30Mosques.com | Day 25: Islamic Unity and Cultural Center

By Aman and Bassam

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Ever since we started this project I have been looking for this elusive Bosnian Mosque in Queens. I heard great things about community from my friend Omar Mullick. Today, Aman-less, I was determined to find this with Salatomatic by my side or not.

Welcome to the Bosansko Hecegovacki Islamski Center –


I entered the mosque feeling a little uneasy, not sure how I would be received. To be blunt, I stuck out like a black guy at an advertising agency. I took off my backpack and sat in an empty corner. The congregants seemed to know one another and both men and women roamed the area freely. There was another mosque on the same block that was bigger and didn’t identify itself as a cultural organization. A part of me wanted to get out of here and go next door. I was on the verge of convincing myself that I could find something interesting to blog about there. But after sitting in for awhile, I started to feel comfortable here, that is, until I get a call from Omar. Turns out I went to the wrong Bosnian mosque. There was another one a half a mile north. Just when the small congregation started warming up to me, I smiled and walked out.

As I left the mosque, I ask one of the volunteers where the other Bosnian mosque was. He pointed it out and I began walking towards it until he called me back.

“Excuse me.”


“Can I see your ID?”

I laughed, thinking he was joking.

“Did you not hear me? Can I see your ID?”

I was a little shocked at first, but showed him my ID. By this time, a small crowd formed around us.

I showed him my name on my Texas (w00t) Drivers License “Bassam Mohammad Tariq”

Satisfied, he says, “Sorry. I hope you don’t mind. We are a small community and we’ve already had an incident with the FBI. Its important for me to look out for my congregation.”

I took no offense, I understand how odd it must be for someone to come into their community unanounced and then leave to another Bosnian mosque when there were two mosques closer by. I gave my salams, and headed north to the other Bosnian mosque.

A good ten minute walk and I finally arrive at today’s mosque –


The prayer area was beautiful and clean. There were signs all over the masjid that repeated, “Cleaniness is half your iman.” Right before Maghrib prayers, my good friend Maheen Zaman – a native New Yorker – joined me on today’s venture.


I went downstairs to make wudu after we broke our fast with dates and water. Posters were plastered on the walls of the abolution area instructing you on how to do the proper wash. This is a great idea. I feel uneasy when people watch me perform wudu to make sure I’m doing it properly, so violating.


After Maghrib, we were directed to go downstairs for iftaar. We struck a conversation with a Bosnian brother named Farooq. He is an accountant and lives close to the mosque with his four kids and wife. I looked around the table and didn’t see that many Bosnians. Farooq told us that the majority of the congregants that come here regularly are South Asians because its the closest mosque to them. Most of the Bosnians live a little far out and don’t frequent the center as often.


Today’s dinner included a little bit of rice, a grilled kebab, a pastry and salad.


The women sat on the table next to us. Some men sat together with their wives and kids as well.


I wondered why the men were eating in such a hurry, most were done in less than fifteen minutes. Suddenly, a sea of women came in and started to fill the empty seats. One of the leaders of the mosque told me that there were twice the amount of women today, but that’s not the usual case during Ramadan.

I heard the ice cream truck outside and convinced Maheen to buy me a cone. We were swarmed by the kids from the mosque. Each one of them asking a random question.

“Who invented ice cream?”

“How old are you?”

“Can you buy me ice cream?”

The answers to all these questions? Simple, ask Maheen.


The difference between this Bosnian center and the other were striking. I feel like I’m downplaying the mosque by calling it a Bosnian one. Just during iftaar, there was a Turkish man in front of me, an Egyptian to my left and Maheen, a Bangladeshi, to my right. Then again, the masjid’s name is “Islamic Unity and Cultural Center.” I had a hard time locating the mosque not because it wasn’t listed, but because I was searching for a Bosnian mosque, when clearly this space was so much more than that.

The one question Aman and I keep receiving at the mosques we visit is, “What masjid are you from?”

It’s a hard one to answer. I’d love to say that Masjid XYZ is where you’ll find me there, but that’s just not the case. Maybe that’s the curse of living in Manhattan as a new implant within the larger Muslim community. We’re stuck in this transient dimension where it’s hard to figure out your place. Unfortunately, many Muslim communities in New York have the luxury to stay in their bubbles and I can’t/don’t want to pinpoint where I fall in it. Maybe it’s the location or the inclusive nature of the administration? Whatever the case, the Islamic Unity and Cultural Center is really living up to its name.

I wonder if the volunteer who looked at my drivers license asked himself why the ID was from Texas and not New York. I think I’ll keep it that way.

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