The History of Islamic Communities in Rhode Island (2006)

By the 1990s, Muslims had established more than six hundred masjidsMasjid (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... (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...) and centers across America.[1] The approximately six thousand Muslims in Rhode Island are a dynamic and vibrant subset of this larger Muslim-American community.

Muslims began meeting in the 1960s and 70s in the student’s union building at the University of Rhode Island and surrounding smaller communities to pray and develop a community for worship and socialization.[2] This small group of Muslims would often travel to Quincy, Massachusetts just to find a congregation with which to pray. In 1975, they had grown sufficiently, and the planning for a permanent Islamic centerAn Islamic center will typically include a mosque, school, and area for social and cultural activities. When a new Islamic center is being organized in the United States, attention is paid to community needs, including a weekend or full-time school, indic... began. The seven main contributors were Dr. Ahmad Hassan, Dr. Muzammil Siqqiqi, Dr. Najafi, Dr. Naeem Siddiqi, Dr. MuhammadThe Prophet Muhammad, known as “the Seal of the Prophets,” was born in the city of Makkah on the Arabian peninsula in 570 C.E. At 40, he began to receive a series of revelations from God through the angel Gabriel. His small group of followers met with... Abdul Waheed and Syed Abdul Latif.[3] Members from other nearby masjids in Quincy and Roxbury, Massachusetts gave a helping hand as well as advice from their experiences in establishing a new masjidMasjid (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.... These people and others who helped out in the administrative and planning process included: Dr. Abdul Waheed, Abdul Rahaman Bukhari, Jibreel Khazzan, Nurul 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..., Mujahid, Muhsin, Abdur Rahman Saboor, Malaika Abdul Bari and WaliSaints are human beings whose lives have displayed extraordinary holiness and devotion. As such they become examples for others. Indeed some of the faithful may understand them to be intermediaries and seek their help in time of need. Roman Catholics and ... Bey.[4] In July of 1976, the first meeting of the Islamic Center of Rhode Island was held at the International House of Rhode Island and about 80 members signed up. Funded mostly through donations from the larger New England Muslim community, in November of 1976, 582 Cranston Street, Providence, formerly a funeral home, became Masjid Al-Karim, the first masjid in Rhode Island. Renovations and additions soon followed to establish this two-story masjid that is now barely able to contain its expanding congregation.[5]

The members of the Muslim American Dawah center, under the national leadership of Warith Deen Muhammad, are converts from the Nation of IslamThe Lost-Found Nation of Islam in America, begun by Wallace D. Fard in Detroit in the 1930’s, was developed by the Honorable Elijah Muhammad. Elijah Muhammad preached some Islamic principles, but his lessons about the superiority of the Black Man were c... (NOIThe Lost-Found Nation of Islam in America, begun by Wallace D. Fard in Detroit in the 1930’s, was developed by the Honorable Elijah Muhammad. Elijah Muhammad preached some Islamic principles, but his lessons about the superiority of the Black Man were c...) to SunniSunni Muslims emphasize the authoritative role of the consensus of religious scholars (‘ulama) in interpreting the Qur’an and the Sunnah (custom) of the Prophet. The community could thus choose any good Muslim as a successor (khalifah) to Muhammad, th... Islam. The community’s NOI roots in Providence date back to 1952, when Martin’s Barber Shop on Winter Street along with other homes were used as meeting places for NOI members. Eventually, members consolidated their resources and a meeting place was established at 312 Prairie Avenue.[6] Eventually, in the late 1970s, the congregants physically and spiritually left the NOI at 312 Prairie Avenue and established Masjid Al-Razzaq on 234 Pavilion Avenue as their new home from which they could begin their community activism for the social reform of societal ills within the scope of Sunni Islam.[7] At the same time, the community retained close ties with the larger Muslim community of Rhode Island, composed mostly of immigrants at Masjid Al-Karim, on Cranston Street. As the facilities in Masjid Al-Razzaq deteriorated, the community began to worship increasingly with the larger Muslim population in Providence. Eventually, a group of Nigerian Muslims bought Masjid Al-Razzaq in the early 1990s for their own use and to address their specific cultural needs as an immigrant community. However, as members of this community grew and diversified, the need was felt to separate to a place where the vision and aims were not as centralized around particular racial needs. Thus in the mid 1990’s, a group lead by 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... Akorede formed a new masjid called Masjid Zumratul Jannat (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... of the People of Paradise).[8] Not feeling fully accepted by the rest of the Muslim community, due to their past affiliations, the current members of the Muslim-American Dawah Center then, in the late 80’s raised the funds to establish a new location at 804 Broad Street.[9] Finally, in July of 1998, the community was fortunate enough to be able to expand further to its present location on Lockwood Street.

Often, Muslims travel lengthy distances simply to worship or attend a service. As was the case with the Muslim community in the Providence area, this often results in a movement to establish a new place or worship in a more convenient place for the more populous groups. The members of Masjid Al-Islam previously attended Masjid Al-Karim in Providence. However, the expanding congregation saw the need for amasjid in the North Smithfield, RI area for convenience and new resources.[10] This was also the case for the swelling Muslim community in Pawtucket, RI. Eventually, enough money was raised to make both of these dreams a reality as Masjid Al-Rahman was erected in Pawtucket and Masjid Al-Islam was erected in North Smithfield.

Although Masjid Al-Karim, founded in 1976 on Cranston Street in Providence, was the first mosque in all of Rhode Island, all of the communities are united through the Southern Rhode Island Islamic Society(SRIIS) and other larger groups, such as Islamic Council of New England. This organization is lead by Muhammad Shariff, Professor of Economics at the University of Rhode Island.[11] It oversees the larger events in which all communities commonly participate, such as the Eid 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. and celebrations. In addition, it provides displays and presentations about Islamic history, art and culture at local libraries and universities to educate the public on the rich traditions of Islam. All masjids maintain close ties with each other, coming together for the major holidays and events, while at the same time balancing unique individual identities of their own. For most Muslims in this area, the masjid one attends is simply a matter of convenience rather than allegiance.

Within the vast diversity of Muslims in this area, there is a surprising amount of uniformity in their aims, ritual and religious life. All masjids are theologically Sunni and hold the Qur’an and SunnaSunnah, meaning “custom,” refers to the words and actions of the Prophet Muhammad, remembered by the early Muslim community and preserved in narrative accounts (hadith). Because Muhammad is considered to be the best example of how to live, his Sunnah ... as primary sources of authority, and every one emphasized an all-encompassing vision of membership and participation in their community and religious life, regardless of sect. Despite its diversity in ethnicity and languages, each community maintains the practice of using 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... in its rituals and services in order to maintain a sense of authenticity with the original language of the Qur’an. Some communities participate in a form of spiritual chanting called dhikrDhikr means “remembering” and refers to the Sufi form of devotional worship which usually involves rhythmic chanting of the names of God or litanies, sometimes accompanied by poetry, dance, drums or a reed flute., which serves as a tool for the remembrance of GodGod is a term used to refer to the Divine, the Supreme being, Transcendent deity, or Ultimate reality.. Many Muslims in this area see 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., in its juxtaposition of black and white, rich and poor, as a unifying and equalizing practice; in prayer, all are truly equal in the eyes of GodThe term god with a small “g” is used to refer to a deity or class of deities whose power is understood to be circumscribed or localized rather than universal, or to refer to a plurality of deities. and superficial distinctions become meaningless as one must overcome one’s prejudices and fears for a common, higher ideal. All masjids offer the basic prayers, and each stress the importance of an educational vision for its congregants, especially its children. In addition to adult classes and after-school programs to teach Arabic and Qur’anic exegesis, each masjid had or was planning for a Sunday religious school, with the eventual aim of opening up a full-time K-12, Islamic school.

Islam is said to be the fastest growing religion in the world: it is estimated that approximately 20,000-40,000 Americans convert to Islam each year and by the year 2010, America’s Muslim population will double to approximately 10-12 million and will be the second-largest faith after ChristianityChristianity is the religious tradition of Christians: those who confesses faith in Jesus Christ, follow the path Christ taught, and gather together in the community of the church..[12] There is possibly no better support for these trends than the Providence area Muslim community. The community has been growing almost too fast to maintain itself, as every masjid is looking for new facilities to meet the demand of its congregation’s swelling numbers. A larger, refurbished masjid also helps to fulfill the educational needs and provides a sense of pride and belonging for its youth, even amidst the crime and dangers on the streets. The newest project for these Muslims is to establish a masjid in the Warwick area so that its residents will have a place to convene, worship and socialize with an identity uniquely their own.

All masjids in this area are open to non-Muslims and other Muslims alike to attend their functions and to worship, learn and grow together. One feature any visitor of a masjid would notice is that they are all facing MeccaMakkah (also spelled Mecca) is the birthplace of the Prophet Muhammad, the hub of the caravan trade in the Arabian Peninsula, and the site of the holy Ka’bah. After receiving the first revelations of the Qur’an on a mountain outside Makkah, Muhammad d..., Saudi Arabia, the holiest place on earth for Muslims, to which they pray five times a day. One may also notice a common simplicity that exists for all masjids in this area; all have a lack of decorations inside and out. At most, one may see elegant calligraphy of the Qur’anic text on the walls or as a part of the masjid’s architecture.

The Masjids in the area have made many efforts to improve the community in which they reside. For example, the concern many congregants had about the crime-ridden area in which Masjid Al-Karim (on Cranstron Street, Providence) resides and the impact that would have for its growing community were quelled due to a crime prevention initiative implemented by the masjid’s leaders.[13] Others, such as the members of the Muslim American Dawah Center, have looked to combat larger societal ills, such as teenage pregnancy and child poverty. The former mayor of Providence, Vincent Cianci, awarded them a citation of excellence for the recently established “Putting the neighbor back into the hood” anti-crime program that encourages communal involvement and service.[14]

Interfaith initiatives are also primary in the minds of this community as a key to living harmoniously and cooperatively through mutual enlightenmentEnlightenment means awakening to or realizing the true nature of reality. The term is used with various nuances in the Buddhist, Jain, and Hindu traditions to express the spiritual awakening that is the goal of religious life. “The Enlightenment” also... and active engagement of diversity. Therefore, many local imamsImam 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... sit on interfaith councils, including Imam Ansari, of the Muslim American Dawah Center, on the National Council on Citizenship and Justice (NCCJ) Interfaith Council.[15] The Muslim community also provides a Muslim chaplainA chaplain is a member of the clergy who serves in a prison, a hospital, a college, or some other institution outside the context of the normal congregational life of a religious community. to Rhode Island Hospital, the Providence corrections center, ACI, and the Cranston Training Center, a juvenile detention center.[16] Many congregants visit 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 ..., high schools, prisons and hospitals to educate others about Islam and fight stereotypesStereotyping is the ascription of generalized characteristics to a whole group of people, thus describing individuals by the characterization, usually a caricature, of the whole. that exist within the media. Many Muslims were in the news towards the end of 1999, as they volunteered support for the families of the victims of the devastating Egypt Air Flight 990 crash, which occurred in Rhode Island.

Surely, this is a community on the rise. Due to their efforts, Rhode Island is a better place to live, work, study and worship.


[1] Haddad, Yvonne, The Muslims of America (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992), 189.↩︎

[2] Hameed, Abdul, Personal Interview, 4/20/00. Bey, Wali, Personal Interview, 5/10/00.↩︎

[3] Hameed, 4/20/00. The seven members also were helped greatly by their immediate families and Muslim contacts in the New York and Boston area.↩︎

[4] Ibid.↩︎

[5] Ibid.↩︎

[6] Ansari, Farid, Personal Interview, 4/11/00.↩︎

[7] Ibid.↩︎

[8] Akorede, Muritall, Personal Interview, 4/12/00.↩︎

[9] Ansari, 4/11/00.↩︎

[10] Abu Nar, Hassan, Personal Interview, 4/8/00.↩︎

[11] Bey, Wali, Personal Interview, 5/10/00.↩︎

[12] Haddad, The Muslims of America, 164.↩︎

[13] Hameed, 4/20/00.↩︎

[14] Ansari, 4/11/00.↩︎

[15] Ibid.↩︎

[16] Hameed, 4/20/00.↩︎


Bibliography

Abdalati, Hammudah, Islam in Focus (Indianapolis: American Trust Publications, 1975).

Abu Nar, Hassan, Personal Interview, 4/8/00. (Imam of Masjid Al-Islam)

Albanese, Catherine, America: Religions and Religion (New York: Wadswroth Publications, 1998).

Akorede, Muritall, Personal Interview, 4/12/00.

Ansari, Farid, Personal Interview, 4/11/00. (Imam of the Muslim American Da’wah Center, Lockwood Street, Providence)

Austin, Allan, African Muslims in Antebellum America: A Sourcebook (New York: Random House, 1985).

Bey, Wali, Personal Interview, 5/10/00.

Haddad, Yvonne, The Muslims of America (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992).

Hameed, Abdul, Personal Interview, 4/20/00. (Imam of Masjid Al-Karim, Cranston Street, Providence)

Koszegi, Michael, Islam in North America: A Sourcebook (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988).

McCloud, Aminah, African American Islam (New York: Columbia University Press, 1995).

Rahman, Fazlur, Major Themes of the Qur’an (Minneapolis and Chicago: Bibliotheca Islamica, 1980).

Smith, Jane, Islam in America (New York: Columbia University Press, 1979).
http://www.usembassy.state.gov/posts/pk3/wwwhiart.html.