RELIGION

A Tour Of The United States, One Mosque At A Time

04/08/2015 09:13 am ET | Updated Apr 08, 2015

A filmmaker and a stand-up comic get in a car with the "half-baked" idea to visit 30 mosques in 30 days.

It sounds like the beginning of a farce. But the men, Bassam Tariq and Aman Ali, are Muslim Americans, and their 30 days of travel spanned the month of Ramadan, a time when Muslims fast, pray and give to charity. Their efforts resulted in the visually stunning "30 Mosques" photography project, which showcases the many faces of Islam in the United States.

(Scroll down to see photos from the "30 Mosques" project.)

"The mission was to tell interesting and compelling stories about Muslims in America," Ali, the 29-year-old stand-up comic, told The Huffington Post. "There is no monolithic story of our community."

There are at least 2,106 mosques in the United States, according to a 2011 report by University of Kentucky researcher Ihsan Bagby and sponsored in part by the Hartford Institute for Religion Research. When Ali and Tariq first got the idea for the project in 2009, they researched mosques in New York and found that there were 153 within a 10-mile radius of their address.

The following year they took the project on the road, visiting 30 mosques in 30 different states during Ramadan. In 2011, they did it all over again, covering the 20 states they hadn't gotten to the year before.

Ali, with his brother Zeshwan, has since embarked on a new creative project to share the stories of Muslim Americans -- a series of short documentaries on the YouTube channel "Homegrown Homies." In many ways, said Ali, "30 Mosques" raised new questions and insights for him about the complex history of his community, and he's still exploring them.

"This was an eye-opening experience," said Ali, who was born and raised in Ohio and comes from an Indian family. "I thought that the narrative of Muslims in America was Arab and Indian... But we found communities like North Dakota where the Muslim community been there since the 1700s, communities founded by Muslim slaves."

What Ali and Tariq stumbled upon was the well-documented but little-known history of Muslims in the United States, a history that dates back at least to the 17th century. They were getting to see firsthand what President Barack Obama spoke about in February, during his closing remarks at the Summit on Countering Violent Extremism: "Islam has been woven into the fabric of our country since its founding."

But Ali's projects are less about countering or responding to extremism, he said, and more about sharing a more complete narrative of what it means to be Muslim -- a narrative that many people, including some young Muslim Americans, might not know about.

"We’re a kick-ass community," he said, "and we want to showcase this."

Scroll down to see photos from the "30 Mosques" project.

  • 30 Mosques
    The Mohammed Schools in Atlanta.
  • 30 Mosques
    The Mohammed Schools in Atlanta.
  • 30 Mosques
    The Mohammed Schools in Atlanta.
  • 30 Mosques
    The Mohammed Schools in Atlanta.
  • 30 Mosques
    Jamia Masjid in downtown Las Vegas.
  • 30 Mosques
    The Sheik Sandwiches, Jacksonville, Florida.
  • 30 Mosques
    Masjid Ash-Shaheed in Charlotte, North Carolina.
  • 30 Mosques
    AbdulRahman Zeitoun and his wife in New Orleans.
  • 30 Mosques
    "Not only should we be learning how to maintain our Shi'a identity, but we should be doing so while living in harmony with the other members of the Muslim community here," said Imam Sulayman.
  • 30 Mosques
    Dar al Islam in Abiquiu, New Mexico.
  • 30 Mosques
    Ross, North Dakota.
  • 30 Mosques
    First mosque that was ever built in the United States. Ross, North Dakota.
  • 30 Mosques
    A cemetary in Ross, North Dakota. Some of the stones indicate that the Muslims buried here were veterans who served this country in armed conflicts like the Korean War.
  • 30 Mosques
    Kids running outside the Islamic Center of Northeast Florida.
  • 30 Mosques
    Dr. Malika Haque and her granddaughter.
  • 30 Mosques
    The Mother Mosque in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
  • 30 Mosques
    People playing dominoes at the International Corner, Minneapolis.
  • 30 Mosques
    At Dar Al Hijrah, Minneapolis, elders sit around reciting Quran together.
  • 30 Mosques
    At Dar Al Hijrah, Minneapolis, elders sit around reciting Quran together.
  • 30 Mosques
    The Park51 Islamic center, New York City.
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