Wall Street to the Basilica

After waking up later than expected, we drove to Asheville and spent time inside the Islamic Center of Asheville. Although no one was present, we were able to pray as a group, interact with the whole group present, and decide where our next destination was to be. The Nomads of North Carolina were able to enter the Masjid since the Sister’s door was open, and even with no one present I felt comfortable being there. This might be partly due to Islam unifying and creating trust amongst all the brothers and sisters in the world, where one is always welcome into another’s Masjid. It is a good feeling though – it made me feel part of something larger and greater.

We then headed to downtown Asheville and there was lots of activity happening there. As soon as we had parked our cars there were protestors on the sidewalks shouting “We are the 99 percent,” which was part of the Occupy Wall Street movement. I then remembered the statistic where the top 20% own 85% of the overall wealth in the United States. With such discrepancy in the wealth, how can these people not be mad? Maybe this group consisted of some people out of the 3 million who have lost their homes to banks, those who are unemployed and are living budget to budget, and maybe even those who are close to feeling they have nothing left to live for. Just a few months ago I watched a story on ABC about a family where the parents had lost their jobs and their homes. They started living in their van, mostly keeping it in the Walmart parking lot. The kids would use the store bathroom every morning for school and they felt awkward since other people always stared at them. These are the stories that anger me to know families are suffering whereas high key people – many of which are involved in Wall Street – make more than a comfortable living and are controlling the nation’s wealth. Thus seeing this protest reminded me of all the unique stories these people must have, and although I might never hear them, it makes me glad to know they still believe change can happen in their lives for the better.

After lunch we made our way to the Basilica of St. Lawrence. There was a wedding reception happening outside, and we were hesitating whether to enter the building or not. But then a lady came outside and after greeting us, she gave us an interesting history of the building. It was designed by Rafael Guastavino, a prominent architect who was involved in projects such as Carnegie Hall and City Hall Station. This church was modeled based on the one he attended as a youth. Eventually we entered the magnificent building, with people walking around and others sitting as well. With light passing through the stained glass windows, it was as if they were full of life. The lady who gave us the history was walking around and showing us the spectacles of the Basilica, from Guastavino’s crypt to the largest free standing elliptical dome in the United States. I appreciated how passionate the lady was when it came to talking about the Basilica, from its largest features to its minutest ones. She found meaning in taking care of the church, as if it was another home to her. The two Masjids the Nomads have traveled to thus far have also felt like a home away from home to me, especially since great feelings of hospitality and warmth have emanated from the doors of these Masjids. Seeing the lady take care of the church as fellow Muslims take care of their Masjid reminded me again the universality of religion, where religion provides comfort and guidance for people if one can take care of it and cherish it. Although we Nomads didn’t hear as many life stories as we did yesterday in Winston Salem, it was a great day where we explored the city and learned more about ourselves along the way.