In 1984, Muslim community leaders living in Memphis purchased a property near Memphis State University to provide a worship and community space. Back then, only three of the seven mosques currently open in Memphis existed.
Muslim students at Memphis State and Muslims who lived near the university needed a convenient place to pray. They bought a small home at 3529 Mynders Avenue, a six-minute walk away from the campus, and used the space for worship and Muslim Student Association gatherings.
What started more than three decades ago as a place of fellowship for Muslims in the University District has grown into a community anchor that serves the Mid-South. Masjid Al-Noor, a 3,000-square-foot mosque, now sits where the little house on Mynders once was.
The Muslim community outgrew the home and demolished it in 1997 to make way for the new, two-story structure. In addition to men’s and women’s prayer halls, wudu washrooms and an office for the imam, worshippers have daily access to classrooms, a kitchen and library.
Masjid Al-Noor established the nonprofit Islamic Association of Greater Memphis, or IAGM, in 2007 after several years of providing spiritual edification and social support to Muslims in Memphis and surrounding cities in Arkansas and Mississippi. The Muslim Student Association left “home” for college and moved its operations to a building on The University of Memphis campus.
The organization’s expansion beyond worship during those 10 years included working with other organizations to support the community at large.
“When I started being involved, I started under the MSA [Muslim Student Association] when I first came here,” said Sami Sakaan, a founding board member of the Islamic Association of Greater Memphis.
Sakaan came from Syria to Memphis in 2003 to study biochemistry and biology at U of M. After finishing high school, he moved to be with family who had settled in Memphis in the 1960s.
Sakaan said IAGM frequently partners with local churches, MIFA and Mid-South Food Bank at soup kitchens, education workshops and social events. “Poverty is high in Memphis and we work together with other organizations to alleviate that," he added.
At one annual community service project, volunteers coordinate a meal packaging event in conjunction with the global nonprofit Rise Against Hunger. The mosques in Memphis invite other faith communities to assemble 50,000 pre-prepared meals Rise Against Hunger will distribute around the world.
About 300 people frequent Masjid Al-Noor every week to participate in social and recreational activities for all ages, prayer throughout the week and weekend services. The mosque and St. Luke’s United Methodist Church across the street often share parking lots when one of the organizations hosts an event.
To further support the diverse Muslim community in the tri-state area, IAGM opened its second mosque, Masjid Ar-Rahman, in 2014 at the corner of Hacks Cross and Bill Morris Parkway. About 1,000 people a week visit Masjid Ar-Rahman. IAGM is expanding the location to include a school, youth lounge and gym.
“You see many different nationalities,” Sakaan said. “Some from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh. We have some from Somalia, different parts of Africa. We have some from different nationalities in the Middle East. We have some African-Americans that convert. Some Caucasian, so it’s a mix of different ethnicities.”
IAGM offers year-round education opportunities such as mosque tours, open houses and discussions with inmates. The organization sees its public-facing activities as an effort to dispel ethnic and spiritual stereotypes and misconceptions about violence and Islam, Shariah law and Islamic views of women.
The association routinely opens both its mosques to tours for students.
“We still have a lot of room to grow and reach out to everyone in the community, telling them about the message of Islam and how it is unlike what they see on TV,” Sakaan said.
IAGM program coordinator and youth director Omar Al-Ani participates in law enforcement programs on behalf of the organization. “We've also been partners with local law enforcement and emergency management officials to tackle crime and our responsibility to the safety of our community,” said Al-Ani, who is also a part-time Islamic studies teacher at Pleasant View School.
On March 2, all seven area mosques are participating in the 17th annual community open house, themed, “Keeping Our Humanity in Modern Times.” The purpose of the event is to increase understanding about Islam and Muslim traditions through presentations and discussions.
Muslims in Memphis is a local nonprofit that coordinates a free, family-friendly festival featuring ethnic food, clothing, games and exhibits on March 30 at Agricenter International.
The annual festivities began occurring in 2003, when then Mayor Willie Herenton designated March as the month to recognize Muslims in Memphis. Every year, local Muslim organizations sponsor and host four weeks of community events and open houses.
Sakaan said more than 150 people attended the Masjid Al-Noor open house in 2018.
“We cooperate with a lot of organizations and I think a lot of times it's a positive perception,” he said. “We try our best to spread the message.”
The full event list for March can be found here.
Correction: An earlier version of this story stated that there are eight mosques in Memphis. That is incorrect; there are seven mosques in Memphis.