I want to start this post out with a “Thank you” to my sis Zewdy for agreeing to do this interview. It took a little while for me to get this together with the happenings of life; but she was so accommodating of me and my craziness. The answers given are all her own words, with minor adjustments from myself. I appreciate the brutal honesty in her words. This interview gives insight into prejudice, Islamophobia, and the spiritual journey she has taken. I am so proud of her and the woman she has become. I have known Zewdy for many years and so I am able to see parts of the ride she has taken to become the woman she is today. I am proud to say that I know her and I ask Allah to continue to bring her closer to him. I hope you all enjoy her words and thoughts below.
Q. Can you tell us your name and where you are from?
A. I am Zewdy X Awalom (I keep my last name because although it is not a Holy/Arabic name, it is an original name, as opposed to a slave name) I’m 26 (27 on July 4th lol) and I’m from Union, NJ – currently in Atlanta, GA.
Q. So you use both X and Awalom?
A.Yes, but if I’m at the mosque I just use the X
Q.Can you explain the X for those who do not know it’s meaning?
A. When the Nation of Islam was established, it was Black people from the Americas whose ancestors were enslaved and stripped of their cultures, identities, languages, names, and religions. so the X which represents the Unknown, and X-ing out the slavemaster’s name. If someone already has an Arabic name legally, they do not receive an X. We earn our X after we send off our Letter to the Saviour and it gets approved, and then successfully reciting our Student Enrollment, Questions and Answers.
Q. Switching gears a little can you tell me about your spiritual journey. Was religion big for you in your family growing up? When did you start going on your own religious journey?
A. Religion was not really a factor in my life growing up. My maternal grandmother is a devout Ethiopian Orthodox Christian, so my parents had me Christened as a baby to make her happy. But I grew up nonreligious. I was an Atheist/Agnostic. The majority of my friends were Baptist Christians, and I went to their churches for family-friend day events. I had been to an Ethiopian Church a few times for holidays. Honestly, I very badly wanted to believe that God was real, but the way He was taught around me just didn’t make sense to me. Judgmental and hypocritical people pushed me even further away from religion.
Q. How did you find the Nation and Islam?
A. I want to say I started searching towards the end of high school, 2007-2008. I looked into Buddhism and I could get with a lot of the principles, but it still felt like something was missing. In 2013, I was in a very low place emotionally, mentally, spiritually, career-wise. I had just gotten off tour with Solange and was very sad that I had to stop. I was also still dealing with a heartbreak after 1 1/2 years. I just felt so lost and helpless. For the first time in my life, on the night of February 28th 2013, I sincerely prayed. I stopped suppressing the feeling about God being real, I told him I accepted and acknowledged the reality of His existence and I just wanted to know Who He is. and I just cried and cried and cried. Shortly after that, on March 11th I joined a friend of mine in the Ethiopian Orthodox version of Lent, which is a 55 day vegan fast. It had me feeling really good after a few days, I felt like my senses were heightened. About a month into the fast, April 13th, I was introduced to the brother who would soon introduce me to Islam through the teachings of The Most Honorable Elijah Muhammad. When I met this brother, I literally felt like I already knew him. We became acquainted and began talking on social media, and I expressed to him the things I am most passionate about – music, Black Unity and our rise, and he told me he was a Muslim in the Nation of Islam. I knew nothing of the NOI except that they were Black Muslims. He began telling me about the principles in which they believe, and over the next few weeks we would talk, he would send me a lecture, we would discuss it, and honestly what I was learning really resonated with me spiritually.
Q. After talking with this brother what were your next steps? What did you do next? Did you start researching, go to the masjid, etc?
A. He and I continued to talk often and he would send me lectures dealing with certain principles pertaining to my then-current life circumstances. I would try apply the things I learned and found much success in doing so. I did research on my own. I read all kinds of articles – in support of and against the NOI, I bought a Holy Qur’an (Maulana Muhammad Ali version). I looked into NOI literature and purchased several books by The Honorable Elijah Muhammad, and books by NOI scholar Dr. Wesley Muhammad. I was so eager and hungry, I just wanted to get my hands on everything. I found myself getting ahead of myself and having to slow down, so that I could actually digest what I was receiving. At the same time, I stayed up-to-date on what Minister Farrakhan was up to recently. I had not stepped foot into the mosque until April 18th 2015, when the NOI mosques were showing a live broadcast from our headquarters, Mosque Maryam in Chicago, called “Save our Girls” part 1. From that point on, I began attending the mosque for the women’s orientation class, beginning my process to become a registered member of the Nation of Islam!
Q. Can you tell me what is the process to joining the NOI?
A. You go to an orientation and processing class, there is one for men and one for women. I will speak on the process for women from personal experience. We learn the history of the establishment of the Nation of Islam, we receive a few prayers to learn including Al Fatiha and the Refuge Prayer, and we get an introduction to what we will learn as women in the Nation. We take a total of 4 exit exams to see where our comprehension is with what we’ve learned and have been studying. After that is completed, we begin writing our Letter to the Saviour, which is the letter The Honorable Elijah Muhammad wrote to Master Fard Muhammad, founder of the Nation and Whom we believe to be the prophesied Mahdi. We strive to write the letter as closely to the way to Elijah Muhammad did as we possibly can. Then we send the letter off to the Processing Department at Mosque Maryam. When our letter is accepted, they send us some study material, including our Student Enrollment, which we have to memorize and recite in front of our processing instructor. When we recite it verbatim, we pass and are officially qualified to join!
Q. When people see the Nation and they question your “Muslim-ness” what is your response? For example, the questioning of Elijah and his position in the NOI doctrine.
A. A lot of the time, people will question or even attack what I believe with a very tired, surface level argument and anti-NOI propaganda. I defend my faith as best as I can with what I know and understand. I know what the teachings of Elijah Muhammad have done for me personally and many others. But to me, it really all boils down to this. People may have their disagreements, disapproval, misconceptions, and misunderstandings of us because of our differences, but we Muslims in the NOI stand on the 5 pillars of Islam just like the rest of our Muslim family. Allah knows best who is and who is not a real Muslim, and it is only Allah Whose approval and pleasure I seek in this life.
Q. Who do you get the most arguments from?
A. Ethiopian Muslims. Many of them are quite angry that I am in the NOI, they think because I share an ethnicity with them that I am just supposed to do as they do. I also detect some anti-blackness in a lot of what they say to me about the Nation.
Q. So they want you in a more Ethiopian understanding of Islam and not what they perceive as a Black American one?
A. Sort of. They have a negative feeling about Black Americans in general, though they tried not to show it. But they say a lot of derogatory, insulting things about them and not just in a religious aspect. Also, I get a lot of hell from Ethiopian Christians because they think Ethiopian orthodox Christianity is superior because of how old it is, and they conveniently ignore the very significant history of Islam in Ethiopia.
Q. What is your feeling when people only acknowledge the Nation when they are looking for a source of protection?
A. I think it could just be a lack of understanding which results in trivializing the Nation. At the same time it is acknowledging that we are willing to put our lives on the line to protect our people, all while carrying no weapons. From my understanding, many of the celebrities who choose to hire Fruit from the Nation for security usually hold the Nation in high regard, some having personal relationships with Minister Farrakhan.
Q. Finally, if you could change a misconception that people hold about the nation what would that misconception be?
A. If I could change a misconception people hold about the Nation, it would be regarding Brother Malcolm X, that The Honorable Elijah Muhammad did not call for his death, and that Bro. Malcolm actually wanted to return to the Nation before he was assassinated. I think the Malcolm X controversy is something that has some Black people against/angry/upset with the Nation because Malcolm X is a hero to many. But I think the ambiguity of his story is intentional, especially when it comes to media, to keep us further divided as a people and to keep people disliking/hating the Nation. I don’t expect everyone to just want to join if they knew the truth. I want people to know that the NOI has and still works on behalf of the oppressed and the resurrection of the spiritually, mentally, morally, socially, economically dead Black people of America first, and throughout the world. I want people to know that Minister Farrakhan is the best friend we have walking this Earth!