Islam in America: Cities see rise in black Muslims in wake of 9/11
- Cities see rise in black Muslims in wake of 9/11
Religious leaders report growth in numbers in major
By Ramit Plushnick-Masti
Updated: 12:29 a.m. ET March 23, 2007
PITTSBURGH - Allahu Akbar, the Muslim call for prayer,
rings out on a recent Friday and a group of black men
and women gather to celebrate the Islamic day of rest.
The wooden house in Pittsburghs rundown Homewood
neighborhood looks like any other on the block. But
the sign at the door, Masjid Mumin, and the rows of
shoes lined up inside on gray, plastic shelves hint of
the brand of Sunni Islam its members practice.
The mosque is one of seven in Pittsburgh, home to a
vibrant community of about 8,000 to 10,000 Sunni
Muslims some 30 percent of them black.
Following what appears to be a trend in cities
nationwide, religious leaders in Pittsburgh say there
has been a rise in black conversions to Sunni Islam
since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
No national surveys have been taken to confirm the
increase, but Islamic religious leaders in Chicago,
Cleveland and Detroit have also reported growth, said
Lawrence Mamiya, a professor of religion and Africana
studies at New Yorks Vassar College. Experts estimate
that 30 percent of the 6 to 7 million Muslims in the
U.S. are black, with only South Asians making up a
larger number at 33 percent.
The Sept. 11 attacks have cut both ways, positively
and negatively, Mamiya said.
Accent on the positive
Richard Turner, coordinator of the African-American
studies program and an expert on Islam among blacks at
the University of Iowa, said since Sept. 11, Muslims
have been attempting to disseminate positive
information about the religion, so the obvious outcome
of that would be more conversions.
Sunni Islam is the worlds most prominent branch of
Islam. The Nation of Islam and the Moorish Science
Temple, other Muslim groups that attract many blacks,
believe in prophets after Muhammad, making them
anathema to Sunni Islam.
Rashad Byrdsong, an elder in Pittsburghs black Muslim
community, hopes the rise in interest in Sunni Islam
will help the Mumin Mosque collect money to expand
their small house of worship into a larger community
The new mosque, still in the planning stages, will
look more like a community center than a traditional
minaret-topped Muslim place of worship found in the
The expanded Homewood mosque will have a daycare
facility, a re-entry program for released inmates, a
health clinic and a program for entrepreneurs,
features that are in great need in the downtrodden
First, the spiritual aspects, the dawa, but also
basic, physical, fundamental needs, Byrdsong said.
Building mosque a solid goal
In the fourth year of its seven-year expansion plan,
Pittsburghs tight-knit Muslim community has raised
much of the $1.5 million needed in the projects first
phase through book sales, telephone fundraisers,
auctions and banquets. It has purchased all but two
lots it will need, and already has the sketches for
the future mosque complex.
Building the mosque has always been a goal, idea,
vision, said Yusef Ali, 63, emir of the Mumin Mosque.
But as a community grows ... its (become) a solid
goal with strategic objectives.
A growing number of Muslims in America, especially
blacks, are building mosques that offer a variety of
community services, partly because the federal and
state governments do not answer to many of their
social needs, Islamic experts say.
These complexes take the religion back to its roots
before the modern-day state began providing services
to the population.
What you have here is the creation of a true American
Islam, said Edward Curtis, a religious studies
professor who specializes in African-American Islam at
IUPUI. Islam has been a part of this country from its
beginning, and the forms of Islam that are successful
here are indigenous forms.
Homewood as model
The Homewood mosque, though unique, follows a model
similar to other black mosques in the United States,
In Harlem, the Malcolm Shabazz Mosque has built
apartment buildings and townhouses, offers social
services and even owns a sanitation company used to
provide jobs to former prisoners, Mamiya said.
The African-American mosque has made itself different
in this way from other mosques around the world,
Mamiya said. Religious institutions in the black
community have always been their strongest
institutions and have always done more than religious
Pittsburgh, magnet for Muslims
Pittsburgh, like some other cities on the East Coast
and Midwest, has long been a magnet for black Muslims,
beginning in the early 20th century, when more than 1
million black people moved from the South to the
Pittsburgh, then a prosperous steel town, attracted
thousands of blacks seeking work, and became one of
several cities where Sunni Islam took hold. Today,
black Muslims here brag that in 1932 Pittsburgh became
home to the first chartered Muslim mosque in the
Byrdsong, executive director of the Community
Empowerment Association, was attracted to Islam while
serving a 10-year prison sentence for robbery. He said
the religion appeals to many, including those in
prison, because of strict rules banning alcohol and
drugs and its success at keeping people from
deteriorating into a life of crime.
Pittsburgh is home not only to black Muslims, but also
a broad community of immigrants who practice the
religion. However, until Sept. 11, the two communities
were largely isolated.
Time for us to come together
After the attacks, immigrants subject to FBI
surveillance, police raids and other scrutiny began
to reach out to black Muslims in Pittsburgh, whose
persecution they could suddenly relate to, said Sarah
Jameela Martin, 64, an active member of the citys
black Muslim community.
It really was a time for us to come together, Martin
But Sept. 11 also put an end to any hopes the black
Muslim community had to collect money for their mosque
project from Saudi Arabia and other Muslim countries
overseas, because new U.S. laws put Islamic charities
under greater scrutiny.
Now, as immigrant and black Muslims in Pittsburgh try
to improve the religions image and separate it from
global terrorism, blacks are paving the way, Martin
Black women, for example, have long worn the
traditional head-covering, or hijab, to work, while
immigrants have been reluctant to do so, she said.
Today, Muslims in Pittsburgh are far more visible, she
Because of our social tag ... we didnt mind,
Byrdsong said, pointing to his dark skin as an
explanation to why being openly Muslim has never been
a problem for blacks in America. We cant hide it.
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