Hidden Jewels in the Ghettos of DC

The few who know me personally, know I have a fascination and love for “ghetto” neighborhoods and giving dawah to the people there. Any city I visit, I’m always asking about the ghetto areas and how to get there. Some think I’m crazy, but I just feel the need to help these people because Islam has many solutions for their problems. They don’t need to look at the Hip Hop or sports stars to get out. The just need to get out with Islam. Which brings me to an amazing community that is unheard of, for the most part, outside the DC area in the Maryland-Virginia suburbs and most definitely the entire country.

‘Asr time was almost ending and my wife and myself were in DC enjoying the beautiful weather. I remembered there was a masjid in South East DC that my wife had been to before for a wedding. For those who don’t know SE (South East) is the ghetto of DC. If you told the average resident of the Maryland-Virginia suburbs that you went to SE DC, they’d probably react with the “OMG” and then some stereotypical question that involved robbing, fried chicken, drugs, street corners, boarded up houses, etc. Alhamdulillah for Islam and alhamdulillah we are Muslims. I put my foot to the pedal and we were off to Masjid al Islam in SE DC.

Getting there was not fun. The roads reminded me of the BQE (NYers know what I’m talking about) and the local streets were the typical looking blocks of Brooklyn or Queens. Again, alhamdulillah, not to worry because we’re going to connect with Allah (swt). So a few craters on the road can’t hurt.

We arrived at Masjid al-Islam just as ‘Asr time was pretty much over. We saw Muslim children playing outside as we walked up to the masjid. There was an elderly man outside in which I greeted. He returned the greeting with a nice big smile. We went inside and I saw the sign for brothers wudhu area and I went there, and my wife disappeared to where the women’s section was (or at least I thought she was gone, read on to find out how we reunite). Bathroom was the average masjid bathroom facility, but better than average in cleanliness, mashaAllah.

As I made my way to the musalla, I passed by some pictures of young Muslim children. Then I passed a classroom and a table full with lectures from many speakers. At this point I’m thinking to myself: “They have a school. They produce lectures. Who are these guys? Why haven’t I heard or seen any events in the DC-MD-VA area?”

I continued on to the musalla feeling ignorant not knowing anything about this community and on my way I pass a huge professional copy machine. What? They even got their own copy/printing machine! Usually only the big community centers with more than one jummah have these type of machines, not a masjid in SE DC. There were also some network cables connected to it, so I know they have some techie people in here. That got me excited, because at least I know they must have some web presence.

I got to the musalla and it was huge mashaAllah. From the outside I couldn’t tell, but when I walked in, I felt like I was in a “real” masjid (real meaning with a dome, minaret and the rest of the whole nine yards of the typical masjid with Islamic architecture). I started to look around, but was diverted to facing one area, after realizing their was a niqabi sister praying at the back of the musalla. I focused my attention on a brother reading and then preparing for ‘Asr. I quickly entered into the state of prayer and began. After completing ‘Asr, I turned around to see my wife making her salah right there. I then realized that the men and women pray in the same musalla with absolutely no divider at all. That impressed me, because it is rare to find a community that is following the musalla for women and men exactly like the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him).

Upon leaving the masjid my wife and I met a few brothers walking in. They all had long beards, kufis and thoubs or regular clothing. They greeted us with big smiles and one of the brothers said “you’re not staying?”. I responded that we were in the area and we came to pray ‘Asr. Then the brother explained that the first Saturday of every month is family night and we were invited to come. I responded saying we couldn’t stay tonight, but inshaAllah now that we know, we will try to attend the next one.

Walking to the car, I looked at my wife and said “Family night?”. What masjid does this? I’ve heard of halaqahs, lectures, dinners, programs, classes, etc. but never “family night”. On a continuous basis too.

After doing some research with Shaykh Google, I realized the brother I spoke to when leaving was Imam Abdul Alim Musa who is the Imam of Masjid al-Islam and the Amir of the Sabiqun movement in DC. I listened to some of his lectures available on YouTube and many of them are extremely powerful and profound, especially for youths in urban and city neighborhoods.

I’ve saved this for the last, but as I was doing my salah, some brothers came up to the musalla to talk to the brother who was originally there before I came up. One of them spoke and said “He wants to take shahada.” After chatting with a few people about this community, one brother told me they have converts on a weekly basis.

To sum it all up, I’d say I just experienced 100% home-grown Black American Islam straight form the Qur’an and Sunnah. This blog post wouldn’t explain it, but my heart felt at peace at that masjid.

May Allah (swt) continue to bless this community. May Allah (swt) preserve Imam Abdul Alim Musa. May Allah (swt) continue to uplift this community in such a unlifted surrounding. Ameen.

20 Replies to “Hidden Jewels in the Ghettos of DC”

  1. Allahu Akbar!
    Subhanallah, those kind of stories and experiences put so much shukr and sakeenah in your heart as well just makes you fully realize – Allah truly is the best of planners. We aint got nothing to do with it…

    Barakallahu feek.

  2. You should go there for Jumuah…they got a lil buffet joint going after it in the hall way.

    The Imam also has videos that come on DC’s public access. (although, he is definitely not the best person do give dawah on public access…may Allah reward him for his intentions).

    He’s actually been on fox news…unfortunately. You can see it on youtube.

    Although we don’t have the knowledge down here, we got stuff to work with Alhumdulillah.

  3. Jazak Allah khair for this amazing post!

    One of my favorite things to do when visiting any city for a conference (muslim related or not) is to find the Masjid in the city and go to it.

    Usually, because of my ignorance of the city, I use mapquest or google to find it and it ends up being the African American Muslim community because I look for the masjid within the city near the conference center or hotel.

    Its always great to step out for the suburban Muslims to step out of their bubble and visit the inner-city Masjid.

    We just need to start doing that on more of a consistent basis and not something we just experience once in a while.

  4. I know exactly what you mean! I started attending a masjid that is predominantly African American and my experience was so great and my spirits were so lifted from all the genuine Islam that I only attend that masjid now.

  5. I’m surprised you haven’t heard of Imam Musa before. He is mentioned in Dr. Jeffrey Lang’s books “Struggling to Surrender”,”Even Angels Ask” and I think the third one as well “Losing My Religion”.

  6. MashAllah, thanks for sharing this beautiful story, MR.

    I am always fond of visiting masjids in different cities (and countries) and to see how each community operates. There is also a little giddiness I get when I don’t know anybody and I can just come and pray 🙂

    Slim | MuslimWorker.com

  7. I wish more masajid would return to the way of the Prophet (s), having mentioned the divider.

    Over segregation is causing a lack of Muslim youth to meet in a halal environment. Dating is of course not allowed, but if the Muslim youth have no opportunity to meet one another, but have opportunities at school etc to meet and interact freely with non-Muslims – who will they be more likely to be attracted to?!

    Living in the West poses different situations for Muslims, especially the youth, which ultimately require a renaissance of the simple, basic, chock-free, Prophetic values!

    Let us make the halal easy by simply following the example Allah (swt) and His Beloved (s) left for us!

  8. subhan allah…just looking at this mans profile hes clearly not upon the sunnah…out right support for khomeini and his movement..a call for a movement but no guidelines whatsoever..no mention of whom he studied under or which schools…and just looking at videos like this


    this man is a lunatic in my eyes..its like hes in the black panther era or something…unless some one has real background info on him and his work…this man is to be avoided

  9. @chuah – Yeah that was shocking, but you’ll find “salafis” at the masjid there including students from the Mahad when it was open in Virginia as well as students from Madinah U.

    Politically speaking, Imam Musa is definitely amongst a few in his views.

  10. Salaam
    mashaAllah, this is an excellent post, it is so inspiring and uplifting to read about a strong Muslim community.

    I have one question: You said: “That impressed me, because it is rare to find a community that is following the musalla for women and men exactly like the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him).” Can men and women pray in the same musalla if the men are ghayr mahram? Can you tell me about this sunnah please?

    May Allah reward you for your efforts, InshaAllah.

  11. i think the term imam is being used irresponsibly these days…brother MR although we are to think that which is good of our brothers…i did a 10 minute look on this man and i did not see any good..a simple question is anyone with definite background on his education and sources of knowledge might save us alot of back n forth arguments..

  12. My brother passed this on to me and I read it this morning. I’m actually a teacher at the school at Masjid Al-Islam and so I printed out a few copies of this post and showed it to the other teachers and we were all very appreciative. I grew up in the PG County suburbs (Hyattsville, MD) but became a part of the Masjid Al-Islam community for many of the reasons you noted. Masha’Allah, Imam Musa brings the message of Islam in a dynamic way that people in the surrounding environment of Southeast DC, East Oakland, and similar places across America will understand it. He also has a very good grasp on history (masha’Allah) and the times we are living in.

    Unfortunately, for the most part, Muslims think of inner-city residents during Ramadan, in which they might organize a “feed the homeless” or “free medical screening” type of event (my Allah reward the intentions and good efforts). But what have we done to really help the people in the long-term? Islam in the inner-city cannot flourish without establishing strong institutions which are aimed at providing a real-life picture of Islam to the people of the inner-city.

    Now, on a lighter tip… Believe it or not, just a few weeks ago, I showed your “Reign of Distraction” video on YouTube to the kids in the aftercare (sometimes, they’re bit too stuck on computer games). Anyways, a big “thank you” from all of us! May Allah (swt) reward you!

  13. To address chuah’s concerns:

    It is a fact that Imam Musa is not a scholar in the traditional sense. Though he hasn’t formally studied under a shaikh or at an overseas institution–and by no means does he hide this fact–he has privately studied Islamic texts for many years and he understands Islam in all of its practicality. To get a taste of the texts that he has studied and that he often refers to in dealing with community affairs, look over the reading list on the As-Sabiqun website. It is mostly is a blend of traditional Islamic literature (i.e. “Reliance of the Traveller”, “Ihya’ Ulum Id-Din”, etc.) + movement-oriented literature (i.e., Hasan al-Banna, Mawdudi, etc.).

    Please, at least, examine the fruits of Imam Musa’s work. For years, he has presented the message of Islam in a way that is comprehensive, practical, and easy-to-understand. He is trying to share this Deen in a way people can grasp it. He has earnestly worked to build and manage a community in an environment that is plagued with all kinds of social ills. Does Allah (swt) not love sincere faith (iman) and righteous work (‘amilus-salihat)? Does He not command us to help the poor and oppressed? Yes, Imam Musa has not studied under a shaikh. Yes, perhaps the term ‘imam’ is being used loosely these days (although I must say that in my eyes, Imam Musa is quite deserving of it). I surrender!!! What next..?

    The fact is, the basics of Islam–core beliefs, five pillars, fundamental fiqh, tazkiyat al-nafs–have touched and transformed many a person who has attended Masjid Al-Islam over the years.

  14. ASA,

    I don’t live in DC anymore and now my husband is in Riyadh but he misses Al-Islam so much! He misses the ummahhood. ;-p It’s hard to say.. An atmosphere of happiness; everyone full of smiles, friendly, laughter. The brothers and sisters wouldn’t suddenly act weird around each other when someone entered the room. You, niqabi, hijabi, and some struggling and no one trips out about it. No fighting over manhaj, who’s in and who’s out. You got to check that stuff at the door because they’re all about giving out big hugs, smiles and salaams.

    Imam Musa checks the men in public when they’re slipping in their duties to the women and the Masjid. He calls them to task and most of the time the men shake it off and step forward to meet his goals. Random people come in, hear one kutba and make sahadah. My husband and I even went to a marriage seminar that promoted romance. It was a day long event and they decked the masjid out to set the mood and encouraged only cherish thoughts for ones spouse and told us that keeping our marriages together was our greatest jihad living in the inner cities and in America. Afterward, they served us several kinds of cakes, passed around strawberries, flutes with sparkling grape juice and asked us to reflect upon the good mood and take it back home with us. To reflect on those good times when the weight of the world is upon us and to hold tight to Allah’s SWT rope and each other for support.

    It was the coolest marriage seminar I’ve ever been too.

    That event was years ago and till this day my husband and I have a few good laughs reflecting on the shy, but warm atmosphere and everyone’s well wishes for success.

    So thanks Imam Musa and Al-Islam because you are sorely missed.

    Thanks MRR

  15. @Br. Muhaafiz – Ahahaha, subhanAllah, you actually showed them that video! MashaAllah! Computer games are awesome. I’m still an addict, but it’s under control, walhamdulillah. InshaAllah I look foward to meeting you whenever Allah wills it.

  16. salam

    i wish every muslim in Canada would not seperate tem selves in different cultures 🙁

    freal i want all us muslims going to the same mosque, of course we dont care because people are just doing it due to the fact that some muslims only unerstand what the afghans or the somalis are saying but still 🙁

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