30Mosques.com | Day 19: Imam Al-Khoei Islamic Center

By Aman and Bassam

Today Aman and I went to the Imam Al-Khoei Islamic Center in Queens. It is one of the largest Shi’a mosques in NYC.


The place hits close to home for me. My parents sent my brother and I to Al-Khoei for summer school when I was about seven years old. When my brother learned the adhaan, the call to prayer, from school and did it in front of our family, that’s when my parents realized they sent us to a Shi’a school. They weren’t too concerned so they sent us both with a note to our teachers saying we were Sunni. From that point on, whenever I wanted to flake out from a lesson I would raise my hand and say I was Sunni. That was the start and end of my Islamic schooling.


Fast forward 14 years: today, I re-entered the mosque from the back and was brought into a small prayer area in the basement. It was time for me to break my fast, but since the Shi’a break their fast fifteen minutes later I discreetly ate a piece of chocolate.

As I ate my Hershey’s Kisses, I noticed one brother already praying.


I asked him afterwards if he was Sunni and he nodded. His name was Hassan and was from Sri Lanka. He was your typical masjid goer, from the topi hat and beard, down to the prayer beads in hand. He told me he was from the area and that there were many Sunni mosques around here. I asked him why he didn’t go to those instead. And he said this one was closer and he enjoyed coming here. Suddenly, the small prayer area had about ten Sunnis praying.

I decided to go upstairs to join the Shi’a congregational prayer that was just about to take place. There are minor differences between the Shia pray and the Sunni one, so I didn’t feel out of place praying my pukka Pakistani way.


Right after prayer, Aman and I went back to the basement for dinner. As we entered the makeshift dining hall, the first group of people I saw were the Sunni brothers who entered the basement musala as I was leaving upstairs. Turns out a group of Sunni guys hang out regularly at the mosque. They seemed to feel right at home. Hassan saw us from the distance and signaled me to sit next to him. I sarcastically thought to myself, “great, lets add more Sunnis in this corner.”

The little corner where Aman and I sat.


For dinner we had chicken soup, yellow rice and an amazing fish curry.


I tried again to ask Hassan why he decided to come to this mosque. He didn’t join the Shia’s in the congregational prayer nor did he speak with many people there, but he still seemed like a regular. I was baffled by the other group of Sunnis who just chilled and kept to themselves.

I used to wonder why my parents didn’t take us out of the Islamic School after they found out it was Shia’. Maybe just like Hassan Uncle and the small group of Sunnis there, it just wasn’t that big of a deal.

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