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Minaret and dome, Students at the Muslim Reading the Quran before Floor Mosaic,
Islamic Center of America. American Youth Academy. prayers, University Islamic Muslim Unity Center.
Photo by Sally Howell. Center of Detroit.

Building Islam in Detroit is a research project that documents the growth of mosques and Muslim Curators and Principal Investigators
communities in greater Detroit over the last century. Since the project began in May 2004,
Sally Howell
Program in American Culture, University of Michigan
members of our research team have visited over fifty mosques and Islamic associations,
Andrew Shryock
photographing them, recording their histories, and interviewing the people who established them. Anthropology, University of Michigan

Research Team
This exhibit explores “building” as a process that creates both physical objects and social worlds.
Omar Baghdadi
Mosques are ideal examples of this creative process. They are sites at which Muslims give Architecture and Urban Planning, University of Michigan

collective, material expression to their religious beliefs. As architectural forms, mosques reveal Mucahit Bilici
Sociology, University of Michigan

the cultural identities of their builders. Their locations tell the history of Muslim arrival and
Mara Leichtman
Anthropology, Michigan State University
settlement in Detroit. Mosques are also works of art, where sacred words, images, and sounds
Kate McClellan
intersect to produce spaces of unusual beauty. Most important of all, mosques are places where Anthropology, University of Michigan

Muslims come together to strengthen their community through teaching and communal prayer.
Design Team

El Shafei Mohamed
We hope this exhibit will help you appreciate the historical richness, diversity, and Photographer, Art and Design, University of Michigan
(Unless otherwise stated, all photographs are by El Shafei Mohamed)

influence of Islam in Detroit. Shaped by experiences of displacement and Elena Godina

Graphic Designer, University of Michigan
opportunity, of discrimination and empowerment, the building projects on display
Karl Longstreth
here are the groundwork for a Muslim American future. Head Librarian, Map Library, University of Michigan

Building Islam in Detroit has received generous support from the following University
of Michigan programs: Grant Opportunities for Collaborative Spaces, Digital Media
Commons; the Rackham Interdisciplinary Institute; the Islam/Art/America Initiative
(International Institute); and the Islamic Studies Initiative (International Institute).


Orchard Lake

Bloomfield Hills

Zainabia Center Birmingham

Islamic Cultural Association

Islamic Cultural Institute


Royal Oak Madison Heights Islamic Organization of North America

Berkley St Clair Shores

American Islamic Community Center

Lathrup Village
Dahira Taisiroul Hasir Touba
Center Line
Farmington Hills Huntington Woods

Southfield Daru Salam Center

Pleasant Ridge Eastpointe
Tawheed Center
Oak Park Hazel Park

Farmington Albanian Islamic Center

Masjid Oak Park

The Qur'an and Sunnah Society Harper Woods

Grosse Pointe Woods
Masjid Al-Burhani

Masjid As-Salam
Muslim Men in Fellowship Unity

Islamic Center
of North
Detroit Grosse Pointe Farms
Masjid an-Nur
Masjid Al-Iklas
New Bosnian Masjid Bait al-Mukarram Muhammad's Mosque
Highland Park Islamic Center
Bosnian American Islamic Center
Al-Islah Jame Masjid
Detroit skyline. Muhammad's Mosque #1 Muslim Community
Hamtramck Madrasa Talimul Qur'an Center of Detroit Grosse Pointe
Photo by Philip Greenspun. Muslim Center Masjid Mu'ath Bin Jabal
Livonia of Detroit
American Yemeni
Detroit Masjid Wali Muhammad
Islamic Center
Baitul-Islam Jame Masjid
Grosse Pointe Park

Today, roughly 150,000 Muslims live in greater Detroit, and they worship in over 50 mosques. Most Masjid al-Haqq
Tijani Zawiya

American Society of Muslims

of these mosques are located in renovated banks, warehouses, old school buildings, storefronts, Masjid of Detroit
Islamic Center
of America (historic)
University Islamic

and churches. Others are purpose-built, multimillion dollar facilities that include gymnasiums, social
Center of Detroit
Islamic Center of Detroit
Ar-Rasool Community Center Moorish Science
Temple (#25)

service offices, private schools, and grand banquet halls. Masjid al-Tawheed
Imam Ali Mosque
Islamic Council of America
Masjid al-Fatiha

Karbala Islamic
Islamic House of Wisdom Education Center
Islamic Institute of Knowledge

American Muslim
Bekaa Center

Since 1990, the number of mosques in Detroit has doubled, with new mosques appearing in the Islamic Center
of America
Garden City

outer suburbs and the inner city alike. These building projects are the work of congregations Westland
composed mostly of immigrants and their children, or converts and their families. Islam in Detroit is American Moslem Society
widely perceived to be “new” or “foreign,” and recent surveys find that over two-thirds of the city’s American Muslim Center
Muslim Community of the Western Suburb Inkster

Muslims were born outside the US.

River Rouge
Wayne Dearborn Heights

Few people realize that the rapid growth of Islam in Detroit is based on foundations laid by much
Allen Park

older Muslim communities, some of which date back to the late 19th century.

Lincoln Park


American Muslim Center. Baitul Islam Jame Masjid. Albanian Islamic Center.
Photo by Sally Howell. Photo by Mucahit Bilici.
University Islamic Center
of Detroit.

FOUNDATIONS This is the first Moslem mosque built in

this land and I am proud to have the first
prayer in it, as the first imam therein. This
mosque, although built for the followers of
Islam, will be open to the believers of all
religions for a place of rest, prayer and
meditation. Mohammedans believe in
worshipping but the one God. Mohammet,
on whom be peace and the blessings of
God, is a prophet of God who teaches us The Highland Park Mosque,
circa 1927.
how to come into communion with Him.
We are all children of the one God. There is no original sin. There is no eternal hell. The
religion of Islam treads underfoot all racial prejudices. Islam teaches its devotees that
when they go to any other country they must peacefully obey the laws of the government
of that country. Thus it is the sacred and religious duty of every Mohammedan here to be
a good citizen of America and to learn the language of the country, without which we
cannot understand each other rightly.
Dr. Mufti Mohammad Sadiq (from India)
Detroit News. Thursday, June 9, 1921
Poster circulated to raise funds for the construction of the Highland
Local imams celebrate the opening of the Highland Park Mosque, 1921. Imam Khalil Bazzy (right) embraces Duse Mohammad Ali at Eid al-Fitr
Park Mosque, circa 1919. Courtesy of Carl Karoub.
Detroit Free Press. services, 1927. Detroit Free Press.

Muslims first came to Detroit in the 1890s. They were drawn to the city’s booming industrial
economy, and by the 1920s small Muslim enclaves had formed near automobile
manufacturing plants. Detroit’s early Muslims belonged to two groups: (1) immigrants from
parts of Europe (Bosnia and Albania) and the Middle East (Turkey and Greater Syria)
controlled by the Ottoman Empire; and (2) African Americans, most of them from the Deep
South. The Europeans and Middle Easterners were either Sunni or Shi`a. African Americans,
by contrast, embraced new, alternative versions of Islam framed in response to anti-Black
racism in the US. These movements included the Moorish Science Temple (founded by
Noble Drew Ali in 1913), the Ahmadiyya movement (which originated in India in the 1880s
and was brought to America in 1921 by Mufti Muhammad Sadiq), and the Nation of Islam
(founded in Detroit in 1930 by W.D. Fard).

Detroit’s first mosque – and the first in the U.S. – was built in Highland Park in 1921, when
the local Muslim population was said (in newspaper accounts) to be 16,000 strong. The
Highland Park mosque closed in 1923, but by the mid-1930s Arabs, African Americans, W.D. Fard (in framed portrait), Elijah Muhammad
(seated), and Warith Deen Muhammad. Schomberg
Afghanis, and Indians had prayer spaces on Hastings Street, a road that connected Detroit’s Center for Research in Black Culture.

Pioneer members of the Nation of Islam,

1975. Photo by Shedrick El-Amin. “foreign worker colonies” to “Paradise Valley,” the city’s largest African American
neighborhood. The oldest continuously occupied mosque in greater Detroit, the American
Moslem Society, was established in Dearborn in 1938. Albanians established their first
mosque in 1950, near Highland Park.

By 1971, most area Muslims worshipped in only fourcongregations: the Albanian Islamic
Center, in Harper Woods; the American Moslem Society, in Dearborn; Muhammad’s Temple
No. 1, in Detroit (renamed Masjid Wali Muhammad in 1976); and the Islamic Center of
America, in Detroit. Many of Detroit’s new mosques are linked historically to these
institutions, all of which still function as houses of prayer.

Congregation of Masjid Wali Masjid Wali Muhammad, 2005.

Federation of Islamic Associations banquet in
Detroit, 1957. Courtesy of Joe Caurdy.


Islamic Center of America, Shaykh Mohamed Jawad Chirri, founder, Albanian Islamic Association, Albanian Islamic Center.
established in 1963. Islamic Center of America. circa 1957. Courtesy of Wayne Photo by Mucahit Bilici.
Courtesy of Hussein Makled. State University.

When US immigration laws were liberalized in 1965, Muslims from the Arab world and South Asia came to Detroit in large They are also aware that, as Muslims, they share vital traditions
numbers, prompting local Muslims to reinterpret their beliefs and practices. After the death of Elijah Muhammad in 1975, his and beliefs. The foundations of Islam in Detroit, beneath and
son, Warith Deen Muhammad, brought the Nation of Islam into the Sunni mainstream. This move allowed for closer relations beyond its local histories, are those revealed by the Prophet
among Detroit’s Muslim communities, but separation along ethnic, racial, and sectarian lines is still pronounced in area Muhammad, who said:
mosques. Today, the largest Muslim populations in Detroit are Arab, South Asian, African American, European, and African.
Ethnically mixed congregations are a growing trend in Detroit. Pan-Muslim organizations are gaining influence, and calls for “Islam means that you testify that there is no god but God and
Muslim unity are made urgently and often. that Muhammad is the messenger of God, and you establish Imam Vehbi Ismael,
prayer, pay zakat (tithes), observe the fast of Ramadan, and founder of the Albanian
Muslims in Detroit are heirs to some of the earliest, most innovative attempts to make Islam part of American society. They are perform the pilgrimage (to Mecca) if you are solvent enough to Islamic Center.
keenly aware of their connections to Muslims in other American cities, in immigrant homelands, and in other parts of the world. bear the expense of the journey.

Faith means that you affirm your belief in God, in His angels, in
His Books, in His Apostles, in the Day of Judgment, and you
affirm your belief in the Divine Decree about good and evil.

Sincerity means that you worship God as if you are seeing Him,
for though you don't see Him, He, verily, sees you.” Imam Hussein Karoub
at the American Moslem
Society, circa 1957.

Islamic Center of America, American Moslem Society, American Moslem Society,

established in 1963. established in 1938. circa 2005.

FEATURED MOSQUES AL-ISLAH JAME MASJID was founded in 2000 by Bangladeshi

immigrants, most of them followers of Allama Abdul Latif Chow-
dhury (Fultholi). The first Bangladeshi mosque in Hamtramck,
the masjid moved to its current home, a renovated medical
clinic, in 2001. The group plans to renovate the building next
door and establish a madrasa (religious school) there. Al-Islah
attracted international media attention in 2004 when they
tried to broadcast the idhan (call to prayer) from a loudspeaker
outside the mosque. While the idhan is freely broadcast
in Dearborn and Detroit, many Hamtramck residents objected
Abdul Motlib, President, discusses to the practice, and the Al-Islah leadership found itself

the call to prayer campaign on embroiled in an election year battle with the City Council.
The matter was resolved in a special, citywide referendum,

video track 2 which Al-Islah won handily.

Al-Islah Jame Masjid. Minbar,

Al-Islah Jame Masjid.

The ALBANIAN ISLAMIC CENTER, built in Harper Woods in

1963, boasts a distinctive, Balkan-style dome and minaret.
Imam Shuajb Gerguri discusses
With a prayer area, offices, large social hall, classrooms, the history of the Albanian Islamic
and kitchen, the mosque serves an old Albanian American
community (already well established in the 1940s) and newly Center, his thoughts on being
arrived immigrants from Albania, Kosovo, Macedonia, and
other countries. The center provides weekend religious a European Muslim, and his
instruction in Arabic, Albanian, and English along with other
educational and service programs. The Albanian Islamic
aspirations for the future on
Center is open to Muslims from all ethnic backgrounds, but
immigrants from Europe and their descendents form its core
video track 1
membership. The mosque is unusual for its location in
Detroit’s eastern suburbs.

Photo by Mucahit Bilici. Albanian Islamic Center.

Photo by Mucahit Bilici.

The ISLAMIC CENTER OF AMERICA traces its origins to the

1950s, when a group of young Lebanese Americans asked Imam
Mohamad Jawad Chirri to help them establish Michigan’s first,
purpose-built Shi`i mosque. The Center dedicated their original
building on Joy Road in Detroit in 1963. The community has
thrived over the years, and this prosperity is visible in their new
facility on Ford Road in Dearborn, which opened in 2005. In
1997, the center established a primary school, the Muslim Ameri-
can Youth Academy. Their new mosque, at 120,000 square feet Hajj Hussein Makled (right) relates
in size, is much grander than the original structure, yet both
facilities have large social spaces that can accommodate huge community history on video
crowds for special events and holiday observances.
track 3. Hajj Eide Alawan provides
Islamic Center of America. The first Friday Prayer held at
a tour of the new Islamic Center,
under construction, on track 4
Photo by Sally Howell. the new Islamic Center of
America. Photo by Sally Howell.


immediate history to the establishment in 1985 of the Muslim
Imam Abdullah
American Society by Imam Warith Deen Mohammed, the Bey El-Amin
community’s history extends back to the 1930s, when the
Nation of Islam was led by Warith Deen’s father, Elijah talks about inter-
Mohammed. The mosque is located on Davison Avenue,
in Detroit, and recently underwent a major expansion. It now faith activities in
includes a large prayer hall, a gym, a social hall, classrooms,
and a kitchen. Located in a low-income neighborhood, the
Detroit and
center has an active da`wa (missionary) board and provides
a wide array of services to families and youth, including
about the future
counseling, job training, substance abuse recovery programs, of the Muslim
and a soup kitchen.
Center on video
track 8
Muslim Center of Detroit. Prayer space,
Muslim Center of Detroit.

MASJID MU`ATH BIN JABAL is located at the center of a

neighborhood that is almost entirely Yemeni. Established
in Detroit in 1976, the mosque began as a prayer space in
a coffee house. Today, it occupies an old church building
with an attached charter school. The sanctuary of the church
has been substantially enlarged and now serves as a prayer
space that can easily hold a thousand men. A large space
for women is set aside upstairs.

Mu`ath Bin Jabal is a focal point for the growing population

of Yemeni immigrants now settling along the border of
Saleh Alghaim, Director, and Abdo
Hamtramck and Detroit. Their school, mosque, and stores
are the infrastructure of a strong, socially conservative Zandany, Secretary, discuss the
enclave. The mosque, in particular, is a stabilizing force in
the neighborhood. mosque’s history and its future
Masjid Mu’ath Bin Jabal. Prayer space,
Masjid Mu’ath Bin Jabal.
plans on video track 6

MASJID WALI MUHAMMAD is home to the first and the oldest

African American Muslim congregation. They settled in their
current location on Linwood Avenue in 1954, but their original
home was on Hastings Street in Detroit’s “Black Bottom.” It
was there that the Nation of Islam was founded by W.D. Fard
and led by the Honorable Elijah Mohammad in the 1930s.
Masjid Wali Muhammad received its current name in 1978,

Imams Gary al-Kasib and Saleem when the Honorable Warith Deen Muhammad led the Nation
into Sunni Islam. Formerly called Muhammad’s Temple No. 1,

Rahman discuss the history of the masjid was re-dedicated as a mosque open for the five daily
prayers with a conventional prayer space (without chairs)
Islam in Detroit and the creation oriented toward Mecca.

of Masjid Wali Muhammad on

Masjid Wali Muhammad.
video track 7 Prayer space,
Masjid Wali Muhammad.


Al-Fatiha, “The Opening.” American Muslim Center. American Moslem Society. Islamic Center of America.

In the name of God, the compassionate, the merciful

Praise be to God, Lord of the Worlds
The compassionate, the merciful
Master of the Day of Judgment
You alone we worship and you alone we ask for help
Guide us on the straight path
The path of those who have received your blessing
Not those who have brought down your wrath
Or those who have gone astray

Despite their architectural and ethnic diversity, Detroit’s

mosques are united by their primary function, which is to
serve as houses of prayer. Muslims can pray at any mosque
of their choosing. In Detroit, some people worship at several
different mosques: one near their job, one on the way to and
from work, one closer to home, one near the relatives who
live in an adjacent suburb. Others attend only one mosque,
where they can socialize with friends and worship in a
familiar place.

Whatever their native language might be, Muslims recite

their daily prayers in Arabic, the language of the Qur’an.
The fatiha, which means “the opening,” is the first chapter
of the Qur’an (see above). It is the centerpiece of the ritual
prayer, and it captures the essential ideas of worship – of Islamic Center of America. Senegalese Mourides.
Photo by Sally Howell. Photo by Mara Leichtman.
praising God and asking for his help – as understood in
the Islamic tradition.


Al-Islah Jame Masjid.

Photo by Sally Howell.

Before each of the five daily prayers, a mu’adhdhin (“muezzin”

or “crier”) calls Muslims to worship. The call is made about
fifteen minutes before the prayer begins. Although each caller
has his own style, the words of the call remain the same,
beginning with four repetitions of allahu akbar (“God is great”).
In the Muslim world, the call to prayer is broadcast from
minarets and strongly amplified by loudspeakers. American Moslem Society. Islamic Center of America.

In most Detroit mosques,

however, the call is made
inside the building.
Minarets are appealing as
decorative features, but
only larger congregations
can afford to build them,
Hamtramck Muslims celebrate and rarely are these
election victory, 2005.
Detroit Free Press.
minarets functional.

In 1980, Muslims at the American Moslem Society in Dearborn

won a court decision allowing them to broadcast their call to
prayer publicly. Twenty-five years later, a similar controversy
surfaced in Hamtramck, a working class town located within
Detroit. Once solidly Polish and Catholic, Hamtramck now has
large Bangladeshi, Bosnian, and Yemeni populations. In 2005,
the city held a public referendum to determine if members of
Al-Islah Jame Masjid could broadcast their call to prayer. Those
in favor of the public call won the referendum by a wide margin.

These legal disputes occur almost exclusively in high density,

working class immigrant enclaves. In Detroit’s outer suburbs,
now home to professional, affluent Muslims, the call to prayer is
not broadcast over loudspeakers. Muslims in these

Islamic Center of America,

neighborhoods tend to live far from their mosques, and each Masjid Mu`ath Bin Jabal. Al-Islah Jame Masjid.
other. They see no point in broadcasting a call to prayer that
few Muslims would actually hear.


Al-Islah Jame Masjid. American Moslem Society. American Moslem Society.

The canonical prayer,

or salat, is performed five
times daily: in the early
morning, at midday,
in the afternoon, at
sunset, and in the
evening. These prayers
Prayer beads, can be performed in any
Islamic House of Wisdom.
clean space oriented
toward Mecca, and most
prayers are said at home or work, not in mosques. Still,
Detroit mosques are usually open from early in the morning
till late at night to accommodate anyone who wants to pray
inside. Movement through the mosque is structured by the
five prayers, with the heaviest traffic at noon on Friday. As
the time for prayer nears, parking lots fill, people flood the
mosque door, and late arrivals rush to find a place in the
rear prayer lines. Early arrivals read by themselves, quietly
recite passages from the Qur’an, or visit with friends.
Those who linger in the mosque after prayer often do
the same.

Al-Islah Jame Masjid.



Islamic Center of America. Prayer stones, Asymmetrical floor plan,

Photo by Sally Howell. Islamic House of Wisdom. Baitul Islam Jame Masjid.

Shoe racks, Women’s prayer space, Old and new qiblas, Overflow parking,
American Moslem Society. American Muslim Center, Albanian Islamic Center. Masjid Mu`ath Bin Jabal.

Mosques are sacred spaces, and great care is given to in the same room, with men positioned at the front. A popular the imam’s recitations. In some Muslim-majority neighborhoods, buildings do not, and this requirement often gives Detroit
maintaining their ritual purity. Mosques have special washing trend in larger mosques is the women’s mezzanine, a balcony the call to prayer (and even the entire Friday sermon) is mosque interiors an “off center” look. Purpose-built mosques
areas where people can clean themselves before prayer. located above and behind the communal prayer space. broadcast over public loudspeakers. Work and traffic come to a are aligned toward Mecca, but Detroit’s older mosques often
Shoes must never be worn in the main prayer area. Long standstill, and mosque parking lots overflow in all directions. have two qiblas, since techniques for determining the
racks of shoes are a common sight in the entryways of most The act of prayer can be solitary or communal, but Muslims are direction of Mecca changed in the 1970s, when local
mosques. Modesty requires that women do not pray in front encouraged to pray together on Fridays. During the Friday In Detroit, where mosques are often located in buildings Muslims stopped using map orientations that did not factor in
of men. Some mosques have a women’s area separated by noonday prayer, Detroit’s larger mosques are filled with originally constructed for other purposes, the space of prayer the curvature of the earth’s surface.
a partition of fabric or wood, or located in a room away from hundreds, sometimes thousands, of worshippers who form long does not always fit symmetrically with existing floor plans.
the men’s section. At other mosques, men and women pray prayer lines, their movements choreographed in synchrony with Muslims must face Mecca when they pray, even when their


Mohammed Karoub and

Hussien Karoub.
Courtesy of Carl Karoub

From the earliest days of mosque building in Detroit, Muslims

have played an active role in local media. The opening of the
Highland Park mosque in 1921 was reported in both The Detroit
Free Press and The Detroit News, and these newspapers have
continued to cover Islam in Detroit over the decades. Mean-
while, Detroit Muslims were developing their own print media,
which included some of the best and oldest Muslim newspapers
in the U.S. Imam Hussien Karoub at work.
Courtesy of Carl Karoub.

In the 1970s and 1980s, Detroit mosques began broadcasting

Friday services on local radio and cable TV. Today, satellite EARLY PRINT MEDIA
television enables Muslims to consume media from their home- One of the earliest Muslim publications in Detroit was
lands and other locations outside the U.S. Global media are Al Risalah (The Message), which began as a pamphlet in
flourishing alongside local newspapers, pamphlets, and maga- 1921, published by Imam Hussien Karoub. In 1936 Karoub
zines, and demand for old and new media is growing among debuted Islamic Unity Magazine in Arabic and English. In
Detroit Muslims. 1940, he followed with Al Hayat (Life), also a weekly paper.
Finally, in 1948, Imam Hussien and his son, Mike Karoub,
In recent decades, mainstream media in the U.S. have become came out with The Arab American Message, which is still
increasingly hostile to Islam. Muslims are countering negative produced today by Mike’s son, Carl Karoub. In the 1950s,
stereotypes through print and broadcast media designed to Imam Vehbi Ismail founded an Albanian language paper,
educate non-Muslims about Islam. These efforts link contempo- Muslim Life, which became the flagship journal (in English)
rary Muslims to the media pioneers of Muslim Detroit, who of the Federation of Islamic Associations of North America.
sought to inform America about their faith and to make a place
for themselves alongside other American faith traditions. Detroit’s early mosques also published pamphlets designed
to answer questions about Islam, a practice that continues to
this day. While immigrant Muslims
published dozens of small papers
and journals, African American
Muslims launched Muhammad
Speaks, one of the largest
minority weeklies in the United
States. First published by the
Nation of Islam (NOI) in 1962,
Sister Clara Varnada of Detroit with Muhammad Speaks reached
copies of Bilalian News, 1975. Photo
by Shedrick El-Amin.
800,000 readers nationwide at its
peak. In 1975 it became The
Bilalian News, and it has since
evolved into The Muslim Journal.


Osama Siblani, publisher, Arab Book sale, Young Muslim

American News. Association, Fordson High
Photo by Jim West. School.

Today, Detroit is a center of Muslim print journalism. The

Muslim Commentary, The Islamic Times, and The Muslim
Observer are currently among the most popular Muslim
periodicals in the U.S. Each is produced in Detroit. A new
generation of Detroit Muslims is publishing magazines targeted
to young, Anglophone, American-oriented audiences, such as
Sampling the local
Arabic-English press. The Ripple Effect, The Seeker, and Al Iman.
Photo by Jim West.

American Muslims are also building new media networks that

will attract non-Muslim audiences and fight stereotypes about
Islam. Radio Islam, produced in Chicago, is one such effort.
Bridges TV, launched in 2004, is a national network that
provides Muslim-oriented programming. Both of these ventures
raised investment capital in Detroit and consider Detroit a
primary market.

Library and media center,

Finally, American Muslims are active Internet users. Many American Moslem Society.

Detroit mosques have busy websites that provide their history,

make sermons available for downloading, and enable
congregants to chat with their imams about spiritual and
personal matters. National websites track theological and
political debates and monitor civil rights abuses against
Muslims. Hundreds of listserves help Detroit Muslims share
information and participate in local and global conversations
about Islam.

SOCIAL WORLD OF MOSQUES Mosques are buildings.

They are also communities.
In Detroit, where Muslims
are a minority population,
mosques have become
alternative social worlds, where
people can make and remake
themselves as Muslims in a
non-Muslim society. To thrive in
this new milieu, Detroit
mosques must provide more
than prayer space. Large,
vibrant mosques routinely
include daycare facilities,
private schools, basketball
courts, libraries, media
Eid al-Fitr Celebration,
resource centers, banquet Muslim Unity Center.

halls, and shiny industrial

kitchens equipped to feed
hundreds of guests at weddings, Muslim holiday celebrations, and community fundraisers. Even
very small groups of Muslims, who meet in apartments and converted houses, have dreams of
someday building a mosque with a social hall and classrooms where their children can study
Islam. Detroit’s first mosques, built in the 1920s and 1930s, already had these features.


Greater Detroit is home to over a dozen charter schools that teach Arabic, the language of the
Qur’an. In some cases, these charter schools are informally affiliated with a mosque, from whom
they lease their space. There are also five private Islamic schools, along with a constantly
fluctuating number of “weekend schools,” where young Muslims are taught Arabic and other
homeland languages as well as the history, principles, and practices of Islam. Evening lectures
and Friday night forums have become popular among Muslim teens and young adults. Larger
mosques offer “mainstream” forms of moral instruction, such as Boy and Girl Scout troops,
athletics programs that emphasize “character development,” and summer camps for youth.
Eid al-Adtha celebration,
Muslim Unity Center.

Doing homework, Al-Hoda School, Kids gather for noon prayer, Friday market,
Karbala Islamic Islamic Cultural Association. Muslim American Youth Academy, Muslim Center of Detroit.
Education Center. Islamic Center of America.


‘Ashura observances, ‘Ashura observances, Preparing special soup

Islamic Center of America. Islamic Center of America. for ‘Ashura,
Islamic Center of America. Ramadan breakfast,
Karbala Islamic
Education Center.


The Muslim calendar is filled with days of celebration,
fasting, mourning, and pilgrimage. The major Islamic holidays
are Eid al-Fitr (Feast of Fastbreaking), which marks the end
of Ramadan, and Eid al-Adha (Feast of Sacrifice), which
commemorates Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son,
Ismael. On these holidays, Detroit’s mosques are abuzz
with activity.

People attend early-morning prayer services and meals,

lavishing each other with holiday greetings. Dressed in their
best clothes, pockets bulging with treats for children, the
crowds that gather for the major feast days routinely overflow
their prayer spaces, filling sidewalks and parking lots with
worshippers. In much of the Detroit area, public schools are
closed during the observance of these holidays.

In the Muslim enclaves of Dearborn and Hamtramck, holiday

decorations adorn business districts, and hajj banners are hung
on the front porches of Muslims who have returned from their
pilgrimage to Mecca. Other occasions, such as `Ashura,
a period of mourning for the martyred Imam Husayn, are
somber, with Shi`a Muslims gathering to remember sacrifices
made for them in the past and to renew their commitment to
the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad and his family.

Senegalese Mourides celebrate the birth of Waiting to break the fast, Masjid
Amadou Bamba, founder of their religious Mu`ath Bin Jabal.
order. Photo by Mara Leichtman.


Embroidered calligraphy, Arabesque,

Islamic House of Wisdom. American Muslim Center.

Mihrab decorated with calligraphy,

American Muslim Center.

Decorating the dome, Banquet entrance,

Islamic Center of America. Islamic Center of America.
Photo by Sally Howell. Photo by Andrew Shryock.


Perhaps the most distinctive aspect of mosque decoration in
Detroit is calligraphy. Beautiful writing fills the mosques, and
most of it represents passages from the Qur’an or the sayings
of the Prophet Muhammad. Calligraphy is visible on almost
every surface, and on every material, of the mosque. It appears
on fabric, as banners, or it is woven into cloth, as embroidery.
It is carved into clay and stone, or it is chiseled into wood.
Sometimes, it is produced by a skilled artist who has studied
calligraphy for years. More often today, it is mass produced, or
computer generated, or downloaded. Always, calligraphy is a
necessary and living tradition among Muslims. Its importance is
taught and learned in the classrooms of Detroit’s Muslim
schools, where childish hands learn to shape sacred words in
Stone al-Fatiha carving, pen, ink, and crayon. The use of English in mosque calligraphy
University Islamic Center of Detroit.
is a growing trend in Detroit, and many key texts are now
presented in translation or in English only. Because the Qur’an Baitul Islam Jame Masjid.

was revealed in Arabic, and most acts of worship require Arabic

recitation, the principal calligraphic designs in Detroit mosques
feature Arabic script.


Painting of the martyrdom

Interior decoration, Prayer space and dome, Arabic and English calligraphy,
of Imam Hussein,
American Muslim Center. Islamic Center of America. Muslim Unity Center.
Karbala Islamic Education Center.

Exterior mural, Floor mosaic, Window with view of dome,

Baitul Islam Jame Masjid. Muslim Unity Center. Islamic Center of America.

The Muslim house of prayer is often a beautiful place. It Aside from the contours of its physical space, the beauty Because Detroit’s Muslim communities are so diverse, their The images and objects shown on these panels are drawn
can be striking for its simplicity or for its ornate designs. In of the mosque is created through color, calligraphy, and mosques are built and decorated in several distinct styles. What from multiple locations in Detroit. They will not appear
some Muslim traditions, the mosque should be plain to help ornamentation. Many people believe that Muslims cannot use is attractive to Bangladeshis might not impress Syrians, and the uniformly attractive to any particular set of viewers, Muslim
worshippers concentrate on prayer. In others, the mosque images of the human form, or creatures, or any other figural designs featured in poor, working class mosques might seem or non-Muslim, but they reflect a common desire to make the
should be colorful and filled with decorative motifs that representation in their art. This practice is more common among out of place in a mosque that serves wealthy professionals. house of prayer beautiful, both to the human eye and in the
inspire worshippers to praise God. Both traditions are amply Sunni Muslims than among the Shi`a, whose mosques often Likewise, American-born Muslims might be put off by the tastes sight of God.
on display in Detroit. contain pictures of the Twelve Imams, historical events, and of immigrant Muslims.
contemporary religious leaders. In both Sunni and Shia
traditions, however, there is heavy reliance on calligraphy and
arabesque shapes to adorn the mosque.


Minaret and dome, Wuduu, Dome,

Qibla under construction, Islamic Association
Albanian Islamic Center. Islamic Center of America.
Islamic Center of America. of North America.
Photo by Mucahit Bilici.

To function as a site The QIBLA wall and MIHRAB.

These features define the orientation for prayer. The qibla wall
The MIDA’A or WUDUU (washing area).
This space is for ritual cleaning before prayers. It can
The QUBBA (dome).
This feature differs in significance and appearance across

of communal prayer, a mosque indicates the direction of Mecca, the holy city of Islam. The be inside the mosque, typically near the entrance, or in regions. The dome’s appeal is rooted in its association with
mihrab, a prayer niche, is located in the qibla wall and functions a separate space nearby. Worshippers physically and Persian and Ottoman societies, but today its popularity
should have certain architectural as the spiritual center of the mosque, where the imam (the spiritually cleanse themselves here before entering among Muslims is nearly universal.
prayer leader) stands to direct the prayer. The mihrab’s the haram.
features. niche-like form once served an acoustic purpose, but is now
preferred for aesthetic reasons.

The six shown here are among

the most common. Together, The HARAM (sanctuary). The MINARA (minaret). The MINBAR (pulpit).
Prayers are held in this space. The haram is directly adjacent to This tower or column was originally used as a high platform This raised structure allows the imam to preach to the
they create the look and feel the qibla wall. Its size and shape can vary, but it is usually from which to broadcast the call to prayer. Although they can congregation from a position visually accessible to everyone.
covered by prayer rugs or a single carpet that has prayer lines still be used this way, most minarets in the Detroit area are Now large and sometimes very elaborately decorated,
of mosque space. (and sometimes individual prayer spaces) as part of its design. purely decorative. minbars were originally simple objects consisting of
three steps.

Dome interior, Haram, Minaret, Minbar,

Islamic Center of America. American Muslim Center. Islamic Center of America. Masjid Mua’th Bin Jabal.
Photo by Jim West.


Children’s play area, Library and media center, Community dinner, Kitchen with industrial
Muslim Unity Center. American Moslem Society. Muslim Unity Center. bread oven,
Islamic Center of America.


Diverse innovations have occurred in mosque design over the
centuries as Islam has spread into new parts of the world
and Muslim architectural tastes have changed. In American
contexts, mosques have acquired many new features.
These include banquet halls, industrial kitchens, classrooms,
entire schools, gymnasiums, large parking lots, libraries, and
media facilities in which newsletters, websites, and TV
programs are produced. It is now common for non-Muslims
to visit Detroit’s larger mosques, which offer guided tours and
educational workshops for people who want to learn about
Islam. Some mosques have reception desks, where guests
are welcomed. Some have coffee shops, where people
socialize before and after prayers, and gift shops, where
visitors can buy souvenirs. In future, several Detroit mosques
hope to create small, on-site museums that explore the history
Parking lot,
of Islam in America. Islamic House of Wisdom.

Classroom, Playground, Lecture hall,

Islamic Center of America. Muslim Unity Center. Islamic House of Wisdom.


Eighteen mothers pose with their babies, all

born in 1979-80.
Photo by Shedrick El-Amin.

Muslims in Detroit are optimistic about the future. traditions, I don’t want Arab culture, or Pakistani culture, or
Anti-Muslim prejudice is widespread, but most local Muslims whatever … I don’t want that getting in the way.”
believe they are confronting stereotypes effectively, both as TRANSCENDING (AMERICAN) CULTURE: “We are
individuals and with the help of civil rights watchdog improving our knowledge of Islam. People moved away from
organizations like CAIR (the Council on American-Islamic the true Islam here in America. Now we are moving back to
Relations). While doing research for this project, we have it. The education and leadership are better today. I hope we
School and social hall under construction, The Wallace family at a street festival in
seen that Muslims welcome the scrutiny of non-Muslims: will stay on the straight path.” ANXIETY ABOUT MUSLIM Masjid al-Burhani. Dearborn. Photo by Steve Gold.
Photo by Andrew Shryock.
“The more people get to know us, the more positive their YOUTH: “I want us to keep our kids close to the faith. We
images of Islam will be.” Many Muslims have come to Detroit need to give them activities and things to do to keep them off
from other American cities, and from other countries, to live the streets. There are a lot of bad things around them. We
with fellow Muslims and practice their faith. They insist that, are losing many of our kids.” PRIDE IN MUSLIM YOUTH:
even after the 9/11 attacks, the US is a place where they “We need to make a smooth transition to the next
enjoy religious freedom, often more than they experienced in generation. We look at our children and we’re humbled.
their home countries. They’re accomplishing so much. They are teaching us how
to be better Muslims. They have energy and confidence we
“What is the future of Islam in Detroit? What would you like never had.” EXPANSION: “I think we will continue to grow.
to see, 10 or 20 years from now?” We asked dozens of There will be more mosques, bigger mosques. More
people this question. Their answers were fascinating, and schools, too. I would like to see more people accepting
they conformed to several recognizable trends: Islam. I think that will happen.” TRIUMPHALISM: “I see
American Muslims taking a leadership role in Detroit and in
UNITY: “I see a future where the Muslims are immersed in the Muslim world. We’re at the center here. We understand
each other, not separated by race or nation.” America better than anybody. We can be a link between the
TRANSCENDING (IMMIGRANT) CULTURE: “I want to see East and the West.” INTEGRATION: “I want to see Islam
an Islam that is less associated with immigrant culture, a becoming something normal and accepted, a normal part of
more spiritual Islam. When I talk to people of other faith American society, like Christianity or Judaism.”

Children celebrating Ashura at the Islamic

Center of America.


Swearing in as new American citizens.

Photo by Jim West.


ECUMENICALISM: Muslims are creating new ties to Detroit’s mosques are always changing. Congregations that
Christian and Jewish communities. IMMIGRATION: Muslims are now majority immigrant or convert will, over time, include
continue to arrive from overseas; this flow is the impetus more people who were born in the US and grew up Muslim.
for most new mosque construction. GATHERING IN In the past, immigrants and American-born Muslims have
ENCLAVES: old Muslim enclaves in Dearborn are growing, struggled to share the same mosques. Sometimes they
Protesting civil rights violations against Demonstrating in support of Palestine.
and new ones are taking shape in Hamtramck and Detroit. do not agree about what a mosque should be, how Islam Muslim Americans. Photo by Jim West.
Photo by Jim West.
DISPERSING INTO THE SUBURBS: Muslims are establish should be practiced, and in what language(s) it should be
ing their presence in middle and upper middle class taught. These disagreements are constantly producing
Muslims in Detroit also face internal social pressures – racism, with Karoub’s financing of the mosque. Still others said the
communities. CONVERSION: local mosques are filled new mosques.
intolerance, political exclusion, and poverty – that have impossibility of joining together various nationalities which
with converts, who are often the most active members.
complicated their building projects since the 1920s. According were politically hostile was the cause of the failure.
POLITICAL ENGAGEMENT: Muslims are fielding candidates As long as the US pursues imperial policies in the Middle
to a newspaper story about the closing of the Highland Park
for public office and organizing to present their interests East, conducting wars in and against Muslim countries,
Mosque in 1922, the mosque failed for many reasons: Detroit’s past and present are visible in this account.
to policymakers and government officials. TOTAL ISLAMIC Islam will be portrayed in American media as a dangerous,
Ethnic, racial, financial, and doctrinal conflicts are still part
LIFESTYLE: Muslims are creating their own media alien faith. Muslims will be asked to “prove” they are
Islamites in the coffee houses and cafes of the city… said that of mosque life; they will continue to play their double role
networks, commercial districts, social service agencies, American, and this demand will affect the way mosques
the Imam, Mufti Muhammad Sadiq, who has been called here as motivating forces and obstacles to be overcome in future
healthcare facilities, banks, daycare centers, schools, are designed and managed and how Muslims interact with a
by Karoub, preached an advanced, reformed Mohammedanism attempts to build (and renew) Islam in Detroit.
funeral homes, and graveyards. larger, non-Muslim society.
which they could not accept. Others expressed dissatisfaction

Christian, Jewish, and Muslim clergy join Muslim section of Rosedale Cemetery. Exercising the right to vote.
together to denounce mosque vandalism. Photo by Mucahit Bilici. Photo by Jim West.
Marketing real estate to Muslims.
Photo by Jim West.