daryl_lewis_and_usamah_salahuddin_web.jpg"Black History Month 2012"

MIAMI — One of South Florida’s most prestigious landmarks sits on the corner of Northwest 53rd Street and Seventh Avenue: Masjid-Al Ansar. Known by many passersby as the Muslim mosque, this place of worship is filled with untold stories that contribute to African-American history locally and nationally.

For example, worldwide admirers of “The Greatest” — Muhammad Ali — know that he trained in Miami for his early boxing championship fights. But even his greatest fans may not know that he was a worshipper at, and helper of the historic mosque.

Masjid Al-Ansar (“Mosque of the Helpers” being a rough translation from the Arabic), was purchased in 1967 as one of the Muhammad Temples of Islam in the original Nation of Islam led by the man still known as the Honorable Elijah Muhammad.

It not only is where the legendary Ali came to worship while residing in Miami. It was a part of the private school system he supported. In 2001, Will Smith, Mario Van Peebles, Nona Gaye and other actors admired the beautiful upstairs prayer space used for a scene in the movie ALI.

For nearly 45 years the building has served a multitude of purposes in addition to worship services. Downstairs was one of 400 private schools founded by the First Lady of the Nation of Islam, Sister Clara Muhammad.

Clara and Elijah Muhammad dedicated themselves to educating their own children and not leaving their destiny in the hands of the American educational system; risking their lives in an era when bold, independent thinking by African Americans was considered a threat to the United States of America, and thus changing the face of freedom and education in America forever. In the early 1970s, Ali gifted the school with two buses to transport students.

One of Broward County’s youngest and brightest commissioners is a proud product of the former “University of Islam” school system. When Commissioner Barbara Sharief recently was honored at an awards dinner for her accomplishments and contributions to the South Florida landscape, she gave credit for her success in part during her acceptance speech to the Clara Mohammed School system. Today there are more than 90 Clara Muhammad Schools nationwide including the Miami location. 

When Elijah Muhammad died in 1975, leadership of his Nation of Islam passed to his son, the late Imam W. Deen Mohammed. 

A progressive leader, theologian, philosopher, Islamic revivalist and thinker, Imam Mohammed (who changed his last name to reflect the spelling on his birth certificate), led the vast majority of the members of the original Nation Of Islam into the mainstream, emphasizing Islam in its purest form so that Muslims would adhere to the tenets as given in the Muslim’s sacred book, the Quran.

Race and other constructs no longer determined who could worship under Imam W.D. Mohammed’s leadership, as he accepted all of humanity, and all of the more than 400 temples were converted into traditional mosques. By the time he passed in 2008, he had been instrumental in establishing interfaith cooperation with myriad other religious communities, especially Christians and Jews in America and around the world.

Today Masjid Al-Ansar’s religious leader is Imam Dr. Nasir Ahmad, who continues as a dedicated student of Imam Mohammed. “The Helper’s Mosque,” which has many progressive outreach programs and is well known within the community for helping those in need, was designated a historical landmark in 2004.

Photo: Daryl Lewis, L, and Usamah Salahuddin, R.