The Growth of the Muslim Community

The expanding muslim community in Tampa

In recent years, we have seen the growth of Tampa's muslim community, as well as the expansion and creation of mosques, despite setbacks.

Muslim Migration The growth of the Muslim population in the United States following many of the contemporary politics of the post-war world. The second half of the 20th century saw a rise in the migration of African and Asian people to the United States. According to authors Selcuk R. Sirin and Michelle Fine, the immigration of Muslims to America came in two waves. The first wave occurred in the late 1800s and “lasted until the 1924 Immigration Act.” A majority of these immigrants settled in the Midwest and along the east coast. The second wave of Muslim immigrants came about around 1965. There are many factors that contributed the migration during and since then. For one, the loosening of immigration laws made it easier for Muslims, particularly those from Asian and African countries to come to the United States. Additionally, these immigrants were sometimes a product of a brain drain, in which the educated class of a country would seek employment elsewhere. Another reason for mass migration during this time was due to the growing unrest across the middle east, as well as Africa, that led many to flee as refugees. This second wave of Muslim immigrants settled more widely across America. Unlike in the first wave, these Muslims had more incentive to retain their religious identity, due to the increase in religious tolerance particularly after the 1960s. However, Muslim migrants were not the only source of the increased Muslim population. Many natural-born Americans were also converting to Islam. Islam was particularly popular in the African American community in the years following the civil rights movement. One of the main conduits for this conversion were the teachings of the Nation of Islam, with notable members such as Malcolm X and Muhammad Ali. The Muslim community in Florida still remains considerably small compared to other states. Both Muslim immigrants and African American Muslims were noted to settle more predominantly in urban areas, yet recent years have seen a slight change. 9-11 and Tampa Bay The September 11 terrorist attacks has impacted every part of American society, and the Tampa community is no exception. In response to the attacks, then Imam Mohammad Sultan began to host open houses in order to educate the public about the religion and its people. The need to explain Islam became more vital to Muslims, as the years following the attacks would see a rise in islamophobia and hate crimes against Muslim people, even in the Tampa Bay area. In this time, the mosque became a vital place for the Muslim community, as much as it was to educate those outside the community. A news article from the St.Petersburg Times the day after 9/11 recounts a middle aged woman driving into the parking lot of ISTABA, coming with the intention of causing harm to the students who were attending the class there. Such accounts of threatening and harassment are reflected in other articles published during the time. Fear and anxiety within the community grew, yet the official stance of ISTABA did not change. They would continue to serve the community, despite the suspicions of those outside the community. These included charity drives, feeding the needy, and continuing the open houses. The actions taken by ISTABA would go on to help build goodwill in the community, as local news organizations reported favorably on the efforts by the mosque to reach out to the community. yet the troubles would not completely dissipate. In 2017, a fire broke out near the women’s prayer area at the Islamic Society of New Tampa, an associate mosque of ISTABA. The act was ruled a case of arson, and reported to be a hate-crime. This is following the fire at the year prior at the Masjid Omar in Tampa. In 2019, a man was shot in the parking lot of the mosque, leading to community wide policy changes. Fromthen on, hired personnel oversaw public events, including the nightly prayers during the month of Ramadan. Yet at the same time, the Muslim community in Tampa was also growing. In the 2000s, the Tampa Bay area saw the growth of its Muslim community. While ISTABA was the first, others would come soon after. Notably, the Islamic Society of New Tampa and Islamic Community of Tampa, both of which have grown substantially. It is also important to note that all of the mosques are community funded, and indeed hold fundraisers every year to better the facilities of the mosque and community. The contribution of the community allowed for an open path of communication between those in leadership and the members of the community.

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