The First Cleveland Mosque is one of the oldest Muslim institutions in the U.S. Founded in 1929 as an Ahmadiyya Mosque and established as a Sunni Mosque in 1937 by Al Hajj Imam Wali Akram, an African American Muslim engineer. The First Cleveland Mosque was also the first orthodox Mosque in the country to be run entirely by African Americans. Imam Wali Akram, born Walter Reese Gregg in Caldwell Texas August 04, 1904, was introduced to Islam in the early 1920s. He was one of the early African American Muslims introduced to Islam through the Ahmadiyya movement but without passing through Moorish Science or the Nation of Islam. He remained the leader of the Mosque until 1984. Imam Wali Akram transitioned in August 2014. According to the Mosque website, Imam Abbas Ahmad, the grandson of Imam Wali Akram assumed the leadership of the Mosque in 1989 and is currently leading the congregation of over 200 members. Imam Wali Akram was a thought leader, prolific da’ee and writer. He developed the Moslem 10-Year Plan, a proposal to address the economic and social needs of African American Muslims during the Great Depression. To unite all Muslims in America, he toured the United States in 1943 to lay the groundwork for the United Islamic Society of North America. Imam Wali Akram was the first-known African American to perform the Hajj when he did so in 1957.
Black Crescent: The Experience and Legacy of African Muslims in the Americas By Michael A. Gomez, pp. 253
Imam Wali Akram was a Muslim pioneer in the African American community during the first quarter of the 20th century into the last quarter of that century. His Moslem 10-Year Plan was a monumental document suggesting a network of cooperative ventures that could potentially relieve the suffering consequent from the Great Depression and the systematic exclusion of Blacks from quality of life resources like adequate housing and opportunities to generate living wages.
Imam Wali Akram was also a model of stability and sustainability over decades during the height of racial animosity against African Americans. His bold vision of national Muslim unity in the 1940s was unparalleled at the time.
Imam Wali Akram was a victim of the times in which he lived. Racial animus and jealousy, even among Muslims, precluded greater cooperation among Muslims of various races and ethnicities. The leadership of African American Muslims remained divided during this period for reasons that included petty feuds and envy.
Muslim entities should have visionary leadership for the nation’s Muslim community and not be so embroiled in organizational squabbles that the organization fails to reach its full potential.