The life of a matriarch

Ruby Muhammad

Photo By Larry Dalton

Ruby Muhammad lives comfortably with family in Rancho Cordova, but it wasn’t always that way. She grew up in Americus, Ga., not knowing any family. Her mother passed away when she was young; she didn’t know her father until she met him by chance as a teenager. Raised by a woman whom she knew to be her aunt—though she now doubts that she was—Muhammad spent her childhood working in the fields. She has since lived through World Wars, the sinking of the Titanic, the Great Depression, various social movements—basically, the entire 20th century. And at 109, she’s still going strong. One highlight of her life was joining the Nation of Islam in 1946; she credits it with giving her the internal strength to live for so long. In 1986, minister Louis Farrakhan named her the “Mother of the Nation of Islam.” Sixty years after joining it, she is still a devoted member. She now lives with her granddaughter and grandchildren, and proudly said, “I live with the family I created.”

Is Sacramento a good place to grow old?

It is. I’ve had no problems here. I would recommend it to anyone who wants to live here and get old.

What has been the best part of your life so far?

1969, when I met my second husband. My second husband was the type of person who gave me everything that I needed and some of the things that I wanted. After he left me, I found myself going back into the condition that I came out of.

I had no one to tell me what was right and what was wrong. Then, when I met this man who gave me everything that I needed, my life changed. I had what I wanted, and I thought I was living in another world. Then when he left me, I felt my world went back to the beginning of my life, and I went into a depression. My family thought that I was going to lose my mind. I shut myself out of my family’s life; he was gone, and he was my life.

I decided to come out of the house about three months after my husband passed and take a walk. I stepped on a little seed, and the next couple of days when I came out of my house to sit in the yard, I happened to step on that same little seed. And I picked it up, I put it in my pocket, and I took it in the house. The thing that broke me out of that period was the poem I wrote about that seed. I began to write poems from that, and I’m back to myself again.

You joined the Nation of Islam in 1946. Are you still very active with it?

Islam is not a religion; it’s a way of life. As a black person, not having anything, being abused from the beginning of my life by the white man, by the people who had control of my life, I couldn’t take care of myself. I couldn’t defend myself. Islam came into my life to tell me who I actually was. Who am I? Not someone who wants to be beat up. You have a mind, and your mind controls you. You can do what you want to do. You can be what you want to be. That’s the way I see Islam. The Lord came and gave me the mind to take care of myself, a free mind. I can do what I want to without anybody telling me anything. I got control of my own life.

Farrakhan named you the “Mother of the Nation of Islam.” How does that feel?

Wonderful! This is the best thing that ever happened to me. Coming from where I came from, not knowing any member of my family, not even knowing any member of my father’s family until I was a mother myself, I was out there by myself. Here I am now, the Mother for the Nation of Islam, traveling, talking to people, doing things that I want to do. I did it myself. See? You can do anything that you want to for yourself. I don’t care what you want to be—if you make it up in your mind that that’s what you want, then that’s what you’ll do. I came from nothing to something.

I know this is a popular question for people over 100, but what’s your secret for a long life?

I don’t really have secrets for a long life. I’m just blessed by Allah to be 109 years old. I’ve never drank, never smoked, and I’ve always taken care of myself. I don’t drink soda, and I don’t eat pork. I get up in the morning and have a cup of coffee and a piece of toast. I eat salad and rice and string beans. People judge me by my age. I don’t know anyone else that can do the things I do at 109. I don’t know anyone else who can get up and fix a meal at 109. I swim. I exercise. I don’t need a walking stick or a wheelchair. This is something that blows everyone’s mind. You’ll probably come back and interview me two years from now. My goal is to be the oldest black woman that ever walked the planet without a wheelchair. I’m going to make it because I’m determined to do that.