Nabeeh El-Ameen takes his camera equipment, prepares it to tape the imam’s sermon at the Racine Islamic Center in Wisconsin, recites the prayer adhan and sits to listen to the Friday sermon.
This is pretty much a weekly routine for El-Ameen, a Black American who converted to Islam 40 years ago.
“I always thought I was a good person,” he told Wisconsin Muslim Journal.
“But, by accepting the opportunity to become a member of the Islamic community, I thought I could be an even better person. And so far, I’m of the mind that that’s true.”
Located in a home to a big African American population, the Racine Islamic Center in Wisconsin stands witness to the development of the Black American Muslim community and a reminder of their rich history.
The mosque is located in a quiet neighborhood with a patch of Lake Michigan visible a few blocks away.
Nabeeh was born William Tolbert Manning in what he refers to as “the other third world country in North America called Mississippi,” and was raised a Baptist.
Nabeeh was setting up his camera in the prayer hall to record Imam Wali Shakoor Luqman’s sermon for a community cable access show called “Words of Luqman.”
For many years, Racine’s former Islamic center boasted a Sr. Clara Muhammad School, where Imam Luqman was educated and first learned Arabic.
Called the American Muslim Mission Center and Sr. Clara Muhammad School, it was located in downtown Racine at Silver and State Streets and burned down in the late 1980s, Imam Luqman said.
Islam in Racine
Years of struggle followed, but Islam maintained a presence in Racine, where it is now taking root by merging the city’s original, largely Black Muslim community with newcomers to the city
“Peace is our way of living, enduring the test of this way of life, including the corruption of the world. We protect ourselves from being deviators from the straight path,” Imam Luqman said.
Allah, he added, “created man in unity, not to be broken up . . . We see so much dead vegetation, so many dead people walking around, not knowing what they’re created for. If you live the life God created you to have, you will live forever.”
At the end of the day, imam Luqman said his mosque would be open to visitors for five daily prayers.
“It’s going to be a beautiful thing to see your faces,” he said. “We strengthen each other. Without a doubt, we strengthen each other.”
Pew Research Center estimates that there were about 3.45 million Muslims of all ages living in the US in 2017 and that Muslims made up about 1.1% of the total US population.
In America, the majority of Muslim converts are African-American (a third of all Muslims according to most authorities), but there have also been significant numbers of Anglos to convert as well, many of them well-educated.