Last summer I had the opportunity to visit New York City. I was excited for this trip as I have always wanted to visit the Big Apple. It has a rich history, a vibrant culture and in my opinion it is decorated with the world’s best collection of sky scrapers. In addition to checking out all the regular touristy sites I wanted to visit a not so touristy part of New York; Harlem.

For those that don’t know, Harlem is the cultural capital of the African American community in New York. I wanted to visit Harlem for several reasons. One reason was to explore African American culture. Being black in Canada means something very different than what it means to be black in America. I wanted to get a chance to observe African American culture and there is no better place to do that than Harlem. More importantly, the reason I wanted to visit Harlem was because Malcolm X was primarily based out of this place. It was in this neighborhood where he was once a hustler and it was from this place that he eventually led his movement. More specifically he transformed this area into the heart of the black Muslim community in the 60’s.

Initially, I just wanted to walk around the neighborhood. I wasn’t sure if there were any historic landmarks that I could visit. I looked at the map I had purchased and my eye caught the attention of a land mark that read ‘Malcom Shabazz Mosque’. I was excited. I wasn’t sure if the mosque would be related to Malcom X in anyway or if it was just named after him. I decided to visit the mosque and find out my self. I got lost on the subway but luckily ran into a stranger (a gigantic Cuban guy who could barely speak English) that agreed to drive me to Harlem! It was big risk getting into a car with a stranger but it certainty paid off.

I was dropped a few blocks away from my destination which meant I had to walk a little. I started to notice the cultural differences right away. Not only were the inhabitants predominantly black but there was a sizable muslim population too as I saw men in kufis, women wearing hijabs and abayas. I asked for directions to Malcolm X’s mosque and was soon guided in the right direction. I was walking down Malcolm X Avenue; it was evident that Malcolm X held an esteemed status in this neighborhood.

I soon sighted a building with a gigantic green dome; I had arrived at my destination. I entered and saw a front desk attendant at the mosque. It’s not normal for a mosque to have such a thing so I just tried to bypass the desk but was stopped. I was a little scared; I know the Nation of Islam was dissolved at one point and all ‘temples’ were converted to orthodox mosques but I wasn’t sure about this particular one. The attendant asked me why I was there and I explained I was there for prayers. I looked around saw a chart with the five daily prayer times and some other symbols that convinced me this was an orthodox mosque. I then asked the attendant if this was the mosque where Malcolm X was based out of. His eyes lit up when I mentioned Malcolm’s name; ‘Yes! This is it. This is where it all happened’. I knew I was in for a treat.

Also posted on The Mirror

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