From The 30th Mosque, 'Ramadan Roadtrip' Wraps

Last month we checked in with Aman Ali and Bassam Tariq just as they were beginning their "Ramadan Roadtrip." Their goal was to spend each night of Ramadan in a different mosque in a different state around the country. Host Liane Hansen checks back in with them nearby Detroit.

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Last month, we checked in with Aman Ali and Bassam Tariq just as they were beginning their Ramadan road trip. Their goal was to spend each night of Ramadan in a different mosque in a different state around the country - and they've done it. Dearborn, Michigan was their last stop before heading back to New York City. We caught up with them in nearby Detroit, where they joined us from member station WDET. Aman, welcome back to the program.

Mr. AMAN ALI: Thanks for having me.

HANSEN: And, Bassam, welcome back to you too.


HANSEN: All right. Either one of you can take this: what were the highlights? Let's start with you, Aman.

Mr. ALI: Well, the highlights - I mean, where do I even begin? I mean, 'cause we did essentially a little over 13,000 miles of driving around this country. And so everything from hanging out at a Confederate souvenir shop in Chula, Georgia, getting kicked out of a mosque in Mobile, Alabama, going up a mountain in New Mexico and finding a pueblo-looking mosque made out of adobe mud. And then finding the first mosque that was ever built in the United States in, of all places, Ross, North Dakota. It is just amazing how different every community seems to be.

We thought we'd see a lot of the same, you know, going to every community, you know, the same narrative of India and Pakistani, Arab Muslim doctors and engineers that built these big, beautiful lavish mosques. And that's an important narrative in this country about the history of Muslims, but it's clearly not the only one.

HANSEN: Aman Ali, tell us about that first mosque that was ever built in the United States that you went to in North Dakota.

Mr. ALI: That was so cool. Like I said before, Ross is a small town with 48 people in it. And the narrative, how it came to be, is it was in Lebanon -well, then Syria at the time in the 1800s - a lot of farmers from that country came to the United States because of the Homestead Act. You know, if you mill the land for a few years, it's yours.

And so a lot of these farmers from the Middle East came and settled in small towns like Ross, North Dakota. And so they built a mosque in 1929, but then there was some kind of a family dispute and the mosque was actually demolished in the 1970s, and they rebuilt it in 2005. And what was cool when we went there is the original cemetery that was built there is still there. And so you saw all the pioneers of this - I call a lost community and some of them are World War veterans. And it just really shows you how deep the history of Muslims goes in this country.

And I thought I knew, but I really don't. I really felt ashamed for not knowing this really rich and intricate and integral history to this country.

HANSEN: Bassam, given that you did visit Muslim communities in 30 different states, when we spoke to you last, you both had talked about meeting an Iraqi refugee in a Maine mosque, for example. And you talked about some of the surprises, but I'm wondering what did you find, do you think, that surprised you the most?

Mr. TARIQ: I think what surprised me the most was the community in Boise, Idaho. It's also, a lot of refugees are settled there but a lot of them leave. But the Bosnians ended up staying in Boise, Idaho, and they've been there for about 12 years and it took them a long time to actually get together to have enough money to build a mosque.

So, what they did was they bought this abandoned church for half a million and they all built it together, which I thought was fascinating. But then on top of that, they also meticulously documented every single part of building that mosque. So, you've got pictures of them putting the wires in, you've got like these little kids painting. I mean, it's incredible, because this community's gone through so much in the past 20 years.

And that, for me, kind of says, like, this is what America is, for us to take an abandoned church, right, and then make it into a mosque, and then make it into a community that brings people together. I think that's incredible.

HANSEN: Aman, last time we spoke, I asked you ultimately what you and Bassam were trying to accomplish. And you talked about a message about it's OK to be who you are, it's OK to come from where you come from and believe in what you believe in. So, essentially, you were trying to change or hope to change some negative perceptions about Islam and American Muslims. Do you think you succeeded?

Mr. ALI: I don't know if we were out to - set out that specific mission. We were just out to tell stories about American Muslims. I feel the only narrative that's been told about Muslims are things like racial profiling, airport security, hate crimes. And I don't want to downplay the severity of those issues, but they're clearly not the issues that define us.

And we were hanging out with people and, yes, they might talk about, you know, this guy burning a Quran in Florida or, you know, Ground Zero mosque in New York City and all these things are happening in the news, but they're not really what primarily the people are talking about. What they're talking about is, man, how am I going to provide for my kids? Yo, I don't even know which public school should I put my kids through.

These are issues that are unique to any group of people in this country. We just want to tell great stories. And the cool thing about this project is every community we visited, they each had a great story to tell.

HANSEN: Aman Ali and Bassam Tariq joined us from member station WDET in Detroit, Michigan. They just wrapped up their 30 mosques project, a road trip that took them to 30 different mosques and 30 different states during the holy month of Ramadan. Aman Ali, thank you.

Mr. ALI: Thank you.

HANSEN: And Bassam Tariq, thank you.

Mr. TARIQ: Thank you.

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