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Coming to DC: The Clara and Its Islamic History

Mar 21 – Apr 03, 2024
sister clara

the clara

The Clara, a new mixed-use development on Martin Luther King, Jr Avenue in Washington, DC, “represents the first of its kind faith-based partnership with an Islamic house of worship,” says DC Housing Finance Agency Executive Director/CEO Christopher E. Donald.

The Clara is part of the long legacy of Masjid Muhammad in the nation’s capital. The legacy includes Masjid Muhammad buying the space in the 1960s, where several Islamic stores had operated. The new complex, which will include 81 affordable housing units will be on the very grounds once home to Shabazz Bakery, Muhammad Mosque #4, Muhammad Ali’s Champs Gourmet Cookies, a Sister Clara Muhammad School, and the groundbreaking America’s Islamic Heritage Museum.

Clara Muhammad was a
Home School Trailblazer

Clara Muhammad School in DC was part of a loose network of such named schools still operating around the country including The Clara Muhammad School of Baltimore.  The school system is an outgrowth of the University of Islam and Muslim Girls Training schools and is considered one of the nation's earliest versions of religious homeschooling. In the Nation of Islam’s earliest days, Sister Clara Muhammad helped establish and run them.

She and her husband, Elijah Muhammad, withdrew their children from the public schools in the early 1930s during a time when homeschooling was illegal and considered truancy. Clara never returned her children to public school despite harassment by law enforcement. Their son, Warith Deen Mohammed, who assumed leadership of the Nation of Islam in 1975, renamed the University of Islam schools after his mother.

When their son assumed the leadership upon his father’s death, Jamillah Karim writes, “the advancement of women was central to the imam’s work in the transition from (the original Nation of Islam) to Sunni Islam.  In his first year, the imam appointed the community’s first female minister and first female editor of the Muhammad Speaks, the organization’s newspaper. Muslim Journal editor Ayesha K. Mustafaa noted, “His appreciation for sisters could always be referred back to his appreciation for his mother. He spoke of her in such glowing terms.”

America’s Islamic Heritage
Museum Returns

The Clara will include 11,000 square feet of ground level retail space and house the new permanent home of America’s Islamic Heritage Museum, scheduled to open in winter of 2024. The museum first opened in 2011 and has been a source of many Port of Harlem articles including, Being LatinX, Muslim, and with Multiple Identities. With the assistance of Amir Muhammad and Bilal Muhammed,, the Port of Harlem Gambian Education Partnership created, “West Africans in Early America,” a permanent exhibit at the Juffuereh Slavery Museum, The Gambia.

“We are happy that we were able to overcome the gentrification forces and able to return to this space, especially after seeing that so many businesses are not able to make it back once the change takes place,” says Muhammad.

The museum will hold an Iftar Fundraiser, Thursday, March 28, 6:30p at the Martin Luther King Library.  “I need $7 million; we got at least $300,000,” so far says Muhammad.  Iftar is the name of the meal eaten by Muslims at sunset to break their fast during Ramadan. In addition to funds from donors, the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities recently lent them assistance with the hiring of a design company to enhance their exhibits.

The new museum will be “strictly exhibit space,” continued Muhammad with a small gift shop, orientation theater, and small office space. Since the museum space will be about 1200 square feet smaller than the old space, Muhammad plans to have an offsite location with office space, library, community room, rental office space, storage space, social services, and archives.

Banneker Ventures and Medina Living Ideas for Family Excellence Community Development Corporation (Medina Life) is the project team responsible for developing The Clara. Omar A. Karim serves as  president of Banneker Ventures, named for author, scientist, mathematician, farmer, astronomer, publisher, urban planner, scientist and surveyor Benjamin Banneker.

This project is the first large multi-family and retail development that Masjid Muhammad and Medina LIFE CDC have undertaken. Medina Life is a DC non-profit community development corporation, was organized in 2011. Its mission is dedicated to pursuing the objectives of economic and community development and named after the city celebrated as the place from which Muhammad established the Muslim community after his flight from Mecca) and is where his body is entombed.
Note:  Donate to the American Islamic Heritage Museum.
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