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Black Muslims: Finding community and faith in South LA

Sarah Parvini, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Religious News

A line beneath it reads, "They tried to bury us. They did not know we were seeds."

Islah was born out of Masjid Ibaadillah — a community led by Saafir's father, Imam Saadiq Saafir — on West Jefferson Boulevard that was established to serve its predominantly African American attendees. The Islah LA community center, a secular nonprofit charity, started "safe-place programming for children and families" in 2014, and opened its academy that fall, offering a curriculum specializing in social justice, Quranic studies and "21st century leadership."

The center has about 150 members, Saafir says. Many who attend "have been injured by mass incarceration."

"Some of them are now business owners. We have one of our brothers, he did over 10 years. And he was a gang member in this neighborhood. And now he has a trucking company.

"Islah is used as a word in the Quran," Saafir adds. "It means to revive, renew, restore something, right. But it also means to restore relationships between people."

The "dream of the inner city," he says, is to couple a house of worship with a dynamic center that serves multiple kinds of congregants — including the younger set who have asked for more activities. To answer that call, Islah diversified its programming, with both the fun (paintball tournaments) and the inspirational (field trips to local businesses and the opportunity for youths to shadow store owners).

 

"They need to see the possibilities that they can end up fulfilling, to see their potential self," Saafir says. "It's meaningful experiences that they will never forget."

Kenyatta Bakeer, a member of Islah who helped launch its school, says the organization's community work is born out of "a duty in our own space."

"We need to look at what is happening right in our own backyard," she says. "Whether they convert to Islam or not, our priority is being able to be a sanctuary in the middle of South Central."

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