While the presence of the American Islamic Heritage Museum (AIHM) at 2315 Martin Luther King Jr. Ave. SE now spans more than seven years, the history of Muslim presence in this country predates colonization, revolution, and the United States Constitution.
The narrative of Muslims in America is largely untold and undiscovered, says Amir Muhammad, curator and co-founder of the AIHM. Since 1996, Muhammad, with his wife Habeebah, has toured an exhibit that documents the history of Muslims in America. His efforts have reached more than 100,000 people at universities and museums across the country, from Cambridge to Palo Alto. As a cultural attache for the State Department, he has toured the exhibit from Qatar to Nigeria
“The museum helps connect people through arts and culture by sharing the rich and largely unknown narrative of Muslim heritage and legacy in this country,” says Muhammad.
Working at the Islamic Education Center in Potomac, Md., in the early 1990s, Muhammad said he was exposed to all kinds of Muslims: Sunnis, Shiites, Yemenis, Saudis, Africans, and Europeans – all worshipping together. “This is the beauty of America,” Muhammad told me. Beyond our pluralistic shores these differences of regional origin or sect can cause great divisions and struggle.
Around this time, Habeebah Muhammad, a former staff member of the Anacostia Community Museum, began curating source material, and her husband began researching source material. As an outgrowth of their teamwork, breaking new ground in scholarship and forming alliances with existing cultural institutions, they began “a museum without walls” in 1996. In 2005, the ACM became the first American museum to promote and feature Muslims in America.
Then in March 2010, the Muhammads opened the AIHM at its current location, on a side of town often left off maps handed out to tourists. International groups of Afghans, Chinese, and Palestinians, as well as local school groups, have discovered a part of American history previously obscured.
Although the museum has a significant national profile, it remains under the radar for many Washingtonians. However, its importance to Ward 8 as a destination was recently recognized in the “Washington DC Economic Partnership’s 2017 Neighborhood Profile.”
All Are Welcome
While walking to the Anacostia Metro station on Sunday evenings, I have often passed the AIHM and been invited inside by Amir Muhammad. I have broken fast for Ramadan, sat with a diverse group of Muslims, Jews, and Christians of different walks of life in an Iftar celebration, and attended free musical performances and local history lectures.
In a city packed with museums that celebrate seemingly every demographic, cause, and event in American and world history, this humble museum in a humble part of town with a humble mission should be recognized not just during Islamic Heritage Month but year-round.
Despite the tone and tenor in many communities, Muhammad is optimistic about the future of the museum, Ward 8, and the country. With a twinkle in his eye, he confirms, “Goodness is on the rise.”
Current and Upcoming Events
You may have heard of Muhammad Ali or Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, but do you remember when NBA guard Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf sat during the National Anthem in the 1990s? Until the end of October, an expansive exhibit detailing the contributions and experiences of Muslim-American sports professionals is on display at the AIHM.
During the school year, the museum, formerly the home of the Clara Muhammad School, hosts an after-school food program from 3:30 until 4:30 p.m., every day. Local children are all welcome.
On Saturday, Oct. 7, AIHM will host a “Day of Dignity” with hot meals, school supplies, hygiene services, and community services and referrals provided. On Sunday, Oct. 8, a play focusing on the true story of Yarrow Mamout, a well-known free person of color and Fulani Muslim living in Georgetown at the turn of the 18th century, will debut.
AIHM is seeking volunteers for administrative help with upcoming programs, Iftar, and fundraising. Those interested should contact Habeebah Muhammad at 202-302-5904 or 202-610-0586 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information on the museum visit www.aihmuseum.org.