Philadelphia Muslims – Where Are You?

Being a Michigan native, I still look at Philadelphia with an outsider’s eye, even after five years of living here. The impact upon me of how many Muslims there are here in this city still rings with a newness for me. Last weekend, I happened to meet a young man from Baltimore who was up visiting the University of Pennsylvania in hopes of attending a graduate program there. We spent part of the afternoon together and he continually remarked about how many Muslims there are in Philadelphia. From your bus driver to a world-class surgeon and everything in between, Muslims are quasi-ubiquitous in Philadelphia; they are just everywhere. Everywhere that is, unless you’re looking for civic engagement.

I have been on the Mayor’s inter-faith counsel for the past five years and I have seen Muslims present from time to time but what continues to disappoint me is the lack of structure and organizations that Muslims in Philadelphia have. Most masājid are run down and broke, to be frank. Their operating budgets [if they even seem to have something so official] are minuscule; ramshackle buildings in blighted areas are not out of norm. I write these observations not out of a sense of malice: I often deliver khutbahs in these places and I love my brothers and sisters dearly. But I cannot ignore a glaring problem when I see it. I ask myself: “Why are Philadelphia Muslims so content with their predicament?” Poverty; violence [we lost another young Muslim to violence just this week: an 18-year-old girl]; educational and economic disparity. Why are these dear brothers and sisters not using their Islam as a means of uplift instead as a blunt instrument of complacency? I can’t tell you how many places I have visited and communities I’ve spoken with, brothers I’ve talked to, all whom bellyache, bemoan, and impute the “kafir system”, yet do little to nothing to affect positive changes in their own neighborhoods. Has Islam in Philadelphia simply become a cultural practice [and here I am specifically addressing the Blackamerican community]? Is this not the same crticism we level at so-called immigrant Muslims, who no longer “practice” but still have some feeble notion of Muslim-ness?

This past weekend played host to the Islamic Heritage Festival. My wife and I had a nice time hanging out in the sun, talking to friends we hadn’t seen in a while. Even the music was entertaining, if not somewhat questionable [Miss Undastood singing, “Muhammad Akbar Ali, here’s the number to my wali“]. But what was most noticeably missing to me was the lack of heritage. Philadelphia is ripe with Muslims history, from brother Malcolm to the Ahmad and Muhaimin families, just to name a few. There seemed to be very little to no heritage and more just a gathering. I recognize the importance of social gatherings but how could one of the most important cities in American in terms of Muslim history, have a heritage festival without any heritage? For me, this is indicative of the issue in Philadelphia: there are so many Muslims that Islam is taken for granted.

In a recent e-mail from Mayor Nutter’s office, I received this e-mail:

On behalf of Mayor Michael A. Nutter and the Executive Committee and Steering Committee of NewCORE, we are pleased to invite you to NewCORE’s upcoming dialogue: Moving Toward A More Perfect Union … Two years ago, at the National Constitution Center, Barack Obama gave a famous speech in which he challenged Americans to help form “A More Perfect Union” … Locally, an interfaith group called the New Conversation on Race and Ethnicity (NewCORE), has accepted the President’s challenge, to spur the Philadelphia community to be a leader in this effort … In February 2009 NewCORE convened its first large-scale public dialogue, attended by 100+ faith and civic inspired people, at Philadelphia’s City Hal l… NewCORE is comprised of many individuals and faith organizations, but key support comes from: Palmer Theological Seminary of Eastern University; the Mayor’s Office of Faith Based Initiatives; the Archdiocese of Philadelphia; the Metropolitan Christian Council of Philadelphia; WHYY, Inc., and; the University of Pennsylvania, Project for Civic Engagement.

The part that grabbed my attention above was not so much the NewCORE organization but the lack of any definitive Muslim presence in the line:  Palmer Theological Seminary of Eastern University; the Mayor’s Office of Faith Based Initiatives; the Archdiocese of Philadelphia; the Metropolitan Christian Council of Philadelphia; WHYY, Inc., and; the University of Pennsylvania, Project for Civic Engagement. In a city this size, with a Muslim population this big, how is it there is not one Muslim organization involved?  There are so many opportunities for Muslims to engage the broader public here in Philadelphia in contrast to almost any other city I’ve lived in or visited in the states. Non-Muslims here are either familiar with or accustomed to—if not sympathetic towards—Muslims. These advantages should be capitalized upon. If Islam in Philadelphia is going to have any hopes of succeeding in giving birth to a new generation of Muslims that are going to live for and die for Islam, then a much more aggressive approach is going to be needed. The consequences of not doing so are already present amongst us here. I pray that Allah gives us the fortitude, intestinal and spiritual, to do what is incumbent upon us.

Amin

9 Comments Philadelphia Muslims – Where Are You?

  1. sammyaziz@gmail.com'Philly Muslims group

    Salaam Bro

    I fully agree…I believe the answer lies in the lack of qualified Imams. There is def a deep spiritual hole in Philadelphia. The Imams that are knowledgeable don’t speak English(Aqsa, Jamia, Villanova).

    In addition we don’t have one proper hifz or alim program in the whole city. Not only are Muslims prevalent in this city, but have reached the highest levels of city public offices including Chief of Police and Councilmen.

    May Allah have mercy on Philadelphia and bless it.

  2. theblog@manrilla.net'Marc

    @Millahinphilly,

    wa ‘alaykum salaam. Thank you for taking the time to drop by. In case you missed it, I have been a student of Imam Anwar’s and regularly give the khutbah at Masjid Quba. As for Dawud Adib, I must say that I do part ways with his ideologies.

    My post was not meant to solely blame the imams of the community yet we must look at the reality and quality of leadership coming from our masājid. There is no doubt that the rank and file may come to play the biggest role but that aspect is seldom highlighted from the minbar.

    You point to the problems of sectarianism and you are correct to do so. Again, I point my finger at the leadership for allowing such behavior to persist. You mention the issue of the two masājid, yet in doing so, you failed to leave out that the imam of this masjid is incapable of speaking English! This is the largest masjid in the Philadelphia city limits as well. How one could stay in that position and not be capable of communicating in the lingua franca is not only inexcusable, it’s unacceptable. What also needs to be asked is why do Philadelphia Muslims settle for second-rate leadership?

    Good comments.

  3. jtbigelow@gmail.com'millahinphilly

    I’ve always been a happy lurker, but I couldn’t resist jumping on this topic. I don’t agree that there is a lack of qualified imams in Philly. In addition to the imams of the masajid listed we have people like Imam Dawud Adib and Imam Anwar Muhaimin. Even if you don’t particularly agree with their respective methodologies, you have to admit that they are both very knowledgeable.
    In fact, there are many small masajid throughout this city with extremely qualified imams. I think that’s part of the problem: we have so many small communities. Those small communities think on a small scale; thus, in general, Philadelphia Muslims accomplish small things.
    I think Philadelphia Muslims are highly sectarian, only keeping to their little groups. Why else would we have three West African (Mandingo) masjids within a five block radius of each other? Why do we have two Masjids virtually across the street from each other that both have a school: one has a large building but basically no one to attend because of its disconnect from young Muslims, the other has a school functioning in a rowhome. No one seems to see this as strange. WHY???
    And we all look down our noses at each other, especially the African American Muslims. And, yes, I’m guilty of this too. If we’re not criticizing Germantown, then it’s Clara Muhammad, or Islamic Brotherhood, UMM, or Mujahideen, or AICP, etc. If we want real progress, what we need is leadership that’s bold enough and PERSISTENT enough to push these communities to work together.

  4. theblog@manrilla.net'Marc

    I think there are a few misunderstandings here. First, my comments about these two imams were not directed at you but at Philly Muslims Group

    My fault. Sometimes reading on the Internet is misleading!

    Imam Dawud Adib is still a respected imam internationally.

    True. True.

    I was trying to disprove this assertion, which seems to not look outside of the Arab community. Shaykh Anwar’s level of knowledge is just as, if not more impressive, than the imams mentioned.

    Certainly true!

    did you think I meant Jamia and AICP?

    Yes, I did infact think you meant those two. I guess I was projecting my frustration!

  5. jtbigelow@gmail.com'millahinphilly

    Marc:

    Assalamu Alaikum,

    I think there are a few misunderstandings here. First, my comments about these two imams were not directed at you but at Philly Muslims Group who said there were only three knowledgeable imams in Philly and all three don’t speak English. I was trying to disprove this assertion, which seems to not look outside of the Arab community. Shaykh Anwar’s level of knowledge is just as, if not more impressive, than the imams mentioned. And anyone who knows you cannot miss your deep respect of Shaykh Anwar. And although you may part ways ideologically, Imam Dawud Adib is still a respected imam internationally.

    Also, I’m not sure the two schools I was referring to are the ones you described (did you think I meant Jamia and AICP?). The two masjids with schools, which I called “virtually across the street from each other” both have imams who speak English well and as their primary language. I think the language I used is misleading. They’re not exactly across the street.

  6. sammyaziz@gmail.com'Philly Muslims Group

    Salaam millahinphilly

    I don’t know Imam Dawud Adib’s background. Being qualified is subjective due to their not being established standards among Muslims in America. I have seen gangsters, doctors, and engineers who have no formal Islamic teaching both give khuthbas and lead prayers. I don’t want to get into whether that’s wrong or right here. I do want to reply to particular statements:

    “In fact, there are many small masajid throughout this city with extremely qualified imams.”

    I don’t agree with this statement. Name me six masjids with qualified imams and what makes them qualified.

    “I think that’s part of the problem: we have so many small communities. Those small communities think on a small scale; thus, in general, Philadelphia Muslims accomplish small things.”

    Imams are supposed to lead their communities to success … qualified imams are able to do this and work together for the sake of Allah. I see the total opposite. I have had the honor of working with and visiting communities across the nation and Philadelphia is among the worst in terms of leadership, vision, heritage, education and social services among Muslims.

    “If we want real progress, what we need is leadership that’s bold enough and PERSISTENT enough to push these communities to work together.”

    This statement agrees with my main point that we lack qualified imams in Philadelphia. Imams are our leaders. Our imams, a.k.a. leaders, should be both knowledgeable and able to apply that knowledge to the community. What good is knowledge without action? Or action without knowledge? Both seem to persist on a large scale in the Philadelphia community.

    I believe the answer to the Philadelphia Muslim conundrum lies in strong educated leadership. Men who are knowledgeable, pray to Allah in the night and day, speak English, are humble, and live for the sake of Allah, solely for his pleasure. When you look at them the Noor of Allah shines, and your heart trembles when they speak because they speak the truth with sincerity. They shun this world and all that is in it and seek to guide their congregation towards Allah at all cost.

  7. theblog@manrilla.net'Marc

    In a recent talk, Dawud Adib blasted folks who give the basmallah and the taslīm, without giving the tahmīd [saying “al-Hamdulillah”], as being from amongst the Ahl al-Bid’ah [for more on bid’ah, see the post, A Basic Primer on Sunnah], the People of Innovation. Not only does Adib go off maniaclly on Muslims who omit the tahmīd, he condems those who even associate with such Muslims, that if they were traveling and were in need of lodging that they, “should of stayed on a park bench before you stayed with oneof them people“. And this pales in comparison to his wedding day antics in which he drove around with his new bride, asking if someone had a cot for him to consumate the marriage. So when you say that he is respected, you must qualify, “by whom?” Is this the kind of personality and character we want out of our leadership?

    As was mentioned above, the time has come to raise the bar on what qualifies one as an imām. Perhaps if we looked to our communities and our leaders, we will see a connection between them that explains their current predicaments. Are the rank-and-file encouraged by their imāms to raise up out of their existential quagmires or are they passified to stay content, only to continue to wallow in poverty, violence, and blight?

  8. redhalofive@yahoo.com'l'oreal

    I just happened upon your blog while doing some random researching on the web. Your words resonate with me, although I do not know what living in extreme poverty is like. Not that I am well off, but this sounds like an ongoing struggle not only for the brothers and sisters there in Philadelphia but everyone, well almost everyone, everywhere. I had actually thought about teaching art in Philadelphia after I receive my M.A. I am at odds really. It is that extreme poverty which compels me to go there, but also repels me in the same instance. I don’t mean any offense to those who live there.

  9. theblog@manrilla.net'Marc

    L’Oreal,
    Wa ‘alaykum salaam. Poverty and growing poverty are certainly national issues here in the States now as the economic situation continues to implode. Your choice to teach art here sounds like the same sentiments I here from friends of mine that I went to art school with when I was younger. Most became either bitter at their teaching group or disullusioned with art altogether after making little to no money and feeling disconnected and powerless. Perhaps that has as much to do with their misconceptions going into the whole venture. May Allah bless you in whatever endeavor you launch into.

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