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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