Philadelphia, after five years, continues to tantalize me with the hope and potential it has for American Muslims. There simply is no other city in the States that has the down home feeling of Islam that Philadelphia has. I believe that is saying something given that I grew up within a 45-minute drive of one of the larger Muslim populations in the United States: Dearborn. The contrasting difference between Dearborn, Michigan, and Philadelphia, is that the population in question here is an indigenous one. There isn’t anywhere you can go in Philadelphia and not see the presence of Muslims: The hospital; the bus or public transportation [many Muslims work for SEPTA]; the University; all walk of life from menial to professional. But it isn’t just ubiquitous nature of Muslims in Philadelphia, it’s also their impact on the greater non-Muslim population. It is often noted and joked about that, as far as the Black population goes, you cannot easily distinguish who is and is not Muslim in Philadelphia. Non-Muslim Black men dress in that decidedly distinct Philadelphia Muslim fashion: thick beards, short pants, Timberland boots, etc. Even non-Muslim Black women imitate Muslims here [on the way home from work I sat on the bus with a woman who wore what appeared to be hijab. She greeted me with, “as-Salaamu ‘alaykum,” noting my dhikr beads. At the end of the conversation, she said she wasn’t Muslim but had many Muslims for friends]. And while I do feel that the indigenous identity has been compromised here by certain movements whose imagination is planted somewhere, as one scholar put it, “hovering over the Atlantic”, I still feel comfortable in branding Philadelphia as the United States premier city for Muslims.
Part of that premier status has to do with some of the many excellent brothers and sisters that I have had the pleasure to meet and work with in these past five years. There are so many to name, and, God willing, I hope to enumerate them further in another post, but for now, I would like to draw attention to a local, home grown, grass roots organization: The Quba Institute, a 60+year indigenous Muslim school and mosque that has played a critical and defining role in the development of Islam in Philadelphia and beyond. I want to make clear that I am not voicing that Quba is the only institute, but it is certainly one of the most important, and certainly longest contiually running indigenous Muslim organizations period.
I had the pleasure of being the Master of Ceremonies for Quba’s annual fundraising banquet this month. One of the evenings highlights, aside from yours truly’s one liners, was a short film which features some of the rich history that is the Quba Institute. It also showcased what they are doing now and what they aim to do in the future: Continue to educate tomorrow’s leaders. I encourage and implore you to look, listen, and if possible, donate, to this gem of an institution. While there are other institutions that can boast rock star imams in their line up, Quba deals with the realities of Muslims in everyday life, preparing their students to meet the challenge of modern day life while being grounded as Muslims. Their staff and leadership are also home grown, who have in turnproduced home grown huffadh/memorizers of the Qur’an, just to name some of their impressive accomplishments.
So pop some pop corn and watch this engaging clip and please visit the Quba Institute’s web site when you are done.