by Max Brantley
A dozen-plus Muslim Arkansans gathered today at the site of the New Africa development, on a no longer vacant block at 40th and Potter in the John Barrow neighborhood, to celebrate the completion of three houses and the construction of a fourth. Among them were Imam Abdul Kareem Hasan and his wife, Helen Hasan, who are building a home in the development, a private effort of the Islamic Center for Excellence. Helen Hasan said the couple has been making the hour-long drive up from Malvern to worship at the decades-old Islamic Center at 1717 Wright Ave. for years; when their house and the masjid (mosque) the Center plans for New Africa is complete, all she’ll have to do to go to worship is just walk out her door, she said; her husband said he felt like “a kid waiting on Christmas.”
Islamic Center Imam Aquil Hamidullah said he’d been asking himself, in light of U.S. Rep. Peter King’s hearings in D.C. about Muslim influence, “What is radical Islam?” It is not real Islam, he said; Islam is about peace, and he hoped New Africa, which will one day included 22 houses, the masjid and a community center, and the Islamic Center’s interfaith efforts would make that clear to all.
New Africa won’t be exclusively Islamic; two of the three houses now there are owned by Christians. Hamidullah’s wife, Najiyyah, a pediatric nurse at Arkansas Children’s Hospital for more than 30 years, said the New Africa development got past neighborhood objections when it first began four years ago. There were, at that time, folks who said they didn’t want Muslims living next door to them, she said. “We already live next door to you,” she said.
— Leslie Newell Peacock