About six miles west of Martinsville, on U.S. 58, I happened to notice a sign that said “Islamic Center” (along with some Arabic script) in gold letters on a green background. The sign was on the front of a nondescript brick building behind a parking lot on the south side of the highway.
I did a double-take and took careful note of where I was so that I could look the site up on the web when I got home. Last night I started googling, and the place was harder to find than I had expected — the only Islamic establishment in Martinsville I could discover on Islam4theworld and similar sites was “Masjid Muhammad”, but it was in downtown Martinsville, and not outside of town on the highway. However, by searching on the name of the masjid’s imam, James A. Shabazz, I found several news articles referring to “The Martinsville Center of Al-Islam” on A. L. Philpott Highway, which is the name of that western stretch of U.S. 58. Later on, when I saw the photo of Imam Shabazz standing in front of the center, it confirmed that the building was indeed the “Islamic Center” I had seen.
Based on his name, and also the photo, it would have been fairly safe to assume that Mr. Shabazz was a member of the Nation of Islam or one of its offshoots. There were only three significant articles about him or the Martinsville Center of Al-Islam, all of them from The Martinsville Bulletin. Two were from back in 2007, during the controversy over Rep. Virgil Goode, our congressman from the Fifth District. Long-time readers will recall that Rep. Goode caused an uproar by criticizing Rep. Keith Ellison, who was sworn into Congress in January 2007 with his hand on a Koran.
Virgil Goode was turned out of office in November 2008 after a massive effort by the Democrats, with major funding from CAIR and Soros entities. But the first two articles were from back at the beginning of all the fuss, before the bull’s-eye had yet been painted on Virgil’s forehead.
The earliest article was published on January 28, 2007:
Local imam talks about Al-Islam
The very word “Islam” is Arabic for “peace,” says James Shabazz
James Shabazz, the imam (leader) of The Martinsville Center of Al-Islam, says one of his favorite sayings is “the saying Christians have, ‘WWJD’ — ‘What Would Jesus Do.’” He likes to ask himself “What would Mohammed do?” when faced with a decision.
Shabazz is in his first year as imam of the Martinsville Center of Al-Islam at 17125 A.L. Philpott Highway. The center has about 15-20 active members “who are long-time members of this community,” he added.
The “long-time members of this community” are almost certainly local black people who converted to a version of Islam similar to the one practiced by the Nation of Islam. However, Mr. Shabazz adds this slightly ominous qualifier to his description:
Also, “many foreign-born Muslims are beginning to come. ... We find for the most part they are pleased” with the center’s worship and study, he said.
So, for the most part, they are pleased. But who isn’t pleased? And what do they object to? And what countries do they come from?
These tantalizing questions are not addressed by the article, which continues with the usual boilerplate we’ve all come to expect from Muslims in America — at least in those areas where they are not particularly numerous:
Shabazz commented that to Muslims, Al-Islam — which is commonly called Islam — is more than just a religion; it is a way of life.
It “emphasizes clean living, the duty that we owe to God and the importance of family,” he said. Al-Islam also stresses charity and the care of other people, including the less fortunate.
“This religion is not complicated. It’s very simple. It’s really a way of life,” Shabazz said.
Al-Islam recognizes about 25 prophets (including Abraham, Moses and Jesus), the Torah, Psalms (Zaboor) and the New Testament (Injil). Yet Al-Islam’s primary guidance comes from the teachings of the prophet Mohammed, who lived about 600 years after Jesus’ time and recorded his revelations in the Quran.
“We refer to the Quran as the final revelation. What God finds necessary is inclusive in the Quran because this Quran comes as a correction and a further revelation of what went before,” Shabazz said.
Al-Islam is not an inherently Arabic religion, he said. Rather, “the prophet was Muhammad who happened to be from Mecca in Arabia.”
The religion is based on five principles:
- To witness that there is only one God (Allah);
- To pray (five times a day);
- To be charitable;
- To fast, especially during the time of Ramadan (in September);
- To make a pilgrimage to Mecca.
The following description indicates that the original congregation was not formed by disciples of Elijah Muhammad, or perhaps split off at an early stage from the NoI:
“Al-Islam was introduced to Martinsville in the early 1950s and has steadily maintained itself with a group of families who have upheld the faith,” Shabazz said.
Shabazz said that the religion of Al-Islam is not structured on an international scale, but rather Muslims tend to follow particular leaders within their own countries or regions. The Martinsville Center of Al-Islam is associated with Universal Islam under the guidance of Imam W. Deen Mohammed, the imam and international spokesman for the American Society of Muslims and the founder of The Mosque Cares in Chicago. Shabazz described him as a “leading teacher, scholar and proponent of universal peace — well recognized and respected throughout the world.”
A different branch of Islam practiced in Danville is Nation of Islam, which is under the leadership of Minister Louis Farrakhan. Nation of Islam is not affiliated with Universal Islam, Shabazz said.
The article goes on to explain that Mr. Shabazz is not a Martinsville native, but came to the area after the previous imam died. More feel-good boilerplate is followed by this:
Shabazz said that it is a shame that terrorism has become associated with the Islamic religion. “Terrorism for us is an oxymoron ... as it is applied by the media to Al-Islam. Every aspect of Islam advocates peace, unity and fellowship. The very word itself means ‘peace.’”
He added that there are one billion Muslims.
“Individuals (associated with terrorist activities) are just a few bad examples. ... Most foreign-born Muslims I find are peaceful and law-abiding citizens seeking a better environment to practice their faith,” Shabazz said.
He said that much of society misunderstands Al-Islam by taking situations out of context and by failing to know and understand the Quran.
Without reading the Quran in its original Arabic, “you’re not getting the purity of the book,” Shabazz said. The Koran is an English-language translation of the Quran and “mistakes are found in translation,” he added.
A common misunderstanding involves the term jihad, which “for a Muslim means a struggle against personal weaknesses to bring ourselves into obedience with God, to live our life with prayer, charity and fasting” on holy days, he said. While jihad begins as personal struggle, the concept also can be extended to “a struggle against any body or force that comes to threaten your family, community or nation,” he added.
Because of the media’s misapplication of the term, “this word has come to the public eye as meaning holy war, and that’s a misnomer,” he said.
No matter what specific splinter of Ummah this imam belongs to, the above misdirections and falsehoods are straight out of the Muslim Brotherhood’s instruction manual.
The second article is from March 4, 2007, and is not as interesting as the first one. I’ll just quote some brief excerpts:
Panel encourages religious tolerance
Americans are lucky to have a government that lets its citizens worship as they choose, and they should extend the same tolerance and understanding to their American neighbors with different faiths.
That was just one of the points made during “Religious Freedom in America,” a community discussion program Saturday at the Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Martinsville.
Holy Trinity’s Rev. Lynn Bechdolt, Martinsville Center of Al-Islam’s Imam James Shabazz and Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy grassroots organizer Ryan Rinn spoke about various aspects of religious freedom in a discussion that focused on the need for dialogue and understanding between people of all faiths.
Shabazz said the Muslim holy book, the Quran, makes it clear that God has given man freedom to choose his own religion.
“Muslims who live by the Quran know that there is no compulsion in religion,” he said.
For that reason people should not fear that someone exercising a religion such as Islam will convert others, he said, because only God can convert someone.
Shabazz said the founding fathers of the nation recognized that God has given man a “precious intellect” that gives him the freedom to think independently. They put it first in the Bill of Rights, he said.
“All of this being said is respecting the dignity that God has given to every man and woman regardless of their race, their creed or color,” he said.
Shabazz said that God did not just mean for Americans to worship freely, but that everyone on Earth should have the same right.
Shabazz also talked about the similarities between Christianity and Judaism and Islam, which he portrayed as greater than the differences.
“We believe in the same God,” he said, and have “common concerns” to promote the best for life, family and community.
Most of the rest is self-flagellating Christian claptrap from the Lutheran minister, Rev. Lynn Bechdolt, whose apology for her country includes this:
However, she said, she personally knows a local Muslim man who said he does not feel safe as long as Americans are fighting a war in a Muslim country.
“If we are not going to be true to our principles now, when we are in conflict with Muslims on the other side of the world, we will never have any true convictions,” she said.
American Christians should be willing to reach out to those who are treated like “second class citizens” and live in fear, to not let them be afraid to outwardly practice their faiths.
The final piece, a letter to the editor from James Shabazz, was published on January 12, 2011. The occasion was the shooting spree in Tucson by Jared Loughner. There’s nothing particularly notable about it — the newspaper’s readers were simply enjoined to “[f]ight character assassination, prejudice, hatred and crime with enlightenment.”
Fine with me.
That’s all I’ve been able to learn so far about Islam in Martinsville, Virginia. I’m sure there’s more than meets the eye for those who want to dig a little deeper. In particular, I can’t help but remember those “foreign-born Muslims”.
Later on during my trip home I passed not too far from the Jamaat ul-Fuqra compounds in Charlotte and Prince Edward Counties. That reminded me that JuF also reportedly split off from the Nation of Islam — in their case, because they wanted to practice a purer, more radical, more traditional form of Islam. A version that didn’t reject violent jihad.
None of this means that the same sorts of differences exist between the NoI and the Martinsville Center of Al-Islam.
But still, one wonders…