Saturday, September 4, 2010

Aman's and Bassam's Ramadan Road Trip: 30 Mosques, 30 States, 30 Days--American Muslims From Coast to Coast Part I

“This 30 states trip is hands down going to be one of the most rewarding – and insane – ideas that we’ve ever tackled in our entire lives,” Ali said. “But what keeps us motivated is all the support we’ve gotten from our readers, who are a good mix of Muslims and non-Muslims a like. Oh, and having plenty of underwear and an iPod with hours of tunes on it is going to help us get through this trip too.”
[Bassam] Tariq is an advertising copywriter and filmmaker and [Aman] Ali is a writer and standup comedian. The two are good friends and have generated buzz for this project via their Facebook and Twitter accounts. To help fund the trip, the two raised over $5,000 through online and word of mouth outreach efforts. [From the press release]

During Ramadan 2009 Aman Ali and Bassam Tariq are spent each night of Ramadan in a different New York City mosque, and blogged about it at 30 Mosques NYC. This Ramadan 2010, they have taken to the road, and are travelling across the mainland of the USA, spending each night of Ramadan in a different mosque in a different state. They are blogging and tweeting about it with multi-media illustrations of their adventures along the way, and of the American Muslims they meet in each mosque, with whom they break their fast.

I thought highlighting some of their journey here, in 3 parts, and linking to the original site, so that readers may follow up with the final days of their Ramadan road trip, would be a good way to show the diversity and the Americanness of Islam in the USA.

Screen shot of The Route as scheduled, interactive original here. Note the invitation: "We’d love to meet you if we swing through your neck of the woods! But make sure you email us at first because this route is subject to change."

About Aman and Bassam's Ramadan Road Trip:
30 Mosques in 30 States is Aman Ali and Bassam Tariq’s Ramadan road trip across the United States.

Beginning August 11 in New York City, the two will spend each night of Ramadan at a different mosque in 30 states around the country. The two’s 12,000 mile route will essentially take them on an outline of the entire country and conclude in Dearborn, Michigan – home to one of the largest concentrations of Muslims in the country.

Muslims for the month of Ramadan are required to fast, going without food or drink from sunrise to sunset. There are an estimated 7 million Muslims living in the United States that come from a wide mix of ethnic backgrounds including African Americans, South and East Asians, Arabs and East Africans.

Each day during Ramadan, Aman Ali and Bassam Tariq will visit a different state and blog about the experience each night, highlighting stories about the people they’ve met, the mosque they prayed in and of course the tasty cuisines each place has to offer.

From the current Time photogallery of the 30 Mosques project:

Day 1: Manhattan, New York
On August 12, 2010, the day before the start of Ramadan, Aman Ali and Bassam Tariq, a comedian and advertising copy writer, embarked on a 30-day road trip across America, with the goal of visiting 30 mosques in 30 states. "We wanted to test the broad definition of America that people are willing to accept," says Bassam. They started their journey at Park 51, the controversial "Ground Zero" Mosque, about which Aman Ali wrote, "It's actually a space that Muslims have been using for quite a few months now. I expected to feel some kind of transformation praying inside the place garnering so much controversy, but all it felt like was praying in a mosque. To me it was like any other mosque in America — sound system that barely works, shady bathroom facilities and industrial fans that blow nothing but hot air because the air conditioning doesn't work."

Day 4: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
At the Bawa Fellowship in Philadelphia, Aman and Bassam met Chuck Ginty. The Felowship was founded by Bawa Muhaiyadeen, a Sri Lankan Sufi saint who moved to Pennsylvania in the 70's.

Day 7: Atlanta, Georgia
"History runs deep in the Atlanta Masjid of Al-Islam," writes Aman. "The mosque runs a fundraising effort to have patrons sponsor bricks that will be used in a future building projects. For some reason, the song "She's a Brick House" by The Commodores is stuck in my head."

Day 7: Atlanta, Georgia
"After everyone left to break their fast (at the Atlanta Masjid) two boys came rushing in to the prayer space and began praying," writes Bassam. "One lead, the other followed. The prayer is made up of mumbling and a lot of, "Allahu Akbars!" — God is great. They finished their prayer in less than a minute and bolted out of the space. If only adults could get away with praying like that."

Day 7: Atlanta, Georgia
Patrons of the Atlanta Masjid of Al-Islam break their fast with fruits and dates.

Day 9: Mobile, Alabama
Upon arriving at the Islamic Society of Mobile in Alabama, Bassam and Aman along with their friends from CNN were kicked out for showing up unannounced with the media. Not having any photos to show of their experience, Bassam made this drawing of their mildly amicable encounter with the mosque's Imam.

Day 11: Houston, Texas
While on their road trip Bassam and Aman have both visited the congregations they grew up in "A Mosque elder, Shahid Uncle is a staple at the Synott Mosque break fast meals," writes Bassam. "He is also a staple at most gatherings at our house in Houston, that is, because, he is my dad's only friend."

Day 11: Houston, Texas
When visiting the congregations Bassam grew up in, he recalls, "Synott mosque is home, but since we're on a very stringent time table, I can't spend much time here. As Aman and I were getting ready to leave the mosque, I ran back inside the prayer space to take a minute for myself. But even then, I took a picture of a congregant praying -- I couldn't help myself."

Day 11: Houston, Texas
Parking on Friday at Synott Mosque in Houston is grueling. Ismail Baker, pictured above, stands in the sweltering heat conducting traffic every Friday. When a community member gets ill, he will be the first to show up at their house. During Ramadan, he prepares Iftar, and is the last one to eat after everyone else is finished. "Brother Ismail is one of those unsung heroes that is tragically sidestepped at our local mosques," Bassam writes.

Day 12: Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
Built in 1997, The Islamic Society of Greater Oklahoma was co-founded by a chemistry professor, Fakhrildean Albahadily.

Day 12: Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
A student dozes off as Aman Ali gives a talk to a social studies class at the Mercy School Institute. "(It was) a smart move on the kid's part," writes Bassam, "Here's to hoping he got extra credit."

Day 12: Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
Sarah Albahadily, an Islamic School teacher in Oklahoma, shies away from the camera at Zam Zam Restaurant. "Sarah is as Oklahoma as one can get," says Aman. "She proudly blasts country music in her car and often wears cowboy shoes under her long flowing abaya dress. On the 4th of July, her mother proudly wears an American flag printed headscarf."

Day 14: Denver, Colorado
Shaykh Abu Omar, an 80-year-old Iraqi refugee designed this sign and countless others like it that decorate his house. He has two signs in his bathroom pointing to the guest towel. There is one right on top of the guest towel pointing down, and another next to his personal towel that points towards the other guest towel sign.

Day 15: Abiquiu, New Mexico
This small mosque near the mountains was built by Benyamin van Hattum. On any given day, Bassam writes, there are a number of people praying in this small space.

Day 17: Santa Ana, California
As Maghrib ("dusk) draws close at the Indo-Chinese Muslim Center in Santa Ana, members of the Cambodian Muslim community prepare to break fast. A young member of the congregation meditates.

[All photo credits: Bassam Tariq; blog text Aman Ali and Tariq Bassam]

Your favourites?
What mosques have you frequented in the USA?
What was your experience like there?
Any other comments, thoughts, impressions experiences?

Related Posts
Lailat Al Qadr: Praying Taraweeh at "Ground Zero Mosque" / Cordoba House / Park51 NYC
Aman's and Bassam's Ramadan Road Trip: 30 Mosques, 30 States, 30 Days--American Muslims Coast to Coast Part II
Aman's and Bassam's Ramadan Road Trip: 30 Mosques, 30 States, 30 Days--American Muslims From Coast to Coast Part III


Haitham هيثم Al-Sheeshany الشيشاني said...

What a story! :)
Impressive indeed.

Thx 4 sharing.


coolred38 said...

Ive been in the large Juma mosque in Denver, Colorado many times. Its very pretty but I didnt happen to like the fact that the ladies section is can see down into the mens section from up there...if you stand on tip toes and peek over and down...not easy. Which means your just sitting there listening to disembodied voices floating upwards.

I also didnt like it that when the Imam was speaking in Arabic, giving a lecture etc...all the Arab nationals stayed quiet and listened. As soon as he finished and the Imam that lectured in English started...everyone started chatting and being us English listeners couldnt hear a thing.

Susanne said...

Gotta love Alabama! :-D I like Ismail Baker. He seems like a very thoughtful man. Enjoyed this - thanks!

Chiara said...

Haitham--thanks for your comment, and I'm glad you enjoyed it. I found that even when some of their blog posts seems uninteresting on first glance they all proved highly interesting when I took the time to get in to them. The pics are great too. Thanks again for your comment!

Coolred--thanks for your comment and sharing your experiences. In Part III which is coming up later today, they address the issue of "where to put the women", and also of internal friction due to ethnicity and language. It is sad that such things happen, but they do so in all religious establishments. Thanks again for sharing your experience and for commenting!

Susanne-thanks for your comment, and I am glad you enjoyed the post. If these 2 weren't so sincere I would have thought they made up that Alabama scenario. It is like living in a film! :)

Thanks again to all for your comments. I hope you enjoy Part III which is upcoming later today! :)


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