Muslim Conditions in Philly

This is because Allah has never changed a favor which He has conferred upon a people until they change their own condition; and because Allah is Hearing, Knowing
Quran 8:53

Maybe it is a reflection of the times, but our community has become self destructive, in other words the Muslims, as a community, is its own worst oppressor. This is especially the case in Philly where there are only a few small pockets where a thinking Muslim can have some semblance of individuality. With so many Muslims, you’d think there would be more opportunities to develop some sense of fellowship. Philadelphia Muslims seem to undermine whatever community building and personal development and put in its place factionalism, polemics, and self-righteousness. Only a few communities offer a ray of light offering some hope that we can climb our way out of pathology. Even grassroots Muslim leaders begin to wonder if there is hope for our people. And when I mean people, I am talking about Black people. And by hope, I mean the transformative power of Islam in cleaning up people’s lives and offering them dignity.

Before I moved out here, a sister told me Philadelphia has some of the craziest Muslims. My husband recently saw a young man working at a Dunkin Donuts with a tattoo on his face, all over his arms, and even on his knuckles. Funny thing is, he had a very Muslim name. And we don’t mean the typical Arabic or Swahili names that Black folks picked up like Malik or Jamal. Naw, his name meant the perfection of faith. And there he was, all tatted up, molesting his co-worker, only to get a bit nervous when he saw my husband in his obviously Muslim attire.

Philly’s the only place where I’ve seen a hijab wearing Muslim smoke cigarettes in the day time during Ramadan. Maybe she wasn’t fasting at the time, but why would she still smoke in plain sight. This is the only city where I heard of three niqab wearing Muslim sisters jumping another woman in a Walmart parking lot in day light hours during Ramadan. It is probably the only place where similarly pious sisters will scrap in front of their children’s school and masjid, then return the next day bringing their non-Muslim family members to back them up in a fight.

I am saddened that there are others who try to discredit my husband by spreading rumors he’s shi’a because he once used the title “Imam” in front of Ali and prays with his arms down following the Maliki school. Philadelphia Muslims quibble about a whole lot, and they seem to have lost the forest for the trees. They will argue about ‘aqeedah, not being on the right minhaj, not following the right sheikh, but nobody is going to address sexual abuse, slander, and criminal activity in the community.

But I see rays of hope in my young students, as I read their journals and they write about their hopes, dreams and aspirations. Sometimes I am heart broken because the apathy that is so widespread in the Black community has also infected so many of them. I am hopeful when I see institutions like Quba Institute producing young Muslims who have Islamic literacy and are engaged with their society. Islam is not some cultural identity, but rather a vehicle for character building and a means to getting towards our ultimate goal, which is to meet our Lord.

I hope this next generation gets it right, or at least better than us. I know I’ve made many mistakes, fell off, and faltered a number of times. But once our youths step away from their X-bosses and take out their ear plugs, I know that they will have the vigor and the skill set to set this ship on its right course.

14 thoughts on “Muslim Conditions in Philly

  1. Yup-you only speak the truth in this post. It is amazing to be around so many Muslims in this area-yet feel so lonely and w/o connections because of the horrible realities of the community.

    I also feel the sense of hope in the future generations. At the same time, in my small community in Jersey there is a huge gap. The children are there and the grandparents. But the children’s parents (Muslims in their late 20s and 30s) are nowhere to be found. From the looks of Facebook pages (ain’t it funny how people put everything out there in the world of social networking?) there is a lot of foolishness going on with these children’s parents! I really don’t even know what to say.

    On a completely different note: I’ve been very curious about your academic life and Stanford stuff. I’ve been going through some issues in my own academic life and want to exchange some emails you. Is that possible?


  2. Salaams Dear:

    You wrote:

    “Philly’s the only place where I’ve seen a hijab wearing Muslim smoke cigarettes in the day time during Ramadan. Maybe she wasn’t fasting at the time, but why would she still smoke in plain sight. This is the only city where I heard of three niqab wearing Muslim sisters jumping another woman in a Walmart parking lot in day light hours during Ramadan. It is probably the only place where similarly pious sisters will scrap in front of their children’s school and masjid, then return the next day bringing their non-Muslim family members to back them up in a fight.”

    Then these sisters end up in prison and do the SAME things there. It is maddening. I stress over and over the importance of Isalmic character in prison.

    Many of the sisters have a lot of anger. And they have other issues which are legacies resulting from being African American and from coming up in an inner city environment. Will the next generation get it right?

    How can they? Hmm … the parents have to have a role in that. Who else is going to do it? I teach kindergarten in our weekend Islamic school. Some students there (from other cultures), under the age of 10, practically know an entire juz! Yes, kids in Pakistan are hafiz by that age, but in America, a whole juz is pretty impressive.

    Kids need to have parents and other adults who EXPECT them to succeed. I have overheard my kindergarten kids telling each other, “when I grow up, I’m going to be a doctor.” Someone had to plant that suggestion. It is the parents and other adults. Many of our Muslim kids in the inner city are sadly neglected by adults. But Islamically, it’s a form of spiritual abuse, in my opinion.

    I think the answer is in our inner city masjids. We need to continue to have classes, halaqas, etc., stressing how Islam has the power to change a person’s life. And we need to be patient. But most of all, EVERY Muslim adult needs to take interest in all of our Muslim kids.


  3. “And when I mean people, I am talking about Black people”

    You mean AA’s. There are African Muslim communities in America that does not reflect that of AA Muslims.


  4. Confused by,

    “Philly’s the only place where I’ve seen a hijab wearing Muslim smoke cigarettes in the day time during Ramadan.Maybe she wasn’t fasting at the time, but why would she still smoke in plain sight. ” (would u have said the same thing if it were a men) it because she is wearing a hijab or because she is a woman smoking? Hijab wearing Muslims do smoke, why are u trying to hide this? Muslim men smoke too.

    Please, no double standards, your blog is way better than that.

    If I may have misunderstood this comment please clarify it.


  5. Shamsa,
    I was not trying to group all Africans with Black Americans. So, when I meant Black people, I was talking about Black Americans who are indigenous, not African immigrants and second generation Americans. I know some Africans do not like it when we Black Americans call ourselves African Americans. But I use them interchangeably.

    Confused, please don’t assume I meant a double standard. The point is that it was during Ramadan and no Muslim should smoke during the day time, it breaks your fast. Hijab represents a certain amount of religiosity. I was pointing out the contradiction of hijab and an activity that is detrimental to one’s health. My husband did see a certain hyper-critical salafi brother smoking a cigarette during the day time during Ramadan also. I just didn’t include that in the blog entry since I had already cited him. The main difference was that the man was not identifiably Muslim, but my husband knew him.


  6. Salaams Aziza,

    Unfortunately Philly isn’t the only place where you’d see that type of juxtaposed craziness. Places such as Birmingham (the UK’s 2nd largest city) and South London these things are rampant. We’ve had ‘robbing in the way of Allah’ ‘forced conversions’ ‘serial marriages’ ‘people being cast off the minhaj’ ‘takfeer’ ‘broken homes’ ‘giving women dawah’ ‘moroccan wives’ ‘Richard Reid/Jermaine Lindsay/Abu Izzadeen (google them)’ you name it, it’s all been experienced by African Caribbean Muslims in the UK. The gulf between African Caribbean converts and established Asian and African Muslim communities in the UK is like night and day.


  7. Sr.,

    Philly is messed up because people are not following the way of the righteous Salaf. We need to teach people the Salafi ideology so they can be good people. We should stop teaching hippie new age stuff like Sufism and what not. Sufism and other idolgies are causing people in Philadelphia to beceome “crazy” Muslims. Just my opinion.


  8. Thanks for your opinion Luqman. The majority of Muslims in Philly claim to follow the salaf. And I do agree that we should not teach new age hippie stuff. But I’d disagree with you on the merits of Tazkiyya and Tasawwuf in terms of reforming character.


  9. Assalamu Alaikum Wa Rahmatullah Wa Baraktuh
    Islam is a religion of peace, love and compassion. Lies, suspicion, back biting, slander and gossip are totally alien to Islam. In fact they are considered amongst the most destructive of major sins. This is so because these sins sow enmity and discord among the Muslim Ummah and lead to its destruction. They cause hostilities between people of the same household, and between neighbors, friends and relatives.
    Islam demands that our relationship with mankind should be one of sincerity and responsibility. It should be one where we have respect for the honor, reputation and privacy of others. Islam teaches us that we are not only held accountable for our own attitudes and actions but also for anything else over which we have control or influence over, in our society or the world around us. Many of us back bite and gossip without thinking. We think it is minor matter, however God reminds us to be careful and even though we think we are doing something little it is in fact very big in the sight of God! Many people are so busy spreading the slander they hear that they do not even stop to think if it is true or not. Are we falling into Shaitan’s (Satan’s) trap? We can all analyze ourselves. Backbiting and slander is so widespread that it has become the topic of people’s meetings and an avenue for expressing their anger, misgivings and jealousy. Those who indulge in backbiting are oblivious of the fact that they are only harming themselves. This is because of the fact that on the Day of Resurrection both the wrongdoer and the wronged will stand before God, Who is the Just Judge, God will then give this wronged person from the good deeds of the person who wronged him in accordance with his wrong by backbiting. Some situations allow us to inform others of what someone has done. It is allowed for us to inform the authorities when someone does injustice to us or others. It is allowed for us to inform someone who can help a perpetrator from committing further vice. It is also permissible for us to tell whoever seeks our advice on a person for business dealings or marriage. In this case it is not allowed for us to hide what we know about the person so that the enquirer will not be deceived. All these types of speaking about others are lawful.

    Speaking a good word or remaining silent:

    This is an encouragement to speak what is good and beneficial; at the same time it is a warning, cautioning us to be careful in what we say, lest we say something that is harmful or false.

    It is part of a Muslim’s faith to speak the truth and to say things that bring about benefit to others. Allah says: “O you who believe! Fear Allah and speak a word that is right. He will set right for you your deeds and forgive you your sins. And whoever obeys Allah and His Messenger has certainly attained a great achievement.” [ Sûrah al-Ahzâb : 70-71]

    Allah informs us in the Qur’ân some of what constitutes good in our speech and benefits other people. He says: “No good is there in much of their private conversation, except for those who enjoin charity or that which is right, or bring reconciliation between people. And whoever does that seeking Allah’s pleasure, then we shall grant him a great reward.” [ Sûrah al-Nisâ’ : 114]

    When we have nothing beneficial to say, silence is golden. Once, Mu`âdh b. Jabal asked the Prophet (peace be upon him) to inform him of some good work that would admit him into Paradise and distance him from the Hellfire. The Prophet (peace be upon him) mentioned to him the virtues of many good deeds, then said: “Shall I inform you of the foundation of all of that?”

    Mu`âdh said: “Certainly.”

    The Prophet (peace be upon him) took hold of his tongue and said: “Restrain yourself from this.”

    Mu`âdh then asked: “O Prophet of Allah! Are we held to task for the things that we say?”

    The Prophet (peace be upon him) replied: “May your mother be bereaved of you, O Mu`âdh! Does anything topple people headlong into the Hellfire save the harvests of their tongues?” [ Sunan al-Tirmidhî and Sunan Ibn Mâjah ]

    We should avoid speaking ill of others. We should rather remain silent unless we are seeking justice for some wrong that has been perpetrated against us. Allah says: “Allah does not like that evil should be mentioned in public except by one who has been done injustice. And Allah is all-hearing, all-knowing.” [ Sûrah al-Nisâ’ : 148]

    Our tongues are like double-edges swords. They can work for us and against us, both in this world and the Hereafter. We will be held accountable for what we say. Allah tells us: “He does not utter a statement except that there is an observer by him ready to record it.” [ Sûrah Qâf : 18]

    The Prophet (peace be upon him) said: “Indeed a servant will speak a word pleasing to Allah that he thinks to be insignificant, but because of it Allah raises him by many degrees. And indeed a servant will speak a word displeasing to Allah that he thinks to be insignificant, but because of it, He will consign him to the Hellfire.” [ Sahîh al-Bukhârî ]

    We must be vigilant not to speak falsehood. We must think about what we are saying and the possible consequences of our words before we go ahead and speak. The Prophet (peace be upon him) said: “A man might speak a word without thinking about its implications, but because of it, he will plunge into the Hellfire further than the distance between the east and west.” [ Sahîh al-Bukhârî and Sahîh Muslim ]

    Al-Nawawî comments on the meaning of this hadith, saying: “This hadith encourages us to guard our tongues. A person who wants to speak should think upon what he is about to say before he utters it. If it then shows itself to have some benefit to it, he may speak it; otherwise he should refrain from doing so.”

    based upon the wisdom of Allah and his Prophet Muhammad (SAW),
    “…And lower your wing for the believers (be courteous to the fellow-believers).” (Al-Hijr 15:88)
    The Prophet (SAW) said,
    “None of you has Iman (faith) until he desires for his brother (or sister) Muslim that which he desires for himself (or herself).” (Bukhari and Muslim)
    He (SAW) also said,
    “The Muslims in their mutual love, kindness and compassion are like the human body where when one of its parts is in agony the entire body feels the pain, both in sleeplessness and fever.” (Bukhari and Muslim)
    I love you for the sake of Allah (SWT) …
    The Messenger of Allah (SAW) said,
    “On the Day of Judgement, Allah, the Most High, will announce, ‘Where are those who love each other for the sake of My pleasure? This day I am going to shelter them in the shade provided by Me. Today there is no shade except My shade.” (Muslim)
    I will be sure to tell you of my love, Insha-Allah …
    The Prophet (SAW) said,
    “If a person loves his brother, he should inform him of this fact.” (Abu Dawud and Tirmidi)
    I will be merciful and compassionate toward you, Insha-Allah …
    Allah (SWT) says,
    “Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah, and those who are with him are severe against the disbelievers, and merciful among themselves…” (Al-Fath 48:29)
    The Prophet (SAW) said,
    “Do not be envious of other Muslims; do not overbid at auctions against another Muslim; do not have malice against a Muslim; do not go against a Muslim and forsake him; do not make an offering during a pending transaction. O’ servants of Allah, be like brothers (or sisters) with each other. A Muslim is the brother (or sister) of another Muslim; do not hurt him (or her), or look down upon him (or her) or bring shame on him (or her). Piety is a matter of heart (The Prophet (SAW) repeated this thrice). It is enough evil for a person to look down upon his Muslim brother (or sister). The blood, property and honor of a Muslim is inviolable to a Musilm.” (Muslim)
    I will keep company with you, Insha-Allah …
    The Prophet (SAW) said,
    “Keep company with a believer only, and let your food be eaten only by the righteous.” (Abu Dawud and Tirmidi)
    He (SAW) also said,
    “A person is likely to follow the faith of his friend, so look whom you befriend.” (Abu Dawud and Tirmidi)
    I will help you when necessary and I will cover your shortcomings, Insha-Allah …
    The Prophet (SAW) said,
    “One who helps a fellow Muslim in removing his (or her) difficulty in this world, Allah will remove the former’s distress on the Day of Judgement. He who helps to remove the hardship of another, will have his difficulties removed by Allah in this world and in the Hereafter. One who covers the shortcomings of another Muslim, will have his faults covered up in this world and the next by Allah. Allah continues to help a servant so long as he goes on helping his own brother (or sister).” (Muslim)
    I will encourage you to the right, Insha-Allah …
    Allah (SWT) says,
    “The believers, men and women. are Auliya (helpers, supporters, friends, protectors) of one another, they enjoin (on people) Al-Ma’ruf (i.e. Islamio Monotheism and all that Islma orders one to do), and forbids (people) from Al-Munkar (i.e. polytheism and disbelief of all kinds, and all that Islam has forbidden); they offer their prayers perfectly (Iqamat-as-Salat); and give the Zakat and obey Allah and His Messenger. Allah will have His mercy upon them. Surely, Allah is All-Mighty, All-Wise.” (At-Tauba 9:71)
    When the Prophet (SAW) instructed,
    “Help your (Muslim) brother (or sister) when he commits a wrong and when a wrong is committed against him, someone asked, “O Messenger of Allah, I understand how I can help him if a wrong is committed against him, but how can I help him if he is himself committing a wrong?” At that the Prophet (SAW) answered, “Stopping him from committing the wrong is helping him.” (Bukhari)
    I will fulfill my minimum duties and beyond, Insha-Allah …
    The Prophet (SAW) said,
    “A Muslim owes six obligations towards another Muslim: when you meet him (or her), salute him (or her) saying ‘Assalamu Alaikum; when he (or she) invites you, accept his (or her) invitation; when he (or she) solicits your advice, advise him (or her) sincerely; when he (or she) sneezes and praises Allah, respond with the supplication Yarhamuk Allah (Allah have mercy on you); when he (or she) falls sick, visit him (or her); on his (or her) death, join his (or her funeral).” (Muslim)
    He (SAW) also said,
    “When a Muslim visits his (or her) Muslim brother (or sister) who is sick, he (or she) certainly gathers the fruits of Paradise until he (or she) returns (from visiting).” (Muslim)
    You should understand, dear sister, that these are only some of the promises that I have made to you and to Allah (SWT), Insha-Allah. I will strive to fufill each of them to the best of my ability, Insha-Allah. Insha-Allah you will do the same for all of your sisters in Islam. This will not only enhance our bounds of Sisterhood, but will also strengthen the fibers of the Muslim Ummah as we acquire and utilize the wisdom of Islam, Insha-Allah. Our ultimate goal is to gain the pleasure of Allah (SWT), as well as His Mercy and Blessings, Insha-Allah. May we both find the true peace that comes with being a Muslim and attaing the highest of rewards: Paradise. Ameen!!!
    With true love,
    Your Sister in Islam
    Walaikum As’salam Wa Rahmatullah Wa Barakatuh


  10. Thank you Not a happy muslimah,
    I think your advice is coming from a right place, but I don’t think it will help us combat the many problems of Islam in America.
    Following your advice, we should never comment on the ills of society, or Muslim communities for that matter. Our past scholars have done it, even Ibn Taymiyya and Abdul Wahhab did it. I am not naming names or slandering anyone, but talking about all too common occurences. You have in this city Muslim men who dress as Muslim women to rob banks, criminal activity in the masajid, but instead we should focus on the positives. If we cannot change something with our hands, then we should at least speak against it, if we cannot speak against these ills, we should at least hate it with our hearts.


  11. As Salaamu Alaikum Wa Rahmatullah Wa Baraktuh,

    We know that imperfection lies not in Islam, but in those who profess to subscribe to it. Transgressions arise not from its truths, but from the character of those who so steadfastly misapropriate its tenets -all in the name of Allah. Their actions are neither eloquent nor elegant.
    I like to remember that we are beings living a human condition, and are therefore subject to human frailties. The dilemma of wearing a hijab and kufi in physical representation only exists not just in the great city of Philadelphia, but across state lines and beyond the shores of our many oceans. I liken it to a mis-alignment of the spiritual self or a mis-alignment of the thinking of the collective muslim body. It is purely an esteem issue. When one vibrates at a high frequency, there is no desire to sully one’s character in the quest of destroying another’s. There is no desire to operate under the pretense of piety while backbiting the name of social elevation. You see, the vibrationally evolved re-cognize that the unfavorable behavior of one muslim reflects upon us all-even if we don’t see the truth in it. When we notice sisters and brothers denigrating others, for whatever reason, we must gently admonish them, openly and objectionably. Let us not stand aside and privately criticize them while not correcting them in their behavior. Let us not side with the opinions and behaviors of the “popular” group while it distributes a seemingly palatable poison.
    As Africans in America , we have been bestowed the unique privilege of being American and Muslim. Yet, we seem to have gone asunder. Our behavior in the masjid and without is baptist church like (if you will). As some of my Christian counterparts would say, ‘We are in the world and of it.’

    Sister, worry not, Allah always corrects his nature, and his nature is always beautiful. The problems we re-cognize in our own African American community are not exclusive to us. They are a manifestation of the collective human con-science.

    Let us excitedly rise to the honor of leading our African people and all of humankind to the pathway of personal excellence. We must elevate our collective vibrational frequency and secure its maintenance. Let us live in Iman and proceed in Ihsan.


  12. There are many types of people and where your from, your family,your enviornments, play a great role in who you are. It’s been my experience that sisters who have lived unprotected, uncared for and neglected by men, be it their fathers, brothers, any mahram, and who have had to basically fend for self are angry and hard. It is hard to be a gracious and merciful woman when you have had to rub elbows with men and women in this society while being Muslim, black and a woman. We have it hard x’s 3. I have had classes with such women, and patience and understanding must be practiced to try to help sisters like this. The worst thing to do is to look down upon such sisters, that is, if you are trying to help them. And on the other hand, some sisters don’t care and treat Islam as a customary practice like many Muslims from any part of the world. Good character is part of eman and not everyone has eman. Let’s not allow what some do spoil our visions. If you went to any poor, urban part of the world, you will find women and men who behave unIslamically. Poverty strikes at your faith. It is a rare Muslim who doesn’t allow the surrondings, people, or their poverty to spoil their faith. We need to teach our children that we have to be believers no matter what. I was taught to be like 3 things, I don’t remeber if it’s hadith but the 3 things are; a bee, no matter what, it only goes towards good, a palm tree, there is nothing that can take it down, even a storm only bends it, and 3, gold. Nothing changes gold. You can sit it in any condition and it remains gold. Now I know I ruined that but I hope the point remains. We MUST stand firm and hold on, if even with our back molars. My love and du’as to all who struggle and strive to remain on the path to Allah.


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