Vol 4 October 2003       

veiled woman
Islam and the Divine Feminine
with Mother Tynnetta Muhammed

by Susan Barber and Carol Hiltner


Islam and the Divine Feminine? When we first approached doing this article, that phrase seemed to us an oxymoron — a contradiction in terms. If there was any group in the world that ritually dishonored the feminine principle, we believed, it was the followers of Muhammed.

We were shocked to find how totally false was this belief. In fact, as we have learned, despite the historical degradation of its original intent, the sacred core of Islam is female, not male. Islamic women first wore veils and black robes of concealment for protection from foreign soldiers. Muslim women were enshrouded not because they were despised, but because they were so precious — so deeply treasured.

Today, the sacred shrines of Mecca also are veiled and shrouded in black.

Though the culture in which he was born was exclusively patriarchal, Muhammed elevated women to positions of importance, and sought to enshrine the Divine Feminine at the heart of the religious practice he taught.

When asked what human being he honored above all others, the Prophet replied: "My wife."

Mother Tynnetta MuhammedWe learned all this and more from Mother Tynnetta Muhammed — as she is affectionately called by the devotees of the Nation of Islam. She is the widow of Elijah Muhammed, the Nation of Islam's founder.

We wanted to talk with Mother Tynnetta because of the incredible power she projects. How, we wondered, had she come to have such an aura of radiance from within a religious culture that persecutes and disempowers women?

We were surprised and totally enchanted with her answers.

Carol: We understand that you are going to talk about the origins of Islam and how the female was honored in the beginning — and what has happened since. But first, please tell us a little of your own story.

Mother Tynnetta: I was born in Detroit. And from the time that I was very young, I felt that I was on a path, a journey. But I was not able to define it until I reached my final year of high school, in 1958, when I was introduced to Islam and taught by the Honorable Elijah Muhammed — the man who founded the Nation of Islam, and who became my husband.

At first, it was a strange experience, because it was not like what I had learned in school about Islam. What I learned from the Honorable Elijah Muhammed seemed to spark something very deep down in my thinking.

From that initial experience, I began to explore Islam as taught by many different schools of thought, from Iraq and Iran — in fact, all of the Middle East — to Egypt and all of Africa.

Also, I was attracted to the language, because it had such a musical sound, so I learned Arabic in order to recite the prayers.

I had always been looking for a special path, some universal concept of who we are and where we originated. And it just turned out that Islam — in spite of all the propaganda and controversy — was the special path that was given to me.

Following my introduction to Islam, I had some unusual experiences, all happening during that senior year of high school. People from different paths would visit me. In one case, a gentleman came to the school who appeared to be a student but who was fully aware of my future. He would speak to me on various levels of consciousness, so that I connected with distant galaxies and other planetary worlds. This was all very avant garde for that time, but it was part of my initiation into the path I had chosen.

It is a path that continues, constantly evolving and surprising me. And there are always points in the cycles of my life and of world events when I will meet specific people — of various religious backgrounds — who interact with me. That has been the story of my life.

Susan: Could you tell us now about the roots of the Divine Feminine in Islam? What was the Prophet's original intent?

Mother Tynnetta: Arabian society at the time of the Prophet — right around 600 CE — was the worst in the Middle Eastern world in how women were treated. They call it the Time of Ignorance. Women were simply used as sense favors, taken from any tribe, from any part of the Arabian peninsula, and used as bed partners. But they were not covered in those days.

Because of the lowly condition of women before the Prophet came, there are some scholars who believe that one of the reasons for the revelation of the Qur'an was to free women from being enslaved — from being chattel. When Muhammed received the revelation, it was actually the first consciousness that came to this world regarding the treatment of women.

Carol: Wow! That is really a surprise.

Mother Tynnetta: It's true. If you look at the society around Muhammed, you will find that males and females would sit with him in public. Women even joined in the battles that were fought. Women were educated and taught to recite with the men the verses of the Qur'an. In that time, there were no restrictions like those you see today.

And then a kind of darkness came, and this time of darkness was actually predicted by the Prophet. Approximately three generations from his time, Muhammed said (he departed in 632 CE), Islam would experience a setback, and that setback would last for a thousand years!

And it was just about three generations after the Prophet's revelations when the customs we see now regarding women began to appear — just the opposite of what the Prophet wanted.

What the Prophet wanted was the liberation of women.

Carol: Can you give us examples of how women were more prominent in earlier times?

Mother Tynnetta: Egypt is the key. In 975 CE, the Fatamid Dynasty was established in Cairo, and Al-Azhar University — the oldest university in the world — was founded there at the same time.

That university was the last citadel to honor the nobility of women. There, women helped develop the courses of study they still have to this day — mathematics, music, all the subjects we would consider today to be part of a good curriculum. And the Fatimid Dynasty was also ruled by a female at that time. Fatima was the daughter of the prophet Farina.

The university began in the courtyard of the Al-Azhar Mosque, the central place of worship for the Shi'ite Muslims. The Shi'ites were an Islamic sect that split off from the others, the Sunni Muslims. And among the Shi'ites there was more expression and freedom of the woman, because inside the Shi'ite religion was the form that's called Sufism, the mystical branch of Islam.

The Sufis have always honored women equally with men. The Sufi version of Islamic history maintains that there was a private circle of companions that sat around the Prophet in his lifetime — a select group like the companions around Jesus — and the Prophet would share with them his wisdom, explaining the inner meanings of the verses and talking of mathematics, numbers, and esoteric science. And women, the Sufi history says, sat in that society equally with the men.

Today in Sufism it is still the same. If you have ever participated in Sufi circles and groups in America today you know that women are very prominent.

What I'm saying is that, beyond the turbulent appearance of Islam with all its schisms and controversies and the focus on Iraq and Iran, there is an inner wisdom that is hidden. And it cannot be expressed until the correct cycle of time permits it to come forth and flower. But the origins of Islam were focused on worship of the female side of Allah.

So women have been held back up until now. But historically woman has always played an important part.

Susan: How did the setback happen that the Prophet predicted?

Mother Tynnetta: This setback was due to the many wars that took place among the followers of Islam. Later, there were the Crusades, and the Mongolian invasions.

Why the subjugation of women? To protect them from the armies. Everywhere they went, the soldiers would naturally go to the women. Even Alexander the Great, when he went into Persia, ordered his soldiers to take wives from among the conquered women to mix the blood, to produce offspring.

The extremism has its roots in that period of wars when invading armies tried to get into the Middle East, coming across mountains and entering into the cities, and going to the women. That is why Islam put such restrictions on women.

But they have carried it all the way through to the present time, a situation which begs for change.

Carol: It would seem that the Prophet's setback of a thousand years should have ended by now...

Mother Tynnetta: It did happen. But it took place not in the East, but in the West. It happened with the birth of the Nation of Islam in America. That birth was a sign that the force and power of the Sacred Female would return.

The basis for what had to occur took place between 1930 and 1975. One was born in that turbulent world of the Mideast whose mission was to travel to the West to lead the East — to look for the lost and hidden people who had been the rejected and despised, and to restore them.

Once they were restored, then the cycle change would evolve into the perfect expression of heaven on Earth.

And that has actually happened. We actually lived through it, and yet most historians do not know what took place. A Master came from the East to the West who established the Nation of Islam for the ex-slaves. He found — and announced it publicly to the American government and to the world — the people that had been lost for thousands of years, since the beginning. There were thirteen tribes, and one was lost. Only twelve remained. The thirteenth tribe was reclaimed when the Black people of the United States regained their integrity through Islam.

Why are we just learning this today? Because if we had been told before, there would be interference to the birth of that rejected people. They were not brought to this country to be equal. They were brought here to be treated as subhumans. But the Divine Spark was strong enough for the birth to happen.

Susan: Interesting. The 13th Tribe is the Black people — but 13 is also the number of the female — the number of moon cycles in the year. Were women also a part of the beginnings of the Nation of Islam?

Mother Tynnetta: This was the full plan. The founding date of El-Azhar University, in 975, the last university to honor the nobility of women, marked the beginning of the Prophet's thousand-year setback. In a thousand years from that date, Islam would change back. It would be renewed, with a new spirit and a deeper understanding, not just of the Prophet and the Qur'an but of the origins of mankind all the way back to the Divine Creation.

And in 1975, the Honorable Elijah Muhammed finished his ministry and departed from this Earth.

Yes, the sacredness of the female is returning to women among Muslims in the Nation of Islam. And it is a sign for all mankind that both men and women will to be reunited to the source, to God. Allah is really feminine.

So we go back to the fountainhead and we return to the Oneness of God.