By Craig Considine – One usually doesn’t imagine dirt roads and mosques near each other. Much to our surprise though, this was reality when we visited the Bosnian Islamic Cultural Center in Snellville, Georgia during our stay in Atlanta. After being stuck in traffic for a good hour (and lost for a bit), Dr. Ahmed, Hailey, and our Bosnian friend Damar finally found the road we were looking for. In fact, it isn’t even a real road – it isn’t paved, but was filled with dust, dirt and rubble. The mosque rested a few hundred yards deep in the woods. A driver isn’t even able to see it while driving on the highway because it is hidden behind a thick forest of trees.
We had a really great day last Thursday in St. Louis. Starting at breakfast hosted by the lovely Ms. Susan Zuckerman, our journey was blessed by a Rabbi
. This isn’t an interfaith project and we are on a mission to listen, not to convince anyone of anything, but a blessing by a Rabbi was a great way to start the trip.
Following breakfast, Dr. Ahmed, Frankie and Hailey went to a lunch and got some great information. Hopefully, one of them will be blogging about that later. After that, me, Madeeha, Craig and Frankie went to a meeting at Mayor Slay’s office where we met with the Mayor and had a discussion on American identity.
Hailey, Madeeha and I then ventured out into the night viiting Webster University and finally after an exhausting day headed to a dessert organized by Parsa Bastani from ISPU and hosted at the Bastani family’s home. The Bastani family was great. They gathered about 15 people to discuss some of the issues that we are researching. This was an Iranian focus group and one with strong opinions. Some were new to the US and some had been in St. Louis for a long time. This was by far the most open and honest discussion that I was involved in during our stay in St. Louis.
We discussed several very sensitive subjects, from Israel, to President Ahmedinejad, to American arrogance–”you have the World News Tonight with only what is happening in America, you have the World Series and you only play with each other”, we were told by one man. He had a point on that one.
We may post some of the video from the discussion. Some of it was very critical of American culture and I’d love to hear some reaction to it. I know some will say “If you don’t like it, get out.” We’ve heard this already a number of times. I’ll save my opinion for later.
At the end of the evening, when we asked one man with some of the strongest criticisms what he admired most about America, he said “that we can have conversations like this”. Indeed.
As in Journey into Islam we are having many conversations like this very often and as researchers we have to remain impartial when you disagree and even when you agree. We’re just here to listen.
We arrived in Dearborn, Michigan late Friday night and were all exhausted but excited about a new challenge in a new city.
On Saturday night in Dearborn, I had the chance to talk to Shameal Haque who starred on “30 Days” for an episode. This is the reality show where a person immerses himself in some culture or lifestyle and has to adjust and learn from his or her surroundings. He and his family hosted a Christian man from West Virginia who knew nothing of Islam but the stereotypes. It was a really interesting episode. I would suggest taking a look. Here’s the link.
Here’s my conversation with him.
Also, as you may have noticed, the blog addressed has changed to wwww.journeyintoamerica.wordpress.com Bookmark it.
I have heard hundreds of talks by Akbar Ahmed often on the subject of interfaith dialogue. Often he will push the audience to not only speak to others of different faiths but to become friends with them. Friendship, he says, is the only hope. He is himself a paradigm of this model for peace, but friendship spreads and his talk on Thursday at the home of my best friend in St. Louis embodied that message. From one friend to another and then another, the friendship model can make real transformations in people’s lives as it has in mine with Dr. Ahmed, Laurens’s, and her mother Susan’s. I believe our travels will spread this message and create new friendships that have the real power to transform relations between faiths.
Lauren and I met at American University. We lived on the all-girls floor next door to each other and since have been great friends. Even as undergraduates we learned about each other’s interests and shared in each other’s differences. She took me to her shabbat dinners, the traditional Jewish dinners served on Fridays by the Jewish student group Hillel. When I went to the Muslim world in sophomore yea for the project “Journey into Islam,” Lauren was my biggest supporter. She first met Dr. Ahmed as she hugged me goodbye at the airport, tearfully asking him to bring me back safely. She then became involved more in our team doing our Jewish outreach and working on issues related to the Muslim world. Continue reading
We got off to a great start in our trip in St. Louis, meeting the former governor Bob Holden, current mayor Francis Slay (pictured above) and members of many different ethnic communities. St Louis has a multitude of communities, from the French Catholics who settled the area in the fur trapping days to the Jews who came in the 19th century. There is an increasing Mexican population and Italians live on “the Hill.” Then there is the predominately African-American area of East St. Louis, which exists as almost its own entity. The first question people usually ask one another in St. Louis is “what high school did you go to?” which immediately places one in a certain economic and cultural context. With all the different enclaves, we wanted to know: are people getting along? Are they talking to each other? Is there communication?
One of the most fascinating communities we visited were the Bosnians—Muslims who immigrated to the United States in the mid 1990s during the war. The Bosnians, like the Somalis we spoke to earlier in the week, were fleeing almost unimaginable suffering in their country and sought escape and solace in a new land. St. Louis has between 50,000 and 70,000 Bosnians, a substantial population. The Bosnians moved into old neighborhoods and opened businesses. They are widely credited by many in St. Louis with vastly improving areas of the city.