In the poorest areas of the nation’s capital, Wards Seven and Eight, where unemployment is in double digits nearing 20%, schools are struggling and there’s a church on nearly every corner Islam is growing at a rapid pace, especially among young males.
“People are looking for a change. They’ve seen the results of what their parents and grandparents have tried. They know about 40-60 years of trying everything else. They don’t want the same things their parents have tried with little success,” Anthony Muhammad, Vice President for the 7th District Citizen’s Advisory Council for the Metropolitan Police Department told the Muslim Link.
“There are five Masjids in Southeast with more coming. Islam comes when all else fails. There are a lot of Muslims here and we’re working hard to teach Islam to everyone.”
It’s common to drive down Martin Luther King, Jr. Avenue, Alabama Avenue or Benning Road and see young Black men wearing kufis with their pants rolled up expressing their Islamic identity.
At 15, Jabar Rahman, (name changed) was interested in Islam after hearing about it from his 14 –year-old friend. “He told me about Islam and it sounded good. He invited me to go with him to the Benning Road Mosque (Al Islam). I talked to the Imam and he asked me why I wanted to be a Muslim. I told him that I liked what I had learned about Islam and wanted to try it.”
“I want to learn more things, I want to meet more Muslims and I really like fasting for Ramadan,” he told The Muslim Link.
Jabar is a student at Maya Angelou Public Charter School where 8th grade teacher Nasser Muhammad has witnessed the growth of Islam in their students.
“I’ve been here since 2010 and have seen more and more students wearing kufis and rolling their pants up. There is a great influence from their friends who are Muslims and from family members who have returned from incarceration as Muslim. I tell my students that you don’t have to go to jail to be Muslim. That’s a step they can skip.”
“I meet with the Muslim students several times throughout the year. We talk about Islam and Muslim behavior. I want them to be the best model students as Muslims. The school allows the high school students with good grades, leadership skills, and good behavior the opportunity to leave school and attend Jummah prayer service on Fridays. The middle school students can leave if they have their parents permission.”
Mary Harrison has lived in SE all of her life. She’s also witnessed the growth of Islam in her community. Two of her sons were incarcerated and came home Muslims. “I was a little upset at first but I’ve seen the changes in them for the good. They are polite and well mannered. They take care of their children and every time I turned around they are praying.”
“I wasn’t surprised when their friends became Muslim too because these young people want something different and I guess Islam has what they want. I’m just glad they’re not in jail and have left their criminal behavior in the past. I thank Allah for that,” she said with a smile.
In 2010, 2,353 people were released from the Bureau of Prisons and returned to DC. Many left as criminals and returned as Muslims striving to live a life pleasing to God. They returned to all parts of the city but many have returned to SE DC.
“A lot of brothers are coming home Muslim,” explained Abdul Malik who runs a program for Muslim boys in the Benning Terrace public housing community. “They were looked up to before they went in and even more looked up to when they came home.”
“People see their friends come home Muslim and see the changes in them. Everyone wants to be Muslims when they see this. My goal is to turn this whole community into Muslims.”
Imam Abdul Aliyy spent 27 years incarcerated and knows the great influence Islam has in prison. “The biggest group in prison is the Muslims, then the gangs. If you have 200 Crips, you will have 400 Muslims. People hear so much about Islam, they want to know what’s really going on. Youth are coming in droves. They will be the next Islamic leaders.”
Five days a week Abdul Malik and his fellow Muslim friends Imam Abdul Aliyy, Jamal Ato Chappelle and Abdul Razzak Tahir run an after school program for boys. From 5:00 pm -7:00 pm they do homework, team building exercises, dinner, physical training and Islamic Studies. Nearly 25 boys are a part of this effort with ages ranging from seven to 15.
For 10 year old Dreaun Young, learning about Islam means learning to pray, reciting Al Fatiha in Arabic and learning about brotherhood. “I’ve learned that I can’t eat pork and how to do good things in life.”
What do the boys want to know most of all?
“Teach me how to be safe from the hell fire,” said one young man.
Their program receives very little funding and support. “Imam Musa (Masjid Al-Islam) is our biggest supporter. But we need so much more.”
But that doesn’t deter them from teaching the faith. Instead of candy and certificates as rewards for learning, students in their program get kufis and prayer rugs.
The rise of Islam is not just with the males though they dominate the trend.
“I see young girls are drawn to Islam as well and we want to steer them in the right direction,” said Nailah Anthony who works with Muslim girls in SE. “We give them the Holy Qu’ran, the Sunnah of Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, and Hadith.”
“A lot of them are drawn to Islam when they get in trouble and we give them the knowledge to stay out of trouble. Many of the girls are following the men [into Islam].”