Dr. Dorothy Irene Height: A Muslim Reflection on The Power of Women In Our Midst

As the nation morns the loss of Dr. Dorothy Irene Height, I share the feeling of loss for America, for Blackamerica, for the movement of full and equal rights and for the senior voice of this powerful Black women, Dr. Dorothy Height.

Dr. Height lived for nearly a century.  Born with the legacy of slavery, she made history struggling of freedom, justice and equality.  Much will be written in these days following her death.  I was only in her presence once and yet my emotions are stirred by her passing.

For America; the name Dr. Height has been a part of the struggle for equality for so long that we almost felt that she would always be a part of the American landscape. Notwithstanding her efforts, the check written in the constitution is still being returned as “insufficient funds” for too many American men, women and minorities.

For Blackamerica; the unfinished business of the legacy of slavery will need now to engage in a study of this great women, Dr. Height and to begin honoring what she has done, learning from how she did it and how she kept on doing it when many had given up.

If I take just one lesson from Dr. Height it is that self-love and education are the central elements of detoxification from the pseudo-congenital pathologies of slavery and racism.   She will be missed in this movement.  Yet, I am confident that there are many women in their 50‘s, 60’s and 70’s who are still standing on the ground that Dr. Height seized that need to keep standing tall.  There are younger women who are holding the ground taken for women and girls in the families and communities, companies and workplaces, colleges and universities and in grass roots organizations and still more that are just learning of Dr. Height’s contributions that are newly inspired that must commit to a life of struggle.  Dr. Height’s death at 98 only raises the bar for all of us to continue the struggle.

As youth she worked with Adam Clayton Powell in Harlem. By the 1960’s Dorothy Height was in her 40’s, the age of maturity in Islam.  The men of the civil rights movement, many of whom were still struggling with their own sexism, could not deal with Dorothy Height as “just a women” but a as leader.   Congressman Elijah Cummings described that Dorothy Height brought a sobriety and calm to the men of the civil rights movement.  When they were arguing and competing with each other, it was Dorothy Height who had the stature and wisdom to cause cooler minds to prevail.

For Muslims; I was recently in a meeting with a young Muslim congressional staffer and sister Tayyibah Taylor, (now in her late 50’s) Editor-in-Chief of the women’s periodical, Azizah Magazine.  We were dealing with a contentious issue in the Muslim community around confronting racism from within “the community” and racist images of Blacks projected in a Bollywood movie that is slated for America distribution.  The rhetoric had been toxic through emails and the tone of the conversations divisive.  Our sister Tayyibah began to speak with a calm authority that reminded us about unity and about staying focused and positive and for us to remember……why we are doing this work and how we must be the examples of unity.  With her wise counsel, she laid the controversy to rest.

In my Friday sermon (Jumah Khutbah), I dedicated my words to the legacy of Dr. Height and the movement to end racism and for making this world a better place.  Um Salamah, wife of the Prophet Muhammad, (peace be upon him and his family) brought calm the Muslim pilgrims when they were experiencing segregation at the hands of the people of Mecca.  Her advice gave the encouragement to accept the treaty of non-violence signed at Hudaibiyah by the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) rather than to argue let their egos lead to conflict.  Our women have much to teach us all.  The mothers of our communities have perspectives that must be heard.  We will miss the voice of Dr. Height but her legacy will continue to speak to us all.

This years National Council of Negro Women’s Black Family Reunion will begin on Saturday, Sept 11th 2010.  Friday, Sept 10th is the Day of Eid Al-Fitr, the day of prayer, sacrifice and feasting at the end of the month of Ramadan.  I would love to see the American Muslim community gather on the national mall on Friday morning and hold its prayers on the Mall as part of the Black Family Union and offer prayers for the legacy of Dr. Height and movement for equality that it represents.

As a Muslim and a Blackamerican I know that I can only see farther and hope deeper because I stand on the shoulders of giants such as Dr. Dorothy Irene Height.  My condolences to her family and to the National Council of Negro Women.

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