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Islam in America: Cities see rise in black Muslims in wake of 9/11

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  • Zafar Khan
    Cities see rise in black Muslims in wake of 9/11 Religious leaders report growth in numbers in major American cities By Ramit Plushnick-Masti Updated: 12:29
    Message 1 of 1 , Mar 25, 2007
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      Cities see rise in black Muslims in wake of 9/11
      Religious leaders report growth in numbers in major
      American cities

      By Ramit Plushnick-Masti
      Updated: 12:29 a.m. ET March 23, 2007

      http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/17722665/

      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 Pittsburgh’s 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 York’s 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 world’s 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 Pittsburgh’s 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
      gathering place.

      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
      Arab world.

      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
      neighborhood.

      “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,
      Pittsburgh’s tight-knit Muslim community has raised
      much of the $1.5 million needed in the project’s 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 ... it’s (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,
      Mamiya said.

      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
      functions.”

      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
      North.

      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
      United States.

      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 city’s
      black Muslim community.

      “It really was a time for us to come together,” Martin
      said.

      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 religion’s image and separate it from
      global terrorism, blacks are paving the way, Martin
      said.

      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
      said.

      “Because of our social tag ... we didn’t 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 can’t hide it.”

      © 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This
      material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or
      redistributed.
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