Date of Award

12-1-1999

Degree Type

Dissertation

University or Center

Clark Atlanta University(CAU)

School

School of Arts and Sciences

Degree Name

Ph.D.

Humanities

First Advisor

Dr. Janice Sumler-Edmond

Abstract

Clara Muhammad’s auxiliary identity as the wife of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad often overshadowed her own important and pioneering accomplishments. As the lesser-known female half of the leadership of America’s largest and longest lasting. Black nationalist movement, Sister Clara, as she was best known, helped to pioneer and establish the role and identity of the African American Muslim woman, or Muslima. As such, she has arguably become a very important person in United States, African American, women’s, and religious history. This research argues that there are three major themes that emerge from an analysis of her life and work in helping to establish and expand the Nation of Islam. The first theme is her administration of the Nation of Islam while Elijah Muhammad was incarcerated from 1942-1946 for draft evasion. She was unique in her intermittent leadership of a male-dominated organization during its most critical period of existence. The second issue which emerges in a study of her life was her role in establishing University of Islam as the educational arm of the Nation, along with her leadership of the Muslim Girl Training and General Civilization Class (M.G.T.&G.C.C.). These classes were specifically set up for female training. In this role, Clara Muhammad was paradigmatic as a pioneer African American Muslima, establishing and modeling the role, form, and function of the Black Muslim female. Finally, an analysis of her work reflects her influence on Imam Warith Deen Muhammad, her seventh child and heir apparent, who began a religious reformation in American Muslim communities, both immigrant and indigenous. As head of the largest group of Muslims in the Western hemisphere, Imam Muhammad’s influence is felt worldwide. Clara Muhammad was very influential in her son’s life and his work is a part of her legacy. Presently, Islam is the fastest growing religion in the West and while the ranks of its converts are swelling, the available literature on the field is expanding as well. However, the sources on women, especially African American females, are still both limited and somewhat biased. This can be attributed to the fact that in many scholarly circles the Nation of Islam had not been fully examined as a major participant in African American and religious history and that many of the early participants were reluctant to discuss their experiences. To fill that void, this research became necessary. In it, attention was paid to the use of traditional historical methodologies for collecting data as well as the use of oral narratives to either critique, confirm, supplement, or clarify some of the previously published literature on the Nation and the Black Muslim experience, with particular attention paid to the female Muslim.

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