These two young men visited 30 mosques in the New York City area in 2009 and started a blog at the request of friends and family. They were stunned to learn that people all over the world were following their journey and learning about the diversity within the Muslim community and foods that are eaten to break fast. Check out this interview about their 2009 New York experience was covered by the Brian Lehrer radio show in NYC.
What I particularly love about Aman and Bassam’s journey is that they are Muslim, but they write about their mosque experiences as anyone visiting for the first time would. And they’re FUNNY guys – blunt, honest and playful in their writing. They started in NYC and decided to visit the controversial Park 51 (the Cordoba House) for evening prayer. Their observations are definitely not what the mainstream media is covering, and it is downright refreshing:
“I’m standing in prayer expecting to feel something considering I’m inside the Ground Zero mosque. I don’t know what I’m supposed to feel, but for some reason I’m confused why I’m not feeling some mythical sensation.
Then I realized, it’s just a mosque, just like any other place of worship in the country. So the only thing I was feeling was an earache from all the screeching on the microphone from the sound system — just like every mosque in America. “
(Note: Park 51 has not been built into a cultural center yet. The site is NOT at Ground Zero, but 12 blocks away in the old Burlington Coat Factory building. I clarify this because calling it the “Ground Zero mosque” supports the misinformation that has floated around about the plans for an Islamic cultural center. It is NOT on the Ground Zero site!)
“After the prayer, I walked outside and said goodbye to the security guard. His name was Rohan and he spends his days working security outside the building on a regular basis. I asked him if there’s been any kind of problems outside the building, considering all the protests. He said there hasn’t been any incidents at all, except for a random homeless guy that walks by asking people for marijuana. He joked, ‘Yeah but it’s New York City, if I didn’t see a homeless guy walking by asking for weed, I’d be surprised.’ “
and perhaps most humorous:
“An announcement is made that the toilets are broken and people should go across the street. You can’t have a community prayer without the standard hilarious housekeeping announcements…”
The 30 mosques web site has some great photos of their travels and the inside of mosques they’re visiting – as well as the people they’re meeting along the journey.
This site is particularly important, as there is so much emotion and anger around the building of mosques and Islamic cultural centers in the US. For those raising ‘objections’ (code word for FEAR in my humble opinion) about Park 51 (the Cordoba House), I immediately ask the following questions:
1) have you ever been to a mosque?
2) spoken with a Muslim person about their faith?
3) read or heard anything about their faith that didn’t come from a mainstream news outlet?
The answers are usually no, no and no – and “I don’t need to – I ‘tolerate’ them.” (Of course, the easiest way to manifest tension is to create an enemy using the “us/them” paradigm). Forgive me world, but I have high expectations. I don’t want societies to simply ‘tolerate’ others. Tolerating isn’t enough in this fragile world we live in. I want us all to attempt to respect others whenever possible. Lofty idea? Perhaps.
This usually means that we have to ask hard questions and put ourselves in others’ shoes to truly communicate effectively and to have an understanding of the lens that one sees the world through. It also means that we need to be willing and open participants in conversation and we must often tune out the media.
I recently had a conversation with some folks via Facebook about the Islamic Cultural Center that will be built 12 blocks from the World Trade Center site. It went like this:
Person A: I have decided that I’m ok with this center. But the Muslim community has to come out and be more clear that they are moderate in their religion.
Person B: They (Muslims) have no respect wanting to build so close to Ground Zero – 3000 people died and they shouldn’t build a site near that center. That is disrespectful.
Me: Regarding the media – I have seen many interviews where Muslims speak about their religion being hijacked by terrorists. I also think that many Muslims died in the 9/11 attacks, so I’m not understanding why they are somehow not allowed to be mourned in the same way. I also don’t understand what you mean by “too close” to the Trade Center. What is “far enough” – the east side? uptown? midtown? Queens (across the East River)?
In the end, we all agree to disagree on the subject. I don’t disrespect these people – I welcome the dialogue as it inspires me to write on this blog and share my opinions and findings.