Increase in worshippers forces congregation to seek bigger space
Despite the noise from passing pedestrians and fire trucks, Muslims kept saying their Friday prayers on the sidewalk in front of the Masjid Ebun Abass mosque on a weekday in November. The sight was not unusual.
The mosque on the corner of E. 141st Street and Alexander Avenue was so crowded that the faithful poured out onto the street. Now the congregation is looking for a new building to move the mosque for the growing number of worshippers.
“It’s like this every single Friday,” Imam Braimah Jallo said. “We are looking for a bigger place. It’s not easy, but we pray as much as we can.”
According to the Association of Religion’s data archives, the number of Muslims in Bronx County more than tripled—from 12,164 to 38,506—between 2000 and 2010, the most recent year for which figures are available.
Much of the congregation at Masjid Ebun Abass hails from countries in West Africa, reflecting an immigration trend taking place across the area. The percentage of West Africans in the South Bronx more than doubled between 2009 and 2013, from 3.1 percent of the foreign-born population, to 6.5 percent, according to the US census’ American Community Survey.
Congregants at Masjid Ebun Abass say the increase is noticeable. Every Friday around 200 people come to pray, Jallo said. Yassir Quhshi, 40, who has been visiting the mosque for eight years, said he often has to pray on the sidewalk because the building is so packed.
“It doesn’t feel good at all,” he said. “You don’t learn anything. The whole purpose is to hear the imam’s speech, the story of the day, and we have to learn from it. Out here you don’t hear anything.”
Praying on the sidewalk does not pose the only problem, said Mohammed Bahoresibi, who uses the space to teach young people to read the Quran on weekends.
“If we have a bigger place, we could at least have a classroom for each class,” Bahoresibi said, explaining that all the classes currently take place in the mosque—a large room with three blackboards. “Right now it’s an open space and that’s too much noise. When you are teaching, the kids get distracted.”
The community is searching for a space that can hold up to 400 worshippers, said Islamic scholar Mamadou Diakite, one of the people in charge of finding a new building.
The search committee did find a place, Diakite said—the old health center on Third Avenue—but had only $50,000 of the $200,000 the landlord was asking for the deposit. Now the members of Masjid Ebun Abass pay $5,500 rent per month, but ultimately they aspire to own rather than rent.
“If we stay on the rent, we are not serious with our future,” Diakite said. “If tomorrow the landlord comes and says, ‘I’m going to increase the rent to $6,000,’ we have no choice.”
Diakite said it is unclear when he and his fellow worshippers will be able to raise enough money to afford a new mosque. In the meantime, he added, they will continue to fundraise within the congregation and seek support from other mosques around the city.