Wednesday, February 08, 2006

El Hajja Bahiyah Betty Shabazz

Salaam alaikum,

Today's prominent Muslim of African descent is Sister and Shahida Betty Shabazz (may God bless her). Shaykh Hamza Yusuf pointed out in one of his lectures that Sister Betty died the death of a martyr because she was burned alive. So not only was she married to a martyr, El-Hajj Malik el-Shabazz, but she died as a martyr as well. May both of their graves radiate with light and expand for them.

Bio taken from Wikipedia

Shabazz was born in Detroit, Michigan as Betty Sanders. Shabazz was an illegitimate child and had scattered childhood. Young Betty Shabazz was taken in by foster parents after her troubled childhood and grew up with them in a fairly sheltered, loving, middle-class household in Detroit. Throughout her life, Shabazz devoted her life to black community affairs in the areas of childcare, health and education.

After high school, Shabazz left the comfortable home of her adoptive parents in Detroit to study at the Tuskegee Institute(now Tuskegee University), a well-known historically black college in Alabama. It was at Alabama that she encountered her first racial hostilities. She did not understand the causes for the racial issues, and her parents refused to acknowledge these issues. She moved to New York City to escape Southern racism. Shabazz went to study nursing at the Brooklyn State Hospital School of Nursing in New York. While in New York, Shabazz's friend invited her to hear Elijah Muhammad and Malcolm X from the Nation of Islam speak at an Islamic temple (Temple No. 7 in Harlem).

When this friend said she would arrange for them to be introduced after Malcolm X's speech, Shabazz related to Essence Magazine in 1992 that initially, her reaction to the proposition of the introduction, was "big deal". "But then," she continued, I looked over and saw this man on the extreme right aisle sort of galloping to the podium. He was tall, he was thin, and the way he was galloping it looked as though he was going someplace much more important than the podium...Well, he got to the podium and I sat up straight. I was impressed with him. They discussed about the racism she encountered in Alabama, and she began to understand its causes, pervasiveness, and effects. Soon, Betty was attending all of Malcolm's lectures. By the time she graduated from nursing school in 1958, she was a member of the Nation of Islam. Muhammad bestowed of his followers the last name "X", representing the African family name they would never know. She changed her name to "Betty X" a result of her Nation of Islam influence.

In 1958, after she had completed nursing school, Malcolm X, who was traveling the country at the time, called her from Detroit and proposed marriage. Before the week was out, Betty aged 23 and Malcolm aged 32 were married. After their split from Elijah Muhammad in 1964, Malcolm and Betty X adopted the last name, Shabazz. Together, they had six daughters — Atillah, Qubilah, Ilyasah, Gamilah and twins Malaak and Malikah (born seven months after Malcolm X's death).

In February of 1965, due to Malcolm X's activism, their family survived the firebombing of their home in Queens, New York. On February 21, 1965, Shabazz and her four young children witnessed the assassination of Malcolm X in the Audubon Ballroom in Harlem. It was reported that Shabazz was in the audience and covered her girls with her own body on the ballroom floor as the assassins' bullets flew. Shabazz left the Nation of Islam. She performed the Hajj in Mecca and considered herself a Sunni Muslim.

When Malcolm X was assassinated in 1965, the couple had four daughters. Shabazz was pregnant with twins at the time of his assassination. She was a certified nurse, having earned a Bachelor of Science degree from the Brooklyn State Hospital School of Nursing in 1958. She continued her education by enrolling in Jersey City State College. Shabazz was determined to provide for her family and serve as a role model for her children. She received a Bachelor of Arts in public health education from Jersey City State College. She returned to pursue her Master of Arts in public health education from Jersey City State College in 1970. In 1975, she received her Ph.D. in education administration at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

Betty Shabazz demonstrated her resiliency and determination as a single mother in raising and educating her six daughters, Attallah, Qubilah, Ilyasah, Gamilah, and twins Malikah and Malaak upon Malcolm X's assassination. Shabazz raised her family in the Islamic faith. In 1976, Shabazz worked at New York's Medgar Evers College as an assistant professor. She taught health sciences and then became head of public relations at Medgar Evers College. She traveled widely, speaking on topics such as civil rights and racial tolerance. She became a great advocate for the goal of self-determination for African Americans. She also served on many boards, including the African-American Foundation, the Women's Service League and the Day Care Council of Westchester County, New York.

On June 1, 1997, Betty Shabazz's grandson, Malcolm, set fire to her apartment. Malcolm Shabazz was living with Shabazz for a few months. It was reported that he was unhappy he had been sent to live with his grandmother in Yonkers and that he had wanted to re-join his mother Qubilah in Texas. Shabazz suffered burns over 80% of her body and remained in intensive care for three weeks at the Jacobi Medical Center in Bronx, New York. She underwent five skin-replacement operations as doctors struggled to replace damaged skin and save her life. At the time, doctors had forewarned that patients with her severity of injuries usually had less than a 10 percent chance of survival. Shabazz died of third degree burns on June 23, 1997, at the age of 61.

More than 2,000 mourners attended a memorial service for Shabazz at New York City's Riverside Church. Many prominent leaders including Coretta Scott King (widow of Martin Luther King, Jr.), Myrlie Evers-Williams (widow of Medgar Evers), poet Maya Angelou, actor-activist Ossie Davis, four New York City mayors—Rudolph Giuliani, David Dinkins, Edward Koch and Abraham Beame; U.S. Representative Maxine Waters and New York Governor George Pataki were present for her memorial service. U.S. Secretary of Labor Alexis Herman delivered a tribute from President Bill Clinton. In a statement released after Shabazz's death, black civil rights leader Jesse Jackson said, She never stopped giving and she never became cynical. She leaves today the legacy of one who epitomized hope and healing.

Shabazz's funeral service was held at the Islamic Cultural Center in New York City. Her wake was at the Unity Funeral Home in Harlem, (the same location where Malcolm X's wake was held 32 years before). Betty Shabazz was buried next to her husband, Malcolm X at the Ferncliff Cemetery in Hartsdale, New York.

There is a major mosque in Harlem named after Shabazz.

Dr. Betty Shabazz Health Center

Betty Shabazz, Malcolm X's widow, dies at 61: CNN News

Betty Shabazz


Hood said...

Salam Alaikum

Very interesting and informative blog, your articles on prominent Muslim african americans was of great interest to me. here's an article I have written up a while ago about another early muslim in america. it may be of interest to you


izzymo said...

Walaikum salaam,
Jazak Allah. And thank you for the article.

Ya Sine said...

As Salamou alaikoum ya Mouslimoun wa ya Mouslimate. Al ikhwan fi Llah. El Hadj Malik Shabbaz is the first Wali Llah of United states Ma Cha Llah. Allahouma ighfir El Hadj Malik Chabbaz fi salamika bijah Saidina Mouhammed (S)