Fascinating Woman: Sister Karimah Ali makes her transition
Yesterday my friend and I attended the first of two memorials for our friend and brother in faith and the fight for justice for African people, Nashid Hakim Ahmad, born, William Alfred Jones, December 4, 1939 to June 26, 2011 in College Park, Georgia to William Lawrence Jones (deceased) and Annie Mae Jones.
I'd never been to The Neptune Society Columbarium before. It reminded me of the Palace of Fine Arts, the domed roof, surrounded by lovely gardens where one could sit and contemplate the life of the deceased. Several friends spoke and my friend, Larry Ukali Johnson Redd, officiated and offered the prayer.
Son Sulaiman Ahmad and daughters, Munirah Ahmad and Safiya Campbell, grandchildren, sisters, friends and others were present to pay their respects to a man they all loved and honored, as he had honored them with insight and wisdom. Later that evening at Ise Lyfe's play, Pistols and Prayers--the late show, 9 p.m., I spoke to Chriswell Muhammad about the funeral and he also knew our brother, Nashid and spoke about a meeting years ago in Seattle when they last spoke about the deen or religion.
I thought as my mind previously racing was able to stop as I listened to what the poet and sage Ise was sharing in his choreopoem--our bodies are God's container.
"I have made the mistakes I have made in my life because I looked for God outside of myself," one character, the more colorful drunken uncle, states.
So I leave past midnight, a few members of the cast walk me to my car and as I drive home I think about what it all means and then later, when I finally awaken from falling asleep at the computer and stumble into my bedroom . . . after that, this afternoon, I look at my multiple messages and find one on top:
Sister Karimah Ali is dead. She died early this morning. I have several messages confirming this one, even after I call her best friend, Sister Nisaa Bismillah who says it's true and to call back this evening to find out about the specifics, such as when they will wash the body and confirm the Wednesday, July 6, 2011, 11 AM, service at Chapel of the Chimes in Hayward on Mission Bell Drive (note the new date). The repast follows immediatelt afterward at the Honorable Elijah Mohammed Cultural Center at 1702 47th Avenue, Oakland, CA.
People tell me they are proud of me all the time, my teachers and mentors, people who were so far above and beyond me, I wasn't even aware they knew I was around, let alone that they noticed my work (smile). Brother Nashid told me this, that he was proud of me. My former teachers tell me this all the time and it makes me feel good. Several years ago, Sister Karimah came to my tenure party at Yoshi's to congratulate me. That was a fun night and it was also the last night I saw her alive.
She was a cancer survivor and worked in the county jails with the women and men there after her tenure as captain in the Nation of Islam. I was crossing the street in San Francisco and saw Lee Ann, her daughter, now Aminah, one afternoon, and I saw Karim, her son, one day walking Lake Merritt with his children.
Later I saw Aminah--I called her Lee Ann at Velma's in San Francisco working.
Sister Karimah Ali was fascinating womanhood. Glamorous, she always looked lovely in her MGT garments accessorized with jewelry: necklaces, earrings, bracelets and rings. Her Sunday white was a fashion statement: lace covered satin, both top and bottom. I'd use her as my gage for beauty and would make similar garments myself --a younger soldier, at that time a Vanguard, Junior Lieutenant.
She was a soldier, but one never forgot she was also a woman. Under her headpiece and then fez, one could see her hair was stylish the way she curled her baby hair peeking just below. I don't know if I ever saw her hair, but I knew that I was not to use my hair covering as an excuse to not comb and style my hair (smile).
As a part of our Muslim Girls Training and General Civilization Class (MGT/GCC) trainings on Saturday mornings in San Francisco at Temple 26, we had to read the book, Fascinating Womanhood--Captain Karimah Ali was the book--she exuded all it meant to be both a woman and a Muslim--a black woman who was secure in herself. I watched her wrap the male captain and the minister around her lovely fingertips.
I don't think there was anything she wanted or needed for her crew or the women and girls she didn't get. I don't by any stretch of the imagination think any of this was easy, but she did it and and seemingly never lost her form.
I wonder what it was like for the women she worked with behind bars. What was her impact? I wish we'd talked about this more.
Regrets seem to haunt me.
I knew and loved and grew under the leadership and tenure of many captains, Sister Verna, Sister May Helen, Sister Sadie--each leader different and unique; however, none was as lovely as Sister Karimah Ali--from her sweet voice to her equally sweet personality and demeanor.
Besides Sister Sadie Williams, she is the only captain, whom I saw after the Nation of Islam shifted philosophically when the Honorable Elijah Muhammad died.
Of this I am glad.
In thinking back on the early history of Islam in America and the Muslim presence in the San Francisco Bay Area, I wonder how many women and girls in hijab, who look down on black women Muslims who do not cover, realize how much they owe to those of us who twenty-thirty-forty, maybe fifty years ago wore scarfs and long skirts and were laughed at in class, whose scarfs were yanked and pulled off by classmates who'd heard we were bald underneath?
I remember hating how different I looked, long skirts and long socks, long sleeves even in the summer.
In elementary and junior high school--I didn't have a lot of friends because the cooties were contagious (smile) and who wanted to hang out with a girl who looked so differently. One of the only reasons I was not completely ostracized had to do with the fact that I was smart, as in intelligent, gifted and talented in writing skills . . . maybe math too, but my parents couldn't help me, so it was a challenge which went unaddressed until college.
I now realize that one can master any subject if one has enough practice. The reason why so many African Americans do poorly in math and science is because we don't get enough practice in school or at home as we are growing up. Parents and teachers have to make math and science and writing and reading a part of the day to day activities of each child. I did this with my younger and older children, specifically with TaSin (the younger child) and she was placed in accelerated math classes. The only reason why she didn't do as well in science and was excluded from college prep math and science classes was because of two teachers--one was incompetent and the high school wouldn't help us fight the grade.
She was denied entrance to college prep math classes because the institution, Berkeley High School was biased and tracked her. The teacher looked at her excellent scores and wouldn't admit her, and I wasn't a sophisticated enough parent to find an avenue to challenge this policy and the grades. I later found out that one of TaSin's classmate's parents, was able to do so.
Parent advocacy is hard when streets are blocked and signage unclear. This is why black people need to set up alternative institutions, not just one, but several options like ASA Academy, places where our children are nurtured.
Muhammad University No. 26 was such a sanctuary. I was so happy to go to school with classmates who looked like me, who worshipped the same creator I did, who I saw outside of class at the weekly worships meetings. I wasn't a child whose life was limited to the Nation of Islam, so I interacted with other young people in art classes at the M.H. deYoung Museum in Golden Gate Park and in the neighborhood, but having a school where I didn't have to fight all the time against the prejudice was a relief and I'm sure strengthened my character.
Students challenge me all the time about Islam and what it means to be a Muslim when they haven't a clue how one translates one's faith cross culturally at a time when this nation was strictly Christian and intolerant towards anyone who was not also so. The Jews might have fared a little better just because they had money and they were also majority white, but not us.
Even with 9/11 the emphasis was and still is non-indigenous Muslims, the black Muslims, the Muslims who are American of African descent--not recent immigrants. We are not the ones called to speak, so when a Muslim woman sues a department store for discrimination against her, because she wears a scarf, imagine the discrimination against black women just because they were black, scarf or no scarf.
These women, this new population has much to learn from us and much to thank us for; however, they probably don't even notice our absence.