Home | New | Islam | God | Revelation | Messengers | Religions | Back to Converts | Links | Chat | Search | Email


Muslim faithful fighting myths that grew out of 9/11

By Andrea Robinson, The Miami Herald, February 14 2002 CE


Each Friday afternoon, dozens of mostly black men and women wearing traditional Muslim garments stream into Masjid Al-Ansar in the shadow of Interstate 95 in Liberty City, for the weekly Jum'ah prayer at the mosque.

Imam Fred Nuriddin opens his message with a declaration of praise for Allah: ''In the name of Allah, the merciful benefactor, the merciful redeemer,'' he begins, ''I bear witness that there is no God but Allah, and I bear witness that Mohammed is the messenger of God.''

It's a ritual few outside Islam know anything about. One anomaly of Islam is that although millions of African Americans have embraced it since the early 1900s -- it's the country's fastest-growing religion -- its tenets are a mystery to most Americans.

Sept. 11 has helped to change that.

Since the terrorist attacks, people in the faith say they have taken on roles as ambassadors of Islam to dispel stereotypes that the religion is dominated by fanatics and terrorists.

''Sept. 11 forced Muslims to recognize they can no longer hide in the woodwork,'' said Imam Rafiq Mahdi of Masjid Al-Iman in Fort Lauderdale. He said African Americans are in a position to educate the public because, unlike Muslims from South Asia and Middle Eastern countries, they don't fear deportation or detention or that they will be ''construed as being anti-American.''

Both Nuriddin and Madhi have spoken at dozens of venues around Florida -- at colleges, high schools, churches, public symposiums -- to answer questions from not only African Americans, but also Anglos and Hispanics. The Liberty City mosque also has had an increase in attendance at its Sunday information sessions for non-Muslims, especially among Hispanics.

''We had a lot of opportunities before, but more since Sept. 11,'' Nuriddin said. ''It's given us an opportunity to clarify things about the religion.''

Misunderstandings about Islam are rooted in media coverage of news events, such as the Iranian revolution in the late 1970s and the politics of the Nation of Islam in this country, Madhi said.

''It's looking at Islam through the actions of individuals instead of the teachings of the Koran. We're trying to correct those views,'' Mahdi said.

African Americans largely were introduced to a form of the teachings through Nation of Islam leader Elijah Muhammad during the 1930s. Although the Nation's present controversial leader, Minister Louis Farrakhan, dominates news coverage, many African Americans -- including Malcolm X -- began shifting toward traditional Islam in the 1960s. Orthodox Muslims reject the racial separatism message espoused by the Nation.

Traditional Muslims Mahdi and Nuriddin are two of four African-American men with the title of prayer leader -- imam -- in Miami-Dade and Broward. A fifth masjid, or mosque, is led by Imam Abdul Lateef, a native of Nigeria.

In 1982, there was one black imam and just two mosques in Miami-Dade County, including Al-Ansar, which was first. Now there are 13 countywide, three with predominantly black audiences. In Broward, there are two African-American imams and 10 mosques countywide, one of which -- Masjid Tauhid in the Sistrunk area -- is predominantly black.

That growth was aided by people moving here from Latin America and the Caribbean -- among them Panamanians, Jamaicans, Haitians and Guyanese.

Businessman Shaukath Ali, a native of Trinidad, prayed at home after moving here in 1982 until a friend told him about a mosque in Pompano Beach. Since then, he and Imam Maulana Shafayat Mohamed have helped establish several mosques, including Darul Uloom Institute in Pembroke Pines.

''The duty of a Muslim is to make everyone -- Muslim or non-Muslim -- welcome,'' Ali said. ''In Islam, we're Muslim, period. In your heart you abolish the race factor.''

Sofian Abdelaziz, director of AMANA, which helps establish Islamic centers in Florida, said there are 23 mosques in South Florida and about 150,000 Muslims. Of that number, 20,000 are African American and an additional 10,000 are West Indian, he said.

Ilyas Ba-Yunus, a sociology professor at State University of New York at Cortland, said the U.S. Muslim population will reach 7.9 million by this summer, with African Americans making up 32 percent of that number. An additional 6 percent come from the West Indies, Guyana and sub-Saharan African countries.

Nationally, African Americans account for the majority of converts in the United States, particularly in the Northeast. Some families are now fourth-generation Muslim, said Aminah McCloud, Islamic studies professor at De Paul University in Chicago.

Wayne Rawlins, director of the Miami urban improvement program, Weed and Seed, said he was attracted by the message of one God, the call for modesty and Koran teachings that celebrate equality. He started studying Islam's principles in 1974 at age 16, but didn't formally convert until 1989.

''I considered myself a Muslim when I started reading the Koran,'' said Rawlins, who grew up Presbyterian in New York City. ''The oneness of God was the thing that made sense to me. The concept of the Trinity didn't make sense to my logic.''

Each Sunday, Rawlins joins other men from Al-Iman to go into black neighborhoods to speak with non-Muslims about the religion. The reaction they've encountered since Sept. 11 has changed, he said, not all favorable.

''Before, we never met people who were totally against Islam. They would listen to you and may not agree, but it would be cool,'' Rawlins said. ''Now, you run into one or two who are angry. They don't want to hear it.''

But he said most people they meet want to learn more.

Today most African-American Muslims embrace teachings of Sunni, or Orthodox, Islam, but they vary on some ritual practices and on the interpretation of the Koran. And they dislike the phrase ''Black Muslim,'' which widely refers to Nation of Islam.

Orthodox Muslims reject the Nation of Islam as a genuine Islamic organization because its members do not accept the Prophet Mohammed as Allah's messenger. By 1975, hundreds of thousands of African Americans, including Khalid and Patricia Salahuddin of Miami, moved away from the Nation.

''It was a very easy move for us because all the time we were very sincere in what we believed,'' said Salahuddin, a native of Panama, who invites others to Sunday information sessions at Al-Ansar. The mosque also offers Arabic classes to help members read the Koran and say their five daily prayers.

Will Covington of Miami is one of those who is learning about the religion. For more than a year he has juggled his time between Friday afternoon Jum'ah and Sunday services at his Baptist church. He, too, has noticed more new faces -- black, white and Hispanic -- since last fall.

Covington said he feels at home at both the mosque and the church.

''I don't feel weird because God is the truth. You have to be involved to find out what's going on,'' Covington said.

Such outreach isn't restricted to the mosque. Miami businessman Prentice Rasheed keeps extra Islamic literature at his clothing and jewelry store. They've been in huge demand since Sept. 11.

''When [people] are comfortable they don't want to hear anything that may affect their values. When a storm comes along and shocks them, then they want to see what the heck is going on,'' Rasheed said.

''Sept. 11 was that storm.''

Source: http://www.miami.com/mld/miamiherald/2665517.htm


Home | New | Islam | God | Revelation | Messengers | Religions | Back to Converts | Links | Chat | Search | Email