Welcoming Ramadan in West Philly
MASJID MUJAHIDEEN sits nestled in an unassuming business corridor on 60th Street near Pine, at the heart of a Cobbs Creek neighborhood sometimes called "Muslimtown."
The modest mosque has served West Philadelphia's Muslim population for more than 35 years. Its imam, Asim Abdur-Rashid, is also the leader of a regional governing body of imams.
The mosque and others around the globe are preparing for the holy month of Ramadan - the month in which Muslims believe the Quran was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad - which begins this evening.
Throughout Ramadan, the faithful will fast from the dawn prayer, Fajr, until dusk, which is marked by the sunset prayer, Maghrib, abstaining from food, drink and sex during the daylight hours. They'll also increase their prayers and charitable works.
We spoke with Rashid and mosque administrator Tariq Abdus Salaam about the mosque, Muslim prayer and other aspects of the faith.
Who we are: Masjid Mujahideen is a community-oriented mosque with a Scout troop, Arabic classes, a strong commitment to helping the poor and an easygoing, front-porch informality.
"Our objective in life is to spread Islam in a manner in which people can truly understand it," Salaam said. "We sit out front, and people ask us questions all the time - simple, basic questions, Islam 101."
What we believe: In Allah. "He is the creator of everything," Rashid says.
Muslims believe that the Prophet Muhammad was the last prophet sent by God to mankind. They pray five times a day. "This is like bathing in a stream," Salaam said. "This is your break throughout the course of the day and night, to re-center and refocus yourself."
Another key belief is zakat, giving alms to the poor, he said. "And then we believe every Muslim, at one point in their life, should make the pilgrimage to Mecca.
"You see all nationalities there, all races . . . praying in the same direction, reciting the Quran in the same language, Arabic," he said. "Don't matter who you are, don't matter where you are, we all pray in Arabic."
Where we worship: The mosque itself is at 413 S. 60th St. But Rashid also encourages members to visit other mosques "to seek knowledge, to attend classes, to find fellowship," Salaam said. "We are not exclusive here. So if there is some benefit in a class or workshop at another masjid, the Imam encourages us to go get that class."
Good works: Every month, members of the mosque distribute meals and groceries to the surrounding community. "You don't have to be Muslim to receive the donations," Rashid said. "Islam is a mercy to all mankind."
Big moral issue we're grappling with: "In my humble opinion, it's illicit sexual intercourse," Rashid said. Sex outside of marriage is a serious violation of Muslim belief because it's thought to undermine family and community.
"The guidelines are being overlooked and clearly disregarded," Salaam said, "in both the mainstream and now, unfortunately, Islamic society as well."
If pennies rained from heaven into our facilities budget: "We would use the money to build the Madinah Community Center," Rashid said. One recent fundraiser netted almost $100,000 for the proposed new building, to be built across the street from the mosque.
"Youth need space. Not just prayer space," Salaam explained.
Thinking outside the hoop: "One member of the Philly mosque recently visited a masjid in Virginia with a basketball court - "right in the masjid," he said. "It's a very simple adjustment, a very simple solution to bring the youth to the masjid."
God vs. cellphones: Muslims are taught that you learn Islam "chest to chest, with someone of good character," Salaam said. So while several Islamic smartphone apps exist - including some that use the GPS function to point the faithful toward Mecca for prayers, and one with a halal food finder - he personally resisted the technology for a while.
He's since come to embrace an app called iQuran, which offers Quranic recitations.
Words of hope: In one chapter of the Quran, Allah says, "Verily, with every difficulty there is ease."
"Then he repeats himself," Salaam said: "Verily with every difficulty there is ease."
"I like those verses because it tells you to look for that light at the end of the tunnel - that whatever you are going through . . . it will get better."