Dr. Malika Haque is one of the most inspirational people I’ve ever met.

Her family is best friends with mine and she always believed in everything I’ve ever done growing up.  When I was in high school and wanted to become a reporter, my parents were supportive but somewhat reserved about how stable the career could be. Growing up in Columbus, there really were no Muslims at the time that had gone into the field, so I was essentially taking a huge risk in their eyes.

My parents no longer live here, so breaking my last fast of this remarkable journey made sense to spend it with one of the aunties in this community that literally helped raise me.  During dinner, Malika Aunty reminded me of the speech she gave during my high school graduation party in 2003 that I completely forgot about. It was the speech that helped comfort my parents who were worried about my career choice.

“Do you remember what I said during that speech?” she asked. “I said, ‘You’re going to grow up to be a great journalist and one day I’m going to see you on CNN.’”

She was right.

I’m not bringing this story up to pat myself on the back (yuck!). I am simply the reflection of people like her and her husband Azeez that pioneered the Muslim community here in Columbus. I grew up attending the Islamic Center in downtown Columbus and I laughed hysterically when Azeez Uncle told me  the story that I didn’t know about how the mosque was established.

In the 1970s, there was no mosque in Columbus at the time and a group of Muslim families had their eye on a downtown property that cost $55,000. The Muslim families were able to raise about $30,000 and were worried they’d have to take out a loan for the remaining $25,000. Islam forbids Muslims from paying interest and everyone was afraid they’d have to if they took a loan out.

But then, a Kuwaiti student got word of the dilemma and came to a planning meeting for the mosque …. with a briefcase filled with $25,000 in cash.

“That’s one thing the Arab students were good for,” Azeez Uncle said with a chuckle.

That mosque is old but still active. These days though, the shining light of the Muslim community is now the Noor Islamic Cultural Center, the new colossal mosque that the Haque family also helped pioneer.  It seems to be the only place in town that can contain the Muslim population that seems to be growing exponentially.

I haven’t seen Malika Aunty in quite some time and wanted to catch up with what she’s been up to. I was completely unaware of a remarkable new endeavor she help spearheaded called The Noor Community Clinic. The clinic is staffed entirely by Muslims and gears its services to anyone uninsured – regardless of religious affiliation. She doesn’t do any of this work for praise, but I’m glad someone like her is getting recognition for something like this.

I’m fascinated by this much needed endeavor she’s taken on but our conversation is pleasantly cut short by the arrival of her daughter Masu and her husband Badr. The couple live in Houston with their two children and Malika Aunty hurried to the door to greet her adorable grandkids. It’s the night before Eid and the family excitement is already reverberating around the house to celebrate the end of another amazing Ramadan. Malika Aunty’s face begins to glow as she sits her granddaughter Rayya down and decorates her hands with henna and outfits her in some fancy clothes.

I want to stay longer, but Bassam and I have to hit the road for our own Eid plans in the morning in Detroit. Before I get into the car, I think about all the places we’ve gone on this 13,000 + mile journey. Then I look at Malika Aunty’s magnetizing smile and remember one of the reasons why I was able to take this trip to begin with.