July 18, 2024

Muslim Community of Knoxville sings praises of African American Muslims

In celebration of Black History Month, the Islamic Community highlighted African American Muslims’ role in the Civil Rights Movement.

Sun Sphere at dusk. Photo by Savannah Lucas/TNJN

Islamic community members gathered in recognition of Black History Month to discuss the contribution of African American Muslims to the Civil Rights Movement.

The group of 30 congregated at Masjid Annoor, a Muslim place of worship, and engaged in a traditional prayer service on Friday, Feb. 17. Following the prayer, the crowd viewed “On The Shoulders of Giants,” a documentary outlining the actions of Muslim’s in the 1960s.

Prior to the film’s screening, participants heard from Imam (Arabic for “leader of prayers”) Rafiq Mahdi and scholar Ustadha Zaynab Ansari. 

The tandem expanded on some of the struggles their people have experienced in years past.  

Ansari, teacher at Tayseer Seminary in Knoxville, said that her father, who was of Lebanese descent, and mother, born in Detroit, met at an extremely turbulent time for the Civil Rights Movement.

She said that the assassinations of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. led her parents to believe, “…that they (Muslims) were kind of a separatist, black, nationalist group.” She explained, however, that through their travels to the Middle East, both parents came to understand the true teachings of Islam and would eventually convert.

Ansari spent a decade studying Arabic and traditional Islam in varying countries across the Middle East before earning a degree in History and Middle-Eastern studies from Georgia State University. She said that her raising in the Muslim religion speaks to the virtues of tolerance and peaceful coexistence that are so deeply embedded in the United States.

“A big part of how the Muslim community has evolved here in the United States has to do with the efforts of African Americans, both Muslim and non-Muslim.”

Mahdi’s background includes a degree in Arabic and Islamic Studies from the Islamic University of Madinah, serving as imam for a number of institutions, and serving an active role in community outreach for Muslims in Knoxville.  

He recounted a story of a young man who emigrated to the U.S from the Middle East. “All different languages, colors and backgrounds worshiping together, working together, eating together and sleeping together…that’s what shaped his perception of our beliefs.”

The group turned their attention to the documentary, which focused primarily on the happenings of African American Muslim communities in Atlanta and the prominence of figures like Malcolm X and Muhammad Ali.

The festivities concluded with an additional prayer service, a question and answer session, and refreshments.

This was one of the many events highlighting the significance of Black History Month offered in the coming weeks.

For a detailed schedule, click here.

Edited by Kaitlin Flippo

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