© Mary Lahaj, 9th Edition, November 2015
The tragedy struck on March 30, 1990, during the holy month of Ramadan. A fire had destroyed the interior of the Islamic Center of New England in Quincy, Massachusetts. The concrete exterior remained intact, but the damage was estimated at more than $500,000.
By the time I finished my course work in Islamic Studies and Christian/Muslim Relations, at the Hartford Seminary, in Hartford, Connecticut, I was approaching my fourth year. I had procrastinated writing a thesis, the final requirement for my master’s degree. Anticipating that it would require hours, even months to write, I wanted to find a topic that would not only be interesting, but also have meaning for me personally. Being more artist than scholar, my labor needed to be inspired by love.
The mosque burning down was a big deal in the Muslim community of Greater Boston, but for my family, who were founders, it was personal. I arrived on the scene, as soon as I heard about the fire, to see the extent of the damage and report back to my mother, one of the living original founders.
The whole inside of the mosque was going to need to be gutted. The smell of smoke and ash and water permeated every corner. As I surveyed the social hall, kitchen, classrooms… it was only the prayer room, with its thick, ornate mahogany door, that had been spared. Although the wall to wall oriental rugs had retained the acrid smell, they could be replaced. The prayer room seemed to be as peaceful as always−unperturbed by the heat, the hatred of arson, or the heroic efforts of the Quincy firemen to put out the fire.
After I finished walking through the Center, my cousin Zaida, the office secretary (also a founding family member), asked me to check on some old boxes stacked in the storage space under the stairwell. She said that they held the Center’s historical documents. What documents, I wondered?
When I opened the closet door, I had to step gingerly into the watery mix of ash on the floor. I immediately saw the boxes that Zaida was worried about. They were filled with brownish papers neatly stacked, and many hand-written record books kept by a secretary and a treasurer, going back decades; all of it covered by a thin layer of sooty ash. I spied one protruding document: the “Arab American Banner Society, Certificate of Incorporation,” dated November 1937.
As I stared at the document, I realized that I was holding a primary source of history in my hand. What if these boxes had gone up in flames, lost forever? Is history truly so fragile, as to be lost for being in the wrong place at the wrong time? Thinking of how imperative for someone to write a coherent history, using these primary sources. I knew that I was looking at the evidence of decades of hard work and the dream of two generations of Muslims who had wanted to build a mosque. Opportunity was staring back at me. I had stumbled on a topic for my thesis and a meaningful purpose for my scholarship. I would rescue and preserve this history of the first Muslims of Quincy, and the first mosque in all of New England, for posterity’s sake.
With Zaida’s permission, I loaded 12 boxes into my car and drove them home. I stacked them in the study, where I kept my computer. My whole apartment was filled with a strong, smoky odor. Using these primary documents, in addition to being related to nearly all eight of the founding families gave me access to the whole story and the back story. I would also be able to interview prominent leaders at the Center who knew me, because of my family.
As you enter the Islamic Center of New England, the secretary’s small office is on your right and the social hall on your left. Built in 1964, the Quincy Center is the first mosque in all of New England, and the long-term dream of eight Lebanese families who came to this country in the first big wave of immigration, more than 100 years ago. The Center is located near the Fore River Shipyard in a neighborhood called Quincy Point, where two generations of founding families had lived since the turn of the 20th Century.
On the right side, as you step further into the foyer, there is a large, square wooden plaque on the wall that features the names of nearly one hundred donor members engraved on rectangular brass plates. These are people who came to the United States in the second big wave of immigration (1965). They were also pioneers in many respects, initiating Islamic educational programs, donating generously to support the Center, mitigating its financial burdens, enabling it growth, and continuing the work of building an Islamic community in America, one family at a time.
Walking through the foyer, the stairs to the prayer room are just to the left. Up the stairs, as you enter the prayer space there is nothing to see except a large room with wall-to-wall oriental rugs. There are no tables or chairs and no religious symbols or icons. There are only verses from the Qur’an, artfully drawn in calligraphy, framed and hung on the walls. At the front of the room, pointing east, there is a niche in the wall, with a small prayer rug for the leader of the prayers (the imam). At prayer times, the Muslims stand as one united group behind the imam to worship the one God. Their lines are straight, like the teeth of a comb, and the colorful rows of people fill the prayer room.
This history will show that the eight Lebanese founding families wanted to establish their religious identity in America because it would provide a stronger American identity for their children. They wanted their house of worship to take its place on the landscape, equal to the churches and synagogues in America.
In later years, the mosque attracted Muslims from all over the world. With the coming of the new pioneering families (from 1960s on), the dream of building a community changed. The families who joined the Center in these next few, earlier decades dreamed of a mosque where they could raise their children as practicing Muslims, who would grow up to contribute to American society.
Diversity is one of the greatest features of the American Muslim community. The community in Quincy has long been diverse, like a mini United Nations, with people from more than 35 countries of different cultures, races, ethnicities, genders, socio and educational backgrounds, and differing views on religion. Diversity is challenging for any community. But diversity is valued in Islam, as stated by the Prophet of Islam, Mohamed.
The Muslim community has set the bar high for the challenges they normally face. Despite the extreme diversity, the positive fact that Islamic and American values overlap, forms a unifying tie. Members are motivated to strike a balance within the diverse community, to remain united, and demonstrate that they practice the values of equality and democracy.
This is the story of a handful of Muslims from Quincy and how they founded the first-ever institution of its kind, in one of the most celebrated cities in the country, the City of Presidents. As a member of two of the eight founding families, my narrative covers three generations of Muslims in six decades, from 1931 to 1991. In addition, I have been privileged to learn and report on the back story, which begins at the turn of the 20th Century, when the first generation of founding families landed at Ellis Island, New York. In the conclusion, there is a summary of the dynamic changes that have occurred within the Muslim community in Greater Boston, over more than 100 years.
THE IMMIGRANT GENERATION
Reasons for Migration
At the turn of the 20th Century, many of the Muslims in the first, big wave of immigrants to the United States came from Syria, which at the time was still part of the Ottoman Empire. At the time, the eight “Lebanese” founding families came from the areas north of Tripoli in Mount Lebanon, and east in the Bekka Valley. By the 1920s, while the immigrants were living in this country, these same areas would become part of a new country known as Lebanon. This was a French colonial mandate, separating Mount Lebanon and the valley from Syria. Of course, Syria never recognized this border change and continued to consider Mount Lebanon as a part of Syria.
Back then, ethnic identity was a source of much confusion for Americans. At Ellis Island, for instance, the registration records stated that the country of origin of these millions of immigrants who were from Syria was Turkey, and their ethnic identity was “Turkish.” Technically, they were citizens of the Ottoman Turkish Empire, with no mention of Syria or Mount Lebanon.
Significantly, in the late 19th Century, it was the Ottoman Turks who were the reason why many people in the Middle East decided to leave and come to America. In Syria for example, the Turks would periodically swoop down on the villages, round up the young men, and consign them to military service in order to quash uprisings against the Ottoman Empire. In a taped interview, my grandfather explained that he had six uncles who went to fight in Yemen where there was an uprising at the time, but none of them ever returned.
Historian George Antonius explains that the practice of recruiting troops from Syria to re-conquer the Arabs of Yemen and introduced in 1880, “opened a long and costly chapter of enmity between Turk and Arab.” The recruitment continued in spite of protests in Beirut. The Yemenese revolted in 1903 and again in 1911, ultimately forcing the Turks into a compromise.  Modern-day Turks refer to Yemen as “Turkey’s Vietnam.”
At the age of twenty-two, one of the founders, Mohammed Omar, told his father that he had no heart “to shoot anyone.” Dodging the violence he found so odious, he joined the first wave of immigrants bound for America, in the years between 1875 and 1914. With his father’s blessings, Omar left his village (Imreen) in the mountainous area north of Tripoli for the Greek port, Patras, where he waited for 15 days until the Martha Washington sailed into port, bound for Ellis Island, New York.
In the interview I conducted with Omar, he described the harrowing voyage taken in 1914. After being at sea for several days, the ship had suddenly extinguished all lights and continued its voyage silently for weeks in complete darkness. It was frightening for passengers to be literally and figuratively kept in the dark, and have no idea of what was happening. Luckily, Omar had met a Syrian woman travelling alone on the crossing. He had taken care of her when she became seasick. She understood English and explained to Omar that the blackout was necessary because Germany had just declared war and the waters were unsafe. The ominous blackout lasted until they reached Ellis Island. It was also the last voyage of the Martha Washington, until the end of World War I.
In his interview, Omar also described what it was like when he landed at Ellis Island. It was mandatory for all passengers to take two tests: physical and mental. He knew in advance that there would be a physical exam, and he passed it with no problem. But the mental test was unexpected and was his biggest concern. He said, “How could I pass a mental test when I can’t speak one word of English?” But, as it turned out, the mental test was merely a wooden puzzle of a horse, something you might give to a child. Omar was seated in a room and presented with the pieces of a puzzle. Wordlessly, he put it together quickly and was released into the wilderness of America.
After seeing one of the wooden puzzles exhibited in an immigration museum in Boston, I did some research on the Ellis Island website and discovered that it was a new approach for mental testing, devised by Howard Andrew Knox, a physician employed by the U.S. Public Health Service at the Ellis Island immigration station during the 1910s. According to the book, Howard Andrew Knox: Pioneer of Intelligence Testing at Ellis Island, by John T. E. Richardson (Columbia University Press, 2011), nonverbal intelligence tests were invented in the early 1900s to facilitate psychological testing of non-English-speaking immigrants. They required absolutely no verbal responses from subjects. Knox included the wooden puzzle (which Knox referred to as the “moron” test) among his tests. He published the wooden puzzle test in 1914, and Omar was one of the first immigrants to be tested that way.
The Quincy Neighborhood
Most of the eight Lebanese families who emigrated from Lebanon and helped found the mosque met for the first time in the Quincy Point neighborhood where they settled. The families named in this history are the following: the Abrahams-Abdullah Abraham, 1895; Ameens- Mohammed Suliman Ameen, 1908; Derbes -Touffiq Hesine Derbes, 1909; Hassans -two brothers, Ishmael and Abduh, 1909. El-Deebs -Ali Muhammed El-Deeb, 1912; and the Allies -Selman Allie, 1913.
Before settling in Quincy in 1931, Omar had traversed the country in search of a decent job. His first job was in Detroit Michigan, working for Henry Ford. After a few years, he heard that they were hiring and training laborers to build ships at the Fore River Shipyard, which was owned by Bethlehem Steel and located in Quincy Point.
While in Detroit, Omar had married and had two children. He brought his family to live in the Quincy neighborhood, where he found a small group of Syrian immigrants, both Muslim and Christian, struggling economically to survive the Depression years. The Muslims were also frustrated by their inability to fulfill their Islamic obligations, such as praying in congregation, paying the zakah (annual obligatory charity), educating their children about their religion, or celebrating holidays together in a communal space.
The challenges this nascent community faced were overwhelming. Community development was paralyzed by the prevalence of illiteracy, poverty, the lack of any national religious support system, and the absence of any central Islamic authority. Omar observed that these poor conditions were eroding the fundamental religious identity of his neighbors and peers. He worried about the next generation and pushed for the group to get organized. Because he was one of only a few who was literate and had some knowledge (albeit self-taught) of the Qur’an, he was recognized early on, as a leader (imam) in the emerging community.
First Death in the Community
During this period, Omar made a personal friend of Dennis Sweeney, proprietor of Sweeney’s Funeral Home of Quincy (Elm Street) founded in 1917. During a previously taped interview, Omar told me the story of the first Muslim to die in the Quincy community. His name was Joseph Hassan, and he was accidentally killed by a trolley car during a blinding snowstorm in February in 1939. It was the first time Omar was asked to bury a Muslim, but as part of the Islamic tradition, he would need to wash the body.
Muslims, like Jews, are buried within 24 hours of death whenever possible. The ritual begins by washing the body, usually done by same gender, family, and friends. The body is then shrouded in white cloth and placed into a modest coffin (or no coffin at all). In congregation, the community prays funeral prayers (the junnaza prayer) for the deceased, and then, the imam (leader) recites a prayer at the graveside.
In 1939, there was no place to wash a body, no mosque to hold congregational prayers, and no Islamic cemetery where the deceased could be buried with his/her head facing east, towards Mecca. As a neighborly gesture, Mr. Sweeney allowed Omar to use his facility for the washing. After it was completed, Mr. Sweeney’s custom took over, as he worked to provide the deceased with a traditional Irish/American wake. He clothed the body and brought the coffin upstairs into the funeral “parlor” (Sweeney’s living room), so that family and friends could come to pay their respects. Having little choice in the matter, people of Omar’s immigrant generation came to tolerate the arrangement. But the next generation, the first American–born Muslims, fully appreciated and embraced the Irish/American wake, as it was the predominate “American” custom. For one thing, they had no former rituals to fall back on; and for another thing, all their friends who would pay their respects were Christians and Jews.
My research of this history led me to Sweeney’s Funeral Home on Elm Street in Quincy, to confirm this story of the first death in the community. I was shown into an office by Mr. Dennis Sweeney –the third generation Sweeney and grandnephew of the original proprietor. Mr. Sweeney opened a deep desk drawer that contained a number of small books, about 5 x 4 inches in size, each embossed with a year on the cover. In less than five minutes, I found the “1939” book, turned to the pages dated in February, and discovered the record of Mr. Joseph Hassan’s death, precisely as my grandfather had described it.
This first death marked the beginning of a relationship between Sweeney’s Funeral Home and the Muslim community that has lasted for more than three generations. Today, while the newer immigrants have established many places to wash their dead, there remains many first and second American-born Muslims in Quincy and surrounding areas who still consider this hybrid Irish/American Muslim wake their own tradition.
In Quincy, the pool of marriageable Muslims was small. Of the eight founding families in the immigrant generation, two men out of eight married outside their ethnic and religious group (marrying American Christians). Two went back to Lebanon to find a Muslim bride. One man was married before he left and later sent for his wife from Lebanon, and two men married Muslim women they met in America.
Regardless of the fact that two of the eight families were of the Shi’a tradition and six were Sunni Muslims, the immigrant generation were determined to preserve ethnic and religious traditions for the next generation, and moved beyond any notion of sectarian preferences. Thus, several marriages were arranged between them, and as a result, their offspring might have formed a new sect known as, “Sushis.”
Of the various first American–born Muslim marriages that took place in the Quincy neighborhood, the Ameens married the Abrahams and Hassans, the Abrahams married the Allies, the Abduh Hassans married the Derbes and the Omars, the El-Deebs married the Ismael Hassans, and the Ismael Hassan’s married the Abrahams. In one case, an Omar married his second cousin from the family clan, the Awads. But approximately half of this first American–born generation still married outside the faith. This went for both men and women.
In the second generation American-born, there were still no marriageable Muslims in the homogeneous community. In fact, there were only “semi-related” individuals, since almost everyone was the product of two families who had been interrelated by marriage. As a result, this generation predominantly married outside their religious and ethnic group. The effect was the dilution of traditions, on the road to extinction. It is noteworthy that the divorce rate is also the highest for this group, with at least one divorce in every family, and in some families more than one or two. In some cases, divorces occurred in marriages between American-born Muslims and immigrant Muslims who came from different countries of origin.
The Sons of Lebanon
The majority of Lebanese who settled in the Quincy Point neighborhood were Christians of the Melkite tradition. During the period between 1880 and 1925, almost ninety percent of the Arab immigrants to America were Christians from Mount Lebanon.  In an interview, one American-born Lebanese Christian said that his father came in 1909 as a teenager because economic conditions were bad. Najeem had relations in Boston who sponsored him. He found work and married a Lebanese Christian. He moved to Quincy for the “fresh country air.”
Most of the Lebanese immigrants, Christian and Muslim, met for the first time in Quincy. Being an ethnic minority in America, they forged strong social ties along ethnic, cultural and linguistic lines, to preserve the traditions of their life in Lebanon. For example, the Christians arranged marriages between families and tended to be as endogamous as the Muslims. Thus, no marriages between Christian Lebanese and Muslim Lebanese took place that I knew of. The Lebanese neighbors continued their tradition of joining in the celebration of each other’s religious holidays. Depending on the holiday, women would gather at one central home to share the arduous preparation of Syrian food to serve large numbers of people.
By the 1950s, while friendships between the Christian and Muslim Arabs remained strong, these beautiful traditions eventually died out. There were many reasons for this, though none should be construed as having to do with religious wars or prejudice. For example, when the Lebanese Christians formed religious ties with the Quincy Roman Catholic community and joined St. Joseph’s parish on Washington Street, they observed that the Roman Catholics in Quincy had no prior history of sharing holiday celebrations with the Muslims. Thus, the Lebanese Christians slowly began to celebrate their holidays in the manner that was accepted by the custom and wider community of Christians.
A Tale of Two Lebanons
Prior to the division of the Lebanese in Quincy, along the lines of religion, the Christian and Muslim neighbors shared the same values and a strong desire to preserve their history, language, and ethnicity. To that end, they were united in forming a social club they called, the Sons of Lebanon. Its purpose was to teach the children the Arabic language, help each other learn English, get together for special parties, collect funds for charity (to be sent overseas to the “old country”), and discuss common concerns, such as the international news.
But when it came time to select a flag for the club, the group couldn’t agree on which flag to use. The Christians wanted to use the “new” Lebanese flag that pictured the Cedars of Lebanon, the result of the French colonization and creation of Lebanon. The Muslims (a minority) wanted to use the “Arab Flag.” The flag’s colors of red, green, black, and white represented not a nation state, but rather, the wish for a revival of the Islamic Empire led by the Arabs. This was a dream that died hard for the Muslims, after the breakup of the Islamic Empire in 1924.
For the Muslim Arabs, the downfall of the Ottoman Turks in1924 was seen as an opportunity for the Arabs to take back the seat of the Empire and return to the days of glory (as in the 7th and 8th Centuries). Meanwhile, the Christian Arabs, who identified with the French Christians, had no desire to be ruled by the Muslims ever again. Whether the Muslims knew it or not, the fact was, the Empire was being divided up between Europe and Russia like a thanksgiving pie.
At this time in many parts of the world, two separate religious identities were emerging, and these were complicated by rivaling political/geographic loyalties. The history of Lebanon/Syria is complex, but only a brief analysis is necessary for the purpose of this narrative. Basically, there was a conflict over whether to call yourself “Lebanese” or “Arab.” The people in Quincy reflected the same divide that had gripped Greater Lebanon in the 1920’s and 30s, as a result of the dissolution of the Islamic Empire and the beginning of the French colonial mandate.Many powers had sought to rule the region of Mount Lebanon with its Christian enclaves, but Lebanon had always escaped overbearing tyranny of its internal affairs. Under Ottoman rule until 1924, Mount Lebanon’s Christian enclaves were considered a millah. A millah is defined as a “protected religious community,” with virtual autonomy in religious and social matters and a guarantee of religious freedom.  It was the Turkish/Islamic way of recognizing the status of religious minorities.
In the early 1920’s, under the League of Nations, the entire system in Lebanon was replaced by the French Mandate of Lebanon. The frontiers of Lebanon (which had been a part of Syria) were extended and appropriated by the Mandate from Syria. These included areas where my families had come from, in the cities of Tripoli and Beirut and the surrounding areas north and south, and in the east, in the Bekka Valley region of what was Syria.
Under French rule, the Lebanese Maronite Christians enjoyed a separation from the rest of the Arab World. They embraced a new sense of self-determination and a European (“Lebanese”) identity. The Muslims on the other hand were not so eager to embrace the new political and geographical reality. They viewed the alliance between the Christians and French as an obstacle to Arab unity.  Although the Christians had once sown the seeds of Arab nationalism (in the mid-19th century), they were no longer advocating for it by the turn of the century. A.H. Hourani explains the tension between the two faith traditions at the critical time when the Ottoman Empire was about to collapse in the early 1920s:
“For them (Lebanese Christians) the ideal in the political as in other spheres is that Lebanon should be self-subsistent, but if that is impossible they would wish her to be dependent upon a Christian European State [France] rather than be part of a Moslem Arab State. … Among some of the Christian minorities there is a further tendency to regard the West as their spiritual home, to which they can belong in a way in which they could never belong to the Arab-Islamic world to whose fringes they have so long clung …“
The basis for economic inequality between the Christians and Muslims had been determined long before the civil war in Lebanon (1970s). For example, when the French wanted to build a bank, school, railroad, or invest in an industry, the Christians became the preferred business partner. As the French built up the country, the Muslims increased in population, but not in the halls of power, nor in economic standing, because these were areas where they were strictly marginalized. Given this history, it could be argued that the civil war in Lebanon was a conflict between the haves and the have-nots, rather than a war based on religious differences, as some scholars and political pundits have claimed.
The vast majority of Lebanese in the first wave of immigration to the U.S. were unskilled and uneducated. Because of these handicaps, both Muslims and Christians made slow progress adjusting to American life. However, the religious orientation of the Lebanese Christians suggests that their integration into American society was easier than it was for the Muslims. For example, the Christians had several churches that provided them fundamental life support. As mentioned earlier, there was St. Joseph’s Church in Quincy, and there were two Eastern orthodox churches in Boston: Our Lady of the Cedars (Maronite) and Our Lady of the Annunciation (Melkite), both founded early in the 20th Century.
The Arab American Banner Society
Amidst growing concerns over the existing economic inequities that were rolling out in Lebanon, the Muslims observed that their Christian Lebanese neighbors were advancing rapidly in this society as well. They were being folded into the religious majority and gaining support from the churches, where members helped them to find jobs, homes, learn English, and get an education. The Muslims, on the other hand, had no mosque or community to support them.
This motivated the Muslims to form their own social club and charitable organization, the Arab American Banner Society. Living in a meritorious American society, and being aware of the opportunities, the Muslim leadership increased their numbers by aligning themselves with other Arabic-speaking Muslims who lived in Boston. They asked Omar’s American Protestant wife from Nebraska, Genevieve, to hand-sew an “Arab” flag for the club. The banner was white satin with gold fringe, red embroidered writing, with an embroidered green scale under which were two gold crossed swords with black handles. The words read: “Arab American Banner Society, Quincy, 1934.”
Since none of the original members of the Society were still alive to explain the choice of the name, I asked one historian in the Quincy community and originally from Lebanon to speculate. According to Talal Eid, the Arab Banner or “Ar-Raya Arabiyya,” was popular after the downfall of the Ottomans. The crossed swords were a common emblem of the Arab-ruled Islamic Empire and a harkening back to the days of glory.
On November 9, 1937, under the provisions of the Business Corporation Law of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, the club’s charter was submitted to the state. Charter members included: Eassa Ali, Mohamed Omar, Toffee Derbes, Joseph Hassan, Fauthal (Fadl) Hassan, Ali El-Deeb, Mohamed Kerdy, Mohamed Mohriez, Mohammed Kedar, and Aziz Abraham. 
Fadl Hassan and Aziz Abraham were American-born founding members. They signed the charter because state law required signatures of at least two citizens. The other signers were immigrants from Syria/Lebanon, except for Eassa Ali (the first president of the club) who was from Palestine, and Mohamed Mohriez from Yemen. Joseph Hassan, who was mentioned earlier as the first death in the community (1939), was also a signature.
Significantly, the Society’s constitution of 1937 made no references to religion. Rather, the language of Arab nationalism dominated the constitution. Abdullah Abraham, the eldest founder, enlisted a Christian Lebanese lawyer to assist in the wording.  The following excerpts from the first constitution reflect the group’s pining for a national and ethnic identity:
Article II Section I: “The privilege of membership was extended to all those who desire independence for the Arab countries.”
Article I Section 2: “The purpose of the Society shall be the preservation of the racial identity among the Arabs in the United States and its development in accordance with the highest principles and traditions of American life and education; and to aid the Arabic countries in the fields of politics, education, and economics.”
Evidencing the possibility of integrating Arab/Islamic and American values, Article V Section 3 states:
“The Society shall endeavor to conduct a school to teach the Arabic language and to educate our youths in the fundamentals of American Democracy.”
(Article IX): “The Oath of Fidelity: I solemnly swear in the name of God, patriotism and my honor to bear true loyalty, faith and fidelity to the Arab American Banner Society…” 
In 1937, the Society purchased a house from strangers that was badly in need of repairs, located at 470 South Street (the current address of the Quincy Center). The immigrants gathered there after work in the Shipyard, to socialize, discuss the international news, and listen to recitations of the Qur’an, or original poetry about the life of the Prophet Mohammad.
The meetings of the Arab-American Banner Society were also held at various venues, such as the Fore River Club and at Ma’s Lunch on Winter Street in Quincy Point. Meetings were the main activities of the founding families from 1937 until 1952, and each meeting required members to donate one dollar dues for the mosque. There were small fundraising activities, but the biggest fundraiser was the annual muharrajan (picnic), held every summer outside at a local park in Braintree. Most of the money raised (approximately $2000) was donated as zakat for overseas charities. Despite Omar’s objections, a smaller amount was set aside for building a mosque.
In summary, the earliest efforts of the Christian and Muslim immigrant generation living in Quincy to preserve their ethnic identity, language, and culture, reflect an experience shared by many immigrants when they first arrive in America. For a time, neighborhood bonds strengthened ethnic identity and assuaged feelings of alienation. But in the face of increasing challenges for the immigrants and their growing families to survive, the benefits of full social integration favored religious ties over ethnic ones.
The Christians and Muslims formed separate social organizations, which were the precursors to reclaim their religious identity. Significantly, in the next few decades and especially in the post WWII Era, having a religious identity and a physical “church” would become one of the defining characteristics of what it meant to be an “American.” During the Second World War, frustrated by waning interest, the founders allowed their social club and fundraising activities to die out.
World War II Heroes and Heroines
When the war broke out, the Muslim immigrants, like other Americans, sent their young sons to fight in WWII. There were service men from every one of the 7 founding families, in that war and every war that followed. Even the Muslim women served the country. There was Elizabeth “Betty” Ameen (Marine Corp., PFC, 1944-1947), and Zaida Hassan, who served in the Navy Reserves. But one man in the group came home with the Purple Heart for courage under fire: Mr. Omar’s son, my uncle, John Omar.
John enlisted in the Army Air Corps (1943-1945) after graduating with honors from Quincy High School in 1943. He became top turret gunner and flight engineer for a B-24 Liberator dubbed by the crew, “She’s Our Gal,” and he was assigned to the 8th Air Force, 382nd Bomb Squadron, 491st Bomb Group, stationed in Pickingham Air Field in Norfolk, England.
The crew had a couple of close calls during the training program, including a difficult landing that broke the nose wheel. Another time the hydraulics failed prompting a call from the pilot to “Omar” (the crew’s nickname for him) to manually crank down the landing gear so they could make an emergency landing. The plane landed without the brakes and skidded to within a few feet from the end of the runway.
During the Battle of the Bulge, a heavy snowstorm at the start of one mission caused their plane to crash shortly after takeoff. Eleven of the 500-pound bombs aboard were jettisoned into a field below. When the plane hit the ground, the 12th bomb came crashing through the cockpit bulkhead with its nose a few feet from Omar’s back. Moments after they crashed, Omar heard the pilot screaming for help and was able to help free the pilot from the burning wreckage so that they could both quickly escape from the plane in case of an explosion.
In a mission to Magdeburg Germany, they encountered a heavy barrage of anti-aircraft flak as they were approaching the target. They lost the #3 engine and the rudder cable was severed. Because the hydraulics system was damaged, they could not open the bomb bay doors to release the bombs.
Omar disconnected his heated flight suit and straddled a 9″ catwalk that ran from the cockpit to the waste door to reach the cranks that opened the bomb bay doors. In 42 below zero temperatures, clinging precariously to the struts in the catwalk-the only thing between him and the earth below, Omar manually cranked open the doors so that the bombs could be released. While he was performing this task, shrapnel wounded him in his right foot.
Once the bombs were released, he then turned his attention to repairing the severed cables so that the plane could be turned around. With the #3 engine out, the plane kept losing altitude as they were leaving Germany. A “May Day” call was sent out and someone gave the pilot a heading. Miraculously they made the landing on a very short runway with no gas showing in the tanks. The plane fuselage had been hit 44 times. For his courageous actions in that mission, Sgt. Omar was awarded the Purple Heart. He flew a total of 29 missions, and then, the war ended. John came home, married, and became a crackerjack mechanic, and ultimately, the owner of Omar’s Garage in Quincy.
Many of the young men in the eight founding families enlisted, including Sam Hassan and his brothers. The Ameens had two daughters who joined the Navy. Jimmy Abraham joined the Army and went to Italy. Those who stayed home were devoted to the civilian war effort. For example, the workers built warships at the Fore River Shipyard. The Quincy Point area near the Shipyard was a diverse neighborhood− at Ma’s Restaurant on Winter Street, established by the Ismael Hassan family, the neighbors and workers from the Shipyard came together to eat.
THE AMERICAN-BORN GENERATION
The Post War Years
After the war, the first American-born generation re-activated the Arab American Banner Society. The founders of this next generation were more educated than their parents, took up professions, and started businesses, enjoying increased economic and social status. This is a typical experience of “second” generation Americans. For example, the Abduh Hassan’s operated a parking lot in the neighborhood for the Shipyard workers. A few of the Hassan brothers learned the trade of auto mechanic and would eventually start their own automobile franchise, selling cars on Washington Street in Quincy.
Fatima Allie became an elementary school teacher and eventually principal of the Squantum Elementary School in Quincy. Aziz Abraham trained to be an accountant. Like other immigrants and first generation Americans of the 20th Century, the Lebanese were motivated by sheer pride to succeed. Their success became their love of America and America loved them for their success. It all worked perfectly together to make them good citizens, good neighbors, and in some cases, wealthy Americans.
The only thing that remained seemingly beyond their reach was the dream to build a mosque. Many years had elapsed, but the desire to build had not diminished. In fact, it was becoming more urgent. This generation was raising families of their own, and they wanted their religion to be acknowledged as a part of America’s religious community, so that their children would have the full experience of being “American.” In the same way that churches and synagogues were part of the American landscape, building a mosque would make them feel as equal Americans.
They wanted to build the mosque, no less than their parents, but for different reasons. Unlike their parents, the first American-born Muslims were more distant from their roots. They did not visit Lebanon, nor did they converse in Arabic, except among themselves infrequently. They didn’t know how to read the Qur’an very well, even though as children, their parents had teachers make them memorize the Qur’an after school. But they were never taught how to interpret or understand the Qur’an. With the exception of one founder (Mr. Sam Hassan), none in this generation had ever been inside a mosque. Sam had visited the grand mosque in Washington DC while he was in the Navy. It was built in the late 1940s, during the term of President Harry S. Truman for Muslim diplomats, and dedicated in 1957 by President Eisenhower.
Once this generation of founders left their parent’s home and moved their own families away from the Quincy neighborhood to surrounding towns, their religious “center” was permanently altered. After the scattering and within the context of mixed marriages and a religious majority society, many would discontinue religious practice in favor of total assimilation, even though they still identified as Muslims.
Paradoxically, the further they assimilated the more sensitive they became to the social and spiritual deficits that they feared their children were suffering. One first American-born founder (and executive officer) explained:
“I think this generation wanted to relate to a church. When people asked us what church do you go to? It would be embarrassing to say, `we don’t have a church.’ The kids would come home and say to their parents: `How come we don’t have a church?’” 
If their children were feeling inferior to their friends who went to church, it motivated them. While their immigrant parents had managed somehow to give them a sense of heritage, community, and pride, the first American-born founders realized that their own children were cut off from their roots. They hadn’t taught them Arabic, and with no religious education, or community of young Muslims to meet, mentor or marry, they wondered seriously about the fate of the next generation. Would they be “too American?”
Undaunted by the magnitude of financial barriers, the first American-born founders resolved to reunite the founding families and form an ethno-religious community that would reinvigorate the dream of building a mosque. In the background, there was a quiet man who had never given up that dream, Hajj Mohammad Omar. He was there to support the next generation in their quest to build a mosque; for as it often happens, people of different generations feel as strongly about the same goal, but aspire for different reasons.
The Surge of the Arab American Banner Society
In 1952, the founders in both generations reorganized the Arab American Banner Society with newly elected officers. Regular meetings resumed twice a month, with an average of 6-12 members in attendance. Members paid $1.00 each. Congregational prayers, holiday and funeral prayers were held in private homes, at the “clubhouse,” or at Ma’s Restaurant. Oftentimes, these gatherings were followed by informal religious lessons, evidencing a new level of interest in religion. 
In the pre-building phase, from 1957-1963, the core community leaders worked hard to raise money and draw attention to their group. For example, the Arabic secretary Mr. Omar promoted the Society in two Arabic/English newspapers circulating in America: As-Sameer, a daily Arabic newspaper and the “largest in the New World, Est. 1929, Brooklyn, New York;” and Nahdat Al-Arab, of Detroit, Michigan.  The publicity about the group building the “first mosque in New England” generated donations from organizations, such as the American Moslem Society of Dearborn, Michigan (1963). It attracted famous scholars, such as Ahmed Sakr and Mahmoud Ayoub. And it caught the attention of dignitaries from Kuwait, Sudan, and the United Arab Republic (the brief political union −1958-1961− between Egypt and Syria).
As part of their religious obligation, the Arab American Banner Society made charitable contributions globally, to victims of the floods in Bangladesh and Jordan, earthquakes in Iran, and a tornado in Pakistan. In 1957, in response to the Sinai War, the Society donated $1500 to displaced Egyptian refugees and orphans. After receipt of that donation, Gamal Abd al-Nasir, the President of Egypt, sent a letter of thanks (Islamic Center Archives, Secretary’s Minutes, Decade Files, 1957-1963).
In 1961, King Saud came to Boston for an eye operation. The Massachusetts State Legislature invited the Society to send representatives to the King’s State House reception. Later, during the King’s recuperation, members paid him a visit in the hospital. Mohammad Omar wrote a poem for the occasion, and the King asked him to read it aloud. Holiday cards were exchanged in the upcoming holidays. In February of 1962, King Saud donated $5000 to the Society for the mosque.  The King’s donation was the first substantial donation they had ever received.
Meanwhile, the first American-born generation had become established over the years in business, professions, and trades, and they relied, more than ever, on the non-Muslim, majority community for donations. With so few Muslims in the area, the founders regarded the non-Muslim community as essential for the survival of their dream. They accepted donations from their friends, business associates, customers, lawyers, doctors, priests, rabbis, and neighbors. Through these alliances and transactions with Christians and Jews, the founders were encouraged to seek advice about administrating an institution, the laws involved, and the fundraising activities. They proceeded to organize activities, such as picnics, raffles, auctions, dances, whist (card game) parties, rummage sales, toy sales, and cosmetic sales. Naturally, they invited their friends and donors to enjoy and participate in these public events. They also attended fundraising events held by the Sons of Lebanon; they even formed a bowling team to play in an interfaith league.
For decades, the Society’s annual summer picnic (maharrajan) was their largest fundraiser. It had evolved out of ethnic ties and focused on food, music, and dancing. The outdoor venue in the park drew all types of people, from the local Italians and Greeks, to the Christian Arabs and other Middle Eastern people, including the Turks, who lived northwest of Boston and came by bus every year with families and friends. They traveled from distant locations for a chance to congregate annually, and they pledged money towards the mosque. For many years, the money raised was placed in the zakat fund, to be distributed every year to charities, something obligatory in Islam. But when the first American-born generation wanted to set aside some of the funds to build the mosque, the immigrant generation objected. Was the building fund considered a charity? No one had enough Islamic knowledge to know the answer. Thus, the question became a bone of contention between the generations.
Profiles of Leadership
By the early 1960s, the core group of founders was a united community with a committed leadership that spanned two generations. But with no other Muslims to mentor and no mosque to model, the American Muslims often felt, as one founder put it, “We were working towards something invisible.”
In the immigrant generation, Omar was self-taught, but more knowledgeable than his peers in religious history, law, and the Qur’an. When asked where he studied, he used to say, “I studied under my walnut tree [in Lebanon].”  He took guarded pleasure in his limited knowledge, but seemed impatient to learn more.
Even before there was a mosque, the community designated Omar as their leader (imam), because of his abilities and willingness to serve. Although disposed to humility and modesty, Omar rose to the occasion to meet the needs of his community. In his role, he was expected to site the moon, in order to announce the beginning and end of Ramadan; counsel and perform marriages; wash the dead and pray at burials; and read and write correspondence in Arabic, for letters sent back and forth to the “old” country. After the mosque was built, Mr. Omar continued to serve as the first imam until 1982. Before he died in 1987, he was well into his 90s.
Among the first American-born generation, there were a few visionaries who were also willing to serve the community. For example, founding member Aziz Abraham served as president of the Arab American Banner Society for many years during the 1950s; and he was president of the Islamic Center’s Board of Directors for at least nine years.
Much later in his life, Aziz made the pilgrimage to Mecca and became a Hajj. Socially sophisticated, persevering, smart, successful, and easy going, Mr. Abraham was an accountant by profession, trusted and liked by everyone, no matter their religion. He also excelled in diplomacy, and prided himself on being politically savvy, as well, and he understood the workings of the “old boy” society of American politics. Thus, for the sake of his community, he was present for every important political activity at the State House, and he made certain to secure an invitation each year to the inauguration of the Mayor of Quincy and the City Council.  More importantly, Abraham kept the community meetings on track and helped preserve relationships, especially during the endless heated disagreements. He could be counted on to playfully diffuse an argument between members, before relationships were damaged.
Another long-time leader and pillar of the community was founding member Sam Hassan. An early proponent of interfaith activities, Sam made news in the local Quincy Patriot Ledger for attending an event called, “Meet Our Neighbor Night,” organized by the Congregation Adas Shalom brotherhood in Quincy (around 1966). The main speaker was Lt. Governor Francis W. Sargent whose speech was entitled, “Brotherhood and Public Service.”  One old friend, a Christian Lebanese man, eulogizing Sam at his funeral, described him as a person who had the faith of Abraham, the wisdom of Moses, and the love of Jesus.
Sam Hassan was president of the Board of Directors of the Center for nine years and treasurer for six years, alternating with Mr. Abraham. He was a strong leader, so well-respected and trusted within the community, that only he could successfully unite and uplift the core group of founders who were often discouraged and mired in disagreements. It was Sam Hassan who held steadfast to the goal of building a mosque, and those who cared as much as he did, held steadfast to him.
Another founding member who was active from the beginning with the Arab American Banner Society was Ms. Fatima Allie. Ms. Allie was a teacher and administrator for many years, until she was appointed the principal of the Squantum Elementary School in Quincy. She served the nascent Muslim community as treasurer for ten years and secretary for ten years. Ms. Allie’s copious notes and meticulous records included the earliest treasury reports, minutes of the earliest meetings held at Ma’s Lunch, minutes of the first Board meetings at the Center, and details of the Society’s and the Center’s By-laws and Constitutions. After she retired from her profession as principal in the early 1990s, Ms. Allie initiated and presided over the first full-time Islamic school in the Quincy mosque and also in its location in Sharon, MA.
Fatima Allie was respected for her intelligence, educational knowledge, and especially her implementation of the Robert’s Rules of Order, which held sway at business meetings when emotions ran high. But it was more than Ms. Allie’s professionalism that contributed to the growth of the community into a religious institution. It was her nurturing nature and strong will. Without her dedication and precise record keeping, this groundbreaking history would not have been possible to write.
To Build or Not to Build
In 1961, the founders had reached an impasse: Should they build a new building or buy an already existing one? Should they start to build using what little money they had saved, or wait and save enough money to finance the whole project? After long hours of debate, they reached an ambitious decision to level the clubhouse at 470 South Street and use the land to build a new building. At the time, they had saved $5000. 
The challenges they faced the following year cannot be underestimated. Strapped financially, isolated from all other Muslim communities, and hindered by disagreements, the founders finally agreed to hire a friend and renowned local architect, Joseph Donahue, to design the building. Mr. Donahue was the architect who built the Quincy City Hospital and the Quincy Court House. Mr. Abraham consulted another friend, Dimitri Homsy, to study the constitution and by-laws of the Arab American Banner Society. Mr. Homsy (who donated his services) was a Christian Arab, lawyer, and member of the original Sons of Lebanon. He returned that a new corporation would have to be formed for the mosque building, with new by-laws and a constitution.
In keeping with Mr. Abraham’s grand vision, it was decided to name the mosque the Islamic Center of New England. It was organized administratively along the lines of the churches and synagogues, with a Board of eight directors, four officers, and a Religious Director or Imam (Omar). Its meetings were conducted according to Robert’s Rules of Order. As a side note, scholars estimated that at this time, there were only about three or four mosques built in the entire U.S. 
The Society’s fundraising efforts gained momentum, and by March 1963 the bank balance had risen to nearly $20,000, as the result of pledges and donations, with a membership of 44 people,  Due to the size of the contractor’s bid and a revised higher cost of the building ($50,000), the idea of taking out a small mortgage came up, but was resisted because of the interest (riba), something forbidden in Islam. In his role as imam, Omar would try to steer the group clear of what was forbidden in Islam. However, when the work started on the building in the spring of 1963,  the first American-born founders were under pressure to make payments promised to the contractor. The members reluctantly agreed to take out a mortgage in the exact amount that was owed to the contractor at the time (approx. $10,000). By February 1964, the work was completed.
As reported by the Patriot Ledger, the list of guests invited to the building dedication ceremony in October 18, 1964 included Mayor Amelio Della Chiesa, President Aziz Abraham, the Lebanese Consul of Boston, Ambassador from the United Arab Republic, several Imams from Detroit, the Reverend Philip Muth of the Quincy Council of Churches, and the Director of the Islamic Associations of the United States and Canada. The main speaker was Sheik Mohamad Jawad Chirri, Director of the Islamic Center of Detroit, Michigan.  After the ceremony, the pressing goal for the founders was to pay off the mortgage as soon as possible.
The Center Of Attention
Almost immediately, the Center was inundated with requests for financial aid from other Islamic groups in the country trying to build a mosque, including Springfield, Lowell, Boston, and as far away as Houston. Traveling to New Jersey and Connecticut, the leaders of the Center at the time, Sam Hassan and Aziz Abraham, gave speeches about how to build a mosque in America.
Seeking further support for the new mosque, Mr. Abraham reached out to the few Islamic organizations that existed in America. The Center joined the Federation of Islamic Associations in the U.S. and Canada (FIA). From 1963-1981, the Board sent delegates to the annual FIA convention.  The FIA, founded in 1952 by Lebanese Americans from Cedar Rapids, Iowa, consisted of nearly 220 Muslim-related groups throughout the country.  The FIA kept the Muslims abreast of the growth of Islam in America, sponsored Youth Camps, established full-time accredited schools, and monitored the media.
Mr. Dawud Assad, president of the FIA from 1975-1977, relied heavily on the membership of groups like the Islamic Center of New England. He befriended Sam Hassan and the two of them served as first and second vice presidents of FIA in 1967. When Mr. Assad was president in 1977, Mr. Abraham became treasurer of the FIA. Mr. Assad’s relationship with the Quincy group culminated years later, when he was Director of the Muslim World League (MWL), a non-governmental organization representing nearly 50 Muslim countries at the United Nations, funded by Saudi Arabia. Each year, the MWL sponsored trained imams for Islamic organizations in the U.S. and Canada, and paid the mosque a small stipend to support the imam. During this period, it had sponsored 22 full-time imams in the U.S. and 11 in Canada.  Mr. Assad would eventually direct his friends toward the leader he thought would serve the community best.
Meanwhile, the founding families brought their children to the new mosque. The initial programs were centered around American traditions and holidays, but with an Islamic component. For example, on May 2, 1965, to celebrate the Islamic New Year, children were given May baskets (May Day is celebrated in America on May 1st). On Memorial Day that same year, the Center held funeral (junnaza) prayers for all its deceased members. Halloween parties and Record Hops were organized with the hope of re-capturing the interest of the teenagers. 
Sadly, efforts to interest the young people in Islam, in the mosque, or in each other failed completely. For the young American Muslims of my generation, the community was small and held no prospective marriage partners. Given that most members of the tiny congregation were related in some fashion, the youth rejected any notion of an arranged marriage or marriage to a distant relative, viewing it as “unhealthy” and “un-American.” On the other hand, interfaith and interethnic marriages were easily within reach. Moreover, by the mid-1960s, the culture had transitioned into a “countercultural” movement that rejected the “establishment,” especially organized religion. The younger generation of the 1960s fled the churches and synagogues, without looking back.
Influence of the Muslim Students
During the 1960s, ushering in the next big wave of immigrants to America, Muslim students entered the U.S. to study at colleges and universities. They brought with them or had at their disposal, new Islamic materials translated into English for the first time.  The newly formed Muslim Student Association (MSA-1963) published educational books and pamphlets written by Muslim scholars for English speaking people and distributed them freely in America and Canada. All of which was funded by Saudi petro dollars. The Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) in Indianapolis, IN, currently one of the largest Islamic organizations in the U.S. and Canada, evolved out of the MSA.
The Quincy group joined the MSA the same year it was founded. At this time, the Muslim students came to Quincy to organize community events, such as holiday celebrations (Eids), Friday prayers, and the Prophet Muhammad’s birthday celebrations (Mawlid an-Nabi). They helped collect the payment of zakat-ul-fitr (obligatory charity paid at the end of the holy month of Ramadan), and taught Arabic prayers to adults and children, using phonetics.  The books and pamphlets they supplied seemed legitimate publications from authoritative sources (scholars) in the Middle East and India, and these were received eagerly by the American Muslims. The founders and leaders I interviewed agreed that the Muslim students encouraged learning, and that the increased knowledge had deepened their faith.
With the leadership advertising in local papers, airports and hotels, more and more Muslims flocked to the Center, and the membership tripled from 1964-1974. The Quincy community had become a diverse mixture of transient and permanent immigrants who hailed from more than 25 different countries. Many indigenous African American Muslims living in Boston in the 1960s, and were converts to mainstream Islam, played an important role in the development of the Quincy mosque. Drawn to the Center and emerging as leaders, they included Imam Abdul Faaruuq, leader of the Mosque for the Praising of Allah, and Imam Taalib, leader of the Masjid Al Qur’an in Dorchester.
One of the earliest examples of a great leader was Imam Shakir Mahmoud, who converted to Islam in 1964. Shakir Mahmoud was one of the first imams to follow Wallace Deen Muhammad in the late 1970s, when Wallace Deen broke away from the “Black Muslim” organization started by his father, Elijah Muhammad, known as the Nation of Islam.
When Shakir Mahmoud was younger, he admitted being caught up in the racial unrest of the times, a central issue of the 1960s countercultural revolution. With some reservations, he had been closely observed the response of Elijah Muhammad’s organization. Of particular interest to him was a certain member, Malcolm X, who he had known from Boston since 1953.
Shakir Mahmoud was influenced by the life of Malcolm X (Abdul Malik al-Shabazz). He followed his transformation after the famous pilgrimage to Mecca, his split with the Nation, and ultimate assassination in February 1965. Shakir’s decision in the 1970s to learn more about “orthodox” Islam led him to Quincy, and in 1973, he became a member. He first heard about the group of Muslims in Quincy in 1961, after reading in the newspaper that King Saud had donated $5000 to the building fund. Shakir was elected to the Board of Directors and served from 1977-1978. He also served in many education-related activities.
Meanwhile, after the death of Elijah Muhammad in 1975, Wallace Deen Muhammad began the difficult process of dismantling the Nation and introducing the basics of mainstream Islam to its 20,000 followers.  It was then that Shakir renewed his relationship with Wallace Deen, meeting him in Chicago and telling him about his involvement with the Quincy mosque. Wallace Deen was impressed by Shakir’s knowledge, learned in part in the Quincy community.
In 1976, Imam Wallace Deen (who changed his name to “Warith Deen” in 1980), realizing his need for capable leadership, asked Shakir Mahmoud to go to Temple #11 in Boston (once assigned to Malcolm X and named, “Muhammad’s mosque #11”) and teach. In 1977, Shakir was elected by the community as the Imam. In 1985, the name of the Temple was changed to the Masjid al-Qur’an. Imam Mahmoud followed W.D. into the “mainstream” of Islamic practice and became the first Imam of the Masjid al-Qur’an in Dorchester (Boston).
Under his leadership, the mosque constitution was rewritten to establish a Board of seven permanent members, with Shakir as president and Imam. The Masjid al-Qur’an was a core member of the Islamic Council.  It also had a full-time Muslim school, the Sister Clara Muhammad School, founded in the early 80s and sponsored by the American Muslim Mission, which was founded by Warith Deen Muhammed.
Initially, the community in Dorchester was comprised of approximately 95% African-American converts. But in later years, Imam Shakir called it a “rainbow community,” because Muslims from many countries had joined. By the early 1990s, the core community had about 25 active families, mostly professionals, about 25% blue-collar workers, and many Muslim students from all over the world. Imam Mahmoud’s khutbat often related to the American cultural milieu and warned of the effects on the community of moral or social decay. To counter this threat, he advocated for his members to adopt strong Islamic values. For many years, Imam Mahmoud (d.) was also the part-time chaplain at two prisons in the area.
Another prominent African-American leader drawn to Quincy was Hajj Abu Nuri (AKA Thomas Ross). His initial connection to the Center came through the Harvard Islamic Society, which he helped organize in 1958, with two other students: Syed Nadwi (Pakistan) and Ahmed Osman (Sudan). Initially, it was Abu Nuri who formed the relationship between Harvard and the Center, though the other students also became members of the Center in the 1960s.  It is interesting to note that Ahmed Osman volunteered to wash and pray over Malcolm X, after his assassination in 1965. Osman’s volunteering was considered a brave gesture, given the odious violence of Malcolm’s death.
Raised in the Boston area, Abu Nuri (an award-winning ice skater) had converted to Islam while serving in the army in 1940. He was an active member of the Center for many decades, beginning in 1965. Hajj Abu Nuri served as Vice President in 1973 and on the Board of Directors from 1978 to 1982. He also initiated and helped edit the Center’s newsletter for more than seven years.
In his interview, Hajj Abu Nuri stated that the Muslim students had a more “provincial” interpretation of Islam. He recognized in the students, who were transients for the most part, a propensity for isolation, and a wary reaction to mainstream American culture. They sought to safeguard what they deemed to be “a purely Islamic” life. The definition of “a purely Islamic” life, he maintained, depended on “cultural influences.” He also maintained that their basic interpretation of Islamic concepts was inseparable from their particular Islamic culture, and the historical influence of their country of origin. In the case of the Muslim students, these influences generally stemmed from conservative Islamic countries in the Gulf region, such as Saudi Arabia, and also in areas of Pakistan.
He contrasted his own interpretations of Islam, which were informed by the values and ideals he treasured most in America: pluralism, the equality of man, and the universality of God. Hajj Abu Nuri actively worked to shape Islam in America, by promoting assimilation over isolation. He often repeated this advice, which I paraphrase: If you want others to learn about Islam, you have to mix with them and “drop the seed.”
In another interview, Dr. Imam Talal Eid (Religious Director, ICNE, 1982- 2005) stated that the religious educational background of the Muslim students was an asset to the community. He made a distinction, however, between those who were planning to live permanently in the U.S. and those who were living in the U.S. temporarily. Temporary residence gave the Muslim students a different perspective of life in a non-Muslim society. He also observed that from this perspective, they were critical of the practical choices and/or adjustments made by indigenous or permanent residence Muslims. For example, one Muslim student, living temporarily in Boston with his family, stated that any “good” Muslim would never put his child in public school, because public school did not teach “the high standards of Islamic ethics and morality.” While agreeing in principle, the Religious Director responded pragmatically, with six children of his own at the time: “Who can afford to send all their children to private school?” 
Fundraising Activities and Islamic Values
In 1967, the newer immigrants took up leadership positions on the Board and on mosque committees. The building was expanded in 1968, doubling the size of the prayer room and social hall. During this decade, the general membership outnumbered the handful of founding members, although not on the Board of Directors.
At this time, the Muslim students informed the Board that some of their fundraising activities, such as the raffles, card games, and Chinese auctions were “un-Islamic.” The greatest offender, however, was the biggest fundraiser: the annual summer picnic. Objections were raised about the beer that was sold to the non-Muslims, and the [fully-clothed] belly dancer (daughter of one of the founding families) who collected money during her dances. These objections were echoed by Omar, who had maintained his objections to any un-Islamic activities, no matter how lucrative. But the first American-born generation would overrule him every year, claiming “generational” differences. They also defended the other fundraising activities that they had modeled after the churchgoing Christians and Jews, arguing that if these were “unholy” activities, why would the churches and synagogues do them?
The summer picnic was not only the largest fundraiser of the year (raising about $2000) it was also the most cherished ethnic event of the year for everyone. That’s because it was the one source of ethnic pride for the Arab American community, whose rich culture and achievements had always been undermined and unappreciated. Rarely did the younger generation hear about the achievements of the Arabs, their significant contributions to America for hundreds of years, or the outstanding leadership they provided that propelled Western civilization.
At every summer picnic, the Arab-American Banner Society hired the same stoic Arabic band to play its unique sounding Eastern music scale, mostly for dancing. These were older men of the immigrant generation, sitting comfortably in hard chairs, and lovingly holding their instruments. There was an oud, which is considered the guitar’s ancestor. It was a pear-shaped stringed instrument, which had no frets and a smaller neck than a guitar. And, there was a simple drum.
One of the highlights of the picnic was when they played music for the dubkee, a dance that was ritual, almost religious, among the crowd. Smiling with anticipation, people of all ages and genders linked arms, making a long line that would snake around the small dance floor (a large wooden slab temporarily placed over the dirt ground). When the music started, the line swayed as one body in unison to the tribal rhythms, as each person gracefully lifted his/her foot a few inches off the floor, while tilting backwards, ever so slightly. The leader of the dance stood at the front of the line (which often looked like the end of the line, snaked around), holding a handkerchief above his/her head and spinning it rhythmically in double time. Emboldened by his/her admirers, who were steadily and slowly swaying in the line, he performed a solo, counterpoint dance. This involved a few quick deep knee bends, feigning a little twist to the left and right, quickly standing up, and then stamping both feet to signal the end of one pattern, which he/she would continue to create as the long dance proceeded, on and on.
There was also the aroma of ethnic foods that the adults, men and women, worked for days to prepare. Dishes that were cooked fresh and served on site included barbequed lamb shish kabob, wrapped inside a piece of Syrian bread and served with fresh cucumbers, sweet garden tomatoes, and corn on the cob, followed by ice cream, homemade baklava and Ma’s Lunch’s famous grape nut pudding.
Discontinuing the Picnic
In his interview, Sam Hassan, who was Board president at the time, stated that there was pressure from the Muslim students and other recent immigrants to stop sponsoring the picnic. Once the leadership was made aware that some of their fundraising activities were not Islamic, they faced a moral dilemma. Giving up the picnic meant sacrificing, not only the funds raised, but also the sense of community cohesion and ethnic pride enjoyed by all.
Facing these far-reaching moral, financial, and community concerns, Sam Hassan stood in the crosshairs, with the Muslim students on one side and the founding families on the other. Finally, in 1967, he took a leap of faith and “decreed” that all of the activities considered by the “new” community to be un-Islamic would be discontinued. This essentially ended the annual picnic. Some founding members among the extended families reacted angrily. Deeply disappointed by the decision, they deserted the mosque community. They complained that “foreigners” who were “just students … new to a country they knew nothing about… were trying to “tell us how to practice our religion!”
On every level, losing key supporters who had been long-time members was painful and divisive for the community. Still, the most critical challenge for the leadership was the potential financial disaster, given that there were no obvious alternatives to raising large sums of money to support the mosque. Certainly, there was no help available from any national or international organization.
In the end, it was the ladies of the Center who rescued the mosque. While they had always been included in mosque activities (similar to the church and synagogue congregations), the ladies’ role in this new institution was still embryonic and undefined. Seeing the Center’s predicament as an opportunity, the women in the Quincy community of all ages and countries of origin joined forces to form the “Ladies’ Auxiliary.” After only one meeting, they produced a long list of “lawful” fundraising activities, including luncheons, dinner parties, banquets, mystery rides, bake sales, and the biggest fundraiser of them all, an international food fair and bazaar.
Once the “lawfulness” of certain activities was called into question, other practices that had been taken for granted came under scrutiny as well. For example, the two generation of founders had been engaged in an ongoing debate about the appropriate way to spend money collected for the zakat fund. The American-born founders wanted to use a portion of the money for maintenance, to pay for the Center’s high monthly expenses. The immigrant generation had claimed it would not be “lawful” to pay for the Center expenses, and they preferred to send the money overseas to the less fortunate. The debate went on for years, until one of the Islamic scholars convinced them it was lawful to do either or both.
Islam and Cultural Integration
With the coming of the new immigrant population, the indigenous Muslims of Quincy experienced the benefits of belonging to a diverse community and the reinforcement of a new-found Islamic identity. In Islamic history, as Islam spread across the continents, there are many examples where Muslims with knowledge of Islam joined isolated communities throughout the world.
According to a scholar, W. Montgomery Watt, the impact of Islamic knowledge on a community causes it to undergo a “reforming activity.” For the indigenous American Muslims, reforming meant that more and more they would attend the mosque on Fridays for congregational prayer, listen to a sermon, wear proper clothes in the prayer room, and learn about Islamic etiquette and history. All of these activities increased their collective sense of identity as Muslims, distinguishing them from their Christian and Jewish counterparts, for the first time.
Meanwhile, the newer immigrants had to make big adjustments to American society. Many were living outside of the more affirming Islamic society (their countries of origin) for the first time. In other words, living in a secular society as a religious minority affected their religious practice. Taking their religion for granted, as they may have in an Islamic society, might lead to diminished or zero practice in this country, if they didn’t adjust. How would they react to a society and culture that was not so conducive to religious practice? How would their children grow up?
As the community grew, it coalesced. These two simultaneous activities – one group becoming more religious and the other’s ongoing activity of cultural integration − drew the indigenous and immigrant Muslims together to form a strong, cohesive community. Abiding by the compelling forces of culture and religion, drawn towards each other in a more seamless relationship, the two groups interacted in community, with their common American culture serving as the great equalizer.
The American founders were changing in several ways. At first, their model of religious community was based on the communities of Christians and Jews, whom they admired for being religious. This model is affirmed by the Qur’an, which refers to Christians and Jews as the “people of the book,” because they received revelation and prophets from the one God.” Based on its theology of monotheism, Islam makes no distinction between the prophets and revelation God sent as a mercy to humankind, at different times and places throughout history.
The founders had also adopted the churches administrative organization, such as a constitution and by-laws, which are consistent with the state’s legal requirements for a corporation. The church administration model also included elections, membership, a Board of Directors, and a job description for a religious director. These concepts were familiar to the indigenous founders, but unfamiliar to the immigrants. Montgomery Watt speaks of them as “indigenization activities.”
For example, when the women at the Center stepped forward to lead the community in Islamic fundraising activities, they enhanced the Center in an American way. In fact, the level of a community’s integration into the mainstream society (i.e., a liberal vs conservative mosque; progressive vs backward) can be assessed by ascertaining its use of all available resources. In other words, to what extent are women encouraged to contribute to the mosque community? Are they encouraged to attend; teach in the Islamic school; and participate in the decision-making process as members of the Board of Director?
Forging a Common Islamic Identity
The Lebanese American-born founders tried to build a unified community, and often disagreed among themselves. In those early days, arguments were based on generational, educational, and financial differences. But soon, as the community became more diverse and grew exponentially, the challenge became how to form a common Islamic identity. For the vast majority of immigrants, it was a new experience to isolate their cultural expression of Islam from the basic religion, especially those who came from majority Muslim societies, such as Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, or Morocco, where culture and religion are lived and perceived as one in the same. But since no one in an American mosque was going to practice one foreign culture over another, a new religious community had to be built based upon common ground.
The new immigrants were often amazed to find a mosque in America. To paraphrase one man I interviewed who was from Qatar, “Finding the mosque was a huge gift.” He said that there was a great deal of “political unrest” in Qatar. He also said that he was surprised to see that Islam had spread to America, and that this validated what he had always been taught about the universal appeal of Islam. “Seeing this mosque,” he said, “increased my faith.” To paraphrase another Muslim from Trinidad: “Finding the Quincy mosque was like finding Mecca…”
But the new immigrants also faced the challenge of being a religious minority in a non-Muslim society. In his article, “A Lesson in Values Conflict: Issues in the Educational Formation of American Muslim Youth,” published in the Journal Institute of Muslim Minority Affairs (1990), Theodore Pulcini analyzed the different responses to this new situation. He placed the variety of adjustments made by the immigrants along a continuum that included an isolation or subcultural response, counter-cultural, integrative or accommodating, or total assimilation.
The advocates of the subcultural response prefer a separate lifestyle and withdraw from the dominant culture, in order to preserve an “Islamic” identity and reduce the effects of non-Muslim influences. This is a common response of many fundamentalist groups, the most well-known being the Amish, who maintain separation from the non-Amish world. Similarly, some Muslims live in ethnic or religious ghettos and attend Islamic schools.
At the opposite end of the continuum is the assimilationist response. This was exemplified by the founding family members who defected from the community, once the Muslim students introduced “new” values. In this case, the Muslim students’ values were seen by indigenous members as a preference for isolationism. The assimilationist is more sensitive to the fact that his children see the majority culture as the aspired norm, and he does not want his children to be bound to a minority that might be seen as “inferior” to that norm. 
The counter-cultural response calls for “safeguarding distinctiveness in the midst of the cultural mainstream.” For example, the counter-culturalist attends public school, but emphasizes differences, like wearing a head cover in order to influence mainstream thinking about Islam. This way, a Muslim can maintain an Islamic identity, as a non-conforming subset, in much the same way as an Orthodox Jew.
The accommodationist response favors interaction with non-Muslims, but de-emphasizes differences and distinctiveness, such as exotic names or head covers. Choosing the less confrontational approach, the accommodationist wants to protect his children from prejudice and avoid any negative experience that might result in a child resenting his religion or giving it up. By reducing the tensions of being different, the accommodationist seeks to emphasize the numerous commonalities shared between Islam, Judaism, and Christianity.
In the face of criticism that too much accommodating could strip the Islamic community of its distinguishing features altogether, the accommodationist teaches his/her children to hold their Muslim identity as inviolable, take pride in their religious heritage, support the mosque community, and study a program of formal Islamic education. The goal of the accommodationist is to maintain as a unit on its own and also be accepted by the majority as part of the society.
What is a Liberal /Conservative Mosque?
In order to distinguish one Muslim community from another, some scholars apply terms such as a “liberal mosque” or “conservative community.” But I have found that Pulcini’s various responses provide a more accurate description of a community. For example, a more liberal mosque community is going to attract families who choose a more integrative, accommodating and assimilative response to mainstream society. A conservative community will attract families who are more inclined toward isolation, preferring to shield their children from the dominant society, as much as possible. One prominent American Muslim leader provides yet another perspective on categorizing communities:
“I resist the temptation to categorize a community. We are shaping Islam in America, working together, and learning from each other in an effort to find and fashion our own middle way. What makes it impossible to categorize a certain community as “liberal” or “conservative” is that Islam itself is socially liberal, as exemplified by its concern for the welfare of all defenseless societal members, while it is simultaneously morally conservative.” 
In conclusion, the 1960s was a transitional period during which the community underwent drastic changes. Many factors contributed to these changes. For example, as a result of the Immigration Act (1965), new immigrants flowed into the U.S. and were drawn to the Center in the New England region in large numbers. Because the small group of founders was struggling to maintain the mosque, they recognized that the financial support of the new immigrants was essential for the survival of the Center. As a result of their generosity, the nascent community thrived and grew, in every respect.
During this time, a beautiful partnership developed between the indigenous founders and the new immigrants. The founders gained more knowledge about their religion, and felt especially proud to identify with other Muslims in a community. They never had imagined the precipitous growth of the Muslim community, starting from this “grandmother mosque.” But more than 40 mosques in Massachusetts alone and countless others throughout New England would be built in the two decades that followed.
Seeing what the founders had accomplished with so little, empowered the new immigrants to build more mosques, convenient to their own neighborhoods. Most new Islamic centers adopted the Quincy Center’s administration model, designed by the founders, including electing a Board of Directors, executive committee, positioning a Religious Director as a part of the corporation, and implementing a democracy.
In the next decade, the pioneering new families created programs in Quincy, such as a Sunday school, public relations and outreach committee, interfaith committee, an international food fair, fundraising dinners and luncheons, programs for washing the dead at the local funeral home, purchasing Islamic cemeteries, and organizing Islamic conferences.
LEADERSHIP IN COOPERATION 1970s
The new immigrants who joined the community were at various stages of integration, with diverse interpretations of Islamic concepts and practices. With their limited knowledge of Islam, the first American-born generation had no way to measure the authenticity of one interpretation over another, or how to resolve disputes about which interpretation was correct. Despite their reservations, the founders were nonetheless impressed by the immigrants for maintaining their identity and Islamic traditions in the midst of the mainstream non-Muslim society. It was a new role model, and the lessons they were learning about Islam motivated them to re-evaluate their way of life to see if there was, in fact, room for change.
Among the role models were many forward-thinking leaders. In the early seventies, Muzammil Siddiqi, a student from India studying Comparative Religion at the Harvard Divinity School and member of the Harvard Islamic Society, offered his leadership services to the Center. Muzammil met the founders in 1962, in the pre-building period. After the Center was built, he returned to serve on the Board of Directors (1973-1976) and assist the elderly Imam, Mohammad Omar. The knowledge he shared made the community more attractive to all Muslims. The “islamization” activities he initiated included creating prayer schedules, wearing Islamic dress in the prayer room, forming funeral committees, building ablution (wudu) facilities, and organizing senior scholars and graduate students to give Friday sermons (khutbat) in both English and Arabic.
Together, the founders and other immigrant leaders initiated new “indigenization” activities, including the establishment of a scholarship fund for the youth, organization of a Boy Scout troop, and the hiring of an office secretary (founding family member Ramzieh Ameen Hassan). In 1974, Muzammil and Omar became licensed as Justices of the Peace, so that they could marry people in religion and in accordance with state law. 
Second Building Expansion
Due to overcrowding, the Board started to search for a new site for the Center. That idea was soon abandoned, however, in favor of a second building expansion. In March 1972, the land near the building was purchased to be used as a parking lot. The new building expansion included a library, office space, and a multi-colored dome. Money was donated to build a minaret, which is a tower for the muezzin to climb and literally call people to prayer. But at the last minute, the Board decided to build a minbar instead of the minaret. The minbar is a movable staircase and a raised speaker’s podium used by an imam to deliver the Friday khutbah. The more educated leaders suggested that the mosque also build a mihrab, or a niche in the wall to indicate the direction of prayer, or qiblah (towards Mecca). Efforts were abandoned, however, when it was discovered that the niche would cause a wall protrusion that exceeded the limits of the Quincy building code. That detail was left to be sorted out in the future.
Islamic Sunday school
After numerous failed attempts to develop a Sunday school program that would include an Islamic curriculum and capable teachers, one leader finally succeeded. That leader came from among the immigrant group. His name was Dr. Abdul Karim Khudairi, a Biology professor, schooled in this country and originally from Iraq. During his tenure on the Board starting in 1970, Dr. Khudairi was teaching Arabic when he designed the first Sunday school program. He joined forces with American-born, founding member John Omar (son of the first Imam, Mr. Omar), who had been trying for years to start a school and teaching children at the Center.
Dr. Khudairi designed the basic Sunday school format to include four levels of development (grades) for children in four subjects: Qur’anic Arabic, Qur’an Recitation, History of the Prophet Muhammad, and Religion. Some variation of this same basic curriculum has since been implemented in nearly every Sunday school program in a mosque in the Greater Boston area. There were also extra classes for adults in the interpretation of the Qur’an (tafsir).
Dr. Khudairi’s educational status and leadership attracted families, and the student body grew by leaps and bounds. By 1974, 75 children and 25 adults were enrolled. By 1975, because of the overflow, the leadership requested and received permission from the city of Quincy to use seven classrooms at a local elementary school. In 1982, a third building expansion added four new classrooms to the Center. In 1990, the school had 140 children registered. By 1991, there were reportedly over 300 students registered. After a brief hiatus in Iraq, Dr. Khudairi returned to the Center to serve as president of the Board for more than five years (1984-1989).
The Islamic Cemetery
In September of 1977, the mosque purchased land for a Muslim cemetery in Candia, New Hampshire. Due to zoning complications, the Islamic cemetery project never reached fruition and the land had to be sold.  In 1988, twelve cemetery plots were purchased in the Knollwood Cemetery in Canton, Massachusetts. It was reported in the minutes that Knollwood had agreed to give the Center access to 2,000 grave sites for the next 30 years (as of 1991), with an option to buy more. The Center also arranged rights to approximatgely 500 grave sites at the Forest Hills Cemetery in Jamaica Plain. 
Who is a Member?
As the community grew, the founders tried to organize a system of membership, modelled after the one used by churches to fund operational costs. It was necessary to know the names of the members, in order for members to vote in the election of the board of directors. They set different rates of annual dues for individuals, students, and families, and enumerated a list of “membership” privileges. For example, only members who had paid their dues were allowed to vote. In April of 1977, a membership committee was formed whose goal was to increase the membership, in order to keep up with the Center’s escalating operational costs.
Since the first-American born founders had paid dues to the Arab American Banner Society for more than 30 years, they assumed that the idea would be easily accepted and implemented. But for the new immigrant Muslims, the idea of having to pay dues in order to become a “member” of the Center was for most an alien and incomprehensible concept. For one thing, it contradicted the traditional concept held dearly by Muslims that membership in a worldwide religious community is every Muslim’s right. Many new immigrants argued, “But I don’t have to pay to be a Muslim.” This was a new concept of membership, or community, or “congregation” (unlike the churches) for the founders to grasp, but it only caused more confusion on both sides.
Often an argument ensued and was followed by someone storming out of the secretary’s office, where the transaction was to have taken place. The counter argument that paying membership dues would help pay for the Center’s operational costs won over a few people, but it didn’t convince everyone. For those who came from Muslim countries, the mosque was supported by a philanthropist’s gift (waqif), or by the government; not by its members.
The whole project was plagued by unforeseen complications. Whenever it came time to ascertain who was eligible to vote, the membership committee could never be 100 percent sure of every member’s status. For example, some members were registered and paid; some were registered but had not paid; and some were not registered at all, but because they had voluntarily given generous charitable donations, fully expected to be able to vote.
The most difficult record to track was when someone made a donation to the Center, without stipulating where to apply it. Should it be applied for the membership dues or for some other purpose? The question of the donor’s intention left his eligibility to vote in the balance, which guaranteed an argument on Election Day. To make matters worse, some donors preferred to remain anonymous. Thus, without knowing how to apply the donation, or identify the donor, the treasurer could not accurately manage the membership dues accounting. Ironically, for all the confusion, misunderstanding, and frustration it caused, money collected from dues was estimated to be only 6% of the entire mosque income in 1990. 
Devising Systems to Measure Growth
Given the inaccuracies that beset the membership system, monitoring community growth became the domain for those who maintained the newsletter mailing list. Even if members didn’t pay their dues, they could always be persuaded to provide their address to the office secretary to receive the newsletter. When the Religious Director began inserting prayer schedules into the newsletter in 1982, the demand for the newsletter increased sharply. As of November 1990, in a concerted effort to keep more accurate records, all addresses were entered into a computer system. As of August 16, 1991, the newsletter mailing list numbered 862 families, whereas the membership list (paid and unpaid registered members) numbered 589 families. 
Measuring the growth of the community was often a matter of physically counting the number of Muslims who attended Holiday (Eid) prayers. Like people of other faiths, some Muslims would only attend the mosque on holidays. The “Eid Muslims”  would appear on the two major holidays in Islam: the Eid-ul-Fitr (feast after a month of fasting during Ramadan); and the Eid-ul-Adhha (feast of the sacrifice after the pilgrimage to Mecca or Hajj). The latter follows the former by 70 days, and both are based on an unmodified lunar calendar.
In April 1990, the attendance for Eid-ul-Fitr was estimated to be over 4000.  These estimates are based on a system of manually counting rows of men and women in each room during each of three prayer sessions. Estimates could also be calculated by the amount of money collected for the traditional sadaaqa ul-fitr, a voluntary donation paid at the end of Ramadan. This is generally a minimal dollar amount set by the Religious Director for each family member and paid by the head of the household before praying the Eid prayer. On the Eid-ul-Fitr (1991) for example, the amount was set at $8.00 per person in a family. From all of the above estimated numbers, it is safe to say that every year showed an increased amount of Muslims using the mosque on holidays. At the writing of this edition (2014), the number of Muslims attending every mosque within the Greater Boston Area is still rising, and more mosques are still begin built.
Developing an International Identity
Once the community started to diversify, and new members came from across New England and from more than 25 different countries, the founders gained a new perspective on what they had achieved. The first American-born founders had always seen themselves as Americans whose religion was Islam. They wanted to practice their religion as other Americans did, and their dream was to see a mosque on the landscape, alongside churches and synagogues. Unlike their immigrant parents, they paid little attention to the geopolitical changes taking place in the Muslim world and held little interest in visiting Lebanon, for example. Until the Center was built, they had no connection to the other Muslims in the world. Since the only Muslims they knew lived in their Quincy neighborhood, and a few others from Boston, being a member of a wider, global community was a totally new identity for them.
Their desire to build the mosque had grown out of their desire to be fully accepted as an integral part of the one country they knew and loved, especially for the sake of the children. They were also motivated to maintain the essential part of their ethnic and religious identity to pass on to their children. But the one big change was derived from their observation of this great, new diversity of the community. As one founder stated, “We used to think that we were building a mosque for our kids. But eventually, we realized we had built a mosque for the ‘Muslims.’”
The Islamic Revival
The founders were accepting of the new immigrants, their knowledge of Islam, and the books they received for free. But the Islamic world view was something new to them. For example, they knew nothing about the “Islamic Revival,” which was a fast-spreading movement during the 1960s, spanning the continents of Africa, Asia, and the Middle East and continuing to the present day. It could be argued that the societal changes resulting from the Islamic Revival contributed to the massive migration of Muslims, who came from more than 50 majority Muslim countries and immigrated to North America and Europe.
The Islamic Revival is a conservative Islamist educational movement, initially funded by Saudi (Wahabi) petro dollars. It spread by the building of madrasas (schools attached to mosques) all over the world, and the supply of free books and teachers. The teachers taught “one way” of interpreting Islamic concepts and practices. Whether the motivation to create a uniform interpretation of Islam and promote it, was done to establish the hegemony of the Saudis among all Muslims is unclear.
But the isolated Muslim communities in North American believed that the best way to learn about their religion was to follow the highly-educated Muslims who were now among them, handing out free books, only recently translated into English for the first time.
Incapable of discriminating, the founders embraced these indoctrinating books, written by conservative, like-minded scholars, such as the Wahabis of Saudi Arabia, Sayed Qutb of Egypt (and the Muslim Brotherhood), and Abul Ala Maududi of India. Maududi and Qutb wrote during the decades when their countries were in the thralls of overthrowing British colonialism. They used Islam and the Muslims to rally around a “just” cause. They expounded upon the obligation of jihad, exploited the role of women, and promoted a particularly harsh interpretation of the Qur’an translated by the popular Abdullah Yusuf Ali. Today, these same distortions of Islamic concepts like jihad are the weapons of criminals who use them to justify a war of terrorism against the West.
Given the rapid growth of the community in Quincy, the Arab-American founders soon became the smallest group, although they wisely retained influence on the Board of Directors. What happened next, the attempted “takeovers” (a term used by Yvonne Haddad in her co-authored book, “Islamic Values in the United States”) illustrates a watershed in history, as the American Muslims of the first mosque in New England have their first encounter with the Islamic Revival movement.
The First Takeover
Many of the Muslims who flocked to the Quincy mosque came from the developing world, a world characterized by poverty, oppression, political or sectarian unrest, and where an Islamic Revival was rising out of the ashes of European colonization and serial civil wars. Increasingly, there were conflicting opinions among congregants regarding religious concepts and interpretations of the Qur’an. The result was dissension and the first serious threat to the unity of the nascent Muslim American community.
The founders, prone to view all the new immigrants equitably, were challenged to keep the peace, especially when a newcomer would claim to hold the “right” view on an issue. Although they were outnumbered by now in the community, the founders remained a majority on the Board and were able to maintain a sense of continuity and control. To ensure that the unity of the growing community was being served, they constantly reviewed and amended the By-Laws of the Center’s constitution. For example, in the original By-laws (1962), Article V stated that a person could be elected to the Board after being a member for three months. The founders amended Article V in 1966 to read that a person had to be a member for four consecutive years, before being eligible for the Board.
Despite their efforts, the founders experienced what they perceived to be the first of two attempted “takeovers.” Those interviewed in this study stated that the first attempt started brewing in 1975, when one of the Board members, Dr. Azizi, a physician from Iran, suggested that the eligibility requirements were too stringent and discouraged members from running for the Board. The founders considered “Board fatigue” a reality and considered the suggestion seriously, but took no action.
Dr. Azizi had been a key member since 1971, serving on the Religious Committee faithfully. He was highly-respected and educated in the various Islamic schools of law, and his lectures on Islamic law and history were enlightening and well-received. The founders’ admiration and respect for Dr. Azizi notwithstanding, their deepening concerns about losing control prevented them from acting on his suggestion.
In January of 1977, Dr. Azizi was elected president of the Board of Directors. His first request was to urge the Board members to revisit the By-Laws in committee. Meanwhile, the founders feared the possibility of a sectarian divide within the community, if Dr. Azizi filled the vacancies on the Board with Shi’a members (like himself) who were new to the community.
Since the earliest days, the eight founding families had never been vulnerable to sectarian division. Even though two of the families were Shi’a, their families had intermarried. The first American- born generation was united by the long struggle to build the mosque. They also shared egalitarian American values and the burden of being a religious minority. Furthermore, they were unencumbered by historical or generational sectarian differences, and all of this immunized them against sectarian preferences carried over from the “old” country.
Preferring their shared values over the interests of sectarianism, the founders faced the deeper dilemma of how to respond to Dr. Azizi’s request. Given their respect and admiration, they hoped to appease him by amending the constitution and reducing the term of membership eligibility from four to two consecutive years.
Dissatisfied with the compromise, however, Dr. Azizi resigned in April of 1977 (endnote: Islamic Center Archives, Secretary’s Minutes, Decade Files, 1970-1979). Subsequently, he and his followers purchased a house in Cambridge for a new mosque. Those interviewed estimated that the group lasted about three years before they split up. The property was sold and the money distributed among all the mosques in the Greater Boston area. The Quincy mosque received a share of $12,000 in October of 1983, with the stipulation that it be used for a library, which it was (endnote: Islamic Center Archives, Treasurer’s Report, Monthly Report, October, 1983).
The Second Takeover
The second takeover attempt began to percolate around 1976, when the Board hired a new Religious Director, Mudassir Siddiqui. Originally from an Indian family, Mudassir came directly from Saudi Arabia where he had been studying Islamic Law. Wanting to continue his education, he enrolled at Harvard Law School. As the younger brother of the Center’s old friend, Muzammil Siddiqi, Mudassir came highly recommended. He served as Religious Director for two years, as an assistant to the elderly Imam (Mohamed Omar).
Mudassir accomplished a great deal in the community, unburdening Omar from the work he had been doing (weddings, funerals, leading prayers, counseling, etc.) for many years. However, it was the general consensus of those interviewed in this research (the American founders in particular) that the community was “unaccustomed” to the new Director’s “leadership style.” The word “incompatible” came up several times in the interviews.
Seeing that the community was seriously lacking in Islamic knowledge, Mudassir applied his extensive comprehension of Islamic law and jurisprudence and proposed changes for the community. By the authority granted him from the Board, he attempted to install new practices and reshape the community to reflect the knowledge he possessed. Given his conservative approach, each proposed change was met with resistance and created an ambience of controversy and divisiveness within the community. For example, he proposed that only men be allowed in the prayer room and that women pray in the adjacent library. Alternatively, he suggested that the women be separated by a curtain or partition, if they preferred to pray in the same prayer room. He also advocated for the separation of men and women in the social hall.
The founders preferred to view the separation of genders more of a cultural carry over and less of a religious edict. Gender separation made little sense within the mosque, given the society in which they all lived and worked. Many of the women at the Center, indigenous and immigrant, perceived the idea of removing women from the beautiful prayer space, and relegating them to a far inferior space, as humiliating and offensive. In response, my mother, Mary Omar Hassan, a founder and executive officer on the Board for many years, voiced the collective outrage at the time:
“No way am I moving out of the prayer room. We worked too hard to get here. It took us 30 years to build this mosque, and I’m not moving out of that prayer room. … There will be no curtains or partitions either. I want to see the Imam when he talks!”
Her sentiments resonated with the majority of women at the Center. By protesting to their men, they managed to defeat these ideas. Increasingly, however, the founders felt the unity of the community slipping away. They did not want to confront the Religious Director, whose views they fully respected. They certainly couldn’t reproach him based on his vast knowledge, but neither could they accept the imposition of religious views on a community that was struggling to be united and grow.
After deep consideration, they focused on the question of the degree of authority a Religious Director (or imam) should be given by the Board. Knowing the background of the founders, it could be argued that their unfailing belief in the separation of church and state played an important role in helping them solve this dilemma. Their solution was to regulate the authority of the Religious Director, in the same way the churches did with the clergyman. In American parlance, this meant paying him less and reigning in the geographical scope of his authority.
In his book, “Democracy in America” (page 244), Alexis de Tocqueville describes the relationship between the American clergy and the congregation as follows: “Religion in America is a world apart in which the clergyman is supreme, but one which he is careful never to leave.”
The question of authority for an imam or Religious Director in the American mosque is an extremely critical issue that many Islamic Centers grapple with even today. In this case, Mudassir had pushed back and raised legitimate questions about his authority and responsibility, asking: “What is my title here, and what am I expected to do? Do I have authority throughout New England? Aren’t I the one in charge of religion at the Center?”
The Board’s response was to reduce his salary, and thus, implicitly limit his authority. Some scholars might see this as a good example of the “clash of civilizations.” And, perhaps it was, with one party using knowledge and responsibility for authority, and the other using money to regulate knowledge and authority.
Predictably, the resolution did not satisfy the enthusiastic young Religious Director. Bedeviled by controversy, the Board could not decide on a compromise. In interviews, the founders referred to this period as the first time their community was ever divided. Finally, early in 1978, weary of the constant dissension, the leadership acted to remove the Director from his position, a move that would require a majority vote of the General Membership. They agreed to honor the outcome of the vote.
On the day of the general membership meeting and election, Mudassir surprised everyone by arranging for his supporters (who were not members at the time) to arrive in busloads, attend the general meeting, pay their membership dues, and vote for him. In the end, despite these extraordinary efforts, the majority in the community voted to dismiss him. Significantly, in the wake of this event, the leadership amended the By-Laws of 1962 (Article X), to require that the membership dues be paid well in advance of the November elections (endnotes: Islamic Center Archives, Secretary’s Minutes, Decade Files, 1970-1979).
In summary, Mudassir’s legacy raised important new questions for the founders about the “legality” of certain aspects of their American way of life, formerly unchallenged. The new knowledge influenced them, such that they wanted the Center to be a respected institution that stayed within the limits of Islamic law, as much as possible. As things became more complicated and far beyond their purview of religious knowledge, their confidence to lead started to erode. Thus, it was from this space of insufficiency that the founders decided to hire an educated Sunni imam from Lebanon. Their Lebanese background gave them a sense of connection to that country, and they hoped that connections would develop into bonds, to create an ally in this struggle to find a middle way of Islamic practice in America.
After their experience with Mudassir, the founders were prepared to limit the new imam’s authority from the outset. They had also learned that someone who was “conservative,” would most likely want to hang a curtain in the prayer hall. This, they were certain, they wanted to avoid.
During the 1970s, the founders also had gained a greater appreciation for the challenges that new immigrants faced living in America. They wanted someone who would strive to maintain the delicate balance of unity in the community, without favoring sectarianism, yet preserve the traditions of Islam, and also be progressive and promote Islamic life within a modern American context. In 1982, they found all that and more in the person, Imam Talal Eid.
THE ISLAMIC CENTER IN 1980s
The Imam’s Background
In 1982, the Muslim World League (a non-governmental agency, funded by the Saudis) sponsored ten traditionally trained imams to come to the U.S. from Lebanon. All were educated at Al-Azhar University in Cairo, Egypt, the oldest university in the world. At this time, the Director of the Muslim World League in New York was Dawud Assad, also Lebanese, and long-time supporter and friend of the Quincy Center. Dawud recommended one imam in particular, Talal Eid.
From the time he was a young boy in Tripoli, Lebanon, Talal Eid was certain he wanted to become an imam. His father encouraged him and enrolled him in Azhar of Lebanon in Beirut, a five-year private high school, where he earned a degree in Islamic law, ethics, and fiqh, prerequisites required for entrance into Al-Azhar University in Cairo. The curriculum included secular sciences as well as Islamic sciences. In 1974, he earned a degree from the School of Legislation and Law.
After graduation, he taught high school for a year, became a half-time imam at a local mosque for two years, and finally, he was appointed to a mosque in Tripoli full-time. Eid painfully and openly recalled his experience as a young imam at the height of Lebanon’s civil war. His Friday sermons calling for peace and brotherhood were denounced by those who demanded that he speak on the merits of fighting the jihad. He acknowledged that most of the people had no interest in his “idealism.”
In 1982, the Muslim World League, a non-governmental religious foundation, sponsored ten imams at the recommendation of the Mufti (head Imam) of Lebanon to come to the U.S. All were trained and educated at Al-Azhar University in Cairo, Egypt, the oldest university in the world. Imam Eid had earned degrees in Islamic Sciences & Law (Licensee) from the Faculty of Islamic Sciences and Law of al-Azhar University.
At age 30, Imam Talal Eid, his wife Hend, and their two young children arrived in Quincy. He was later appointed as the Imam and Religious Director of the ICNE. Since the Center’s attendance had grown five times more than in its early days, the new Imam’s arrival was met with enthusiasm. Given his education and influence, attendance grew even more.
Imam Eid went on to earn his Master of Theological Studies (MTS) in 1992 and Th.D. in 2005 from Harvard University, Cambridge, MA. Imam Eid served the Center and its community faithfully in Quincy and Sharon for 23 years. In July 2005, he resumed serving the community via the Islamic Institute of Boston, an organization that he founded in 2002 as a research institute to deal with community growing needs in areas of divorce, marital disputes, inheritance, and custody of children. In addition, he is the Muslim chaplain at Brandeis University, and MASS General and Brigham and Women’s hospital.
Responsibilities, Duties and Salary
Given their experience with previous Religious Directors, the founders took immediate steps to limit the authority of the new imam. The initial guidelines for the duties and responsibilities of the Religious Director were worked out in committee by the Board. Under Article V in the Constitution (revisions made prior to 1983), the Religious Director and the length of his tenure would be determined by the Board, with the approval of the general membership. Under “Powers and Duties” it reads:
1) …shall lead or supervise all religious services of the Corporation.
2) …shall be an ex-officio, non-voting member of the Board of Directors.
3) …in his absence, his duties shall be performed by the religious committee.”
In accordance with a corporate governing format, the Board established the imam as a “salaried functionary” of the mosque. The Religious Director’s title and job description was carefully construed as a role in the “corporation,” with limits in the realm of religious matters and no administrative influence.
In our interview, Imam Eid described his job as follows: Lead the prayer, teach (through school, lectures, and Friday khutbah), attend interfaith activities, perform burials, witness marriages, counsel families, and witness conversions. The formal title for his position was imam/khatib (prayer leader/preacher).
The Center paid all the Imam’s expenses (health insurance, rent, etc.) and additionally, provided him with an annual cost of living increase and a car. The Imam preferred a contract arrangement, which was popular among some clergy in America. He received a nominal income from marriages that he divided by half with the Center.
From 1983 to July 11, 1991, the Imam had performed 450 marriages. The number of converts recorded from July 1983 to July 1991 was 229. Conversions as a result of marriage make up approximately 60-70%, with the majority of converts being women. That is approximately 28 conversions per year, more than 2 conversions per month. The new convert would receive a document, signed by Imam Eid and two witnesses. The document was needed to present to the Saudi government, in order to obtain a visa and permission to travel to Mecca for the pilgrimage. Note that the document was an “indigenization” construct that has no basis in Islamic law.
The Imam and the Founding Families
Imam Eid was not insensitive to the precautions taken by the founders to restrict his role. Early on, he learned to proceed with caution, when bringing Islamic knowledge to an isolated community, such as the one in Quincy. For example, when he first arrived, he attempted to hang a curtain in the prayer room to separate men and women. When the most of the men and women protested, the Imam dropped it. He stated the following:
“If imams try to change the people, confront them too often or press them too hard, they will alienate themselves from the community and become ineffectual.”
For any new imam, he offered this following advice: “Find out what the people expect from you and not focus on what you expect from them.” 
The Imam employed a good strategy to deal with the fact that the founders in Quincy were set in their ways. For example, weddings (usually to non-Muslims) of the second generation American-born Muslims were modeled after American “church weddings.” Dreams die hard and it was part of the dream held by some founding family members to build a mosque in which their sons and daughters could be married, in similar ceremonies to those of their Christian friends. Friends and family would gather in the prayer room to observe the taking of the vows. 
After the Imam’s arrival in 1982, the “church weddings” were very few, but they were allowed to continue. The Imam honored the founders’ requests, while anticipating that requests would decline over the years, as members became better educated about the social use of the “mosque.” His one request was that the wedding guests sitting in the prayer room follow the rules of Islamic etiquette, in terms of dress code and cleanliness. The Imam was confident that his students in the next generation would have gained the knowledge that would strengthen their Muslim identity and most likely alter significantly, the way they envisioned their wedding.
Secular Society and Religion
Secularism is a powerful influence that can affect religious practice. The founders’ idea to limit the role of the Religious Director was consistent with the secular society in which they were raised. Dr. Marston Speight defines secularism as “the result of a process by which religion loses its influence in society.” 
The Christian origins of this country have long maintained influence in determining the school and work schedules. Muslims, like other Americans, have fashioned their religious lives around this schedule. For example, since schools and many businesses are closed on Sunday, Muslims bring their families to the mosque and enroll their children in the part-time Islamic school. Sunday school follows the regular school (Sept.-June) calendar, including holidays. At the end of the Sunday morning classes (by 1:00 PM), many families stay and pray a congregational prayer before leaving for home. Although the Islamic congregational prayer day is actually Friday at mid-day, the practice of praying together at the mosque on Sunday is convenient. It is also consistent with the monotheistic belief that praying in congregation is preferred over praying alone.
While accommodating the cultural rhythms of the West, the Muslim community has added a new, uniquely Islamic dimension to the concept of “congregation.” For example, a family will attend one mosque on Sunday, when there is time to travel to their favorite mosque/school, regardless of its location. By showing up every Sunday, they form a congregation shared with other like-minded families. But for Friday congregational prayer day, when people are generally at work in the middle of the day, they need to find the nearest mosque, and go during their lunch hour. By showing up every Friday, they form yet another congregation. Thus, by attending the same two mosques on a regular basis (every Friday and Sunday), and seeing the same people socially every week, Muslims belong to two congregations, instead of one. Moreover, the two congregations are often loosely linked together by mutual friends, extended families, and the community calendar of events which take place in the greater New England region.
Of course, when there was only one mosque in New England, this kind of opportunity was not possible. But as more mosques were built in the 1970s and 80s, people started to attend prayers at different mosques on Fridays and Sundays.
Impact of the Imam on the Community
With the coming of Imam Eid in1982, mosque attendance on Sundays and Fridays steadily increased. By 1986, the community completed a fourth expansion of the Center, adding a duplex living quarters next door to the mosque (costing approximately $260,000). One side of the duplex functioned as a home for the Imam and his family. The other side was rented to another family to provide income for the Center, specifically, for the Imam’s expenses.
Overall, the Imam’s impact on the community was in creating a more enlightened membership. Imam Eid theorized that the ever-increasing growth and cohesion of a community corresponded to the degree of its knowledge. In other words, the more they knew, the better Muslims they would be, and that added knowledge would be carried forward into the next generation.
The scholarly reputation of the Imam and his wife, Hend Ayoub, who both taught in the Sunday school, prompted new families to bring their children to the mosque. But members were still concerned about the waning interest of the youth in religion. Elders suggested that more social/recreational activities be planned to attract young people, such as ski trips and sleep overs. Others proposed awarding scholarships based on merit to graduating high school students. These activities helped to attract families to the Center, but attracting young people to the mosque remained an ongoing challenge for the community, as it does in other religious communities.
Setting a standard, Imam Eid avoided politics in his Friday sermons. He wisely sought to accommodate one of the salient characteristics of every Muslim community in America, which is its international composition. In the early 1990s, for example, when Iraq invaded Kuwait, the Imam had to take into consideration that Kuwaitis and Iraqis would be praying side by side. His sermons would often inspire unity, brotherhood, peace, justice, Islamic history, and interfaith relations, just as they once had in Lebanon during the civil war.
The one political act Imam Eid allowed himself was joining his fellow American clergy men and women, who favored the “politics of prayer and peace” and advocated for a more humanistic approach to world conflicts. Eid’s sermons also reflected and fostered many of the values shared by the interfaith community, including the value for human life and sympathy for its unnecessary loss, abhorrence for the killing of innocent people, peace with justice, compassion, tolerance, freedom, and respect for all people.
For many Americans, their first impression of Islam and Muslims was experienced on the TV in the living room, watching film clips of the U.S. Embassy hostage taking and the Iranian Revolution (1979-80). There were provocative pictures of women dressed in black chadors, waving signs that said, “Death to the Great Satan.” These images came right into our minds, leaving an indelible mark. Though it was the worst first impression, it was also a watershed in history, because it marked the beginning of a new era of relations between Muslims and Americans that never existed before. Although news about Islam and the Muslims has become as fatiguing as housework, back then, it was big “news.” As a result, every household learned a new word, “Islam,” and heard about the “Muslims” for the first time.
This period was followed by the 1980s, which heralded another frightening barrage of bad news, connecting Islam and the “Muslims” with terrorism. At this time, we learned of men who were hijacking airplanes and ships and killing innocent people. The Center was drawn onto the international stage by this malaise. The media targeted the Center and demanded that its leaders respond to the violence and injustice. The leadership quickly formed a public relations committee and invited media specialists to instruct them as to how to respond to unwanted media attention, manage a 30-second sound bite, and designate a spokesperson. In such an emotional atmosphere, the leadership understood that one wrong word from a defensive member could escalate into a disaster for the whole community. This was a brave new world for American Muslims, long before 9/11.
Ironically, the Center was also getting steady and frequent requests from schools, civic organizations, churches, and synagogues for a speaker to give talks about Islam. Occasionally, questions also arose regarding the “terrorists” and the meaning of the word, jihad. The public relations committee was responsible to find speakers to respond to these increasing requests, but it was extremely difficult to find someone who had even minimal qualifications.
For instance, the speaker would have to be educated in his/her faith, know enough to answer questions objectively, and hold his/her own on an interfaith panel, which was always organized by well-intentioned Christians or Jews. The audience a speaker faced was usually nervous and afraid. The speaker had to field questions about who the terrorists were, what they wanted, and what jihad really meant (code word: “holy war”). In addition, the Muslim speaker would have to have free time during the day or night, in order to travel all over the state to give a speech or attend an event. Of course, anyone giving a speech would need experience in public speaking. I have often wondered how many people in any average church congregation would meet even one of the criteria.
American Muslims who were interested in the news were equally as mystified and terrified by reports of jihad, political acts of terror, and suicide, all done in the name of Islam. For the indigenous Muslims, these were foreign concepts, completely separate from the religion of peace they had grown up with. In fact, international political agendas and foreign policies were of relatively little interest to American Muslims. Community members, like those in other faith traditions, would speculate among themselves as to what was fueling the hijackings and the terrorism, and they would often express outrage over injustices and compassion for the innocent victims.
Meanwhile, the U.S. continued to react to the plethora of political malignancies in the Middle East, while side-stepping the real causes, which grew out of the epicenter of a large, cancerous tumor: the intransigence of the Arab/Israeli conflict. Some scholars argued that the prolonged suffering of the people involved in the conflict for decades led to extremism, uncontrollable break-off groups, the zeal and birth of the Islamic Revival, the death of the godless Soviets in the 1970s, the rise of the Taliban (educated in the distorted madrassas of Pakistan and Afghanistan), and other extremists in many countries throughout the Middle East and Africa.
As the office secretary for the mosque from 1984-1988, I witnessed first-hand how the perception of the Center was shifting. Its neighbors and the media had begun to connect the mosque to the international political arena, though nothing could be further from the truth. Despite the fact that the mosque had been in the neighborhood for 20 years and that the founding families were well-known to the Quincy neighbors (even before the mosque was built), the news of these heinous crimes and terrorist acts made the neighbors mistrustful, and vandalism became problematic for the first time.
Being aware of these misperceptions, while simultaneously responding to increasing requests for speakers, and for groups to tour the Center, the leadership was under a tremendous strain. There was no way to halt the sensational momentum that was building in the media, and no way to ignore the requests for speakers and tours. Having tours put a greater strain on resources, because it meant that someone had to be on hand to lead the tours and answer the difficult questions. Given that the Center was run by volunteers, with few exceptions, and that the number of speakers who were trained was -0-, the Center was faced with an impossible situation.
Slowly but surely, the public relations committee arranged to train volunteer speakers and develop a speakers’ bureau. Leadership invited experts to provide workshops, many of whom came from California. With trainers coming from such a distance, it was a strong indication that the demand for information about Islam was affecting the whole country, increasing, and would not abate soon.
The secretary’s office, which I maintained, was a tiny room, about 8 x 10 feet, next to the main entrance. There was a desk, two chairs, and a giant copy machine. After one terrorist hijacking, I looked outside my window and across the street to see the Jewish Defense League (JDL) holding a vigil. They were required by law to stay a certain distance from the Center, but for several days they protested and burned a picture of the Ayatollah Khomeni of Iran in effigy. There was no connection between the mosque in Quincy and the Ayatollah, but apparently, the JDL didn’t know that.
Meanwhile, as the JDL protested outside, the office phone was ringing non-stop. Schools, churches, hospitals, and other organizations were requesting a speaker. While some callers would yell, “Go home” and hang up, the vast majority were seeking solace and gaining a better understanding of what they were up against. There was even a request from the Boy Scouts to tour the mosque.
The constant phone calls, protests, and vandalism were trouble enough, but then, the media began to bear down on the ill-prepared leadership as well. At the time, there were three people at the mosque on a daily basis. I was a paid employee, available and had an outgoing personality, but knew nothing about Islam, having left home before the Center was even built (and welcomed back into the fold because of my family connections).
The Imam from Lebanon was the other employee at the Center, and by far the greatest scholar. He was also well-informed about the politics of the Middle East. But since he had only been in this country for a few years, his English was limited and his accent difficult to understand. Finally, there was the president of the Board of Directors, Dr. Kareem Khudairi (1983-1989), a retired biology professor from Northeastern, originally from Iraq. Dr. Khudairi was a volunteer, but not a scholar in Islam. Still, he was well-versed in religious studies, his English was understandable, his accent not too heavy, and he was politically savvy.
Dr. Khudairi was a strong leader who acted to gain control of the situation. Various incidents that had no relation to each other were being strung together, connecting terrorist acts to the mosque and who were living in Boston to our religion. These connections implicated Islam and drew the Center into the fray of international politics and aging grievances. What made it more difficult for the Muslim community and confusing for the non-Muslims was the fact that there was no one in the whole world who spoke for Islam. It seemed that this heavy burden had fallen into the lap of the Quincy Center’s leadership.
When Dr. Khudairi agreed to hold a press conference, he gave instructions to me and the Imam:
“We will have a press conference. When the media comes, you (pointing to me) sit on my right, and you (pointing to Imam Eid) sit on my left. Neither of you are to say a word. I’ll do all the talking.”
As we faced the clamoring group of reporters, Dr. Khudairi sat in the center of a long table, between me and the Imam. His speech was brief and invited no further questions:
“We are not a political organization. This is our church, where we come to pray. We have religious freedom in this country, as you know, and we have nothing to do with terrorism. Thank you very much for coming.”
Another offshoot of the public relations committee was the leadership’s growing involvement in interfaith activities. It was unexpected that the steady flow of bad publicity was accompanied by an increasing frequency of positive interaction between non-Muslims and Muslims, in an interfaith setting. The bad news kept coming (threats to kill the author of the Satanic Verses; zeal for the Gulf War of 1991). But so did requests from non-Muslims to learn more about Islam.
At the time, there was only one institution in America that I was aware of, at the vanguard of improving Muslim/Christian relations. It was the Hartford Seminary’s Duncan-Black Macdonald Center for the Study of Islam and Christian/Muslim Relations (founded in 1893 and the country’s oldest study center). It was headed by non-Muslim, mostly Protestant scholars, who were frequently called upon during an international political crisis to impart their expertise on matters concerning Islam, the West, and the Muslims. I was fortunate enough to be accepted to study in their Master’s degree program, Islamic Studies and Christian/Muslim Relations. After four years matriculating at Hartford, I became eligible to begin speaking engagements, to provide the needed support for the Center, as well as the reassurances sought after by the non-Muslim community.
At first, there was no time or resources for the Muslims to initiate interfaith activities with their neighbors. The outside requests from groups, teachers, leaders, and clergy, coupled with the interfaith activities initiated by the Christians and Jews, kept the handful of speakers at the Center racing about, at top speed.  But Dr. Karim Khudairi persevered, giving interfaith relations the highest priority. He initiated first-ever interfaith meetings with many organizations, including the National Conference for Christians and Jews (1985). Eventually, he also formed the Islamic Interfaith Committee and met regularly with the clergy of the Massachusetts Council of Churches.
For the Center, the 1980s was also a decade of being strapped for funds and cramped for space, as the membership continued to grow. In 1981, another expansion was needed, to build an Islamic school with four additional classrooms and a new, larger social hall. When the Islamic Center of New England first opened its doors, there were eight families. But by 1984, only 20 years later, there were more than 800 families listed as members on the roster.
Sensitive to the political implications of accepting donations from Muslim countries overseas, the founders had only one source of funding. This vital resource was the new group of immigrant families who had joined the Center. The Center could not have survived its trials and tribulations, without the support of these families, who were pioneers in their own right. They included the Khudairis, the Hoseins, the Ashrafs, the Hussains, the Shaikhs, and too many others to name. Without their generosity, strong faith, indefatigable spirit and dedicated volunteer work, the Center would have had to close its doors. Those who remember the strong sense of community spirit that endured during those early decades will recall fondly an open, warm, and supportive Islamic community.
The Islamic Council of New England
Another priority of Dr. Karim Khudairi’s administration in the early1980s was founding the Islamic Council of New England. In an issue of the Islamic Forum (August 1991), Dr. Khudairi reiterated the purpose of the Council:
“To establish a forum in which each of the independent Islamic centers or societies from the New England area could come together and exchange views of common concerns, develop strategies and programs for achieving common goals, to strengthen the unity and harmony amongst the Muslims, to represent the Muslim community at the regional level with one united voice and force and much more.”
A five thousand dollar ($5000) donation had been held in escrow from 1975-1985, for this organization. In 1985, Dr. Khudairi used the money to organize the first Islamic Conference of New England, thereafter an annual event sponsored by the Council and attended by an average of 400-500 Muslims from all over New England. There were twelve charter members who joined the Council in 1983 and two more joined in 1985. 
Original Council members included: The Islamic Center of New England, Quincy, MA; Islamic Center of Boston, Wayland, MA; Islamic Center of Connecticut, Hartford, CT; Islamic Center of Merrimac Valley, Salem, NH; Islamic Center of Rhode Island, Providence, RI; Islamic Society of Boston (Universities), Cambridge, MA; Islamic Society of Western Massachusetts, Holyoke, MA; Islamic Society of Greater Worcester, Worcester, MA; Masjid Al-Qur’an, Dorchester, MA; Masjid Ar-Razzaq, Providence, RI; Islamic Community of Fairfield County, Norwalk, CT; Mosque of New England, Seekonk, MA; Society of Islamic Brotherhood (Masjid al-humdollilah), Boston, MA; Islamic Center of University of Connecticut, Storrs, CT; Islamic Association of Greater Hartford, Hartford, CT; Islamic Society of Amherst Area, Amherst, MA; Masjid Muhammad, New Haven, CT; and the New England Muslim Sisters Association, Worcester, MA.
Organizing the Muslim Students
In 1982, an Egyptian engineer and member of the Islamic Center of New England, Rajab Rizk, organized the Islamic Society of Boston (ISB). The ISB was also a core member of the Islamic Council. It was established to unite the Muslim Student Associations (MSA) at the various area colleges, so that they could assist each other in religious education and celebrate as one community on holidays. The early member schools with MSAs were Harvard, Boston University, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (M.I.T.). By the early 1990s, the organization expanded to include Northeastern University, Wentworth Institute, and Suffolk University, to name a few. ISB saw its role as recognizing the complete independence of each student association. Like the other mosque communities, the MSAs remained autonomous and loosely-knit by their common ground, concerns, beliefs, and events calendar.
The ISB performed certain functions that benefitted all student associations. For example, it scheduled khateeb (speakers) to give sermons on Fridays for congregational prayer at each school. On the Eid-ul-Adha in 1991, the ISB organized all the students to pray the holiday prayer in a large park in Roxbury for the first time. Working closely with the Muslim Youth Association (MYA), the ISB also sponsored Islamic scholars to lecture in the Boston area. Lecturers or key note speakers would usually be hosted by the Islamic Center of New England, or by the largest student association which was at M.I.T. In September 1991, a professor of Arabic at Bethlehem University, in Palestine, Yasser al-Mallah, came to M.I.T. as a visiting scholar from Indiana University, Bloomington, IN. He lectured on the Arabic language used in the Qur’an. Speakers like al-Mallah were made available once or twice a month to the Muslim community and all speeches were translated (live) into English.  Men and women were welcome to attend.
THE ISLAMIC COMMUNITY/1990’S
Fire and Discrimination
On March 30, 1990 during the holy month of Ramadan, a fire destroyed the interior of the Islamic Center of New England. Although its concrete exterior remained intact, the damage was estimated at more than $500,000. Investigators have never determined if it had been the work of an arsonist or not, but insurance money was available to cover the cost of repairing the Center.  Significantly, an outpouring of sympathy and financial assistance came from the surrounding communities, both Muslim and non-Muslim.
One year later, the president of the Board, Dr. Mian Ashraf (originally from Kashmir, India, d. May, 2009), and a celebrated cardiothoracic surgeon in the Boston area, represented the Center’s interest in purchasing a 7.5-acre lot and large mansion in Milton, MA. Given that the maximum building codes in Quincy prevented any further expansions, the goal for the leadership was to surmount the overcrowding problem in Quincy by expanding to a new location. The ambitious plan was to build a prayer room and social hall that would accommodate 1000 people, and use the extra land to build a school and a youth camp.
Negotiations in Milton, however, fell through in July 1991. Milton residents who lived in the prestigious neighborhood came out against the Center, claiming that the fast-growing Muslim community would cause traffic to increase. The Board filed a suit to sue those involved, based on country of origin and religious discrimination. But in the end, the Board decided not to pursue the case.  In the last report (November 1991), the Milton neighbors had purchased the land, and Dr. Ashraf had directed the search to other areas of the South Shore.  On December 24, 1991, the general body membership approved the Board’s purchase of 54 acres of farmland in Sharon, MA, at a cost of $1.15 million. 
A Personal Perspective: Since 9/11
Since the bombing of the World Trade Center in New York on September 11, 2001, I have observed several significant changes in the Muslim community. My observations are based on a zeal for pioneering leadership, unique historical perspective, and first-hand experience of being a member of the amazing Muslim community for the past 30 years. What has challenged me is that, during this period, I have tried to reconcile my identity, as a member of two distinctly different worlds: the mainstream American society and the Muslim community.
When I was growing up in Weymouth in the 1950s and 60s, no one knew that we were “Muslims.” It seemed so unimportant to anyone. There was no terrorism, no mosque, no Islamic schooling, or community members who could provide a role model. There was practically nothing about our identity (as Arabs or Muslims) that our parents or grandparents told us; nor were we directed to any resources that could tell us more. There was no validation of our heritage anywhere, and no information about Islam in the news, the school, the government, the library, or even the entertainment industry. Back then, many K-12 history books supplied one paragraph and maybe the picture of a camel, which represented to every American student for decades the entire history of the Islamic Civilization; which is, by the way, was the largest and longest-lasting Empire in the history of the world.
Fast forward to September 2001 and the Qur’an is listed as number one on the top ten best-selling books of all time. I confess I was struck dumb. For this astounding fact indicated that, despite the fact that Islam had been hijacked beyond recognition (to most Muslims) and portrayed as a violent religion, there was a new idea of Islam, and more people than ever before in the history of America were suddenly interested in it. It was a triumph, however ambiguous.
I recall witnessing the plane hit the second Tower that unforgettable morning on my TV. I had been riveted to the spot, shocked, angry, frightened, and grieving, until I saw the faces of the terrorists splayed across the screen. For within a few hours, it became known that the perpetrators of this horrific crime were “Muslims.” This realization had a chilling effect upon me, creating a distance between me and an aching desire to commiserate with my fellow Americans. In the more than ten years since 9/11, each subsequent terrorist event has thrown the same emotional curve ball.
What I experience is my survival instinct. I want to protect myself and the innocents in my family and community. No longer allowed to grieve; no longer allowed to ask who benefitted from this horrific act; no longer allowed to question the veracity of the investigation, its motivation, or identity of the perpetrators; no longer allowed to look guilty, be aloof, laugh in public, or look pitiful. More unjust, my beautiful religion was being implicated in violent crime and terror.
For more than a decade prior to this event, I had been giving speeches about Islam to non-Muslims. But after 9/11, one of the big changes I noticed was that my speeches were no longer about my religion. Rather, I was being asked to explain who the terrorists were and why “they hate us.” Unfortunately, I found it was impossible to answer these questions, for in fact, I had no knowledge of the perpetrators of these crimes.My first attempt to answer these types of questions was at a church, where I was invited to speak. After about 45 minutes passionately about the beauty of Islam, the minister raised his hand during the Q &A and asked me this: “Can you please explain why a religion teaches its followers to fly planes into buildings?”
Another change in the post-9/11 world is that Muslims see themselves as the targets of both terrorists and islamophobes. It could be argued that these heightened dangers and ambiguities have driven the vast majority of American Muslim communities into a more conservative religious mindset.
There have also been several positive outcomes that I have noticed. There has been a deliberate movement among younger Muslim Americans to write a new history of Islam, a new sociology, and even, to rethink Islamic concepts. And, for the first time, there is the unexpected bonus that Christians and Jews and other Americans are learning about the universal religious beliefs and values that they share with Muslims. Commonalities of the Abrahamic faiths make a strong case for a “Judeo-Christian-Islamic tradition.” These bare facts have remained hidden or unacknowledged by the West for more than 1400 centuries.
Thus, we live in a complex era. The world for Muslim Americans is rapidly changing. It reminds me of Charles Dickens, who wrote in his 1859 novel, A Tale of Two Cities: “It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.”
As a tribute to our life in America, I call on all Muslims to hold his/her religious identity as inviolable, reject ideologies hostile toward America or attempts to seduce our national loyalties, don’t fall prey to deluded ideologies, and don’t take treasured freedoms and national values for granted. We must fight the ogre of unthinking imitation (taqlid) that has plagued Muslim communities for centuries. Otherwise, the jihadis, who are the new “prophets” of a distorted theology that worships itself, will stop at nothing until every Muslim is serving in their brainless, soulless, army of robots.
The 50th anniversary of the Islamic Center of New England in 2014 was a good time to ask: What are the dreams and aspirations of Muslims living in America today? Like their predecessors, Muslims want to feel they are integral to society, just as they are to the Judeo-Christian-Islamic tradition of Abraham and monotheism. More than ever, Muslims want their religion to be seen as a part of the religious landscape of America and feel free to express their diverse ethnic and religious heritage, without being stereotyped or feared. They want their contributions to be fully recognized without prejudice, hidden, or dismissed because they are Muslims. They want to pass on their beautiful religion to the next generation, without the perception of guilt by association. They want to retain their religious traditions, which are often inseparable from their cultural identities, yet still assimilate and become “Americans.” This “becoming” is not unusual for immigrants, only some people are just better at reconciling their identities than others. For most everyone, it just takes time.
The American Muslims want to create a beloved community, where young people can meet and improve relations between men and women. In fact, only a few years ago, there was a marriage between two people who grew up attending the Islamic Center of New England! The youth hold the promise and key to the future of America. By the same token, America is their oyster because they are better off here than anywhere else in the world.
- Brent Ashabranner, An Ancient Heritage/The Arab-American Minority, (New York: Harper Collins Publishers, 1991), 24.
- Earle H. Waugh, “Muslim Leadership and the Shaping of the Umma: Classical Tradition and Religious Tension in the North American Setting,” in The Muslim Community in North America, ed. Earle H. Waugh, Baha Abu-Laban, and Regula B. Qureshi, (Alberta: University of Alberta Press, 1983; paperback edition reprinted 1987), 22-23 (page references are to reprint edition).
- H. Hourani, Syria and Lebanon, 184.
- Imam Talal Eid interviewed by Mary Lahaj, July 11, 1991, Quincy, MA, cassette, Volume 2, Side 1.
- Islamic Center Archives, Arab American Banner Society, Certificate of Incorporation, The Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Secretary of the Commonwealth, Frederic W. Cook, November 9, 1937.
- James Abraham interviewed by Mary Lahaj, 7/26/91, Quincy, MA, cassette, Volume I, Side 1.
- Islamic Center Archives, Constitution of the Arab American Banner Society, 1937.
- Fatima Allie interviewed by Mary Lahaj, July 16, 1991, Weymouth, MA, cassette, Volume I, Side 2.
- Islamic Center Archives, “Plan Prayer Service in Moslem Home,” Quincy Patriot Ledger, 8/62.
- Islamic Center Archives, “Quincy Mosque Rises,” American-Arab Message, editor’s note: `The preceding article was reprinted from the Patriot Ledger, Saturday, April 27th, 1963.’ English and Arabic used.
- Islamic Center Archives, “King Saud Cancels Swampscott Rest; No Reason Given,” Quincy Patriot Ledger, 1/27/62.
- Islamic Center Archives, “Quincy Point, Whist Party,” Quincy Patriot Ledger, 10/12/61.
- Mary Omar Hassan interviewed by Mary Lahaj, 8/14/91, Weymouth, MA. Notes.
- Islamic Center Archives, Secretary’s Minutes, 2/18/62 and 1/12/64.
- Islamic Center Archives, “Sergeant Addresses 4-Faith Dinner Meeting,” Quincy Patriot Ledger, date unknown, probably 1966 or 1967.
- John Omar interviewed by Mary Lahaj, 8/3/91, Kingston, MA. Notes.
- Islamic Center Archives, Mohamed Mirghani, “Mosque Is First In N.E.,” Quincy Patriot Ledger, 1962.
- Islamic Center Archives, Secretary’s Minutes, Decade File, 1963-1969.
- Islamic Center Archives, James J. Collins, “N.E. Islamic Center Builds Quincy Mosque,” Boston Sunday Globe, June 9, 1963.
- Islamic Center Archives, “Members Praised at Dedication of New Islamic Center in Quincy,” Quincy Patriot Ledger, 10/18/64.
- Islamic Center Archives, Secretary’s Minutes, Decade Files, 1963-1969 and 1970-1979. On 3/7/69, the Center pledged $500 to fund a Field Director and headquarters for the FIA. On 7/16/71, the Center had enlisted 41 members to join the FIA.
- Islamic Center Archives, “Quincy Islamic Center Observes Mosque Dedication Anniversary,” Quincy Patriot Ledger, November 6, 1967. Also see: “Muslim School Planned for Jersey,” by George Becker, The Muslim Star, (approximately 1977), page 3.
- Dawud Assad interviewed by Mary Lahaj, 11/2/91, telephone. Notes only.
- Islamic Center Archives, Secretary’s Minutes, Decade Files, 1963-1969.
- Imam Talal Eid interviewed by Mary Lahaj, 7/11/91, Quincy, MA, cassette, Volume II, Side 1.
- Fatima Allie interviewed by Mary Lahaj, July 16, 1991, Weymouth, MA, cassette, Volume I, Side 1.
- Eric Lincoln, “The American Muslim Mission in the Context of American Social History,” The Muslim Community in North America, 228; and an online article, “Keeping the faithful: After 50 years, this local mosque thrives but still faces challenges,” written in 2007 for boston.com.
- Haj Imam Shakir Mahmoud interviewed by Mary Lahaj, 7/24/91, telephone. Notes only.
- Ahmed Osman buried Malcolm X in New York after his assassination in 1965.
- Imam Talal Eid interviewed by Mary Lahaj, 7/11/91, Quincy, MA, cassette, Volume II, Side 1.
- (Haj) Sam Hassan, interviewed by Mary Lahaj, 8/6/91, Sandwich, MA, cassette, Volume I, Side 1.
- Theodore Pulcini, “A Lesson in Values Conflict: Issues in the Educational Formation of American Muslim Youth,” Journal Institute of Muslim Minority Affairs, Volume II, #1, (January, 1990), 131-141.
- Liebkind, “The identity of a Minority,” Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development 10 (1989): 53; quoted in Theodore Pulcini, “A Lesson in Values Conflict: Issues in the Educational Formation of American Muslim Youth,” Journal Institute of Muslim Minority Affairs, Vol. 2 (January 1990): 144-145.
- Cader Asmal interviewed by Mary Lahaj, 9/11/91, telephone. Notes only.
- Islamic Center Archives, Justice of the Peace Certification, May 23, 1963, Personal paper of Mohamed Omar.
- Islamic Center Archives, Secretary’s Minutes, Decade Files, 1970-1979.
- Peter Halesworth, “Islamic Center Looks at New Sites,” Quincy Patriot Ledger, August 22, 1991, 8.
- Islamic Center Archives, Secretary’s Minutes, General Membership Meeting, November 1990.
- Zaida Hassan, Office Secretary Islamic Center, interviewed by Mary Lahaj, telephone. August 16, 1991.
- Yvonne Haddad & Adair Lummis, Islamic Values in the United States, 33.
- Ann Doyle, “Mosque Determined to Rebuild from Ashes,” Quincy Patriot Ledger, May 12, 1990, 53.
- Imam Talal Eid interviewed by Mary Lahaj, 7/11/91, Quincy, MA, cassette, Volume I, Side 2.
- The first wedding to take place in the mosque was right after it was built in February, 1963, by the Derbes family, American born generation. Hesine (Robert) Derbes interviewed by Mary Lahaj, 8/12/91, Quincy, MA. Notes only.
- Marston Speight, “The Secular State: Promise or Threat?” in the Newsletter for Christian-Muslim Concerns, no.46, (September 1991): 1-2.
- Islamic Center Archives, Barbara Shea, “Needham Students Tour Religious Centers,” Quincy Patriot Ledger, 12/5/66.
- Islamic Center Archives, Articles of Incorporation and By-Laws of the Islamic Council of New England, 1986.
- Ragab Rizk and Mustapha Abu Swai, past & present presidents of the Islamic Society of Boston (ISB) interviewed by Mary Lahaj, 9/11/91, telephone. Notes only.
- Brian Carr, “Arsonist Hits Area Mosque,” Quincy Patriot Ledger, March 30, 1990, 11.
- Ellen Nakashima, “Muslims Sue, Property on Hold,” Quincy Patriot Ledger, October 4, 1991, 1-2.
- Ellen Nakashima, “Neighbors Buy Site Sought By Mosque,” Quincy Patriot Ledger, July 27, 1991.
- Stacy Wong, “Islamic Center approves buying farm in Sharon,” Quincy Patriot Ledger, December 24, 1991.
Primary Sources Consulted
Islamic Center Archives
Articles of Incorporation of Arab American Banner Society, 1937
Constitution of Arab American Banner Society, 1937
Secretary’s Reports 1952-1990
Bill Receipts 1950-1960s
Treasurer’s Reports 1952-1987
Constitution and By-Laws of the Islamic Center of New England, 1962-1983
Articles of Incorporation and By-Laws, Islamic Council of New England, 1986
Religious Director’s Reports, 1985-1990
Incoming and Outgoing Mail, 1981-1986
Membership Lists, 1952-1976
Building Plans and Public Relations Material, 1970-1980
Photo Albums, Scrap Books, Guest Books, and Programs
Sweeney’s Funeral Home Archives, March 1939
Newspaper Articles prior to 1990
Oral Interviews with 2nd generation founders and outstanding leaders in community
Taped Cassette Interview of Haj Mohamed Omar, first generation founder, 1983
Personal papers and banner
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al-Ahsan, Abdullah. “An Islamic Agenda for Muslim Minorities: The Qur anic Concept of Ummah.” Journal Institute of Muslim Minority Affairs, Vol. 7:2 (July 1986): 606-615
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“Proceedings of the First Islamic Conference of New England.” Quincy: Islamic Center of New England, 1986. Photocopied
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——–. “FOSIS and the Community.” The Muslim, July (1971):179-183
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Dictionaries & Encyclopedias
Concise Encyclopaedia of Islam, 1989 ed. S.v. “Qibla.” “Muhammad.” Musalla.” “Mosque” “Mosque of the Prophet.” “Mosque of Quba.” “Minaret.” “Minbar.” “Mihrab.” “Imam”
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Elias’ Collegiate Dictionary, English-Arabic. Cairo: Elias’ Modern Publishing House & Co
Elias’ Collegiate Dictionary, Arabic-English. Cairo: Elias’ Modern Publishing House & Co
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World Book Encyclopedia, 1989 ed. S.v. “Phoenicia,” by Louis L. Orlin