It’s one thing to be Black. It’s one thing to be Muslim.
It’s another thing to be unapologetically Black and Muslim.
19-year-old Nzinga Muhammad is a young woman who knows how to slay and speak her mind, no matter who’s around. Throughout her life, she’s been put in positions where she’s been able to speak truth and share strong views on societal issues. With over 7,000 followers on Instagram and more than 3,000 followers on Twitter, her propagation of Muslims, defense of the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan and sayings about societal issues have caused people to pay attention.
She’s an effective writer, a beautiful artist and a skillful tweeter, and she’s making her mark as a Muslim on her college campus.
Meet Nzinga Muhammad.
‘I am a Muslim for no one but myself’
When you speak to Nzinga, it’s easy to feel comfortable. She makes you feel at ease with her casual speech. Plus, you can’t help but notice her New York accent.
Born in New York, she grew up in the Nation of Islam. As she grew older, the Nation shaped and groomed her.. Then, at a certain point, she had to decide for herself whether or not she wanted to be part of it. That decision came to her at 17.
“We really just grew up in the Nation as many Nation babies do, and then once you make that step for yourself, it’s kind of like a marriage,” she said. “That’s what I liken it to. It was interesting for me to take that step by myself and for myself.”
Nzinga’s father, on the other hand, saw her decision as a gift to him. She got registered into the Nation of Islam on Father’s Day.
“Dad was the happiest person in the world, because he took that as his Father’s Day gift. I’m like, yeah, but it wasn’t for you. It wasn’t for you,” she expressed. “And that’s why I say, a lot of people don’t understand like, yeah your parents might be in the Nation but, you could be a child of a Muslim but not a Muslim child. And it just so happens that, because of Allah, I’m a Muslim child, not just the child of a Muslim.”
Talents begin to bloom
One thing Nzinga is known for is her strong and skillful defense of the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan. But before she stepped into that area, she shared her views on societal issues such as racism, colorism, sexism and more. Her knowledge surrounding those topics started while she was homeschooled. She was able to translate her knowledge and opinions through art, which she started taking seriously at the age of 13. Messages that she wanted to send were plastered on walls after she participated in a local art program at a recreation center.
“Murals, community art…they’re making your thought process a little bit more public than they were,” she said. “They’re also available for people to receive a message and to interpret one at the same time.”
During the program, she worked with a team to decide what to paint.
“So they would ask about what should we draw, who should be a representation,” she said. “I’ve always been outspoken about making sure we represent Black and Brown people, because that’s important. That’s who are at these recreation centers: Black and Brown young children who want to see themselves on a wall, I’m sure. So I’ve always pushed that.”
Part of Nzinga’s journey has been studying books and lectures by Minister Farrakhan and other scholars. Her willingness to speak about issues she cares about has opened up many doors for her. It became a pathway to her writing articles, which first came to her from Brother Jesse Muhammad through his blog.
“At the time, I was like, this is new. I’ve never really written for nobody before. But Twitter helped because it’s short. Even though it’s 140 characters, you can make threads, and those threads eventually would be a great, even if it’s just a thesis or introduction to an eventual article,” she said.
Even though it was a new medium, Nzinga was still spreading her thoughts about issues through platforms such as Tumblr and Instagram.
“I was already writing essays in [the] Instagram comment sections. It was just translating it now to a different platform, and I think that platform, where people can read it instead of trying to find where I commented on somebody’s page made it much more accessible and better,” she said.
Through her writing journey, Nzinga has written for Joshua’s Truth Magazine, and has contributed to Brother Demetric Muhammad’s website, which presents solid defense of the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan.
Practicing Islam at a Christian school
When it was time to go to college, Nzinga chose a school in Greensboro, North Carolina — a few ways down the U.S’s east coast. She’s attending Bennett College, which is an all-women’s Christian school.
“It was a lot smaller, a little further away from the male species than Spelman is,” she explained. “They were really vocal about sisterhood and making women the best they can be and specifically outlining Black women, which I thought was important, because sometimes HBCUs are very passive and want to include everybody. We forgot why Black colleges are Black in the first place, because they didn’t incorporate everybody. So I really chose it for that reason.”
As a Muslim, the fact that the school focused on Christianity didn’t bother her, even though it has presented its fair share of challenges.
“Not everyone has that same understanding, that a good Muslim is a good Christian and a good Christian is a good Muslim. Not everybody understands that. Not everybody understands Islam period,” she said.
Going about her everyday life while she’s on campus, Nzinga has dealt with negativity from other students. Whether it be about the way she dresses, or her faith, she’s experienced it.
“I received a lot of, not even compliments,” she said. “Backhanded compliments, confusion. I’ve gotten offensive words. I’ve gotten insults. All of that. Because people really don’t know. It’s just so interesting to see how… we have a chapel, and in the chapel is a stained glass figure of the Black Madonna with a whole hijab on her head, but I’m getting questioned as to why I cover my hair, and I’m alienated. And it’s like, do you not see, she literally looks just like me, but you don’t question her. You just praise her. The stigma towards Muslims is just so, it’s bad. It’s not necessarily the president. It’s not the staff. Because they know better. But the students, I never knew how ignorant the students can be.”
Nzinga isn’t the only Muslim on campus. However, the others who are Muslim go into hiding, she said.
“You never know who’s a Muslim until they tell you, because either, one, they don’t come out of their dorm room, or two, they’re out, but they’re physically not Muslim,” she said. “So it’s just like, you’re going it alone when you might even have five around you and they just don’t tell you. It’s just a feeling of [being] alone, really. In terms of people who share your faith, it’s just like, you physically see one or two out of 500, 600 students, which is absolutely crazy. And then the people, they really do not understand.”
Throughout the comments she’s received, including “‘Can you pray if you didn’t wear that’ or ‘can you show more?’ ‘Can you speak Islam?’ … Not Arabic. ‘Can you speak Islam?’”, she’s decided to take a more proactive stance on it.
“I think, at the same time, even though people are just crazy, at the same time, I’m grateful for it, because now it offers, now that I’m there, it now allows me to introduce them to something they had no knowledge of. How can they know except they have a teacher, right?” she said.
One of the ways she decided to educate people who were asking her questions was to organize a hijab event on campus. She was able to take over one of the classes of about 15-20 people.
“I didn’t just start wrapping scarves around their heads. I started letting them ask questions and teaching them what our scarves mean and what they don’t mean and raising up all the misconceptions,” she said. “Because you can wear a scarf, that’s cute. But if you still think that Muslims are oppressed, then you might as well take it off.”
One of the aspects that was shocking to the students was that Nzinga and other Muslim women who choose to cover themselves wasn’t forced to do so — they have a choice.
“The fact that people had a choice at all was mind-blowing to them,” she said. “Like, wow, you can choose? You don’t have to wear this, that’s crazy. Like this is a choice you actually made for yourself. They didn’t understand that concept.”
She allowed them to fire off questions at her, and she answered each one.
“One sis asked me if I was the type of Muslim who submits to her husband or not, and I’m just like, ‘What? What type of…’ First of all sis, I don’t have a husband, so I don’t know. I don’t have one,” she said. “But it’s like the mindset of how people think is so crazy. That was a genuine question that people have had, and that question might have deterred them away from the mosque. You never know. And I allowed ‘ignorant’ questions, because I didn’t want people to hold back and think, ‘Well, I can’t ask this because they’ll get offended.’ And even though some of the questions were very offensive, I wanted them to ask because at the end of the day, there’s something holding you back from Islam, and I wanted to know what it was.”
One thing that Nzinga was happy about is that the students were able to get their answers from a real Muslim, instead of someone who thought they knew Islam, when they really didn’t.
“Because where else would they have gotten it from? Google? Where else would they have gone for that? And Google’s not reliable like that. It helps to have a living, breathing person to ask all these questions,” she said.
Keeping faith on campus
Being a member of the Nation of Islam, Nzinga has found comfort at the mosque in Greensboro.
“The beauty of the Nation is that we’re a Nation, and so we have family literally everywhere. No matter where you go, there’s a mosque somewhere, even if it’s a few miles out. They’re around somewhere. Some faithful believers in their little corner somewhere. They’re around,” she said. “I was blessed to keep in touch with Muhammad Mosque #92 in Greensboro, which is literally up the street from my school. So that helped significantly. Being able to go to a mosque was that rejuvenation and that breath away from that craziness on campus and being able to be amongst sisters who actually believe like you for once.”
When she’s not on campus, she likes to read literature of the Nation of Islam to keep her spirit strong. But there was one thing that really helped her.
“I realized I had to really, really, really make Allah (God) sufficient,” she said. “I really had to, because I, like many of the other Muslims on campus, felt like I was the only one. And because of the Nation, I am the only one, to be really honest. So I had to really rely on Allah to make this work and make me not feel like I have to conform or I have to be other than myself in order to be accepted. It helps when people would say they looked up to me, or they would say they thought I was different but in a good way. They admire me from a distance or a few of them admire me up front. It just makes me think, wow, how beautiful Islam is and how I’m not just here representing myself, but I’m representing a whole Nation.”
She said she’s been rewarded for her striving.
“I’ve had people come to the mosque, and they raided my bookshelf grabbing the Message to the Blackman after the mosque meeting was over,” she said. I’ve given them the Teachings 2.0 Twitter Book. Being able to watch them learn more about Islam is the biggest reward. So I praise Allah.”
For other Muslims living on campus, Nzinga says to keep practicing your faith.
“I would just say to keep pushing, because you literally never know who’s watching. Allah is always watching. You never know who is affected by your presence. You never know how it touches somebody. You’re a breath of fresh air from this world,” she said. “And you, whether or not you know it, you’re an example of that which is really divine. And you might not know exactly, but they know, and they’re looking for something as an escape from the Satanic world that we live in. As a Muslim, we’re attractive. We’re the best. We’re absolutely beautiful people. If you’re feeling alone on campus, just know that you’re really not alone and that if you really keep the faith and try to be the best Muslim that you could possibly be, you would definitely see a reward. And I’ve definitely seen a reward for myself, personally.”