Interviewee: Betty Amin
Interviewer: Suzanne Degnats
Date of Interview: February 13, 2011
Format: WAV file and transcript
Length of Interview: 1 hour, 36 minutes
Length of Transcript: 25 pages
Betty Mukjah Hassan Amin was born on November 26, 1948, in Durham, N.C. She is of African American descent. Her mother was Baptist and her father was Methodist, and she attended these Christian denominations during her childhood. She lived and attended church in predominately African American neighborhoods; her schools and her church in Durham were segregated. She went on to college and graduate school, completing her Masters of Education at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. When she was a teenager, she became paralyzed and has spent the rest of her life in a wheelchair. In 1972, she converted to the Muslim faith. She first joined the National of Islam, and later embraced the religion of Al-Islam. She is a writer, a poet, and a homemaker; additionally, she taught school for 17 years. She is married with two children. She is currently developing a line of Islamic special occasion greeting cards.
From interviewer Suzanne Degnats: Betty Amin greeted me at the door of her home in her wheelchair; she had good use of her arms but could not walk. An aide was cooking and cleaning in the kitchen as we spoke. A very positive and chipper person, she is an African-American convert to Islam from a devoted youth as a Christian. Betty lost her mother as a teenager, and then eight months later an accident left her paralyzed. After operations and much rehabilitation, she regained use of her arms but has still in a wheelchair for the rest of her life. Her disability, segregation, her early Christianity and her embrace of Islam are all part of her very integrated story. An inspirational and reflective person, Betty talked about her childhood fear of God and questioning why God punished her with the accident. However, she was later able to see the lessons that her disability taught her. When she was young, she lived in a segregated society and questioned how God could allow this. Eventually, she was able to forgive others and overcome the racial divisiveness of the day (hence her departure from Nation of Islam). This was partly because she was cared for by white Catholic nuns and other white people during her rehabilitation. Betty made her Haj pilgrimage in 1992. She gives a very beautiful description of the obstacles she faced, but also of the beauty of the people that came to her assistance and the ‘parade of people from all over the world.” Betty is very active in inner-faith Atlanta councils. She is also an advocate for the disabled. Much of the interview focuses on her childhood and she wonderfully reflects on her fears and beliefs and how she was able to get to a resolution. Betty called me back a few days after the interview to say that she wanted to stress the influence that her mother had on her. She said that her mom made Betty and her siblings pray in the morning and at night, and kept them clean, and how her public school in that day was 'in loco parentis" (they prayed daily in school). Also, she told me, in Islam, that 'cleanliness is 50% of the religion'.