Philadelphia Muslims Hope New Mosque Brings Revitalization

Jul 24, 2016
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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Now back to Philadelphia where the Democratic National Convention starts tomorrow. You might remember that just before the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, producer Liz Baker and I tried to get a taste of the host city apart from all the convention hoopla. Naturally, we wanted to do the same for the DNC in Philly, so we hopped on Amtrak for the short trip north.

Yesterday, one of our Barbershop guests Malcolm Kenyatta made a point to plug his neighborhood North Philly where he was raised and still lives and works as a community activist. We decided to take Malcolm up on his offer to show us around. We'll have that in a few minutes. But Liz and I started out on our own on Broad Street at the point where the Temple University buildings thin out where the vacant lots are more prevalent and where the well-kept and rehab townhouses mixed with homes that are barely holding on to their roofs and porches which is why a huge domed building rising up on a large lot next to the Amtrak train tracks stands out. So we stopped by.

MUJEEB CHOUDHARY: This is the first mosque being built in Philadelphia from ground up.

MARTIN: Mujeeb Choudhary is the president of the local chapter of the Ahmadiyya Muslim community. He invited us into the foreman's trailer on the construction site where we met two other members of the congregation. But, first...

Can we see a little bit of it? And then we'll go and talk some more.

CHOUDHARY: That is the place where the imam stands and they give the sermon.

MARTIN: Sure.

CHOUDHARY: Facing inside, there's a dome and mic and everything over there. And he will lead the prayer. So this complete on this side...

MARTIN: And so will the women be able to hear the sermon from here?

CHOUDHARY: They're here.

MARTIN: They're here in the same floor...

CHOUDHARY: And the men - they are on the...

MARTIN: ...with just different sides.

CHOUDHARY: Right.

MARTIN: OK. Is there a barrier between the two?

CHOUDHARY: Yes.

MARTIN: The train going by at Amtrak.

CHOUDHARY: That is very, very good advertisement for the people who are (unintelligible).

MARTIN: Yes.

Choudhary tells us that the Ahmadiyya sect of Islam has been in Philadelphia since 1920. They've gotten by with storefront mosques and converting other buildings into places of worship, but Choudhary is excited that his religion is now making its stamp on the city with custom architecture.

CHOUDHARY: The city of Philadelphia is the city of churches. You go to every corner. You see a church.

MARTIN: That visibility is part of why the Philadelphia Ahmadis are looking forward to the new mosque here.

AHMAD NURUDDIN: Coming up, you really didn't hear about mosques too much, you know.

MARTIN: Ahmad Nuruddin is a North Philly native.

NURUDDIN: I came into the community - the Ahmadiyya Muslim community - in 1997. I was raised around the Christian Church, the Baptist church and such. And back in the day, you know, if you wanted to make an inquiry, you didn't really know where to go. But now this is a big, beautiful place that people see that, and they know if I want to learn about Islam I can go over there.

MARTIN: Ahmad Nuruddin had been reading the Quran and visiting some local mosques, but was introduced to the Ahmadiyya sect playing hoops.

NURUDDIN: So we were playing basketball one day, and they said, well, come to the mosque, come to the mosque. We're going to make prayer. We're going to have some food. Just come in, you know, if you'd like.

MARTIN: He clicked with the other worshippers.

NURUDDIN: And I've been here ever since.

ABU ARUN: I used to live over here a couple blocks over.

MARTIN: Another neighborhood convert Abu Arun.

ARUN: I lived there from - teenager, and I've seen this part of this city when it was up. I seen how it changed, and I seen how it's coming back.

MARTIN: Arun says that despite some suspicion in the neighborhood about the new mosque, it's a symbol of the Ahmadis dedication to the community here.

ARUN: When people see it, a lot of people going to be, you know, against it. A lot of people are going to be for it. But I think that this building is going to change the thinking of the people, and that's going to raise the neighborhood. It's going to give them a different outlook. You know, how many places are coming up in his neighborhood, like putting this kind of money in it? That in itself know that we here to stay. We're here to make the world better, a better place.

MARTIN: Ahmad Nuruddin agrees and believes that more black men will benefit from having a mosque here to learn positive messages about life in general as Nuruddin says he did when he found the faith.

NURUDDIN: I feel more love for the country and, say, more patriotic now that I'm a Muslim than before.

MARTIN: How come?

NURUDDIN: And I'll tell you guys - we were raised, you know, as young African-American people in the city and in this nation. You know, you kind of get that rhetoric that the system is against you. You know, how could you be patriotic to a nation that enslaved your ancestors? You see? So that's a real issue with a lot of African-American people, young people. It's at a point where many of them want - don't want to say the Pledge of Allegiance. They don't want to stand during the national anthem.

But then when I came to Islam and then I read in the Quran about how important it is to obey the authority and the law of your land and to love your nation. Then I say, OK, then in order to be a better Muslim, I have to enhance this part of my own character and to look for the good things because we - nobody can go back and change that history. But we have to be here together, and we have to move forward as a nation. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.