Capital Gazette wins special Pulitzer Prize citation for coverage of newsroom shooting that killed five

TURNING TOWARD MECCA Local Muslims speak proudly of sacrafice and responsibility


An article in The Sun June 12 about a Muslim holiday cited the version of Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his son from the Hebrew Scriptures. Muslim tradition follows the Koran, which records that the son was Ishmael, not Isaac.

The Sun regrets the error.

From the shade of tall oaks at the edge of Gwynns Falls Park, within earshot of North Avenue traffic, came the chant in Arabic "Allahu Akbar" -- God is great.

Some 150 Muslims from Baltimore knelt, pressing their foreheads to the ground as they faced Mecca, where 30 of their number were completing the obligatory pilgrimage.

Yesterday was Eid ul Adha, a Muslim holiday that ends the 10-day season of the Hajj, or pilgrimage, which each Muslim is supposed to make at least once to Mecca in Saudi Arabia.

The holiday commemorates the story of Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his only son, Isaac, out of faithfulness to God, although an angel stayed his hand at the last minute. Abraham and other biblical figures of the Christian and Jewish faiths are also honored in Islam.

The Muslims gathered on rugs and blankets on the lawn in front of a dilapidated mansion that is being renovated from the inside out as a mosque, known in Arabic as a masjid. Most of the crowd had become Muslims through the black Nation of Islam in the time of Elijah Muhammad, who died in 1975, when the movement denounced whites as evil. His son, Warith D. Muhammad, who succeeded him, led the movement into the mainstream of Islam and abandoned teachings of racial animosity.

Most of the men wore fezzes and knitted caps, or kuffi, and draped flowing African shirts and robes over their suits. Most of the women, who sat behind the men, wore head wraps and long dresses in colorful African styles. Among the worshipers were a few people from Asian countries, mostly in western dress.

In a message to the assembly, Ronald Shakir, imam of the masjid, connected the sacrifices of Abraham to the sacrifices called for in Islam, starting with personal morality.

"We stop drinking. We stop smoking. We don't fornicate. That's a level of morality practically anyone can own to," he said, but vTC added that Muslims must go beyond that to sacrifice from their prosperity to help the poor.

"Do what Abraham did. Help somebody, and they will listen to us," he said. "Take some of that money you've been blessed with and help someone else. Take some of that knowledge you've been blessed with and help somebody."

He blamed the welfare state for usurping individual obligations that once compelled people to help each other within their communities. Before the advent of the welfare state, "the community took care of themselves, even the black community," he said. "Are we willing to make that kind of sacrifice?"

After the morning service, Mr. Shakir was preparing to visit a kosher slaughterhouse, where the Jewish dietary laws are the same as those for Muslims, to arrange for the slaughter of 12 lambs for a feast later in the day.

Mr. Shakir, who makes his living in an import-export business with Muslim countries, explained how he left his Catholic upbringing in Louisiana as he was swept up in the black power movement of the 1960s and eventually found his way to the black Muslims.

Elijah Muhammad "was talking about getting out of the politics of America completely," Mr. Shakir said. But Mr. Shakir and others later welcomed the entry of the black Muslims into the mainstream of Islam and into American life in 1975.

"You can only be racist so long," he said.

A modern Muslim hero, the late Malcolm X, is now undergoing a revival of veneration that Mr. Shakir and other Muslims say is a distortion of his legacy.

Muslims regard him as "a great hero," Mr. Shakir said, adding that Malcolm X's transition to Islam anticipated the shift in the black Muslim movement to the mainstream. But in the proliferation of X hats and other Malcolm memorabilia, "he's being used to exploit this whole resurgence of black racial politics," Mr. Shakir said. "It's a disservice."

When customers ask about Malcolm X at the Pyramid Bookstore, a black cultural center in the Mondawmin Mall, store manager Djenaba Bahar tells them, "Don't wear the X unless you know the man." Ms. Bahar, who attended the prayer service in a brightly patterned African dress and head wrap, said she guides inquirers toward the store's stock of "Autobiography of Malcolm X."

Many of the believers who turned out for the holiday work in business or the professions, Mr. Shakir said. They succeed "because of what they're being preached," he said. "Don't nobody come up and tell them, 'Wait till the government takes care of you.' "

Copyright © 2019, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad