Day 28: Islamic Cultural Center


I was on an emotional roller coaster today. I woke up jumping for joy about NPR doing a second story on us, this time now the entire country knows how beautiful New York’s Muslim community is. Then, I looked outside my apartment window to see that my car had been towed.

To make a long story short, I spent 4 hours and $240 recovering my car that a construction company towed… so they could park their steamroller in my spot. But then, Bassam emailed me saying a mosque in the Bronx had burned down last night.

The Islamic Cultural Center is a mosque still healing from a terrible tragedy two years ago, when 10 people from this congregation, nine of them children, died in a horrific house fire.

By fate, the towing pound I was picking up my car from was only a mile or two away from the mosque.

Notice how you can see scorch marks streaking through the tan part of the roof.

I asked one of the firefighters at the scene what happened and he told me a fire broke out after around 11 pm last night in the grocery store next door to the mosque. Flames burst through the store’s roof and also engulfed the mosque. He said they spent hours last night putting out the flames and the exact cause is still under investigation. I will post updates as soon as I receive them.

(UPDATE: I talked to one of the investigators in the fire department Saturday morning and he told me it was an electrical fire. Someone doing some electrical work in the grocery store was installing a fan and left some wires exposed).

You can see how strong the flames were by looking at how charcoaled the sidewalks are.

Thankfully, nobody from the mosque or store was hurt. But flames tore the inside of the mosque apart making the building unusable.

I stood there for a few minutes, motionless, staring at the door imagining what the congregation here must be thinking after having their mosque burn down. Especially during the holy month of Ramadan.

But I was quickly taken out of my deep thought by a man named Bilal. He tapped me on my shoulder letting me know there was only about five minutes before time to break the fast. He told me to come with him to the temporary mosque the congregation set up two blocks away inside an empty storefront building.

I ran into Imam Talib Abdur-Rashid, the Imam of the Mosque of Islamic Brotherhood in Harlem, that we visited a few days ago. He came to show his support for the community.

We broke our fast with some dates, and prayed in another barren room that only had blue tarp on the floor. After prayer, many of the people got up to go inside the room next door to eat, but I wanted to sit for a little bit and make some supplication for the people of this mosque. I immediately began thinking about how insignificant the problems in my own life are. Less than an hour ago, I was whining about some stupid tow truck. My eyes teared  just thinking about it. Bilal must have noticed as he was putting on his shoes since hee put his hand on my shoulder and said  “Come, we are all brothers.”

He took me into the room next door where everyone was eating dinner.

Keep in mind the room is an unfinished building, so we all sat squatted on the floor  around trays of food spread along the room. One person told me to stop taking pictures — this was a time for us to eat and share the company of our fellow Muslims, not turn an iftaar into a media event. I told him what I was doing and he welcomed me being here, but kindly asked that I take no more pics.

I sat with Bilal and one of his friends as we sat around a plate of seasoned steak, beef stew, plaintains and salad (sorry no pics). We tore up long rolls of Italian bread and used it to eat the food with. Being with these guys really made me feel at ease.

The congregation at the Islamic Cultural Center is almost all West African. Bilal is from Gambia and the other person we sat with is from Nigeria. They told me the Islamic Cultural Center had been in the neighborhood for over 10 years. The fire Thursday night actually broke out only 15-20 minutes after the congregation had finished its taraweeh prayer.

Bilal brought up one of my favorite sayings from Prophet Muhammad that really captured the mood in the air tonight. That the Muslim community is like a body. When one part of the body is in pain, the entire body is in pain.

In other words, when one of us suffers we all feel the plain. But Bilal brought up an interesting point. He said this saying also applies to happiness. When one of us is feeling good, the rest of us should feel the same as well. He told me this was not a time for us to be sad and depressed. Instead, this is a time for us to smile and be thankful that everyone is here to support each other during the end of this blessed month.

Bilal continued, “Plus, my wife tonight made the best steak you’ll ever taste in your entire life. Now you really have no reason to be sad.”

He was right.

This project is not about us, but instead we are the conduits to showcase New York City’s Muslim community. Whether you’re Muslim or not, please support the people of the Islamic Cultural Center in any way you can.

Call Bakary Camara at 917-568-5763 or mail letters and donations to:

The Islamic Cultural Center

Attn: The Building Fund

371 E. 166th Street

Bronx, NY 10456


8 Comments, Comment or Ping

  1. Aziz

    Any way we can donate online? Thanks.

    September 19th, 2009

  2. YEAH IS THERE ANY WAY THEY CAN SET UP AN ACCOUNT VIA PAYPAL OR SOMETHING SO THAT WE CAN HELP THEM? OF COURSE, WITH ALL THINGS FBI/CIA CRACKDOWN, TELL THEM TO MAKE IT LEGIT THROUGH THE GOVERNMENT.

    September 19th, 2009

  3. Aman and Bassam

    Guys I just got off the phone with them and he said a Web site will be up and running by the end of the day today. Check back here later today and I’ll post the URL once I get it

    September 19th, 2009

  4. Theresa

    Great story, Aman.

    September 19th, 2009

  5. Sad to hear this bro, but regardless of this setback, they are still together and determined to change things back as they were, may Allah help them in their endeavours.

    September 19th, 2009

  6. Anonymous

    This is my favorite post so far. Even without the pics of the food, I was very touched.

    September 19th, 2009

  7. xx

    *tear* SubhanAllah, what a huge test for the community, inshaAllah, they pass it with flying colors.

    Please do share the website and how we can donate online.

    September 20th, 2009

  8. Mike B-C

    The church that I sing in had a fire a few years back. It occured a few months after they had just finished an addition. Thankfully, the damage to the building was minimal and we were only inconvenienced for about a month (though there is still a lingering smell of creosote on rainy days), but the one lesson we all took from the experience is that the church is not the building, it’s the people.

    September 21st, 2009

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