New Places, Interesting Faces

Every town we visit is different: the culture, the unity of the Muslim community, and most importantly, the people. Only after exploring each town did we discover those differences. Fayetteville was different.
Our first stop in the city was a mosque in a quietly dangerous part of town. Most places around were either houses or small shops with caged windows. We brushed these judgments aside, however, and found Masjid Omar Ibn Said, named after African-born Muslim slave and scholar Omar Ibn Said. The mosque looked nice on the exterior but it was closed, even though we were there at prayer time. A local tire shop owner told us he only sees people there on Fridays at noon. Disappointed, we drove a few feet down the road to discover another mosque, Al-Furqan. This was a small house with caged doors and windows. The name of the mosque was painted green on the sides of the building, along with a few decorated bricks and the name of Allah. The mosque looked like it was occasionally used and the neighbor (and landowner) confirmed this for us.
Disappointed with the lack of activity in two of the three mosques we found in the area, we decided to explore the city. We ventured through a street of closed shops (Columbus Day) until we bought a few books from a furniture shop. Nearby was also a library, where half of us researched Omar Ibn Said and the other half talked to a homeless Muslim named Kareem. Hearing his story (Outcast) made us even more disappointed with the Muslim community in the area. He did, however, refer us to an owner, Muslim and Arab, of a convenience and tobacco store. I found this stereotypical job amusing because of the number of Arabs I know that own gas station or small shops. Tarik did not have much to say. He was born in Yemen and moved early to the US. Asked about the Muslim community in Fayetteville, he said the mosques are divided and they fight for stupid reasons. Most mosques are also not very active.  Before we left, Tarik commented on the danger of the part of town we were in. He told us not to wander around because “you’re in the real hood man.” It was getting dark, and the comments about the city did not help our day.

Having not visited a mosque in the city, we visited our third, Al-Madinah, twenty minutes away from town. It was hard enough getting there in the dark, but one of the cars was separated by GPS problems and a road fire. Entering the mosque in one piece, I sensed that it was an Arab-majority mosque. My instinct was correct, and I conversed with some of the men and Imam Mahrous in Arabic. After prayer the Imam sat himself at a table in the back of the room with his laptop. Most people made their way out as we tried to uncover the story of the mosque through the Imam. After failed and awkward attempts by Ahmad Jitan and myself to initiate conversation (the Imam was busy on his computer), Wahab started a conversation. Although the Imam used quick one-line responses to begin with, he opened up later. He has only been at the mosque since April 2010, and he was in New York before that. He was born in Egypt, but has traveled to many countries, including 45 states in the US. When prompted about which 5 he did not visit, the Imam told us there were a total of 60 US states, including Israel, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and other countries. I admit, I started finding the situation humorous. Next, the Imam explained his work on the computer as a madrasah (school) of 634 students whom he teaches. Since he looked busy, we asked him to take a picture with us before we left. Mahrous got up, went into his room for five minutes, and came back out with a white garb, cane, and sunglasses. He exclaimed “I am ready.” We took a picture with him in his bedroom, and then we took some individual candids of him in the prayer room. In some of the pictures, the Imam looked away from the camera to enhance the vibe of sophistication. After this fairly long photo session, the Imam invited us to his computer, where he showed us his Facebook user name and told us to send him friend requests. He added that he has a high number of friends, 634. He also showed some jokes that he occasionally posts, amusing himself and us greatly in the process. Eager to leave and get on the road, we thanked the Imam for his generosity and left. Later, I learned that the Imam was on Facebook the entire time he was talking to us. At least he is using the social network site for good reasons.
Reflecting on our experience in the city, I contemplate on the difference in Fayetteville. We found a less than communal Muslim community that faces many problems. This pessimism was not helped by an unusual Imam, who was very interesting but also non-conventional. Overall the city was a good stop for the NNC to experiences unique faces in different places.