• Ramadan through camera phones around the world

    To celebrate the end of Ramadan, I made my way to one of the few local coffee shops in my hometown of Sugar Land, Texas. While I was ordering my drink, I couldn't help but notice the front page of the Houston Chronicle, the city's largest newspaper on display.

    It featured a photograph of a dim-lit and somber pre-teen wearing the hijab (the Islamic headscarf) with the headline reading, "After reflection, a celebration."

    It's hard not to be a little offended by the laziness of the photo editor. Perhaps the photographer missed the ritual hugs, the laughter, the jaw-dropping diversity, or the thousands of kids running around the Reliant Center. Any of those might have done a better job in illustrating "celebration."

    But I don't buy it.

    Photo editors have consistently dismissed the richness of the Muslim experience and simplified it three overused visual clichés: burkas, protests, and men praying with their butts in the air. Ironically, the latter was the smaller photo below on that front page.


  • 15 days exploring Muslim America

    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.

    Day 1: Anchorage, Alaska. Mohammad Obeidi came to Alaska on a whim in the 1960's and worked as a cab driver. He would also sell prints of famous paintings on street corners. Soon enough, he made enough money to open a small gallery. Now, Obeidi is one of the leading art collectors in Anchorage.

    Day 2: Seattle, Washington. Ann Holmes was an Episcopalian priest who was ousted from the church when she declared that she was both Muslim and Christian.


  • 30 days through Muslim America, a photo essay

    30 days through Muslim America


    ▲ Day 1, New York City: A congregant hurries his meal as the call to prayer is announced at the Mosque of Islamic Brotherhood.

    Bassam Tariq: During Ramadan last year, Aman Ali and I visited 30 mosques in 30 days around New York City. Regular Boing Boing readers may remember our two-week stint guestblogging here during that experiment. This year, while I was in Pakistan, we decided on a whim to revisit that adventure, but this time, take on the rest of America. We didn't know what we were getting ourselves into.

    Our Ramadan road 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.


    ▲ Day 2, Maine: Two young men take turns reciting verses they have memorized from the Quran. Both were brought from a special Islamic school in Buffalo, NY to lead the special night prayer during the month of Ramadan.


    ▲Day 4, Pennsylvania: A woman meditates near the grave site of Bawa Muhaiyaddeen, a Sufi saint from Sri Lanka who passed away in 1985 in the USA.


    ▲Day 4, Pennsylvania: A row of ladies get ready for the sunset prayers, Maghrib. I later commented to one of the mosque caretakers that I had never prayed with this many white people before. I'm happy I got a chuckle.


    ▲Day 6, Atlanta, Georgia: A young student at the Muhammad School pays close attention to her social studies teacher as she takes notes. The Muhammad School is an organization established in the late 1980s that prides itself in a 100% college transition rate.


    ▲Day 6, Atlanta, Georgia: One of the the Lady Caliphs, the name of the Muhammad School's girl's basketball team, saves the ball from falling out of bounds.


    ▲Day 8, Jacksonville, Florida: A boy jumps off the slide. Soon enough, the other kids follow suit.


    ▲Day 11, Houston, Texas: At the Nigerian Mosque, three girls compete to see who can put on their hijab (head scarf) the fastest.


    ▲ Day 14, Colorado: Shaikh Abu Omar fled Iraq in the 60's and since then has made Colorado his home. He sticks his tongue out in hopes of ruining the photos I was taking. If only he knew how much he helped, instead!


    ▲ Day 15, Abiquiu, New Mexico: Benyamin (left) and AbdurRauf stand by the door of the prayer hall of Dar Al Islam. Dar al Islam is a large educational facility built in a traditional North African Nubian architecture style.


    ▲Day 16, Phoenix, Arizona: The loneliest girl to ever sit on a swing, attempts to swing.


    ▲Day 17, Santa Ana, California: Two Cambodian Muslim youth play basketball in the field outside of the Indo-Chinese Muslim Refugee Center. Muslim Cambodians live in homes arranged around the compound. Many of them fled from the brutal Khmer Rogue regime in the early 1980s.


    ▲Day 20, Boise Idaho: Fahruddin is 21 years old, and is the visiting Imam from Bosnia. He stands outside of the mosque during soccer practice.


    ▲Day 18, Las Vegas, Nevada: A boy attempts to jump an elevated chain in the parking lot of the Islamic Society of Nevada.


    ▲Day 22, Ross, North Dakota: The first mosque in the United States used to stand here. It was built in 1929, then demolished in the 1970s due to family issues. Only recently, in 2005, did some of the family decide to a build a small building to commemorate community members who have passed away.


    ▲Day 23, Minneapolis, Minnesota: Eid Ali, a cab driver in Minneapolis, checks his light fixture to see if it is working. The Somali refugee community in Minneapolis is large: by some estimates, more than 20,000.


    ▲Day 25, Cedar Rapids, Iowa: Aziza Igram, a first-generation Syrian immigrant to the United States, shows a picture of the Mother Mosque, formerly known as the "Moslem Temple." The Mother Mosque is considered the longest standing mosque in all of North America.


    ▲Day 30, Canton, Michigan: Our last stop before New York leads us to the largest population of Muslims in North America, Dearborn, Michigan. We also end up visiting neighboring cities densely populated with Muslims. Here, an uncle who is a local community leader lands an epic hit—making him the champion for the day.

  • The Edhi Ambulance: first responders in Pakistan (photo essay)

    niqab_115.jpg 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. (more…)

  • The Other Secret Identity of Superheroes

    No wonder Congress was fighting so hard to pass the Mutant Registration Act. I found this on my friend's Facebook. An imam who looks ambiguously Asian leads a cast of superheroes in salaah, the Islamic prayer, at what seems to be a mosque. I asked my friend if he knew who made this, and he had no idea. This painting(?) is incredible. Whoever made it, get at me, now.

    EDIT: I realized that not everyone knows Muslim's start their prayer in this stance. Edited the second sentence for clarification.


  • Shah Jo Raag fakirs on Coke Studios (video: traditional Pakistani music)

    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… (more…)

  • An Intimate Moment on the Beach

    beach_boys.jpg There is homosexuality in Pakistan, like there is in Iran and the rest of the world. It's just this moment isn't one of them. And though these two men are holding each other in a way that made me raise an eyebrow, they probably didn't think twice when posing. But what do you all think? Is it possible that two heterosexual men in the States could hold each other like this and no one would question their sexual orientation? Is there even a social threshold for "acceptable" hetero same-sex intimacy?

    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?

  • Aziz and her dignity (a Boing Boing guest-dispatch from Pakistan)

    Since it's pride week, I thought I'd share a small story about the disenfranchised transgendered community here in Karachi.

    portraithi.jpg Ashi stands by the door of the shared house where she lives with Aziz and Nighat. (Photo: Bassam Tariq.)

    Last week, my uncle took me to meet one of his old neighborhood's infamous icons, Aziz Mamoo. She lives in a small one bedroom shack located in the heart of a very disturbed ghetto. Aziz Mamoo is transgendered or, as they're known in South Asia, a hijrah. At the age of 11, she was kicked out of her house by her brothers and found refuge with the local hijrah guru, Hajji Iqbal. Iqbal took her in and taught the young Aziz how to sing and dance. Every town in Karachi has a designated guru who is in charge of the hijrahs in their area. The guru becomes both the mother and father to their communities hijrahs. The local guru feeds them, provides them shelter, and teaches them how to pray and live a modest life. When there is a birth of a child that is considered intersex, some families leave the infant at the guru's doorstep. After the death of Hajji Iqbal, Aziz Mamoo became the local guru of her neighborhood. Countless babies have been left at her doorstep and though she has very little to offer, she never turns them away.

    The two kids that live with her now are Ashi and Nighat. Many more lived with her before, but she kicked them out after they started doing, as she calls it, "number two work." 'Number two work' is a euphemism for prostitution and it's become a common job for many hijrahs in Karachi. (more…)

  • A Farewell and Edhi

    Bassam Tariq is a Boing Boing guestblogger who is the co-author of 30 Mosques. A blog celebrating the NYC mosques during the Islamic month of Ramadan. He lives in Harlem, NY.


    Dear boingers,

    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

  • The Domestic Crusaders

    Bassam Tariq is a Boing Boing guestblogger who is the co-author of 30 Mosques. A blog celebrating the NYC mosques during the Islamic month of Ramadan. He lives in Harlem, NY.

    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.


  • A brief chat with Nick Zammuto from The Books

    Bassam Tariq is a Boing Boing guestblogger who is the co-author of 30 Mosques. A blog celebrating the NYC mosques during the Islamic month of Ramadan. He lives in Harlem, NY.


    For those who aren't familiar with The Books, check out my post from Friday where I shared some clips from their music.

    I was lucky enough to have a quick phone chat with Nick Zammuto, one-half of The Books. The other half, Paul de Jong, was at the doctor's office at the time. Paul, as Nick puts it, is the "consummate collector" of the samples the band uses. In fact, all the archaic audio and video footage The Books have been collecting are archived and cataloged. "There's a lot of research that goes into what we do," Nick remarks as I try to quickly scribble his words down. At this point, my voice recorder died and my handy notepad dictated the rest of the conversation, albeit selectively.


  • For Your Friday – The Spoon Box by The Books

    Bassam Tariq is a Boing Boing guestblogger who is the co-author of 30 Mosques. A blog celebrating the NYC mosques during the Islamic month of Ramadan. He lives in Harlem, NY.

    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.

  • An Interview with Omar Mullick

    Bassam Tariq is a Boing Boing guestblogger who is the co-author of 30 Mosques. A blog that celebrated the NYC mosques during the Islamic month of Ramadan. He lives in Harlem, NY.


    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….


  • Zeitoun Giveaway Haiku Winners

    Bassam Tariq is a Boing Boing guestblogger who is the co-author of 30 Mosques. A blog that celebrated the NYC mosques during the Islamic month of Ramadan. He lives in Harlem, NY.


    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!


  • Fan Art Month at Monsters Cereal Blog

    Bassam Tariq is a Boing Boing guestblogger who is the co-author of 30 Mosques. A blog that celebrated the NYC mosques during the Islamic month of Ramadan. He lives in Harlem, NY.

    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 choculafan@gmail.com

  • Pakistani Ghazals, Aik Alif

    Bassam Tariq is a Boing Boing guestblogger who is the co-author of 30 Mosques. A blog that celebrated the NYC mosques during the Islamic month of Ramadan. He lives in Harlem, NY.

    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.


  • American woman marries auto-rickshaw driver

    Bassam Tariq is a Boing Boing guestblogger who is the co-author of 30 Mosques. A blog celebrating the NYC mosques during the Islamic month of Ramadan. He lives in Harlem, NY.

    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?

  • UPDATED: Zeitoun Book Giveaway Haiku Contest

    Bassam Tariq is a Boing Boing guestblogger who is the co-author of 30 Mosques. A blog that celebrated the NYC mosques during the Islamic month of Ramadan. He lives in Harlem, NY.

    Competition is now closed. We have about 380 entries to look through. Thank you everyone, will announce winners tomorrow.

    UPDATE: We just got word from the Eggers camp that they will be providing us signed copies of Zeitoun! Not sure how many we'll be given for the giveaway, but will tell you all as soon as we know. Also, there's a new deadline – tomorrow, Thursday at 7 AM PST. We'll announce winners this Friday! It'll be hard to top zombie haikus, but let's try!

    We've disabled comments here so write your Haiku in the original posting – Zeitoun Book Giveaway Haiku Contest

  • The Pakistan Blogistan

    Bassam Tariq is a Boing Boing guestblogger who is the co-author of 30 Mosques. A blog that celebrated the NYC mosques during the Islamic month of Ramadan. He lives in Harlem, NY.

    Pakistan's longest motorcycle, courtesy of All Things Pakistan

    I was in high school when 9/11 happened and the next day I was crowned Ambassador Muslim.  From World History to Geometry class I was defending Islam and 1.5 billion of its followers. Thinking that most of the problems with Muslim were cultural, I divorced myself from all dealings with South Asian culture. At the time, it was an easy cop out to say "Oh its the culture, not the religion." It was only in college did I realize that my Muslim and Pakistani Identity weren't mutually exclusive and they both made the other stronger and more vibrant. When I came to this realization, I knew I had a lot of years of cultural education to make up. And what better place to learn about my peeps than the Pakistani blogosphere? I am highlighting two of my favorite Pakistani blogs.

    All Things Pakistan – I am culturally illiterate when it comes to Pakistan. All Things Pakistan seems to be on a mission to educate folks like me and share a part of their Pakistani experience. Most of the people that check this site are expats of Pakistan. Here's a link to where they talk about the Pakistani Eid experience – Eid Adventures in Pakistan

    CHUP! Changing Up Pakistan is a great blog ran by Kalsoom Lakhani. While All Things Pakistan deals more with the Pakistani experience, CHUP! gives more of an analysis on hard news. Here is a great article on the sideline discussions officials of Pakistan and India had on during the UN General Assembly Meetings. Her coverage on the Swat crisis is phenomenal, or as we say in Pakistan – A 1!