Talk of the Town - west side story July 07 2005

Historic West End offers a religious and personal haven for Nadim Ali

Nestled on the corner of West End Place and Oak Street in historic West End lies the first mosque in Atlanta to hold prayer five times a day, beginning in 1979. It caught Nadim Ali's eye, and he and other Muslims began migrating to the area in the following years. Today, a bustling Muslim community flourishes, making up an integral part of the West End neighborhood.

Ali came to Atlanta just a year after converting to Islam in search of a Muslim community that allowed him to live near a mosque and people who shared a common way of life. Now, 26 years later and at the age of 50, he is still here.

Creative Loafing: What brought you to Atlanta?

Ali: I was born in Phila-delphia and went to college at Shippensburg University to study broadcast journalism. I also converted to Islam during that time.

Afterward, I looked into some cities where I could do broadcasting as well as have a Muslim community, and some that stood out were Atlanta and Los Angeles. I went to Atlanta with the intention of staying for one week.

Why did you decide to stay in Atlanta?

Everyone said "hey" to me as I was walking down the street. That really stuck out to me, because nobody up North ever said anything when I walked down the street. I called home and said to my father, "I'm not coming home." I liked that there was a mosque inside of the neighborhood, and that people were trying to practice Islam as a complete way of life. I fell in love with the community and the people, and I loved that Atlanta was so green and so warm. I did not want to spend another winter in Pennsylvania.

Tell me more about the Muslim community in the West End.

There are between 75 and 100 families here, and we hold services every Friday at our mosque. About 300 people show up each week.

My role in our community is that I am the amir, which means that I handle family as well as emotional issues and substance abuse problems within the community.

And what about the Muslim community as a whole in Atlanta?

It is very strong, but it is not monolithic. There are a lot of cultural differences: You have people from several different nations that are all Muslim, so it can be difficult.

Did you ever consider moving to the Middle East?

Yes, actually, I did. I lived in Saudi Arabia for two years, from 1993 to 1995 and did drug counseling there.

What would you say to someone who doesn't know that a Muslim community exists in Atlanta?

We are here, and we are not going anywhere. We can be a bridge of understanding between the East and the West, because we understand how to make the two collaborate. So many people misinterpret our way of life, and since 9/11 it has been even worse. I would encourage people to learn more about it and become more tolerant.