It is uncommon for a distinguished business executive to put his professional career on hold to embark on a spiritual mission across all 50 states of America - but that is precisely the path Jameel A. Syed is currently pursuing. Accompanied by his loyal campaign manager, Yahya Sultan, Syed hopes to make history as the first man to give the adhaan (call to prayer) in 50 mosques across all 50 states.
Syed explained his aim as being two-fold: "I want to make both the adhaan along with the words of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) go viral, and help Muslim communities author their own narratives so others can see how we contribute to impact society in a positive way." In addition to fulfilling his personal dream, Syed hopes to share the stories of Muslim American communities throughout the U.S. via various social media platforms to peacefully combat Islamophobia and the misrepresentation of Muslims.
A native of Michigan, Syed shares a profound connection both to his country and to his faith as a Muslim American - which is one of the main driving factors behind launching his Muaddhin campaign. Although he has over 20 years of professional leadership experience working with various companies and is the founder of his marketing firm, Fluidvisions, Syed now wants to be known as "the voice heard around the world." Not only does he want to be heard giving the call to prayer, but he also wants to be listened to as he delivers the last sermon of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him); accomplishing his dream full-circle. He shares that a significant source of inspiration is the essence of the Quran that encourages service to humanity. Syed states, "I want to serve God by serving humanity. Let me go and engage communities and let me help them tell their stories to others - especially when Muslims don't always have that ability to reach a broad audience."
Syed identifies the significance of the final sermon as the culmination of 23 years of prophethood in which the universal social principles of justice, equality, and unity are emphasized; therefore, he could not surrender the opportunity to call listeners back to this historical speech. Prior to the launch of his campaign, Syed explains how he searched for the most meaningful way to honor his personal link to Muhammad (PBUH) because it was in visiting his mosque in Medina which led him to formulating his vision: "Back in January of 2004 during Hajj, I was in the Prophet's mosque, and I was in front of his grave and that's where I had the idea that I would serve God through the gift that he's given me."
While he has served as a well renowned muaddhin (one appointed to give the call for prayer) for a large part of his life, his dream to reach 50 mosques in 50 states materialized a few years ago in 2004. Syed recalls how he was inspired to pursue his idea when he was seated in Prophet Muhammad's (peace be upon him) mosque in the city of Medina. Syed stated that he was on the spiritual journey of Hajj and it was there he was inspired to make the highlight of his legacy to share the gift of the adhaan with as many people as he could reach.
"I realized that I've had my marketing firm for ten years and I've been able to work with some of the top leadership in the United States. But I just turned 40 a few months ago and as I took a look and account of what's been done, while I've taken the benefit from the companies I've served, and when I look back at the 10 years, I ask if I've done everything I could have done and I find myself in a deficit." In an effort to fill that deficit, Syed made the commitment to embark across all 50 states and use his gift to connect with the people he meets along the way.
Although his mission is comprised of fundamental Islamic components (the call to prayer and the last sermon), Syed hopes that his journey will be followed by non-Muslims and Muslims alike. Ultimately, Syed wants others to understand that Islam truly is a religion of peace and unity; a fact he wants to emphasize by documenting the Muslim communities he encounters along the way. His personal goal is to serve God by serving humanity through making this effort to help Islam gain attention in a positive and meaningful way; his personal formula to dispel untruths about Islam and it's millions of followers.
With a growing social media following, it is evident that he and his campaign manager have been successful in presenting snippets of diverse Muslim American communities through photos and videos posted on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. His unique campaign serves to invite others to learn and see a more accurate manifestation of the faith that their neighbors, coworkers, students, or friends practice. As a Muslim American, Syed is all too familiar with the climate of Islamophobia and hostility towards Muslims. He feels the misrepresentation of Islam as a religion that promotes violence serves as a reminder as to why the Muslim community needs to be creative in reaching the masses with an accurate representation of Islam.
Additionally he believes that every individual has something substantial to contribute, and that can be as simple as being kind to strangers or stopping to have a conversation with someone. He states, "I'm a muaddhin; I haven't memorized the entirety of the Quran, I'm not a scholar. I'm not an individual involved with the extensive imparting of knowledge. But if you want to gain the favor of God, you have to get creative"; essentially meaning that a person's contribution to the social fabric is not measured by overall perfection, but using one's individual talent and perfecting one's craft.
Syed shares that he wants to set a precedent as the first muaddhin to undertake this journey across America and hopes to inspire individuals along the way to use whatever talent a person may have to help foster a deeper understanding of all people. Traveling across the country to new and unfamiliar places is no easy task and Syed admits there have been challenges along the way in terms of overall logistics as well as grappling with the fact that not everyone welcomes his mission with open arms. However, that slight rejection only motivates him further to complete his journey because he explains that he finds solace in remembering the trials encountered by Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) are well documented and "nothing worth having, comes easy". Moreover, regardless of the struggles he has encountered thus far, Syed is determined to push through and finish what he set out to accomplish.
With 25 states completed since April 3rd, Syed's journey is close to being complete. He aspires to be a role model for all those who believe in serving humanity and embracing acceptance of marginalized communities. His mission to reach 50 mosques in 50 states is more than just a physical journey; it is one of unifying and connecting communities to one another in an effort to break free from hatred and discrimination of all kinds. His aim is to honor the responsibility that is attached to his title as a muaddhin: "The tradition is that when the muaddhin makes the call to prayer, everything that his voice touches, as far as his voice goes - alive and not alive, animate and inanimate, will testify for him on the day of Judgment and serve as an inteccsor. I will literally March across the entire country and make the entire country my witness."
Hira Uddin is a graduate of Rutgers University and currently reside in Houston, Texas where she works as a Qualified Mental Health Professional for youth with mental health diagnoses and severe emotional disturbances. She has also written articles for Bravura Magazine, Muslimgirl.net, The Happy Hijabi, and Ummid.com. Follow her onTwitter.
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I previously thought there was nothing more terrifying than a seasoned Islamophobe preaching hatred from a platform like Fox News. The network is notorious for fabricating untruths and propagating misinformation about Islam and Muslims in order to create fear in the minds of Americans. The fact that Fox abuses the word “news” to disguise bigotry as factual information is frightening for anyone who does not come from a similar background as the puppets, excuse me, "anchors" on the show.
Essentially, Fox associating itself with news (fact based current events) is like the kid who associated him/herself with you on group projects without contributing at all – and when they leech off the benefits from your hard work, it’s an insult to your intelligence. While the advancement of Fox's discriminatory agenda is concerning, I've learned what's more threatening for the Muslim community is an individual who claims she's from the inside; thereby using her personal experience to authenticate and further advance the hateful rhetoric towards Islam.
Ayaan Hirsi Ali's mission is a twisted fantasy come true for individuals dedicated to the vilification of Islam. The simple fact that she uses her Muslim surname shows a level of deception in how she exploits her assumed Muslim identity to further demonize Islam to advance her career. It's dangerous when American personalities like Bill O'Reilly and Pamela Geller profess their irrational disapproval of Muslim Americans, but it's toxic when an individual like Ali asserts she's personally witnessed the negativity present within Islam under the pretense of having been Muslim.
What could be more self-serving for the Islamophobic agenda than a previous Muslim who proclaims that Islam is in fact a religion to be feared? Essentially, Ali's message to Americans is: "Take it from someone who not only knows many Muslims, but knows what it's like to be one. Save yourself the trouble of getting to know your Muslim neighbors; I can tell you why you should fear them and their faith." Ali's mission is dually threatening because not only does she cite her questionable accounts as a Somali born Muslim, but her misinterpreted activism is supported by prominent personalities and academic institutions to bolster her anti-Islamic message.
Under the guise of academic prowess, Ali fabricates certain statistics and declares that Muslims are responsible for a majority of violence and related deaths - without properly accounting for historical research or accurate citations. A recent article by Max Blumenthal exposing Ali further details why both her personal experience and academic work need to be critically questioned by those who consume her work. He reveals how Ali has a history of fraud in reporting her experience as a Muslim living in Somalia and that her literary works specialize in blaming Islam as a logical culprit for violence, without considering any historically relevant context. She's authored books with titles like The Caged Virgin, Infidel: My Life, and her latest release entitled Heretic, all from which she builds her credibility as a victim of Islam by propagating the false notion that the faith is oppressive and Western ideals liberated her. She employs fear to portray Muslims as a community deserving to be ostracized and watched closely under justified surveillance.
While she declares her disgust for the Islamic faith, she largely owes much of her success to her once Muslim identity. Without the assumption that Ali was trapped within the confines of Islam, her experience would not be as persuasive to the many Americans who are misinformed about Islam, and therefore more likely to accept her opinions towards Muslims. After all, is an individual on the operating table more likely to put his/her trust in a surgeon, or a plumber? The obvious choice is to put one's trust in the surgeon because of the knowledge and expertise that individual should possess as compared to an unrelated profession. Similarly, Americans are more inclined to believe the opinions of Ali and regard them as facts without question because she presents herself as an individual with knowledge and expertise about Islam. Thankfully, many Americans do think for themselves and know enough Muslim Americans to understand that Ali's message is a farce. However, for those who tune into Fox "News" for their daily dose of information, these individuals are far more susceptible to Ali's deception.
That is why it is important to raise red flags about Ali's publications because her credibility is based on the principle that she was able to shed her Muslim identity and break free of a "submissive" lifestyle. If Ali truly wanted to dissociate herself from the throes of such an oppressive identity, why doesn't she take on the surname of her spouse, Naill Ferguson? It seems like a simple gesture, but 'Ayaan Ferguson' sounds less Islamic than 'Ayaan Hirsi Ali', a much more Islamically charged surname; however, she exploits her name to incite more fear in the hearts of Americans by keeping "Ali" as the name that warns against the faith it is associated with. In effect, just one of the subtle ways she is using Islam to bash itself. Ali's writings and mission serve once purpose: to convince the world that Muslims are single-handedly to blame for radical violence and all acts of terrorism. Despite the fact that most mass shootings are committed by non-Muslim, white American males, her hateful message is one welcomed by mainstream media because it continues to bully Islam those who practice the faith in peace.
Tragically, the institutions which endorse her work such as Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government and the American Enterprise Institute do not hold her accountable for providing false statistics or the lies she alleges against an entire community of people. Ayaan Hirsi Ali remains a darling embraced by far-right affiliations, but increased awareness from independent media sources about her deception is spreading and exposing her lies. Her mission is similar to that of other opponents of Islam and the Muslim community who have made it their mission to degrade Islam as a way of life for millions. The best rejection of Ali's assertions that all those who follow Islam are violent is for Muslim Americans to continue on a peaceful path by contributing positively to society in any way possible. Most notably, by extending friendships towards fellow Americans so they can deduce for themselves that claims such as Ali's are based in hateful nonsense.
Hira Uddin is a graduate of Rutgers University and currently reside in Houston, Texas where she works as a Qualified Mental Health Professional for youth with mental health diagnoses and severe emotional disturbances. She has also written articles for Bravura Magazine, Muslimgirl.net, The Happy Hijabi, and Ummid.com. Follow her on Twitter.
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Just recently, I overheard two of my co-workers discussing how “those people” are horrid and hell-bent on committing violent acts of crime. The subject of their conversation involved a news story about ISIS and the people they were referring to were all those practicing Islam. Unbeknownst to them, there was one of “those people”, a Muslim, working and sharing space alongside of them: me. They were blissfully unaware that I practice Islam and identify as a Muslim because in their words, I seemed “too sweet” and had “very good moral character”. In other words, I was a peaceful working professional who did not fit into their grossly defined stereotype of a violent terrorist.
Unable to contain my emotions, I began to cry when one of them approached to ask what the matter was. She asked if I had just been dumped, completely unaware that the comparison she drew between ISIS and all Muslims affected me more deeply than if I was a love-sick teen dumped by all five members of One Direction. As I explained that I overheard her conversation, my co-worker stated, “Oh no, we weren’t talking about your culture…” a statement which further fueled my sadness because she was trying to justify her ignorance by removing some sort of burden of misunderstanding off of me. Essentially meaning to say that I should be relieved because she was not bad-mouthing me despite knowing I was ethnically different, but she instead hated another group of people and assumed I would share her sentiment.
However, when I stated, “I am Muslim” she was stunned – not because she felt remorse for appropriating violent acts of crime to me and my family, but because I didn’t look like the villain she had been taught to hate. I could tell she was wondering how a person seeming peaceful, professional, and educated could simultaneously identify as a Muslim. It’s as if my identity was an oxymoron because I could not appear kind and hardworking while also being a Muslim. It would be much easier to blame her ignorance on my ironic identity. Using my coworker’s logic, the fact that I practice Islam should negate any good qualities I exude because Islam is equated with violence and hatred and I was the complete antithesis of what she believed a Muslim is. When I instead stated that any good quality she has observed in me is a direct result of my faith, it was as if I was explaining a complex cosmic theory that she could not comprehend.
My other co-worker’s reaction disappointed me further as she stated, “I have a lot of Muslim friends, so it’s nothing against them; but we were talking about how we don’t like Islam.” That’s similar to a bigot saying, “I have many black friends; but my hatred is directed towards colored people”; one cannot extract the former from the latter – it’s a package deal. Imagine her astonishment when I explained using the analogy that Muslims are to Islam as Christians are to Christianity. In that moment, not only did I feel saddened with my coworker’s misunderstanding of Muslims and Islam, but also I was seriously appalled with the social constructs that perpetuated this lack of knowledge. She was baffled and realized there was no way to explain herself off the carousel of ignorance she had been a passenger on for so many years. Unfortunately, I had to accept the reality that she is not the only culprit.
In light of the recent murder of three innocent Muslim victims, I believe reflecting on this story is imperative because I have had to prove to my co-workers and fellow Americans that my community and my identity as a Muslim American is valid and deserving of basic human respect. Even with regards to raising awareness about this brutal hate crime in the media, Muslims have been coming together as a collective to demand that American citizens (Muslims or otherwise) condemn this act of violence. Time and again, we as Muslims must transform ourselves into 4thgrade history teachers and explain that the essence of Islam means “peace” and that the teachings we follow emphasize compassion, love, and respect for all created beings. Other times, we are expected to transform our existence into an apology and take the burden of accountability for heinous acts that have no basis in Islam upon ourselves.
Tragically, the man who executed this vain hate crime against three valuable citizens, allowed his hatred to consume him. The lives of Deah Barakat, Yusor Mohammad, and Razan Mohammad Abhu Salha exemplify not only what I as a Muslim aspire to be, but what I as a human being aspire to be. It is all the more disappointing when individuals like my coworkers are unaware that Muslims can be such loving, kind-hearted people who volunteer and give back to their communities. We must do better as a collective to condemn this hate crime and all other hate crimes committed against anyone for any reason.
Prior to this tragic event and since it's occurrence, there have been eruptions of hatred against a Muslim Islamic Center, namely the Quba Islamic Institute of Houston which was the result of arson, an Islamic School in Rhode Island was the target of defamation and hate speech, and a young Somali brother, Abdisamad Sheikh-Hussein, was intentionally struck by an SUV from a driver who knew he was Muslim two months prior. These repeated incidents depict a vicious cycle of hatred that needs to be halted by Muslims and non-Muslims alike. There should be no argument in favor stating otherwise because we as a nation cannot afford to reward hate.
Hira Uddin is a graduate of Rutgers University and currently reside in Houston, Texas where she works as a Qualified Mental Health Professional for youth with mental health diagnoses and severe emotional disturbances. She has also written articles for Bravura Magazine, Muslimgirl.net, The Happy Hijabi, and Ummid.com.
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