I am sitting at a table poking the dessert on my plate. Not sure what it’s called, but it’s probably not good for my already troubled stomach.
“Dude,” Aman whispers to me, “I think that dude right there is Yusuf Qaradawi.” Aman points at a man wearing a white cloth over his head. I don’t know who he is talking about, but nod anyway. Aman goes back to staring and googles the man’s name on his Palm Pre.
We are at a fundraising dinner at the Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center (ISBCC) in Boston and, just like many people who attend fundraisers without any money, I feel a little out of place and, quite frankly, am bored. My mind is focused on taking pictures of something riveting but alas speakers at a podium do not make for interesting photos.
“Look,” Bilal Kaleem, the Executive Director of ISBCC who was emceeing the dinner, says, “we’ve come a long way here. Just four years ago we had a lot of opposition just for building this mosque.”
Doesn’t seem like much has changed since then – case in point.
Bilal continued, “Did you all forget when the Boston Herald ran the two page spread in their paper? One side had a picture of Osama Bin Laden, the other had our planned mosque. The headline read, ‘Al Qaeda has landed in Boston.’ ”
I look around the other tables and there are close to two hundred people here and it’s hard to pinpoint one dominant ethnic group. Around my table are Somalis and Indians. On the adjacent table is an Asian man with a Caucasian wife. The walls are plastered with different youth programs available and the back of the mosque has a pretty slick coffee shop (which is closed during Ramadan). No doubt, the community has come a long way in the four years. Someone even said it’s the second biggest mosque in the states. All this is pretty cool, but none of it helps me figure out what I’m focusing on for our post tonight.
“Maybe we could go back to Mohammad’s place [our host family] and write about him and his wife?” Aman suggests. Clearly, fundraisers do not make for a fascinating posts.
“Well, what if we stay here and talk about the mosque, the troubles the community has faced and parallel that with the fundraiser? So we have a little about their history and then a hopeful story about their future?” I counter.
Aman nods. He goes back to his quest on figuring out if Yusuf Qaradawi is really sitting across from us.
“So how much money do you think we should be raising tonight?” Bilal Kaleem poses to the attendees.
“250,000!” “No, no, we should raise 150,000″ “300,000”
The audience begins to laugh at all the numbers being thrown. I begin to count the number of Ramadans I’ve fasted through in my life – not more than 15. I recount all the fundraisers during Ramadan I’ve attended. Without pakoras and fundraisers, there is no Ramadan.
I look around and start taking pictures. At this point, the volunteers begin passing out tiny pledge forms. A man sitting next to me fills one out. I point my camera at him and snap away.
“Hey!” the man filling out the form says.
“Yes?” I reply
“Don’t take photos of me.”
“No, no sorry. Do you not know you should ask before taking photos?”
“I was going to ask you, but it was rude to speak over the ..”
“..No! You delete the photos right in front of me.”
I turn the LCD of my camera towards him and slowly delete the photos one by one. These were actually pretty good photos.
Frustrated, I bark back, “What’s your problem anyway?”
“What do you mean my problem?”
“I was going to ask you later. They are just photos. What did you think I was going to do with them?”
“No! You don’t take photos without asking for permission.”
We stare each other down. I make sure not to blink. His eyes have to be the first to retreat.
He is a stunning looking Somali man and he filled out the form with such class. It was a decent shot of him folding and about to lick the envelope. But here again, our community flips so quick. It is easier to get snaps of the conservative Pathaans in Karachi than it is to get of the educated Muslims of America. It’s frustrating since there is very little diversity in my photo collection — in this trip especially. I feel like I’ll have to be okay with my ever increasing collection of bearded brown men.
After two speeches on the importance of fundraising, Aman finally finds a photo of Yusuf Qaradawi on his phone. “Dude, that’s him!” He points at the man sitting in front of us and then at the small unflattering photo of him on his phone.
Bilal, the Executive Director of the ISBCC, comes back to the podium. “I have great news…”
Turns out two people gave checks of $10,000 and then a third person pledged 250,000.
In unison, everyone happily screams, “Allahu Akbar! God is great.”
The chairs begin to fold and everyone begins to leave the eating quarters. Aman puts his Palm Pre back in his pocket and asks, “so did you get any decent pictures today?”
I shrug and we head out towards our car.
As we walk towards our car, I see a chubby kid on a bicycle twice his size trying to pop a wheelie by the mosque. The kid is screaming and laughing. I bolt back towards the mosque in hopes of getting some nice shots in hopes of getting a powerful closing blog post shot.
I creep up the stairs of the mosque and start snapping away..
“Whoa whoa!” the kid interrupts me. He stops his bike and stares me down, “don’t you dare take a photo of me!”
Here we go again.
photos by Bassam Tariq