30Mosques.com | Masjid Khalifa Revisited

The following post was written by Nzinga Knight, a New York based fashion designer who grew up in this mosque.

Masjid Muhsi Khalifa is my home mosque. Like the theme song for Cheers, Masjid Khalifa is the place where everybody knows my name and they’re always glad that I came. Since 1975 this Mosque has been under the leadership of the late Warith D Mohammed. I began going to Muhsi Khalifa as a child with my family. To quote Warith D Mohammed he said, “We should realize that the first identity is not of an African or a European or a Saudi. The first identity is a human being. And as long as we build our diversities upon that foundation that god gave us, the human foundation, we’re in good shape. And we should just make all the progress we can, separately or all together.” With Muhsi Khalifa’s do for self attitude this community has made great progress as an African- American and Caribbean American populated mosque that once had it’s beginnings in the Nation of Islam in the 1950’s.

My sister Nsenga Knight who has documented some of the history of this mosque through it’s female pioneers has helped me to learn even more about this place. She says, “I feel like I am living in the richness of this mosques history and truly feel at home in this space.” So do I.

One of the things that I love most about this mosque is the familiarity that it has with my life as an American. Regardless of gender or age every one is included in this community and we are in constant communication with one another. I spoke to one of the pioneers, Sis Umilta, Anika’s mother (who’s like an auntie) who began attending in 1973 about that day in 1975 when Warith D Mohammed succeeded his father as the leader of the NOI (a year later then Warith D Mohammed renamed it the World Community of al-Islam in the West) and led the congregation to mainstream Islam. She says, “I never felt as though I wasn’t Muslim, we had a mass shahada and we never turned back, it was like there was a genetic memory and it was just getting wakened up… it was a progression.” As the successor to his father Warith D Mohammed’s thoughtful demeanor and profound spiritual conviction inspired a community of people steeped in the idea of self-reliance and spirituality to create a brand of Islam that is American and empowering.

I can best describe this mosque community’s culture by illustrating what my experience is like from the time that I enter my mosque.

As I make my way to the mosque then brothers in suits greet me with Salaams at the corner, front door and security area. These men are standing at their posts and they are watching out for the community. And when I ride my bike then any brother will bring my bike upstairs.Then I go upstairs to the mosque and enter the sisters section.

To me then one of the most telling things about a mosque is the women’s prayer space… they can come in many styles: non-existing, in some scary space that’s probably a civil rights violation, partitioned, or simply behind the men’s. Women enter our prayer space upstairs through a door that is 3 feet away from the men’s identical door. The men and women all share the same large prayer space with the women beginning their lines for prayer in the back and the men beginning in the front. Our wudu station is convenient, dry, clean and pink. The women are really gracious and kind and I am constantly learning something new from them.

My women and children friendly mosque has a lounge area for women who aren’t praying or are nursing. It’s complete with sofas, a rocking chair, a crib, a changing station, flowers and most importantly speakers so that she can hear the kutbah. I have been to mosque spaces that are in many ways unfriendly to women so in light of what many other Muslim women put up with I don’t take this for granted. I also love that there’s a Girls Scouts of America, Boys Scout’s, Martial Arts classes, a Clara Mohammed, School, a community center, a banquet hall and a host of other reasons to stick around.

I am an American Muslim going to an American Muslim mosque. I love that there is no duplicity with how I interact with people outside and then inside of the mosque space. My mosques culture reflects its people. I think that it’s the self-love that we have that enables us to grow, love one another and love others.

The history of Muhsi Khalifa is something that has empowered the community and has informed its culture and style. Allah has written the marvelous story of these people and this space. I could only imagine what this community might have been like if we hadn’t built upon the good parts of all of our preceding chapters. I appreciate my mosque for so many reasons. It’s the simple things like being able to have iftar with Bassam and Aman sitting at the same table, being able to see my Imam as he speaks, and having a woman’s lounge with sofas that I find refreshing.

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