A Community Grows

By Bagasra, Anisah | Islamic Horizons, March/April 2006 | Go to article overview

A Community Grows


Bagasra, Anisah, Islamic Horizons


Diversity marks emerging Muslim communities in South Carolina.

SOUTH CAROLINA AND ITS SURROUNDING states are often described as the "Bible Belt", well known for fervent religiosity and a conservative culture. One might be surprised then to learn that South Carolina is home to a growing, diverse Muslim population that is a positive force both within the local Muslim community and the larger South Carolina community.

South Carolina is divided into three parts: the Upstate, the Midlands, and the Low Country. Each now has a significant population of Muslims, native, foreign born, or, like myself, a transplant from "up north". As a "Yankee", I was quite surprised by the unity I found in the Muslim communities in South Carolina. When I became a Muslim and lived in New Jersey, I notice that often there were Arab, South Asian, and African American mosques, i.e. mosques divided along ethnic/cultural lines. In South Carolina, on the other hand, communities are often small, close-knit, and ethnically diverse.

Muslim Geography of South Carolina

At Masjid Al-Muslimeen (Islamic Center of Columbia) in Columbia, the capitol of South Carolina, Imam Muhammad Adly leads a community of South Asians, Arabs, Whites, African-Americans, and-the latest addition to the community-Somali refugees. In the summer of 2003, Lutheran Family Services helped coordinate the relocation of a group of Bantu people to Cayce, SC, a suburb of Columbia. The Bantu, descendents of East African tribes, were fleeing persecution in Somalia, and Masjid AlMuslimeen volunteered to adopt the families.

Columbia is also home to four other mosques, two Islamic schools, the Muslim Students Association at the University of South Carolina, and a chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). Both the MSA and CAIR work on various issues, including public education on Islam, as well as unifying the South Carolina Muslim community. MSA hosts a yearly Islam Awareness Week on USC's campus, which is well attended by Muslims and non-Muslims from USC, other local colleges, and the general community. CAIR is responsible for the production of the Columbia Area Muslim directory, which is a mini white and yellow pages that assists the community in contacting each other and finding local Muslim professionals, mosques, and Muslim-run businesses. South Carolina Muslim communities also have established a Muslim cemetery.

South Carolinian Muslims are not confined to the big cities. Smaller towns and cities that dot the state's landscape have also become home to Muslims, with many drawn by the beauty and slower pace that defines hie in the South. The little town of Moncks Corner is home to a Sufi center, Masjid Muhajiruns wal Ansar, a community of about 200 Muslims, lead by Shaykh Harun Faye of Senegal. I had the privilege of conducting my Master's thesis research with this community during Ramadan and found this community to be extremely welcoming, generous, and serene.

Another Sufi community, Holy Islamville (est. 1983), is located in the Upstate town of York and consists of a community of more than 100 individuals living on some 50 acres of rural property. This group's women are active in publishing a magazine and running a social welfare organization.

South Carolina is the headquarters of at least one international Islamic organization, ISRA (Islamic Studies and Research Association), founded in 1987 to promote Islam based on the three aspects of islam, iman and ihsan. ISRA International now hosts two annual Islamic conferences, one in Columbia, SC and one in the Washington, DC area. These conferences feature dhikr; lectures and talks from local and international Islamic scholars and youth speakers; poetry readings; and a bazaar. The success and growth of ISRA serves as an example of the potential of small Muslim communities and the integration of Muslims into Southern society.

The cities of Clemson, Charleston, Greenville, Orangeburg, and Spartanburg also have their own mosques or Islamic centers. …

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