The mosque is one of seven in Pittsburgh, home to a vibrant community of about 8,000 to 10,000 Sunni Muslims—some 30 percent of them black.
Following what appears to be a trend in cities nationwide, religious leaders in Pittsburgh say there has been a rise in black conversions to Sunni Islam since the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.
No national surveys have been taken to confirm the increase, but Islamic religious leaders in Chicago, Cleveland and Detroit have also reported growth, said Lawrence Mamiya, a professor of religion and Africana studies at Vassas College in New York. Experts estimate that 30 percent of the 6 million to 7 million Muslims in the United States are black, with only South Asians making up a larger number at 33 percent.
Since Sept. 11, Muslims have been attempting to “disseminate positive information about the religion, so the obvious outcome of that would be more conversions,” said Richard Turner, coordinator of the African-American studies program and an expert on Islam among blacks at the University of Iowa.
In the fourth year of its seven-year expansion plan, Pittsburgh’s tight-knit Muslim community has raised much of the $1.5 million needed in the project’s first phase through book sales, telephone fundraisers, auctions and banquets. It has purchased all but two lots it will need and already has the sketches for the future mosque complex.
A growing number of Muslims in America, especially blacks, are building mosques that offer a variety of community services, partly because the federal and state governments do not answer to many of their social needs, Islamic experts say.
These complexes take the religion back to its roots before the modern-day state began providing services to the population.
“What you have here is the creation of a true American Islam,” said Edward Curtis, a religious studies professor who specializes in African-American Islam at IUPUI. “Islam has been a part of this country from its beginning, and the forms of Islam that are successful here are indigenous forms.”
“The African-American mosque has made itself different in this way from other mosques around the world,” Mamiya said. “Religious institutions in the black community have always been their strongest institutions and have always done more than religious functions.”