A Place Where Kinship Thrives
Lasania, Zohra, Islamic Horizons
Pittsburgh fosters a sharing and caring Muslim community that is eager to reach out to its neighbors. BY ZOHRA LASANIA
The steel city of Pittsburgh always mesmerized me with its hilly terrain, bridges, and small dead-end streets. When I first came here in 2002 I was frantically looking for a mosque for Friday prayers. The nearest mosque from Downtown, where we temporarily lodged at that time, was The First Muslim Mosque (Al Masjid Al Awwal). As I walked up the steps ofthat majestic mosque on Wylie Avenue, I was in awe of the vibrant energy that filled the inside. Sisters hugged me with warm smiles as they tidied up the prayer area. The khutbah brought tears to my eyes, as it took me a notch closer to God. Later my family moved to another part of town; however, I was destined to become an integral part of this wonderful Muslim community and get acquainted with its members as only a family member can. My first steps into Al Masjid Al Awwal will always remain a unique experience, even though only later did I learn its historical significance in that wonderful city.
Pittsburgh has been an active center-stage of both indigenous and immigrant Muslims since the early 1900s. Over the years it has acquired an estimated 10,000-strong community - in a city of some 300,000 residents - that plays a lead role in practicing, teaching, and spreading Islam while maintaining a harmonious coexistence with neighbors of all faiths. This community's beginning is linked to the nation's history. Pittsburgh began in 1753, when Maj. George Washington of the Virginia MiH tia first set foot on the 300-acre triangle of land known as "the Fork." There was no city, not even a small village or a single log cabin. It was no more than a frontier of wilderness surrounded by a junction where the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers met to form the mighty Ohio River. Little did Washington know that this frontier land would one day become the heart of the nation's Industrial Revolution. For years, the French and the British fought fiercely for control of this land. They saw the potential for a thriving civilization here, with mountains full of coal and mineral ores and three rivers that could become the doorway to the outside world. The French quickly built Fort Duquesne on that triangular piece of land and then lost it to the British in 1758. They named the city Pittsburgh, after British prime minister William Pitt, and renamed the fort Fort Pitt. In fact, this victory changed America's destiny, for if the French had won America would be a Francophone nation today.
The 1800s saw this swath of frontier wilderness become the "workplace of the world." Pittsburgh emerged as a city of steel mills. German, Scottish, Irish, English, and Central European immigrants poured in to eke out a living in its sooty glass, iron, and steel mills. The city that eventually grew around it was where such remarkable industrial giants as Andrew Carnegie, Henry Frick, Andrew Mellon, and Henry Heinz forged their fortunes and thus enabled Pittsburgh to contribute to the world.
Pittsburgh's success story is remarkably familiar. Like many previous cities, its growth fell into the natural sequence of God's law and was sustained by its natural resources and steel mills. Things changed after the Second World War, however, for the steel mills began to disappear. With raw material deposits running out, the city was fated to transform itself yet again. The 1900s brought on this change.
After the steel mills were gone, Pittsburgh thrived on its sports arenas, universities, hospitals, and as a cultural hub. Emerging into a beautiful city of bridges, tunnels, and rivers, it became a center of education and the Pittsburghers became a sports-loving people. Employment opportunities grew along with modernization. At present, the Pittsburgh skyline boasts fancy glass towers in the backdrop of a famous local landmark - the fountain standing proud at Point State Park's Golden Triangle, where George Washington once stood in the wilderness. …