Tuesday, July 21, 2009

It was cold and drizzling as we walked along the busy streets of the city. We had about four more hours to spend in the city before the bus came to take us back to the hotel. Across the road were stalls selling halal food such as rice, burgers, lebanese bread and even pretzels. We stopped to take a rest at one of the vacant bench near a bank.The rain was getting heavier. As we sat watching the pedestrian hurriedly seek for shelter, we noticed a lebanese food stall just across the road. I decided to buy some rice for my family.This was not a scene in one of the streets in the Arab countries or any muslim countries. This was a scene of one of the streets in the New York City. Amazingly, buying halal and zabihah food here seemed as easy as in Malaysia and halal stalls seems to be at almost every block around that area. When I was in the New York city, muslims seems to be everywhere. I had earlier expected to see many jews here but Alhamdulillah from my recent visit to the US recently in May, 2009 I had met many muslims not only in the city but also in other states. Right from the day I stepped onto the US soil at the Newark airport, my family and I encountered a muslim immigration officer named Ibrahim.We had at first thought he was a Chicano(mexican American) but we found out that he was a muslim when he gave salam to us.
When we were strolling down one of the streets in New York, we decided to enter a souvenir shop.Upon entering the shop we heard Quranic readings inside the shop. Then the owner greeted us with a salam. Yes, he was a muslim.
We had met many more muslims when we went for Friday prayers at the mosque which was walking distance from the New York Central Park. Here the women joined the Friday Prayers and listened to the Khutbah together with the men.The mosque, a four storey shop house had an elevator and a separate floor for the women. We met black, white and Asian muslims here but didn't have the chance two talk to them because the khutbah had already started. The next day we headed towards Buffalo, a town in the New York State about 6 hours drive from the New York City. Buffalo is famous not because there were many buffaloes here (which I doubt anyone can find one) but mainly because of the famous Niagara Falls. Niagara Falls series of enormous falls that is located at the border of the US and Canada.The view of the falls was MasyaAllah captivatingly awesome.After visiting the famous Niagara falls we stopped by the At Taqwa mosque. Located in a housing estate, the At Taqwa mosque was a double storey bungalow that has a private parking space with a separate entrance for the men and the women. My husband met a man from the tabligh group who were supposed to have a ceramah that night and upon knowing that we were going to travel far (Michigan) after that, he gave us a bag of fruits. There were other larger mosques in the Buffalo area but since we were in a hurry, we had to choose the nearest mosque which was the At Taqwa mosque. Ann Arbor was our next destination since my daughter was studying there.An Arbor was about five hours drive from Niagara Falls. We reached Ann Arbor past midnight and stayed at my daugther's apartment. Ann Arbor was a university town, whereby the university was located within the town itself. We saw many muslims there and there were several muslim restaurants and a halal food shop there.The Ann Arbor Islamic Center was a single storey building with an Islamic School inside. We met a teenager studying there but didn't have a chance to talk to her because she still had classes at that time.
One of the biggest mosque in the USA is the Deaborn Mosque in Michigan. I knew about the Deaborn mosque from the TV3 programme Assalam USA a few years ago hosted by Norzie Pak Wanchik.Located about two hours drive from Ann Arbor, it had a very unique architecture from the middle East with doors of intricate carvings. Once we entered the mosque you'll notice the inside was richly decorated with chandeliers and walls that were painted and carved with words Allah, Muhammad and several verses of the Quran.Even the of the dome was nicely decorated. There were several halls here that can be rented daily for kenduris or talks. We met several mosque officials but they seemed to be quite busy to entertain us. Beside the mosque was an Islamic Elementary school by the Muslim Youth Academy. The school was quite large but since it was past 5pm we didn't see any student there. We then headed to the muslim area around Deaborn and saw an Islamic Institute there. The Riverside Academy caters for middle and high school students and also those who had finished high school We met an Arab American named Fawaz whom we thought was an instructor there. We asked him for information regarding the muslims there and about the institute. We didn't expect to get so much information from him since he seemed to be in a hurry. Alhamdulillah he cheerfully gave us a lenghty information about the muslims in Deaborne. (He, himself was born there)He encouraged us to get more information from the Arab Museum and ACCESS . Unfortunately both places were already closed at that time. ( It was already past six pm at that time) He told us about a high school in Dearborne that had 90% muslim population and was famous for its football team Everytime there was a match they would solat first before they begin the match. And if the match was held during ramadhan , the match would stop for a while to enable the players break their fast. He also recommended us to go to one of the biggest Muslim Bakery, Yasmeen Bakery. Before he went off, he managed to give us a booklet. Ah yes! He was actually a real estate agent! We went around the Deaborn area to search for another mosque but ended up in a large muslim housing area. It was heartening to see muslim women sitting at their at their verandah chatting away with their friends and watching their kids playing at their small porch. A scene that we rarely see in a non muslim country. We then went to Yasmeen Bakery about 10 minutes drive from the area,as recommended by the real estate agent . Once we entered the bakery, we were amazed by the varieties of food sold. They have ready made meals(mostly arabic dishes), cakes and amazingly shapes and sizes of bread. There were even bread that were the size of pillows. We bought bread and a small birthday cake for Syahidah, my youngest daughter whose birthday fell on that very day, 4th of may. Then we headed home as we feared that the icing on the cake might melt.
The next day we went to Maumee Bay, a beach located by the Lake of Erie. Lake Erie is one of the three great lakes in the US. The breeze was really cold at the beach. We had lunch at the beach that we had prepared earlier . There were a lot of sea gulls around the area.Lake Erie was really large that we could hardly see the horizon when we were at the beach.After that we stopped by the Islamic Center of the Greater Toledo for solat jamak zohor and asar. The building was actually a mosque and an Islamic school. Built in 1980, this mosque was actuallly one of the first mosque in the US that has the Islamic structure. The prayer hall was large and located on the second floor of the building. The Islamic center area was large and we were told that they were going to build a separate building for the school.
Vanderbilt, Tennessee was our next destination after Ann Arbor. It took us about 11 hours drive to reach Vanderbilt . We had to stop for solat jamak zuhr asr at Masjid AlFajr,Indianapolis. Indiananpolis is a town in Indiana. Masjid Al Fajr was a single storey mosque that had a separate building for its Islamic school. It was not that big but comfortable enough since it has separate rooms for solat and toilets for men and women.We saw a few black muslims going out of the mosque when we arrived. We then proceeded to search for a muslim restaurant to buy some dinner. Fortunately we found an Indian muslim resaturant and bought some briyani rice(take away). We had our dinner at one of the rest area on the way to Vanderbilt. It was really cold and breezy to have our dinner there.My daughter's commencement was the next day after we arrived at Vanderbilt.There were many muslims here and there was also an Islamic center and several halal food shops. We were invited for tea at my daughter's Indonesian muslim friend's house, Dela together with the other graduates' parents.It was nice of her to invite us. I heard that she was going to move to Canada soon.
Two days after the commencement, we flew off to San Francisco, California.Upon reaching the airport, we went to the car rental agency to rent a car. We had earlier book a car for rent. To go to the rental agency we easily rode the sky train available at the airport. Unexpectedly the officer was a Kurdish muslim. He was delighted when he saw our family that he gave us an upgraded car.
Syukur Alhamdulillah we got a bigger car at the same price. The next day we went around Pier 39,around the San Francisco Bay. Pier 39 was one of a tourist attraction at the bay. While we were resting at the pier we met two Malaysian women on business trip. They were there only for the day but they were delighted when they saw us. Just as we were walking towards the Lombard street, that is the crookedest street in the world we were greeted with a salam from someone at the back. As we turned around we saw a black man asking us whether we were Malaysians. Delighted , we chatted with him for while. We forgot to ask him how did he knew we were Malaysians. It was nice to know that now Americans know that not all muslims are from the middle East countries. The person who greeted us works at a security office in that area. We didn't have a chance to talk much to him as he was in a hurry to go to work.
Our next destination was Stanford University. Located in Palo Alto, Stanford University was an established outstanding university in the USA. My husband attended that university in the 1980s. Its building were named after famous people such as Bill gates, Hewlett Packard and so on. Palo Alto was as area adjacent to the famous Silicon valley.
After that we headed to Sacramento about two hours drive from Stanford. We stopped by a fruit stall by the roadside to buy some fresh cherries and apricots. A white muslim woman greeted me with a salam.We didn't manage to chat with her as she was busy sorting the fruits.Alhamdulillah, we met an American Muslim. We had to spend the night at Sacramento as it was getting late. The next day we went to Lake Tahoe, a scenic lake in the mountains. There were still snow up the mountains even though it with a was already early summer. The view was breathtaking. We spent only an hour there as it was getting late.We had to stop by the Sacramento mosque for zuhur asr prayers before heading to Stockton. The Sacramento mosque was one of the oldest mosque in California. Managed by the Pakistani, it was equipped with a hall on the first floor and an Islamic school beside it. While we were performing the solat, we heard voices of children behind the curtain. Oh..actually they were having evening Islamic classes there.
When we reached Stockton, a town about one hour drive from Sacramento, we dropped by the Islamic center of Stockton. Here we saw lots of black muslim teenagers playing and browsing while waiting for Maghrib. We spent the night in Stockton and went cherry picking the next day. The orchad was about an hours drive from Stockton. It was a very exciting experience for my family. None of them had picked cherries before except me. The cherries were placed in pails before being weighed.Yummy...nice juice fresh cherries.
Fresno was our next destination after Stockton. Located in the central California,it was a town famous for its mediteranean fruits. Both my husband and I studied here in the 1980's. Fresno was like a kampung to us and there used to be more than 200 Malaysian studying here.We stopped over at the Fresno mosque before checking into the motel nearby.The Fresno mosque used to be a single storey apartment building. Now it is a double storey building complete with separate prayer halls for both men and women. We met an Arab girl who went to the mosque with her father.She told us she only knew one Malaysian family there. The next day we were invited by Amin Attia to his house. Amin Attia is of Arab Egypt descendent who works with Harris Ranch, a meat supplier company. He was in charge of the Halal meat production in that company. We met him at the MIHAS in Kuala Lumpur last year.He told us that the halal meat was easily available at Safeway and other supermarkets.Unfortunately we were unable to go to the ranch because he just got back from there. Since his wife was busy at that time he treated us for lunch at the Lebanese restaurant nearby.
On our way to LA, we stopped over at Bakersfield to buy some fruits. We saw a 99cents shop adjacent to a supermarket and decided to stop by and see if there was anything interesting that we could buy. As we entered the shop, we heard a salam. Yes, the owner is a muslim.(Yamanese, I think) My husband chatted with him for a while. It was already maghrib and the owner had to close his shop to perform solat. Alhamdulillah we met another muslim in California. We reached LA at midnight. It was Friday the next day. We had planned to go to Disneyland because my youngest daughter had been pleading us to go there. Before going into the park, we went to the Anaheim Islamic Center to join the Friday prayers.(Disneyland is in Anaheim) The mosque was already packed when we reached there as the Khutbah had already started. Anaheim Islamic Center was a large double storey building. We had our wuduk and quickly went upstairs to the ladies section. As the khutbah was in Arabic, those who do not understand Arabic were given headphones to listen the translated khutbah in English. Many of the ladies there were middle aged Arab women. I had a nice encounter with an Indonesian lady who invited us for a ladies gathering over the weekend. She thought we were residing there. And I had a pleasant suprise when I ask for her name. Salwa.. yes that's her name and suprisingly the same as mine. We stayed two nights in LA. We only had the chance to drop by the LA Islamic center at about 5.30pm on the last day. As it was after office hours, we did not see many people inside.We then rushed to buy the Briyani rice from the halal restaurant located across the road from the Islamic Center. We had to return our rented car by 6.30pm. Back at the motel , we relished our last dinner in LA together. About 11pm, both my husband and I and my youngest daughter bade our two daughters goodbye as we entered the cab that will take us to the airport. We had another pleasant encounter. The driver was Alhamdulillah, a Somalian muslim.
Overall, my trip to the US was Alhamdulillah,really enlightening and exciting to be able to see and meet many American muslims. Back in the 1980's when I first arrive in the US to further my studies, Americans as a whole have little knowledge about muslims. The Iranian revolution had just happened at that time and they were furious when they saw anyone wearing tudung. When I went to the US in 2005, i.e. post 9/11 tragedy, I noticed people distanced away from us(I went together with my family).In my recent trip to US in may 2009, I discovered that muslims in the US had done a great job in making Americans understand and accept islam as one of a great, peaceful religion. From the discussions that we had with a few American Muslims and from the TV program Assalam USA, I would like to commend all the effort done by the American muslims. When we went shopping, we were treated like anybody else. Nobody stared at us or distanced themselves away from us. In fact, I heard that the number of muslims are growing each year.I think the muslims there are successful in their dakwah.Indeed it was really easy to travel in the US nowadays and able to perform our solat as mosques are conveniently located in most towns. Food is also not a problem anymore as there are many muslim restaurants available throughout the US. InsyaAllah, I will travel around the US again and visit other places to see and meet other muslims if time and money permits.

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