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Black Muslims: Finding community and faith in South LA

Sarah Parvini, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Religious News

African American Muslims represent nearly one-third of Muslims in the U.S., data show, and about 15% of mosque attendees in Southern California. Though many congregants at the handful of mosques in South L.A. are Black, worshippers of various ethnicities fill their halls.

"The only thing that can separate us is fear and ignorance," Hasan says. "African American Muslims know there is a common bond between Muslims everywhere."

African American mosques made up 13% of all U.S. mosques in 2020, according to the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding. That's a drop from 10 years ago, when they accounted for 23% of all masjids.

"The community is on the decline, so we have to put a robust effort towards keeping our youth and making sure that there are new Muslims also converted," Saafir says.

Researchers cite various reasons for the decline: fewer Black converts to Islam, the inability of mosques to attract and retain young adults and the overall aging of African American Muslims, many of whom converted in the 1960s and 1970s.

Many of those converts were heeding not only a spiritual call, but the urgent voices of the civil rights and Black Power movements resisting racist oppression. In South LA, community leaders say, the priorities for many in the Muslim community still center on social justice, strengthening the family and obtaining economic parity.

 

"No. 1 for us is economics and being behind financially. Two is families — making them strong," says Imam Rushdan Mujahid-Deen, associate imam at Bilal. "I feel the pain of Palestinians, and the Burmese [Rohingya], but that's not the No. 1 issue for us. We support their cause and want to help free their people, but we have to help free our people too."

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Following prayers at Islah LA on a recent Friday afternoon, congregants embrace Saafir or shake his hand in gratitude for his sermon.

The imagery on the walls surrounding them is a reminder of what's possible for the youth Saafir helps shepherd, both in ministry and through Islah's school:laminated pennants from historically Black colleges and universities, an apple tree made of tissue paper, with students' photos pasted on the hanging fruit.

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