30 Mosuqes, 30 Days

          On Thursday night, my friend Mat and I attended a presentation given by Aman Ali called "30 Mosques, 30 Days."  Aman is a writer and comedian, so his stories were as fun and engaging as they were informative.  (And honestly,  some of his stories were so funny that I had to remind myself that I was in the Grotto at UNC Asheville and not in a comedy club off campus!)  For the month of Ramadan, Aman his friend Bassam Tariq travelled around the country, visiting different Mosques and getting to know members of local Muslim communities. 
            Aman told us that he was interested in discovering just how widespread animosity towards Muslims really was in the United States.  So often, after all, stories in the news are far different what occurs in real life.  What he found, Aman said, was that he and Bassam were welcomed by most of the people they encountered on their trip, and from their experience, they did not find much racism or hostility towards the Muslim community.  Aman said that he had to give credit to the United States for being, in general, a very open and embracing place. 
            Aman and Bassam, both Muslims, were on a spiritual road trip as well as one of story-collecting, and perhaps self-discovery.  Aman further shared that although he has a background in reporting, the trip was, for him, less about “facts” and more about finding and connecting with, the experience of Muslims living in the United States.  His approach is very humanizing; by finding and sharing honest stories about life, he and, by extension, readers of his blog, can connect with individuals who may seem, at first blush, so very different from themselves. 
            One of my favorite stories from this presentation was from Ross, North Dakota.  On their way to Fargo (in the middle of nowhere, Montana), Aman and Bassam accidentally damaged their rental car by hitting a rock in the road, which threw a wrench in their plans, and caused them to reroute their trip. However, because of this accident, they were able to find the site of the first mosque built in the United States and learn about the people who constructed it.  In the late 1800s, Syrian and Lebanese farmers, hoping to avoid the draft imposed by the Ottoman Empire, came to the United States to take advantage of the Homestead Act of 1862.  This act, to encourage settlement of the western United States, essentially provided land to settlers (in return for a small fee and farming the land for a certain period of time), and allowed this small Muslim community to thrive. 
            Next year, they will be visiting the 20 states that they did not cover on last Ramadan’s 13,000-mile trip.  In the works, he said, is a book, a PBS documentary, and a trip to mosques in 30 countries around the world. 
 Aman describes a Confederate souvenir shop that they felt compelled to visit in Jacksonville, FL

From left:  Me, Aman, and Mat

For more information, check out the links below!
Aman's website
"30 Mosques" website
"30 Mosques" on Facebook


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