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U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action

"30 Mosques, 30 Days": Exploring Islam in America

Aman Ali, Co-creator of the "30 Mosques, 30 Days" Blog and Website
New York, NY
November 10, 2011

Date: 11/10/2011 Description: Aman Ali, Co-creator of the ''30 Days, 30 Mosques'' Blog and Website, speaks at the New York Foreign Press Center on Islam in America - State Dept Image

3:00 P.M., EST


MR. ALI: Thank you, Melissa. And my colleague, Bassam Tariq – I apologize he didn’t get a chance to make it. He got tied up at work. But it is – just out of curiosity, like a show of hands, how many of you guys have heard about this project before – 30 Mosques, 30 Days? Has anyone heard of it? How did you hear about it?

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MR. ALI: Okay. Anybody else? Any other means of --

QUESTION: The Foreign Press Center informed us.

MR. ALI: Excellent answer. Anybody else find out through – any other --

QUESTION: (Inaudible) CNN.

MR. ALI: Oh, you saw it on CNN, cool. Because I always like to ask people where they found out about it, and that’s the cool thing about this project is there’s all these different venues and outlets how people found out about it.

But to give you guys a general sense of how this whole crazy idea began, I live in New York City, but I’m not a native New Yorker by any means, grew up in Ohio, small traditional Indian Muslim household. My family came from India, like, 30 or 40 years ago but I was born and raised in the U.S. But I moved to New York for work. I work as a stand-up comic. I also work as a writer. And I met my friend Bassam Tariq probably about three or four years ago, in 2008. And neither of us are native New Yorkers. Bassam grew up in Texas. Ethnically, he’s from Pakistan.

And in 2009, we were hanging out during Ramadan, the Muslim holy month of fasting from sunrise to sunset, and we discovered that there’s 163 mosques within a 10-mile radius of New York City. So one of us said to the other, like, dude, would it be crazy if we went to 30 mosques in 30 days around New York? Just some, like, some jackass idea that we had. And we were, like, yeah, let’s do it. And so we went to Facebook and Twitter, and I tweeted this out in 2009: “Because the Muslim community in New York is so big, my friend and I are going to have Iftar” – Iftar is just the meal to break the fast – “at a different masjid” – a masjid is just a fancy word for a mosque – “every single day.”

So I tweeted that out. It was also my status message. And people started commenting immediately left and right, like, “Oh, man, that’s so cool. You guys should blog about this. You guys should blog about this.” I was, like, why would I want to blog about that? Like, it’s stupid; it’s just some dumb idea my friend and I are doing. Like, I don’t even read blogs. Why is anybody else going to read our blog? But they kept insisting, like “No, you got to blog about it. Please blog about it.” I’m like, fine, we’ll put up the blog just to shut you guys up.

So we put up the blog. That’s me before the male pattern baldness kicked in. (Laughter) Thank you for laughing at my misery. (Laughter.) So we launched the blog, and immediately we’re getting emails and comments from people from all over the globe. There’s people like, “Hey, I’m in the UK; I love your blog,” or “Hey, I’m in South Africa; I love your blog,” or “Hey, I’m in China; I love your blog,” or “Hey, I’m in Luxembourg; I love your blog.” I’m like, “Dude, I don’t even know where Luxembourg is, but that’s awesome.” And it was cool, all this energy and excitement behind it.

And so that was in 2009, and then in 2010, Bassam and I were, like, okay, we got to do something different, because we had a great time in New York but we knew that our experience wasn’t exclusive to New York at all, that there’s all these cool communities around the country we could check out. And also, working as a standup comic, and my friend Bassam works in film, we’ve done our own fair share of traveling. We knew that there were these really cool communities in the U.S. that we could check out. So we said you know what? Why don’t we do something even more crazy – get in a rental car and go to 30 states in 30 days? That’s how that happened, and that’s how this happened. (Laughter.)

And so to give you guys a sense of a route in – this is 2010, our route. So we started in New York, went up to Maine, down to Florida, out to California, and kind of made our way back, essentially doing an outline of the entire United States, roughly about 12,000 miles of driving. I’ll get – I’ll talk to you in a minute why we decided to continue it again in 2011, but this was our route in 2011, starting in Alaska, going down the West Coast, out to Hawaii, then back and kind of going all the way back, ending off in New York. And that year, we did – this year, we did about 13,000 miles of driving. So in two years, we covered all 50 states, and covered 25,000 miles worth of driving.

And a lot of people have asked us, why did you do this? What were you trying to do? What were you trying to set out? What did you want to accomplish? And some people think that we were out to change perceptions of Muslims or something like that. Honestly, that’s not really what we were trying to do. My background being a journalist, I was more concerned about telling stories, and – both positive and negative – and I felt like – and all this talk about Muslims in the news, whether it be the Ground Zero mosque or any other controversy or backlash from 9/11, whatever you want to call it, I really felt that there were lacking authentic portrayals of who Muslim Americans are. Like, the statistics show that something like 85 to 90 percent of Muslims don’t attend mosques regularly in the U.S. And so we’re like, well, why are we spending so much time in the mosque? Like, even though we were visiting mosques, we really just wanted to show Muslims and what their lives were like, what it’s like for them at work, what relationships are like, what does love mean to them, what do sports and entertainment – what do they, like, do for fun? And that’s really what we are trying to set out and do.

But the moment that we wanted to continue this journey was one particular trip, a moment on the trip in 2010. So we went to Montana, and if you’ve ever been to Montana, it’s a gorgeous state. There’s nothing but, like, these lush mountain scapes for miles and miles upon end. And – oh, I should also mention before I get to that, we had a grant that agreed to finance this entire trip in 2010. And literally, like two weeks before about to hit the road, for whatever reason, this foundation decided not to fund it. And we started freaking out. We’re like, oh, we need money. We’re broke. What are we going to do? How is this trip going to happen? And so we went to Facebook and we went to Twitter, and we said, “Guys, we need $6,000 in less than two weeks. Otherwise, this trip during Ramadan is not going to happen. We need your help. That’s 600 people at $10 a pop. Come on, we can make this happen.”

And in less than a week and a half, we raised the entire amount, all through online donations and fundraising. And that’s really what the success behind this project is. It wasn’t myself and my friend; it was really the people that not only gave money but told us where to go or places to visit or angles to look at and stories to talk about. It’s really this grassroots movement that made this project as big and beautiful as it is and as it continues to be. And this year, because we are bigger and better this year, covering a lot more ground and doing a little more traveling, we actually raised $12,000 in less than a month all through online donations. So that’s really the success of this project I didn’t want to downplay.

But anyhow, so we’re in Montana, 2010 during Ramadan, beautiful day, I’m driving that day, and we’re in this rental car. And a friend of mine works at Enterprise car rental, and he gave us this crazy hookup. He was like, “All right, guys. I can give you guys a discount, but don’t let Enterprise know that you’re driving the car out of state because otherwise, with all this driving you’re doing, they’re going to charge you all these out-of-state mileage fees.” He was, like, “Just don’t get a speeding ticket, don’t get in an accident, anything like that, and they won’t find out, so don’t worry about them.” All right. So unfortunately, this becomes a problem later on in the trip.

So we’re on the road in Montana, I’m driving that day, a beautiful day, I’m listening to Phil Collins – don’t judge me for my music choices – and I’m driving and I see this garbage bag on the road and I don’t think anything of it. I’m like, whatever, garbage bag. And I started driving and boom, it turns out that it wasn’t a garbage bag; it was actually a rock, and smoke is coming out from the back of the car. So I started freaking out, and so I pull over and I’m waiting for the car to cool down. I’m waiting, waiting, waiting, and the car’s not starting. So I’m, like, man, we got to get to this place. It’s almost time to break the fast. We need to meet these people, we need to write the story, and we’re in the middle of the mountains. What do we do? And so we pull out our cell phones to call, like, a tow truck service, and we both pull out our cell phones – no reception. So we start freaking out, like, oh, man, what are we going to do?

And so my friend comes up with a plan. He’s like, “All right, I’m going to go hitch a ride into town. I’m going to get cell phone reception. I’m going to call for help and then come back with a tow truck. Aman, you wait here in case the police come. Ask for help, and just kind of hang tight.” I’m like, okay, a plan, let’s do this. So he hitches a ride, goes into town, I’m sitting in the car and I’m waiting. Fifteen minutes goes by, 30 minutes goes by, 45 minutes goes by, and I’m looking out all over the place like, man, where is this guy? It’s almost time to break the fast.

And then I look out the window and all of a sudden, I see a bunch of deer run across the road. I was like, okay. And then I see a bunch of coyotes run across the road. I’m like, okay, time to lock the doors. (Laughter.) Then I see three bears run across the road and I’m like, okay, it’s time to pray. I’m freaking out now. And so I’m freaking out and I’m like, where is this guy? I’m going to get eaten alive here and I don’t think that’s Halal. What’s happening? And so then all of the sudden, I hear the tow truck in the background and – sorry, I know I’m a little loud. I didn’t mean to freak you out. But I get a little excited.

So the tow truck, I hear it in the background. I’m like, all right, awesome, the tow truck is here. It’s about time. And I look out the window and I see the tow truck pull up and Ken, the tow truck driver, comes out and Ken has one of the most beautiful moustaches I’ve ever seen in my entire life, like I’m convinced that that’s not even a moustache. That’s his upper lip being protected by the wings of an angel, right? It’s majestic. So I am in complete awe of this man’s facial hair, and my friend Bassam, who is the brilliant photographer that took all the photos on this trip – as we’re getting in the truck with him, he pulls out his camera and goes, “Hey Ken, can you smile for the camera?” And Ken goes, “I am smiling.” (Laughter.)

So we get in the truck and we’re driving – we’re in Bozeman, Montana – and we’re driving to our destination and I look out the window and I see all these crosses on the side of the road. And I’m like, wow, this must be a really religious town, really Christian town. I’m sure there’s a lot of cool things we can learn about the people in Bozeman. And Ken goes, “No, no, no. That’s not for religion. Those are grave markers of people that have died.” And we saw, like, 30 or 40 of these within, like, a 10-minute span. And apparently, this was the most dangerous road in all of Montana. There’s no traffic lights, no speed limit, and at night, a lot of animals run across the road and people hit them. And they said that there’s a lot of, like, mountain sheep and other animals that like to run across the road at night, and they also like to kick rocks off the hills. And that’s probably what we ran over, was a rock that an animal kicked.

So we get to town. And Montana is one of the only states in the entire country that doesn’t have a single mosque in it. So it’s the only time that New Jersey can talk trash about someone. And so we heard that the Muslims are trying to build a mosque. And growing up in – having a mosque in my town in Ohio, you just kind of take those things for granted. And so we wanted to write a story about these guys and what it’s like to not even have a mosque anywhere where you live. So the group of Muslims there, they just pray inside of a classroom on the college campus of the University of Montana. But they’re trying to build a mosque and we thought, okay, maybe by writing about it, it’ll bring attention.

So the next day, we’re freaking out because we got to get this car fixed; it’s still broken. And our next stop is Fargo, North Dakota and we’re like, what are we going to do? And so the next stop was about eight hours from where we needed to be. And so the latest we could leave was, like – probably, like, 10 o’clock in order to make it in time for sunset. So we wake up super-early in the morning, try to get the car fixed, and it’s well past noon by the time the car is fixed. I’m like, man, we’re not going to make it to Fargo. What are we going to do? Because we’re trying to write a story every single day during Ramadan. We have to get to our destination and break our fast there. Otherwise – that’s the whole nature of the trip.

And so we told the people at Fargo, “Thank you, but we’re not going to be able to make it,” and so we tried to come up with a backup plan. So we jump on Google and we type in, “Muslims in North Dakota,” and Google replies back, “Did you mean Muslims in Chicago?” And as we’re searching, we find this article about a mosque in Ross, North Dakota, and according to – it was written about four or five years ago, and according to this article, it was the first mosque ever built in the United States, built in 1924, a town of only 40 or 50 people. I’m like, whoa, I didn’t even know this place even existed. And we’re like, we’ve got to – how could we not know about this? We’ve got to check this place out.

But the thing is this article was written four or five years ago. We don’t know if this place is still there because there was no website for the mosque, there was no phone number, no address. So we didn’t know what to do; how are we going to find this place? So we start looking on Google Maps and we find a place called Moslem Cemetery in the town of Ross. There’s no address for the place, but on Google Maps, there was the intersection. So we’re like, okay, we can just type the intersection on Google Maps and put it in our GPS and maybe the mosque has to be nearby. If there’s a cemetery, there’s got to be a mosque nearby.

So completely relying on GPS, we set out to North Dakota. And so we’re driving to North Dakota and as we’re doing that, I’m driving and Bassam is calling people in Ross, the town of Ross, trying to get some information. And so we get a hold of the town hall, who gets us in touch with this church, who gets us in touch with this woman named Lila, who’s the caretaker of the mosque. We’re like, “Okay, awesome. This place exists.” And Lila was very nice to us on the phone. She just said, “Hey, it’s last minute notice. I don’t think I can meet you guys there. I can’t open the door for you, but you’re more than welcome to look at the mosque from the outside. Be my guest.” I’m, like, “Okay. Awesome. Thank you.”

So we drive out to North Dakota. And North Dakota’s a beautiful state, a lot of lush farmland, and only frustrating thing about it is we didn’t really know where we were going and there’s no gas stations for hours upon hours on end. No signs, no nothing, just nothing but farmscape for miles upon miles. So we don’t even know if we’re going the right way. We’re just completely relying on GPS. And so we finally get to Ross – again, a town of only 40 or 50 people, and the GPS tells us take a final turn down this dirt road and our destination should be a mile and a half up ahead.

So the sun is slow starting to set and I’m, like, okay, we’d better get here fast because it’s time to break the fast, we gotta find this place, but there’s no sign that says mosque up ahead or anything like that. And so I’m, like, all right, we gotta find this place. So I’m looking. We take the turn and I’m looking all the way out into the horizon and I see absolutely nothing at all, just grass. And I’m, like, where is this place? We start calling Lila back, she’s not picking up her phone, and I’m, like, man, it’s five minutes till sunset, we gotta break our fast, what’re we going to do, this so frustrating; man, this – I can’t believe this is happening. I’m getting so mad, and I’m driving, I’m looking out each window, I’m looking, I’m looking, I’m looking. And then all of the sudden I see this.

And so you can kind of see the crescent gate, you know crescent being a symbol that’s often associated with Islam, and there’s the mosque all the way on the horizon – and to give you a better shot of it. It’s almost like a mini-mosque that was, like, dropped onto this little, like, prairie land. And roughly where the sun is setting, my friend Bassam is standing. And he’s, like, hey, Aman, come check this out. And we found things like Nazira Omar (ph) – I don’t know if you can see it – born 1908; Ahmed Jaha (ph), a Korean War veteran. We found Muslims that were World War One veterans, World War Two veterans, Muslims born in the 1800s. And of all places, they were living in Ross, North Dakota.

And I always thought – I’m a history nerd and I always thought the narrative of Muslims in this country was in the ’60s and ’70s there was a big migration from, like, South Asia and the Middle East, or through the African American Muslim movement in the ’20s and ’30s, or even involuntarily through the slave trade several centuries ago. But I was, like, who are these Muslims that came in 1800s and lived in North Dakota? Like, how did they get here? What was their story? And I didn’t know anything about it.

And so we called Lila back and we’re, like, Lila, I know you can’t meet with us tonight, but we would love to meet with you in the morning and really learn about this awesome place. And so she agrees to meet with us in the morning and she opens up the door to the mosque to us, and this is all that’s inside. It’s a small, little space with a few photographs of her relatives. And this is Lila. I think she’s a third or fourth generation Muslim American. And then that’s her son, Greg. She’s, like, in her 80s. And so I asked her, Lila, what’s your story? Like, of all places, how did you and your ancestors end up here in North Dakota?

And she told us that in the 1800s, there were a lot of farmers in modern day Syria and Lebanon. When the Ottoman Empire, which is modern day Turkey, as it was starting to spread throughout the Middle East and the rest of the world, a lot of these Syrian and Lebanese farmers didn’t want to get drafted for war. But at the time, in the United States, was the Homestead Act, the law saying if you farmed the land for a few years, you could keep it. So all these farmers from the Middle East heard about the Homestead Act and migrated to places like Ross, North Dakota; Cedar Rapids, Iowa; Toledo, Ohio; Evansville, Indiana; and they lived there peacefully for generations. And their ancestors – or their descendents, I should say – still live there today.

And we visited a lot of them along the way. When we were writing about this, a lot of people emailed us, said hey, I’m a part of that movement, too; my ancestors came, and things like that. And so I asked Lila – you went to school in the ‘40s. Race relations were bad enough in this country as it is with African Americans; what was it like for you being the only – like, let alone Muslim but only minority in a town of like 40 or 50 people – what was that like? And she said, it really wasn’t that big of a problem because, at the end of the day, we were all farmers. Didn’t matter what you believed, where you came from. At the end of the day, we all had a responsibility to provide crops for the whole community.

And so this whole narrative that we often see on television of Muslims being oppressed or victims of backlash or hate crimes or anything like that – I don’t want to downplay these individual cases, but as we were traveling, we were seeing more and more that this kind of anti-Muslim sentiment, to say that’s even reflective of average, ordinary Americans is completely absurd. We were actually finding the opposite, of places where Muslims were actually living peacefully side-by-side with their neighbors. Even in cases that are scrutinized in the news like here in New York City with the Ground Zero mosque or the mosque in Tennessee that was under scrutiny in Murfreesboro, we were finding these communities were actually getting along very well and very welcoming towards the Muslims, but what we are seeing on television really wasn’t mirroring what we were seeing in reality, and that frustrated us.

And so as we were getting ready to leave, Lila, she told us, please sign the guest book before you guys leave. And so we signed the guest book, and I wrote in the guest book I’ll never forget the contributions and sacrifices you and your family and friends have made to this country and I hope nobody else will ever forget. And to think that one of the reasons we got a chance to visit this awesome piece of American history is because we ran over that rock in Montana.

And so when this moment happened, Bassam and I realized that our work is unfinished. We’ve only scratched the surface with all these cool communities around the country to check out, and that’s one of the reasons why we want to continue this journey this year on that.

One of the things we wanted to do as a storyteller was really try to tell stories that haven’t been told before. And not necessarily rehash stories that people always talked about. Like, we got to Oregon and there was a big story in the news November of last year; this guy was called the Christmas Tree Bomber. And it’s one of those cases where it was a young Muslim student that tried to join a terrorist organization but it was actually an FBI undercover agent posing as a terrorist, saying hey, I’ve got weapons for you; I’ve got this, I’ve got that, and the young student wanting to buy weapons and then this bust happens and he gets locked up.

And so there’s controversy, like did he know what he was doing, was it a set up, blah blah blah. I don’t want to get into that. But I didn’t really want to just rehash that story. We really wanted to look at the story from a different angle. And so in Oregon, there was this guy, his name was Mohamed. And he was just a kid. I think he grew up in, I want to say Sudan but I’m not completely sure – no, I’m sorry, Somalia. And he went to school at the University of Oregon, he was very well known in the Muslim Student Association, everybody knew him. He was very active in the mosque. Nobody really knew, like, his – I mean, people knew that he had kind of wacky views but nothing ever to the point of like violence or anything like that.

And then all of the sudden, his face is plastered all over the news. And he’s on, like, every different network and things like that. And we didn’t want to get into the whole story. We wanted to see almost a year after the fact how is the community doing, because he was a very close friend to a lot of people. And what is that like for – as a friend, to be betrayed in that you thought this guy was cool, you thought he was a really cool person, and to do something that despicable and that stupid, like, what does that feel like for the – his friends? And we wanted – we asked his friends, hey, if you could write a letter to him, what would you say?

And so we had, like, these little Pulse smart pens, these little, like, graphics pens to write letters, and so we had some of these guys, some of his friends, write a few letters. One of them I really liked was a guy that’s known this guy [Mohamed] since childhood and he wrote – if you can read it, it says: “The biggest fear when fighting a monster is becoming a monster yourself. A child of the light discerns the difference between righteousness and blind aggression. The path towards peace and prosperity is paved with patience. Forever forward, my friend.”

And you know, thank God, nobody was physically hurt because they caught this guy. He didn’t actually – it was a fake bomb and everything like that. But the mental and psychological damage that’s left behind with this community, the pain that they’re feeling, is still there. And that’s kind of what we wanted to explore with these letters, to show these people are still hurt and still feel so hurt by what this guy did to them. And – because what happened was, when this happened, this mosque was subject to, like, vandalism, hate crimes, and things like that, and it was under all this additional scrutiny that they never signed up for. They had nothing to do with it.

And so that’s what often happens with terrorism is these people think that they’re acting in the name of Islam but actually, like, it makes it even more of a burden for Muslims just having to deal with this baggage and this terrible stuff that these selfish people leave behind.

But anyhow, a new issue popping up in the community is the sense of identity, especially for Muslims that are born and raised in this country, whether it be white Americans, African Americans. And when they embrace Islam, they might join a congregation that’s predominantly Arab, or predominantly South Asian or African or something like that. And so for a white American who joins a mosque that’s predominantly Indian and everyone is speaking in Urdu or a different language, they might feel a little left out. And those people might tell this white American, oh, you need to grow out your beard, you need to change your name, you need to dress like this, you need to dress like this. They’re kind of imposing their cultural interpretation of Islam.

And this is becoming an issue in many communities around the country. Until we found this one community in California called the Ta’leef Collective, and their motto here is, “Come as you are to Islam as it is.” And what that motto means is basically, doesn’t matter who you are, doesn’t matter how religious or how unreligious you are. As long as you say you’re a Muslim, that’s fine. Doesn’t matter what you do in your social life and what you do or don’t believe. As long as you’re here, you’re going to be welcome here. We’re going to let you be – dress however you want or anything like that. And it was really cool and, like, how embracive it is. And this guy, Usama Canon, also a very GQ dresser, he’s the mastermind behind this.

And in my opinion, this is what a mosque should be, truly inclusive and truly embracive in every sense of the word. Like, as I was praying – I remember that day – I’m standing next to a guy who’s – has more of, like, a – he has, like, a long beard, the skull cap, and kind of, like, the long flowing robe thing. And next to him – or on the other side of me is a guy covered in, like, tattoos and piercings. Another guy on the other side was, like, in spiked hair and, like, punk – like, piercings, things like that. And it was cool. We were all praying peacefully side-by-side, people from very different walks of life all worshipping together and all having a good time, no judging, and having a great conversation. And in my opinion, that’s what a mosque should truly be, and I’d like to see more and more communities like that.

On the other side – on the flip side of that, this was a mosque that was really inclusive. And this next community, it was inclusive but in a different sense. This group – there’s an actual town in South Carolina called Islamville. It’s an actual incorporated city. And what happened with this group of Muslims, predominantly African American congregation, they had their scholar, I think it’s Sheik Abdul Abu Jilani. He lives in Pakistan. And he told their congregation the cities are bad places to raise your kids, too difficult; you need to get out of cities, move to the suburbs, move to the rural areas, and build a Muslim community, a fully functional Muslim town to raise your kids with traditional Muslim values.

And so these Muslims, that’s what they did. They formed a town called Islamville. There’s a mayor, there’s a city council, they have meetings, and all this other stuff. There’s a constitution, bylaws, what have you. And the really – a quirky thing about this is they’re all right out in the middle of the woods. And the quirky thing about it is it’s a predominantly African American congregation, but because their scholar is Pakistani, they all, like, live the Pakistani culture. They dress Pakistani. They even have, like, the little uncle belly, and, like, they have, like, the little mannerisms. They, like, bobble the head when the talk, and they, like, talk with an accent. It’s really weird, like, born and raised, like, African Americans, like, kind of adopting a different culture. So it’s just kind of cool to really experience that, hanging out with them.

In Florida, I want to share with you guys a quick video. One thing we didn’t get a chance to talk about yet actually were the mosques. And I wanted to share with you guys just a really fun story. We hung out with some of the kids in the mosques just asking them – because this was Ramadan, the Muslim holy month of fasting, we asked little kids that are truly the future of the community what Ramadan means to them. And so this is one kid’s answer.

(Video clip is shown.)

So this is Tabish. He lives in Jacksonville, Florida, and we started asking him some questions about Ramadan. And as we started asking him some more questions, he was busy having a love affair with a Choco Taco.

(Video clip is shown.)

All right. We then, later on in the trip – and I’m not going to – there are so many stories to get into, and unfortunately, for the sake of time, I don’t have a chance to get into every single story in every state, but one of the stories I did want to share – actually, before I get to that, so you said you heard about it on CNN. The cool thing about CNN was CNN in 2010 followed us through a lot of the trip. They hung out with us in the South for – they rode in the car with us, they slept with us at the mosques and fasted with us just to really get that experience of what is it like to be on the road doing 30 mosques in 30 days.

And I remember we were driving from Atlanta, Georgia down to Jacksonville, Florida. And halfway there, we passed through the down of Chula, Georgia, a town of only, like, 800 people according to the U.S. census. And we’re driving throughout the South, and I see this huge Confederate flag just, like, waving in the air, Confederate being tied to the Civil War and this whole proslavery, antislavery movement, that kind of thing. And I see this huge flag just waving in the air, and I look out the window and I tell these guys, “Man, this place is too racistly awesome to pass up. Guys, we have to check this out and see what this is about.” And so we pull over on the highway, and we go on the exit, and we go up to this place. It’s a Confederate souvenir shop about the history of the Confederacy, all of this memorabilia, and things like that, and we’re like, all right, we’ve got to check this place out.”

And so we pull up and there’s these three guys that are sitting in front of the shop, these three old guys that are giving us this dirty look. And so it’s three people. There must have been, like, five teeth among them, right? And so they’re looking at us, and Robert, who’s the videographer for CNN – he’s a black guy – and as I was getting out of the car, he’s like, “Aman, please, don’t go in there. Aman, I’m begging you, please don’t go in there.” And I’m like, “Man, whatever. You guys are a bunch of sissies. It’s not that big of a deal. Whatever. Nothing’s going to happen.” So I step out of the car, and as soon as I step out of the car, these guys are, like, “Hey, welcome. Make yourself at home. Great day today, isn’t it, right? What’s your guys’ story? Where are you guys coming from?” And we had a really, really cool conversation.

And it really made me start thinking because here I was thinking that these guys were going to be prejudiced towards me, but I was actually the one being prejudiced towards them, thinking that they’re racist and bigoted and backwards and things like that. And it really made me start thinking, like, granted, this is a Confederate shop. We all know the history behind the Confederacy and slavery and things like that. I don’t want to down play that, but these guys were very kind to us, very well respected, very nice people, and I can only hold them accountable for how they were treating us. And so this whole idea of what is the cultural baggage that I bring to the table was something that I was thinking about a lot on the trip.

And so we started driving, and as we get closer to Jacksonville, we see this place that’s also too racistly awesome to pass up. There’s a word in Arabic called “sheikh”, and a “sheikh” can mean like a scholar, a leader, something like that. So right by the mosque in Jacksonville, literally like a mile away from the mosque, is this place: “Sheik Sandwiches, home of the Camel Rider”. So this is a Middle Eastern/Muslim themed fast food restaurant with nothing but pork products on the menu, and the owner is Palestinian, even funnier. So we’re fasting, obviously. But Wayne, the reporter for CNN, wasn’t fasting, so he decides to order the Camel Rider Sandwich, or as I call it, the Big Mac of bigotry. So he’s biting into racism, and inside this sandwich is, like, salami, pepperoni, ham. All it needed was, like, a middle finger and an American flag inside of it. I mean, just some of these random things that you see on the trip that you can’t predict.

Anyhoo, this year on the trip we went to Nebraska. And Omaha, Nebraska is where Malcolm X was actually born. And we wanted to write a little bit about what that means for the people in Nebraska and what that legacy – because a lot of people talk about Malcolm’s time in Detroit and in New York and in D.C. and don’t often talk about his roots in central America. And so we visited the Malcolm X house and things like that, and a lot of people at the mosque told us, “You need to visit Brother Lutfullah Wali because he knows a lot about Brother Malcolm. He knows – he knew his parents and knew his relatives, and he’s been living – he’s over a hundred years old, and he knows a lot of history. You really need to talk to him because he is the true pioneer of the Muslim community here.” And I’m like, okay, great. Let’s go visit Lutfullah. And they told us that Lutfullah spent, like, 20 or 30 years in India and Pakistan, and he hung out with, like, all these great, famous Muslim figures in history. And we’re like, wow, this guy must have amazing stories and wisdom. This will be a great guy to talk to. This will be a great story about 30 mosques. A lot of people will benefit.

And so we go to his house, and it says “The Muslim House,” and so his house was actually the first mosque that was there. And there was Lutfullah. I think they said – he wasn’t giving us a straight answer. He’s well over a hundred. I think he was 108 years old. And so he’s sitting down, and we get a little startled by kind of the mess or whatever. But whatever, it’s – he’s a hundred, whatever. He’s entitled to make a mess. Why not? And we’re talking to him, and I kept asking him, “So what was it like? What was – what did you know about Malcolm X? What did you know about his family? What was the community like back then? What was it like to live in India and Pakistan?” We were asking, like, all of these questions we’re throwing at him. And he says, “Go upstairs.” Every time we asked him a question, “Go upstairs. Go upstairs. Check it out upstairs. That will give you all of the answers to all your questions are upstairs.”

So I’m like, all right, fine, let’s go upstairs. I figured there’s, like, plaques on the wall, photos, or albums, something to look through, a video, I don’t know. So we’re like, okay, let’s go upstairs. The house completely smells like urine, and there’s, like, stuff, like, all over the steps, and so we walk, and we start walking into the room upstairs, and we see a bunch of scribbling on the wall, and we’re like, okay. And then we see even more scribbling, like, all over the wall. Then we see a map of the United States with a giant drawing of the anti-Christ on it. And we’re like, okay, what happened here? What did we get into here?

And it’s very easy to write this guy off as nuts or crazy or senile, anything like that. But there was something more to him, and we started to write about him. There’s – he’s well aware of how people perceive him. And for being well over a hundred, he’s very sharp. And he’s not stupid at all or senile or anything like that. He’s perfectly aware of how people perceive him. And this is a video that – I mean, this is where he sleeps. It kind of looks like my friend’s apartment in Brooklyn. This is where he sleeps, and the most pristine part of the place was the actual room that was the original mosque. He kept that part clean. But what I loved about Lutfullah was how authentic and how real he was. There was not a fake bone in his body. He truly says what’s on his mind. A lot of people say, “Oh, I don’t care what people think.” This guy genuinely doesn’t care what people think. He always says what’s on his mind. He doesn’t like fake people. He’ll call you out for being fake, and so I try to compliment him, and he chewed me out for it as we were talking to him.

(Video clip is shown.)

I just like that sense of realness and just really had a good time with him.

So I’m a hip hop head, always loved listening to hip hop ever since growing up. And there’s a rapper on Jay-Z’s label in the early 2000s named Freeway, back when Rockefeller Records was big and all this other stuff. And Freeway is a practicing Muslim. And when Jay-Z’s label fell apart in the early 2000s and he decided more solo stuff, Freeway kind of left, became a little more conservative with his Muslim beliefs and left music altogether. And a lot of people forgot about him and don’t even remember who he is, and now he’s trying to get back into it. But he’s kind of dealing with a struggle because he’s a little more conservative with his beliefs, but he loves hip hop. And a lot of his conservative scholars tell him, according to their interpretation, they think that music is wrong and you shouldn’t do it. So he’s trying to reconcile the whole – what he should do in that sense.

And so Freeway, the guy up there, when we hung out with him, we talked about the struggle that he’s having, and we didn’t want to, like, argue with him or anything like that about it’s – music is permissible according to a lot of people. But we didn’t want to get into that. But I’m just a hip hop head. I was, like, “Freeway, I know this is a burden, but do you mind freestyling for us a little bit before we leave?” And we’re walking past this Indian grocery store, and I don’t know why, we were just like, “Hey, why don’t – wouldn’t be funny if, like, you just went inside this random Indian grocery story and started freestyling?” So we go inside the store and we tell this auntie that’s at the counter, like, “We have a rapper with us. Is it okay if he raps inside the store and we film it?” And they’re, like, “Okay. Sure.” So this is Freeway freestyling inside the Indian grocery store.

(Video clip is shown.)

MR. ALI: All right. I apologize about the profanity.

Anyhow, one thing I didn’t get a chance to talk about is family. Ramadan is a month of not only worshipping but it’s a month of community and people coming together. And the frustrating thing for me is my family lives in Ohio and normally during Ramadan, I go home to visit, but for the past two or three years I’ve always been on the road and never gotten a chance to see them or anything like that. And it got to the point it was just – there was a lot of, like, hectic stuff going on at home, and I decided for the last day of Ramadan this year, instead of ending off the trip in New York, I hopped on a plane, not telling my parents at all. There’s this crisis going on at home that I wanted to go home and surprise them on the last day of Ramadan as a way to kind of just bring in some joy and some excitement. So I told my brother that I was coming, told him – it’s, like, late at night. I told him to unlock the door, and so this is me surprising my mom. Where is it? Here we go.

(Video clip is shown.)

MR. ALI: (Inaudible) their holiday. My mom is saying, like, how did you guys get here?

All right. So that’s essentially our project in a nutshell. Now, where we’re going with this project now, two filmmakers from PBS followed us on the trip this year, and so they’re putting together a documentary not only about this experience that we were on but also my friend Bassam and I’s friendship and kind of our own personal stories going throughout the trip.

And Wired magazine just did a story about our future project and how next year we’re taking people from all over the world. We actually had people doing 30 Mosques in 30 Days in France, the UK, the Netherlands, China, India, San Francisco, Chicago, Washington DC, New York, Toronto. I’m forgetting a couple places but doing it this year, and so we’re going to continue that even more next year, but not only that, truly showcasing on our site and kind of creating a collaborative project. So rather than us having all the fun, we’re going to let other people kind of step out of their own comfort zones and do that, too. And there’s also a book in the works about the trip as well.

So that’s pretty much it. You can like us on Facebook; just do a search for 30 Mosques. It helps my self esteem. And that’s it, so, in a nutshell. (Applause.)

MODERATOR: I’m going to hand you the mike. Please state your name and organization (inaudible).

QUESTION: Just wanted to know why we don’t see any woman other than your mom. I mean, is it – I mean, something is weird. Where are they? They don’t believe? They don’t – they are not Muslim, or don’t you have any woman (inaudible)? Why didn’t you ask them anything?

MR. ALI: That’s a very good question. And that – we actually – the question was, why didn’t you talk about women on this trip? We actually did a lot. Just for the presentation, I just didn’t get a chance to put any in. For example, we met Ibtihaj Muhammad. She is the highest-ranked American female fencer. And she’s, like, number seven in the world. She’s a total bad-ass. And so we hung out with her. We wrote about her story. And she wears the headscarf. And one of the reasons, as a kid, she got into fencing was because she felt it was one of the only sports where she could dress comfortably and modestly. It wasn’t tight-fitting outfits, anything like that. And now she’s one of the best in the world. Born and raised in New Jersey, father’s a cop, and so we wrote about that story. We hung out with her. I actually fought her and got my butt kicked. So just for the sake off the presentation, I didn’t get a chance to put that one in there. But we definitely did talk about women a lot.

But one thing to emphasize: We’re two guys that went on this road trip, and we know without a doubt that I’m sure our experience of visiting these mosques would’ve been very different if there were women involved, everything like that. So we don’t really try to present this project as an academic portrayal of, oh, this is Islam in America or anything like that. We’re two dudes, we went on a road trip, and these are the stories of our experience. And we try to make that very clear distinction of this isn’t really an academic thing. It’s more of, like, a literary narrative storytelling project as opposed to, like, an educational one. So.

QUESTION: Hi. Sherwin Bryce-Pease, South African Broadcasting. It’s curious that you try and separate kind of stories from education because I imagine that stories do educate.

MR. ALI: Right.

QUESTION: So I would imagine, therefore, that you do have a perspective of what – or perhaps the misconceptions of what Islam is in America, what the world perceives Islam to be in America, and what it’s like. I mean, do your stories turn that on its head?

MR. ALI: Yeah, there’s no doubt there’s an educational element to it. And what I meant by stories versus education, I mean, there’s no doubt there’s a lot of great stuff that people have to learn, but I was very careful. Like, we don’t really see ourselves as activists, because I feel like if we’re on this PR campaign, like, yeah, let’s just show the positive side of Islam, show how Muslims are awesome, you might kind of sweep all those negatives under the rug. And there was a lot of problems we encountered along the way. And so we wanted to make sure, are we telling an authentic portrayal of our experience? And if we’re hanging out with these people and they read that story, do they feel like this is truly my story? And if Bassam is writing a story, do I feel that’s really what went down, or – and vice versa, things like that?

So we are more concerned about authentic portrayals. Like, there’s some problems like I talked about with a lot of the non-Muslims, when they first embrace Islam, their cultural interpretation gets forced upon them. Or Islam prohibits gambling and drinking alcohol, and there’s a lot of Muslims that work in liquor stores. And not to say that they’re bad people, but a lot of them come from poor income families and they need a – they don’t have education, so they need to provide for their kids, and so they’re struggling. They need to provide for the kids but everybody judges them and yells at them and anything like that. That doesn’t make it right. And so we wanted to talk about those stories as well.

We talked about all these different issues. We talked about how women are treated in the mosques, things like that, and so we’re more concerned about telling authentic – having an authentic conversation as opposed to, like, a positive or a negative one or anything like that.

QUESTION: If I could just follow up, so – to what you’re saying is is that this notion of rigidity, for example --

MR. ALI: Right.

QUESTION: -- doesn’t necessarily exist in all the communities that you – of Islam that you encountered.

MR. ALI: What do you mean by --

QUESTION: Well, they’re not rigid.

MR. ALI: Right.

QUESTION: They – not every woman, for example, is fully covered up and --

MR. ALI: Exactly. Exactly.

QUESTION: Muslims work in bottle stores --

MR. ALI: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- and some gamble, and --

MR. ALI: Absolutely.

QUESTION: -- we – they’re affected by the societies in which they live.

MR. ALI: Yeah. And like any community, like, one thing we wanted to emphasize is Islam is anything but a homogeneous or a monolithic group of people. There’s people from all different walks of life. Even within, like – I mean, there’s Arabs, South Asians, African Americans, Chinese, Lithuanians, Bosnians, whatever. Even within these communities, they – Bosnians in Idaho are very different than the Bosnians in St. Louis, and their stories are very, very different. The African Americans here in New York are very different than the African Americans somewhere else. And so we really were trying to emphasize that there is this pluralistic community.

But the cool thing about it was no matter where people live, people have ways of making Islam work for them. Like the guys in Islamville, South Carolina, that version of Islam works for them, and that makes them happy. So who am I to say you guys are backwards; what are you guys doing? But for Muslims in New York, something like that is maybe not as tangible. And that was the cool thing about it. People have ways of making their own beliefs work for them. And as long as it makes them happy, all power to them.

QUESTION: Stephane Broussard of Le Temps newspaper in Switzerland. Actually, if you link the dots of your (inaudible) different cases, what’s a greater pressure that comes out of your road trip? And to what extent has your own view on Islam in the U.S. changed after this road trip?

MR. ALI: It was interesting because – let me go back to the map. In 2010, this as the time when the Ground Zero mosque thing was happening in New York, the controversy in Tennessee, and there was all these cases around the country where Muslims were being scrutinized, this whole bills to, like, ban Sharia or Islamic law. And even in Switzerland, there was, I think with the Minaret controversies, things like that, all these things were happening. And so, when this was happening, I had a little bit more of a pessimistic view, because I felt that Muslims really weren’t standing up for their beliefs, and saying this is kind of ridiculous; who are you to criticize what I believe? And just because one handful of crazy people say something, doesn’t mean it’s reflective, and apologizing for stuff that we shouldn’t feel sorry for, that we had nothing to do with, things like that.

So I had a little bit more of a pessimistic view, but this year, I had a very optimistic view. And I just met so many cool communities that were doing really, really cool, interesting things like the one in California I told you about and a couple of these other people, especially young people really taking the reins in the community and saying that they’re frustrated with the way things are and trying to change, and communities trying to find a mosque that works for them in making them happy. So I had a very, very optimistic view. But the big takeaway is the fact that we are not, by any means, a monolithic group of people. When – we did a lot of media requests where people asked us, “So what are Muslims saying about this?” I’m like, “I can tell you what I’m saying about it. I know what my friends are saying. I don’t know if I can tell you what – I think the population, like, 3 or 4 million Muslims in the U.S. – have to say.”

And it’s an interesting time as well because the numbers show that there’s roughly about – the Pew Research Center did a study that said there’s roughly around 3 or 4 million Muslims in the United States right now. And they said by the year 2030, that population is about to double. So to put that in perspective, the population of Jewish people in the U.S. right now, about 6 million, is what the Muslim population is going to equal in about 20 or 30 years. And what I take from that is actually I’m very excited about that in the sense that a lot of Muslims are – tend to be of higher income brackets – doctors, lawyers, engineers, and so – if the population is about to double, from an economic front that’s good news. That means there’s more Muslims that are contributing to the economy and that can lead to good signs. So I find that very optimistic. So with that all in mind, thinking about the growth and how the community is adapting and changing, I’m very excited about the future of the community and us as a country as a whole. So.

QUESTION: How did you organize – yeah, sorry. Yeah. Chiara Basso from Italy. How did you organize this travel? I mean, how is it possible to travel all this – see these in such a short time? And so you spend only, like, a couple of hours in every mosque.

MR. ALI: Yeah. Essentially.

QUESTION: So is it possible to go deep into a community spending only two hours?

MR. ALI: That was the biggest challenge. So, yeah, we were going to 30 states in 30 days. And there’s only so much you can say in a day, and spend time because – keep in mind we’re fasting as well. So we wake up the – we wake up for the first prayer, which is at, like, 5 o’clock or something like that, in the morning. And so we have to eat before that to start the fast, so we wake up at, like, 3:30, 4 o’clock, and then we pray. We might sleep for a little bit. Then we hit the road. So we’re doing – the first year, we did about six to eight hours of driving a day. The next year, we did about eight to ten, some cases ten to twelve hours of driving. So almost a third to a half of our day is just in the car, driving. One person’s driving, the other person’s blogging. We had, like, a mobile broadband card wherever we went.

And so in reality, we’re only spending 5 or 6 hours at the most in every community before we have to hit the road the next day. So that’s why we were very clear with this isn’t the story of Muslims in North Dakota or the story of Muslims in California. This is just one experience that we had that hopefully can give you a glimpse, a little insight into piquing your curiosity of what Muslims like are in this part of town. And so we knew that there’s no way you can cover the State of New York or the State of California, even the State of, like, Rhode Island, in one day. It was just really about our personal experience as opposed to, like, an academic portrayal.

But it was definitely a challenge. We know that we missed a lot of cool stuff, even the second time around. But we tried to do the best of what we have. Really what we tried to do just from traveling, doing standup, and even from the first year of trip – I already had my own contacts with friends and things like that. I may not have known someone, like I may not have known about the Muslim community but I might have had a friend there that I visited before. Like, I didn’t really know much about the Muslims in Minnesota, but I had a very good friend that lived there. He kind of showed us around. Some of it was that. Sometimes people emailed us. I didn’t know anything about Muslims in Oregon, but this guy emailed us and told us about this whole story. And he said, “Hey, stay at my house, too.” Never met this guy, we stayed at his house, had a great time, told us all about the community.

Sometimes it’s just Google. Like, we went to Augusta. I didn’t know anything about Muslims in Maine. I just emailed a bunch of mosques, and the first one that replied – that’s the one we went to. So some of it was prior knowledge, some of it was friends’ knowledge, some of it was Google and people suggesting along the way. But yeah, that was difficult to coordinate 30 different visits, and making sure – because we didn’t stay in hotels. Because, like I said, and a lot of Muslims don’t really go to mosques, so we wanted to stay with families or stay at people’s houses to show what their lives are like outside the mosque. And when you’re in town for less than a day, we try to plant ourselves as much as possible in the community, so we’ve got to pray with them, we’ve got to live with them, we’ve got to go to the jobs with them and really see what that’s like. It was definitely a challenge, and we tried to make the best of what we had. So.


QUESTION: This is just – my name is Masood Haider. I represent Daily Dawn of Pakistan in New York. A friend of mine from Pakistan was here – Javed Jabar (ph) – and he’s written a book on Pakistan and Muslims, so forth. So he was going. So he prayed in California, in Culver City, California.

MR. ALI: Culver City.

QUESTION: And it’s another revelation that I want to share with you guys and other guys. He said that when – after the Eid Namaz – because he prayed with – there in a mosque, Eid Namaz – the cleric – I mean the Muslim cleric got up and gave the Khutba. And in that Khutba, he said, “You know, it’s a very good thing that Muslims come here after – on Eid, to pray. It’s a good thing.” And I have so many questions to ask you. But one question I really want to ask you – that – have you been to Oakland, California?

MR. ALI: We have been. Not for this trip, but I have.

QUESTION: Yeah? No. But he said in Oakland, California, most of the liquor stores are owned by Muslims –

MR. ALI: Yes.

QUESTION: Yes? And one of the liquor stores is called Mohammad Liquor Store.

MR. ALI: Right.

QUESTION: Yeah. And people are shocked.

MR. ALI: Yeah.

QUESTION: So that also speaks of that Muslims are not extremists by any means.

MR. ALI: Right. Even what’s more funnier about Oakland, a lot of the liquor store owners are – come from, like, Yemen, and a couple other, like, poor – like, poor Yemeni people and things like that. And so they were getting so much backlash from the community that they almost formed their own mosque. And so they call that, like, that’s the liquor store mosque, where all the liquor store owners kind of get together to pray. But it’s a very difficult struggle. And it’s funny because it’s very easy to be like, “Ha ha. Look at that hypocrite. Look at the liar, that person,” things like that. But we’re in Vegas – the was this – you know Islam prohibits gambling, and this guy, he was a slots manager of the MGM Grand casino. And he’s a board member of the mosque there, very active in the community. And he told us how miserable he is at work. And I asked him, like, “Do you get any flack for just going to the mosque? Did anybody say anything to you?” And he said, “They don’t say it to my face, but I feel it. Every time I step in the mosque, I get all those dirty looks and things like that.” He started talking about how miserable he is at work. His boss is yelling at him. He’s always telling him to do this and do that and telling him to do this. And day in and day out, he’s just completely miserable. And I was, like, “Well, where do you get peace? Like, spiritually, where do you get that comfort?” And he said, “The only two places in this world I get peace is when I’m with my family and when I’m at the mosque.”

And so I thought about him, like, here this man is, he’s trying to get a little peace and comfort in the mosque, just trying to pray, mind his own business. And people don’t realize they’re kind of getting in the way of that. And they’re kind of giving him backlash – like, let this man be. This is his only time for peace. Let him have that. He knows what he’s doing, in his view, is wrong, and everything like that. And he doesn’t need people to point that out. And the Imam made a very good point there. He said before you point fingers at them, let’s point fingers at ourselves. We as Muslims, we have an obligation to help our brothers and sisters in need, and a lot of these liquor store owners and casino owners feel like this is the only way they can find income. Well, if you have a job, help them find work. Help them. Help them seek an alternative. They don’t want this way of life, but this guy, he was like, “Look, I know this is wrong, but my kids are doctors, lawyers, another one is going to be a scientist. And so I’m going through these hardships so that my kids don’t have to.” And that’s not a narrative that’s exclusive to any group of people in this country. This whole idea of our parents making these sacrifices to make a better life for their kids is not anything exclusive to us.

And when we started talking about these issues and how Muslims are being treated, kind of judging each other, a lot of people in the Jewish and Christian community started emailing and said hey, we have the same problem. We have Jewish people that work in pork factories or sell pork, and they get judged when they come to the synagogue. Or a lot of Christians kind of dealing – Catholics that are against birth control or for birth control and things like that, they get judged, and it kind of created this kind of conversation. People were, like, hey, I didn’t realize that you guys kind of deal with these problems, too. So by talking about these issues openly and honestly, it actually created a more authentic and a more well-rounded dialogue of who Muslims were.

QUESTION: Hi, I’m Takeshi Yamashina and I’m working for Japanese newspapers. Thank you very much for today’s very, very fruitful conversation, and then your remarks. And two things I want to know. Do you think you are the real religious person – Islamic? A priest or not?

MR. ALI: Say that one more time?

QUESTION: Religious. You are not a secular person. You are a real Islamic person, do you think? Religious.

MR ALI: Am I a religious person?


MR. ALI: I don’t really like to look at it in terms like that. Like, I follow the basic tenets. I identify as a Muslim. I’m not anything I’m ashamed of. I don’t really like to get into I’m a religious, or I’m a devout – I feel like that’s for God to decide. And I’m not trying to, like – that’s not a cop-out answer or anything like that, but I just don’t really like to get into that business of, oh, that guy’s religious or that guy’s not, but I identify as a Muslim. I pray five times a day. I fast. And I don’t know, I kind of leave it at that. But there was another question?

QUESTION: Yes, and the other one is that, so, your activity – how do you think about it? I think your activity helps let the American people know, as you’ve mentioned a little, let them know the real figure of the Islam people in the United States. It’s – I think your activity helps the issue to understanding. How do you think about this?

MR. ALI: Yeah, and it’s definitely flattering. A lot of what was happening – even now that this project has happened – we realized that a lot of news networks really don’t have a lot of contacts in the Muslim community, so when a scandal happens or any kind of story happens, they don’t know who to talk to. And so they email us and they’re, like, “Hey, I need a guy in California or a guy in Texas that talks about community service in the Muslim community. Can you give me someone?” And so that’s cool, like, we’re a resource. Sometimes we get interviews like, “Hey, would you like to comment on the bombing in Sri Lanka?” I’m like, “Dude, I don’t even know where that is. Like, why do you want me to comment on that?”

And so you kind of get pigeon-holed from time to time to be the official Muslim spokesperson. I don’t really see myself as that. I’ll talk about this project. I’ll talk about Muslims in America from my own experience, but I don’t really see myself as an Islam expert that likes to debate or anything like that. And we’ve – sometimes, some people try to pigeonhole you like that. But it’s great that people turn to us and we can – we might not be able to talk about it authoritatively, but we can always point people in the right direction. So.

MODERATOR: Any other questions?

MR. ALI: Any question from D.C or –


MR. ALI: Okay. All right.

MODERATOR: Well, great. Thank you so much for your time.

MR. ALI: Thank you. Appreciate it.

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