Islamic Society of Boston

This profile was last updated in 2009


The Islamic Society of Boston (ISB) was organized in 1981 as a loose association of Muslim student organizations at Harvard University, Boston University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Northeastern University, Wentworth Institute, Suffolk University, and Tufts University. As the number of Muslims in the Boston area grew, the ISB eventually became a separate organization, serving Muslims in the Cambridge area, according to Salma Kazmi, assistant director of the ISB. “That life cycle is very typical of a lot of organizations in the U.S., because of the immigration here, often because of people coming for school and deciding to stay,” Kazmi said. “But now, the Muslim Student Associations in the universities are pretty vibrant in their own right, so there’s no real overlap. But, you will find that because we’re in Cambridge, people, as they outgrow their student communities, will find a place here.”

Serving a Diverse Population

Besides serving as a space for the five daily prayersPrayer is the vocal or silent address to the Divine. It may consist of fixed words, spontaneous words, or rest in silence with no words at all. Some forms of prayer are accompanied with specific postures or gestures, while others are not., the ISB provides a variety of services to a diverse Muslim community. The ISB offers classes throughout the week for both English and ArabicClassical Arabic is the language of revelation in Islam as recorded in the Qur’an. Muslims consider every word of the Qur’an to be a direct utterance of God. The Arabic language itself is regarded as perfectly suited as the instrument for God’s comm... speakers. According to Kazmi, classes are organized by topic or population. There is a “new Muslim” class for converts to the faith as well as more advanced classes in Qur’anic exegesis, hadithHadith is a narrative account or report of Muhammad’s deeds and actions. These reports were preserved and later collected to form the Sunnah of the prophet, second only to the authority of the Qur’an for knowing how to live in proper submission to God... study and Qur’ranic recitation. There are also ESL classes for non-native English speakers and Arabic classes for those who do not speak Arabic. The variety of classes indicates the variety of subgroups the ISB serves. “One of the things that’s unique about this mosqueMasjid (plural masajid) in Arabic means “place of prostration,” or the place where Muslims bow in prayer; in English, this word has become “mosque.” A masjid contains a prayer hall in which there is a mihrab or prayer niche, and a minbar or pulpit... is that there are different activities offered for very different types of people,” Kazmi said. “Some of the people don’t even overlap in their lives, other than they use the same facility. So like, college students live in their college-student world, but they’ll be at the ISB for something. You know, we have like a ‘mommies group,’ which is this like, ‘Muslim, second-generation American’ type of group. And then you have the converts group. And then we have this big immigrant population and then you have like, you know, these old Arab ladies that are parents of students that are here. So it’s very interesting, the mix of people, but often, like I said, they sometimes don’t even overlap cause they kinda do their own thing.”

Virtual Connection

The ISB website provides an online hub for communications within the community, with an online announcement and message board, as well as bulletin boards for people to post ads for everything from employment to housing to items for sale. Kazmi also said there is some talk of taking the mosque’s marriage arrangement service to the internet, with an online questionnaire to aid the imamImam means “leader,” particularly the person who leads the daily ritual prayer or, more broadly, to the one who serves as a leader of the community because of his religious learning. In Shi’i Islam, it refers to one of a succession of direct descend... in pairing up potential couples. Kazmi said the extensive use of an online community is practically mandated by the well-educated, professional community that the mosque serves. “We have to [have an extensive website]; we’re next to MIT and Harvard!” she said. One of the Five Pillars of IslamThe five pillars of Islam are regular acts of worship Muslims are called upon to perform: the Shahadah (“witness” that there is no god but God and Muhammad is “the Messenger of God), Salat (“ritual prayer,” five times daily), Zakat (“purificat... is zakatZakat, literally meaning “purification,” is almsgiving (approximately 2.5 percent of annual accumulated wealth) for the needy and for Islamic work. Giving zakat purifies the remainder of one’s wealth for personal use. Zakat al-fitr is a special offe..., or almsgiving, and the ISB also undertakes a variety of relief efforts, which Kazmi said have been more local and community-based since Sept. 11, 2001, before which time many of the relief efforts were international in scope. The ISB provides loans and emergency assistance to members in the community in need, as well as other services like providing support to a family who has lost a parent. Members can even pay their zakats online through the ISB website.

Community Development and Interfaith Dialogue

The ISB is active in interfaith work in the community and in educating the public about IslamIslam in Arabic literally means “submitting” or “submission.” One who submits or surrenders his or her will to God is called a Muslim. While the whole of God’s creation is described as being inherently Muslim, human beings must choose whether to.... ISB has an ongoing relationship with TempleA temple is a house of worship, a sacred space housing the deity or central symbol of the tradition. The Temple in Jerusalem was the holy place of the Jewish people until its destruction by the Romans in 70 CE; now the term “temple” is used by th. Ref... Beth Shalom, also in Cambridge, and hosts monthly Jewish-Muslim dialogues in conjunction with that organization. Kazmi said previous topics of dialogue have included the role of women, dietary laws, and comparative text study between the TorahThe Old Testament is the term Christians often use for the body of writings that comprise the Hebrew Bible which Jews call Tanakh. and the Qur’an on stories common to both faiths. In addition, the ISB had an outreach director after Sept. 11, 2001, who worked to build relationships with government agencies, schools, and nonprofits, as well as area churchesThe term church has come to wide use to refer to the organized and gathered religious community. In the Christian tradition, church refers to the organic, interdependent “body” of Christ’s followers, the community of Christians. Secondarily, church ... and synagoguesSynagogue, shul in Yiddish, is the most widely used term for a Jewish house of worship. Meaning a “place of gathering,” it is the central institution of Jewish communal life. The structure and role of synagogues has changed through the centuries, but .... As a result of the outreach director’s efforts, Kazmi said the ISB has been called into some of the work the ACLU is doing in relation to civil rights after Sept. 11. The ISB also co-sponsored a dialogue project on race and ethnicity in Boston (more information available at and was also a recipient of a grant from the National Conference for Community and Justice (NCCJ) to do civil rights and civics training for the Muslim community in Boston. “So we’re trying to do leadership [and] community development work as well, and try[ing] to be a little bit more aware of and involved in the broader issues in the community,” Kazmi said.

Future Developments and Plans

In 1991, ISB purchased a duplex at 140-142 Prospect Street to become a center for the growing community, and in 1993, the Society purchased and began renovating a former Knights of Columbus Hall at 204 Prospect Street. This striking and beautiful mosque facility opened in 1994. It attracts Muslims from throughout the Boston-Cambridge area for prayers, religious education and annual observances. Between 70 and 100 people visit the mosque daily, with nearly 1,000 in attendance at Friday prayers, which often spill into the parking lot in the back. In the summer of 2004, construction began on a new Islamic cultural center in Roxbury near Northeastern University and Roxbury Community College, with a slated construction timeline of one year. The ISB was able to obtain a tract of land in the center of Boston, through a deal in which the Society will be able to “pay” for some of the cost of the land in services to the community, according to Kazmi. For example, the ISB will maintain the nearby parks and donate books to the Roxbury Community College library, as well as sponsoring a lecture series at RCC. The new facility includes a mosque that will accommodate 1200 men and 400 women in prayerPrayer is the vocal or silent address to the Divine. It may consist of fixed words, spontaneous words, or rest in silence with no words at all. Some forms of prayer are accompanied with specific postures or gestures, while others are not. rooms, as well as an Islamic school serving kindergarten through fifth grade. The school will have 18 classrooms and will accommodate 20 to 23 students each. Currently, the nearest Islamic schools are in the nearby suburbs of Sharon and Methuen, both a 45-minute drive outside of Boston. The center will include a library with a general collection to support the school, as well as a more specialized collection of books on Islamic history and culture. Kazmi said the ISB hopes to be able to have the library open to the public, although the technicalities about borrowing privileges have not been decided. The library committee is still in the process of finding sponsors for the library contents and has also discussed having a consortium with the libraries at nearby HebrewHebrew is the ancient language of the Israelites in which the Bible and most of Jewish liturgy is written. College and Andover-Newton Theological School. There will also be a morgue in the building, with facilities for washing the dead and burial preparations. Kazmi explained that there is a particular washing ritual that must be performed when someone in the Muslim community dies, and the body should be prayed over in a mosque before burial. Currently the community must make special arrangements with area funeral homes for the preparation of the body and are often unable to hold the prayer service in a mosque with the body present. Kazmi said that having a prayer service in a mosque without the body is permissible, but the new facility will make it possible to meet the ideal for Islamic burial, which is to have the body present for the prayers in a mosque. Kazmi said the library and the funeral facilities are probably two of the things that people are most looking forward to in the new center and will serve a regional need rather than just the local Roxbury community. The new center will include administrative offices, a media and da’wa (outreach) center, a store for Islamic art and books, an aerobic fitness center for women, and a multipurpose hall and kitchen for social events (or large-scale gatherings like RamadanRamadan is the ninth lunar month during which the first revelation of the Qur’an came to Muhammad. Each year in this month, Muslims abstain from all food, drink, and sexual activity from dawn until sunset. They ar. also meant to make a conscious effort ... events and weddings) and lectures. There will be an underground parking garage as well as an adjacent lot, accommodating a total of 570 cars. The structure will include a large minaretThe minaret is a tower often built to adorn a mosque, from which the call to prayer may be sounded. and dome as well. “The other thing that I think is significant for the center is that it really adds visibility to the Muslim community in Boston,” Kazmi said. She related a time when the ISB held an open house in their Cambridge location and several people walked in and were surprised to find out the building was a mosque. “I think that that’s the case with a lot of mosquesMasjid (plural masajid) in Arabic means “place of prostration,” or the place where Muslims bow in prayer; in English, this word has become “mosque.” A masjid contains a prayer hall in which there is a mihrab or prayer niche, and a minbar or pulpit...,” Kazmi said. “People don’t even know that there’s a community around.”