A Growing Muslim Presence in Harlem

November 26, 2007 § 8 Comments

I live in Harlem and Harlem, New York has a very unique cascade of Islamic influence that is unmistakably “Harlem”. For example, recently I asked a fellow Naks-i’bendi visiting me in Harlem if Harlem was what he expected it to be like? He told me “no”, explaining that he did not expect to receive so many “salaams“, the Islamic greeting, as he does just walking around. In fact, you will find that walking around most areas of Harlem is quite pleasant for Muslims. You receive greetings of “Peace” at nearly every block. Whether it is African-American Muslims, indigenous to Harlem or West African immigrants from Senegal to Mali. The overall presence of Muslims within the community is good and growing stronger.

I moved to Harlem in 2002 but having been a frequent visitor since 1997 and I have seen with my own eyes how much the Islamic community has grown since that time. One reason has been due to the, Mouride Sufi Association and Senegalese-American presence which make up the majority of Mourides in Harlem.

The Mouride Islamic Community of New York is headquartered in Harlem. The Mourides have a masjid/zawiya (worship center) where Islamic education is provided for men, women and children on a regular basis as discussed by the center’s Imam saying,

“We teach them how to read Arabic and get some information about Islam,”

The Mouride community is held together by ethnicity and religion but Abdoulaye Thiam, a board member of the Association of Senegalese in America on 116th St. and St. Nicholas Ave., said he would help any Mouride who sought his help but that overall he is serving the African Muslim community in Harlem saying,

“[I]t’s a cultural community, and people mix culture and religion.”

Recently Scott Levi of Columbia University’s daily Newspaper reported in an article titled, Mourides Balance Distinct Identity With Islamic Faith that,

“The worship center on 137th Street further defines itself as a house for all people, and especially for all Muslims.”

Adding a comment by, Marieme Sambe, a Senegalese woman who describes what this community of Muslims and the Mouride Center try to provide to contrast the New York City environment,

“As African people in general, we are used to eating together, living together … in the city you are alone a lot, and my job as a home-health aide is depressing, so I’m happy from my part to be able to come here at the end of the day,”

Levi ends his article with a visitor’s description of the Murid Islamic Community Center on 137th St. saying,

“You can come here to eat, to pray, to get free food, to ask questions, to use the bathroom. It’s for everybody. That’s what we call Islam.”

Indeed, this is the same atmosphere you find in Islamic communities all over the world. And the same remains true for the Osmanli Naks-i’bendi Sufi Association. I am a frequent visitor of the Mouride’s satellite center on W. 116th where I find many warm hearts, smiling faces and good food. Its also a place where I can go to sit with other Fula people, who usually recognize me right away, pulling me aside to find out as much about my background as they can.

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§ 8 Responses to A Growing Muslim Presence in Harlem

  • Muhammed al-Ahari says:

    AsSalam Aliekum,
    I am writing on the History of Islam in America. What can you tell me about the Academy of Islam in Harlem?
    Muhammed al-Ahari

  • Saifuddin says:


    wa ‘alaikum as-salaam Muhammad al-Ahari. You wrote,

    “What can you tell me about the Academy of Islam in Harlem?”

    I have never heard of this organization. So I cannot tell you much. Though I am interested to further discuss your interests of Islam in Harlem.

  • Muhammed al-Ahari says:

    AsSalaam Alikeum,
    The started in 1934 and can be found in a directory of Mosques in New York ISNA has online. Schaumberg might know more about them. By the way, I edited a collection of Shaykh Daoud Ahmed Faisal Bey’s writings Isl;am, the True Fith, the Religion of Humanity. Its available through several bookstores online. I’ll look at home and send you the small amount I wrote about the Academy of Islam. I’m interested also in Sufi Abdul Hamid and his Temple of Universal Peace. He was an early labor leader and early accounts make him a Buddhist one minute, a Muslim the next, and a Black Nazi Atheist the next.
    Muhammed al-Ahari

  • Idetrorce says:

    very interesting, but I don’t agree with you

  • Saifuddin says:


    as-salaamu ‘alaikum. Idetrorce you wrote,

    “very interesting, but I don’t agree with you”

    Ah… so Idetrorce, do you live in Harlem?

  • Aaminah says:

    Asalaamu alaikum Saifuddin. Idetrorce is spam. Since I have all my comments on moderation, I get to see immediately where they’re really coming from. This comment is becoming a very common one rather than actual links, and I’ve gotten tons from this same name.

  • Aziza says:

    Assalaamu Alaikum.
    I was visiting the mosque on 3rd avenue for prayers one day in ramadan and was disturbed to see so many beggars in side reading the Quran with on hand and asking for donations with another. I asked why this was so from the muslim sisters and they said this was growing in numbers. Why is it that the number of muslim beggars is increasing, as seen in East Harlem mosque? I would like to discuss more about this. Please email me a reply.

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