Below is an article written by one of our local members regarding a very interesting phenomenon that has taken root in Washington, DC.
ON THE DC SHAHADAH WAVE
By Muhaafiz Khan
It is about time that the news is passed on: There is a growing trend in inner-city neighborhoods across DC. Its momentum has not subsided; rather, it has only increased. What is the trend? Islam.
In inner-cities across America, and in the African-American community in particular, Islam has long been known as an uplifting force. In previous decades and generations, Islam was embraced as part of an evolutionary growth process. Seekers of social justice would embrace Islam after finding the gaps or shortcomings in various ideologies such as Black nationalism, socialism, and communism. Embracing Islam was attaching oneself to a universal and all-encompassing way of life; it was viewed by pioneer homegrown Islamic movements (the Islamic Party, Dar al-Islam, etc.) as a vehicle for spiritual, social, economic, and political progress; it was also akin to returning to one's roots, as many of the enslaved Africans who arrived on American and Caribbean shores from the 1500s to the 1800s arrived as practicing Muslims.
It seems that none of these earlier motivations, however, can be accurately ascribed 100% to the current shahadah wave in DC.
At Masjid Al-Islam in Southeast DC, we saw the first sign of this trend in the fall of 2007. At that time, it was only a trickle. One brother, or two, or three--all under the age of 20--would take their shahadahs each or every other week. It was a curious sight. Many of us were not quite sure what to make of it. Of course, we welcomed these fresh new faces, but we were also puzzled. For years, our community members had lived in the neighborhoods of Southeast. For years, we had given various forms of da'wah; every few weeks, or months, there would be a new shahadah. But now, it had become a weekly phenomenon. Upon being asked what had motivated them to take their shahadahs, various responses were given. The most common one: "I want to change my life."
In that first year, many of the new shahadahs were coming from a nearby Southeast neighborhood known as Simple City. Simple City has been an area notoriously known for its concentration of drugs, crimes, and violence. Nevertheless, out of this chaotic environment emerged an unabated flow of young people interested in Islam. At the Masjid, requests were being made regularly for literature, books, prayer calendars, CDs, etc. The Intro to Islam class (Wednesday evenings @ 7pm) that seemed to exist since time immemorial came to life with a sudden influx of fresh young students, from middle school ages on up to just past high school.
"We're happy to be in a position to welcome these new shahadahs and give them support," says Imam Musa, the imam of Masjid Al-Islam. "We hope to live up to the expectations of Islam and pass it on in a way that is functional and helpful, as a mercy from Allah (swt)." Imam Tufayl Abdillah, who was born in DC and lived here nearly all of his life, further elaborates: "Several years ago, Imam Musa made a decision to establish a masjid in an area that most people would avoid—even Muslims. Now, almost twenty years later, Masjid Al-Islam is reaping the benefits of that action. In just this last year, well over 100 young people have taken their shahadahs. Allah (swt) has blessed this Masjid to be a tool for Islam in an area where most people, Muslim and non-Muslim, had given up all hope in its young people."
The trend is still very much alive today, and it seems to have spread all across DC. As strange as it may sound to the suburbanite believer, it has now become en vogue in inner-city DC to be a Muslim; it is "cool" to sport a colorful kufi or Palestinian-style keffiyeh. Young brothers in thobes are becoming an increasingly common sight. Scented oils are in high demand. It is not uncommon to hear the greeting of "As-salamu 'alaikum" while walking down the street (that is, if you are obviously a Muslim). I recently witnessed an argument between 9- and 10-year old neighborhood kids centered around who really did or did not take their shahadahs between them. There is a string of popular debates and questions being raised: Does Yellow #5 have pork in it? Must dreadlocks be shaved off? How can Muslim brothers and sisters marry each other if they don't date? In Islam, when are fights allowed? There are other questions a bit more solemn and unique to the inner-city scene, such as this one: What becomes of a young Muslim brother who receives a non-Islamic burial?
With a steady stream of only young brothers taking their shahadahs locally for the past two years, it is natural for one to become concerned about their future marriage prospects. Not to worry: the sisters' wave has started to kick in about a month or two ago. Masha'Allah, on a weekly basis now, 3-5 young sisters, or more--also all under the age of 20--are taking their shahadahs.
To address this incredible (and curious) phenomenon, as a community, we have steadily served up a wholesome and balanced picture of Islam: one that does not dwell solely on the "look" and external practice of a Muslim, but also deals with the improvement of self and the building of character, morals, and values; one that addresses not only personal issues, but pertinent and relevant societal issues as well. We are emphasizing the building-block process of Islam: to learn the fundamentals, practice them, become consistent, and then keep building a step at a time; to prioritize first what is important so as to not be overwhelmed by the details that new Muslims are often bombarded with.
We are also making sure to connect this young generation of new Muslims with today's global Islamic scene. As part of a universal Ummah that is constantly facing challenges, it is of the utmost importance that young Muslims understand the world they live in. "Islam is in a global process of revival, and our enemies understand that," Imam Musa explains. "Many of these new shahadahs already have two strikes against them: they're black and they’re youth. Black people in this country have a unique history. Now, they're Muslim too? This has some serious implications, and so we have to understand the history, the current events, and how things are set up. We have a big mission ahead of us."
Unfortunately, as with any trend, there are some who seem to be entering the fold of Islam "just because". But even for those whose sincerity is seemingly questionable, we are confident that with their constant exposure to the message (Jumu'ah khutbahs are hardly missed), some of it is bound to sink in and take root, whether sooner or later. It is important to understand that many of these young people have had no regular exposure to religious beliefs and values; they come from neighborhoods in which all kinds of social ills run rampant. Now, with their connection to this Deen, if and when life throws them big challenges, they will have an Islamic framework and foundation to turn back to. This is invaluable. Insha'Allah, many will mature into their practice.
Eclipsing the skepticism that surrounds the current DC shahadah wave, and overshadowing the questionable sincerity demonstrated by some, there is a weighty fact: this "trend" has led an oft-ignored portion of humanity--even if it is a few out of the many--to the immeasurable satisfaction and reward of learning the Truth, knowing Allah (swt), and being aligned with the true purpose of life.
We are expecting a very festive Ramadan this year with all of our new shahadahs. Many of our new sisters are in need of modest clothing. Donations of gently-used hijabs, khimars, and outfits (that can fit teenagers) will be greatly appreciated. To schedule a drop-off, call 202.903.8977 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. To schedule a pick-up, e-mail email@example.com. We would also appreciate book donations, but we have certain titles in mind (which fit into our class structure). For details, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.