Aman Ali and I have been on the road for the past 15 days exploring Muslim America. We started our trip in Alaska, somehow ended up in Hawaii and are now on our way to Mississippi. Our challenge is to visit a different mosque in a different State everyday during the Islamic month of Ramadan and then blog about it on our site by the end of the day. We are fasting on the trip and will be driving close to 13,000 miles. Here are some of the people we have encountered the past 15 days.
Our Ramadan road trip trip this year drew much interest from big media, thanks to the "Ground Zero Mosque controversy" and Terry Jones' Quran-burning fiasco. It was unsettling to sit through interview after interview, fielding questions about mosque construction and the state of the American Muslim community. Every TV interview eventually veered into "Islam on trial" territory, and we were the ones defending it. Aman and I became Ambassador Muslim. It sucked.
Ramadan ended, the news cycle moved on, and we were lost to the archives. We're good for clicks, but only when we're controversial. And as far as that part goes, I am happy it's all over. But I'll miss every other part of our 30-day adventure. It's been two weeks since we've been back and already I miss the road, the people we met, and the America I experienced.
The following photos come from our month-long road trip through Muslim America. I've selected a special assortment of images for Boing Boing, and am honored to share these photos with you.Read the rest
Two women wearing niqab pass through a broken street. 115 is the number to call an Edhi ambulance. The number is imprinted over all Edhi paraphernalia.
I wanted to share some notes on what we (Omar Mullick and I) have been doing in Karachi. Abdul Sattar Edhi, the main subject of our film, is primarily known for his ambulance service in Pakistan. He started out with a small blue van in the 1950's called the "Poor Man's Van" and went around Karachi transporting the dead and sick to their fated destinations. Little did he—or anyone in Pakistan—know that he was the first and only ambulance in the entire country. To this day, Edhi is at the forefront of providing first response care to Pakistanis while the local city and provincial governments lag far behind.
The ambulance service is the largest and most well known program the Edhi Foundation provides. There are about 30 check posts around Karachi that have at least three ambulances for dispatching around their designated area.
It's important to note that these ambulance drivers aren't paramedics. They are only required to have a driver's license and be able to read and write in Urdu. Many of them don't know CPR and are taken only through a very basic training before becoming a driver. The main job of an Edhi ambulance driver is to transport patient X from point A to point B. The lack of qualifications is a little frightening since there of road side accidents and shooting casualties an ambulance picks up in a day. Read the rest
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EDIT: I realized that not everyone knows Muslim's start their prayer in this stance. Edited the second sentence for clarification.
On Sundays, most Pakistanis will turn away from their usual Indian TV consumption and catch Coke Studios on one of the many Pakistani channels that have syndicated it. I blogged about the show last year.
I wanted to share a new song that was in the second episode of the new season. The song is called Moomal Rano. I'm not familiar with the Sindhi poets and singers, so here's the description from the Coke Studios website:
Shah Jo Raag fakirs from Bhit Shah take centre stage with 'Moomal Rano', a sur from Shah Jo Raag Risalo. As they sing and chant 'Moomal Rano', the fakirs also mark a monumental first of collaborating their unique five-stringed dhamboora with western instruments.The singers are natives to Bhit Shah, an area in the Sindh province that is known for the great poet Abdul Latif Bhithai. The men singing the sur are known as fakirs. The term fakir means many things. In colloquial Urdu, it can be used as a derogatory term for a street beggar. In the best sense, a fakir is someone who dedicated his/her time for the worship of God and lives a fairly ascetic life. From what I'm told, you can catch the fakirs performing at the tomb of Abdul Latif Bhitai.
The sur and translation follow... Read the rest
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This photo was given to me by one of the subjects of our documentary. He wanted me to scan some photos he took while he was at the beach with his friends. He didn't think much into this photo, which makes me wonder, why does my mind go there and his doesn't?
Ashi stands by the door of the shared house where she lives with Aziz and Nighat.Read the rest
These past two weeks have been nothing short of amazing. Thanks for letting me share my stories and experiences with all of you. I will be contacting those who won the haiku competition via private message to coordinate the giveaway. I would like to stay in touch with everyone, so please feel free to follow me on Twitter or even add me on Facebook if that's not weird.
Next up for me? I will be leaving to Pakistan shortly to start filming a documentary on Abdul-Sattar Edhi. For those who do not know his work, here's a decent article on his work. In the 1950's he bought an old blue van and began transporting the sick and dead to their fated destinations. This small van called The Poor Man's Van was the first ambulance in the history of Pakistan. Though Edhi single-handedly created one of the most successful health and welfare network in Asia, he never lost his simplicity. He owns only two tunics to his name, sleeps on the floor of his foundations office in Karachi, and eats only a piece of stale bread every morning.
I met Edhi in August when he was on his yearly visit to New York. He shared with us the plight of the Internally Displaced People in Pakistan and said he never saw a situation so bleak before in his life. Edhi has been with Pakistan since its inception and has seen many leaders and governments come and go. There is not very much written about him in English, but you can find a translated copy of his autobiography at Desi-store.com. I remember asking him if he could sign a copy of his autobiography for me. Edhi doesn't speak or write much English, but he took his pen and wrote in English, "love human beings." As I read aloud what he wrote on the flap he looked to me, smiled, and said in Urdu, "it's really that simple."
Thanks again everyone.
(Picture of me taken by Omar Mullick.)
Edhi Foundation Website
Above, is a video piece Musa Syeed and I produced for TIME.com a couple of months back on Domestic Crusaders.
The Domestic Crusaders is a two-act play in its last week at the Nuyorican Poet's Café in New York City. I strongly recommend anyone in New York City that has a chance to see the play to catch it. Though it's not perfect, I can't think of a better glimpse into the Pakistani Muslim American life. I caught the play opening night on September 11th and enjoyed every minute of it. Every character in the play falls into a certain Muslim archetype, from the mildly racist yet caring mother to the head-wrap wearing over zealous daughter. And all these archetypes are awfully close to reality. Without a doubt, I am Ghaffur, the slightly naïve, college-aged Muslim poster boy.
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For your Friday, here is a nice video of a spoon box making music. How does the spoon box you work you ask? Well, since it's made by The Books, we'll let them answer it:
This will take a little bit of explaining. I built this prototype of the Spoonbox out of wood, plexiglass, zinc plates, measuring spoons, and closeout radioshack parts. It hooks up to a CD player and small amplifier which cause the spoons to dance. There are small speakers behind the spoons that move in response to the sounds on the CD which I carefully composed using low frequency sine waves and kitchen sounds. The speakers, in turn, blow small puffs of air into the spoons which cause them to bounce/vibrate in rhythmic patterns. It really must be seen to be understood, but this video might give you some sense of what it does.I just got off the phone with Nick Zammuto, 1/2 of The Books, and will be sharing with you our discussion this weekend. The Books are one of the most important bands of this decade and come this weekend, I will try my best to convince you why.
Until then, here are two tracks from their LPs. Tokyo and That Right Aint Shit both can be found on The Lemon of Pink, released in 2003. Happy Listening and Happy Friday.
Many of you may remember my post on Can't Take It With You, a landmark photo exhibit showcasing Muslims in America that's opening next week in New York. Omar Mullick, the photographer of the exhibit, invited me to the gallery space yesterday and we had a little chat.
Bassam: How are you feeling?
Omar: A little tired, a little happy. We've been working around the clock.
Bassam: So, first things first, where did the title for the show come from?
Omar: It's the opening lines of a Radiohead song called Reckoner. It had a pretty strong impact on me when I heard it. I realized that I was as capable of going to Radiohead or The Brian Jonestown Massacre as I was Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan for the same notes of transcendence....
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The McSweeney folks were going to give us five signed copies, but then Dave Eggers himself loved this Haiku idea so much he's giving us another five. So, we're giving out a total of ten signed copies of Zeitoun. How great is that?
We had a blast reading all the entries. We went through them three times to make sure none of the 380 entries were missed. A big thank you to Lisa Katayama who also chimed in at the last minute and helped select some of the winning entries.
It was really hard choosing ten, so in no particular order here are the winners!
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The good folks at the Monster's Cereal blog are having Fan Art Month counting down the days to Halloween. I'm going to submit a Tin Tin inspired Count Chocula.
Monster's Cereal Blog - Fan Art Month - or email submissions to email@example.com
Ghazals are traditional Sufi poems that contemplate life, the meaning of our existence and the countenance of God. Some renowned writers of such poetry are Jalal-uddin Rumi, Bulleh Shah, Mirza Ghaleb, etc.
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It was just another hot day in Jaipur when Harish, an autorickshaw driver, sees Whitney, a University of Chicago student, in the distance and was awestruck. He asks her out for a cup of tea and she says no. He asks again, and she says no again. But Harish's persistence pays off, by the fourth time she comes around and they both grab a cup of tea. He shows her around Jaipur and, at the end of the day, he proposes to her. She accepts.
I'll admit, there is a part of me thinking, "typical colonized South Asian men always chasing after white women. I give it two months." And to that part of my brain I say shut it,let them bask in their happiness. What do you guys think?