It started in the homes of a few believers but in time they began to grow and so was born Masjidullah whose members now meet at 77th Street and Ogontz Avenue in the West Oak Lane section of the city.
From its formation in 1979 the Masjid has moved from several locations where they rented until it arrived at its current location. According to Imam Mikal Shabazz, the Masjid was founded in order that believers could have a place to meet and practice real Islam.
“Basically the Masjid began with a group of believers, which consisted of some 40 families or so, which wanted to establish an Islamic religious institution which they felt were representative of the true essence of Al-Islam,” said Shabazz during an interview.
Because of this, Shabazz said the believers took the initiative and founded another Masjid which they felt was true to the tenets and doctrine of the Quran.
“Initially they met in a couple of people’s homes and from there they rented a couple or facilities,” said Shabazz. These rented facilities included a pizza shop and other buildings until they landed in their current location.
“I would characterize the Masjid as a family oriented one that is especially concerned about children and senior citizens. I would also characterize it as one that is based on the principles that are espoused within the Quran,” said Shabazz.
“We are a learning, loving, living, Quranic based family oriented community.”
Like many churches situated in the community, the Masjidullah is very active in its civic and social involvement with the community wherein they reside.
“We work with the Neighborhood Interfaith Movement (NIM) and we also have cooperation with other interfaith groups,” said Shabazz.
Then there are the Masjidullah’s feeding program where members of the Masjid provide food for those in the community in need of assistance making ends meet.
“The majority of the recipients of those that we feed are not Muslim and so we provide food for those in the community, not just those in the vicinity of the Masjid but also we extend into North Philadelphia and other places that are not in the vicinity of our Masjid,” said Shabazz.
In this way the believers of Masjidullah practice one of the tenets of Islam, charity.
Education is also a vital part of the Masjid’s daily activities.
“We have educational opportunities for our members as well as members of the community to learn about the religion of Islam and we do outreach into the community.”
Members of the Masjid occasionally receive delegations from Islamic clerics from such places as Iraq, Iran, Russia and other places.
There is also the Righteous Warriors Chess club coached by Masjidullah’s associate Imam, Roberto Rashid.
“We are a member chess club of the Philadelphia Youth Chess Challenge which is run by the after school activities partners program,” said Rashid.
Rashid said that the club provides safe and enrichment activities for youth in grades 8–12. They have gone on to win first place trophies in competitions as well as led their team to other championships.
“It’s non-sectarian and is open to any youth whether Muslim, Christian or other, who resides in the 19150 area,” said Rashid.
The club began two years ago in a response to the city’s call to faith based groups to do something to help stem the tide of violence among youth in the city. Imam Rashid stepped up to the challenge by forming the Chess team.
Shabazz said that the Masjid is also a participant in the Mayor’s office of Faith Based Initiatives.
Shabazz became Imam when his predecessor became ill and was unable to continue his duties. There were others who were in line for the position and, according to Shabazz, were perhaps better qualified to fill the position than he was. However, they declined.
Asked why, Shabazz says that he wasn’t sure why they declined and, in the case of one candidate, declined the position at Masjidullah only to later become Imam of another Masjid.
So the job fell in the hands of Shabazz.
Asked what it was like being an Imam at a time where the numbers of Islamic converts are growing significantly, Shabazz admits that it is challenging.
“However, if you love God and you realize that it is by His decree that you have been allowed to work in this capacity, than the burden becomes light because you know that.”