By Aaliyah Shah & Imam John Ramadan
Islam was introduced to Charlotte, NC by Imam Ali-Shah in 1960. Born September 15, 1930 to Mr. Amzi Lightner and Mrs. Janie Boyd Lightner in Fairfield County, SC. He was born the 8th child and his birth name was Array Lightner which he later changed to Larry Lightner. He left SC at 16 with a formal 8th grade education taking up residence in Baltimore then New York. He delved into several business ventures. He was well liked and a natural born leader. He was introduced to the Nation of Islam in 1954 by his brother Thomas X Lightner. He soon joined the Nation of Islam and became a soldier under the leadership of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad. He sold and delivered Muhammad Speaks papers door to door, to push the teachings. He was assigned the task to go into cities to set-up and introduce Islam on the West Coast. In 1960 he was sent by the Honorable Elijah Muhammad to Charlotte, NC to start Temple #36. He and his wife Sister Betty 2X (who came into the NOI in 1956 under Malcolm X ) the dynamic duo then begin to build the Nation in Charlotte. The first Mosque was a modest space inside of Minister Larry X (as Imam Ali Shah was formerly known) cousin’s home Daisy Boyd Killian. He begin laying the foundation there for Temple #36 before it opened on Brevard street in uptown Charlotte.
Temple #36 later found a larger home to accommodate its growing following on Davidson Street in uptown. It was on Davidson street where he opened the first Shabazz Fish Steak and Take across the street from the flourishing Mosque, Even as the Minister of a blossoming Mosque and business owner he still soldiered educating the city about Islam. His concern for the health, wealth and spiritual well being of the community was always at the forefront. He rented a farm from local friends in Mint Hill where he grew vegetables and fruits that he fed the community with through the restaurant’s fresh and healthy meals. Among his employees were young Muslim members of the Nation. He loved helping and teaching his people, it showed and the Muslim community was thriving because of it! He had many businesses that he operated simultaneously, creating jobs, opportunity and building confidence at a time when being African American was frowned upon but African American AND a Muslim received great opposition. He ran a lawn service, carpet cleaning service, painted homes, purchased products from members of the community to sell and used the profits to support the Masjid & restaurant. The followers believed in his vision and supported him faithfully. Minister Larry did not discriminate in employing and helping others. He hired the sisters to work in the Restaurant and pick vegetables on the farm; the brothers were hired to paint, cut grass, clean etc. to support their families. We operated like our own Nation within a Nation, only God and self reliance and the believers although not wealthy people we were PROUD of our community and to be Muslim. Monthly there would be a bazaar, banquet, or popular guest speakers that supported the Temple. As the ministry grew Minister Larry ventured out of Charlotte expanding his influence in Rockingham NC, Chester SC, Statesville NC, Concord NC, Greensboro NC, Winsboro SC, Huntersville NC, Asheville NC and other neighboring cities.
In 1971 Minister Larry received approval from the Honorable Elijah Muhammad to open a school to educate our youth . Soon Muhammad’s University of Islam was established. In classic supportive community fashion he hired the believers to educate in the school. There was already an operating daycare center and homes for single brothers and single sisters to reside . He would rent homes to couples needing a residence. Minister Larry a man with a strong passion for helping with an already full plate still found time to feed the children and elderly. Nothing came easy we worked hard even his children, He at times had to physically fight to keep what he had worked so hard to build. Several times he contacted the Honorable Elijah Muhammad to let him know the battles he faced in the temple and community. The Honorable Elijah Muhammad would always reply with a letter that was encouraging to Ali Shah. The community outside of the Masjid got to know him as he was a fixture and would refer to him as Minister Larry or Minister X. He opened a restaurant on Beatties Ford where Temple #36 had relocated to as well. Financially savvy well beyond his years Minister Larry was able to make means stretch for the betterment of the community he worked so hard to build. Every year he continue to get and sell seasonal fruits, fresh baked bread, cakes, cookies, pictures and even toys to help produce income to run the schools, Masjid and restaurant. He made running this growing Nation within a Nation look easy although it was not. He opened restaurants in Chester SC , Asheville, NC, and another in Charlotte, NC on West Blvd. When Imam Wallace Deen Muhammad took office he delivered the name Ali Shah for Minister Larry X which he proudly took on in 1975. Under new leadership after the passing of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad The school remained in place on Beatties Ford rd and became the Sister Clara Muhammad Elementary & Secondary School. He continued to build and grow Islam even when his health begin to decline. He worked every day supervising the many mentees he had been grooming to fill his very large shoes. He continued to reside in his family’s home he’d built on Reames Rd until his death in April of 1999. Even in the hospital he would continue to send friends fruits, dinners always giving something. I asked him if he had his life to live again how would he live it? He replied “Exactly the way I have” In the center of all the building and providing he fathered 7 boys and 4 girls. He was a spiritual father to millions of people. No matter what came his way he never ever gave up that was one of his main mottos of life. – Aaliyah Shah Daughter of Imam Ali Shah.
I am Imam John Ramadan, a native Charlottean. I have seen many changes both physically and culturally to the Charlotte area. I was contemplating the way Islam has grown in this area upon viewing the thousands of multicultural Muslims in this area and I also thought they are completely unaware of the origin of Islam in our city. It was in 1960 that Imam Ali Shah came to the Charlotte are to establish Islam locally. We can only imagine in the segregated south at that time someone saying Asalaam Alaikum & Allahu Akbar in a bible belt state. Imam Shah worked alone many times persevering and being steadfast. He was a true pioneer who came where there were no paths and forged a way in the wilderness for Islam in this area and now it is a major thoroughfare for many different cultures to come and practice this beautiful religion as his daughter Aaliyah Shah has so eloquently described many aspects of his life he was a forerunner for educating business, interfaith, and respect for all people in our community. He had a very caring heart for the young and especially the elderly who he helped on a regular basis. I accepted Islam in 1970. He was like a father to myself and many others. Imam Shah started me on my way to business entrepreneurship. When I graduated from college I had no idea about working for myself. In one of our many meetings Imam Shah asked me “What are you going to do college boy?” I said “get a job”. He replied “What did you go to school for?” I replied “to get an education” He said “If you had an education you could create a job for yourself and others Allah has equipped you to do anything that you want to do.” I went on to be his assistant and mentee for many years and was groomed to become an Imam. That information was so profound sparked my mind, I moved from positions of counselors, owning a cleaning service, owning a real estate company, building my own office building and later construction in which I am a licensed building contractor. He has helped countless and encouraged thousands of individuals to go into business for themselves. Many will and some will not acknowledge his help and guidance. He was a great spiritual leader and encouraged those around him to do the right thing because of his teachings and leading me to Allah I was able to help people and encourage self employment, the power of faith, and doing good by people. In return my family has benefited from the Masjid’s schooling and many are now entrepreneurs of their own. The teachings of Imam Shah I have used to encourage brothers and sisters of all faiths, recycling his simple but powerful words I’ve received praise and thanks for values that he instilled in me and all the while reminding me all Good comes from Allah. I would like to encourage all Imams in our city to share this knowledge with their believers and understand the sacrifice that Imam Ali Shah while establishing this religion. On September 23 2017 Masjid Ar-Razzaq will give him the humanitarian award for his work in establishing Islam in our city at Friendship Baptist Church 3400 Beatties Ford Road Charlotte NC, 28216 at 1:30 for additional information contact 704-393-7584 for our 10th Anniversary of our Interfaith Banquet themed.
Some quotes from Imam Ali Shah
“Organization is the key to success”
“You have to learn to follow to become a good leader”
“Believe in yourself and Allah” “ Leaders are born not made”
“Fear is our greatest enemy”
“You can only bring out and cultivate what is already in a person”
“Real education is observing and studying the natural world”
Imam Abdul Pasha
Masjid Ali Shah
1230 Beatties Ford Rd
Charlotte NC, 28216