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ISLAMIC RELIGION

ISLAMIC RELIGION. In the 1990s Islam was the fastest growing religion in the U.S., with about six million adherents. In the Greater Cleveland area, in 1995 there were between 20-25,000 Muslims, a number nearly double that of ten years earlier. That growth has come both from natural increase in the resident population and also from continued immigration and conversion. Approximately 35% of Greater Cleveland Muslims are converts to the faith, many attracted to Islam by its strong moral code.

The Islamic population is spread throughout the Greater Cleveland area, but a larger concentration resides on the west side. In particular, many Muslim residents are situated in the northwest part of Cleveland and in Lakewood. The Muslim population of the area is ethnically diverse. Adherents number both Arab and non-Arab immigrants from the Mideast, as well as others from North Africa, the Indian subcontinent, and Indonesia. Approximately 20% of the local orthodox Muslim community are African Americans. Many of these were first drawn to Islamic teaching by the Nation of Islam, a group founded by Elijah Muhammed. In several respects, the Nation of Islam's teachings diverge from those of traditional Islamic practices, and the group is not considered a part of the Orthodox Islamic Community. Since 1975, however, many former Nation of Islam members have followed the exhortation of W. Deen Muhammed, son of the group's founder, and have become full members of the Sunni Muslim community.

The first Muslims arrived in Cleveland during the 1920s. Their numbers remained small and their gatherings were largely informal, but under the leadership of WALI A. AKRAM as their Imam (spiritual leader), who came to Cleveland in 1923, they founded First Cleveland Mosque, at 7605 Woodland Ave., in 1927. By 1950 there were some 500 Muslims in the area. Spurred by events in the Mideast, by the 1960s Muslim immigration to the Cleveland area increased significantly. Many young Muslims also began arriving in Cleveland to pursue college studies. These newer arrivals, in order to meet the restrictions imposed by U.S. Immigration Laws, were well educated, and many were members of the medical and engineering professions. In 1963 some of these Muslims began to meet for worship in Univ. Circle. Then in 1967, 15 families joined to formally establish the ISLAMIC CENTER OF CLEVELAND, which over the years has become the largest Cleveland Muslim congregation. In 1968 they purchased a residence at 9400 Detroit Ave. for their congregation's new home.

Today there are fifteen mosques (masjid) in the Greater Cleveland area. These are the centers for prayer and Islamic learning. Most of the mosques are neighborhood-oriented and located in converted premises and each is led by an Imam. Two of the mosques, however, are larger and occupy buildings which have been designed in traditional architectural style. One of these congregations is Masjid Bilal, located at 7401 Euclid Ave. Masjid Bilal opened its new mosque in 1983. It was the second newly built mosque in the U.S. The other is the new home of the Islamic Center of Cleveland, which has over 5,000 Muslims. Its new mosque is located at 6055 W. 130th St., near Snow Rd. Construction of the $2.7-million center began in 1991, and it opened early in 1995. According to tradition, the mosques hold weekly prayer services on Friday afternoon. To accommodate the many who cannot attend the Friday services, additional services are also held on Sunday. The Muslim community also sponsors weekend children's schools, for both boys and girls, to help them learn the fundamentals of their faith and to understand the Arabic language, which remains the official liturgical language in Islamic worship.

The mosques of Cleveland are open to all, members and non-members, Muslims and non-Muslims alike.

James Toman