In the midst of the Civil Rights Movement, a time of radical change and reform, the Dar-ul-Islam Movement was founded in 1962 by Black Sunni Muslims in New York City. Throughout its 20-year prominence “The Dar” served as a spiritual and cultural haven for its members, as well as a platform for Black Muslim business owners, educators and artists. This movement sent shock waves through the surrounding community, allowing members to establish their presence as Black Muslims and radically changing the course of Black Sunni Islam in America. Brother Khalil Abdulkhabir spent much of his time in the Dar photographing and documenting community members’ daily lives and their achievements. Unbeknownst to him or any of the Dar members, his photos would become an archive for the history of Black Islam in America long after the Dar ended in 1982. To preserve the Dar’s legacy, Kamila Barbour, Brother Khalil’s daughter, began exhibiting his photos in 2008. She spoke with Sapelo to share more about these photos and her experiences in the Dar.
Sapelo Square: In 2008, you began showcasing your father’s photography, which gave the world a glimpse into a significant period in Black American Muslim art and history. How many photos did he take, and when did you realize that this was a revolutionary discovery?
Kamila Barbour: There are about 200 photos in the collection, most of which date between 1971 and 1976. I realized how revolutionary my father’s photos were when people began to respond to them. The photos evoked joy, pride and nostalgia in our audience, and they demanded more. I initially exhibited my father’s photos* for their rich story and aesthetic value, but I had yet to learn that we were the only ones who had such a large visual record of these historical moments. Moreover, as I conducted research and interviews to get the backstories of the photos, I began to realize the uniqueness of the Dar-ul-Islam Movement, its expanse and its impact on the development of Islam in America by Black (African American) Muslims.
Sapelo Square: In what way did your father’s photographs inspire your creativity as a Black Muslim artist in America?
Kamila Barbour: Photos are miraculous in that they capture subjects in their space. They’re easily obtained, and they can be widely distributed. My father only had a film camera and a closet-turned-darkroom to start, and with that, he captured images of efforts driven by faith and passion. His photos revived the pride that I once felt as a Black Muslim, a pride that was diluted by someone else’s definition of who I was. As a visual communicator, his photos stand as a constant reminder of the importance of representation in my own work — of how important it is to know something of the spirit in my subjects.
[My father’s] photos revived the pride that I once felt as a Black Muslim, a pride that was diluted by someone else’s definition of who I was.
Sapelo Square: What was your experience like as a Black Muslim child in America living within the Dar-ul-Islam?
Kamila Barbour: The Dar provided a protective environment that allowed for our Islamic way of life to be practiced without any challenge to our identity — our parents created the standard by which we lived. I was raised believing that we were the same as everyone else in the Muslim world and that everyone else felt the same about us. And, that was easy to believe because every Muslim I knew looked and practiced like me. Our Brooklyn community had the resources to provide most of the needs for any child. Any experiences I had outside of the Dar were with extended non-Muslim family, which only served to enhance my childhood. I would be lying if I said I didn’t desire the life I saw in TV shows and movies, but what kid didn’t? The only thing I wouldn’t change was that exotic edge being Black and Muslim gave me. I mean really… I could read Arabic, boys were dying to know what my hair looked like and you didn’t have clothes like mine because Umi (my mother) made them.
Members of the Dar sought to create a place where they could center their lives and families around the message of the Qur’an and the Sunnah — practices exemplified by Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him), so everything that was built reflected these values.
Sapelo Square: The formal movement ended in 1982, and subsequently many families had to acclimate to a life without the refuge and safety of the Dar. What was the transition like for you?
Kamila Barbour: After the Dar, my parents enrolled my siblings and me in public school in Queens, NY. There was some culture shock as it was full of first experiences for me as well as my non-Muslim counterparts. I was the second hijabi at P.S. 225 and one of four at JHS 180, and I faced bullying as one might expect when a child has a different dress code and mannerisms. It would have been tragic, but I was not raised to believe they and I were the same: I was a Muslim and they weren’t. During my high school years, my parents moved us to Central NY and we joined a majority immigrant Muslim community. That experience came with a different culture shock, one I consider more damaging than P.S. 225 or JHS 180. You see, NYC public schools reminded me that I was Muslim, but our Central NY community taught me that I was a Black Muslim — not a legitimate Muslim — and more so, that I was female. The foundation of pride and firmness of faith I had been given as a child was shaken.
Sapelo Square: The Dar-ul-Islam Movement built its own schools, businesses and other infrastructures. What were some of the ways these institutions were established, and how did each maintain Islamic values?
Kamila Barbour: Without going into the more complex story of why these infrastructures were created, it’s enough to say that growth necessitated resources and resources required education and wealth. Members of the Dar sought to create a place where they could center their lives and families around the message of the Qur’an and the Sunnah — practices exemplified by Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him), so everything that was built reflected these values. My story begins with Yasin Masjid, the headquarters of the Dar-ul-Islam Movement and the place where my parents centered our life as Muslims. When the Madrassah-tush-Shaheedain (Dar Elementary School) was established, Dar members realized that they must educate themselves to meet the growing needs of the school both religiously and secularly. It’s important to note that while some joined the Dar movement with education and vocational skills, the large majority of those who raised the community (in the Dar’s earliest years) were in their late teens to mid-20s and faced other socioeconomic and political challenges.
Sapelo Square: What other institutions were founded by the Dar? What did each contribute to the greater community?
Kamila Barbour: Just as the school and its educators evolved, other Dar efforts developed in the same way and reflected Islamic values. To spread the word of Islam, community members needed to educate themselves in journalism and the printing process to generate Al-Jihadul Akbar magazines, so my father lent his talents as a photographer and learned typography and printing. Others pursued degrees to write for the magazine. Brothers learned how to make incense and mix oils to sell street-side, thus providing employment for themselves. They learned how to slaughter meat according to the Sunnah and opened the second halal meat store in New York City. To meet the needs of the growing number of Muslim prison inmates requiring pastoral services, Dar members started the Prison Da’wah program that evolved from a voluntary position to full-time paid positions across New York State. Alhamdulillah, this institution still exists today. In addition, to protect their families and provide safe passage for all who passed through our neighborhoods, one of the brothers started a security detail business called Ar-Ra’d that trained our fathers, uncles and brothers, and again, provided employment. Much of the Islamic learning material was provided by the immigrant Muslim community and funding through our own efforts and overseas Muslim countries.
Ultimately, Islam was what elevated the position of members of the Dar. It equipped us with the knowledge of the needs of our community. Everything we did, we had to educate ourselves in order to do it, and we created our own identities as a result.
The only thing I wouldn’t change was that exotic edge being Black and Muslim gave me. I mean really… I could read Arabic, boys were dying to know what my hair looked like and you didn’t have clothes like mine because Umi (my mother) made them.
Sapelo Square: How did this new movement impact the lives of both Muslims and non-Muslims surrounding you?
Kamila Barbour: In my opinion, the most obvious impact we made was changing the Black American landscape through our appearance. When brothers traded their pants and fedoras for thobes and turbans and sisters sported their afros under their hijabs, their appearance clearly stated that they were not the same as everyone else. When one changes their appearances but continues to maneuver within the same social and professional territories, there’s going to be questions and usually friction. There were indeed a lot of questions and a whole lot of friction — having to assimilate into and adapt the ways of an environment outside of the Dar was a challenging process. But from this, came the opportunity to open dialogue between families and in professional settings that challenged social norms and re-defined professional standards. This “friction” opened up a lot of doors for us to solidify our existence in Black American society.
Sapelo Square: How has this collection shaped your understanding of the legacy of Black Islam in America?
Kamila Barbour: Knowledge of the Dar-ul-Islam Movement has added yet another facet to the legacy of the contributions of Black Muslims to the development of Islam in America. The story of the Dar and other similar Black Muslim movements offers a tether to Black Muslims who may feel disconnected from or undeserving. The recognition and honor our legacy has provided, is for all of us. Black Muslims did as our faith commands by clearing a path and bringing ease to others who come after us.
The Dar-ul-Islam Movement photos were first exhibited in a 2008 family show at the Community Folk Art Gallery in Syracuse, NY.
All photos are from Khalil Abdulkhabir’s personal collection. © Khalil Abdulkhabir. Dar-ul-Islam Movement Collection
Kamila Barbour: Barbour holds a B.A. in Studio Art and Visual Technology from George Mason University. Between 1990-2011 she exhibited her own work in Central New York and Maryland and worked as a visual arts educator for over 15 years. During that time, Barbour developed a cross-cultural art curriculum for elementary and middle school children that combined Islamic art theories with western techniques. In 2008 she started exhibiting with her father and brother and in 2010 started the Dar-ul-Islam Collection (The Dar) project with her father, Khalil Abdulkhabir. Today, Kamila Barbour continues to deliver presentations on the Dar Collection and conducts art workshops. She is currently the graphic designer at the Council on American-Islamic Relations National Headquarters and resides in Maryland with her two daughters.