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Abdullah / Becoming a Muslim, Part Two

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Interviewer: Prior to that, had you not heard of the Nation of Islam? Helena Abdullah: Didn’t know what it was. Interviewer: So, you didn’t hear about Malcolm X? Helena Abdullah: I had heard of Malcolm X— Interviewer: But not in that context? Helena Abdullah: —because my boyfriend in high school was going to Texas Southern and he sent me some papers. Well, I still didn’t know who Malcolm X was. Interviewer: Didn’t make the connection? Helena Abdullah: I didn’t make the connection. I’m reading about H. Rap Brown, Hughie P. Newton, all these guys. That’s the movement. The people that I was connected with. It wasn’t until I started reading and learning more about it that I realized that nationalist stuff was OK for when they started it, but we needed to evolve into something different and I couldn’t do that anymore. Interviewer: So, when Farrakhan rose to power, did you stay in the NOI? Helena Abdullah: When Farrakhan, I was no longer, I was under Warrith Deen Mohammed. Interviewer: You left with him? Helena Abdullah: No, no. This is what happened. When Warrith Deen Mohammed came as the leader of the Nation of Islam, we were still in the Nation of Islam, Farrakhan split with us because Warrith Deen Mohammed changed it from the Nation of Islam to the World Community of Islam because Warrith Deen Mohammed had been taught Quranic Islam overseas in Saudi Arabia. His father had sent him years ago. He could speak Arabic and everything. So, his father was prepping him to give us Quranic Islam, the way that we needed to be living. When that came in under the Nation of Islam, the leaders had their thumbs on it. You did what they said, how they said it, and when they said it. Farrakhan and them, they were not going to let that go. There is no compulsion in religion. You either do it or you don’t do it, but under the Nation of Islam, you had to do this, you had to do that. You had to sell the papers. You had to dress this way. You had to do all that. Under the World Community of Islam, you had the freedom to choose certain things, how you’re going to live. Of course, you’re living in the way of Islam, but it wasn’t that dogmatism, that dogmatic thought like Farrakhan. I wouldn’t have gone for that anyway because my mother was a very fair-skinned person. My grandfather was half white. So, I couldn’t say that I hated white people. There was no way. You know, he had blue eyes my grandfather and I loved him dearly. So, I couldn’t say that I hated white people and I wasn’t going to say that. So that’s where the drift was. The World Community of Islam under Warrith Deen Mohammed is where I stayed. I didn’t go to the Nation of Islam. That was still to radical for me even though I had been in the movement up here and standing in folks faces and no, yeah. Interviewer: So, what was your family’s response to you becoming a Muslim? Helena Abdullah: Coming from Nacogdoches, TX, way in the sticks of East Texas, I had never heard of Muslims before I left hear. Neither had anybody in my family. Only my oldest sister that was in Houston, and she didn’t know much, but what she had heard about Islam was that the women were second-class citizens. They had to do everything their husbands said do. They had to walk behind their husbands. He ruled the roost in everything and she told my family all that. Of course, that’s what she had heard from someone else. She didn’t really know a lot. When we got married and came up here, he was not received well and with me changing, it was not received well. I was covering my hair because I was younger. I’m older now and I don’t have to always cover unless I’m in mixed company. Now if I go to a church, for a funeral or whatever, I always cover my hair because I’m in a place of worship. It was not received very well. I knew that that’s what I wanted, and I would have to go through that. Now I’ve been a Muslim for forty-one years and it took probably ten, twelve years before I didn’t get the static from my family. Interviewer: Wow. Ten years? Helena Abdullah: About ten years, yeah. Cause one of my brothers was going to jerk my scarf off one time, and I grabbed his hand and I said you know my husband could kill you for this. He was stupid, he didn’t know. He thought he was being funny and I said you can’t do that. Don’t do that. And some of them would always offer me pork. They didn’t know. They didn’t know that I was serious about what I was doing. One of the things—I found this out with people in general—when you’re born into a religion, many times you don’t learn about your religion. You’re just born into it and you do what your parents did. I was born Christian, but I never read the Bible. I went to church. I went to Sunday school. I learned what I learned from going to church and I learned a lot and I always listened, but I noticed that a lot of family members never asked me anything about my religion. The only person that asked me about my religion was my grandmother. She sat me down. She said "Junie, I want to know what is this religion that you’re in now." Once I went over what we believe and why we believe it and a lot of other stuff about the religion and I let her ask me questions, she said, "Junie, I can’t change my religion now, but whatever you’re doing, I think it’s alright." That was my validation because I looked up to my grandmother. She was my spiritual leader. Not taking anything from my mother. Mother was so busy raising family. She was not into the Bible as much. She made us go to church. She made us go to Sunday school. If you didn’t go to church, you didn’t go to Sunday school, you couldn’t have company. You couldn’t go to the movie. You couldn’t go walking. So that was a priority for my mother and my daddy. You go to church and you go to Sunday school, but as far as reading the Bible and imparting it on us, we didn’t get that, but we had to go, and we learned from the church. When my grandmother told me that I knew I was on the right track as far as something for me and my family.

Interview Interview with Helena Abdullah
Subjects Family
Religion › Religious Denominations
Religion › Spirituality
Ideology › Nationalism
People › X, Malcolm
Family › Parents
Tags Nation of Islam
Texas Southern University
World Community of Islam
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Interview date 2016-06-30
Interview source CRBB Summer 2016
Interviewees Abdullah, Helena
Interviewers Howard, Jasmin
Locations Houston, TX
Saudi Arabia
Duration 00:07:09
Citation "Becoming a Muslim, Part Two," from Helena Abdullah oral history interview with Jasmin Howard,  June 30, 2016, Nacogdoches, TX, Civil Rights in Black and Brown Interview Database,, accessed July 12, 2024