This profile was last updated in 2018
The Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center (ISBCC) is the third expansion of the Islamic Society of Boston (ISB) since 1981. In the late eighties, the Boston Redevelopment Authority set aside the area in Roxbury for a religious and cultural center. In November 2002, the ISB broke ground in Roxbury at an onside ceremony attended by government leaders such as Mayor Thomas Menino, Boston City Councilman Chuck Turner, US Representative Michael E. Capuano, and religious leaders such as Bishop Felipe Teixeira of the Catholic Church of the Americas, and Imam Talal Eid, then representing the Islamic Center of New England in Sharon, Massachusetts.
The ISB faced several challenges during the design and construction process, the largest of which was the complicated, five-year-long legal battle and media controversy surrounding the new complex. Starting in 2002, allegations were made against the ISB regarding improprieties made during the sale of government property for the cultural center, as well as alleged ties to Islamic extremists through fundraising campaigns and the group’s board of directors which halted construction on the mosque indefinitely. After a legal battle from 2004-2007 the ISB was able to resume construction and held a well-attended minaret capping ceremony on June 9, 2007. A few weeks later on June 27, the ISB and Muslim American Society (MAS) held an “Intercommunity Solidarity Day” to emphasize the valuable addition of the Cultural Center for Muslims and non-Muslims alike to the rich cultural and religious diversity of Roxbury and the greater Boston area.
On June 26-27, 2009, the ISBCC held a two-day ceremony to celebrate the completion of the Center. The Inauguration included an interfaith breakfast, ribbon-cutting ceremony, a call to worship, prayer service, and a dinner. All were welcome at the public ceremony that included speeches from US Representative Keith Ellison (DFL-MN), the first Muslim to serve in Congress; William A. Graham, Dean of Harvard Divinity School and scholar of Islam; and other local religious leaders. Mayor Thomas Menino noted that the opening of the ISBCC represented an official welcome to Muslims of the city of Boston, stating: “We can’t be a city that separates ourselves, we have to be a city that builds bridges and that’s what we are doing.”
The ISBCC is the largest Islamic complex in New England. The building’s architects intentionally integrated the architecture of the mosque with the surrounding neighborhood and region. Alongside traditional Islamic architectural motifs such as pointed arches, a 140-foot minaret, and a gilded dome, the center was intentionally constructed using the red bricks typical of New England and in line with other historic buildings in the neighborhood. These architectural choices – blending traditional Islamic elements with classic Roxbury materials – mirror the experiences of ISBCC’s members as they retain a unique Muslim identity while being a part of the larger Boston community.
The center’s location on Malcolm X Boulevard is also significant for the community. While there are numerous streets named after Malcolm X, the one in Roxbury is the only one to also feature his Muslim name, El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz. This is particularly significant both to the American Muslim community as well as the African-American community for his contributions to both communities.
The ISBCC is more than just a place of worship; it also serves as a cultural center. The building houses worship space; the Malik Academy, an Islamic school for students in Elementary and Middle School; the Common Word Cafe; a social service organization; a gift shop; facilities for body-washing and Islamic funeral preparations; and multipurpose space for community functions and events.
The Muslim American Society (MAS) of Boston currently helps guide the ISBCC and both are administered under the Islamic Society Boston (ISB) trust, which also administers the Islamic Society of Boston Cambridge.
Governing the ISBCC is a board of directors from diverse backgrounds. The executive director, Yusufi Vali, helps oversee the operations of the mosque to allow the imams to focus their time on caring for the people, community, and interfaith events.
The ISBCC currently has three imams. Shaykh Yasir F. Fahmy has served as the Senior Imam since September of 2015 and is the spiritual leader of the institution. Abdul-Malik Merchant serves as the Associate Imam and is responsible for much of the pastoral care of the community. Mohamed Nabeel serves as ISBCC’s Qari, the person who recites the Qur’an for special occasions.
The ISBCC also offers opportunities for the community to get involved with leadership. The Ahlal-Masjid, or “People of the Mosque” is a group of 11 people from various backgrounds and ages who serve both as a conduit to management as well as a guiding force within the mosque community.
Activities and Schedule
The activities at the ISBCC are guided by four areas of focus: knowledge of the Islamic tradition, lived spirituality, community, and service. All programmatic elements seek to address these for areas.
On any given Friday approximately 1,500 people attend the Jumu’ah prayer service. A khutbah, or sermon, is given by the imam and is followed by community prayer. During Ramadan the entirety of the Qur’an is recited over the course of the 27 nights. It is typical for over 500 people to attend the nightly services during Ramadan, and 10,000 people partake in the Eid al-Fitr celebration at the end of Ramadan.
Several classes are offered to the community. These include “Islam 101,” a class which welcomes anyone – Muslims and non-Muslims alike – interested in learning more about Islam and not just Muslims, as well as “Living Islam,” a class initially started for new Muslims but which is also popular among lifelong Muslims as well. Alongside these classes for new Muslims ISBCC also offers a range of classes surrounding the Qur’an, Islam, and Muslim life for people of all ages.
In addition to the Elementary and Middle School, Malik Academy, the ISBCC offers programming for youth as well as adults. This includes the ARKanum program for 12-16 year olds, which seeks to help youth feel connected to the masjid, Allah, and their fellow Muslims which forming community and learning life skills. The ISBCC offers similar programming for other youth who are both older and younger than this group.
The ISBCC also helps facilitate life cycle events, such as weddings, burials, and celebrations for the birth of children.
One of the ISBCC’s strengths is the diversity of the community. People represent 65 different ethnicities, alongside American-born Muslims as well. Sixty percent of the congregation are under 35 years old, 45% are women, and 20% are people who have converted to Islam. All of these diverse individuals come together to explore and create meaning surrounding what it means to be an American Muslim.
Outreach and Interfaith Activity
The ISBCC is very active in the surrounding community. Members of the ISBCC seek to increase public understanding of Islam and the Muslims who are in the local community through initiatives such as the “neighbor to neighbor” program. Several times a year they hold community service events that are intended to benefit the broader community. They welcome people to visit the ISBCC through scheduled tours that are open to the public and are active in helping improve safe green spaces in the surrounding community. Each year ISBCC also participates in Open Mosque Day, a chance for the local community to visit mosques in their area.
The ISBCC is a member of the Greater Boston Interfaith Organization (GBIO), and Shaykh Yasir Fahmy is involved with the leadership of GBIO. Following the 2016 election cycle the ISBCC hosted a GBIO event called “Out of Many, One” aimed at learning, relationship building, and solidarity among faith groups. In terms of public advocacy the ISBCC is particularly invested in the fight against the separation of children from their parents due to deportation, as well as holding public officials accountable to their communities to bring morality to public policy. The ISBCC also offers their space to host events related to civic engagement, and public figures such as Senator Elizabeth Warren, Mayor Marty Walsh, and former Boston Police Commissioner William Evans have spoken to gatherings at the ISBCC with audiences comprised both of ISBCC community members and the broader community.