By Bassam Tariq

By Bassam Tariq

Think Brother Ali is the only one in his family with talent? Think again. Check out his son Faheem spitting a few hot verses

Brother Ali’s son, Faheem, breaks it down.

By Jasmine Amoh (@amajas)

I’m really excited to be guest blogging for 30masjids!! Ever since I read the first post at the start of Ramadan, I eagerly await the new daily post to learn about the various masjids in my city.

Born in Toronto, I come from a family of mixed heritage; Ghanaian and Lebanese. A Christian father and a Muslim mother. Neither faith was really ever discussed in my household growing up, so at age 16, I started studying Islam for myself, and instantly knew this was the direction that I had to take.

I heard about the brothers in the U.S. who blogged about their experiences last Ramadan, visiting a different masjid throughout the month, and was delighted to find out that this initiative was also being done right here in Toronto by Himy Syed. Based on this idea, I’d like to share one experience of mine.

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By Aman Ali

Brother Ali is just as beautiful on the outside as he is on the inside. When you talk, he listens by nodding in excitement with a nirvana-like smile that stretches across his face. He sports a primped beard that straps down the sides of his face and flows down his chin like a waterfall. I’m looking forward to this conversation because I’ve been a fan of his music for almost a decade and like Pac-Man I gobble up just about every hip-hop record he puts out or interview he does.

Bassam and I met up with him and his son Faheem in their native Minneapolis for dinner at an Arab restaurant by the mosque we prayed at. I order a few platters for everyone and within minutes our table is toppling with luscious plates of lamb shawarma, beef skewers, roasted chicken and kabobs. Hands start flying in every direction grabbing food as our conversation begins.

“Your son is a beast,” I say to Brother Ali while pointing to how much food his son was eating.

Faheem smiles and grabs a bottle of hot sauce.

“Faheem is ‘The Hot Sauce Man,’” Ali said with a chuckle. “Sometimes for snack he’ll just eat hot sauce and bread.”

“Sometimes at home my mom will have to raise her voice at me because half the bread is gone from all the hot sauce I eat” Faheem said as he puffed his chest.

Brother Ali was born with albinism, a genetic disorder that takes away pigment in your skin, hair and eyes. He’s also legally blind. He had trouble fitting in at school because he didn’t think there was anyone he could relate to.

“The schools I went to had mostly white kids in it,” he said. “Then you’d have like one Vietnamese kid and maybe one Indian kid.”

“I was that one Indian kid at my school,” I chimed in.

Being teased about his appearance was tormenting, he said. Until he was seven years old when an African American woman at school told him something that he still remembers to this day.

“She said ‘You look that way because you’re special,’” he said. “’If God wanted you to be like everybody else and just be normal, he would have made you that way. But he made you look special because you’re supposed to be special. If you’re going to be special, all the stuff you’re going through is training for that.’

“And the thing is,” he added. “She didn’t just say it. She made me believe it.”

Intrigued by what she said, Ali began hanging out with the black kids in school and cracking jokes with them.

“I got the same laughs they got when I gave jokes,” he said. The jokes they told me weren’t cruel, they were meant to be funny. That was the first time I ever felt like a human being – when someone called me Santa Claus or Phil Donahue.”

Hanging out with African Americans started his journey on finding his identity which became even more clearer when he became Muslim in the late 90s.

“Islam was just a natural extension of that journey,” he said. “In the sense that you were made exactly the way you’re supposed to be and that God has a plan for you.”

Ali may be white but has said repeatedly in interviews he credits the African American community for raising him. I’ve heard him make that point a lot and was intrigued to find out his reasons why.

“When it comes to the African American experience, no group of people has had to be completely reset in terms of humanity,” he said. “That all has meaning in the plan of God. I’m convinced they’re here to teach us. We have centuries of accumulated stuff. Just this junk that’s been added on to us over time. Not as Muslims but as humans. African Americans are here to live an example of what it means to be a human being again, what it means to be Adam again.”

Ali is on fire right now dropping some serious knowledge on this table and I insist he eat some shawarma in front of him before it gets cold.

“I’m good,” he said while placing his hand on his heart and flashing his radiant smile again. “It’s not polite to talk with your mouth full.”

Brother Ali’s early records focused a lot on his identity struggles and his rocky upbringing. As he started gaining buzz among fans he didn’t expect he’d have, kids from privileged backgrounds that didn’t have even a remotely similar upbringing compared to his.

“All of a sudden, I realized a majority of my fans are privileged people,” he said. “For a couple of years I struggled with trying to figure out why and I realized they might not listen to my content coming from somebody else but they might listen to it from me if I did It right.”

His more recent albums focus heavily on his spirituality, social justice and the connection between the two. Now, times are good for he and Faheem. Ali tours the globe regularly to a steady fanbase and Faheem comes along too whenever he can.

There’s a school of thought out there that says to be a good artist, you have to be dealing with tragedy or torment. Since times are good for Brother Ali, Bassam and I asked him how that impacts his creativity on the mic. He said he turned to the Sufi traditions within Islam to learn there was a whole new world of expression he could explore.

“The Sufi art is what made me know that there is art to be made during times of love,” he said. “They always concentrate on the connection between love and suffering. You can only love as deep as you can suffer.”

I work as a standup comic and I’ve always admired Brother Ali’s stage presence. On stage early on in my career, it’s easy to constantly overthink about everything like “Am I talking too loud?” or “Am I standing to straight?” or “What am I going to say next?” But when I first saw Brother Ali perform at a hiphop show I went to in 2004, I couldn’t help but marvel at how much fun he was having on stage. He was in the zone, dancing on stage and even grabbing the mic to do a quick beatboxing session.

“All that stuff growing up that I’ve always had that nobody cared to see, now all of a sudden I’ve got an hour on stage to give that to you,” he said. “It’s an incredible feeling.”

One of the most difficult things to battle with as a public figure is ego. I have nowhere near the success as Brother Ali does, but it’s a constant struggle to keep yourself in check when people are constantly coming up to you to say they like what you do (or in some female cases they like you period). I asked him how he’s been able to handle his ego battle.

“I wish I could say I’ve been successful at battling it,” he said. “Anybody that’s in front of people, it automatically makes you a narcissist.”

Dr. Su’ad Abdul Khabeer once said ‘Whenever I go in front of people, I go between feeling inadequate to delusions of grandeur,’ he added. “And that’s so true man. We go from feeling like “Ahhh this is so terrible!” because we’re examining ourselves to ‘I’m brilliant, so brilliant.’”

When fans ask for his autograph, he said, one of the things he does to check himself is sign his name with Arabic phrases underneath like “Alhamdulillah” (All praises are for God) or “Allah Akbar” (God is the greatest).

“It’s a double thing for me because it’s reminder to me that you’re signing this autograph because Allah favored you and gave you this opportunity,” he said. “But then when they’re also like ‘Hey dude, what does this mean?’ I say back ‘You’re going to have to find a Muslim and ask them what it means.’”

It’s time for the Ramadan Taraweeh prayers at the mosque and Brother Ali wants to leave the restaurant and head over there. I noticed he barely touched his food and carries it outside in a box with his son.

“Dad, I think we should feed this to a homeless person or someone else in need,” Faheem said.

While Ali attends the Taraweeh prayers, I duck out of the mosque and make a quick food run for him with a friend. After the prayer finishes, I hand him and his son a halal Stromboli stuffed with pepperoni, beef sausage, lamb gyro and chicken. Ali bites into it and pauses.

“That’s what’s up,” Ali beams with his smile.

But Ali can only get a few bites in before Faheem devours the entire thing.

“I told you, the kid is a beast.” I said.

I’m going through my notes from my conversation with Ali right now and keep saying to myself “Damn, I didn’t fully realize what he said until rereading it now!” I don’t even think I’ve typed up half of the things we talked about because we covered so much ground over the course in 45 minutes. It’s the exact same thing he does with his music. He orchestrates his insight into the human experience in ways that only he is capable of doing. But I say all this not as a fan nor as an attempt stroke his ego. But rather, as his friend. At first I thought to myself “Ok, we’re friends now because we hung out and I got his phone number.” But then I realized I’ve been connected to him ever since I stumbled upon one of his records over 10 years ago. It’s people like him that helped me embrace my own identity and make sure I feel good about the work I do and make sure it is done to please God most importantly. I don’t know how successful I am on this objective, but I’m blessed to know he has always been here to help me in the process.

By Aman Ali

Basheer pointed to his gleaming skin and said the no-facial hair stereotype about Native Americans is true.

“Open up a history book and you’re not going to see Geronimo or Sitting Bull with a beard or nothin’” he said.

“Wow, I think you’re probably the least hairiest Muslim I’ve ever met,” I quipped back.

Basheer Butcher is a full-blooded Native American that converted to Islam in 2001. He hails from the Sioux tribe and grew up on the Cheyenne River Reservation in South Dakota. He now lives in Sioux Falls and is active in the Muslim community here of about 3,000 people.

We chatted at length by kicking back on some stones in front of a gaping waterfall in a nearby park. He said he may have abandoned certain traditions in his culture when he embraced Islam, but becoming Muslim actually strengthened his Native American identity.

“A lot of virtues in Native American culture are very similar to values in Islam like sincerity, courage, wisdom and generosity,” he said. “My whole life I was searching for this connection with God and with Islam I felt like I finally found it.”

Basheer has a towering physique and a distinguishable face that looks like it was chiseled from stone. He wears a soothing sandlewood cologne and speaks with a gentle tone that brought comfort to my senses in more ways than one. When he began opening up about his life, he often reflected with brief pauses before he spoke giving me the impression it’s been a rocky journey to get to where he is today.

Basheer’s birth name is Louis Butcher Jr. and his family name is High Elk. Growing up on a Sioux reservation, he had a rough upbringing and was in search for divine answers to understand what he was dealing with.

“My father was an alcoholic and my parents got divorced when I was really young,” he said. “I had a lot of anger and feelings of resentment because I couldn’t make sense of anything.”

He also had his own demons. He battled with alcoholism and got into fights on the reservation that landed him in and out of jail. He said he never felt much of a connection with many of his Native American spiritual traditions like sweat lodges, a ritual where you ask tribe leaders to pray to spirits on behalf of you.

“I never understood why did I have to tell someone to talk to the spirits or God for me,” he said. “Why can’t I connect to God directly? My whole life that’s what I was seeking.”

He left the reservation at age 31 and moved to a small town in South Dakota called Rapid City. That’s where he met a co-worker that embraced Islam. Basheer was intrigued and in 2001 began researching the religion.

9/11 happened in midst of his studying of Islam and I asked if that tragedy altered his views of the religion.

“I already had my mind made up about being Muslim when 9/11 occurred,” he said. “I saw what was going on with the backlash and how Muslims were getting attacked. Going through what my people have gone through for the past 250 years in this country and seeing what the Muslims were going through, I felt that connection.”

Basheer’s family speaks Lakota, a Native American language that uses many throat sounds found in Arabic. He shared with me a Lakota proverb that helped lead him on his journey to Islam.

“In Lakota, we have a saying – Mitaku Oyasin,” he said. “It means ‘We are all related’.”

Through God, he said, he felt more connected to humanity and the environment. It was the connection he had been seeking his whole life. His family wasn’t upset with him leaving behind his Native American spiritual traditions, especially his grandmother.

“When I became Muslim, my grandmother told me a Lakota proverb – Taku oyagagmi hantas ihab ichuwo,” he said writing down the proverb on my notepad. “That means ‘If you don’t understand something, then leave it.’”

I drove Basheer home to his apartment at night and we passed by a Native American woman that seemed to be drunk as she stumbled down a sidewalk. Basheer’s face began to ache looking at the window before he quickly turned away.

“Alcoholism is one of the biggest problems Native Americans face anywhere,” he said. “A lot of people deal with their issues by turning to alcohol. Before I was Muslim I had a problem with it. Inshallah (God willing) I will never have to live that life again. It took my father’s life when he was 41 years old and it took my mother’s life in a fatal car accident when she was 36 years old. Being a Muslim and trying hard to be a good Muslim made a big change in my life.”

He may not practice many Native American customs he grew up on, but Basheer emphasized he doesn’t look down on his peers for doing them.

“Everyone has their own sense of a higher power whether it be a connection to God or spirits,” he said.

This year marks 10 years since Basheer has been Muslim. Given his tumultuous past, I asked him where he thinks he’d be today if he wasn’t Muslim. It was a heavy question for him to process and he looked away and took in a few deep breaths before he answered.

“You know, that’s something that’s always in the back of my mind but I try to keep things in a positive perspective,” he said. “Allah has blessed me and I’m always trying to do something good and focus on change in my life.”

“It’s always a worry for me to slip and go back to my old ways,” he added. “But as a believer in God, our faith is always going to go up and down. It’s always important to keep that in perspective to avoid going astray.”

With Islam in his life, I asked him if he has been able to find the answers he was seeking when he began longing for his connection to God as a child.

“Everything happens by Allah’s will,” he said. “All the things I experienced, they happened for a reason and made me the person I am today. There is a connection to everything in this world through Allah.”

Our conversation ended there and I drive away and get a phone call from a friend in New York. I’m quickly pulled out of the spiritual high I was on talking to Basheer to deal with some petty drama my friend had dropped on me. While on the phone, I scratch my nose and notice Basheer’s sandlewood scent is still on my hand. I’m reminded about the connections I have to people in this world and to roll my eyes at my friend’s problem would be rolling my eyes at God’s beauty. I immediately give my friend the time of day he deserves.

Basheer is right, we are all related.

If you want to see Double Eye Tee, Islamic Institute of Toronto, find where the sidewalk ends . . .

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By Bassam Tariq


Before prison, David only knew one world — the biker one. He was part of a biker gang and got himself into a lot of mess. Once a man pulled a loaded gun to his face and nearly killed him. Another time, two men opened beer bottles on his scalp and left him to die. Before Islam his enemies were the people around him, after he became a Muslim his biggest enemy became his own anger and aggression. David lacked self-control and vowed to become a better man in prison.

David picked up a Qur’an only so he could refute his sister who embraced the faith. After reading it cover-to-cover he was so moved by the book that he accepted Islam. Later in his life, David was sentenced to three years in prison in South Dakota. He knew very little about Islam, but saw this as a chance to turn things around for himself. His cellmate was an observant Jewish man who was serving a life sentence. Since David didn’t know Arabic and believed that the call to prayer had to be made before praying, he got his cellmate to do a call to prayer in Hebrew just so he could pray. The other prisoners would mess with them and call their cell “Little Jerusalem.”

A year into his sentence he decided he wanted to get married. He had been in a number of unsuccessful marriages and knew now what would work for him and what wouldn’t. It was important for him to find someone while he was in prison so they could accept him for who he is. Somehow or another, the Islamic Pink Pages, a matrimonial directory, found their way to him. In it, he found a listing for a lady in Singapore and wrote her a letter introducing himself. The lady, Nor, received the letter two weeks later. She didn’t know what to say, Nor was the assistant principal in a prestigious Islamic School, David was in prison in South Dakota. She sent him a letter apologizing and saying that he might have gotten the wrong person, but still went ahead and introduced herself.


Nor’s husband died in a brutal car accident. She was left to raise her three children on her own. Her eldest son felt that she should look to get married again as she was still young, so he put a listing out in the Islamic Pink Pages. Nor was understandably uneasy in the beginning with her correspondence with David, but felt she should at least give him a chance. His honesty and candor caught her off guard. It was different, it was refreshing. They kept in touch for a year. Nor studied Shariah Law in college so David would ask her questions about Islam that he and his fellow inmates would have. They would wait patiently for “Sister Nor’s” responses on many legal Islamic issues. They would take her word as if it were the Quran itself. The inmates had very little exposure to Islam. Once, a Muslim was admitted to the South Dakota prison who knew some Qur’an. They all would gather around him just to hear him recite it in Arabic.

A year into talking, David finally built up the courage and asked her hand in marriage. He sent the letter and waited impatiently for her response. Everyday as the mailman came by he would run frantically up to the bars and ask if there was any mail for him.

“Sorry, David,” the mailman would say, “nothing yet.”

A month passed and no word came from Nor. David was devastated. He started getting into fights with other inmates and lost his job. His prison mates saw him falling into pieces and comforted him as much as they could. David felt all was lost with Nor, until a month and half later he received a letter from her. David was sitting in a cell when the mailman came with a letter. Nor had agreed to marry him.

David’s sister, Aneesa, couldn’t believe it. Nor had never seen a picture of David. Only David had seen a picture of Nor.

“Are you crazy!?” Aneesa asked Nor on the phone once, “He could be blind or deaf or have a bad limp. You have no idea what he looks like or who he is in person!”

“That is fine. He just needs to have a good heart.” Nor replied.

A couple of months later, Nor finally made it to South Dakota. It had been a whole year now that they had been corresponding and Nor finally called David on the phone. The prison was rowdy that day and David couldn’t hear anything on his end.

“Quiet down!” said one of the inmates, “He’s talking to his lady for the first time!”

The entire prison went mute.

“Hello?” David said on the line.

There was no response.

A minute later, Aneesa picks up the phone.

“David, she got so nervous she fainted…”


Today, we sit together in their small house in Sioux Falls. David laid the hardwood floors himself and made some holes in the floor that have made Nor unhappy. They have been married now for 11 years. David sits next to a stack of National Geographic magazines that they got on Craigslist’ Curb Alerts. Nor walks out a little while later. She greets us and stands by the dining table. She is small and reserved. As David shares a story about growing up in the farms, she covers her face laughing and rolls her eyes.

“I’ve heard them all,” she says to us.

David’s life is an open book. No part of his life is off limits to talk about. In the first ten minutes we met him, he had shared three stories and told us about his big mouth and bad temper. Nor is the opposite, she is reserved and soft-spoken. Ever since he was released from prison, they have lived together in South Dakota.

Nor brought her two younger boys to live with them. The adjustment for Noor was difficult. She wore a scarf when she would leave the house and many would cuss at her and call her a terrorist. She took a job at the local K-mart as a cashier. In the beginning, her co-workers gave her a difficult time, but she slowly won the hearts of her customers and supervisors.

David leaves the room for a second and comes back with a stack of folders that reads “Nor’s letters.”

“You kept all these?” Nor says, surprised.

“Of course.”

David starts scouring the folder to find the first one she wrote to him.

Nor picks it up and reads it.

“ ‘I am a fair skinned, skinny Malaysian Singaporian.’” she covers her face laughing, “I can’t believe I wrote that.”

The letters in the beginning were very formal. She addressed him as “Brother David.” They were terse and cut straight to the facts. After marriage, ‘Brother David’ became “My Beloved Husband,” and the letters began to carry an emotional weight they never had before.

I see a letter in David’s hand and ask him if I can take a photo of it. He puts it down for me, but Nor quickly points at a part in it and blushes.

“Uh, well you can’t see anything past this point.”

David covers the entire page.


The day before their marriage, they were to meet each other face-to-face for the first time. David was still in prison, so when they saw one another it was through the glass separating inmates and visitors. When they gave them a minute to meet one another without the barrier, David came close to hug Nor, but she quickly moved away.

“It’s haram for us to hug!” she said to him, “we are not married yet.”

David began apologizing. He felt so bad and thought he ruined everything. For the past year, she was just words on a paper and now, she stood right in front of him and all he was allowed to do was smile and wave from a distance.

The next day, David was brought down from his cell to sign the marriage contract. When he was given a pen, his hands started shaking and he was unable to sign it.

“What the hell is wrong with you?” The Warden said, frustrated by David’s nervousness.

He then walks up to David, grabs his hand and helps him sign it.

Later that day, David and Nor came together in a cold prison room where they finally saw each other as husband and wife and held hands for the first time.

behind schedule

Between blogging and fasting, 30 Masjids is behind in daily postings.

Upcoming are Islamic Institute of Toronto, Fatih Mosque, and the Bosnian Islamic Centre.

InshAllah, we’ll catch up.

We may also have our first guest blog entry by a sister later this week.

Want to share your experience in breaking fast? Guest bloggers are welcome, please leave a reply below and we’ll connect.


By Bassam Tariq

In a still and quiet night, Laramie is sleeping. The bars have closed, the homeless have vanished and the city is left to gophers and armadillos painting the night with a melody so benign that CD’s are made of it and sold to you at Target.

Laramie is a college town and since the University of Wyoming has not started fall classes the town is desolate. We watched the sun fall waiting for someone to open the door of the mosque. The brother who greeted us was patient and left us a large meal to break our fast. His wife and daughter awaited him at home, so he rushed back to them after dropping off the food.

The Muslim community in Laramie is very small. There are close to ten to fifteen families. The congregants that make up the majority of the community are international students studying from Libya and Sadi Arabia. The community got together and bought a run-down church and converted it into a mosque. Even now, the remnants of the stained glasses have been kept paying an homage to its past.

After breaking our fast, I walked the streets to find Laramie.

The stillness can move you. The pitch dark can scare you. The Divine will demand to be remembered. The cold weather will test you and the wind that blows will ask – if you can accept the city for what it is and not what you want it to be. It will ask you to look past the bleak history that taints the empty streets and closed bars. It will plead you to move on from the tragic killing of Matthew Shepard and find something deeper.

But how can one look over such a tragic killing? In 1988, two men were giving Matthew Shepard a ride home, when they instead took him to a field and tied him to a fence. They broke his skull, cut his right ear and left him bleeding. His body was found 18 hours later by a cyclist. His killers confessed in court that they killed Shepard because of his sexual orientation.

Knowing this, how do you walk around a desolate, empty town with predominantly white folk no prejudice? So when a man slows down his truck or when someone stares at you from their porch– how can you not be paranoid?

I have found a subtle side of America that is triumphed in abstract rock formations and desolate street corners. In broken shopping strip malls and 24hr Adult Stores. There is simplicity cemented in the concrete and Laramie celebrates it. To understand it, you must meet her on her terms. You must find Happy Jack Summit, a majestic mountain summit or indulge in the echoes from the freight trains passing by downtown. At night, Laramie sleeps, but it is still breathing.

It’s Juma. Friday. The weekly congregational day of prayer for Muslims. Feeling the itch to join a larger than usual size Juma prayer, finds me heading to North York, home to TARIC Islamic Centre.

It’s at 99 Beverly Hills Drive. 99 is also the number of different names for God Alone mentioned in The Qur’an.

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By Aman Ali

We came back to Las Vegas to meet up with a familiar face we made friends with last year. The story about Amanullah Naqshabandi was one of the most popular stories on our site last year and we wanted to meet up with him again and see how he was doing.

According to Islam, Muslims are prohibited to gamble and Amanullah is active at his mosque and works at the MGM Grand Casino. Now it’s incredibly easy to point a finger at this guy and slam him for this seeming hypocrisy without understanding his story. But as we discussed last year, his situation isn’t as black and white as it seems. Take a worthwhile moment to read last year’s story if you’re not familiar with him.

Amanullah just came home from an exhausting day of work and welcomed us into his home that is ornamented in precious Afghan art work and furniture

Inside Amanullah’s home I noticed vivid photographs taken at various points in his life hanging around the living room. Sometimes to better appreciate a man, you have to understand the journey he took to make him the man he is today.

Amanullah grew up in Kabul, Afghanistan. He went back to Afghanistan in 2003 to find out his childhood home had been completely destroyed by a bomb during the Afghan war there.

Age 9. “This picture was taken with one of those really old fashioned cameras you had to cover with a large curtain,” he said. He paused for a moment and smiled. I asked him what he misses about life back then that doesn’t exist in Afghanistan now. “I felt so free. You could go outside and play and there was nobody trying to hurt you or ask where you were going.”

Age 15. Amanullah said he was a good student in school. A member in our crew started speaking Pashto, a language popular in parts of Pakistan, with him and Amanullah immediately drew him in with a handshake. Amanullah grew up speaking Farsi but learned the Pashto from one of his friends he grew up with that spoke it. When Amanullah finished school, he was about to take a job in Russia. This was around the time the Soviets were invading Afghanistan and Amanullah’s friend strongly advised him not to take the job because he could be killed there. He didn’t and Amanullah realizes he could have died if it weren’t for his friend’s advice. Everytime he speaks or hears Pashto, he’s reminded of his friend.

Age 18.

Age 25.

(Far Right) One of his first photos of him coming to America. Looks like a baller in those bellbottoms. My dad wore similar outfits in photos he took when he came here to the U.S. too. What’s up with immigrant dads looking badass in their old photos. I hope my future kids will look at pictures of me in my 20s and be like “WOW DAD! You look so cool in your 90s cartoon tshirts and Puma sneakers!”

Amanullah sporting his beachwear on a hot summer day. This photo was taken in the 1980s so any fashion faux pauxs he made in this decade are forgivable.

Photo from the early 1990s of King Amanullah showcasing his throne alongside his beautiful wife and children. Either that or the Sears Portrait Studio he went to is pretty awesome.

Amanullah likes to be a little goofy at times so when he and his wife visited Afghanistan in 2003, she put on a burqah as a joke and they took this silly pic together. Why do I have a feeling someone is going to take this photo seriously and post it on a right-wing blog…

Amanullah said he struggles everyday in working in a place he’s morally opposed to and makes no excuses whatsoever for it. But he came to this country as an unskilled laborer and took a casino job because it was steady income to support his family. In recent years he’s tried to look for alternative jobs, but the job market is tough in Nevada. To make matters worse, Amanullah is 60 years old and has heart problems.

“I have seven stents inside my heart,” he said. “I need insurance otherwise something could happen to me. Who is going to want to hire someone at my age and health?”

As I had mentioned last year, it’s incredibly easy to bash this guy if you don’t know him for being Muslim and working in a casino. But doing so is unfair and downright foolish. You don’t think he already knows its wrong?

Amanullah gets off the couch and stares into a series of mirrors in his living room. I asked him the same question I poised at him last year – with all the stress and guilt he has about his job, what does he do to comfort himself? His stare into the mirror turns into a smile as he points to the sky.

“I stand before Allah and leave everything for him to judge,” he said. “I am here because of his destiny and all I can do is make best of my situation.”

By Bassam Tariq

An hour-by-hour breakdown of our short time in Hawaii.



Mahalo means thank you and you will hear it everywhere you go when you ride Hawaiian Airlines. When you are getting late to your terminal, Mahalo! When you are getting bags searched while your flight isboarding, Mahalo! When they tell you there is not enough room for your bags, you get the idea. The good people of Hawaiian Airlines want to give us an authentic feel of Hawaii and that’s why the flight attendants wear flowered shirts, the women have flowers over their ear and first classers are surrounded by nothing but flowers. The flight safety video also has two attractive Hawaiian natives taking us step-by-step through the ubiquitous regulations adding Hawaiian phrases to make the video incredibly riveting. For the first time, I sat through the entire safety video and can easily locate the four exit doors, two at the front and two at the back.



We wait in baggage claim for Aman’s suitcase. The bag doesn’t come. We find out that the bag has already been shipped to Las Vegas. Turns out, we were spending such a short time in Hawaii they saw it as a stopover and decided to send his bag out to our next step. We shrug and haul ass towards the rental car center.



We drive into Honolulu and it feels like Houston. There is an interstate, graffiti on the streets, and countless Asian-themed diners around the vicinity. I was expecting expansive beaches and hula dancers emerging from the sand right as we exited the plane.



The first place on our itinerary to visit is Shangri-La, the house of Doris Duke, the daughter of multi-millionaire James Buchanan Duke sand the primary heir of his entire fortune when he passed away. Her life had always been under the gun of tabloids. She was beautiful, young and had a lot of money. She was the Paris Hilton of her time. Doris married at age 23 and during her extravagant honeymoon she fell in love with the Muslim world and began purchasing art from the region. Her honeymoon ended in Hawaii where she ended up buying some property and built it as a summer home with nothing but Islamic themed artwork and architecture. The house was called Shangri-La and became her own private paradise.

Doris Duke passed away in 1993. In her will she requested Shangri-La to be opened to the public and be used to promote Islamic art and culture. So now, the house has thousands of visitors a year that are fascinated by her collection and leave with a deep appreciation for Islamic culture. There is also a foundation started called the Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art that helps to build mutual understanding between the US and the Muslim world. What’s quite funny is that many Muslims only know Doris Duke through the lens of her charity and goodwill and not at all through the tabloids and gossip columns of her time. She lives on now in a way that many would have never expected.



We park our car at a public beach parking lot near Shangri-La. A shirtless man approaches us aggressively and asks for a pen to write a number. He writes the number on his forearm and calls a friend over standing in the distance. The men start to get closer to us and I remember the three close-call muggings I had in Pakistan. I get ready to kick some ass if need be, but quickly remember my older brother’s advice on fighting. “You don’t know how to fight. If you ever get in one, just run.” So I ran.



I am now sitting on a resort beach that I snuck into. I see two dark South Asian men taking off their shirts and pants. They take turns tip-toeing into the beach and slowly fall into place. One is in his underwear and the other is in his boxer. The one in his whitey tidies looks like Mogli from the Jungle Book and the other looks like a sad pervert. They splash water at each other, slip on rocks and laugh hysterically – it looks like so much fun. I notice that we are the only people on this side of the beach. There are no cameras, no chance that any of this will be on Facebook. I take off my shoes and run into the beach with them.



I arrive at the mosque in my gym shorts and wet shirt. I walk around the vicinity in hopes of drying up. A minute later, I go back into the car to put on my usual get-up. I notice that my jeans are getting tighter and my thighs are getting bigger. It has only been four days of Ramadan and already I’m gaining weight! I take a second and blame all the aunties from the past four days for feeding me nothing but biryani and pizza and promise myself to not eat anymore unhealthy mosque food after today. But as I leave the car, I find out from one of the younger guys that there won’t be an iftar today.

“You should come next week, there will be a great meal then.”

“I won’t be here.”

“Oh yeah? When are you leaving?”

I look at my watch.

“In two hours.”

The mosque is a house with subtle accents in the arches. From what the congregants say, it is the first and only mosque in Honolulu. I meet two elderly men sitting in the back of the mosque and strike up a conversation.

Yusuf, on the left, is an illustrator from Jordan. He draws caricatures in hotel lobbies or by the boardwalk in downtown. His friend, on the right, is visiting from his summer home in Big Island and is staying at the mosque for the next couple of days. I sit with them and get the spiel of the community. Like many small mosques, it is very diverse and it’s hard to pinpoint which group of people hold the majority. There are about 3,000 Muslims in Honolulu. Some are doctors others are engineers. Some of the American folk were brought here because they were stationed at the military base. The Palestinians work as car mechanics and many of the South Asians are physicians.

After getting to this point in the conversation, there is nothing left to talk about. We nod our heads awkwardly mumbling “alhamdullilah,” and “mashaAllah.” I see a cat run into the mosque and slowly walk towards it.



The mosque doesn’t have a break fast dinner tonight and we need to eat something before our flight. We go into two or three different restaurants and cant seem to find any place that doesn’t have a fifteen minute wait. We get out of our car and start walking down a small line of restaurants that are actually Asian strip clubs. We scratch our heads, not sure what to eat. We decide it is best to eat airport food.



It is 9 something and I am sitting in an empty airplane watching elated honeymooners and white kids with harsh sunburn stroll in. Everyone is tired, laying on one another. I am trying to close my eyes and get some rest. We will be in Vegas in less than six hours.

Soon enough the flight safety video with the beautiful people plays and slowly the lights dim in the cabin. The flight takes off and so does the ukulele music. The music reminds me of SpongeBob. I don’t think that was what the Hawaiian Airlines folks were going for. They might have failed in giving me an authentic feel of Hawaii in four hours, but who’s to say giving you a ten hour glimpse would be any more genuine?

By Aman Ali

It’s well past midnight and I’m cooped up against a corner with my laptop outside the prayer room. I furiously begin to hammer away at the keyboard to write up this blog post so I can at least salvage a few hours of sleep before I have to get up again and head to the next state.

A guy named Jason decorated with piercings and tattoos walks into the room alongside a girl named Jacqui wearing a white headscarf. Jason’s friend Fedi is with them too and asks me to tag along.

“They’re about to get married,” he said. “Want to be a witness?”

My phone reads 12:42 a.m. The only thing I can think about right now is by the time this wedding is over, the only place to hold the reception at would be Taco Bell (what else would be open?)

Wait, wedding? What? Before I get up to basically be the Best Man at a wedding for a guy I met about three hours ago, how the heck did I get here?


I walked inside The Ta’Leef Collective in the Bay Area tonight encountering a radiance I’ve very rarely witnessed before. The center is often described as a “safe space” for Muslims from all walks of life. I look around the room and see everyone from men covered in tattoos, clubbing-types with spiked hair and pencil-thin facial hair, elderly men decked out in South Asian garb, basketball-nerds with matching fitted hats and jerseys, women in face veils and other women with multi-colored hair and spiked earrings.

I’ve been to hundreds of mosques in my lifetime, but nothing like this. Almost every person in this room, if they were to step foot inside a mosque, they’d get dirty looks. Heck, if I were in the mosque and saw them, I bet I might even give some of them a look or two. But it was something comforting about this place that didn’t make that an issue at all. I had to find out why.

I chat at length with Usama Canon and Mustafa Davis, the co-founders of the center. I asked how they’re able to attract people to this center who probably get hostile reactions when they enter mosques.

“We have a very clear agenda where we say ‘Come as you are to Islam as it is,’” Mustafa said. “The reason we have that second part is because we’re not trying to change the religion.”

Mustafa said the reason why they try to embrace everyone’s identity is because of a rampant problem Muslims have at mosques that I’m sure we’re all guilty of at times.

“We’re trying to stop the schizophrenia that often exists in the Muslim community where ‘I’m religious in the mosque and there’s a certain set of rules I’ve got to follow at the mosque,’” Mustafa said. “’ But when I leave, those rules I don’t have to follow anymore.’”

It’s true. Mosques can often become theatres, where Muslims come in and put on masks when they step inside the place and pretend to be someone else. I asked Usama how do you address that problem, especially with such a wide net of people that frequent The Ta’Leef Collective. He said the center emphasizes how the circle is just as sacred of a space as it is a social one for people to feel welcome in.

“What we’re trying to nurture is a very visceral God consciousness that is not limited to a particular place,” he said. “In other words, when I’m the ‘Social-Me,’ I’m still the ‘Muslim-Me.’ When I’m the ‘Muslim-Me’ I’m still the ‘Social-Me.’

My conversation is cut short by someone holding a tray with some sort of metallic vase on it. Inside the metallic container are wood embers emanating an aroma whose scent is so vivid the hairs on my arms begin to tingle.

“What is it?” I ask.

“It’s oud,” the man said. “It’s kind of like an incent made from rare wood. Breathe it in.”

I have no idea what to do here but I’m the kind of person who loves jumping in head first into experiences that seem foreign to me. The man tells me to take off my fedora and cup it over the embers. I let the aroma sift through the fabric on my hat before I place it back upon my head. The wood scents begin to massage my scalp taking away a headache I had been dealing with earlier.

“Nice and toasty,” I said.


Watching me try out the aroma is Jason. Underneath the gray wool cap and thick brown hipster glasses he’s wearing are two lip rings circulating through right side of his lower lip and studs almost the diameter of dimes popping through the bottom of his earlobes. I asked Jason when he accepted Islam two years ago, how people responded to his appearance.

“You come to Islam as who you are,” he said. “I had people coming up to me saying I needed to dress differently or change my name. But it’s not about that. It’s really what you have for your heart and what you have for the Creator upstairs.”

I look down at his arms and notice a forearm tattoo of a red-haired woman holding a spraypaint can. I ask him how does he mentally deals with the criticism from many Muslims he encounters about the way he looks.

“I always represented this as a test,” From the very beginning, I was told Allah tests the ones that he loves. He doesn’t put too much on your plate that you can’t handle. So my test is going to be very different from your test, know what I mean?”

He shared with me one example where he felt he was “tested” by getting flack for his tattoos.

“After I got done praying once, a guy pulled me outside and said I can’t come inside the mosque with my tattoos,” he said. “Then he tried to tell me his kid wants to get tattoos and he literally blamed me for his son. Who am I to judge him though, may Allah help him and help us all.”


It’s past midnight as most of the people at the center have left. I pull out my suitcase from the car and set up camp inside the prayer room for where I’m sleeping for the night. But first thing is first, I need to blog. I begin writing about my encounter with Jason and am drawing a blank about what his tattoo looks like. I look around and don’t see him and get frustrated because I really wanted to paint a vivid picture of what it looked like for the blog post.

Seconds later (literally), Jason comes walking back into the center with Jacqui, the woman he’s about to marry. Myself and a few other people still inside the mosque gather around for the wedding ceremony. But before the wedding takes place, Jacqui tells Usama she wants to embrace Islam. Usama first walks her through the Shahada, the Islamic declaration of faith basically saying there is only one God and Prophet Muhammad was his final messenger.

Next, Usama asks Jason to join Jackie as he officiates their wedding ceremony. I look at my phone – 1:13 a.m. Wow, this is really happening. Usama explains to them the terms of the marriage the two agreed upon and leads the group in a small prayer to bless the couple’s new union. The couple is now married and everyone takes their turn to congratulate the newlyweds.

I hug Jason congratulating him for what just went down.

“So how about that,” he said with his piercing smile. “We just met a few hours ago and now you’re here at my wedding. Allah’s mercy is beautiful.”

Jason told me he met Jackie, an atheist at the time, at his work a few months ago. The two began talking but Jason realized he shouldn’t try pursuing anything. He wanted to cut things off because his faith was important to him and wanted come closer to God alongside someone else who had similar beliefs. He couldn’t ask her to convert either because Islam forbids forcing someone to believe in the faith. But she soon she developed an interest in Islam on her own, making Jason question if he should have cut things off to begin with.

He added many of his friends, including Usama, would give him flack asking him if he feels serious about this girl, why waste her time if he’s not willing to commit to her for marriage?

“So when did this whole plan to marry her go down?” I asked.

“About an hour ago when I was talking to Usama in the parking lot bro,” he said. “It just felt like the right thing to do and I feel even better about it now.”

Islam is a fairly simple religion to follow. But oftentimes we as human beings overcomplicate things. Take Muslim weddings for example, in some cases families will spend tens of thousands (in some case hundreds of thousands!) of dollars on lavish festivities. But for Jason and Jackie, I don’t think you could ever put a price tag on how beautiful those two looked getting ready to start not only their physical lives together but their spiritual ones as well.

Like I was saying before, all the sights I encountered today would probably seem bizarre at any other Muslim establishment in this country. But there must have been something in the air at this place that made it seem so natural. And it’s got to be more than just the aroma from the wood embers that are still engrained into my hat.

The Rockwell Masjid. Bond Street Masjid. Ryerson Campus Masjid. Sheikh Deedat Centre. Downtown Mosque. Whatever you want to call it, this little masjid is convenient.

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Yonge Street. It’s believed to be the longest street in the world. Every city has a street like this. The main drag, the main north-south thoroughfare. The dividing line between east and west.

After weeks of humidity and sunshine, it was finally raining in the city, all day. Approaching maghrib time, a light mist remained suspended in the air. I decided for a second day to forgo breaking fast at the Rhodes Avenue masjid in the East End with its longer and wetter bike ride to reach it.

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