Turn onto North Broad Street around the corner from Joe Frazier’s old gym, and emerging on the skyline is a new architectural feature: the dome of a mosque.
“This will be the first mosque built in Philadelphia from the ground up,” said Mujeeb Chaudhary, president of the Philadelphia Ahmadiyya Muslim Community. “There are 47 mosques in Philadelphia, but nothing like this, a mosque rising from the ground up, pointed to qibla [the direction of Mecca], with windows like that.”
An estimated 200,000 Muslims live in Philadelphia. Some of them identify as part of the Ahmadiyya sect of Islam, founded in India in 1889 and now represented in 207 countries, with 76 chapters in the U.S., four of those in Pennsylvania.
The roughly 460 members of the Philadelphia chapter of the Ahmadiyya society have been gathering to worship since 1982 at a mosque on the property of a renovated old house further north by Broad Street and Erie Avenue. Before that, the community, which started in Philly in the 1940s, met wherever they could find enough room to worship.
“We were always renting a place,” said imam Bilal AbdusSalaam, who converted and joined the sect in 1960. “We weren’t even looked on as Muslims back them. For having beards and wearing dashikis, they called us beatniks.”
Construction started on their new, permanent home in July 2013. Leaders hope the 28,000 square-foot mosque with a planned 60-foot minaret will be finished this summer. The mosque will include facilities ranging from a massive worship area and a large kitchen facility to conference rooms and some living quarters.
The leaders want to invite the entire community to see it, regardless of faith.
“It’s going to lift up the neighborhood,” Bilal predicted. “This has always been a prayer of mine … This is God’s plan, that we build this mosque in Philadelphia, and change the lives of some of these Muslims in Philadelphia.”
The growth of the Philadelphia Ahmadiyya community comes as Islam is facing increasing hostility from President Donald Trump. But leaders of the community rejected the activities of the terrorists Trump says he is targeting.
“We don’t believe in bloody jihad for no reason,” Chaudhary said. “It’s against the commandments. I don’t know how these are people getting their instructions from the Holy Koran.”
Instead, the goals of the Ahmaddiya community will be toward improving the lives of the community around the mosque, the leaders said.
“We are looking for unification. Not building a wall, but building a bridge,” Chaudhary said.
They hope to use the new mosque to benefit the community, whether through educational programs or charitable initiatives like a soup kitchen.
“We believe that the prophet of Islam came to the poor people and uplifted them to the level of humanity,” Chaudhary said. “We believe that in our own time, we have to do the same thing.”
By the numbers
Ahmaddiya Islam chapters in U.S.
Philadelphia Ahmaddiya members
Muslims in Philadelphia