An Intimate Conversation with author Anne Ali on the “Legacy of Sis. Clara Muhammad
By K. H. Hamilton
(Originally printed in Muslim Journal Issue: Volume 45, No. 35, May 15, 2020)
NATIONAL – Sis. Clara Muhammad and the Hon. Elijah Muhammad had agreed that they wanted a better education for their children.
The decision was well-suited. The education of African American children was laced with a curriculum of discrimination, substandard education, and teaching of inferiority, producing a lack of self-esteem and using racist books like “Little Black Sambo” in the classrooms (Impeccable, p.53).
In 2020, it is no surprise that a vast majority of these children of African descent are still educated in schools where the curriculum is “laced with discrimination,” which eats away at their self-esteem while they continue to grow inferior to others in the world.
This is of particular relevance for African American Muslim children who are not privileged to attend Clara Muhammad Schools, African-centered schools or Islamic private schools with culturally responsive staff and student body of African descent.
Alhamdulillah, as stay-at-home mandates are beginning to lift in states across the nation, most children will remain at home for the duration of this school year – after being forced into “homeschooling” to prevent the mass spread of the coronavirus.
While the media floods us with the overwhelming crisis of parents working with their own children at home and well-respected universities like Harvard have flooded us with studies on the dangers of children, in particular “poor urban children,” not being in school, homeschooling is nothing new.
In our Muslim African American community, we have many experts – actually some of the best, including our mother of the community Sis. Clara Muhammad.
In a privileged interview with Sis. Anne Ali, author of “Impeccable: Remembering Sister Clara Muhammad,” we learn of the sacrifices our beloved Sis. Clara made to educate her children and as a result produce one of the best examples of steadfastness in religion outside of community established by Prophet Muhammad (SAW).
She mothered her son, our beloved Imam Warith Deen Mohammed (May Allah SWT have mercy on his soul and grant him the highest form of Jannah), grooming him into the leader he became.
Sis. Anne remarkably narrates the greatness of Sis. Clara’s sacrifices and loving spirit through her own, Mash’Allah, personal interactions. At the age of 16, Sis. Anne’s family sent her off from Los Angeles to be one of the Hon. Elijah Muhammad’s secretaries. Her profound experiences included a memorable and priceless mentorship from Sis. Clara herself, who with her husband, the Hon. Elijah Muhammad even purchased Sis. Anne’s dress for her wedding to Bro. Will Ali.
While the book is a comforting and extremely easy read, the questions I personally had for Sis. Anne spanned over a 3-part interview. For the sake of time and encouragement, I am only focusing on one portion, the aspect of homeschooling and its relevance to our current state of affairs.
I strongly urge all of you – if you haven’t already – to read “Impeccable: Remembering Sister Clara Muhammad,” which can be purchased online at Amazon. It’s also a perfect gift for Mother’s Day, Eid gifts, graduation, or just great historical references of our community for your children and/or grandchildren.
Now, for the interview on “History of Homeschool in our Community”:
KH: Sis. Anne, with the COVID-19 Pandemic, nearly every school in the nation has shut down and moved to online learning platforms, like Zoom and Google Classrooms. Yet in “Impeccable,” you stated Sis. Clara was nearly arrested when she homeschooled her children. Why do you believe she took such a risk and how relevant do you think her Homeschool Model is today?
SIS. ANNE: I think that from the point of it being so detrimental to send our children to the public schools, that she was going to do all within her power not to do that. Just like saying, “Well, I don’t want them going in there to be brainwashed with all the different things that are set up in school. Well, we just have to do it ourselves.”
Especially when you realize that all of the teachings that they were getting about self-awareness and self-esteem, what it was that they really weren’t taught about themselves as Black people, as a Black nation.
And that’s so commendable that she did not want her children to come up under that same regime. One of the things that was disturbing was the teaching of the story of Little Black Sambo; I go into that in the books.
With that, you don’t want your children – especially if you’re Muslim and you’re learning that the Black man and the Black woman are the Mothers and Fathers of civilization – then to go into a classroom and hear this type of teaching. So she was going against all odds.
At one point, they said to Sis. Clara, “You’re going to have to go to jail because these children are going to have to go to school.” And she said, “I will be dead as this doorknob before I let you take my children!”
And she wasn’t going to send them, so that was very commendable. And now look – everybody is talking about homeschooling!
KH: Everybody’s talking about homeschooling and to the point where they really, we really don’t want to send our kids back.”
“Nooo,” Sis. Anne concurs.
KH: Our kids go through so much in these schools, you know. I think one of the reasons why Rakiyah is always around me is because of the harm “she’s experienced.” My fingers are raised as I physically place quotes around my words.
“Oh,” Sis. Anne dismayingly interjects.
KH: These schools….
“Yes,” Sister Anne agrees.
KH: And, of course, with us not being in Los Angeles, it’s really hard. So that is, I think I shared with you during our last interview that I read a blog where this one advocate in Chicago said, “how about this, because of this COVID-19 you have proven to us that we are resilient. And what if we just keep our kids away from your schools and not return them.”
SIS. ANNE: Umm, hmm, that’s a question, isn’t it? (Sis. Anne tilts her head back as if she’s preparing to teach a lesson to a group of students in a classroom.)
KH: It really is, Sis. Anne, and it reminds me of Impeccable and how Sis. Clara Muhammad was, like you said, resilient and did not want her children to learn about Little Black Sambo and all these other stereotypes. And they still have these stereotypes today in Curriculum
“Yes, yes,” Sis. Anne strongly agrees,
SIS. ANNE: Of course, we do and then there’re two thoughts to that. I talked to people. Some of my friends say we should do our own – at all costs – do our own schooling. Then there are others who say we should do our schooling on Saturdays, a special school and then involve them in the other structure of the schools.
One friend I know is one who said she is used to going into places where Black people weren’t usually [frequenting] as an ambassador. She said they need to see us. They need to see us and know that we exist and that we count.
And I said, that’s one school; I had never thought of it that way. So for certain things or those areas she would move to or schools, or whatever, she’d send her child … doing this ambassador type role, and then making sure they got that extra instruction of their Blackness at home and maybe in a different program or something on the weekends.
KH: And, is this one of the reasons why, when you mention in the book, too – I have the vivid imagery of your wedding day (Sis. Anne fondly chuckles) and your time in that home, in Sis. Clara’s home and the formal dinners, the table talks that you talk about that are laid out with formal dining things that today, people would not expect us to do, which seems foreign in a sense.
SIS. ANNE: It does, doesn’t it? And then I received an email just the other day from the Table Talks Project. So they are still in existence. I remember one of the grandsons had been working on that really diligently.
KH: Speaking of the Table Talks in regards to the homeschool model, I am a big constructivist when it comes to education and love the Maria Montessori school model.
SIS. ANNE: Oh, yes. You know Azizah went to Montessori when she first started school… She loved it, of course. This was her beginning during her pre-kindergarten years. They had them doing all types of things, very expressive.
I love that and they had them cutting carrots, would you believe. I said, “Wait a minute, this looks like it’s dangerous …,” and they were saying “no, we teach them how not to hurt themselves.” And if we teach them now, then they will always know how to do these things.
KH: Mash’ Allah, this is excellent as you will definitely know how to answer this question since you’re familiar with both philosophies. Please explain how Maria Montessori’s Practical Life Model and Sis. Clara Muhammad’s (Hon. Elijah Muhammad’s) Muslim Girl Training is similar.
SIS. ANNE: Very, very similar, teaching you the skills that you will need in life. They say the difference in girls and boys is that boys start out in a fantasy world, whereas girls start out in a real-world situation.
They [girls] play with dolls and be [acting out as] mommies and that sort of thing and [playing] house; those are all living things that they will encounter. Whereas the boys start out, they’re playing cowboys and Indians or whatever, and that’s not something they’re going to encounter. So that is the difference there. MGT and GCC were excellent.
KH: Do you believe this model, the model of MGT and GCC (Muslim Girl Training and General Civilization Classes) can be revised and implemented into Muslim schools today for both boys and girls, and if yes, please explain why.
SIS. ANNE: Well you know, there’s been a push for them to put the Home Economics classes back into schools. It was so helpful for both boys and girls. You learned how to cook and you need to know how to cook for yourself and not always depending on someone to do it for you. And other things we learned in Home Economics, I think would be a great start.
Now with the revising the MGT and GCC, that’s something that is always needed. In a way, that is a form of leadership classes with a different name, so that should definitely be incorporated.
And then now there is a big push for restorative justice (Sis. Anne emphasized this term with inflection). That is something they’ll have to come in line with existing in the world today as we know it…, and you know it is a different world.
So just existing in the world today as we know it, that is knowing the restorative justice. How to solve those problems, that’s all in leadership and well-being and living together homogeneously with other people.
KH: I truly agree and because you are a social worker, too, I am going to insert this question. Because in Impeccable, of course, it seemed like everyone was well-mannered because of those trainings.
I read just the other day that in New York, there was an arrest of about two to three African American teenagers who took an umbrella and they created a hate crime. They assaulted a 51-year-old Chinese American woman on the transit.
The first thing I said was “we have our gosh darn nerve.” Like, everyone is always assaulting us, like why would we of all people do that? But then I think about it, Sis. Anne and I reflect on the curriculum and the hate that is taught in schools…, and you mention restorative justice.
How do you think we can teach our children how to be reactionary without being retaliatory or to use those skills, in other words, that you learned from MGT and GCC and for the boys, of course, the FOI (Fruit of Islam)?
You know having the framework that we have now and knowing Who Allah (SWT) truly is and still using those leadership skills to direct our children into acting accordingly in line with the Sunnah of Prophet Muhammed (saw)?
SIS. ANNE: It just goes back to that standard of training and teaching your children, because they don’t know what to do or how to react. And if you go along with what’s shown to you on TV or you hear the music, and all those things like that, and if you don’t have any basic instructions, you don’t know which way to go.
This is age-old information. We’ve always had to do that. In other words, if you don’t, you’re allowing the system and the TV and entertainment and everything to raise your children. Or let them raise themselves, and they’re not equipped to do that.
So you have to give them that guidance. And when they’re older and away from your house/home and on their own, then they do what they are going to do anyway. That is why one thing I don’t believe in is corporal punishment and beating children because that is important or it’s threatening just as long as they are within range. You don’t want that.
You want something that is in range with wherever they are and what is that? That’s up here. (Sis. Anne partially cups her hands, points her index fingers on each side of her forehead and taps to reference her brain).
So if wherever they are, because I know that even now at 75 years old, and I may see something or go to do something and I go: “Oh, no. I wasn’t taught like that. My Mother would have a fit, or my Stepdad would have a fit, you know if I did something like that.”
That’s the control, the learning that’s here (once again she points to her mind.) It’s here, so that is the learning. I judge those outcomes are our intent; it comes from our values. Whatever your values are, you have to judge things according to that.
It’s like a compass; you know everything goes according to your values. So we have to teach the values [Qur’an, Sunnah]. We have to teach our values first. And then whatever they will do with it is what they will do with it.
But our responsibility as parents is to teach them so that they know the correct values, right and wrong. And then the direction they go in (brief reflective pause), that is with Allah (SWT).
KH: Alhamdulillah. For years, Sis. Anne and her husband Bro. Will have trained parents in Los Angeles Unified School District from a framework based on Brother Will’s book, The Family Hood Map, which was also inspired by their direct mentorship from both Sis. Clara and the Hon. Elijah Muhammad.
Sis. Anne’s and Bro. Will’s current program is titled, Write Your History, prior to COVID-19. To learn more about Sis. Anne’s treasured reflections on spending time with our beloved Sis. Clara Muhammad, I highly recommend reading “Impeccable: Remembering Sister Clara Muhammad,” Again, it can be procured at Amazon: https://www.amazon.ca/Impeccable-Remembering-Sister-Clara-Muhammad/dp/1792327447
Katrina H. Hamilton is a
West Coast Correspondent
for the Muslim Journal.