Masjid Al-Nur Islamic Center is a mosque in a second-floor walk-up on Washington Street in Paterson. Its neighbors include a butcher shop, a fish market and a poultry store with white hens in stacked cages.
The mosque attracts Muslims who are black, Lebanese, Palestinian, Jordanian, Indonesian, Albanian, Russian, Dominican and Puerto Rican. It has been on Washington Street almost five years.
On Friday afternoons its approximately 200 members celebrate the Jumah, the most important prayer day of the week. Seated side by side on the carpeted floor, attendees hear the powerful sermons delivered in English by Imam Hamza Waddy. (Other imams, who are foreign-born, deliver their sermons primarily in Arabic.)
The imam, who is black and a Paterson native, was born Randolph Waddy. As a child, he worshiped in Baptist and Pentecostal churches. By his late teens he was a church deacon.
Although never a good student, Waddy was drawn to religious texts and memorizing scriptures. He said he found "inconsistencies" in the Bible and could never fully embrace such concepts as the Trinity, which holds that God exists as the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
In his early 20s, Waddy met two Muslims who introduced him to the word of Allah and Arabic. Islam and its call to submit entirely to God alone made sense. Months after accepting Islam, he was holding prayer services in Montgomery Park.
In the more than two decades since, he has studied with spiritual mentors and journeyed four times to Saudi Arabia, once to complete the Hajj, or pilgrimage, to Mecca. At a recent Friday afternoon sermon, Waddy delivered a message that cut to the core of followers' faith: "Each and every day after awaking from sleep, we start to bargain with our souls. We make decisions that will affect us later on in our life and after death. If only we listen and use our intellect." (MORE)