Columbia University IRAAS
Apr 28 11

Temple No. 7 to Malcolm Shabbaz Mosque: Transitional Space

The Malcolm Shabbaz Mosque, now home to a mainline Sunni Muslim group

The first incarnation of the Nation of Islam’s Temple No. 7 was located at the Harlem YMCA until it moved to 125th Street and the Hotel Theresa when its leader, Malcolm X, split with the Nation of Islam in 1964. After it was destroyed in a bombing in 1965, it relocated to 116th and Malcolm X Boulevard, its present location. Currently used by orthodox Sunni Muslims, the Malcolm Shabbaz Mosque, as it is now called, is a striking edifice with yellow paneling around the windows and a large green dome on top. Adding to this unusual architecture is the drugstore that occupies the ground floor and has large green awnings advertising Harlem Rx Inc. The entrance to the building is sheltered by a green overhang that says “Malcolm Shabbaz Multi Purpose Cultural Center” on the top.

The transformation of the mosque from one that was loosely affiliated with the Nation of Islam to one that practices mainstream Sunni Islam echoes a larger shift within the African American Muslim community that began towards the end of Malcolm X’s life. Malcolm X himself, after a trip to the Middle East, had become a believer in mainstream Sunni Islam. With the defection of Elijah Muhammad’s son, Warith Deen Muhammad to Sunnism as well, the vast majority of Nation of Islam members converted along with him. Thus, the transition of the mosque makes sense within an historical context. It speaks as well to the growing trend of denominations taking over the religious space of another group. Though the Malcolm Shabbaz Mosque merely shifted from Nation of Islam to Sunni Islam, many other buildings are transformed much more radically. Many Catholic cathedrals around Harlem are being sold to evangelical Protestant groups because Catholic church attendance has decreased or held steady while evangelical groups are experiencing rapid growth.

The historical entrance to the mosque, then the Nation of Islam's Mosque No. 7

In addition, many buildings are plagued by expensive upkeep, a hard job to continue when the parishioners are aging and may not have a sizable income from which to donate to the church. As is seen in photos of the building, it is clearly not the edifice it once was. Many of the windows appear boarded up, and the entire bottom floor is now used as commercial space. In this sense, the Malcolm Shabbaz Mosque is tapping into the larger use of space in this sense as well.

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