By Gabby Adams, SK Farmer, Susanne McCrary, Susannah Smith

Less than half a mile from Birmingham’s famous Vulcan statue, the Homewood Masjid overlooks the City of Homewood and Shades Valley. Located at 1810 25th Court South in Homewood’s Rosedale neighborhood, its building was built in 1944 of locally quarried sandstone as a segregated high school for African Americans. Now it is the oldest center of the Birmingham Islamic Society and the home of the Islamic Academy of Alabama. Muslims are quickly becoming as much a part of Birmingham as Vulcan and limestone.

Islam is thriving around the world and Birmingham, Alabama, is witnessing some of this growth. According to Ashfaq Taufique, the president of the Birmingham Islamic Society (BIS), there are more than five thousand Muslims in the Birmingham area, including about three hundred West African Muslims living in western suburbs. A masjid, or mosque, is a Muslim house of worship and the masjid in Homewood is the oldest center of the BIS. It is also home to the Islamic Academy of Alabama, a highly-rated private school for Muslims with more than two hundred students in grades pre-K to 12.

Beginnings

Islam may be practiced by only a small percentage of people in Birmingham, but it is the second-largest religion in the world only behind Christianity. In many parts of the country, however, there is some fear associated with Muslims among those who may not understand the religion’s practices or beliefs. Since Christianity is the dominant religion of the south, and Islam has some negative connotations in America, the Birmingham Islamic community must constantly strive to overcome negative attitudes while working to maintain their own faith and spirituality. This is accomplished through studying Islamic history, following the commands of the Quran and the example of Muhammad (Sunnah), and remaining in a close-knit community with other followers of the faith. Therefore, the Homewood Masjid is very important to local Muslims as a place to gather and worship.

Entrance to Islamic Academy of Alabama and the Homewood Masjid.

Growth of the Birmingham Islamic Society

The history of Islam as an organization in Birmingham dates back to the early 1980s when a chapter of the Muslim Students’ Association was formed at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB). This was followed in 1990 by the Birmingham Islamic Society, which operated at first out of a 3,000 square foot masjid near UAB. In 1995 BIS purchased the former Rosedale High School from Jefferson County, the following year they began holding their worship services there. It is now the main Islamic school for the Birmingham area and also services as an important community center and place of worship. The building is comprised of 40,000 square feet on three acres and stays open during extended hours to serve social and spiritual needs, which includes being an all important gathering place for the five daily prayers.

The Islamic community in the Birmingham area has continued to expand in recent years. To better serve the growth, BIS established a community center in Hoover in 2007, called the Hoover Crescent Islamic Center. BIS’s vision is “to become the unifying platform for nurturing and sustaining a vibrant Muslim community in the Greater Birmingham area, and to help improve the quality of life for society at large.” Later an additional masjid was established in Fairfield, on the western side of the Birmingham area, where worshipers are predominantly West African who live nearby. There is also now an Islamic cemetery, the Muslim Garden, in the Birmingham area.

Islam in Birmingham, Alabama Today

As the Birmingham Islamic community has grown, they work to provide extensive activities to keep members involved and to grow their membership. The BIS has three main purposes: to conduct Islamic ceremonies, to educate Muslims on their faith, and to reach out to others. Family is of great importance so the BIS calendar is filled with family hikes, game nights, community breakfasts and sporting events. There are small groups called “My Group” for Muslim children.

A center where the main purposes of the BIS are being carried out is the Islamic Academy of Alabama which began with only five teachers and two classrooms, but is quickly outgrowing its current facility.  There are other educational opportunities for children at the Homewood Masjid, which is one of the more diverse masjids with members from Southeast Asia to the Middle East to Africa. Every Sunday from 10:00 a.m. until 1:30 p.m., children ages five and up may also attend Weekend Islamic School. The school’s goal is to teach students to believe in Allah and practice their Deen (or religion) in accordance with the Quran and Sunnah. The weekend school provides a place for the like-minded Islamic youth to interact, without the distractions of the non-Islamic society outside of their community. Along with prayer and worship, the BIS also offers funerals, burials, a Muslim business directory, and the creation of the Islamic testament (or estate plan).

Women’s dress

In addition to worship and education, clothing is essential to Islam, and there have been some changes regarding what is required attire, especially for women.  There are many roles women follow in Islamic law. For example, Islam has particular teachings on marriage. It requires that a dowry be paid to the woman, rather than to her family,. It also guarantees women’s rights of inheritance and to own and manage property. Women also have the right to live in the home and receive financial support during marriage and a waiting period following divorce (Esposito). As for the dress requirements, it is common for Muslin men to cover their midsection of the body and knees, while women tend to cover everything except their faces and hands (Esposito) and, in some cases, even the face is covered. The dress of women in Islam is the cause of some arguments regarding equality between men and women. However,  some contend that clothes can help the women express their personalities or sense of style without having to speak (Asser).

There are two standard fashions women wear. The first is the niqab, which is a rare form of dress because it consists of covering up thoroughly, including wearing gloves and a veil for the face, only leaving holes for the eyes. The other style women wear that is more common and acceptable is the hijab, in which women wear a scarf that covers their hair and neck (Asser). The hijab is a significant piece of clothing for women’s wardrobe because it encourages modesty, since “women with beauty have more restrictions not to be a distraction” in everyday life and worship (Taufique). Furthermore, religious and cultural traditions vary across the Islamic world, Muslim women in some countries get to decide for themselves whether or not to cover entirely with a niqab.

Keeping the Commands of the Quran

Islam is a religion where the importance of following the commands of the Quran seems to surpass the importance of faith. This is because for faith to be authentic there must be a response in the form of actions. However, actions and faith are of equal importance. This is seen through the commands found in the Quran and Sunnah.

The foundation of every Muslim’s faith is revealed in the declaration of faith, “There is no god but God.” This leads to the idea that God alone should be worshiped. This belief translates to the need for the acts of worship, one of the five pillars, which are all codified in the Hadith of Gabriel. The five pillars include salat (daily worship), almsgiving, fasting during Ramadan, Hajj, and to “bear witness that there is no god but God, and Muhammad is his prophet.”

Salat is the five daily acts of worship performed throughout the day. During these prayers, Muslims prostrate themselves while reciting Suras. On Friday afternoons, the Islamic community will gather in their place of worship and pray together. During this time, a message is given by any member so that the community can better understand the Quran.

Interior of the Homewood Masjid. This room has been converted from secular uses for Islamic prayer by in the installation of a division between the women and men’s area and lined carpet that aid worships in orienting themselves to Mecca. Photo: prayersconnect.com

One of the primary reasons for masjids like the one in Homewood is to have a place to gather for prayer. Muslims who are able should attend the Friday congregational prayer in a masjid. They also may to there for other prayers if it is convenient. As the community continues to grow in the Birmingham area, there may be additional masjids. The BIS will also continue to strive to educate non-Muslims about their religion so as to remove any fears or negative connotations. While the Homewood Masjid and Islamic Academy of Alabama are somewhat hidden up Rosedale’s narrow streets, they are important centers of a vibrant and growing Muslim community.

Homewood Masjid
Address: 
1810 25th Ct S, Homewood, AL 35209
Web: https://www.bisweb.org/
Congregation Organized: 1990
Current Site Opened: 1996
Affiliation: Birmingham Islamic Society

Sources for Further Information

Ali, Ayaan Hirsi. Nomad from Islam to America a Personal Journey through the Clash of Civilizations. Retrieved from Free Press 2010

Espotsito, John L. “Women and Islam.” In The Oxford Dictionary of Islam. Oxford Islamic Studies Online. Retrieved October 17, 2019 from http://www.oxfordislamicstudies.com/article/opr/t125/e2510

Esposito, John L. “Women.” In The Islamic World: Past and Present.,Oxford Islamic Studies Online Retrieved October 17, 2019 from http://www.oxfordislamicstudies.com/article/opr/t243/e370

“Almsgiving.” Retrieved November 11, 2019, from https://questionsonislam.com/article/4-almsgiving.

“Rosedale High School.” Bhamwiki. March 28, 2015, last modified February 11, 2018. https://www.bhamwiki.com/w/Rosedale_High_School

Gabby Adams, SK Farmer, Susanne McCrary, and Susannah Smith were students in Introduction to World Religions in Samford University’s Department of Biblical & Religious Studies in fall 2019.

Published December 17, 2019.

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