism she met with, but I didn’t realize the magnitude of what she was under.
It was a challenge because this was a ‘Sister Minister’ and we are so used to adopting terms used in the world like ‘first lady,’ okay well, now you have a ‘first husband,’ who is also her number one security. He faced firsthand the sexism she faced. So, he was a fierce protector of her. To me, it showed brothers how to be a protector,” she said.
So many viewed Minister Dr. Ava Muhammad as the feminine side of the Min. Farrakhan. “The balance of being a woman because now she’s the Student Minister, the Regional Minister but this is where its difference for us as women because,” Min. Ava let it be known, “I still make a mean pot of bean soup,” Sis. Donna stated. “The balance of being a woman in that post when you think about it, if the minister is a brother and it’s been a long Sunday and he’s coming and there is dinner, who’s making the dinner?
His wife. Even though she (Min. Ava) was the regional minister, she made it clear that her husband is the head of the household. Still and always. As women, to me, that was another example as to how you handle a post being an authority but also, we have our role as women on our home front too.”
Bro. Asika and Sis. Donna were the first marriage in the region officiated by Minister Ava. They agreed that her greatest contributions to the region was her ability to bring everyone together, developing strong relationships on all levels—city and region. She gave sisters a glimpse at what we could do as “the Second Self of God. We are MGT but we have power. And she brought a reawakening of love, spirit and joy.
“I spoke to her the morning she passed,” Sister Donna replied when asked by The Final Call when was the last time
, she’d spoken with Min. Ava. “It was beautiful … she was on her way to the Executive Council for day three of the regional laborers coming in that Friday. We talked about some business, but she also expressed about her [Elevated Places] program last week, when she had on Brother Marquis (Muhammad) and Sister Neelam (Hakeem).
She spoke so highly of them and said, ‘that’s a real power couple right there.’ They were so cute in their expression of being able to tell her what they felt, and I’ll say this. Whenever people were able to tell her about the impact she had on their life, she would always be shocked. Because she was always looking at that person and she saw the God in them. So, she talked about them in the most beautiful way,” shared Sis. Donna.
“And then we talked about life as a woman. Just the really mundane things that occur in your day-to-day life,” she quipped. “Because she was a woman; a married woman; a mother; a grandmother; and the funny thing is, that even I looked at her still through star-stuck eyes. But I knew you were doing laundry and everything else too, but at the same time, talking on the phone,” she laughed.
—Eric Ture Muhammad, Contributing Writer