Lungs have taken Dr. Mir Mumtaz Ali all over the world. His own, of course, but also lungs in general, which inflate now and again with air, sustaining life for all mankind. Over the past 40 years, Ali has practiced in Illinois, Maine and Arizona, as well as Saudi Arabia and his native India.
Because there are lungs in Smithfield – but at a time 14 years ago no specialist to care for them – Ali was sent to the Johnston County seat, a move he said he could have never anticipated, but views as fortuitous.
“I never heard of this place in my life,” Ali said. “I think I was sent here by almighty God.”
With his move came the founding of the Masjid Noorul-Mustafa Muslim Community Center and Social Welfare Organization of Johnston County, one of few mosques east of Raleigh at the time. Ali continues to serve as custodian and imam of the mosque, which operates in a former three-bedroom house down quiet River Road in Selma. Founding the mosque, Ali said, was essential for him to work in Johnston County, where when he first arrived in North Carolina, he sometimes spent three hours driving back and forth and attending Friday prayers in Raleigh.
“For a practicing Muslim, it is compulsory to establish the halls of Allah where you move,” Ali said. “It is following in the footsteps of our holy prophet Mohammad. It doesn’t have to be a great big building; he used trees and the date palm and so forth.”
From the street, the mosque looks like any of the houses along River Road, but with more parking and a large sign on the building. For the jumuah Friday prayer when Ramadan began last week, the parking lot was full and pairs of shoes covered the front porch. Inside, about a dozen men had gathered in the large main room, with a podium and a couple of long rugs. Some of the men come regularly, some when they can and for some it was their first time.
One member pointed out the diversity in the mosque, noting members come from a number of nations, on this day Yemen, Pakistan, India and the United States. There are few Muslims in historically conservative Johnston County, but Ali said his group keeps a low profile and has had no issues with the community.
“I have no regrets, there are very nice people,” Ali said of Smithfield and Selma and the patients he interacts with daily. “Everyone is Allah’s creation. We love everybody.”
In this week, a suicide bomber attacked a concert in Manchester, England, killing 22. The terrorist group ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack. Unprompted and perhaps used to fielding questions on the subject, Ali is quick to condemn the acts of violence that are sometimes done in the name of his religion, saying Islam is about peace and any other interpretation is a perversion.
“ISIS and all that, they have nothing to do with Islam,” Ali said. “Islam teaches us to be peaceful. ... It is mentioned in the Holy Quron that if you save one life, it is as if you are saving the universe, all life. And if you kill one person without any good reason it is like killing all of humanity. So how can a so-called Muslim kill innocent people? Going in Manchester and killing all the girls? That is totally unacceptable and the scholars have condemned it right and left right from the beginning.”
The American contingent at the mosque comes from Selma locals who have found the faith. Glenn Smith said he found structure in Islam, something previously missing from his life. The second half of the mosque’s name references work the group does in the community, Ali said, offering financial assistance to some in the area and on occasion a place to stay.
There are numerous churches in Johnston County, some dating back more than a century. As of this month, there are two mosques whose numbers total less than 100 combined. Dr. Owais Jeelani, another Smithfield doctor who attends the mosque, said members hope to confront any apprehension of their religion with their service in the community.
“There’s a huge misunderstanding of Islam,” Jeelani said. “When you see the people around here, they’re very innocent in that sense. Mostly people judge us by our actions, how we are with them. That’s a reflection on our religion. I’ve always got love. I’ve been working in the hospital for four years now, I’ve never found a hateful patient.
“With all the propaganda and all the things going on in the world, this is what we need,” Jeelani said of the mosque. “We need people to know what real Islam is. What real Muslims are. It’s just like any other religion, it teaches peace forgiveness and acceptance.”