Building a Viable Muslim Community: Shaikh Anwar Muhaimin and the International Muslim Brotherhood
If there is any American-born brother who has the credentials to be called Shaikh, it is Anwar Muhaimin. Anyone meeting him, however, might not guess his extensive Islamic pedigree, because Shaikh Anwar is unassuming and humble, loath to advertise and project his background and completely focused on building a dynamic, viable, model Muslim community in his home town of Philadelphia. There in the heart of the hood, he serves as Imam of the masjid, International Muslim Brotherhood (IMB) and Director of Quba Institute for Arabic and Islamic Studies, which includes a full-time school. The efforts of Shaikh Anwar and a strong core of community members have been blessed as IMB is poised to enter a new stage in its development as a strong Muslim community.
Shaikh Anwar’s History
The story of Shaikh Anwar and the International Muslim Brotherhood really starts with his father, Imam Nafea Muhaimin, who was the long-time leader of IMB. As a young jazz musician who was fascinated by the sounds of Arabic, Imam Nafea became Muslim in 1946, joining an older group of Muslims who were followers of Professor Muhammad Ezaldeen (1880-1964) and his organization, Al-Deenu Allahi Universal Arabic Association, which was established in 1936. This same group founded IMB in Philadelphia in 1949. Imam Nafea, being one of the younger members in the group, began to take on greater responsibilities as that first generation aged and passed on. Imam Nafea can be seen as a bridge between the first generation of converts in the 1920s and 1930s, who emerged out of the Moorish Science Temple and Ahmadiyah, and the later wave of converts in the 1960s and 1970s.
As Imam Nafea struggled to keep IMB alive, it became clear to him that African American Muslims needed to gain knowledge of Islam in order to determine their own identity and define their own place in the Muslim world. The first generation along with Imam Nafea wanted to embrace authentic Islam and to claim membership in the worldwide Ummah of Muhammad (saws), but they did not want to sacrifice their identity as African Americans or their goal of impacting the lives of African American people. That first generation was passionate in their Islam, but they were limited in their Islamic knowledge. Imam Nafea came to the conclusion that ensuring the future of Islam in America would necessitate solid Islamic knowledge and a clear vision of an African American Muslim agenda in America.
In 1974 Imam Nafea decided that he would lead by example, taking his entire family (wife and 8 children) to Madinah where his family might gain in Islamic knowledge and he would study at the Islamic University of Madinah. This was not an easy decision, as Imam Nafea was in poor health due to a heart weakened by rheumatic fever. However, his thirst for knowledge and hope for the future overcame all reservations.
Anwar Muhaimin, born 1963, was 11 years old when the family moved to Saudi Arabia. Anwar and his younger brother Anas were enrolled in a Saudi public school, where they were put back to the 1st grade. However, they were accelerated as they became more fluent in Arabic. Anwar was also enrolled in an afternoon Quran school where he became a hafiz of Quran by age 15. After elementary school, Anwar and Anas entered the middle and high school of the Islamic University, which combined a regular curriculum and Islamic studies. The family returned to Philadelphia in 1983 as Imam Nafea’s health deteriorated, leaving Anwar and Anas to complete their schooling. In 1985 Anwar entered the Islamic University and in 1989 he graduated with a BA, specializing in Arabic Language. Shaikh Anwar was the first American-born Muslim to graduate from the College of Arabic Language (Shaikh Abdullah Hakim-Quick and Bilal Phillips preceded him in graduating from the Islamic University).
In 1990 Shaikh Anwar returned to America, and although unsure of his future (he had hopes of entering law school), he was well-grounded in his identity as an African American. As Shaikh Anwar recounts, by the age of 15 he was essentially a Saudi, as he sought to fit in. His father did not object, but he did start having long talks with Anwar, opening his eyes to his African American roots and the world he would return to. Young Anwar read J.A. Rogers, Malcolm’s Autobiography and many others books. As he matured and understood better his background, he jettisoned the notion of being anything other than himself.
Shaikh Anwar also returned to America with a balanced understanding of Islam. He did not return as a salafi. Shaikh Anwar attributes this balance to his father’s influence and his professors at the Islamic University who in the 1980s were not ideological salafis but some of the top scholars of the Muslim world. It was only towards the end of his stay in Saudi Arabia that Shaikh Anwar encountered professors who promoted extremist concepts and salafi doctrine.
Upon his return to America, Anwar was slowly drawn into the life of IMB, inspired and motivated by his father’s passion that African American Muslims needed to control their own destiny. In 19__ Imam Nafea died and the mantle of leadership passed to Shaikh Anwar.
International Muslim Brotherhood (IMB)
Under Shaikh Anwar’s guidance and the hard work of a committed membership, IMB has emerged as a model, dynamic community. The distinguishing characteristics of IMB are its openness and outreach to others, its emphasis on Islamic knowledge, and the discipline required of its members.
The International Muslim Brotherhood is an open masjid that welcomes all Muslims and actively seeks to engage and attract Muslims and new converts. As an example of outreach, IMB organizes seminars and conferences. A recent conference on Islam in America was a tremendous success as they attracted large crowds, especially for the homecoming speech of Dr. Sherman Jackson. IMB also organizes events in the park, combining entertainment, fun and Islamic knowledge. The sisters and brothers of IMB organize their own events, such as the regular “Brothers’ White Thobe Luncheon,” where brothers meet to bolster brotherhood by sharing food, discussion and knowledge.
IMB stresses the acquisition of Islamic knowledge. The centerpiece of this endeavor is a full-time Islamic school, which houses grades K-12. IMB conducts an after-school Quran memorization program for youth. Through the Quba Institute, IMB offers a wide array of Islamic courses and educational programs for adults, including tajwid, tafsir, and sirah.
Distinguished also by its discipline, IMB strives to function in a highly organized fashion and expects its members to live up to set standards. New Muslims, for example, are required to participate in a 4-week course, which ends with an exam. Members are required to attend community meetings where most decisions are made, and they are expected to be actively engaged in furthering their Islamic knowledge.
Their disciplined approach is quite evident in the regulation of marriage and divorce. At IMB individuals, who are desirous of finding a mate, fill out an extensive background questionnaire, and are then assigned a guardian if they do not have one. Guardians are appointed by the community, and all guardians must abide by the “Guardians Guidelines.” Couples who want to marry must attend three pre-marital counseling sessions and sign an “Oath of Commitment” which binds the couple to an Islamic marriage. If marital problems occur, a grievance procedure is in place which includes forms and arbitration sessions with trained facilitators. A clear divorce process also exists which includes a “Petition for Divorce” and counseling. This organized and disciplined approach to marriage and divorce has eliminated many of the marital problems that have plagued other communities.
By striving to be an active community that is open, inviting, knowledge-based and disciplined, IMB has attracted a strong core of members, laying the groundwork for even further growth and development—fulfilling the dream of Imam Nafea and the founders of IMB.