The Street is a Mosque for Displaced Muslims in Newark During Ramadan

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The Branford Masjid Newark
During Ramadan, displaced members of the Branford Masjid plan to pray on the sidewalk outside their closed mosque. In this photo, they are praying during a jummah prayer on the last Friday before Ramadan. Photo by Abdullah Elbelkasi.

For the displaced members of the Branford Masjid in Newark, prayer rugs were spread out on sidewalks. Spilling into the street was a crowd gathered for the pre-fast iftar meal. These are sacred traditions of Ramadan and they wouldn’t be broken simply because these faithfuls have no house of worship.


“We will be praying during the month of Ramadan right where you stand,” said Bashir Ali from Friends of Branford Masjid, a community group comprised of mosque members. “The building might not be open, but Allah has declared the earth his masjid.”

The Branford Masjid has been locked for the past four months. The Islamic Society of Essex County’s board of trustees allegedly sold the 11-story Chamber of Commerce building, where the mosque was located, to Paramount Assets without notifying the congregation. The so-called mother of the mosque, Khalilah Shabazz, who has prayed there for decades, filed a lawsuit against the board, claiming the sale violated bylaws. A court date is set for May after the holy month ends.

The Branford Masjid Newark 5039
The members of the Branford Masjid gather to eat a pre-fast iftar meal. Photo by Darren Tobia.

Considered the first mosque in the Four Corners district, it dates back to 1982, when a Saudi philanthropist, Ali Habeeb Maghrabi, donated the century-old Chamber of Commerce building to Newark’s Muslim community. Community is the operative word. The board’s legal strategy has been to question whether the community that prays at the mosque are bonafide members that “adhere to its principles” as the New Jersey statute requires. If the judge agrees that the mosque-goers are not members, Shabazz will lose legal standing to continue with the lawsuit.

Out of court, the persistence of this displaced congregation, which has protested throughout the winter, is inspiring a grassroots movement in Newark that is bigger than one mosque or one court case. Their cry for justice has been answered by other congregations and churches.

“We are here to let the world know that when we stand together across racial lines, across religious lines, to fight for what’s right, then right will be done,” said William Hicks, pastor at Whole Life World Changing Church in Newark.

In the meantime, the board has opened a new mosque only two blocks away at 9-13 Hill Street, bought with funds from the sale of the Chamber of Commerce building. The former building, they claim, was bleeding money due to runaway repairs, which resulted in a lack of tenants to occupy floors unused by the mosque. A small group of prayer-goers has begun to worship there invited by the promise of social services and doctors offices.

The Branford Masjid Newark 5009
The front door of the Chamber of Commerce building, where members of the Branford Masjid used to pray, has been locked since it was sold to Paramount Assets. Photo by Darren Tobia.

“We were facing closure,” Attia Sweillam, chairwoman of the ISEC board of trustees. “There would be no more community services or prayer hall, if we continued in Branford.”

The members of the Branford Masjid, however, have stood their ground. A spray-painted message has appeared on the door of the sealed mosque. Those words have become a rallying cry.

This Will Always Be a Masjid.

“We will pray with what Allah has given us — this concrete,” Ali said. “We don’t need to have an open door.”

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15 COMMENTS

  1. This reads like a PR-piece for those protesting the mosque’s sale.
    A balanced post in a real estate-focused site as this, might have included more space dedicated to telling the building sellers’ perspectives, site comparisons between the 2 locations, information on the new owners of the former mosque, redevelopment plans for the old Chamber of Commerce building and/or the status of the legal proceedings challenging the former mosque’s sale.
    I understand giving voice to all parties in a real estate dispute, but in this post, Jersey Digs comes across as an advocate of a particular side, rather than an impartial reporter of facts. Amplifying the tactics of protestors in this manner, comes across as an endorsement of a metaphorical obstacle to real estate progress and change, Downtown.

  2. I am happy to see that this story is getting some coverage. To close the doors to mosque that has been a fabric of the community for decades is shameful.
    I pray the mosque is returned to its rightful owners – the Muslims of Newark and beyond.

  3. Yes! I would like to read balanced stories that retell a narrative not buttressed against progress at the expense of community members. While I welcome development, I do not welcome displacement at the hands of greed and ambition. Had this site been a forty year old synagogue in the city, there would not be a fight over sacred space. Since this is a tussle between Muslim interlopers disguised as community leaders, and an ambitious developer grabbing as much downtown real estate as possible…to what end? That this fight even exists.
    The developer new there was litigation when he signed the deal late on a Friday night, while the building was shut for Covid-19 protocols. Is he, Paramount Assets set upon developing working class Newarkers out of the market?
    Should the building be in such dire shape as they claim, in need of repair, why would they trade it for four other dilapidated Newark properties, including a bar (haram for Muslims), which is illegal for a religious board to own and call itself governing Islamic religious and social needs of a “community”. Are they, ISEC developers or a religious organization? I call them a board of thieves.

  4. Cant wait to see all the development needed for this location.
    The Chamber of Commerce building is a beautiful building with a great location.
    The Muslims can go and find a different location .

  5. Wow, I didn’t know that this was taking place. But ain’t nothing impossible, that God can’t fix.
    But don’t worry for God shall bless you all, with a bigger, better building. Right at that exact location. Just keep praying and see how God will favor you, for you believe in him. The Devil will never triumph over those who believe in him. I will pray over a super miracle, that will take care of the problem.

  6. I am saddened about this. The Masjid is like a staple to the community and in my heart. Though I never attended I have many friends that did. With all that time there wasn’t there preparation. The Masjid has to grow and move on. That morsel of property will for ever be cursed knowing how the back dooring happened to its members. Develope and grow members be the driver of you destiny. The property has been sold. May you stick together create your own reality. Ameen!!

  7. im schocked to hear whats happening im of the catholic faith but i stillrespect the word of islam this bldg has been an excellent source of education for skilled learning. for both sexeso earned my sora liscense and noted other classes that werebeing offered right in the heart of the citywhich kept me from newarks i.when traveli. wS lo a
    theg worked well with my job and school when

    nerded can a go fund me be established i would. ontrobute part of my stimulus to keep the probgrams going and the blg as well

  8. Allah-God is Merciful. New Growth is coming. The Masjid I have attended a few times. It was a stronghold for Muslims to be able to Pray Downtown in the Heart of the City. Newark is the Mecca of Islamic Faith and community. Since the 1960’s & 70’s Newark’s Muslim Community is profound has help folks get off Drugs. Maintain Employment be kind to Spouse’s husbands and wives when Straight Pride was law. Now we’re living in a Society that goes against the Books of The almighty Allah-God. No disrepect to other folks But when I grew up in the 70’s & 80’s. I could watch TV. With my family and not have to leave the room. But nowadays things are very Different we are living in a Covid-19 Pandemic Society. It’s over 40,000 Muslims throughout the City Of Newark. It’s pride being able to go downtown to the Masjid and see all the Muslims. Which went from Black Americans to a Diverse Community of all walks of life now and we accepted them with open arms like the Creator wanted us too. I think that how things went down without the community was disrepectful. But we must move on and I think the Folks who brought the building should give back to the Muslim Community. Because it’s Prime Real Estate and the buyer’s know that. Help find another location were the Community can remain somewhere that Accommodate’s the Muslims. I think the New Jersey Governor Murphy needs to help the Muslims we was one of his biggest supporters Fact’s. My Family’s history is historical with the Muslim Community. I have been a very strong voice as well as being a part of our Interfaith Alliance Team here in This great City of Newark Iam a Homeowner here and have Worked here with our Great Mayor Ras J Baraka. Who has helped the Muslim Community and still continues to lend a hand in 2021. Imam Al-Samad Ali Sawab.

  9. I am saddened to read this article. I am new to the Muslim Religion and I am studying the Quran. All the misconceptions about Muslims and the beliefs are not true. I have only experienced great positives for me since I have made Islam apart of my life. I am looking forward to growing and helping other people grow in this great Islamic Religion……

  10. Thats what happens when the black american muslim community doesnt own their masjid and keeps relying on handouts from the immigrant community. Go support masjid Ahlus Sunnah, bought and paid for by black american muslims from the hood. Stop complaining and buy your own buildings.

  11. My apologies, but when did this site become a home for proselytizing and evangelizing?
    I understand the religious significance of the building, it’s a former mosque. I also understand the need to discuss the impact of real estate transactions, on various communities and groups. That does not mean that its proponents need to “convert” this site into something it isn’t. It’s a forum for discussion of real estate projects, proposals, developments and ideas.
    Lets try to stick to the script.

  12. This mosque has been relocated in a better conditioned building 2-3 blocks away at a prime location next to city hall. There are also plenty of other mosque and frankly there are too many churches and other non profit like entities not participating in the city Tax base. The residents should come up with a fund to make offers to buy the building back from developer contigent on giving up the new site. They also should form thier own organization and disavow the muslim group that allegedly sold them out. This is a better outcome than protesting a legal sale. This continued protest and blockade is ineffect stealing the value of a good from the legitimate owner. Stealing is treated very harshly under islamic law and property rights are held to a high regard in islamic law and culture.. The entity that brought the building are not robots, they are human beings as well . People should really anaylze things in a rational and logical matter, not swaying emotions and sentimentality.

    I am not sympatheic to thier cause given the condition of downtown Newark, the condition of the area and the building , given the condition of the Tax Base. These people let the area get rundown and delapidated while they prayed in an aging mosque. Did they not see the plight of thier neighbor, thier fellow man, fellow businesses on the same block.Praying means nothing without affirmative actions behind such prayers. That building and that area should have never looked that way if that mosque was in such high esteem. The conscientious members would have not allowed those conditions . They dont allow it in Mecca or Istanbul , and it shouldnt be tolerated in Newark NJ USA. The move to a better building was reasonable.

    Residents should not use thier religion to huddle in a comfort zone while reppealing badly needed development. BADLY NEEED VALUE ADDED PRODUCTIVE USE OF RESOURCES, LAND AND PROPERTY. Its more beneficial to Newarkers to have a vibrant, economically and culturally diverse city, than a dead city beholden to special interest insecurities.

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