is a 22-year-old law student from St. Louis, Missouri who decided to approach the holy
month of Ramadan a bit differently this year. For each night of this month, he
is going to break his fast in a different mosque with different people. He
hopes that this “mosque-hopping,” as he calls it, will help promote unity and
inclusivity within his local community, among Muslims and non-Muslims alike.
America’s only exposure to Islam be from non-Muslims? I hope that by
introducing people to real Muslims, Islamophobia would decrease, if at least
one person at a time.”
Alaikum, Joe, may peace be with you. Firstly, I find the term
“mosque-hopping” to be quite original. What inspired this idea, and how did you
put it to action?
Alaykum Salam! Well
I know that in contemporary secular culture, many people who are into the club
scene like to go club-hopping. I figured that if they can do that, why can’t I
go mosque-hopping? Sadly, most mosques are strictly divided along ethnic lines
and I figured that I (as well as the friends who sometimes accompanied me) can
help provide exposure. The fact that I don’t “fit” into their moulds of race
and nationality is a reminder that there are Muslims of all backgrounds here in
America. Allah (swt) states in the Quran, “we have made you into many nations
and tribes.” (49:13). It is important for us as Muslims to recognize that.
have already invited your non-Muslims friends to accompany you for Iftar. What
do you believe that can achieve?
Yes I have
taken a few non-Muslim friends so far. I plan to take a few more later on in
the month. There are many misconceptions about Islam and Muslims and I feel
that it is important to address them at least within my own circles. I’m not
trying to convert anyone or anything like that; I just want to remove
misconceptions. Due to the mainstream media portrays and the way a minority of
Muslims conduct themselves, I can’t blame the average non-Muslim for having a
negative opinion of Islam or Muslims.
If I wanted
to learn about any religion, like Judaism for example, I would spend time with
Jews by attending Jewish events and gatherings. Learning about Judaism from non
Jews isn’t effective. Why should America’s only exposure to Islam be from
non-Muslims? I hope that by introducing people to real Muslims, Islamophobia
would decrease, if at least one person at a time. The Prophet Muhammad (saws)
was considered even by his enemies to be an honest man, so much so that they
trusted him with their valuables despite being at war with him. For us as
Muslims, it’s important to let non-Muslims judge us from our actions, not our
words. The best way for that, I believe, is to expose them to our Muslim
hospitality, especially during Ramadan.
us about your experiences. What was Iftar like the first few days of Ramadan?
Where did you go?
day of Ramadan, I went to a “Bosnian mosque” for Iftar. I don’t believe a
mosque should belong to any specific ethnic group but the mosque is called
Bosnian Islamic Centre of Saint Louis. I took an Algerian friend with me and he
was amazed by the similarities between Bosnian culture and Algerian culture.
Saint Louis has the largest population of Bosnians in America. I myself have
picked up a few Bosnian words from the locals. While I was at this mosque I was
often mistaken for a Bosnian because of my race. A woman in her 40’s spoke
Bosnian to me, and I had to explain to her that I didn’t understand what she
was saying. She was so pleased that I memorized a few Bosnian phrases
specifically for this visit; she snuck some food from the dinner for me to have
for Suhoor the next day.
day, I went to the Turkish centre with two of my friends. I probably had one of
the best meals I have ever had in my life. The food was unique and delicious. I
can definitely see how Bosnian food was influenced by it. Almost everyone there
was only speaking Turkish so I sort of just kept to myself. Their centre is
very beautiful though.
I had a nice Algerian Iftar at a friend’s house and I went to a few other
Iftars at a few other mosques. The most notable mosque was a West African one.
was unique about it?
Arab and Desi food, West African food is very healthy as well as delicious.
There is less fried and fatty foods, and fruit is usually what is eaten for
dessert. When I went that night with my Palestinian and Algerian friends, we
definitely felt out of place. We were the only non Africans there but at the
same time, it allowed us to step outside of our comfort zones and celebrate the
African culture like everyone there.
they welcoming of you?
absolutely. In fact they even seemed surprised that “outsiders” came to visit.
The mosque was located in an unfrequented side of town so they do not usually
get visitors from other areas. It was a pleasant reminder that in Islam,
racial, economic, age, and ethnic barriers don’t exist.
advice would you give to a non-Muslim who wants to take part in Iftar to
experience Ramadan with the Muslims in their community? Can they just show up
at a mosque and introduce themselves?
I would say
in general that most mosques would be okay with that. With that said, many
mosques do provide open house Iftars where non-Muslims are openly invited. That
way, they won’t feel so out of place. I suggest they should inquire about
those, and bring a friend if they’re uncomfortable showing up alone.
that you’ve seen how the mosques in your area are run, what do you wish to have
have loved to see more support for converts. If they can provide opportunities
for new converts to learn Islam instead of being on their own, that’d help so
much. I also wish more mosques actively engage with other mosques in the area,
to emphasize unity. It’s disheartening to see how isolated from, and sometimes
against, each other they are.
I don’t see
any problem with a mosque being primarily made up of a certain ethnicity or
nationality, or if they give lectures in their language or have specific
programs in their language. But my issue is when the name of a mosque has a
specific ethnic group added to it, like I’ve seen a “Turkish mosque”
“Palestinian mosque” “Bosnian mosque” etc. When the official name of a mosque
has a specific group attached to it, it sort of gives off the wrong impression.
It’s basically saying that anyone who is not one of us doesn’t belong. I’d love
to see more mosques celebrating the cultures of their attendees without being
exclusive to just the people of their specific culture.
is your favourite part of Ramadan?
favourite part of Ramadan is the realization that at this time of year, Muslims
all over the world are getting together to experience this month as a family.
Families, neighbours, and friends often congregate to pray and break their fast
together. There’s this whole atmosphere of unity and fellowship that I really
love. It makes me realize that if Muslims can do this in Ramadan, it is
possible for them to act like an inclusive community year-round.
Jennah Adam is an aspiring artist and novelist.