30Mosques.com | Day 21: Breakdown in Montana

By Bassam Tariq

BAM / Thud / CLUNK. However you describe the sound, Aman and I hear it before we see smoke build up in front of our Chevy Cobalt. Aman panics and pulls to the side.

“I think I hit a large rock.”

A rock, really?

We get out and inspect the car. Things look fine, we wait for the smoke to settle and get back in the car and drive forward. But forward means that we are stuck in first gear moving 10 miles per hour. Cars pass us by, trucks honk their horns. We pray to find the next side lane that’s open and when we do, we park.

Aman isn’t getting any signal on his phone. I’m not either. The car isn’t moving and our GPS says we are about 40 miles south of Bozeman. To top it off, we have an eleven hour drive to Fargo, North Dakota tomorrow. This doesn’t look good.

We wait ten minutes in hopes of a police officer to pass by, but no luck. I start walking towards Bozeman in hopes of getting some reception so I can call AAA to get our car towed. Aman stays back to watch the car, I strap on my camera and start hiking north –the start of another interesting adventure.

On the way through a narrow stretch of the highway, I see a man parked by a stream, putting his fishing gear away in the back of his Nissan pick-up truck. I walk towards him and strike up a small conversation. The fisherman tells me that I wont get any reception until I reach the city and Bozeman is at least 30 miles away north. I start kicking the sand aimlessly and work up the nerve to ask him if he can take me to the nearest city with signal. He thinks for a second and tells me to get in the back of his truck.

On the truck ride over, the fisherman gives me the lowdown on where we are. We’re in Big Sky, Montana, a small town known for its large ski resort. It is located off of highway 191, which is known to get dangerous in the night time. Just when I’m about to ask him why, we find a tow truck guy and the fisherman drops me off there.

After saying goodbye to the fisherman, I head inside the tow truck office and am met by a mustache, er, a man named Ken. I give Ken the lowdown on what happened and how we need a tow truck asap. Ken nods his head and starts typing up a report on his small computer. Soon enough, Ken was getting his flat bed truck ready to pick up Aman and our Cobalt.

“Heh, so I guess we’ll be best of friends by the end of this.” I say to him.

“Ok.” he responds.

Clearly, Ken is a man of few words.

We pick up Aman and the Cobalt, and finally head towards Bozeman.

I plant myself by the side door, while poor Aman gets crammed in the middle between me and the stoic Ken. As we head north on the highway Aman notices the crosses lining the entire highway.

“What are those crosses for?” Aman asks Ken.

“For those that have died on this highway.” Ken responds.

“Wait, how do people die here?”

“In the night time, bears come out. Deers will run around. Slippery roads from the ice. You name it.”

Aman is fixated on Ken’s mustache and begins to chat with him about his facial hair.

“How long have you had that mustache?” Aman asks.

“Going on 41 years,” Ken’s muffled voice says from behind his facial hair.

“How long did it take you to grow?”

“About a year.”

“I consider myself a facial hair aficionado, and I’ve got to say, you have one fine work of art on your face.”

“Thanks, I’m not sure I know how to respond to that.”

I see the sun setting and realize that soon enough we’ll be breaking our fast. And that’s when I realized how tired and exhausted the day had made me. One of the best ways to get through the day fasting is to keep yourself busy and now, finally having a moment to relax, my brain catches up with my stomach and it’s a terrible feeling.

# # #

I wake up to the truck pulling over inside a parking lot. We have arrived in Bozeman and get outside the car. I remember taking a photo of Ken and asking him to smile.

“I am smiling,” he said.


We exit the tow truck, take our stuff out of the Cobalt and wait for our host, Ruhul, to pick us up. Aman and I are silent and are dreading the inevitable talk about what we have to do if the auto repair took more than a couple of hours. Then of course, the worst question – What happens if we miss more than one day?

Soon enough, Ruhul, our host, shows up and we are on our way to his house.

Ruhul is one of the oldest members of the Muslim community in Montana. He is a professor in Mechanical Engineering at Montana State University.
According to him, there isn’t a single mosque in the entire state of Montana. Not one. It’s one of the only states in the entire country that doesn’t have a mosque.

I ask him where he prays taraweeh, the Ramadan night prayer.

“The university [Montana State] has given us a prayer room and another space for taraweeh prayers.”

Ruhul likes it in Bozeman, that’s why he’s been here for over 20 years with his two daughters and wife. He’s leading the push to help build the first mosque in the state. But it’s hard to, he says, because most of the Muslims here are transient. They come to the area to attend school at Montana State University but end up leaving after graduation. Ruhul says that makes it hard to build a mosque because there isn’t a longstanding Muslim community here. But once you build a mosque, a community will slowly begin to form around it.

We arrive at his house, break our fast and eat a great meal prepared by his wife. Ruhul tells us there is no access to halal meat whatsoever in the area, so his family has a halal meat company in Iowa regularly send meat via FedEx. Wow.

After eating, we head out to Montana State University, where the community gathers to pray. We enter a small classroom where there are 15 people in the middle of praying the night prayer, Isha. We join in.

Around the room, I see about fifteen students and a couple of faculty members. They all look back at me and smile. I didnt plan on praying with the congregation today, but I felt compelled to. Maybe we will make to North Dakota tomorrow, maybe we wont. Whatever the case, we have to try and that’s all really we can do.

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