Imam Suetwedien Muhammad is on a mission to deliver hope and light back into the community.
Muhammad has been an imam for nearly 38 years, and is one of the founders of the Masjid Muhammed located in the Germantown section of Philadelphia.
“It was about 25 years ago that we founded Masjid Muhammad. What brought about Masjid Muhammad is that we were traveling around the country and we were in a different city every weekend for 13 years straight and every city had a Masjid Muhammad but Philadelphia," said Muhammad. "So we thought it was very appropriate to name the new Masjid that we a came upon Masjid Muhammad.”
Muhammad’s brother Sunni Ali, who died earlier this year, was also a founding member of Masjid Muhammad along with Sheikh Saboor.
Muhammad, a South Philadelphia native, has a deep love for the people of Philadelphia and the community he serves. On Oct. 15, during the Emgage Pennsylvania Gala, he will be presented with a lifetime achievement award in honor of the work he’s done to uplift others in addition to the initiatives he’s spearheaded through the Muslim League of Voters.
“I was at a national convention about 25 years ago, and again, just like Masjid Muhammad, there was no real voting initiative in Philadelphia for the Muslim community. I was asked to spearhead and be general president of the Muslim League of Voters in the Delaware Valley,” said Muhammad.
After being asked to bring back the Muslim League of Voters to the Delaware Valley, he did just that and remained committed to the task for over two decades.
“I think it was so timely and so important because this was a town when Muslims walking around Philadelphia thought that it wasn't popular for Muslims to be engaged in politics, that we shouldn't be voting, that we shouldn't be involved in that process. And it was a long road ahead,” said Muhammad. “Just trying to educate Muslims that some of the biggest elections in the world was happening in Muslim countries, Palestine, Nigeria, Iraq, and Iran and people [were] voting everywhere, but Philadelphia.”
Muhammad shared that he hasn’t missed an election or opportunity to vote since he was 18 years old, citing that he knew the importance of voting and "what our people went through to be able to vote."
“And what people don't even know today is that we still don't really have the right to vote. Just an amendment that gives us voting rights," said Muhammad. "It's not a particular right to vote, it is something that has to be revisited every so often. And when you have people that are still trying to take it from us today, we thought that it was very important [to encourage people to vote],” he said.
According to Muhammad, Philadelphians boast of having 450,000 Muslims in the city and he believed that there was no way that he and his supporters “could let 450,000 Muslims sit on the side lines and not participate in what goes on in the city.”
“We’re about to elect a new mayor. We're about to elect a new governor. We're about to elect a new senator. We're about to elect a new half of the city council, so things are going to change drastically. Here in this area in the city and in the state. There's no way in the world that Muslims should be sitting out of those types of major elections,” said Muhammad.
Muhammad shared that Masjid Muhammad has become known as the Muslim City Hall, mostly because of their political engagements.
“We engage in all of the things trying to help people and trying to bring people to the table," said Muhammad. "We also have a new group that we started a couple of years ago that’s involved in violence prevention, squashing a lot of the ‘beefs.’ We specialize in interventions here in the city of Philadelphia and that group is called Black Muslim Men United For A Better Philadelphia.”
“Our main goal [at Masjid Muhammad] is to give hope and light back to the people,” said Muhammad.
When asked how he felt about being recognized and honored during Emgage's Pennsylvania Gala, Muhammad said that he will graciously accept the award.
“But it is not just for me, that is on behalf of those people who still recognize the importance of voting in the Muslim community,” said Muhammad. “There are a lot of people who stand with me. We’re thankful for the award."
According to Emgage Pennsylvania’s website, the organization provides Muslim American communities with the frameworks and resources necessary to be politically engaged in America. Their gala is a fundraising event that will also highlight the work that the organization does throughout the commonwealth.
“We are going to be celebrating three trailblazers in the Philadelphia Muslim community and one of them is Imam Suetwedien Muhammad of the Muslim League of Voters,” said Salima Suswell, Executive Director, Emgage Pennsylvania. “We are honoring Imam Suetwedien with a Lifetime Achievement Award. We're also honoring State Sen. Sheriff Street as our legislator of the year and Ahmet Selim Tekelioglu, Executive Director at CAIR Philadelphia as our activist of the year."
“It's really special for me because I am going to be personally presenting the award to Imam Suetwedien. And the reason why it was important for us as an organization to celebrate Imam Suetwedien is because we recognize that at a time when most of our local African American Muslim communities was against voting, Imam Suetwedien dug deep and held firm the importance of political activism for the Muslim community.”
Suswell says that Muhammad often challenged those who opposed widely.
“He [also] accepted ideas and asked that Muslims consider different approaches to our political involvement. And I think that's important and honestly, as a professional that works in politics that is a Muslim from the city of Philadelphia and has watched the work in the grassroots organization that the Muslim League of Voters has done over the years, I'm inspired," said Suswell. "I stand on the shoulders of Imam Suetwedien and what I love most is that Imam Suetwedien was not afraid to go against the grain and he established his mosque differently than most masjids in the Delaware Valley area to operate in service to the community.”
Under Muhammad's leadership, there is now a group of imams who are working together to improve the city of Philadelphia.
"Now a group of us have come together to lift the initiatives that we're trying to push at the masjid. I think that we've been doing a great job. We see the fruits of the labor now. What's coming together and by working together. I'm very honored and proud. Glad to be working with with these groups of imams and these men to try to turn this situation around. We recognized and realized that you can't do it by yourself," said Muhammad.
Masjid Muhammad offers various Islamic classes throughout the course of the week and its members support countless charitable causes.
The mosque is located at 414 E Penn St, Philadelphia, Pa 19144. To learn more visit Masjid Muhammad on Facebook (Masjid Muhammad of Philadelphia). For information about the Emgage Pennsylvania Gala visit https://emgageusa.org/emgage-pennsylvania/.