Mosque is focus for Somali worship

Wednesday, December 26, 2007
Imam Haji Yousuf is the spiritual leader of the Somali Muslim community that have settled in Shelbyville over the past several years. (T-G Photo by Brian Mosely)

The gray, prefab building sits atop a slight rise off Depot Street. There are no signs or markings to indicate its purpose.

But for the hundreds of Somali Muslims who have moved to Shelbyville over the past few years, it is an important part of their lives.

It is an Islamic mosque, and large groups of refugees gather there several times a day for prayers.

Those paying a visit must remove their shoes before entering. This reporter made the mistake of leaving his footwear on inside and was soon corrected.

Inside, the building is extremely clean and stripped bare of any furniture, except for a few chairs in the rear, along with a table containing multiple copies of the Koran. A small boom box plays Middle Eastern style music spoken in a language that sounds Arabic.

White tape lines the floor, indicating the correct direction of Mecca, Saudi Arabia, the holiest site in all of Islam. A cloth barrier that runs through the middle of the building separates the sexes during prayer.

Imam Haji Yousuf, the spiritual leader of the Somali Muslim community, spoke with this reporter through his son, Addillahi Mahad, who provided translation.

Yousuf stated that around 250 to 300 Somalis have settled in Shelbyville, although figures from public officials have indicated that the number may be higher - from 400 all the way to 1,100.

The move to Shelbyville began sometime in 2000 or 2001, the Imam said, indicting that their journey was first to a major city and before moving here, which is called a "secondary migration" by officials involved with refugee resettlement. However, Yousuf did not say which city they moved from.

Yousuf said they "are very proud to be here" in Shelbyville and that most of the people that have come here are all part of extended families.

As for their adjustment to American society, the Imam said that locals had been very nice and helpful, especially Tyson Foods, who he said assisted the Somalis with their housing and employment situation.

About 100 Somalis visit the mosque every day, which also has arranged a schedule for those working the second shift at Tyson to be able to pray after work.

Life in Shelbyville is "much, much" different than the world they left behind in Somalia, Yousuf stated.

"We hope to integrate into different societies to live together and to make our future here," Imam Yousuf said.