30 Mosques in 30 Days: An American Trip!

Two Muslim Americans set out on a cross-country road trip with the goal of sharing stories of Muslims in America. Enjoy it!!

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Day 1: Manhattan
On Aug. 12, 2010, the day before the start of Ramadan, Aman Ali and Bassam Tariq, a comedian and an advertising copywriter, 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 Park51, the controversial mosque near Ground Zero in New York City, about which Aman 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.”

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Day 4: Philadelphia
At the Bawa Fellowship in Philadelphia, Aman and Bassam met Chuck Ginty, pictured above. The fellowship was founded by Bawa Muhaiyadeen, a Sri Lankan Sufi saint who moved to Pennsylvania in the 1970s.

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

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Day 9: Mobile, Ala.
Upon arriving at the Islamic Society of Mobile in Alabama, Bassam and Aman, along with friends from CNN, were kicked out for showing up unannounced with the media. Lacking photos of their experience, Bassam made this drawing of their mildly amicable encounter with the mosque’s imam.

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

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Day 12: Oklahoma City
Sarah Albahadily, a teacher at an Islamic school 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 Fourth of July, her mother proudly wears an American-flag-printed headscarf.”

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

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Day 17: Santa Ana, Calif.
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.

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Day 19: Salt Lake City
Of their visit to the Utah Islamic Center in Salt Lake City, Bassam wrote, “Two British lads came straight from Preston, England, to lead the night prayers at the mosque in Utah during the month of Ramadan. If you look at their music selection on their iPods, you will find Islamic songs from the former Pakistani pop idol Junaid Jamshed and other similar religious music. Katy Perry didn’t seem to make the cut.”

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Day 22: Ross, N.D.
The mosque at Ross is a small stone building made to commemorate the mosque that had been there before. The original masjid was built in 1929 by a community of Syrians who went to North Dakota because of the Homestead Act; it was demolished in the 1970s. The history of this significant space is present on the main fields around the structure. There is an expansive burial site with only about 20 gravestones; the deceased who are buried there were some of the first Muslims to voluntarily emigrate and establish a community in the United States. According the 2000 U.S. Census, Ross is now a town of only 48 people. It is filled with a lot of grass and deserted oil fields. The mosque pops up in the middle of nowhere. There are no signs or markers for it. “We arrived at the mosque in Ross right at the time to break our fast,” Bassam exclaims, “and we were greeted by a beautiful setting sun and 14-day-old granola to sweeten our mouth.

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Day 23: Minneapolis
AbdulQadir, right, shakes hands with Abdullahi just before the breaking of the fast. AbdulQadir is the director of the Dar Al-Hijrah mosque in Minneapolis. He works closely with Somali youth in Minneapolis, a city with a sizable Somali population.

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Day 27: Memphis
Aman and Bassam met Chip at the Memphis Inter-Religious Group. Bassam explains, “Chip, a reformed Jew, married Eunice, a nontraditional Christian, because of the love they both shared for traveling and computer science. They both are dedicated members of the interfaith community in Memphis, Tenn., and frequent the mosque more than some Muslims do.” In this photo, as Bassam describes, “Chip Ordman dons his morning worship gear in hopes of giving us an idea of what orthodox Jews wear during the morning prayer.”

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Day 30: Detroit
The two men visited the homes of congregants of the Islamic Association of Greater Detroit, going from one house to another. In the basement of one of these houses, they say, was an elderly Pakistani man who knew how to “kick ass and take names when it comes to Ping-Pong.”

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Day 31: New York City
One of the congregants of Masjid Khalifah ends the Eid 2010 Block Party in Brooklyn with a song. “I forget what the song was,” wrote Bassam. “But everyone was on their feet dancing like there’s no tomorrow.” Answering a question they posed to themselves at the outset of their 30-day journey, Bassam wrote, “People are willing to accept change in America, it just takes time. Case in point — when our car broke down, our tow-truck driver was a little nervous taking us across Montana after he towed our car, but by the end of the ride all of us were sharing jokes and facial-hair grooming tips. I really do believe people come around; the definition of what America can accept is wider than any of us can imagine.”

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