The recent resignation of Imam W.D. Mohammed, arguably the nation's most influential African American Islamic leader, marks a defining moment for the group he had headed for nearly 30 years.
Some analysts fear that Mohammed's surprise resignation as leader of the American Society of Muslims could set that movement adrift, with no one to unify the 300-plus affiliated mosques across the nation.
"It will be a devastating loss," said Imam Saadiq Saafir of Masjid Ibadillah, a Los Angeles mosque on West Jefferson Boulevard. "The danger is that the community could become fragmented, where you have so many leaders taking the people in so many different directions. Some people may wonder if the community can actually survive."
Others, however, said Mohammed's resignation could encourage African American Muslims to take more individual initiative to advance their religion, improve blighted communities and become a powerful showcase for Islamic values in America.
"For African Americans, we're going to see the beginning of a renaissance for Islam in America," predicted Najee Ali, Mohammed's son-in-law who heads Project Islamic Hope, a Los-Angeles based social service organization...
Accurate statistics on the number of African American Muslims are not available. But according to Ihsan Bagby, who helped conduct a 2001 study for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, about 27% of the nation's 1,200 mosques were predominantly African American. Among those mosques, Bagby found, 67% were affiliated with Mohammed's American Society of Muslims.