On my way to Masjid Muhammad DC, which calls itself the “nation’s mosque,” a slogan coined by the Department of Homeland Security came to mind: “If you see something, say something.” And in the blink of an eye, I was on the lookout for odd and out-of-the-ordinary goings-on.
I had driven past the mosque many times but hadn’t noticed that the street where it was located, the 1500 block of Fourth Street NW, had been renamed Islamic Way. In 1992, as it turned out. And — here’s the odd part — no one had ever tried to change it back. Or even taken down the Islamic Way signs.
In many parts of the country, those signs would have been obliterated the moment they went up.
An armed group of outsiders called the Oath Keepers had targeted Masjid Muhammad for a protest in October, hoping to show that Muslims were violent. Residents in the neighborhood responded by putting up fliers that said “Hate Free Zone.”
The protesters never showed up, though, apparently convinced by D.C. and federal officials that marching into the nation’s capital carrying semi-automatic weapons was not a good idea.
Kate Connors, who made the fliers, told me the other day that if protesters had come, “we’d planned to make a human chain to keep them away from the mosque.”
That’s homeland security, the neighborly way.
At the mosque, Imam Talib Shareef told me, “What’s happening in D.C., with neighbors standing up for peace, should be happening across the world.”
Instead, Islamophobia is rampant. Jihadists, or at least the TV drama show version, have come to personify all Muslims in the misinformed American mind.
In the wake of a terrorist attack carried out by two Muslims in California last year and other attacks by small groups of Muslims abroad, the leading Republican presidential candidate called for banning all Muslims from entering the country, whether they were American citizens or not; registering the ones already here in a database for tracking; and putting all mosques in the United States under surveillance.
Shareef, 54, had spent 30 years in the Air Force before retiring as a chief master sergeant. A scholar in Middle East studies, he had served as Islamic Faith Group Leader at seven U.S. military locations around the world.
“There are many Muslims in the U.S. military, all willing to make the ultimate sacrifice to protect our nation’s freedoms,” he said, “including the right of presidential candidates like Donald Trump to say insulting things about us.”
Another member of the mosque, Sultan Muhammad, 49, is a retired Army command sergeant major.
“I started out in the military having to pray in closets, so I’ve already been through the fear cycle, and I’m not at all fearful of Donald Trump,” Muhammad said. “Actually, I’m grateful for him. He’s given us an opportunity to pick sides: You’re either for Muslims or against them; for fear or for freedom. How we react will either bring our country together or tear us apart.”
Most of the estimated 800 members of Masjid Muhammad, including the imam, are African American converts to Islam. (Sultan Muhammad is a second-generation Muslim, the son of a convert.)
Some, such as Ibrahim Mumin, had been members of the Nation of Islam, a black nationalist organization that built the mosque in 1960. The NOI was driven mostly by socioeconomic concerns. In 1975, Imam W. Deen Mohammed, son of NOI founder Elijah Muhammad, disbanded the original Nation of Islam, rejected black separatism and began a more orthodox, mainstream Islamic movement.
Mumin, 68, put down his copy of Elijah Muhammad’s “Message to the Blackman in America,” and picked up the Koran. Today, he runs a D.C.-based community economic development consulting company, Mumin and Associates.
“We should be America’s allies in the fight against extremism,” Mumin said. “Instead, we’re on the defensive, always being asked to respond to somebody’s claim that Islam promotes violence.”
An odd claim, especially because white Christian vigilantes, not Muslims, have long been the foremost practitioners of terrorism in the United States. And nobody ever asks whether Christ made them do it.
Despite all the Islamophobia — maybe even because of it — Masjid Muhammad will be sponsoring an interfaith comedy show at 7 p.m. Saturday at the Hampton Conference Center in Capitol Heights, Md.
“A Muslim, a Christian and a Jew walk into a bar . . . ” kind of stand-up comedy show.
“We wanted to do something that brings people together just to have fun for a change,” Mumin said. “Some people don’t believe Muslims even know how to tell a joke.”
Note to Homeland Security: Better check that out. Could be a laugh riot.
To read previous columns, go to washingtonpost.com/milloy.