By Constance Garcia-Barrio
The Philadelphia Masjid in Mill Creek: a place to learn, gather, live
Community involvement is akin to prayer at the Philadelphia Masjid in Mill Creek. “Our religion requires community outreach,” says Aazim Muhammad, 60, president and CEO of Sister Clara Muhammad Community Development Corporation. Built in 1922 as a Roman Catholic school, the one-and-a-half acre property has, like many other buildings of its kind, transitioned to reflect the more recent residents of the neighborhood, primarily African Americans or Latinos. Since 1977, the Masjid has hosted concerts, weddings, funerals, job fairs and prison reentry programs, says Muhammad, but has been underutilized since Sister Clara Muhammad School closed some 10 years ago.
The Masjid plans to grow, and Muhammad believes word of mouth will alert Delaware Valley Muslims to the Masjid’s broader role. “We’re the mothership,” he says of the current 500 member congregation. “Other Masjids have spun off from us and we maintain close ties.”
The Masjid also aims to cast a wider net by collaborating with organizations like the People’s Emergency Center (PEC), a comprehensive social service agency that provides emergency housing, job training, parenting classes and more.
“It’s natural for us to partner with the Masjid because many of our interests dovetail,” says James Wright, 37, PEC’s director of community, economic and real estate development.
“Jobs are a critical factor in Mill Creek, one of the most impoverished parts of the city,” Muhammad says. “Our programs will allow participants - especially those ages 18 to 20 - to earn a GED and learn a trade.” Those programs include culinary arts, healthcare, early childhood education and construction trades.
Through Sacred Places/Civic Spaces, the Masjid was paired with HOK, an award-winning global design, architecture, engineering and planning firm.
“President Obama declared Mill Creek a ‘Promise Zone,’” Muhammad says. “President Trump has called it an ‘Opportunity Zone.’ Those designations encourage the city and the federal government to earmark money for development here.”
The Masjid’s location will help attract tenants and program participants, Muhammad says. Bus route 64 affords access to the campus and Fairmount Park. Drexel and the University of Pennsylvania are minutes away by trolley. Nearby public and charter schools also increase appeal.
Plans for the Masjid include upgrading existing facilities and building affordable, intergenerational housing, a daycare space and a community plaza.
HOK’s master plan covers programming, feasibility and aesthetics and addresses cost and sustainable design strategies.
“One of the most sustainable things we can do as a city is to reuse existing structures in efficient ways rather than building new,” says Caitlin Youngster, 28, an HOK senior design professional.
Renovating the auditorium/gymnasium and classroom buildings will both restore its vibrancy and help to sustain the community around it, she notes.
“We’re on the fast track, we’re moving ahead,” Muhammad says. “Faith and finance make an unbeatable team.”