19775 Harper Ave., Harper Woods, MI 48225
Center Founded: 1962
Membership/Community Size: 150 families
Ethnic Composition: historically Albanian, but also diverse
The Albanian Islamic Center, built in Harper Woods in 1963, boasts a distinctive Balkan-style dome and minaret. With a prayer area, offices, large social hall, classrooms, and kitchen, the mosque serves an old Albanian American community (already well established in the 1940s) and new Muslim immigrants from Albania, Kosovo, Macedonia, and other Balkan countries. The center provides weekend religious instruction in Arabic, Albanian, and English along with other educational and service programs. The Albanian Islamic Center is open to Muslims from all ethnic backgrounds, but immigrants from Europe and their descendents form its core membership and predominate on its board. The mosque is unusual for its location in Detroit’s eastern suburbs.
The Center’s founder and first imam, Vehbi Ismail, came to Detroit in 1949 and established the Albanian American Moslem Society in the same year. The congregation met first at the International Institute of Detroit, moved to a former Armenian church on Hamilton Avenue, and shared prayer space briefly with the American Moslem Society in Dearborn while waiting for their current structure to be completed. Imam Ismail was an active Muslim leader on the national stage, a scholar and author of many books in Albanian and English, and an Albanian nationalist who worked vigorously to end communist rule in Albania and guarantee religious freedom for its citizens. Imam Shuajb Gerguri became acting head of the mosque in 1996 upon Imam Ismail’s retirement.