Muhammad, Ava 1951–
Ava Muhammad 1951–
“It is my fervent prayer that I succeed in my assignment in order to help the minister in his effort to destroy the myth that women are inferior beings who cannot preach the Word or shepherd the flock.” These were the words of Minister Ava Muhammad on July 28, 1998, as she accepted her appointment as Southern Regional Minister with the Nation of Islam. The words held significance due to the unprecedented assignment she accepted from the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan. She stood that day before a capacity crowd in the Hillside Chapel Truth Center in Atlanta as the first woman in Islamic history to serve as a regional leader in the Nation and as minister of a mosque.
Muhammad, who was raised in a Methodist family, traveled a winding road into the Nation of Islam. She was grew up in a middle-class home in Columbus, Ohio, and to this day, still professes that she is a Christian. Both of Muhammad’s parents were educators and some of her early influences included The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Stokely Carmichael (Kwame Ture), and other civil rights activists that promoted equality and self-reliance. She earned a law degree graduating from Georgetown University Law Center in 1975. Muhammad was on a normal course in life for law students, becoming a criminal defense attorney, and charting a successful career when she reached a turning point in her life in 1979, at the age of 28. She was diagnosed with cancer and began looking for spiritual support to deal with the fear of death that accompanied her cancer.
Muhammad first took refuge in the church of her youth, but it did not provide the comfort she was searching for and she found that she was still afraid of dying. Admiring the Nation of Islams focus on self-reliance for black people, she went to hear Louis Farrakhan speak in New York City and finally felt she was where she belonged. She had long been an advocate of the self-reliance message that she encountered in Farrakhans preaching, but in an interview with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, she explained why this time it was a revelation. “When I heard him talk about Allah, it penetrated my very being,” said Muhammad, “I knew that this was what I was born to do.” She also avowed that her cancer disappeared after she heard Farrakhan’s message.
Muhammad joined the Nation of Islam in 1981. As a member, she became a great help to Farrakhan, serving as his attorney in several significant court battles. President Reagan placed a ban on American travel to Libya in
Born 1951, Columbus Ohio; married Darius Muhammad, 1988. Education: Graduate of Georgetown University Law Center, 1975.
Career: Appointed as first woman to head a Mosque, Muhammad Mosque No. 15,1998; appointed Southern Region Representative of the Nation of Islam, 1998; author: Real Love, and Queens of the Planet Earth: The Birth and Rise of the Original Woman.
Memberships: Member of the New York Bar Association.
Addresses: Nation of Islam, 734 W. 79th St., Chicago, IL 60620.
1986. Muhammad was called to defend Farrakhan when an attempt was made to arrest him following a visit to that country. In an even higher profile case, she took on the New York Post in a defamation suit against Farrakhan. After several years in court, Muhammad convinced the courts that the Post deliberately and maliciously took Farrakhans words out of context to bolster a 1994 story that implicated him in the assassination of Malcolm X.
Muhammad gained prominence in the Nation throughout this time and was considered one of the future leaders of the Nation in spite of the past limitations the Nation had placed on women. During the later 1990s, part of the Nations goal was to not appear so extreme in their practice and Muhammad had evolved into a leader that could hopefully provide a link into the mainstream for the often-embattled religion. As one of the most visible women in the Nation, she was a key speaker at the 1997 Million Women March. She addressed the women at the march on the topic, “The Further Development of Black Women Who Are or Wish to Become Professionals, Entrepreneurs, and or Politicians.” In the message she emphasized the importance of women to first establish a strong relationship with God when seeking to move forward in life.
As Southern regional minister, Muhammad still provided legal counsel to Farrakhan and even worked in the forefront to tear down obstacles that the Nation faced both nationally and internationally. She was one of the most outspoken and proactive members of the Nation to fight against the exclusion order placed on Farrakhan by the British government. The exclusion was issued in 1986 and presumed that Farrakhans presence in Britain would make a negative contribution to the public good. In 1999 She spoke at a rally by the London branch of the Nation of Islam to put fuel back into the fight against the ban. She was quoted in the Final Call as stating, “[f]or you and I to be told that we lack the intelligence and the ability to discern his message is an insult to us as a people.”
In spite of the historical value of being the first woman in Islams 1400-year history to be appointed to a leadership position of the cloth, Muhammad came across more ordinary than many imagined. She considered best selling author Iyanla Vanzant, and Essence Magazine Editor Susan Taylor among her closest friends. More importantly, in accordance with her down to earth qualities, she insisted that God welcomes people of all colors, religions and walks of life. “We are all one,” she told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Muhammad’s 1998 appointments to Southern Regional Representative of the Nation and as minister of Muhammad Mosque No. 15 appeared to mark a departure from traditional Islamic faith for the Nation and Farrakhan. It differed in both its demonstration of acceptance of women as leaders in the nation, and in Muhammads message of inclusion, which was in opposition to Farrakhans past promotion of separation. But Muhammad insists that it actually marked a growth for the religious group. “We dont like being viewed as haters of people,” she told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution interview. “It is the ego in us that assigns labels and names and creates division. We can never say that because youre Jewish, because youre Christian, because youre Muslim, youre not going to heaven and youre not right,” she continued.
Muhammad felt that the Nations philosophy is not completely changing, but rather evolving. “This has been an evolution in the message,” she told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “But it is not changing and going into a different direction. It is moving toward that which the Creator intended it to be.” Muhammad also determined that part of her role as a leader in the Nation of Islam is to move toward being one who is within the will of God.
Real Love LoveKare Productions.
Queens of the Planet Earth: The Birth and Rise of the Original Woman.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, October 16, 1999
Essence, July 1997, pp. 65.
The Capital Times, November 18, 1999.
Northern Star Online, www.star.niu.edu, April 6, 2001.
The Final Call, www.finalcall.com
Official Minister Ava Muhammad website, www.ministerava.com
Nation of Islam website, www.noi.org