Living in many different city neighborhoods has helped Wasi Mohamed understand “what people mean when they say there are two Pittsburghs.” The director of the Islamic Center of Pittsburgh serves on Mayor Peduto’s Commission on Human Relations and Governor Wolf’s Commission on Asian Pacific American Affairs. A lifelong Pennsylvanian, Wasi grew up in Enola and now lives in Homewood.
What upcoming events are you excited to attend?
I am excited to attend the All for All Summit, an interactive gathering addressing challenges and opportunities to effectively engage our region’s growing immigrant communities. This year’s Summit will explore the role of immigrants in entrepreneurship and the local economy, as well as the intersections of immigrant inclusion with local politics, art, and more.
I am also excited to attend a fundraiser for Councilman Basheer Jones in PA. Councilman Jones is the first Muslim ever elected to city council in Cleveland’s history, and I believe he will continue rising. A beautiful soul, and a great role model.
Best part of your job?
Seeing spiritual development among those who come to the center. There is something truly profound about watching a soul grow and mature through relationships, rumination and reflection.
What is your long-term mission for The Islamic Center of Pittsburgh?
I hope to build it into an “anchor center” that will educate, empower and unite the diverse community in the region. I hope people will come to revive their spirit, help their kids find some friends, learn pride for their religion, come together to address social ills and everything in between. I hope it will become even more of a gathering place that uplifts you morally and personally.
Do you have particular issues that you rally around?
Most of my workshops and speeches elucidate what I call the “wheel of oppression.” U.S. history is filled with examples of minority communities being scapegoated and victimized unjustly in order to benefit some small group of people. It is part of our history, and modern-day Islamophobia is just another turn of the wheel.
The systemic oppression of Muslims through policy, media, legislation and other means perfectly fits the pattern of discrimination several other communities have faced in U.S. history. I usually reference that this is a worldwide phenomenon but we are in the U.S. so we should focus on our history for now.
How has the climate in America since Donald Trump’s election impacted your experience running an Islamic Center in a Pennsylvania city?
Absolutely. Times like these put tremendous stress on minority communities, and it necessitates action from all of us to fight injustices, of which new iterations seem to be announced on the news daily. In our tradition, all things are from Allah (God) so we know there are lessons to be learned from these hard times. We are finding out who our allies are, who our leaders are, who we are. I can honestly say if it wasn’t for the climate, I likely would have just gone to medical school and not taken this job. I would have missed out on all of the spiritual and personal development the last few years brought me. ICP would not have had the pleasure of doubling its list of allies and volunteers. We understand what’s happening is terrible, but much can be gained even in the worst of times.
What is your big idea for Pittsburgh?
It has been difficult seeing community members struggle financially the last few years. We often see people in housing crisis. Food insecurity, health issues and other problems are always soon to follow. I would love to be a part of an initiative to promote the Housing First Model in Pittsburgh. I am fascinated by social businesses and Professor Muhammad Yunus is a hero of mine.
My big idea would be a sustainable L3C or B Corp that would renovate the tens of thousands of vacant properties in Allegheny County, train people in home rehabilitation and set them up with job opportunities and add these homes to the region’s affordable housing stock. I would love to see a sustainable business model that would allow this to exist without constant fundraising.
Podcast you’re addicted to?
I am absolutely addicted to Freakonomics.
Where do you always take out-of-town visitors?
Salem’s Market & Grill and Phipps Conservatory.
What is the one thing that would surprise Pittsburghers most about you?
I absolutely hate being in positions of leadership. I may have the courage to accept or pursue certain positions because addressing social issues and injustices is my passion, but once in them, the weight of that responsibility is not something I at all enjoy bearing. A huge part of these feelings come from my religious tradition.
Abu Huraira reported: The Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, said, “Verily, you will earnestly desire a position of leadership but you will regret it on the Day of Resurrection.” (Source: Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī 6729)
I have been too young and unwise for most positions I have been given, many I wish I would not have accepted, but I hope to continue growing and developing into the leader my community needs me to be.
The biggest challenge you’ll face this week?
Brother Jamil Brookins, one of the patriarchs of the Pittsburgh Muslim community and one of the best people I have ever met, is close to passing away. He owned Jamil’s on Penn Ave. for 27 years. He is an institution. I have a responsibility to help plan his burial, wash his body and bury him with his family. Of the dozens of funerals I have managed, I know this will be one of the hardest on the community.
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