Elderly woman hit by car remembered as active in community
By Peter Hermann,
On her 94th birthday, she fasted.
Aidah Sabir-Jenkins, a Muslim who lived in Northwest Washington, would not let her age, or her failed hearing, or even her inability to speak, keep her from practicing the basic tenets of her faith.
Her frailties didn’t stop her from doing anything else, either. She made pilgrimages to Mecca in Saudi Arabia three times, at the ages of 62, 76 and 85. She wrote her second book of poetry at the age of 92.
About 10 a.m. Tuesday, the fiercely independent Sabir-Jenkins was killed by a white Dodge Ram pickup that turned off Georgia Avenue onto Harvard Street and hit her in the crosswalk, D.C. police said. They said an investigation is being conducted by the department’s major crash unit.
Friends and relatives are mourning the death of a woman who, despite her advanced age, planned to give much more to her city and its Muslim community, where she was a fixture and moral guide. Her portrait hangs in the D.C. Office on Aging, her broad smile captured and her dangling earrings, blue shirt and bright, multicolored knit cap prominent.
At the spry age of 90, Sabir-Jenkins proudly cast her ballot to help put the first black president in the White House. Then she toured the monuments, pausing the longest at the memorial for Franklin Delano Roosevelt to tell how she stood by the railroad tracks with thousands of others as his funeral train passed through her home town of Spartanburg, S.C., in 1945.
Sabir-Jenkins’s funeral was Friday at Masjid Muhammad, a mosque in the Shaw neighborhood. She is survived by one sister, who is in her 80s and lives in Washington. Her husband, Edward, three brothers, a sister and her son all died before her.
“She’s in peace, in paradise,” said Nadira Reece, a friend who wrote an article about Sabir-Jenkins’s birthday fast last summer for the Muslim Journal, headlined “Full of smiles to see 94 years on Allah’s time.”
In an interview, Reece described Sabir-Jenkins as a steadfast follower of the rules. That she was in the crosswalk when struck came as no surprise. “She was right where she should have been,” Reece said. “That hurts even more.”
Sabir-Jenkins communicated through gestures, facial expressions and with the help of a caretaker — a longtime friend who used a laptop computer to write her thoughts and share them with friends.
“She wanted you to know, ‘I’m 94 years old, I can’t hear a thing, but I love life,’ ” Reece said.
Sabir-Jenkins was born Ada Steen on July 29, 1918, in Union, S.C., and moved to Spartanburg a short time later. She grew up on a farm. She was raised Baptist and recited passages from the Bible, played the piano and wrote and sang gospel songs with a church choir that traveled the Carolinas and Virginia and into Washington.
She moved to the District in the 1940s, first living with her uncle, then venturing out on her own, according to her longtime caregiver, Ahmad Nurriddin.
She cleaned houses and worked in a shirt factory for most of her life. Nurriddin, who provided a written narrative of her life, said she became Muslim in 1957, at the age of 39, and took the name Aidah Nasheed Sabir. Precise dates of many of her life’s other milestones were not available.
Sabir-Jenkins became active in the District’s Muslim community, attending national conventions and other faith meetings in Chicago, New York and Philadelphia. Her travels took her to Texas, Florida and Georgia. She wrote two books, “Fantastic Sojourns,” about beauty within the Islamic faith, and “My 92 Years on Allah’s Time,” a collection of poems about how God enriched her life. In one poem, titled “Can’t Hear a Thing,” she wrote about her deafness.
In addition to being featured in the Muslim Journal, Sabir-Jenkins got a mention in a 1992 Washington Post article exploring the evolution of the beliefs of area Muslims. She recalled meeting Malcolm X and said he told her, “Sister, don’t get too happy. We’re still in Hell.”
John Thompson, who heads the D.C. Office of Aging, has unabashedly called her “one of my favorite seniors in Washington, D.C.” He met her for the first time only a year ago but said she quickly became a force pushing him for more programs and initiatives. He visited her mosque to talk about senior programs, and he ate lunch at her small, tidy apartment on Georgia Avenue near Howard University. She made him a hot meal and homemade cake.
“If we had more people like her, we’d have an amazing world,” said Thompson, who attended her funeral. “She was a woman who always had a smile on her face, a woman who was very content with life.”
Jennifer Jenkins contributed to this report.