Mus­lim groups to cel­e­brate 70 years in Baltimore

Baltimore Sun - - NEWS - By Jonathan M. Pitts jonathan.pitts@balt­sun.com

When Charles Rasheed moved to Baltimore in 1945, he found him­self in a city with no or­ga­nized Mus­lim pres­ence.

The bar­ber from Wash­ing­ton fol­lowed the teach­ings of Na­tion of Is­lam founder Eli­jah Muham­mad. Rasheed shared those teach­ings in his home and his bar­ber­shop, and he had a fledg­ling tem­ple cer­ti­fied in 1947. A move­ment grad­u­ally took shape.

This week­end, more than 250 lo­cal Mus­lims will gather to mark the 70th an­niver­sary of their faith tra­di­tion in the city.

The com­mu­nity’s lead­ers are view­ing the fes­tiv­i­ties — a uni­fied prayer ser­vice, or Jumu’ah, on Fri­day, and a ban­quet Satur­day evening — as a chance to cel­e­brate their fore­bears’ strug­gles and to set the tone for a promis­ing fu­ture.

“It’s truly re­mark­able to have us all come to­gether around one com­mon theme — rec­og­niz­ing that we are a 70-year-old com­mu­nity that is still evolv­ing for the greater good of hu­man­ity,” says Min­is­ter Car­los Muham­mad, spir­i­tual leader of Muham­mad Mosque No. 6. It is one of four lo­cal mosques that trace their ori­gins to Rasheed.

Car­los Muham­mad, the na­tional ar­chiv­ist and his­to­rian for the Na­tion of Is­lam, says it’s hard to es­ti­mate the num­ber of peo­ple in Baltimore who count them­selves as Mus­lims, though he says he would not be sur­prised if it were in “the tens of thou­sands.”

About 1,000 of those at­tend one of four mosques whose roots run deep in lo­cal his­tory: Mosque No. 6 in Cen­tral For­est Park; Masjid Khal­i­fah in Park Heights; Masjid Al-In­shi­rah Peace Cen­ter in Wind­sor Mill; and the largest of the group, the Mus­lim Com­mu­nity Cul­tural Cen­ter of Baltimore on West North Av­enue.

The four houses of wor­ship, mem­bers of the Greater Baltimore Mus­lim Al­liance, are spon­sor­ing the week­end’s events, in­clud­ing the ban­quet at The Fo­rum Cater­ers in West Baltimore.

Key­note speak­ers will in­clude early “pi­o­neers” of the move­ment such as Jameel An­sari, 93, who be­came a Mus­lim in Baltimore in 1954, and Velma Muham­mad, 76, who joined the com­mu­nity in 1960.

They’ll dis­cuss what ap­pealed to them about Is­lam so many years ago and why they still prac­tice the faith.

Younger mem­bers of the com­mu­nity will also take the podium, in­clud­ing Naimah Sharif, who will dis­cuss grow­ing up in a Mus­lim house­hold in Baltimore in the 1980s.

“We’ll show­case the strength and courage of our pi­o­neers as well as the im­por­tance and de­ter­mi­na­tion of our youth as they carry the torch of al-Is­lam into the fu­ture,” says Imam Earl El-Amin, spir­i­tual leader of the Mus­lim Com­mu­nity Cul­tural Cen­ter.

In post-World War II Baltimore, Is­lam struck many as a life-af­firm­ing be­lief sys­tem. Car­los Muham­mad says the teach­ings of Eli­jah Muham­mad, who headed the Na­tion of Is­lam from 1934 through 1975, in­cluded what he calls the his­tor­i­cal fact that most of those brought to the Amer­icas as slaves were Mus­lims, and nearly all saw their re­li­gion stripped from them.

Eli­jah Muham­mad’s ver­sion of Is­lam fo­cused on re­con­nect­ing black Amer­i­cans with that his­tory, Car­los Muham­mad says.

In 1954, An­sari warmed to that mes­sage. He and other blacks he knew had long har­bored ques­tions about why their prospects were so bleak, An­sari re­calls, but ask­ing them was frowned upon and many sim­ply ac­cepted their hope­less­ness.

Dis­cov­er­ing Is­lam “was al­most like be­ing res­cued from a dis­as­ter,” he says, in­clud­ing learn­ing that “we are all God’s chil­dren — you and me and ev­ery one of us.”

Af­ter Eli­jah Muham­mad died in 1975, his son, W. Deen Mo­hammed, be­gan to sep­a­rate his fa­ther’s teach­ings from their pri­mary fo­cus on African-Amer­i­can is­sues, a move that caused wide­spread dis­agree­ment among fol­low­ers across the U.S., in­clud­ing in Baltimore.

Mosque No. 6 is more heav­ily in­flu­enced by Min­is­ter Louis Far­rakhan, who re­sisted W. Deen Mo­hammed’s changes. When Far­rakhan and W. Deen Mo­hammed reached a rap­proche­ment in 2000, it al­lowed lo­cal mosques to be­gin wor­ship­ping and work­ing more ef­fec­tively to­gether, Car­los Muham­mad says.

“There's no dif­fer­ence in the ba­sic the­ol­ogy it­self, just as there’s no dif­fer­ence be­tween what Bap­tists, Catholics and Methodists be­lieve,” he says. “We all come from the same womb.”

KEN KOONS/BALTIMORE SUN ME­DIA GROUP

John Au­gustinn of Ad­mi­ral Clean­ers hands coats to Vera Brooks as he un­loads do­nated cloth­ing at the Shep­herd's Staff in West­min­ster. The Shep­herd’s Staff is ac­cept­ing do­na­tions of good used win­ter cloth­ing to dis­trib­ute to those who will be in need of it.

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