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Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Nation

Muslim duo visits 30 states in 30 days, documents experiences


A new masjid, or mosque, stands in Ross, Idaho, the small town where the first masjid in the U.S. was built by Muslim immigrants in 1929. | Courtesy of Bassam Tariq and Aman Ali


Bassam Tariq and Aman Ali knew something bad had happened as they saw smoke rising from the front of their Chevy Cobalt. They were on a strict schedule, and delay was not an option.

Adhering to their original plan would be impossible, so instead of driving 11 hours to Fargo, N.D., they altered their plans and ended up in Ross — a community of 48 people, according to the last U.S. Census.

Disappointment soon turned into wonder and excitement as they discovered that Ross had once held the first mosque ever built in the United States. In 1929, immigrant Muslims had built a house of worship in a country they now called home.

Tariq and Ali drove to 30 different states during the 30 days of the Islamic month of Ramadan, which ended Thursday. Their goal was to visit different Mosques and diverse Muslim communities all across the country.

“The idea was to share the stories of Americans and how they have found a way to be an American and a Muslim at the same time,” Tariq said. “When we tell the stories of American Muslims, we are telling the story of America.”

Last year, in order to break out of their comfort zone and expose themselves to the greater Muslim community, Tariq and Ali visited 30 different mosques throughout New York City and blogged about their experiences.

Their stories caused a buzz, drawing the attention of National Public Radio and generating encouragement and support from people around the world.

They took it a step further this year by trekking across the U.S. and sharing their stories on 30mosques.com.

“This trip is really for us to try to gain a broader definition of what America is,” Tariq said, “and to see how far we’ve been accepted, how pluralistic our society really is.”

Tariq, 23, is originally from Pakistan. He grew up in Houston and moved to New York after graduating from the University of Texas at Austin. He served as the photographer on the trip and hoped to visually portray the unique aspects of the different communities they visited.

“It was a challenge to be the photographer,” Tariq said. “I had to make sure we had interesting and visually stimulating photos every day.”

As they traveled through the different states, they came across many communities, each with a unique story.

On the 20th day of their journey, they stopped in Boise, Idaho. There they found a community of Bosnian refugees that had fled the ethnic cleansings in their war-stricken country during the 1990’s.

“The Bosnians bought an abandoned church for about half a million dollars, and then they all came together and built the mosque,” said Tariq. “They didn’t hire a single contractor. They hired no one. Everything from the wall plaster to the electric wiring was done by the community members.”

Making their way on a 13,000-mile journey across the U.S. was no easy task, especially while fasting. Having their car break down, interrogated by police and being thrown out of a mosque made their journey all the more difficult.

“Getting encouraging e-mails from people who have never heard of the communities we are visiting kept us going,” Tariq said. “The hospitality in these different communities makes you feel like, ‘Wow, we’re a part of a larger family that we didn’t know we were a part of.'”

As Tariq and Ali wound down their journey and the end of Ramadan crept in, they started to reflect on how their trip has changed them.

“It has given me a great appreciation for America. This is a very accepting society,” said Tariq. “(For example) in Utah, a Mormon church gave at least $25,000 to the local mosque. That’s amazing.”

Tariq also had a personal message for the UH community.

“Have a purpose in life and take risks,” Tariq said. “If you don’t take risks, you’re not living. And if you’re not sweating, you’re not working.”


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