By Aman and Bassam

What better place to end the month of Ramadan than with one of the beacons for the Muslim community in New York, the Islamic Center at NYU.

This is the on campus center for Muslim students at New York University, but under the leadership of Imam Khalid Latif, this place has bloomed into one of the most popular hotspots for New York City’s entire Muslim community. Khalid Latif works double duty as chaplain for NYU and the New York City police department. He is one of the few Muslim leaders in this country that “gets it.” But more on that later.

The mosque is attended primarily by Muslim college students and young professionals working in the city, but during the jam packed Friday prayers you’ll also see plenty of older and younger Muslims attending the services.

Speaking from previous experience on a much smaller scale, running a Muslim college organization is no easy task. Because by the time leaders get in their groove, they graduate and the next batch of leaders have to start over. But NYU is different. Rather than catering to just college students, they know that in order to build a successful Muslim institution, you have to be welcoming to the entire community.

Right now the Islamic Center is located in the basement of this church by the NYU campus. We had to wait about 10 minutes to go inside because the church was hosting an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting there.

There weren’t many people at the mosque tonight, but understandably so. It’s a Saturday and most of the students have gone home for the weekend since Eid Al-Fitr, the holiday celebrating the end of Ramadan, is tomorrow.

My little brother goes to NYU, so it was nice getting the chance to spend one last iftar with him. We went inside and helped them roll out a few carpets as the time for iftar was coming in.

To break my fast, once again I rocked it old school, a date and a glass of water.

After prayer, we ate dinner. The food was catered from one of my favorite greasy restaurants, Kennedy Fried Chicken. It’s a huge halal food chain here in New York. It’s halal and open late, can’t go wrong with it. Tonight I had a philly cheesesteak, cheesy tater tots and an orange (to give my meal an ounce of healthiness). Epic yum.

Overall there were about 20 people there tonight, just about all students. But during the week, NYU usually gets around 80-100 people for iftar. Friday prayer is always jam packed. Khalid Latif usually leads the prayer here, and his Friday talks are amazing. Plus all the friday sermons are podcasted, so feel free to load up your iPod with these goodies.

Like I mentioned earlier, Khalid Latif “gets it.” The church basement where the mosque is located is only a temporary place for the Islamic Center. But what Khalid and the Muslims envision for their new location is beyond amazing. In two years the new Islamic Center will open on the NYU campus as an official part of the university. It will be more than just a traditional mosque. It will be a full fledged spiritual center catering to all the needs of the Muslim community. Aside from a room to pray, it will feature ta lounge for people to socialize and computer labs for students to get their work done.

To me that is what a mosque should be, a community center. Obviously it’s primarily a place to pray, but for someone like me in their 20s, it should also be a place where I can hang out with my friends.

I’ve had the blessing of doing a lot of traveling in my short lifetime and I often think about where the Muslim community as a whole is headed in this country. When I come to places like the Islamic Center at NYU, it brings a smile to my face because I know we’re heading in the right direction.

Sunday is Eid and we have a series of special posts for you. Until then, Eid Mubarak 🙂

By Aman and Bassam

I was on an emotional roller coaster today. I woke up jumping for joy about NPR doing a second story on us, this time now the entire country knows how beautiful New York’s Muslim community is.

“For many Muslims, the end of Ramadan and the celebration of Eid, which commemorates a month of fasting, is near.

During the past 30 days, Aman Ali has traveled to a different New York City mosque each night to break his fast, and says he now has a better understanding of the diversity in New York’s Muslim population.

Also, Yusuf Misdaq tells how he kept a blog throughout the holy month, each day posting a new poem, song or online video that explores his belief in the meaning of Ramadan.”

Then, I looked outside my apartment window to see that my car had been towed.

To make a long story short, I spent 4 hours and $240 recovering my car that a construction company towed… so they could park their steamroller in my spot. But then, Bassam emailed me saying a mosque in the Bronx had burned down last night.

The Islamic Cultural Center is a mosque still healing from a terrible tragedy two years ago, when 10 people from this congregation, nine of them children, died in a horrific house fire.

By fate, the towing pound I was picking up my car from was only a mile or two away from the mosque.

Notice how you can see scorch marks streaking through the tan part of the roof.

I asked one of the firefighters at the scene what happened and he told me a fire broke out after around 11 pm last night in the grocery store next door to the mosque. Flames burst through the store’s roof and also engulfed the mosque. He said they spent hours last night putting out the flames and the exact cause is still under investigation. I will post updates as soon as I receive them.

(UPDATE: I talked to one of the investigators in the fire department Saturday morning and he told me it was an electrical fire. Someone doing some electrical work in the grocery store was installing a fan and left some wires exposed).

You can see how strong the flames were by looking at how charcoaled the sidewalks are.

Thankfully, nobody from the mosque or store was hurt. But flames tore the inside of the mosque apart making the building unusable.

I stood there for a few minutes, motionless, staring at the door imagining what the congregation here must be thinking after having their mosque burn down. Especially during the holy month of Ramadan.

But I was quickly taken out of my deep thought by a man named Bilal. He tapped me on my shoulder letting me know there was only about five minutes before time to break the fast. He told me to come with him to the temporary mosque the congregation set up two blocks away inside an empty storefront building.

I ran into Imam Talib Abdur-Rashid, the Imam of the Mosque of Islamic Brotherhood in Harlem, that we visited a few days ago. He came to show his support for the community.

We broke our fast with some dates, and prayed in another barren room that only had blue tarp on the floor. After prayer, many of the people got up to go inside the room next door to eat, but I wanted to sit for a little bit and make some supplication for the people of this mosque. I immediately began thinking about how insignificant the problems in my own life are. Less than an hour ago, I was whining about some stupid tow truck. My eyes teared just thinking about it. Bilal must have noticed as he was putting on his shoes since hee put his hand on my shoulder and said “Come, we are all brothers.”

He took me into the room next door where everyone was eating dinner.

Keep in mind the room is an unfinished building, so we all sat squatted on the floor around trays of food spread along the room. One person told me to stop taking pictures — this was a time for us to eat and share the company of our fellow Muslims, not turn an iftaar into a media event. I told him what I was doing and he welcomed me being here, but kindly asked that I take no more pics.

I sat with Bilal and one of his friends as we sat around a plate of seasoned steak, beef stew, plaintains and salad (sorry no pics). We tore up long rolls of Italian bread and used it to eat the food with. Being with these guys really made me feel at ease.

The congregation at the Islamic Cultural Center is almost all West African. Bilal is from Gambia and the other person we sat with is from Nigeria. They told me the Islamic Cultural Center had been in the neighborhood for over 10 years. The fire Thursday night actually broke out only 15-20 minutes after the congregation had finished its taraweeh prayer.

Bilal brought up one of my favorite sayings from Prophet Muhammad that really captured the mood in the air tonight. That the Muslim community is like a body. When one part of the body is in pain, the entire body is in pain.

In other words, when one of us suffers we all feel the plain. But Bilal brought up an interesting point. He said this saying also applies to happiness. When one of us is feeling good, the rest of us should feel the same as well. He told me this was not a time for us to be sad and depressed. Instead, this is a time for us to smile and be thankful that everyone is here to support each other during the end of this blessed month.

Bilal continued, “Plus, my wife tonight made the best steak you’ll ever taste in your entire life. Now you really have no reason to be sad.”

He was right.

This project is not about us, but instead we are the conduits to showcase New York City’s Muslim community. Whether you’re Muslim or not, please support the people of the Islamic Cultural Center in any way you can.

Call Bakary Camara at 917-568-5763 or mail letters and donations to:

The Islamic Cultural Center

Attn: The Building Fund

371 E. 166th Street

Bronx, NY 10456

By Aman and Bassam

What a day today. I started off my morning talking about 30 Mosques on the Brian Lehrer show on NPR. We had a great conversation and hope you enjoy it.

Aman Ali co-author of the blog 30 Mosques in 30 Days, who is visiting a different New York mosque each night of Ramadan, shares what he’s learned about Muslim New York, hospitality and worship.

For the rest of this journey, I will be Bassam-less because he is in Texas spending the last remaining days of Ramadan with his family. So tonight, I visited Masjid El-Ber in Queens. I had heard of this place before but didn’t know much about it. But as soon as I pulled up to the place, I was floored. Check out the geometric marble patterns on the building, one of the most simple yet elegant styles of Islamic art.

Simplicity is a rich vibe that circulates through this building. Inside is a simple prayer room with comfortable carpet and a few fans on the wall. This is a congregation that is predominantly Egyptian and Bengali, but there’s also a decent amount of Caribbeans and Moroccans. Before prayer, my buddy Sharaf Mowjood (the handsome devil in this pic below) and I sat back and observed the congregation as people were coming in.

They gave the call to prayer, signaling it was time to break our fast. Once again we rocked it old school, dates with a glass of milk.

After we broke our fast and prayed, we sat among the brothers and patiently waited for the food to be served. For dinner we had Egyptian style food. It was sliced lamb over seasoned potatoes, salad, pita bread and a banana.

During dinner, Sharaf and I chatted with some of the brothers sitting nearby who told us a little bit about the history of the mosque. Apparently Masjid El-Ber has been in the neighborhood for well over 25 years. Now when I first heard that, initially I thought “Wow, 25 years, and they haven’t done any expanding?”

But then I thought about it. A mosque should cater to the needs of the local community. Even though the mosque has been around so long, maybe all the people need is a simple place to pray and gather. I looked around and saw people from all over the world coming in cracking jokes among one another. A litmus test I use to see if a mosque is serving the needs of a community, is checking to see if people are smiling. Masjid El-Ber passes with flying colors.

I was asked to not take pictures while people were eating because some of the people were self conscious. But I sat next to a person from the Caribbean island of Saint Martin named Mutassem. I can’t remember how the discussion came up, but we talked about how we both don’t like dogs.

Me, I am terrified of dogs. I’ve spent 2-3 years studying judo and have had knives pulled on me growing up, but if I see a poodle walking down the street, I turn into a screaming Miss Teen USA in about .3 seconds. So I asked Mutassem if he was afraid of them too, hoping he could comfort me with some solidarity. He laughed and said “No man, I just don’t like them licking me.” If there only was someone else in the world that’s as big a sissie as I am.

After we ate dinner, Sharaf and I went to Brooklyn to meet Tanzila Ahmed, one of his friends in who was in town visiting from Los Angeles. I didn’t formally introduce who I was and she began to tell Sharaf “So have you heard of this cool blog called 30 Mosques???”

I began to laugh and said “Umm hi, that’s me in the drawing.” Apparently she is a blogger for Sepia Mutiny, a South Asian site that wrote a nice post about us that brought a lot of new visitors to our blog. Small world, eh?

Tanzila was in town to check out this band called the Kominas, a group that has been dubbed as a Muslim punk band. I missed their performance, but I chatted with one of the band members after named Basim Usmani. He’s the first Pakistani man I’ve ever met with a purple mohawk. You can’t see it in the picture, but he’s wearing a lungee (or as I call it, “the South Asian man-skirt.”)

I have heard of the Kominas from friends before – most of the comments were strongly negative. But I always like to meet people with an open mind. I was curious to learn more about Basim. He grew up in Lahore, Pakistan and moved to Boston in the late 1990s. How on Earth did someone who was born and raised in Pakistan get involved in the punk scene? I had to know.

He told me that when he moved to America, the kids in the punk scene in Boston were the only ones that didn’t make fun of him for having a foreign accent. Immediately we bonded. Sure I’m clearly not a punk rocker, nor do I have an accent, but I can totally relate to feeling like an outsider in school. I think many Muslims can.

I went to elementary school around the time the Alladin movie came out, so I’d constantly get asked if I owned a magic carpet (I always quipped back with “No, I haven’t gotten my learner’s permit yet.”). But I never let that teasing get to me, and neither did Basim. The two of us grew up quite comfortable in our own respective identities, proud of who we are and where we come from. It’s interesting, aside from the people we were talking to tonight, just about everyone there seemed like a cookie-cutter hipster with skinny jeans, plain white t-shirts and Starbucks frappuccinos. And Basim, a towering Pakistani man with a purple mohawk and a man-skirt , seemed like the most genuine down to earth person in the entire room.

It’s easy to slam a place or someone based on a first glance. But take some time and approach forming your impressions with an open mind, and you’ll quickly see the beauty you overlooked from that glance.

By Aman and Bassam

Tonight, Bassam and I went to Brooklyn to visit one of New York’s finest mosques, Masjid At-Taqwa. This is the mosque of Imam Siraj Wahhaj, one of the US’ leading Muslim scholars and also one of the most sought after public speakers. I’m sure anyone who has met Imam Siraj has a story about how he impacted his/her life, but for me, he’s one of the people that mentored me as I pursued a career in standup comedy.

One of the things I like about Imam Siraj is any time you meet him, a little bit of his kindness and goodwill rubs off on you. Just being around him makes you feel like a better person. I felt that a lot tonight when Bassam and I hung out with the congregants in the mosque.

The food we broke our fast with hit very close to home for me. In my teenage years, I spent a lot of time with Muslim groups that identify themselves as Tabligh Jammats. They are Muslims that travel around the country encouraging other Muslims to get more involved in their religion and local mosque activities.

Many Muslims often criticize the practices of Tabligh Jammat, but I can only speak from my own experiences- and they were all positive. The people I met on Tabligh Jammat were strangers that made me feel welcome during a time in my life I was confused about what my purpose in life was.

But anywho, the reason why the food hit close to home for me was because we had bread with cream cheese and honey out of a shared plate. It’s something we ate just about every day while on these Tabligh Jammat trips.

To many people, understandably so, it might be a culture shock to see 3-4 people eat with their hands out of the same plate. It’s a tradition that dates back to Prophet Muhammad’s (peace be upon him) time. It’s amazing how quickly one plate of food brings strangers together, regardless of who they are or where they come from. Tonight was that case. I was sitting far away from the plate of cream cheese and honey, and had trouble reaching over.

The brother sitting next to me immediately noticed me reaching and encouraged me to move in closer. His name was Muhammad, he and the other people sitting there made sure I was comfortable and asked if I had everything I wanted. I didn’t even uttered a word, but they treated me like royalty. Within minutes we were all cracking jokes and having a blast.

Before we knew it, our plate was empty, but our spirits were anything but.

It was then time to pray. The congregation here is a healthy mix of African Americans, Caribbean Islanders and Bengalis. Imam Siraj Wahajj was not there tonight, but the imam who led us tonight also had a soothing recitation. As you can see, it was a packed house, even for a Wednesday night.

The lines for dinner were fairly long, but I don’t think it mattered to anyone how long they were. Bassam and I were perfectly content waiting in line shooting the breeze about the happenings of the day. The volunteers definitely deserve shoutouts for patiently serving such a large group of people.

Considering Masjid At-Taqwa is one of the most well-known mosques in the entire country, best believe they come just as correct with their food. Tonight for dinner we had a nice mix of soul and island food. I had lo-mein, baked macaroni, potato salad, cornbread, baked chicken and couscous. The couscous was really good, they put in all sorts of cranberries and raisins to give it a zesty zing.

After dinner, we briefly hung out with some of the brothers in the mosque and then visited Abu’s Bakery, which is next door to the mosque. The owner, Idrees, said it’s very common for his bakery to be the hang out spot for Muslims once prayers are done next door. Bassam and I have both heard wonderful things about the sweets here (especially the bean pie), but both of us were way too full to even think about food. Definitely a place to visit next time we’re in the neighborhood though.

What Imam Siraj Wahajj and his congregation have built here in New York is definitely a shining example for the American Muslim community. There’s a reason why people flock from all over the five boroughs to his mosque. When I first moved to NY, I would spend almost 2 hours on the subway from my apartment in the north Bronx all the way down to his mosque.

I can’t speak for the other people who come here, but what always draws me to this mosque is its breathtakingly friendly atmosphere. You step inside this place and you feel so welcome, it’s almost intoxicating. But there’s more to this place than just the atmosphere. They’ve been able to take that atmosphere and build an entire community around the mosque. An almost endless row of Muslim run shops circulate around the mosque serving the entire local community, serving both Muslims and Non-Muslims. That to me is what a mosque should be. By simply having a presence in the neighborhood, everyone and everything around it becomes better as a result.

By Aman and Bassam

Note: Comments from our readers continue to disappear. We’re not sure what the issue is and are working to resolve it with Disqus.

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.

The following post was written by Nzinga Knight, a New York based fashion designer who grew up in this mosque.

Masjid Muhsi Khalifa is my home mosque. Like the theme song for Cheers, Masjid Khalifa is the place where everybody knows my name and they’re always glad that I came. Since 1975 this Mosque has been under the leadership of the late Warith D Mohammed. I began going to Muhsi Khalifa as a child with my family. To quote Warith D Mohammed he said, “We should realize that the first identity is not of an African or a European or a Saudi. The first identity is a human being. And as long as we build our diversities upon that foundation that god gave us, the human foundation, we’re in good shape. And we should just make all the progress we can, separately or all together.” With Muhsi Khalifa’s do for self attitude this community has made great progress as an African- American and Caribbean American populated mosque that once had it’s beginnings in the Nation of Islam in the 1950’s.

My sister Nsenga Knight who has documented some of the history of this mosque through it’s female pioneers has helped me to learn even more about this place. She says, “I feel like I am living in the richness of this mosques history and truly feel at home in this space.” So do I.

One of the things that I love most about this mosque is the familiarity that it has with my life as an American. Regardless of gender or age every one is included in this community and we are in constant communication with one another. I spoke to one of the pioneers, Sis Umilta, Anika’s mother (who’s like an auntie) who began attending in 1973 about that day in 1975 when Warith D Mohammed succeeded his father as the leader of the NOI (a year later then Warith D Mohammed renamed it the World Community of al-Islam in the West) and led the congregation to mainstream Islam. She says, “I never felt as though I wasn’t Muslim, we had a mass shahada and we never turned back, it was like there was a genetic memory and it was just getting wakened up… it was a progression.” As the successor to his father Warith D Mohammed’s thoughtful demeanor and profound spiritual conviction inspired a community of people steeped in the idea of self-reliance and spirituality to create a brand of Islam that is American and empowering.

I can best describe this mosque community’s culture by illustrating what my experience is like from the time that I enter my mosque.

As I make my way to the mosque then brothers in suits greet me with Salaams at the corner, front door and security area. These men are standing at their posts and they are watching out for the community. And when I ride my bike then any brother will bring my bike upstairs.Then I go upstairs to the mosque and enter the sisters section.

To me then one of the most telling things about a mosque is the women’s prayer space… they can come in many styles: non-existing, in some scary space that’s probably a civil rights violation, partitioned, or simply behind the men’s. Women enter our prayer space upstairs through a door that is 3 feet away from the men’s identical door. The men and women all share the same large prayer space with the women beginning their lines for prayer in the back and the men beginning in the front. Our wudu station is convenient, dry, clean and pink. The women are really gracious and kind and I am constantly learning something new from them.

My women and children friendly mosque has a lounge area for women who aren’t praying or are nursing. It’s complete with sofas, a rocking chair, a crib, a changing station, flowers and most importantly speakers so that she can hear the kutbah. I have been to mosque spaces that are in many ways unfriendly to women so in light of what many other Muslim women put up with I don’t take this for granted. I also love that there’s a Girls Scouts of America, Boys Scout’s, Martial Arts classes, a Clara Mohammed, School, a community center, a banquet hall and a host of other reasons to stick around.

I am an American Muslim going to an American Muslim mosque. I love that there is no duplicity with how I interact with people outside and then inside of the mosque space. My mosques culture reflects its people. I think that it’s the self-love that we have that enables us to grow, love one another and love others.

The history of Muhsi Khalifa is something that has empowered the community and has informed its culture and style. Allah has written the marvelous story of these people and this space. I could only imagine what this community might have been like if we hadn’t built upon the good parts of all of our preceding chapters. I appreciate my mosque for so many reasons. It’s the simple things like being able to have iftar with Bassam and Aman sitting at the same table, being able to see my Imam as he speaks, and having a woman’s lounge with sofas that I find refreshing.

By Aman and Bassam

Tonight our journey learning about New York City’s rich Muslim roots led us to Masjid Khalifah in Brooklyn. Decades ago pioneers planted the seeds in hopes of developing a community. The people you meet now are the flowers that have blossomed from it.

This is one of the many temples that Malcom X and his then Nation of Islam congregants helped establish in the late 1950s. They passed by this dance club one day and saw it as an opportune place to build the temple. They knew a large dance hall would be adequate for what they were looking for, so it became known as Temple No. 7C.

The original name was Muhammad Mosque 7C. Each Nation of Islam mosque is called a Muhammad Mosque, followed by its number.

But it was around the 1970s when the mosque here began to break away from the Nation of Islam movement and follow mainstream Islam. That’s also around the time a man by the name of Abdul Muhsi Khalifah became an active member of the mosque.

One night, a lady from the congregation was being attacked a few blocks away. Abdul Muhsi Khalifah rescued her but was shot to death. The mosque then decided to name the place in his honor.

From there, the seeds kept on growing. Tonight we were joined by several people who have grown up in this mosque including our fashionista friend Nzinga Knight.

We were also joined by Solange DeSantis, a reporter for Religion News Service. She sat back and scribbled away in her notepad as other people at the mosque broke down the place’s history for Bassam and I. Solange said this was her first time visiting a mosque, she also fasted today.

Then the call to prayer came on the loudspeaker, signaling time to break our fast. We kept it old school: dates and water.

We then went upstairs into the main prayer room for Maghrib. One thing I really like about this mosque is how genuinely friendly everyone is. Anyone that walks by you here, its second nature for them to smile, say salams and shake your hand.

After the prayer, the Imam got on the microphone and introduced tonight’s visitors. Aside from Solange and us, there was also a Christian group visiting the mosque. The imam had Solange come to the microphone to share a few words as the congregation welcomed us.

After prayer, we put on our shoes and noticed there was also a full time Islamic school here all the way up to 8th grade.

If you wanted to measure the quality of the school, you need to look no further than the dining hall. Many of the youth at the mosque were tonight’s dinner volunteers. Especially the female youth. It goes without saying that women are the backbone of every Muslim community, but the women who helped tonight deserve some recognition.

While I was waiting in line, I was introduced to a tasty beverage with a simple recipe. Hawaiian Punch mixed with iced tea. Hawaiian Punch is a bit too sweet on its own for my liking, but mixed with iced tea it tastes incredible.

Ah yes, dinner. Which deserves another shout out to the volunteers who made it. Tonight on the menu was catfish, corn, teriyaki chicken, rice, green beans and salad.

After dinner, Nzinga took us into a nearby ballroom. This room is where the mosque holds many of its receptions, including the most crunk Eid celebration that I have ever heard of. This Eid, the mosque will be featuring live entertainment including a James Brown impersonator, martial arts demonstrations and the cha-cha dance line. A trifecta of awesomeness, the Ramadan Santa must have read about my dream Eid!

Essentially, we as Muslims believe in the same principles. But one thing I have gained from this journey is how each community reflects those principles in their own way. The end result is beautiful.

It reminds me of the analogy Dr. Umar Farooq Abdullah wrote in his famous piece “Islam and the Cultural Imperative.” He said Islam is something pure, like a river stream. We as Muslims are the bedrocks in that river. And when water flows over those rocks, it reflects the rocks’ characteristics.

Add to the fact that the people here are the flowers of the seeds planted from the mosque’s noble pioneers, and you’ll slowly start to realize how much Masjid Khalifah resembles a divine garden.

09/14/2009 11:01 AM

Two Men Try For 30 Mosques In 30 Days


Two local Muslims are on a quest to attend a different mosque in the city every night of Ramadan, the month-long holiday which wraps up next week.

NY1‘s Ty Chandler filed the following report.

In Aman Ali and Bassam Tariq’s journey to go to 30 mosques in 30 days they’ve managed to make a few new friends.

“We’re going into places, we’ve never met these people before, we are complete strangers, but they make us feel welcome,” said Ali.

The Mosque of the Islamic Brotherhood in Harlem is their 23rd stop.

Each visit brings them new experiences and closer to the nearly one-million Muslims in New York City.

“Sometimes we’re the only one’s that are South Asian, and the place will be all Indonesian or all African American, and we’ll walk in and everyone will be very happy,” Tariq said.

The two friends started to blog about the project.

They take pictures and write about each mosque they visit.

Their website has really caught on, but Tariq’s mother was not so sure it was a good idea.

“She was like, be careful, the FBI is going to follow you,” said Tariq.

“I said, ‘don’t worry, mom. Things have changed. We have a black president now. Things are going to get better.'”

And after nearly 14 hours of daily fasting, they say few things are better than praying and eating with new brothers.

“It makes us appreciate our community, our faith, and our people even more,” said Ali.

“It’s very easy to get caught up in your own comfort zone, thinking I don’t want to go to Queens because I’m from Brooklyn,” said Yusef Abdul-Jaleel of the Mosque of Islamic Brotherhood.

“But for them to do what they did, I think they will have imitators real soon.”

Ali and Tariq say they are looking for some time away from each other when Ramadan ends next week.

“I’ve seen a lot of Aman, it’s a little much,” said Tariq.

“I have to see this kid everyday, it’s a bit much,” added Ali.

The two men say this will be a one-time project as traveling from mosque to mosque is tough while trying to hold down a full-time job.

But their blog has turned them to the Zagat surveyors of the Islamic community, with friends and even strangers looking to them to find out what different mosques are like.

By Aman and Bassam

“How’s my hair?”

Clearly, the most sensible question to ask the residents close to the Mosque of Islamic Brotherhood (MIB). Today, Aman and I were going to be on NY1, a local news network, for our 30 mosques project. Since I have a tendency to look more awkward in front of a camera I wanted to cross my t’s and dot my i’s before they turned on. Aman, on the other hand, was made for this (See: Example 1 and Example 2.)


The Mosque of Islamic Brotherhood is in the heart of Harlem. The center was founded in 1964 by a close student of Malcolm Shabazz, Shaykh ‘Allaama Tawfiq. After the passing of the Shaykh, the assistant imam of the masjid stepped up – Imam Talib. Fast forward 20 years and you have one of the most important and historic Islamic centers in the US. Which is the reason why we had NY1 follow us today, and why my hair had to come correct — I felt like I had to represent.

The sidewalk that is under the center’s jurisdiction is painted green. Yusef, the communications director of MIB (pictured above), told me that they painted the sidewalk green so people knew not to drug deal, fight or loiter in that area. I heard of this infamous green sidewalk when I was back in Houston. I remember a story (which I can’t confirm) where one local was roaming Harlem intoxicated almost about to collapse. When he came by the green sidewalk, he knew better than to collapse there, so he walk walked passed it and then collapsed.

Before Maghrib, Aman and I gave a brief interview outside the center to NY1.

The call to prayer was given and we all headed out to the lobby to break our fast. Imam Talib led the congregants in a supplication before we broke our fast. Aman, being Aman, ate his dates before the dua.

After Maghrib, Imam Talib brought us into his office to talk about our project.

Many community members came in and out of the office bringing important business issues to the attention of the Imam. One brother wanted a poster approved, another inquired about food, while a third updated him on how some of the events of the day went. It was clear that Imam Talib wasn’t the imam that just led the prayer, he led the community.

There was an aqiqah, or Islamic celebration of the birth of a child(ren), at the mosque so the food was provided by a family celebrating the birth of their daughter and son. Today’s menu: Rice, Salad, catfish, chicken, potato salad and some baked ziti. The catfish was made just the way I like it, not too greasy and plenty of lemon zing to it.

The majority of the congregants knew one another and all played a role in the mosque’s development. One brother served as the security guard outside, another served as the de facto historian – taking photos wherever Imam Talib told him. A group of sisters led dawah efforts and the weekend school program. It was clear from the get-go, Imam Talib and his congregation are establishing a model of how an Islamic center in America should be run.

After running many errands, Yusef came in and sat with us in the office. I was amazed by the general respect and reverence the congregants had for Imam Talib and raised this point with Yusef. Turns out Imam Talib is one of the oldest community members at this mosque. He was the Assistant Imam for about 13 years before becoming the lead Imam of the center 20 years ago. Imam Talib paused for a second and contemplated on this. While the Imam reflected on his history and his journey to stewarding this historic mosque and community, I took in the ponderous moment to think back on my history and path to the present.

MIB is a predominantly African American space. There is a cultural familiarity that permeates the center and congregants that is distinctly “American” but at the same time authentically “Muslim.” As someone raised in the South Asian community, there aren’t many mosques I’ve grown up in or been to that have reached that kind of cultural ease. This brought up one question that has always loomed in my head – albeit a very cheesy one – how do we maintain our religious values in this country that doesn’t lead to dilution or the awkward choice of piety versus “prosperity” (both material and immaterial)? I dreaded going to the mosque as a child because all I ever saw were people who spent days and nights there, barely working or providing for their large families. Or, on the flip side, I would see those who would be successful financially, but would divorce themselves from the Muslim community. The existential question most Muslims in America ask: how do we strike the balance?

After we finished our dinner, Imam Talib gave both Aman and me a CD of Qur’an recitation by Shaykh ‘Alaama Tawfeeq, his teacher. According to the Imam, it is one of the first recordings of a Qur’an recitation by an American Muslim. This was an updated, remastered CD. The original was of course released on vinyl. I looked through the updated liner notes written by Imam Talib and here’s the part that struck me the most:

My teacher, Shaykh-“Allama Tawif was not a qari [Quran reciter] by profession, nor a hafiz of the Qur’an (one who has memorized the entire Qur’an). When I asked him why he had done such a recording, he replied simply, “to show that it could be done.” This was a burning desire within him – to always demonstrate that the Islamic family of nations is composed of Muslims from all over the globe, including those born and raised in America.

And that’s it. The recitation didn’t come from a trained reciter, or the usual figure, but by someone who said, “Why not me?”

The balancing act. It can be done and is.

By Aman and Bassam

Staten Island definitely has some of the most precious hidden gems in New York City’s Muslim community. So tonight Bassam and I were joined by our homey Jordan Robinson and together we hopped on a ferry to Staten Island to do some treasure hunting. Hello Statue of Liberty.

We got off the ferry and took a short cab ride to our destination the Albanian Islamic Cultural Center. Before I begin our story, just take a few moments and soak in how majestic this building is.

The Albanian community is fairly large in Staten Island, which came to fruition here in the late 1980s. After a few years, the community got together and built this mosque and the building you see now has been in existence since the mid 1990s. They also have a full time Islamic school that started off with only a handful of Pre-Kindergarteners in the mid 90’s and today has over 200 students and has classes up to 11th grade.

As soon as we walked in the building our curiosity was immediately piqued by the soothing dhikr we heard on the loudspeaker. We slowly found our way to this large gathering inside the main prayer hall of people remembering Allah through some soothing dhikr. I should also mention this mosque is fairly hi-tech, they had a camera man working a switchboard broadcasting the feed in the prayer room to other areas of the building where the women were sitting.

After the dhikr session, we broke our fast with dixie cups of water and prayed. The imam’s recitation was incredible. This may sound hokey, but his voice sounded a lot like a perfect pitch violin, the way his voice glided seamlessly from letter to letter in his recitation. You couldn’t help but close your eyes and take it all in.

After prayer, a long line formed in front of the imam, as people patiently waited to greet him. His name was Dhul Qarnain and is a hafiz of Quraan that got his Islamic education from Al-Azhar University in Cairo. I briefly said hello to the imam and told him about the 30 mosques project. He said he had heard of it (yay!) and encouraged us to head downstairs and eat food with the congregation.

Round one of food was this rice soup. We asked the people around us what was in it and many of them were not sure. But we definitely tasted some chicken in there too.

Dinner was just as good, steak and rice with a side of vegetables. The mosque has its own chef that prepared the food, may Allah reward him for his talent.

But the food didn’t compared to our true experience at the mosque. We sat among many of the younger kids in the community just picking their brains a bit about the community.

After a few minutes of breaking the ice, I mentioned the word “Call of Duty 4″ and immediately a group of kids swarmed me. We had a blast during dinner cracking jokes. One thing I really love is seeing younger kids come to mosques because they genuinely enjoy being there, not because they are dragged by their parents. Its kids like these that make me feel good about where the Muslim community as a whole is headed in this country.

One thing that surprised me about this community is the fact that this mosque doesn’t do any fundraising to sustain itself. Many times, you go to mosques that have these huge annual fundraisers that they depend on to survive, almost like a quarterback in football throwing a hail mary pass with less than 10 seconds left in the 4th quarter (sorry, NFL season starts this weekend and its heavily on my mind lol).

But this place is clearly different. Not only is there a sense of pride among the people in this mosque, but the people here have a genuine sense of love for their mosque.

Anyone that is frustrated about not being able to fundraise at their own mosque really should visit this place. Because here is a small community of mostly Albanians that had a love for their religion so strong that they were able to create something so majestic with patience and time.

Anyone can shell out money, but it takes true character to shell out love.

By Aman and Bassam

Today we visited this new masjid that was established a couple of months back. Take two steps away from the bodega and you’ll miss it.

A brief dhikr took place before iftaar. The congregants at the masjid were incredibly hospitable. Everyone I walked by asked if I had enough orange juice, tea or coffee. The majority of the people were from West Africa and spoke both Walaf and Arabic. We were the only South Asians.

As we broke our fast with bread and butter, a lady asked, “what is your name?”

I replied, “Bassam.”

“Bachan? Like Amitabh Bachan”

It took me a second to realize she meant the legendary Bollywood heartthrob. We all laughed as she listed her favorite Indian movies

Dinner was going to be served after Isha prayers, but I had to get going. I promised them that next time I come I’ll make them a nice Pakistani dish and they are holding me to it.

On my way back, I started listing off all the different dishes I could make. Turns out I couldn’t make that many. Looks like I’ll head over to Patel Brothers in Jackson Heights and buy some daal.

This entry was written by Fatima Ashraf. A community activist who wants to “make it plain,” as brother Malcolm taught us.

Why can’t we all just get along? Wait, maybe we can…

B and A asked me to join them at Al-Khoei Mosque in Jamaica, Queens on Wednesday. I for one, was elated to go – the last time I prayed in a Shi’a masjid was when I was in Beirut, 2007. I had gone to see the 2006 destruction by the IDF – amidst the bombed out buildings and collapsed bridges, the gorgeous blue tiled mosque stood unscathed, but I digress…

Al-Khoei is a grandiose structure that instantly grabs your attention off the Van Wyck Expwy. The front is a large circular lobby that leads to a full time school in one direction and the prayer area in another. Men and women pray in the same space and have almost the same ammenities. The women’s area is neatly sectioned off with dividers. There’s a slight view of the gorgeous mimbar, boasting the same blue tiled design as the masjid in Beirut. When I walked in, I knew to look for the small clay pieces traditionally used by Shi’as in prayer. But I knew very little after that.

Maghrib and Isha were prayed directly after one another. After the second rakat in both, the Imam read “rabbanaa ‘aatinaa fiddunyaa hasanataw wa fil aakhirati hasanataw wa qinaa athaaban naar” out loud. In rukuh and sujood, the Imam also read “subanal rabi ul atheem” and “subanal rabi ul ala’a” out loud, just once, respectively. A young (and very articulate) Muslimah later explained to me that this was in the Shi’a tradition in Ramadan to relieve the congregation from a long prayer – basically, help everyone worship quicky and then get to eating.

I felt like such an outsider. Other than the piece of clay and praying with my arms at my side, I had no idea what I was doing. I reflected on my discomfort – Shi’as are such a minority in the Muslim community all over the world. But in the states, when we are all minorities, and mosques are numbered, how must Shi’as feel in Sunni masjids? And since there are far more Sunni masjids than Shi’a ones, it must be a pretty common that Shi’as find themselves in Sunni land. Its so important that we treat everyone who enters our mosques with warmth and respect and hospitality, everyone comes to worship, whether hands folded or not.

After Isha, I told myself I was going to make friends. I approached the girl who was smiling at me (she KNEW I was new) and introduced myself. She quickly became my new BFF and led me down to the basement for iftar and dinner (she explained that most of the women eat only after Isha). On the way, I stopped to check out the bathroom. Functioning toilets, functioning sinks. No paper towels, busted hand dryer, messy and wet. Probably exactly the same as the guys side, so no complaints from me (other than whyyyy do we Muslims have to be sooo messyyy!!!)

The scene at dinner was amazing! Crowded! Diverse! I heard Pashtu, Farsi, Arabic, Pubjabi, Urdu, and Hyderabadi Urdu (oh wait, that was me). The food was cooked by the masjid’s West African full time chef, Ruby. She has a penchant for South Asian cuisine – tonight’s menu included alloo masala (spicy potatoes), yellow rice, fish, and chicken noodle soup. Everyone sat in rows on the floor and ate family style. Chai was in the lobby.

I shared my potato dish with an elderly Afghani woman who welcomed me with all her heart when I said it was my first time there. I told her the community was beautiful and she said that its even better on the weekends – tonight was a slow night (there were at least 150 women eating).

The young Muslimah who befriended me told me that in lieu of tarawih, after dinner, the Maulana holds a 15min Q&A when anyone can ask anything. But he will not go beyond 15 minutes. If women want to ask a question, they have to relay it to a male member of their family – either during dinner somehow or text it afterwards. After the 15 min lightening round, the congregation breaks up into 4 groups – Arabic speakers, Farsi speakers, Urdu speakers, English speakers. They have lectures and halaqas in language until 11pm-ish.

While drinking chai, I hung out with some Pakistani aunties who insisted I speak to them in urdu. I was self concious of my Hyderabadi Urdi – some elitist Pakistanis, ahem Bassam, act like Hydro Urdu is un-understandable. They (he) stands corrected. The aunties told me that “Hyderabadi Urdu bohot meethi zaban hai!” (Go ask your urdu speaking friends what that means). Anyway, the aunties were curious as to why it took me 5 years to come to the mosque. Here’s what happened after that:

Me: I work in Manhattan, so I usually go to the mosque on 96th st

Aunties: What mosque on 96?

Me: You know, the big one, the Islamic cultural center.

Aunties: (confused looks, heads shaking) we don’t know of any Shi’a masjids on 96th st.

Me: ohhh, yeaaa, um, its a Sunni mosque.

Aunties: GASP! Then why do you go there!?!?

Me: (sweating, contemplating lying) actually, um, aunties, I am not Shi’a, I was raised Sunni.

Aunties: GASP! Then what are you doing HERE?!?!

Me: I think its important to learn from all Muslims about Islam.

Aunties: Oh, so you’re one of the good Sunnis.

Me: There are lots of good Sunnis.

Aunties: (looking skeptical)

Me: I promise, come visit me, I will take you to a great Sunni masjid!

Aunties: (smiling) OK, but you have to promise to come back here, too!

Me: Deal!

Whew! So morale of the story, there are good ones of us on both sides, we can all get along, we just need to make ourselves known to one another.

Allahuma salli ‘ala sayyidina Muhammad wa ‘ala aali sayyidina Muhammed.

By Aman and Bassam

A few blocks from the subway in Brooklyn, Bassam and I took a stroll down Coney Island Avenue and found a bustling street of Pakistani run businesses, including a hospital. Check out the banner on the hospital celebrating Pakistan’s Independence Day last month.

Across the street from the hospital was our destination, the Makki Masjid.

It’s a predominantly Pakistani mosque that is basically in its first phase of construction, as indicated by the scaffolding on the outside.

Our friend Adeel Rahman said he used to go to this mosque as a kid, here’s what he had to say in this post’s comment thread:

“This is the Mosque I grew up with and still pray Eid at. Before the reconstruction it was three conjoined four floor apartment buildings with a capacity that had to be over 2000. Thanks for checking it out!”

What I like about this place is even though it could take months for construction to be complete, the people there have managed to make this place look beautiful. Its amazing what a few strategically rolled out carpets and lights can do to turn a giant hollow building into a cozy place of worship.

Check out all the rolled up carpet insulation in the right corner.

Downstairs is the place to make wudhu. You have to walk across this wooden plank to get to the sink otherwise you’ll be stepping in dirt. Its quite an adrenaline rush to walk the plank on your tippy toes (if you’re easily amused like me that is).

It was time to break our fast and the imam led us in a lengthy but heartfelt du’aa (supplication). Normally we’ve grown accustomed to eating something small before prayer and then a full dinner after. But here they combined it so we broke our fast with dinner. I had some rice -w- chicken, dates, a large potato samosa and in the left corner of my plate is halwa. Its basically a dessert that tastes like Cream of Wheat. To drink I had my fave Ramadan drink, sharbat (rose syrup mixed in milk).

Prayer started quicker than I expected, so I ate my food quickly and ran upstairs to join the congregation.

There was something incredibly humbling about this place, that’s hard for me to put in words. You don’t need things like extravagant domes and fancy caligraphy on the walls to make yourself feel at home in a mosque. Because there’s more than one way to make a place look beautiful, as the people here have done.

I had an extremely stressful day today, but as soon as I took off my shoes and walked into the place, I felt a load come off my shoulder. That’s one of the things I enjoy about going to mosques – no matter how stressful my day is, I am always able to leave my baggage at the door and step inside into a serene garden of spirituality.

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.

By Aman and Bassam

I was tired and slept my way to Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. Thankfully the train ride took 70 minutes so I was fresh by the time I got off the train.

There was a certain calmness in the air, something you just don’t get in Manhattan.

There are many mosques in Bay Ridge and it was tough to choose which one to visit. Somehow or another, we decided on the Muslim American Society (MAS) Youth Center.

All I heard as I entered the center was great recitation over the PA system. The sound system of the masjid worked perfectly for the space, but everything else seemed to be under construction. There were no signs to guide me to the men’s area, so I decided to follow my ears. Common sense told me – the louder the recitation gets the closer I am.

I took the stairs down to the basement and greeted a small group of elderly women. I smiled and continued walking. One of them gasped. I looked back and saw her shaking her head. A group of younger girls also saw me and started giggling. That’s when I realized I stepped into sister land. I smiled again and awkwardly walked back up the stairs.

A little boy was sitting outside of an office, and told me to take the elevator to the third floor. There was so much construction happening all around the mosque, the stairs weren’t functioning. One could imagine, what a logistical nightmare it must be if the stairs aren’t cleared for the Friday prayers.

The inside of the elevator reminded me of BioShock.

The prayer area was very large, but – like the rest of the masjid – was still in development.

There were mismatched lines of tape that marked the placement of feet.

The front of the musala was plastered with MAS banners. The top one gave Ramadan greetings, the banner below stated the mission of MAS. The imam ended with a group dua in Arabic. Bay Ridge is known to be a predominantly Arab community. But today at the mosque, we noticed a very large Desi population. It seemed like the Desi’s felt comfortable. I overheard them sharing thoughts on Musharraf and Nawaz Shareef in Punjabi.

Most of the volunteers were young kids, about 12 to 16. They placed cups with dates in them on this random counter inside the musala. I wondered, why would they need a counter in the prayer area?

After we broke our fast and prayed Maghrib, Aman came up to me and said. “Dude, this used to be a banquet hall.”

And that’s when it all started to make sense. Why else would there be random mirrors on the wall? The chandelier? And, of course, the obtrusive counter.

The whole center was in the process of being converted into a full fledged mosque.

We had dinner in the prayer area. They served us rice, meat, beans and a salad in a nice box. The meal was very tasty, or as Aman would say “money!”

We chatted with the director of the mosque, Hesham, as we ate up. I asked him how long this masjid has been around. Turns out the center has been in development since 2002! I was a little hurt to hear that. I thought to myself, thing long and still not done with renovations?

After we finished our dinner, we took the elevator down to the main floor, passed through a couple of more construction areas, and we…err I made a slight detour into another sister’s area. In the lobby of the mosque, Aman stopped and pointed out the photos on the wall. The bulletin board showcased photos from the youth activities that took place in the center. The one photo that struck us the most was this little Muslim girl in a karate suit kicking butt. Finally, we thought, girls being allowed to participate in such activities. What’s more beautiful than a hijabi Chuck Norris?

I looked closely at the photo and noticed construction still taking place in the background. That’s when it hit me – the masjid was going through a massive renovation, but that didn’t stop them from continuing to put on great iftaars, informative classes and, most importantly, youth activities. Amazingly, they aren’t letting the construction get in their way.

Come to think of it, the American Muslim community is still a work in progress. It’ll take us a while to get the wudu areas right, to develop gender parity and create stronger ties with the larger community. But until we get there, please pardon our dust.