The Museum of Durham History calls itself a museum without walls. It collaborates with the community to curate exhibits that reflect the area’s unique stories. So when educator Naomi Feaste walked in and suggested an exhibit on the local mosque, Ar-Razzaq Islamic Center, curatorial consultant Katie Spencer was eager to get involved. Afterall, Ar-Razzaq Islamic Center was blocks from the museum and has been a staple for community members and local businesses for decades.
Feaste was inspired to curate this exhibit from her own personal experience. As a practicing Muslim, she was dismayed by the endless stream of extreme stories about the Muslim faith which she felt did not represent her or any of the Muslims she knew. She developed the exhibit to catalogue the rich history of Muslim life in Durham and celebrate a mosque that has worked since the 1950s to empower the African-American community.
Museum of Durham History Curator Katie Spencer and community curator Naomi Feaste join host Frank Stasio to talk about “Building Bridges through Good Faith.” The exhibit features a collection of photos, keepsakes and oral histories that convey the impact of Ar-Razzaq Islamic Center on Durham and the residents of the West End neighborhood. The exhibit is on view at the Museum of Durham History through August. It includes a lecture series, food market and ongoing celebrations throughout the summer.
Community Curator Naomi Feaste on what inspired this exhibit:
After 9/11 there was a lot of conversation about Muslims and Islam. I found that the information wasn’t always positive about Muslims and Islam … Because of this negative narrative that is out here, I thought it necessary to present something different. We needed something more positive … I didn’t see myself in the narrative that was being discussed, and I thought it was important that our story is shared.
On purchasing the space on Chapel Hill Street:
That building used to be a nightclub, and the city had an ordinance if anyone ever got killed in that space — in a place like that — it would have to be shut down. So that is how the space became available for the Muslim community. And it was a blighted area. So once the Muslim community moved to that area, they began to address that issue of blight.
On ridding the community of drug dealers:
They would go out, confront the drug dealers, and they would do it on a regular basis. And the dealers became annoyed by them. They had the cooperation with the police … The dealers became very annoyed to the point that they called the police on the Muslim men. Can you believe that? They called the police. Naturally the police laughed.
On being accepted by the community at large:
We were very well received in the community … Not only were we introducing a new religion, we were also introducing a new way of living, of eating more healthy, so that people would have a better life.