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Two US Muslims Visit 30 Mosques in 30 US States During Ramadan

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Amid the backdrop of the controversy surrounding plans for an Islamic center near the site of the 2001 terrorist attacks on New York City and as a pastor in the southeastern state of Florida draws headlines for sponsoring a Quran burning, two young Muslim men have set out to discover America - Islamic America.  Aman Ali and Bassam Tariq are visiting 30 mosques in 30 states in 30 days.

And they are documenting their experiences on their website:  30mosques.com.

Aman Ali
Aman Ali

Aman Ali traces his ability to tell a story to his upbringing in a small town in the Midwestern state of Ohio. "I was not only the only Muslim at school, I was the only minority.  And so, I wasn't just explaining to people what being a Muslim was.  I was explaining to them why I wasn't black," he said.

Since the 2001 attacks on New York and Washington, Ali says he has felt as though not only his religion has been hijacked by terrorists, but also the story of Muslims in the United States.

"I feel that there hasn't been anybody out there that has been telling the story of Muslims correctly, so it's time that we as Muslims tell our own stories about what Islam is like for each of us," he said.

Together with his friend Bassam Tariq, Ali set out in 2009 to document on the Internet the Muslim experience in New York City.

During the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, they visited 30 mosques in 30 days around the city's five boroughs.

What Ali says he learned from the experience is that Muslims are a permanent part of the American landscape. "Muslims aren't just practicing their religion, they are here to stay.  They are integrating themselves and weaving themselves into the American social fabric," he said.

Bassam-Tariq
Bassam-Tariq

Bassam Tariq says the 2009 project gave rise to their more ambitious plan to document the Muslim experience across the country. "It's 30 days, 30 states, 30 mosques," he said.

Ali and Tariq's "Ramadan Road Trip" began last month at an Islamic prayer room in New York City.  

Their month-long journey took them to the oldest mosque in North America - in small town of Ross, North Dakota - and to an adobe mosque on a New Mexico mountain top.

After traveling nearly 18,000 kilometers and meeting hundreds of people eager to share their stories, the two men arrived at a Shia mosque on the outskirts of Chicago, where they were just as eager to share their story with us.

With only a few days left in their adventure, Tariq says they have yet to encounter any backlash against Muslims. "We haven't run into any communities that have had any problems with their neighbors.  In fact, we've seen the opposite," he said.

Ali says he sees their journey and how they are documenting their experiences on the Internet as a way to change perceptions about Muslims in America. "I've traveled a lot overseas.  And people in other countries, in general, think Muslims are oppressed here.  And I don't want to downplay the severity of hate crimes and security issues and things like that, but it's not representative of our lifestyle whatsoever," he said.

Tariq and Ali say that days spent fasting on the road and nights spent eating at different mosques in communities across the country has also been a journey of self-discovery.

"Going around Muslim America, and really seeing how broad of a definition of America people are willing to accept - both Muslim and non-Muslim - I mean, this is home.  I feel like this is home," said Tariq.

"We are not two-dimensional characters," said Ali.  "We live in this country; we contribute to this economy; we go to public school; we're human beings.  We play basketball.  I like Bon Jovi.  You know, I do things just like anyone else.  I'm a Muslim.  I'm proud of who I am, and I'm accepting of other cultures as well."

The final leg of Tariq and Ali's journey will take them to Tennessee and Michigan, before returning to New York City where they will celebrate the end of Ramadan on September 11.

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