Driving down Germantown Avenue, by bus or car, you’ll see groups of Muslim men and women congregating on sidewalks near the line where Nicetown becomes Germantown.
Imam Hassan Abdi explains, “We have one of the largest communities in Philadelphia as it relates to the mosque.”
Imam Abdi and President Isa Underdue are two of the leaders in the Muslim community of the Germantown Masjid on Germantown Avenue and Clapier Street. The mosque has been around for more than 20 years, and practices Orthodox Islam.
Muslims from all over Philadelphia and throughout Germantown come to the services, with the Friday congregational prayer getting anywhere between 800 to 1200 people, according to Abdi. The mosque also has a school and offers a place for daily prayers.
“We believe in order for communities to prosper, it can’t always be government funded,” Abdi said. To that end, the mosque regularly raises funds and runs food drives for their Muslim and non-Muslim neighbors.
“When it’s community based (organizing and charity), and people have to sacrifice and donate, then it’s more sincere and effective because everybody is involved in the struggle,” Abdi continued.
“We have been here for quite a while so we know the neighborhood,” said Underdue, a contractor by trade who owns a shell property across the street from the mosque currently in plans for renovation.
Because they know the neighborhood, they know who might need help, financially or in other ways, and Abdi says, Muslims are bound by their faith to help their neighbors, no matter what religion they practice.
Abdi owns a house with his wife and children in Germantown but is originally from Cardiff, Wales in the United Kingdom, where he finished a master’s program in pharmacy. He appreciates Germantown for the diversity and what he sees as the friendliest of anyplace he has traveled.
The mosque continues to intersect itself into the dynamics of the neighborhood, being a key voice in the dialogue of solutions around the violence in the area, especially on the specific blocks of Germantown Avenue near the mosque’s buildings. They even initiated a conversation with Cindy Bass on the matter.
“Even in terms of crime in Germantown , during one of our prayers, we heard shooting,” Abdi said. They came out of the mosque and went into the streets to see people hiding from the shooting. “We spoke to the people,” Abdi continued. “We reasoned with them that you can’t be out here, just from decency, just don’t stand on the corners … we don’t want you to do this at all.”
That was last Ramadan. Abdi and Underdue said some of the guys still hang out on the sidewalk, but in a small sign of respect have moved further down the block. They both know it’s an ongoing conversation.