Nur Allah Islamic Center
The 2019 Interfaith Ambassador of the Year, Michael “Mikal” Saahir, is the spiritual leader (Imam) of the Nur Allah Islamic Center. Nur Allah is an unassuming masjid on 46th Street, surrounded by houses and small businesses. A couple years ago, the Center for Interfaith Cooperation worked with students from Butler’s Center for Faith and Vocation to write up short essays about important places of worship in Central Indiana. Here’s the write-up of Nur Allah, along with copies of recent letters to the masjid recognizing how important it is to the neighborhood.
The Nur-Allah Islamic Center was found in the late 1950’s as a Nation of Islam mosque. Nur-Allah was originally known as Muhammad’s Mosque No. 74 and established as a place for African Americans to come and learn about Islam. In 1983, the name was changed to Daniel Mohammed Islamic Center. In 1997, the name was changed to Nur-Allah Islamic Center.1
Nur-Allah reaches out to people of all religions, races, and beliefs, and seeks to develop a unified and balanced community. Nur-Allah has recently purchased just over an acre of land (located at 2514 N. Arlington, Indianapolis, IN) so that they can build a new masjid to allow their congregation to grow and flourish2. This new location will also include a school that will begin with 1st and 2nd grade and is built to allow for the development of more grades as the funding allows. The Center intends to carry this school through 12th grade as the fiscal opportunity grows.
At the Nur-Allah mosque there is usually a congregation of around 35 for the Friday service, but for other days of the week it is much smaller. The ethnicity here is primarily African American with a little more variation, including Chinese-American. The attendees tend to be primarily lower middle class and have a variety of professions. There tend to be many younger families with children, but people of all ages attend.
When first entering the Nur-Allah mosque, visitors will notice that it looks like a small house. It also features the Clara Muhammad Weekend School and a bookstore for further study. 3 Images of God and other important religious figures, such as Muhammad, Abraham or Jesus Christ, are not present, because Muslims fear that some may be led by such images to idolatry. Although the service begins at 2:00 P.M. [Fridays], it is acceptable for members to enter throughout the worship time. But everyone is expected to perform a prayer before they sit down. People affiliated with the mosque sit on the carpet, while those who are not sit near the back of the facility. The service here is very laid back, straightforward, and family-oriented. Guests who attend a Friday afternoon prayer service will hear the mosque’s leader, known as an imam, give a message from the Qur’an, in English, for about 20 minutes. (During this time, people sit quietly and meditate on what is being said.) After the message is delivered, people will stand and face the direction of Mecca and another person, known as a muezzin, will call them to prayer, and the Imam will then lead them in prayer, in Arabic.4Called salat, the prayer always has a set order, and is conducted in cycles (called rakat). Each cycle contains several poses: standing erect, bowing with one’s hand on one’s knees, kneeling with head up, and kneeling with one’s forehead on the ground. These poses are accompanied by ritual phrases, among them the takbir (Allahu Akbar-“God is Great”) and passages from the Qur’an. Depending on which of the five daily prayers they are conducting, Muslims will complete 2-4 of these cycles and will end by turning to their right and left and saying salaam (“Peace”) to their neighbors. Each cycle takes a few minutes to complete.
After prayers are offered, the imam will come forward and share announcements with the people. Finally, after the service, people will mingle among one another and talk about prayer concerns, as well as life in general.
What to Expect
Anyone wishing to visit an Islamic mosque can expect to be warmly welcomed by the community of the mosque. One will find that many Muslims are excited to have the opportunity to educate others about their religion. For many Muslims, it seems that telling the story of their God and Prophet Muhammad is an act of faith in itself. For this reason, visiting an Islamic mosque can be an incredibly rewarding and enriching experience for those who wish to understand Islam through a first-hand experience.
Although you can expect to be greeted warmly at this mosque, there are a few basic regulations that everyone visiting the Nur-Allah Mosque should be aware of. One of the most important of these rules is that upon entering the mosque, one should take off one’s shoes. Males and females enter the worship area from different sides and pass through a small hall where they may hang up their jackets and leave their shoes. For this reason, although not mandatory, visitors may want to wear socks when visiting the mosque. As for the rest of one’s clothing, male visitors should wear a nice shirt and long khaki or dress pants. Female visitors should wear nice, modest clothing, and are given the choice of whether or not to wear a prayer shawl.
Males and females each have a separate seating section during the service, with males in the front closest to the imam and females towards the back of the mosque. For this reason, it is important for visitors to sit with members of their own sex during the prayer service. The imam of the mosque makes it clear that this practice is instituted only to show the complementary roles of males and females, thus celebrating both sexes equally. Therefore, the separation of sexes is a visual reminder of the equal importance of both sexes within Islam. During the prayers, the people form straight lines within their section of the room in order to show their order and respect as well as to have someone next to them when they say the salat. Although the two sexes are generally separated, one can expect the whole mosque congregation to face in the direction of the qiblah, or the direction of Mecca, during an Islamic prayer service. A visitor should do the same out of respect because this is the custom in all Islam worships centers throughout the world. There is also a strong relationship between the Nur-Allah Islamic Center and the Christian community. There are often events that unite the two religious groups and the imam encourages the members of the congregation to participate in these and also to respect believers of this similar faith.
1Imam Michael Saahir of Nur-Allah Islamic Center. Email interview. 26 Nov. 2007.
2Nur-Allah Website. www.nurallah.org
3Nur-Allah Website. www.nurallah.org
4Molloy, Michael. Experiencing the World’s Religions: Tradition, Challenge, and Change. 4th Ed. New York: McGraw Hill Higher Education, 2008