MA: KEEPING THE FAITHFUL
Rafiq Akbar of Dorchester is one of the few people who can say they went fishing with Malcolm X. But it wasn't fishing in the usual sense.
"Fishing means going out and informing the African-American of his heritage and what he wasn't taught while enslaved here in America," Akbar, 80, explained one recent Friday morning inside the Masjid Al Quran mosque, where the fragrance of sandalwood filled the air. Akbar and a small group of Black Muslims with the Nation of Islam bought the brick building at 35 Intervale St. 50 years ago, and since then he has been a part of its sometimes turbulent but transformative history.
"We would inform the nonbeliever that he was Muslim by birth," continued Akbar, formerly Alfred X Sutton, "and that we were in slave masters' names and not in our original names because we were all separated during slavery, the child from the parent, and the slave master did not have any interest in teaching the slave. We'd tell history like it happened."
This year Akbar is telling history again, as he and subsequent generations of worshipers celebrate Masjid Al Quran's golden jubilee. Some members are collecting old newspaper clippings and videos recalling important mosque milestones for an archive, while others are planning interfaith meetings, lectures, and other public events. The highlight is an expected visit by Imam Warith Deen Mohammed, son of longtime Nation leader Elijah Muhammad, who became leader after his father's death in 1975 and brought the movement into mainstream Islam, jettisoning its black supremacist ideas and theology.
"It's very historical," said Ayesha K. Mustafaa, editor of the Muslim Journal in Chicago, the weekly newspaper published by W.D. Mohammed's ministry. "There are only a few locations that still stand today that made the transition from the Nation of Islam days into Islam under Imam W.D. Mohammed."
Originally named Muhammad's Mosque No. 11, the mosque today includes Africans, Arabs, South Asians, and others, attesting to its evolution from black nationalist stronghold to traditional Sunni mosque. Masjid Al Quran, however, faces new challenges, from finding money for repairs to keeping younger generations interested in faith.
"There's still a struggle," said Jamil Abdullah, 31, a second- generation member of the mosque.
"Now the struggle is to stay together."