DAY 18

S. Carolina

08/19/2011

16 Comments

MIGRATING FOR LOVE
by Bassam Tariq

The entrance to Islamville.

Passed the confederate flags and horse ranches, a little entry way down a broken road leads to a small mobile home community.  I drive slowly down the road and see three to four mobile homes lined up next to one another. A large African American man comes out wearing a shalwar kameez, a traditional South Asian garb, and greets us. He is the elder in the community and goes by Uncle Ali.

“We here are completely transparent. You can ask us anything.”  Says Uncle Ali.  “I fought with the mujahideen’s not in 1980, but in 1981. So get what we say right.”

Welcome to Holy Islamville.

The majority of the congregation is African American. Instead of saying “yes” or “okay” many of them reply saying, “acha” or “jee” the Urdu way of saying it.

The entire community has been inspired by Sheikh Mubarak Ali Gilani, who they call “abu” (father in Urdu) or “Shah-sahib.”

Sheikh Gilani was in the US in the early 1970’s and lived in Brooklyn. There, he began to connect with many of the African Americans.

“We knew there was something different about him,” says Abu Khalil, “he had a way to connect with us. We were drawn to him.”

In the early 1980’s, Sheikh Gilani led a very public “jihad campaign.” He encouraged many to go fight in Afghanistan against the Russians. He made his campaign public and sent out letters to the embassies, the US government, etc. No one seemed to pay attention.

Sheikh Mubarak Ali Gilani. (Islamberg site)

After the campaign fell through Sheikh Gilani became concerned about the environment his students were living in.  So him and his students began to buy property all across America and many of them began settling in rural parts of America. It was their Sheikh’s way to purify them.

“Out here, we are closer to Allah.”  Uncle Musa tells me.

Uncle Musa is our de facto tour guide who shows us around the property. He brings us to the Holy Shrine where many students have seen the word “Allah” appear in light many times through. There is a fax machine on a pedestal because of a jammed paper miracle that occurred with it. The Sheikh directed his students to make the place a full-time shrine open for anyone to visit.

Uncle Musa stands outside of the Holy Shrine of Islamville.

Uncle Musa shows some of the Islamic artwork done by the community

Uncle Musa points to one of the miracles seen by one of the women in the community.

People do a silent dhikr, remembrance of God prayer, session inside the Holy Shrine.

Silence.

Islamville opened in 1983 in a small rural corner in South Carolina. At the time, only five families migrated there. Now, there are about 20 families that live in the surrounding areas. The community tries to be as self-sufficient as they can. Some of the men raise goats and chicken, others educate the kids in the makeshift school and some have gone to Pakistan to learn the religion and live out on the farm. Instead of going to high school, the kids get their GEDs . College is encouraged. Many of them go to technical school, others become nurses and doctors. The community may keep the kids close in the beginning, but they encourage them to step out for working opportunities.

The young guys that have grown up and live around Islamville.

The girls from the community.

For break fast, we were served samosas, a traditional south Asian potato patty and then we had meat and potatoes for dinner.

“Ah aalu gosht!” I say in urdu.

“oh brother, you know what this is?” One of the community members says.

“Yeah, I am from Pakistan. This is food from the motherland.”

Uncle Musa chows down on potato and meat (aalu gosht).

Uncle Musa's son, right, sits with a friend as they hear a story from an elder in the community.

It’s hard not to notice the South Asian tendencies of the congregation. From the subtle hand gestures to the decorations in the mosque, I am reminded of the strong South Asian influence seething the entire township. The easiest way to notice the Pakistani influence is by watching the community sing on YouTube.

The first time I heard of Islamville was from a YouTube channel I saw of their sister community, Islamberg. The Islamberg community lives out in Bimnington, New York and they have a collection of Islamic songs and spiritual chants for people to watch. The mannerisms and singing style are shockingly similar to that from South Asia. Many of them have added their own take to it, but one can’t deny the heavy Pakistani overtones in all this.

Note: They are singing in Urdu. 

YouTube Preview Image

Shaikh Gilani has gotten a lot of scrutiny in the media. The death of Daniel Pearl, a wall Street Journal reporter in Pakistan, has been linked to Sheikh Gilani since Pearl was on his way to meet the sheikh.

It was difficult for me to find anything objective of him online. The entire community that he represents is under attack in America. Whether the small townships he helped establish are  called jihad training camps or extremist retreats, the community seems to have a lot of enemies.

(I tried to get some photos of Sheikh Gilani from the congregation but many refused to share their personal photos with him. They all forwarded me to the internet. Throughout the community and the shrine, not a single photo of him was to be found.)

“We are very open here.” Uncle Musa tells me. “if anyone wants to come and visit us, we welcome them with open arms.”

It’s easy to get suspicious at the idea of Muslims living in large communities out in rural America. The fear that these people are training for Jihad against America or building an army against the country is real – and there are many people working day and night trying to get these communities closed.

But they are alive and thriving. The people here are not concerned about that. They are not concerned about the fact that many other African Americans would say that they are losing their black identity by adopting another lifestyle.

To the people in Islamville, the only thing that matters is God and their relationship with Him. It all comes back to that. They have left their lives, their jobs so they can come out of this town not to retire, but to build something new. And for being established since 1983, construction hasn’t gone that far. They are living in mobile homes, the school is only two rooms big and the roads are not paved.

The school house.

The two room school where many of the kids who live in and around Islamville attend.

A dark walk back towards the car.

But there is love here. A love that must be acknowledge. They understand the transient nature of life and for them to be here – it is just a step to that which is greater than them. Your criticisms mean nothing to them. They are busy yearning for the Divine.

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  • HiMY SYeD

    The title threw me for a loop.

    Instantly assumed this was yet another, sister/brother made a ‘marriage’ hijrah for love, and somehow found the Deen along the way.

    Wonderful surprise, right from the first paragraph.

    Now, if you can an inner-city ‘hood of Desi hipsters mimicking Mos Def…

  • Haleema Shah

    Calling all sociology/cultural anthropology geniuses to analyze! Mm’kay, thanks. 

    • fuqra

      I was part of this org for many years, not much has changed. I disagree with them on many issues but I will say they got a raw deal. Some not all in the group were criminals. check fraud, bootlegging videos, stealing lawn mowers, stuff like this. The idea and vision are great, but living without running water, is not good. They still believe an 80 something yr old man in pakistan can close his eyes and see all his followers in america, this is star wars, not islam. I seen the sheikh in Islamabad and lahore pakistan in the 90s, a sufi leader is humble, simple and easy to get along with. This man has land cruisers, body gaurds, servants huge houses, 4 wives kids everywhere, expensive pens and all sorts of people giving him money, this is not real sufi ideology.I am glad to have running water, heat and a job.

      • M. Ali

        I’m glad you have running water, heat and a job too. It would’ve been a plus if Allah blessed you with enough intellect to know that just because you do not agree with certain things you do not have to get online and bad mouth a community of people. Every home in that community has running water, heat and the men & women there have jobs as well. If you are no longer a part of it, then there is no reason for you to be here commenting. Good riddance!

      • http://www.facebook.com/zaid.ahmed.94 Zaid Ahmed

        brother , is it true that the quranic healing discovered by Sheikh Gilani has cured lot of psychiatric patients.the method is known as EGM. They claim to have treated hundreds and thousands cured through EGM. Can you verify this.One of my relatives is suffering from severe mental disorder for years without improvement, your advice will be very useful.

  • Rayan

    You guys really are opening all of our eyes to the quirky, bizarre, cool nature of Muslims in America.  As a Canuck,  I had never heard of Islamville, and I have actually driven pretty darn close to it…who knew!

    This along with New Medinah have really opened my eyes to the extent to which Islam has both permeated the fabric of America and at the same time how significant its part is, in the story of America.

  • *aaa

    what was the fax machine miracle?

    • Guest

      Yeah, I’m curious, what happened with that?

  • Faridi Salman

    even the influence of urdu goes as far as indonesia. i recalled reciting the Koran with jabar, je-er, pe-es to match fathah, kasrah, and dhommah in arabic. great post. enjoyed very much

  • http://profiles.google.com/dzabdi88 Zignat Abdisubhan

    Did the video disappear?

  • http://twitter.com/Nina_amang Diah Agustina

    interesting. i wish we have another bassam and aman here in indonesia to tell stories about mosques and human being in such a beautiful and peaceful way. i salute you, bros.

  • M. Ali

    Salaam, I really like this community. When I visit here it brings me a sense of peace and remembrance of Allah. Considering that the people here came from “uncultured” backgrounds, it is rich with the best of traditional Islam and worship of Allah. The people here establish prayer in congregation and Allah says: Establish prayer for my remembrance.” Quran 20:14 That is what is important to keep in mind. They also teach Arabic (reading/writing/spoken) because the only way to retain true Deen (religion) is to practice it. If you get the chance, try to visit this place for yourself :)

  • Khalila

    I am a Muslim who was living in Columbia, SC and I didn’t know Islamville existed! I find it a little strange, that they are living in isolation like that, but ultimately understand what it feels like to want to get away from society to be free to practice your religion. Very interesting and inspiring. I hope the community flourishes..

  • Muhammed Burhan al-Din

    Alhamdulillah, this is a great article.

  • Joy

    I live about 15 minutes from this place, I have my whole life. I came across the sign ‘Welcome to Holy Islamville’ at the end of my aunt and uncle’s street one day driving around. It’s creepy. I never saw or knew any of them in school growing up but just seeing them around town, they are not pleasant people. Very rude. They act like they have a problem with everyone, they give people nasty looks and make the community feel uncomfortable. Their claim in your article about welcoming strangers in to their community with open arms is a LIE. I was a manager at the pizza place that delivers down there and every driver -including my husband- said there is always a large black man that sits several yards back from the enterance with an ak47 who wants to know what business you have in their community. Creeped out yet? Well the Catawba Nuclear Plant is probably less than 20 minutes from them too…. Just food for thought.

    -York, SC Resident

  • Akhter

    i want to join. where is syed mubarik Ali Gillani


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