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Origins of the Muslims. Mosque City NY, Part 10

Malcolm X received a vision of a different kind of Islam when he saw the global and racial diversity of pilgrims streaming into Mecca. Today, he would not have to go to Mecca to see the global diversity of Islam.

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Malcolm X had a vision of a different kind of Islam when he saw the global and racial diversity of pilgrims streaming into Mecca. He was used to thinking of Islam as Black, because that was the teaching of his leader Elijah Muhammad of the Nation of Islam and his experience of Muslims in the United States. Today, he would not have to go to Mecca to see the global diversity of Islam. He could just look around in his old mosque on 116th Street, now named after him, Masjid Malcolm Shabbaz.

This mosque, of course, well represents the largest group of Muslims in northeast United States, the African-Americans. This mosque got its start when a group of Black Muslims started renting the upstairs ballroom in 1958. It officially became a mosque in 1975. Today, the majority of worshipers at the mosque are still African Americans.

At this point in time, African Americans make up a majority of the native born Muslim Americans in the northeast United States, according to the 2011 PEW Survey of Muslim Americans. At least 17% of Muslims are native born African American/Blacks.  In the New York City metro area that would translate into 131,000 African America/Black Muslims.

Africans are also part of this mosque with a much bigger presence than in X’s day. While African immigrants still tend to identify themselves by nationality, language or tribe, their children are tending to self-identify as Black or African American.

A half block east from X’s namesake mosque is the African Market, and, along Adam Clayton Powell X , would likely meet Senegalese, Gambians, Guineans and Malians going to prayer time at predominately African mosques. About 7% of Muslims in the northeast United States were born in sub-Saharan Africa.  We estimate that another 6% were born in north Africa, meaning 13% of Muslims in the northeast United States are immigrants from Africa. Exactly how many we can’t say because the PEW numbers join North Africa and the Middle East respondents in its reporting. There might be over 100,000 African Muslims in the New York City metro area.  X’s mosque also has Arabic attenders.

South Asians all together make up 31% of Muslims in the northeast United States. Of course, this reflects the large number from Pakistan, Bangladesh, and India. In the New York City metro area this would translate into 239,000 South Asian Muslims.


Who are the Asian Muslims of NYC?


While the Muslims from Pakistan make up the largest proportion (40%; perhaps, 96,000 in the New York City metro area)) of the South Asians in the northeast United States, Muslims from Bangladesh, India, Malaysia, Indonesia, as well as from other countries make the South Asian contingent of Muslims a fascinating mix of Asian cultures. These South Asian countries contribute about 45% of the Asian Muslims.

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Smaller South Asian groups, for example the Indonesians, face real challenges in gathering people and funds for a mosque.

So far, the city has received proportionally fewer Indonesians than found in Asia where their thick number make Indonesia the largest predominately Muslim nation in the world.

In 2013 the NYC government identified about 2200 Indonesians in New York City. The General Consulate of the  Republic of Indonesia puts to the total much higher. A mere 20% identify themselves as Muslim as a majority are Christian.

Furthermore, the relatively few Indonesians here are scattered across the city.

In the early 1980s Indonesian Muslims started meeting together in apartments for prayer and discussion of Islam. As the group expanded, it used a room at the Indonesian Consulate.  Finally, on the 50th Anniversary of Indonesian independence in 1995, local Indonesian Muslims bought a warehouse on 4801 31st Avenue in Long Island City/Astoria to convert into a mosque name Masjid Al-Hikmah, which means “The Wisdom Mosque.” The name refers to a passage in the Quran 16:125 that urges “call thou [mankind] to your Sustainer’s path with wisdom (hikmah) and goodly exhortation.” The mosque can hold 450 for worship and features a poster of the whole Quran clearly printed in tiny type.

The Indonesian community is not only relatively small but also has complex regional and linguistic divisions that reflect the massive archipelago of thousands of islands that is Indonesia. Here in New York City, there are Javanese from the most populous island of Java, Minangkaban from west central Sumatra, Batiks who speak the Karo dialect, Balinese, Ambonese from one of Indonesia’s Spice Islands,  the Achenese who have periodically fought for independence in northern Sumatra, and others.

About one-fifth (22%) of Muslims in the United States identify themselves as White. This is quite in line with the PEW new survey of multi-racial Americans, which found that a majority of new immigrants classify themselves as “White,” when given the racial options listed in the U.S. Census racial classifications. Most of the new immigrant White Muslims come from the Middle East, South Asia and Iran.

This immigration of White ethnics is one reason that New York City is not becoming significantly less White. Instead, “White” is becoming a more complex category of nationalities. This same process took place in regard to Irish and Italian immigrants, who were at times popularly classified as “non-Whites” or “Blacks.” Transracial switching is also becoming more popular as “multi-racials” grow in number.

Hispanics make up only 6% of Muslims nationwide, mostly in the Southwest.  The number of Hispanic Muslims seems to be slowly and fitfully growing in the city. In the northeast United States 3% of Muslims of Hispanic. (Also, about 40% of Hispanics identify themselves as “Hispanic” and “White.”)

Yet, some research suggests conversion rates among American Latinos doubled from 2000 to 2011, from 6 percent to 12 percent of all converts to Islam, says Ihsan Bagby, an associate professor of Islamic Studies at Kentucky University who studies the Muslim American community. Bagby led the research study The American Mosque 2011.

In 2012 Why Islam, a project of the Muslim association ICNA, said that 19 % of the 2,862 converts it had assisted in 2011 were Latinos.

"It's not a big number, but it's a growing number," Bagby says, noting that conversions have historically taken place in East Coast urban centers and is spreading across Hispanic communities in other parts of the United States.

The most well-known gathering place for Metro area Hispanic Muslims is not in New York City but across the river at the North Hudson Islamic Education Center in Union City, New Jersey. The congregation is about 30% Hispanic and has produced a yearly Hispanic Muslim parade.

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Next read Mosque City NY, Part 11: The modern education of a Bronx imam


Read previous article, Mosque City NY, Part 9:

Q&A with Imam Shamsi Ali on the sons of Abraham in Mosque City NY



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