Building Islam: Masjid At-Taqwa

The roots of Masjid Al-Taqwa came into fruition prior to the physical formation of the Masjid itself in its current site. It started out with a handful of brothers and sisters of the Muslim faith convening in a fellow believer’s home. They would meet during Friday prayers in an apartment in Hancock St, hosted by Salim Abdul Sabaar and his wife, providing their living room and bedrooms for place of temporary worship with the weekly task of re-shifting the furniture in the household and orientating towards the Kaaba, to perform the Friday Prayer.

In the year 1981, the concept of forming Masjid Al-Taqwa with a fellow believer and the future Imam of the mosque, Siraj Wahhaj spear heading the idea amongst a group of twenty-five believers at that time, whilst amassing funds with the intentions of procuring a piece of property to solidify the concept of the Masjid. On July 3 rd 1981 of the Georgian Calendar and Ramadan 2 nd 1401 of the Hijri Calendar, after Friday prayers all the active members of the conglomeration meet afterwards to discuss their agenda of the following week of purchasing a piece of property with the sums of money that they have amassed and collected from individuals and amongst themselves.

Imam Siraj Wahhaj, have set eyes on a piece of property in a drug-infested area in Brooklyn at that time. That property was owned by the city, and was placed on auction for bids in the summer of 1981. The property had a minimum upset value of thirty-thousand dollars, meaning the least amount of money to bid was that of the starting value. Wary of the auction bids, the group of believers had set a maximum value of ninety-thousand dollars for the bid. As the auction began on several properties in the area, all prices have gone beyond the minimum bids and with vast properties purchased from the Asian communities.

The group during the auction convened and decided to raise their maximum bid limit from ninety- thousand to one hundred and fifty thousand dollars, as they wish to solidify and establish a masjid for their growing community. As the auction began for the site of Masjid Al-Taqwa, the minimum upset value was set at thirty thousand dollars, only a few people were interested in the purchase of this property. Imam Siraj called “Upset” for the bid, and in a matter of seconds was rewarded the property with the minimum upset value. An African American businessman another potentialbuyer approached Imam Siraj, after the bid and informed his intentions to purchase the same property. Nonethelessknowing that the property was to be bought by a member of Muslim brotherhood, he backed out from called a bid.

During the 1980’s the small group of believers began moving into their unit, forming their own community. With the process of renovating the building, and placing roots for believers, current and future. In 1988, Imam Siraj and his devout team of members launched an impressive anti-drug street patrol, which resulted in the shutting down of over fifteen drug houses, which in turn has resulted in raising the value of the property, unintentionally. The property value has increased drastically from the meager thirty thousand dollar investment to towards five to six hundred thousand dollar range.

In 2005, with the post-September 11 events, tensions amongst the communities have grown. Actions and acts ranging from vandalism to hate crimes have taken place. The community behind Masjid Al-Taqwa has taken action by erecting a fence around the perimeter to protect the mosque from intentional vandalism and prevent homeless people from taking up the curb.

In 2014, the size of the community of the mosque has increased from the initial twenty-five believers whom met in a small one-bedroom apartment to the current site post-drug infested neighborhood holding prayers of eight hundred believers within the confines of the prayer hall. As of 2017, the masjid has turned thirty-six years since it initial purchase, has gone through several iterations of interior and exterior renovations and phases of expansions by latest in 2014, the addition of a women’s prayer hall with their own separate quarters.

To conclude in one of his many online videos, Imam Siraj Wahhaj has stated that an architect had been hired and plans for an updated and brand new Masjid Al-Taqwa exist with the intention of tearing down the current Masjid. The proposed masjid measuring up to four stories high, with the traditional features of a mosque, a minaret, a dome and a grand entrance. Till this date no plans of this development, have been publicly published only words used in sermons and social media posts.

Partners: Mouna Lawrence, Samer Mohammad

Columbia GSAPP