How an innocent statement on a collegial chat turned into inspiration tenfold...
I received an email from Aman Ali, co-founder of the 30 mosques project. He shared the following note from a college sophomore in North Carolina who saw his 30 mosques in 30 days presentation:
“Dear Aman and Bassam: I attended Aman’s presentation at “X” University the other night to, I must admit, merely fulfill a requirement for a class. I am a lifelong Christian and I hate to say I don’t know much about Islam. To say I was enlightened by your presentation would be an understatement. I was profoundly moved by the experiences you shared with my fellow students, citizens, and me. I hope I get a chance to see one or both of you speak again, because the hour and half I spent hearing about 30 Mosques in 30 Days was absolutely worth failing a quiz the next day. Keep up the good work, and if you haven’t already, I hope you get the chance to visit my hometown, Milwaukee.”
Aman Ali and Bassam Tariq are two young guys who had an idea: Visit 30 mosques in 30 states in 30 days over Ramadan 2010. They looked for funding, rented a car and mapped out a plan. They made some calls, sent some emails, packed up the car and hit the road. They had no idea what to expect, but were ready for an adventure.
I met up with them on day six of their journey, interviewed them and blogged about it. During those thirty days last summer, I checked their blog, daily, to learn more about the people that they were meeting along the way. Aman and Bassam became teachers to me and thousands around the world as they racked up the miles, slept on couches across the country, and broke fast with strangers who quickly became friends. CNN caught wind of their trip and joined them on the road for two days. And when “30 mosques” ended up on the home page of CNN, Aman and Bassam just keep “truckin’ on” in their humble fashion.
I met up again recently with Aman when he presented at a local college (solo on this occasion.) His audience this time was primarily from the campus’ Muslim Student Association. After his presentation (see a 2 minute clip below), I spoke with some of the young people in the audience. Some had heard about 30 mosques, others had no clue what the project was before that night. But this audience did have something in common – they were overjoyed to hear a presentation that allowed them to swell with pride. The students were truly astonished by what Aman shared about the history and diversity of Muslims in the United States. Several expressed to me how frustrating it is been to have to regularly defend their religion. Aman’s presentation gave them a reminder that is was okay to feel proud. It was more than okay – it confirmed that there was much to be proud of! They had been eager for meaningful dialogue that did not include having to defend Islam, and the 30 mosques project provided it.
After a recent 30 mosques presentation in the mid-west (US), I received the following feedback from the the college’s Global Opportunities office:
“It was awesome Missy! The students, staff and faculty who attended were very touched by their presentation. I’m still reflecting on their experiences and I feel a great sense of hope that I haven’t had in a long time. Some of my colleagues want to keep in touch with them, follow their work and even visit them some day in New York!”
I remembered why I created the Melibee speaking series after meeting Aman and Bassam: It was because I felt inspired by their project and wanted to share it with others.
As an educator that spent many years behind a desk on a college campus, I know how many hours it takes to meet and exceed all of your students’ needs, let alone find motivating speakers that will challenge your students to think about their role in the world AND who will make them want to learn more about a subject. I wanted to find speakers who would move students (and faculty/staff) to put their smart phones away for 90 minutes because they would be so truly engaged by what they were hearing.
Why? Because they would be inspired. Inspired enough to not care about their email and Facebook for a whole ninety minutes.
As I reflect on the 30 mosques project, I am so grateful to Aman and Bassam for their adventurous spirits, their humble dispositions, their generosity (they will be volunteering for two days at the model UN in NYC), and for reminding me how much young people have to offer to those of us behind a desk each day. This project has offered the gift of inspiration, and it comes through the hearts of two Muslim New Yorkers – two guys who write for a living but took a month off for a really cool road trip. Needless to say, these two were raised by parents who supported their kids’ goals and dreams, one mosque at a time.
Please enjoy this clip of Aman talking about his visit to the mosque in Ross, North Dakota:
Here is more information about their visit to Ross, North Dakota from Day 22 of their 30 day journey.
Aman and Bassam are available to speak from March – July 2010 (in the US and abroad.) They are also able to present in the NYC area during the week of September 11, 2011. (Note: They are not “9/11 speakers,” as the events of that day are not what sparked them to create 30mosques.) Aman and Bassam are not sure yet if they will present after September 2011. If you’re interested in booking Aman and Bassam for a presentation, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or via the contact form. Other inspiring Melibee speakers can be found here.
Dr Tererai Trent from Zimbabwe inspires us - from NY Times Op-Ed and Oprah.