30Mosques.com | Day 15: Noor Al-Islam Center

By Aman and Bassam

Our first trip on our journey to Staten Island, way overdue. No Bassam today, but instead I took my little brother Zeshawn and my cousin Salman to the Noor Al-Islam Center on Richmond Terrace. This is a World War II bomb factory they converted into a mosque. But before I get to that, we first took a chillaxing 25-minute ferry ride to Staten Island. Bye bye Manhattan and Statue of Liberty:

To truly appreciate how beautiful this mosque is, you have to learn its history. The mosque is built on a shipyard that was the location for the Bethlehem Steel Corporation during World War II. The corporation used to manufacture bombs for the military. After the war, a man named Muhammad Adam, who is still on the mosque’s board today, worked his way up the ranks at the shipyard until he finally took ownership of it. In the 1990s, he turned the factory portion of the shipyard into this beautiful mosque.

During World War II, this parking lot used to be an outdoor motorized track that used to transport the manufactured bombs in carts to the harbor, where men at the dock would load the bombs onto military supply ships.

It took Muhammad Adam and the mosque board about 10 years to gain full control of the five-floor building. In the late 1990s, they had only one small portion of the first floor. Then they got enough money to take control of the second floor to make an expanded prayer room. Then they took control of the third floor to make a women’s prayer area. Then they took control of the fourth floor to make a Sunday school for children. Then they took control of the fifth floor to make an apartment for the Imam.

This prayer room was completed about two years ago. The pillars from the original factory are still intact, but the entire room has been restored with beautiful marble tiling. We got to the mosque super early, so I sat back against the wall to take in the room’s beauty:

Apparently some of the people at the mosque are die-hard Jets fans, judging by this mat outside the prayer room. The Imam and I both agree the Jets made a mistake getting rid of Chad Pennington.

Since we got to the mosque about 30-40 minutes before prayer, we were asked by a group of people to join them in their religious discussion. They were a group of people from Brooklyn that were spending the weekend at the mosque. One of the things I love about going to mosques is when a random strangers greets you with a smile and makes you feel as if you’ve been friends for life.

It was time to break my fast and I had to give a shout out to my elementary school days. I broke it with a dixie cup cone filled with milk and a date.

Time for prayer.

After prayer, I was greeted by Hesham El-Meligy. A community activist who read our 30 mosques site and invited us to Staten Island. He is an amazing individual, and is one of the Muslim leaders in NYC pushing the city to make Eid a recognized holiday in the public schools. NPR recently did a story on him.

He gave me a tour of the mosque and explained its beautiful history. The congregation is predominantly Egyptian, but a good mix of Desis and African Americans too. For dinner we had fantastic Egyptian food: Rice, chicken, meatballs, mixed veggies and salad

For dessert we had baklava (left) and kunafa (right), one of my fave Arabic treats. If you haven’t had kunafa, its basically sweetened shredded wheat. Yes it sounds like something an 89 year old grandma would eat, but — holy moly — it’s amazing. It made me miss all my awesome Arab friends from college that made it for me all the time.

As we were getting ready to leave, I had to take one last shot of the building because I was still taken back by how beautiful it was.

I still can’t believe 15 days in this journey have gone by already. I have seen so many beautiful things so far, and we’re only halfway done. If I was able to see this today, I can only imagine the people I’ll meet and sights I’ll see in the days to come.

Alhamdulillah, I have lived an incredibly blessed life in the very few years I’ve been on this earth. This project without a doubt will be added to the long list of stories I’ll get to bore my grandkids about one day. I cann’t wait.

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