The is a two part series. See here for Part I

I proceeded to the main prayer hall which was upstairs. It was a simple large room with a dark green carpet. There wasn’t a partition or a separate prayer hall for women like I’ve seen in most other mosques (some consider the lack of a partition to be closer to the Prophetic tradition). I saw a couple of older sisters setting up chairs for themselves and decided to help them. I started asking them questions about Malcolm X and as it turned out they had actually met him! They told me how they used to go to his talks and that they became Muslim during his time. I inquired further about how it was for them to move from the teachings of the Nation of Islam to orthodox Islam. They explained that for them it was just another step in the learning process; the transition was relatively smooth. However, they did mention that some of their friends had difficulty and even went back to the old ways.

I visited them in during Ramadan and it was time to break fast. Dates were passed around and the men and women gathered around in the hallway and broke their fast. We then proceeded to the prayer hall where sunset prayers were offered. The individual leading the prayer recited the Arabic in a unique African-American accent; it was interesting to listen to it, sometimes I felt he might have jumbled up the words.

I met some of the brothers after the prayer. One of them might have been around eighteen; he was the youngest one present. He too was a convert and become Muslim after studying Islam on his own. He explained he’d been coming to the mosque even since and has learned how to practice from the Imam who teaches on Sundays. He told me that about 95% of the people at that mosque used to be Christian at one point. I met another gentleman who too had met Malcolm X. He however did not become Muslim until the late 90’s, some forty years after Malcolm Shabazz’s death. His story reminded me never to lose hope in people you do dawah to; you never know when their hearts will be guided. I was a little disappointed by the numbers at the mosque though. During sunset prayers in Ramadan a total of maybe 30 people came out, most of them were quite old too.

I was then invited for Iftar by the people at the mosque. The dinner was prepared in a separate dining room on the main level; it was to be served on a table as opposed to on the floor. I was informed that the room actually used to be a coffee shop and Malcolm X would often hangout here; he liked his coffee black I was told. There was a strong sense order and discipline amongst these people. Everything was to be done in a specific fashion and you couldn’t do it otherwise. For example, the sisters were responsible for serving the food and the brothers were to wait for it to be delivered. I tried to get up to help myself but it was frowned up and I decided to stay seated.

The food was all homemade and very delicious. It wasn’t the usual birayni though; they served meat loaf and vegetables instead. The conversation was quite enjoyable; they told me stories about Malcolm X and things that go on their community. I felt quite welcomed even though I was an outsider in many ways. They had a strong sense of community and it was quite apparent that their bonds went years back. A guy came in late and one of the older sisters scolded him like a typical grandma; it was funny moment.

As I walked out of the masjid and into the dark Harlem streets to head home, I reflected on the incredible achievements of Malcolm Shabazz. He single handedly transformed a community and left an unshakable legacy. His determination, open-mindedness and uncompromising pursuit for the truth inspires people to this day. Malcolm’s story is to be studied for it is a testament to not only the transformative powers of religion but also of us as human beings.

Also posted on The Mirror


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


The controversy surrounding Park 51 or the so called ‘ground-zero mosque’ has been making headlines all over the United States. The intensity and interest surrounding this debate has been unprecedented. Everyone has an opinion on it. Sadly, it seems, most Americans are against the idea of building such an institution close to ground-zero. The very fact that this debate exists is indicative of several facts about the present day America. Following are some of the things it represents:

1) Most Americans still hold the collective Muslim community responsible for the World Trade Center attacks. After all the bridge building and dialogue that has happened over the past decade, it seems that public opinion is still against the Muslims. Unfortunately, the general American population can’t differentiate between the terrorists that attacked the World Trade Center and the average Muslim. I was outraged when I heard politician Newt Gingrich saying that the Nazi were to the holocaust victims what the Muslims are to the 9/11 victims.

2) The ignorance of the American people. Ignorance on innumerable levels. Ignorance about the project itself for example. A lot people don’t know that the mosque is actually a community center which will be open to everyone. Also, as Keith Olbermann pointed out, an existing mosque (Masjid Manhattan) close to ground-zero has already been in operation for the past 40 years; why then has this project become so controversial? Ignorance about Islam in general is another major problem and is the main thing fueling this debate. The project was initially named Cordoba House in honour of the historic city of Muslim Spain which was known for the peaceful co-existence of the Muslims, Jews and Christians. Opponents of the group forced the name to be changed, as to them it falsely represented Muslim subjugation of the medieval Christian world.

3) The good of the American people. Despite all the the opposition, there have been numerous people that have stood up and defended the Muslim community despite being themselves non-Muslim. These include journalists such as Keith Olbermann, politicians such as Mayor Bloomberg and even comedians like Jon Stewart. I greatly admire such individuals for their courage and strong indignation. Their open mindedness and their faith in American democratic values is not only inspirational but helps balance out the image of prejudice and ignorance painted by numerous Americans.

4) The work that still needs to be done by the Muslim community in order to change how the beautiful religion of Islam is perceived in America. The pious and upright character of early Muslims is something even their enemies attested to. Even up until the 60’s being Muslim in America was associated with something good thanks to the Black Muslim movement led by Malcolm X. Present day Muslims need to walk in those footsteps and take it upon themselves to educate the general populace about Islam. It is only through knowledge that ignorance,injustice and prejudice will be defeated.