Imani Anum Muhammad is a 36-year old African American revert, who migrated to The Gambia with her family. This is after DNA results made her uncover information that her slave forbears originated from countries in West Arica. In this interview, she speaks about her life, family and work.
Tell us briefly about yourself and growing up in the USA?
My name is Imani Anum Muhammad, formerly Naomi Guignard. I am 36 years old. I was born in Haiti but grew up in the United States of America. I am married with children. I was raised Christian. My ancestors were slaves shipped from Guinea-Bissau. When I moved to the United States of America as a little Christian girl, growing up was a challenge. The American system is built on unrighteousness. So, although it appears the USA is a "Christian" nation with words like "In God We Trust" on the money, and the word "God" in the national anthem, and historically being founded by "Christians", the very fibre of that nation is built on secularism. Of course the temptation to sin is every where, but the USA seems to create an environment that says, "It's ok to get drunk, have sex, get high, be materialistic." By the grace of the God, I was introduced to the teachings of Islam taught by the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan. I legally threw away the slave master's surname Guignard and changed my name. Then, slowly but surely, my desire to be closer to my creator and to go back to my true nature increased.
When and why did you decide to settle in The Gambia?
After receiving DNA test results that revealed our (my husband and mine) ancestry traced back to African countries (Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Burkina Faso, Sierre Leone), we felt the spirit of our ancestors encouraging us to go back to the motherland. We know, without a doubt, that during the Trans-Atlantic Slave-Trade, those taken into slavery and those left behind prayed to someday be reunited. God guided our attention to The Gambia. After doing extensive research, we decided to move to The Gambia. We were deeply moved by the thoughts and views shared by the president of The Gambia in various interviews, meetings, and speeches we saw online. Also, The Gambia was one of the few countries in Africa that was not dealing with war, high crime rate, or an unstable government. Most importantly, The Gambia was the only country in West Africa that was not under the control of western powers, Europe, or France. The icing on the cake was the fact that The Gambia was predominantly Islamic, according to the information we gathered. Being peaceful, Islamic, of African leadership, The Gambia was a perfect fit for where our spiritual journey was taking us.
What were your first impressions of the country?
I was grateful to finally be in a country where the reminder of Allah (the God) was a part of the system. I know not everyone is perfect, but, The Gambia's environment makes practising Islam much easier than that of the USA. The feeling I had when I was surrounded by my African brothers and sisters in every setting, I cannot describe. Sure, some of my African brothers and sisters did not welcome me, but, like Joseph's brothers, they simply failed to recognize that I was their returning sister. From the first month I was in The Gambia, I saw great potential for it to be an independent and successful nation one day.
In one of your Facebook post, you described the Gambian president as a strong and realistic leader. Can you please elaborate?
I believe President Yayah Jammeh is strong because he remained focused on his vision for this country despite having to lead stubborn people. Another reason I say he is strong is because he also withstands a lot of pressure from outside The Gambia (USA, UK, EU, etc.). For a man to have opposition from inside and outside of his country and still not submit to either one, that takes strength. To be a strong leader, you must be able to do what's best for the whole (people and country) even if it means people will speak ill of you or misunderstood you. I believe that his strength comes from his faith in Allah. I love President Yayah Jammeh and pray for him all the time. He is more than a political leader to me. I consider him a spiritual leader as well.
What triggered you to convert to Islam? Can you describe the decision you made?
Well, it was a gradual process. I actually believe my becoming a Muslim started while I was a Christian. I remember when I began to truly study my faith as a Christian… I used to say that my main goal in life was to master myself. I wanted to reach a point where my physical self was in submission to my spiritual self, which would be in submission to God. The teachings I received in church did not help me reach that goal. Also, after studying the scriptures of the bible, I believed that the religion being practised by my church was contrary to what Jesus preached, even according to their own bible. That was what led me to decide to separate from the church. Shortly after that, I met my husband. He was a Muslim. After being exposed to the teachings of Islam, I knew it was the key to my desire to be in total submission to God. I am on the path of total submission to Allah. I am a Muslim.
There is a widespread perception in the US and other parts of the western world that Islam promotes violence. What do you make of that?
I blame two things for this widespread perception of Islam being a violent religion. The enemies of Islam (Western, Israeli, and European powers) make it their mission to smear the image of Islam in mainstream media. Every time someone does something bad or commits a terrible act, if he is from an Islamic country, they emphasize on his/her religious background and call the person an "Islamic Terrorist". They know very well that the human brain learns a lot by association. Therefore, putting those to words together constantly will have the desired effect. When describing the slave masters in the US, the Khu Klux Klan (KKK), the Oklahoma Bomber, or those who colonized countries all
over Africa and in the East, they don't say "Christian Slave masters", "Christian Racists", "Christian Bomber", etc. The second reason for the misconception about Islam is the way those who call themselves Muslims act. Sadly, before committing various terrible acts, some choose to utter a phrase that is very sacred. "Allah U Akbar!" Because of the evil behavior of some who misuse that phrase, I would not be surprised to see people in the US run for cover if they hear a Muslim making the call to prayer. "Allah U Akbar" means, God is great. He is.
Your daughter was born in The Gambia. Was it a coincidence or something you planned?
It was all Allah's planning. Of course we hoped to be able to bring the lineage of our ancestors back to Africa. Only Allah could have caused it to happen the way it did. He chose The Gambia to be the birth place of the returning African. All praises due to God!
You named her Africa. Were your Gambian friends and neighbors surprised by your choice?
Yes, our friends and neighbors here in The Gambia were very surprised. Some still ask us if that is her real name. Our baby girl is the embodiment of the prayers made by our African ancestors. She is born free and at home.
What are your activities in The Gambia right now?
My husband and I live a simple life here in The Gambia. We sometimes do contracted work here and there. My husband enjoys enlightening others on various topics and I enjoy working on my music and writing. We make new friends, hang out with neighbors, and enjoy living a life of a Muslim right here in The Gambia.
Do you make enough money from your office job to keep you and your family going?
I can only give credit to God for keeping my family fed every day. If I think about how much my husband and I make at our jobs, I would not believe it's enough to take care of our needs. Somehow, Allah always finds a way to make it work for us. We definitely did not leave the USA to find riches here in The Gambia. However, although we make less money now, our needs are met with less stress than in the US. We have time to pray, study our faith, be with family, hang out with friends and we are still able to eat and have a safe place to lay our heads. Allah surely is great!
Tell us about the book you're writing?
With the help of Allah, I hope to soon complete a book that describes the mental and spiritual development that led to my physical relocation to The Gambia. In this book, I hope to express the various things I learned on my journey back to God and my true self.
What about your Facebook page Living in Africa?
I created ‘Living in Africa’ when my husband and I were trying to decide which country in
Africa to start a new life in. We had four countries we were considering at the time. The Gambia was not one of them, believe it or not. I eventually saw that the page could also be a platform for people who have property for rent in Africa to link up with people searching for a place to live, like we were at the time. Now, that is exactly what it has become. Long after my husband and I decided to move to The Gambia and found a place to stay, people are still using the page to notify me about places that are up for rent. I simply pass the information on to the page users. I also keep the users updated on my activities while living in Africa (The Gambia).
Do you agree with Akon that all African- Americans should return to Africa?
Yes. I believe all African-Americans should return to Africa if and only if they have had a mental and spiritual transformation. What we were before we were shipped from Africa to the West is definitely not what we are now, as blacks. Centuries ago, the slave-master took away our ancestors' names, religion, culture, and self-worth. Then for generations, they grew up in environments that took them far away from their true selves. Before reuniting with our brothers and sisters in Africa, I think it would be best to try regain some of the dignity and come back with great substance (not wealth, but wisdom, morality, and knowledge). What western society has shaped black people into is not what Africa needs right now. Africa needs our help. We cannot come back to Africa with characteristics and things that will further degenerate the African nation. African-Americans should first, know that they are Allah's creation. Second, know they must know that they are African. Then, we can talk about returning to Africa.
Any plans to apply for Gambian citizenship?
I hope someday that would be a reality. My heart is with The Gambia so much so that I think I am already a Gambian. I am very happy that our little girl is a native Gambian.
Any final words?
I just hope The Gambian people would grow in faith and believe that with Allah's guidance, this country will be successful. Never compromise your spiritual principles for financial or materialistic gains.