Muslim leader picks Walbrook community as congregation's home

Man says group's goal is to help neighborhood

February 13, 1999|By Jennifer Sullivan | Jennifer Sullivan,CONTRIBUTING WRITER

A branch of one of the country's largest Muslim factions plans to establish a religious community in Baltimore -- and has selected the Walbrook neighborhood as its new home.

Imam E. Abdulmalik Mohammed, leader of the Muslim American Society of Baltimore, part of the Muslim American Society, said he envisions part of Walbrook becoming a majority Muslim community in five to 10 years.

"We want to influence the social and cultural life in the community," Mohammed said. "We hope to influence the area with language so people see a better picture of their lives."

Seen with growing frequency in urban areas, religious groups have had limited success in turning communities around.

Mohammed has led nearly 5,000 Muslims in Baltimore city and county for 18 months. He is the son-in-law of Wallace D. Mohammed, the founder and national leader of the Muslim American Society. The society was begun more than 25 years ago, when Wallace Mohammed split from the controversial Nation of Islam, founded by his father, Elijah Mohammed.

Imam Mohammed, who lives in Baltimore County, said Walbrook was selected as his congregation's new home in part because the Muslim Community Cultural Center is at 3401 W. North Ave. He said he has studied the community and found that its schools, businesses and residential areas meet his congregation's needs. The Muslim American Society will focus on improving the educational, civil, political, religious and social institutions along the North Avenue corridor.

Dorothy C. Dixon, president of the Walbrook Community Council, said she thinks the group would help make the area a better place.

"I have no problem with them coming in," she said. "They have a clean way of living, and I'm Catholic."

Valerie Rivers, spokeswoman for Metropolitan Regional Information Systems, a real estate tracking group in Rockville, said homes in Walbrook are less expensive than most in Baltimore. Over the past year, she said the average price for a rowhouse in Walbrook was $47,983, while attached homes in the rest of the city have sold for around $66,548.

While it may take years for people to move to Walbrook, the Muslim group plans to immediately begin taking care of the area bordered by North Avenue, Liberty Heights Avenue, Poplar Grove Street and Hilton Street, a spokesman for Mohammed said.

At a meeting Thursday with community members and Southwestern District police at the Cahill Performing Arts Cultural Center, Mohammed said he wants to help create a better economic situation for minority business owners along North Avenue.

"As you see us become more visible, the crime and despair will proportionally go down." Mohammed said he could almost guarantee an end to the drug trade along the North Avenue corridor. Police said they'd be happy to work with the group.

Wallace E. Blackwell has lived in Walbrook for 40 years, and the Walbrook Community Association president said he doubts the Muslim group will make things better.

"I'm 82 years old, and I've worked my butt off, and can't get anything from city hall," he said.

Mohammed said his congregation plans a parade in the spring, and possibly a 10K race on Walbrook streets in hopes of bringing money and publicity to the area. Once a bustling business and cultural area, the North Avenue corridor has succumbed to blight and drug traffic.

"We are very serious about changing the picture and image of the North Avenue corridor," he said.

The burden of taking care of the area should be on the community, not the police, Mohammed said.

Pub Date: 2/13/99

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