- The Washington Times - Friday, March 23, 2007

PITTSBURGH — Allahu Akbar, the Muslim call for prayer, rings out on a recent Friday and a group of black men and women gather to celebrate the Islamic day of rest.

The wooden house in Pittsburgh’s run-down Homewood neighborhood looks like any other on the block. But the sign at the door, Masjid Mumin, and the rows of shoes lined up inside on gray, plastic shelves hint of the brand of Sunni Islam its members practice.

The mosque is one of seven in Pittsburgh, home to a vibrant community of about 8,000 to 10,000 Sunni Muslims — about 30 percent of them black.

Following what appears to be a trend in cities nationwide, religious leaders in Pittsburgh say there has been a rise in black conversions to Sunni Islam since the September 11 terror attacks.

No national surveys have been taken to confirm the increase, but Islamic religious leaders in Chicago, Cleveland and Detroit have also reported growth, said Lawrence Mamiya, a professor of religion and Africana studies at New York’s Vassar College. Experts estimate that 30 percent of the 6 million to 7 million Muslims in the United States are black, with only South Asians making up a larger number at 33 percent.

The attacks have “cut both ways, positively and negatively,” Mr. Mamiya said.

Richard Turner, coordinator of the African-American studies program and an expert on Islam among blacks at the University of Iowa, said that since September 11, 2001, Muslims have been attempting to “disseminate positive information about the religion, so the obvious outcome of that would be more conversions.”

Sunni Islam is the world’s most prominent branch of Islam. The Nation of Islam and the Moorish Science Temple, other Muslim groups that attract many blacks, believe in prophets after Muhammad, making them anathema to Sunni Islam.

Rashad Byrdsong, an elder in Pittsburgh’s black Muslim community, hopes the rise in interest in Sunni Islam will help the Mumin Mosque collect money to expand their small house of worship into a larger community gathering place.

The new mosque, still in the planning stages, will look more like a community center than a traditional minaret-topped Muslim place of worship found in the Arab world.

The expanded Homewood mosque will have a day care facility, a re-entry program for released inmates, a health clinic and a program for entrepreneurs, features that are in great need in the downtrodden neighborhood.

“First, the spiritual aspects, the dawa, but also basic, physical, fundamental needs,” Mr. Byrdsong said.

In the fourth year of its seven-year expansion plan, Pittsburgh’s tight-knit Muslim community has raised much of the $1.5 million needed in the project’s first phase through book sales, telephone fundraisers, auctions and banquets. It has purchased all but two lots it will need, and already has the sketches for the future mosque complex.

“Building the mosque has always been a goal, idea, vision,” said Yusef Ali, 63, emir of the Mumin Mosque. “But as a community grows … it’s [become] a solid goal with strategic objectives.”

A growing number of Muslims in America, especially blacks, are building mosques that offer a variety of community services, partly because the federal and state governments do not answer to many of their social needs, Islamic experts said.

These complexes take the religion back to its roots before the modern-day state began providing services to the population.

“What you have here is the creation of a true American Islam,” said Edward Curtis, a religious studies professor who specializes in African-American Islam at Indiana University-Purdue University at Indianapolis. “Islam has been a part of this country from its beginning, and the forms of Islam that are successful here are indigenous forms.”

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