by Nisa Islam Muhammad and Charlene Muhammad
The love, admiration and respect for Student Minister Dr. Ava Muhammad was not limited to registered members of the Nation of Islam. A prolific speaker, popular author and media personality, Sister Ava impacted the lives of so many who were touched by her gracious and humble demeanor and her unadulterated love and representation of the Teachings of the Most Honorable Elijah Muhammad as taught by the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan. Her warrior spirit impressed those who had the opportunity to meet and interact with her.
Carl Nelson, longtime radio broadcaster and host of “The Carl Nelson Show,” interviewed Minister Ava frequently as a special guest. He first met her in the mid-1990s when he welcomed her to the Front Page, a worldwide popular early morning talk radio show heard on legendary artist/humanitarian Stevie Wonder’s station, 102.3 FM/KJLH Radio in Los Angeles.
“She came in the studio at 4:30 in the morning and she put on such a commanding display on the radio, people were asking ‘who was she?’” said Mr. Nelson. “And then halfway through it, Stevie calls me, and he said, ‘Who is that?!” Student Minister Ava’s phenomenal legal mind and presence permeated the airwaves, and the widespread sentiment was they needed to have her back on the show, Mr. Nelson recalled.
Fast-forward to Washington, D.C., and the early 2000’s and as an employee of Radio One, Mr. Nelson developed the Power Talk conferences with top Black scholars. Student Minister Ava shared a tremendous speech that can still be viewed at powertalkseries.com.
“It was incredible,” said Mr. Nelson. “We last spoke to her sometime last year; she was on the air with us. She is truly going to be missed. One of the things I liked the first time she was on was she was just throwing out straight facts,” he added. Minister Ava’s representation mesmerized people not used to hearing a Black woman “thrown it down like that,” Mr. Nelson told The Final Call.
He also appreciated the way Sister Ava understood Black men.
“Dr. Ava understood that Black men were under attack, much like Dr. (Frances Cress) Welsing, but she did it more clinically, more legally, that Black men are under attack, whereas Dr. Welsing did it psychologically and would use different ways to prove a point,” he explained.
“Dr. Ava was just unvarnished—straight up! This is why you’re under attack. This is why you’re being selected for them to try to take you out, because you are a god, you are the leader. And Black men need to understand that and internalize that and use that to get ahead,” Mr. Nelson continued.
He remarked on her ability to impress on his listening audience the tactics and effects of racism, White supremacy and that staying among it means Blacks would always be behind, trying to pit Black men against each other. “And the latter part, she says, is trying to pit Black men against Black women. So, she issued that warning! She says, watch out! That’s down the road. And she was very prophetic as far as that was concerned,” stated Mr. Nelson.
The feedback was always tremendous when Sister Ava graced his show, he shared. In fact, there was a recent request to have her back on, said Mr. Nelson. He agreed and planned to invite her for September.
Student Minister Dr. Ava Muhammad’s deep and genuine love for Black people also made her a beloved figure among the Black nationalist/Pan Africanist community.
“Our queen mother warrior, the Honorable Attorney Minister Ava Muhammad spoke thunderbolts and lightning rods against our enemy out of a deep love for Black people. I still get chills whenever I hear her infamous speech where she conjures the energy of the God who spoke to our greatest warriors and reminds us that the same God still guides those who fight for our freedom today,” human rights attorney Nana Gyamfi, executive director of BAJI (Black Alliance for Just Immigration) told The Final Call in a written statement.
“May our beloved Queen mother be received by Allah and the Ancestors with love, warmth, and thanksgiving. May her family and those who love her be comforted that she lives forever in the hearts of our people!” continued Atty. Gyamfi, who is also president of the National Conference of Black Lawyers.
Dr. Maulana Karenga is executive director of the African American Cultural Center (Us), and professor and chair of Africana Studies at California State University Long Beach. He is also the creator of Kwanzaa. He described Sister Ava in an emailed statement to The Final Call as “a serious and righteous soldier in the way of Allah.”
He also called her a faithful follower of the Hon. Elijah Muhammad, a courageous and highly capable representative of Min. Farrakhan and the NOI and “a consistent servant of her people engaging us all in our unity and diversity.”
“She taught a liberating and uplifting truth about the sacredness, beauty, power and potentiality of our people, and the equal dignity and divine endowment of women and men, without needing to deny the particular needs and issues of each,” said Dr. Karenga.
For a whole generation of the hip hop era, Sister Ava is known for her distinguishing intro on a popular rap song. In 1988 Public Enemy released their sophomore hit album, “It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back,” featuring Sister Ava on, “Show ‘Em What You Got.”
“We used a lot of different voices and the fact that her voice was so powerful and on point, really set the stage for people recognizing women in power long before they became involved, especially Black women in power, speaking for Black strength, unity, peace and protests,” Chuck D, leader of Public Enemy, told The Final Call.
“When Ava Muhammad was heard on that particular song, she name-checked all the powerful contributors to our situation who at that particular time were obscured in Americana,” he added.
“The 80s with Reagan and Bush, had an agenda to obscure us into nothingness, but, the Nation of Islam and all of the ministers, under Minister Louis Farrakhan made that effort to say, listen, we come from kings and queens and giants. These are their contributions. You should know their names. In acknowledging their names, I think her impact was the fact that a lot of people that wanted to delve into the history and found out she was a name herself for freedom fighters.”
James Bomb and Pop Diesel were members of Public Enemy when Sister Ava contributed to their release. They remember her from the early 1980s when she first attended the New York mosque. They grew up in Islam listening to her speeches and reading her books.
They told The Final Call that being on their song allowed Sister Ava to have a great influence in the world of hip hop. People wanted to know more about the Nation of Islam after hearing her and her words guided many people to become members of the Nation.
Years prior to her debut with Public Enemy, Sister Ava welcomed a young Muslim imam named Abdul Malik to Chicago. Imam Malik was returning from Saudi Arabia where he met Minister Farrakhan on Hajj. After they met, Imam Abdul Malik became the Minister’s translator and tour guide in Mecca. The Minister invited him to Chicago.
“When I came to Chicago, she received me at The Final Call building, but the minister was out of town, which I didn’t know. She was an amazing host filled with the spirit of love and hospitality. She definitely had that warrior spirit,” he recalled.
“I listened to one of her short clips yesterday. When I think of Ava’s impact, I think it’s yet to be seen in the totality of what she represents. She was definitely one of the strongest voices for justice and a true representation of Minister Farrakhan to the world. I don’t think I’ve seen better than that.”
In 1996 Sister Ava was featured in the June issue of Essence Magazine. Susan Taylor, then- editor, wanted to feature a spread on women in the Nation of Islam which featured Mother Tynnetta Muhammad, wife of the Hon. Elijah Muhammad, Charlene Muhammad who at that time was the National MGT Captain and Sister Ava.
“Susan Taylor is a friend of mine,” Claudette Marie Muhammad, former NOI National Protocol Director and current National Fundraising Director, told The Final Call. “She contacted me with her story idea. She wanted to show the different styles of the sisters in the Nation of Islam. She specifically requested Sister Ava because of her popularity. We gathered a group that included Mother Tynnetta, Sister Charlene and Sister Ava. They flew us to New York for the photo shoot. I’m told that issue was one of their best sellers.”
For Charlene Muhamad, then the National Captain of the MGT (Muslim Girls Training and General Civilization Class), it was an exciting opportunity. She told The Final Call, “Each of us had an individual photo shoot that took three to four hours. From 300-400 pictures were taken just to get the right shot. The Minister was adamant that he didn’t want us looking all made up,” she explained. The results were beyond beautiful.
That was Sister Ava Muhammad’s first magazine spread but not her last. She was also a cover model for Virtue Magazine.
“I remember she was featured in Essence Magazine. I thought it would be wonderful to have her as a cover girl,” Virtue Magazine publisher Audrey Muhammad told The Final Call. “She’s a covered girl. It would be an honor to have her on the cover. I think that we have to uplift one another, and other magazines may not have seen the value in having someone like her on the cover, but Virtue Magazine definitely did.” That issue was also one of Virtue Magazines best sellers.
From hip hop lyricist to fashion model, Sister Ava’s evolution was always focused on elevating the education of her people. D.C. area community activist Hope Copeland met Sister Ava while she was on a college tour. Ms. Copeland was a student at North Carolina Central University when she heard the powerhouse attorney and student minister speak.
“I wasn’t sure whether to major in biology or chemistry,” Ms. Copeland told The Final Call. “I had a conversation with Dr. Ava, and she was like, ‘sister, we need more chemists. If you can major in chemistry and do well in chemistry, absolutely, you need to become a chemist.’ She taught me in that moment. When you have people of her magnitude to guide and share little jewels with you, you absolutely heed the wisdom.” Hope Copeland is a chemist today.
Sister Minister Dr. Ava Muhammad could be found on college campuses around the country empowering students like Hope and she wrote a Ramadan Reflection for Sapelo Square and was adamant about the Islamic education of women. She wrote books, taught classes and was always available when you needed a willing ear or shoulder to cry on.
“I love the community of the Nation of Islam,” Dr. Aminah Al Deen, Islamic Studies Chair Emeritus at DePaul University, told The Final Call. She talked about meeting Sister Ava. “She had the kind of personality where knowledge just enveloped her. She kept her legal knowledge in her right hand, she kept her knowledge of education in the forefront, and she kept everything in her writing. Listening to her speak was just a joy ride. She was so inspiring. She was this wonderful combination of elegance and knowledge.”
Ava Muhammad was as comfortable at Mosque Maryam in Chicago as she was in any masjid around the country. She was a Muslim whose only devotion was to Allah and serving His people. Imam Talib Shareef, head of Masjid Muhammad, in Washington, D.C., told The Final Call, Sister Ava is in the category of one of our giants. “We’ve had several in our struggle to see our humanity freed, and she’s one of them, obviously a pioneer,” said Imam Shareef. “She showed a strength that we all have, but many don’t tap into. “We’re going to be looking at her life now more than ever,” he added.
“Her life was an inspiration to many and especially being a woman, being a minister and in the history of our community to have the kind of leadership role that she had as National Spokesperson. That was a serious milestone in the history of our community.”