Monday, April 17, 2006

Her Honor Judge Shelia Abdus Salaam

First Muslim judges - male and female - were African Americans
To the editor:

Your statement/article that Charlene Mekled Elder is "the first Muslim woman judge in the country" is incorrect. She may be the first Arab American judge, but she is not the first Muslim woman judge as stated. Nevertheless, we congratulate her on this great accomplishment.
The first Muslim woman judge in the United States is Sheila Abdus-Salaam, an African American who still sits on the New York State Supreme Court. She was appointed more than 15 years ago. In Baltimore, Maryland we have the first Master of Chancery appointed approximately 10 years ago, Zakia Mahasa, an African American Muslim woman. The African American Muslim community also has the distinction of having the first Muslim male judges, Judge Adam Shakoor (retired) of Detroit and Judge David Shaheed of Indianapolis.
I am taking the time to share this history with you (prior to its release in a forthcoming book) because there appears to be a consistent effort to disregard and/or eclipse the historical achievements the African American Muslim community has made. Had you properly investigated, your article - in addition to celebrating Mrs. Elder's accomplishment - would have been enriched by including these significant historical achievements by African American Muslims. This would have suggested that as an Ummah in America, we are a collective moving forward respecting what came before and continuing to build our future. However, this tendency to separate recent immigrant Muslim achievements from what African American Muslims achieved decades ago is disturbing.
I suggest you bear in mind that African American Muslims laid the foundation for Al-Islam in America. To be ignorant of or to resist that history and that reality, particularly from those in leadership/media, is to establish a dangerous precedent that can only result in conflict. May we all be blessed with the light of understanding.

Dr. Zakiyyah Muhammad
Anaheim, California

Editor's response:
We received a lot of email on this one! We stand corrected. In no way do we wish to trivialize or overlook the impact of the African American community on the growth and development of Islam in America. How could we? African Americans, as you point out, laid the foundation for Islam here. As a group they constitute the largest segment of the community and their achievements and contributions must be not just acknowledged, but celebrated. Obviously we goofed this time. We pledge to do our best not to let it happen again.

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