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Masjid member Valerie Shirley has stressed that one of the most significant differences between Masjid An-Nur and other mosques in Minneapolis is its emphasis on community service programs for both non-Muslim and Muslim communities in the Twin Cities. To explain this phenomenon, Arlene El-Amin, a founding member of the mosque, stated, “We [African Americans] are indigenous to the history of the United States…this is our homeland. We do not have preconceived notions about persons who may not be of our faith. We recognize that in the Qur’an, the chapter 107, called Al-Ma’un calls us to take care of our neighbor.” Most of the other mosques in Minneapolis belong to immigrant populations and their community service work tends to largely be directed towards their own communities.
Unlike the African-American population who lead Masjid An-Nur, many Muslim immigrants new to the United States have to acclimate to a new and different life in America, as well as navigate the racism and Islamophobia they find upon arrival. The African Americans who lead and are involved in Masjid An-Nur have not faced these same challenges, indeed many chose Islam or their families did so in the past 70 years, and so they mosque has had a decidedly different orientation than those masjids that were founded by and serve primarily immigrant populations.
Masjid An-Nur emerged as an outgrowth of the reformation of the Nation of Islam by Imam Wallace D. Muhammad in 1975 and came to identify itself as a Sunni community. From that time onward, Imam Muhammad further developed the engaged social justice orientation that was already a part of the Nation of Islam. Founding the Mosque Cares Program, Imam Muhammad created an initiative that was dedicated to holistically providing for mosque members, as well those in the general community. Masjid An-Nur still follows this program and philosophy to date.
We do not have preconceived notions about persons who may not be of our faith.
Program Director Arlene El-Amin, describes Masjid An-Nur’s involvement in an event called Day of Dignity:
“Last year was the first year we did something called Day of Dignity. That’s where we worked with Islamic relief out of Virginia, I think it is. Where they have sponsored this Day of Dignity for persons who are basically unemployed, underemployed whatever the case may be or just in need. We are in 15 cities at the same time. We were chosen to sponsor that last year.”
Najla Karim is the Education Coordinator at Masjid An-Nur. Though she is not an employee of the Masjid, she is a member of the the mosque’s Board of Trustees and volunteers as an Islamic Studies teacher at the mosque. She teaches the Sunday School Islamic Studies course for the youth and she leads the Sister’s Halaquah, a social and educational group for women who have recently embraced Islam. She articulated the importance of teaching the youth at Masjid An-Nur to value community service and engagement.
What I believe is the way that we live our lives as Muslims and the way that they have been brought up; there are just certain universal beliefs that all Muslims hold and one of those that stands out is Ṣadaqah or charity so we’re always told and we’re always being brought up to give. So, sometimes you don’t have monetary means to give but you can give of yourself, you can give of your time and I believe that it is something that has been instilled in the youth and so it just naturally manifests itself when different things come up. Opportunities come about where they put their faith into good works.
Partial Interview Transcript
“The youth that participated this year were youth that either participate in the youth Islamic studies class that we hold every Saturday, actually excuse me Sunday; Sundays we have an Islamic Studies class for youth. So we pulled a lot of the children that are already active in the community from the class and gave them the opportunity to go to…where we at this year? We actually did two different days of service; one was a project for the homeless to raise awareness of youth homelessness in the Twin Cities and we actually spent the night out on the streets doing that one. And the second event that we participated in was over at Macalester College in St.Paul and that was actually an interfaith youth day of service. So we took anywhere from, I think it was about 7-10 youth attended the programs and they had the opportunity to participate in workshops and different things like that. The interfaith youth day of service they had the opportunity to learn about different faiths and their cultures in terms of their songs, maybe cooking, foods that they eat, their type of entertainment. and also just about how they live their daily lives.”“What I believe is the way that we live our lives as Muslims and the way that they have been brought up; there are just certain universal beliefs that all Muslims hold and one of those that stands out is Ṣadaqah or charity so we’re always told and we’re always being brought up to give. So, sometimes you don’t have monetary means to give but you can give of yourself, you can give of your time and I believe that it is something that has been instilled in the youth and so it just naturally manifests itself when different things come up. Opportunities come about where they put their faith into good works.”
Meeting Community Needs
Directly across the street from the masjid is Lyndale Manor, a public housing building classified as an assisted living facility. The building has a large senior citizen population. The residents of Lyndale Manor have access to the mosque’s once-a-month food shelf, and those who are unable to pick up the groceries in person have their groceries delivered to them by volunteers from the masjid.
Masjid An-Nur continues to be committed to serving their community, even during the Covid-19 pandemic. Al Maa'uun, a nonprofit organization housed in Masjid An-Nur that partners with community and faith organizations, has implemented a program to provide meals for youths and seniors in their neighborhood.1 The program seeks to mitigate the health and economic impacts of the pandemic in their community, continuing the masjid's commitment to serving their neighbors.