Day 10 – Louisiana, Spending time with family in New Orleans (Pt. 1)

By Aman Ali | 71 Comments »

There are millions of people in New Orleans that can tell you stories about how they’re struggling to rebuild after Hurricane Katrina.

But a different kind of story here hits close to home for me because it’s about my brother Salman. He’s a resident physician and moved to New Orleans for a job shortly after Katrina in midst of going through a severed marriage.  As he was getting adjusted to his career in this city, he started his new life here alone.

“Sometimes it felt like a hurricane was going through my own life,” he said.

The details of what happened to him, frankly, are irrelevant. Because when relationship issues take their toll, there are no winners and losers. But living here among other people struggling to rebuild in this city helped my brother put the pieces back together in his own life.

“I remember working at the hospital and hearing stories about people swimming home after the flooding to find their children dead,” he said. “It puts everything in perspective for me.  I know my child is safe.”

My four brothers and I are very close, but we’re also fiercely independent and prefer to cope with problems on our own.   I can’t even imagine what these three years living here in New Orleans alone have been like for him and the journey he’s gone through to be at peace with the life he lives now.

When his situation first happened, I remember him telling me he’d sometimes come to tears when he’d see a father smile and embrace a child patient inside the hospital. But my brother isn’t the kind of person that will let that intense pain bring him down.

“I could have packed up shop and moved back home to Mom and Dad and cried about it,” he said. “But the people that truly love me, my friends and family, don’t want me to quit. The people that love me want me to be the best doctor I can be.”

He said coming home to an empty apartment is a feeling he’s never gotten used to, but training to be a doctor helps him cope.

“We’re taught in medicine to treat our patients as if they are family members,” he said. “So taking care of other patients at the hospital has been therapeutic for me.   It’s love by proxy.”

My parents were in town to visit my brother too so spending time with all three of them was probably the first time I’ve felt fully relaxed on this trip. Together, we broke our fast at Masjid Abu Bakr. It was one of the only mosques in the New Orleans area that wasn’t hit hard by Hurricane Katrina.

Before the storm, the Muslim community here was very segmented. Like many communities across the country, the Arabs would frequent one particular mosque, the South Asians would frequent another, etc. etc. etc. But after the storm, Masjid Abu Bakr became a rallying place to bring people together, because frankly it was one of the only places where people could worship.

My brother has lived in multiple cities across the U.S. and said what makes New Orleans Muslims special is their resilience.

“There’s a welcoming spirit here that people don’t complain,” he said. “If there’s a problem, people say ‘We got through Katrina, we can get through this.’ That’s always the trump card.”

He added just being in the presence of these welcoming Muslims helped him cope with his own problems.

“I don’t really like talking about this stuff, but it was a comforting thing knowing I could with people here,” he said.

I love teasing my brother about how big of a medical dork he his. He carries hand sanitizer wherever he goes and keeps Lysol in just about every room of his place. But I’ve always looked up to him for his undying love for helping others.  It’s that relentless drive that defines him, not the problems that he’s encountered in his lifetime. But one thing is for certain, no matter how tough life will get for him, he’ll always have his family to help him weather the storm.

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  1. August 22nd, 2010 | Najem Al Hasan says:

    You write so eloquently. I am addicted to this site!

  2. August 22nd, 2010 | Dilawar Ali Khan says:

    Mr Aman once again this story is all about an indiual ,and no information about masjid Abu- Bakar or its history, please go back and shed some light on masjid Abu-Baker and its surroundings.Please nothing against you or your family but once again you are away from the topic.God Bless you

  3. August 22nd, 2010 | Najem Al Hasan says:

    Br Dilawar – this whole trip is about two individuals – it is not a fact finding mission – nor did they ever say it was. It is a journey both physical and philosophical, both brothers have been kind enough to share with us their thoughts and experiences.

    Some mosques do not have an interesting history – I for one would be bored silly if all this blog contained was factual info about who, what, where, when and how – its much more interesting for us as the readers to feel what the two brothers are feeling.

    If you wish to find out more factual information about the places Aman and Bassam are visiting, there is always the mighty Chaudhry Google Singh…

    I really like how Aman’s brother Salman has put his own life experience to the benefit of others. May Allah SWT bless you all.

  4. August 22nd, 2010 | Noaman Ali says:

    I am one of Aman’s older brothers and I can say that this post has been the closest for obvious reasons. My brothers and I are spread out throughout the country and are all at various stages in our education and professional careers. Its hard to get a few of us together, let alone all of us. Just seeing the picture of my brothers and parents instantly brought an overwhelming feeling of love and longing to be with my family.
    Reading this post makes me believe what Aman ans Basam’s journey is truly discovering – family. Wherever you two go, every city has a family. with the exception of one city (*cough..Mobile..) its seems like you two are discovering and sharing with everyone an aspect of Islam that often is not portrayed in the media. Family life is central in Islam, and it is wonderful to see you to discovering it across the US. I pray for your safety and cant wait to see you in the D. Also, I can’t wait to have everyone of your readers get to see me beat up on Aman. Drive safe and Basam – I truly apologize for you having to put up with Aman’s horrible singing.

  5. August 22nd, 2010 | Amena Khan says:

    I am now looking at mosques from a different perspective alltogether. Mosques are mere reflections of the local communities. Like language. Inuits use 8 different words to describe variations of ice. The language itself reflects the culture. Mosque culture, similarly, reflects the culture of the local communities. That’s a neat realization.

  6. August 22nd, 2010 | Nakodari says:

    Brilliantly written!

    As for the comments, I agree with Najem Al Hasan that not every mosque has a good history worth writing about. Also keep in mind that it is a journey of two friends, it is NOT a Wikipedia of traveling.

  7. August 22nd, 2010 | Ilyaas says:

    i am reading this from Mombasa, kenya. Masha Allah..

  8. August 22nd, 2010 | Nice says:

    So he moved to New Orleans after Katrina for a job..and the people of New Orleans have been so welcoming to him… did he volunteer or help out the citizens of this great city or did he get his paycheck and was content?

    It just seemed like he was using new orleans for his own purposes, rather than giving back to the city – say with a commitment to living there and helping the city rebuild.

    I do appreciate the role of family life in Islam, and I feel it’s portrayed well here.

  9. August 22nd, 2010 | David Garcia says:

    All praise is for God. You guys are doing a good job. Have a blessed Ramadan.

  10. August 22nd, 2010 | Minyong says:

    I think your blog has been a good mix of mosque scenes and other human gatherings, keeping in mind that there are also converts whose religious lives do not center on family but on community. It’s nice to see both. That’s totally an American Muslim experience.

  11. August 22nd, 2010 | Barbara says:

    I was touched reading this. Thank you.

  12. August 22nd, 2010 | Aziz says:


  13. August 22nd, 2010 | Sarah says:

    MashAllah :)

  14. August 22nd, 2010 | David says:

    I am thoroughly enjoying your journey. I have read through all your past stops,{I just heard about you the other day on WMNF in Tampa), and now will follow your daily posts. What a great project you have undertaken. This is a chance to really increase our knowledge of the muslim community.
    I hope a lot of people are following your blog.

  15. August 22nd, 2010 | Michael Gatto says:

    >>there is always the mighty Chaudhry Google Singh


  16. August 22nd, 2010 | Michael Gatto says:

    @Nice: There is a hadith from Muhammad which says that one of the marks of a believer is that he/she does not concern themselves with things that are not their business. And, your comment was not very “nice”, pun intended.

  17. August 22nd, 2010 | M. Landers says:

    Yours is really one of my favorite blogs to appear in a long, long time. Thank you so much for sharing your trip. :)

  18. August 22nd, 2010 | Aman Ali says:

    Glad to hear you’re enjoying it :)

  19. August 22nd, 2010 | Aman and Bassam says:

    Dilawar Mamoo, everyday we are visiting communities and mosques. The people that we highlight give a better idea of what the community is like and how the people are living there. If we were just to do the history of the mosque and the food menu, we could have just posted the website link of the mosque we are visiting because that has all that information.

    We are doing this road trip to find stories that are unique to where we are in order to get a greater understanding of the state.

    Hope this helps!

  20. August 22nd, 2010 | Mohammad says:

    You know what–you’re totally right. Because during and the months after Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans totally didn’t need any doctors. Their medical care was very top notch. Those things you heard in the news were all lies–New Orleans didn’t need any medical supplies or donations, or volunteers.

    Who are you or anyone else to judge what the intention is of someone? Let me tell you something about medicine in America: doctor’s profits don’t rise if they go to a more disaster-stricken area.

  21. August 22nd, 2010 | Mohammad says:

    Or one could visit and find the fine delicacies of the locals :-)

  22. August 22nd, 2010 | Fatima Rauf says:

    Like you, I am also addicted to this site. It is wonderful and I thank both brothers for sharing.

  23. August 22nd, 2010 | Lisa says:

    Asalaamu Alaikum, I continue to follow your blog and I think that it speaks to a specific need in the community. I have been a practicing Muslim for about 4 years, Alhamdulliah. My family is not aware of it, even though I have relatives who are Muslim, so I appreciate hearing your thoughts on your brother. Also the replies from other Muslims around the world are nice to read as I search for connections to the Muslim community.

  24. August 23rd, 2010 | OSUfan says:

    Assalam alaikum! Aman & Bassam, Jazakallah for your efforts on this blog. The casual reader may not understand the sacrifice, planning, and professionalism you two embody for this unprecedented project. Just imagine the post-times of these late-nite/early morning daily entries vs. the number of hours driving between each day’s city alone. You two dreamers also chose a 30-state itinerary that spans coast-to-coast, not just your home Eastern seaboard that logic would advise.

    At a time where the building of a particular new mosque in NYC is such a polarizing issue in this country, you two are stretching your wings and wallets to highlight the real American Muslim experience. Try and imagine the complexities of asking your employers, landlords, and friends/family for a month off to pursue such a Ramadan endeavor. Furthermore, for every story or picture we enjoy viewing, surely there are countless drafts and images that remain on the editing-room floor. I am in awe. May Allah (SWT) bless you both. Stay gold.

  25. August 23rd, 2010 | Rashed says:

    Very true.

  26. August 24th, 2010 | Mrs SM says:

    I’m with you guys. This blog is not about the masjid, but it is about the people surrounding the masjid and abit of their life. We did not hear many story about muslims living in the counrtysides. Your blog is very infomative. If people want to know more they can always google for the masjid. Keep up your good works!

  27. September 2nd, 2010 | Muslimah22 says:

    You should change your name to “mean.”

    How do you know he’s not working for a relief agency or a free hospital?? Are you in NOLA helping the Katrina victims? Nope, didn’t think so.

  28. September 2nd, 2010 | Nice says:

    Katrina was in 2005, he moved to New Orleans in 2007. Is that ‘shortly’ I think not.

    He went there because that’s where he got a residency, not because of any feeling for New Orleans or its citizens.

    Did he take his angst and depression, and use it for a good cause? No, we’re not told any of that. And you’re right people I’m not there, but I AM NOT THE ONE THAT MOVED THERE FOR THEIR OWN AGENDA POST KATRINA. We’re not told that he wanted to go to this city because he thought it needed help. I can only go on what I’m told, and the inferences I make are from the facts as stated in the article.

    Secondly, to compare your divorce to the hurricane that killed numerous people, and left many to starve is horrible.

    Third, attacking the person making the comment is baseless and juvenile. Your name should be ‘mean’? Seriously, are we back in middle school?

  29. September 3rd, 2010 | Amina says:


    If, as you said, “attacking the person making the comment is baseless and juvenile,” then what is it to attack a person you don’t know for reasons you seem to have made up? (I see no basis for your arguments in the blog post).

    Did you miss the part where he said he treats his patients as if they are his family? How on earth is a doctor moving to a wounded city and practicing medicine in a dedicated, caring and ethical manner anything but good? If it also helped him to get through a difficult personal time, that is also good — certainly not selfish.

    I wonder how off-balance one would have to be to read so much negativity in this wonderful, uplifting blog post… I pray God gives you peace in your heart and mind.

  30. September 3rd, 2010 | Kristin says:

    Hi Lisa,

    That must be extremely difficult. Best wishes that you find helpful and supportive people with anything you may need in your faith. Thankfully when I first really found islam, I had an amazing professor tell me “Religion is meant to free you, and to bring you back in line with your natural instincts. If at any point it becomes oppressive, than it is going wrong.” She then told me NOT to convert until “it is harder not to be a Muslim than the opposite.” I found it very good advice and kept studying and eventually converted, but on my own time. BIG HUG.

  31. September 4th, 2010 | Nice says:


    Again, “I wonder how off-balance” = ad hominem LOGICAL FALLACY.

    Again, “how on earth….” – appealing to emotion, logical fallacy.

    Its called inferences Amina. What does ‘shortly’ mean to you? “shortly after Hurricane Katrina”? To me, if we are very lax we can say it’s 6-7 months after the storm would constitute ‘shortly’.

    We’re told explicitly that he moved there “for a job”.

    My point was that there was no reasoning other than the “job” to get him to that city, and while in the city the disaster made him feel better about his situation ” I know my child is safe.”

    Maybe I’m demanding a higher standard of bloggers, but this post was mailed in like the Wichita, Kansas post.

    Of all the stories in New Orleans, the one presented is of the guy’s brother?

    But let’s not take that into account either – his brother’s life in New Orleans is a viable story.

    But the gist of it is he moved there for a job during a turbulent time in his life, and the chaos around him affecting the city made him feel better about himself, while he did zilch to contribute to the city.

    What’s the use? New Orleans doesn’t need another guy collecting a paycheck, then leaving when he’s done. Is this guy going to stay in New Orleans or will he be another passerby letting New Orleans be a stop on his way to greener pasture.

  32. September 11th, 2010 | Rizvi says:

    @ Nice- The point is the blogger is just writing about his family and what his brother is going through. He clearly states that his brother moved there for a job and not to rebuild or do volunteer work. Hence you are just fighting a lost cause by stretching the issue for nothing. That is indeed mean and childish to just create an issue out of nothing. Go find better things to do.

  33. September 11th, 2010 | Mia says:

    @ Nice… why the random anger? You’re not his ex-wife or anything…lol??

  34. September 12th, 2010 | Elizabeth says:

    Thank you to the doctor brother who has come to work in New Orleans. We need you here–whether you stay a year or a lifetime.

    Thank you to the guys making the road-trip and sharing it with us all. This is important, on so many levels.

    It makes me feel good again to be an American. We are a good people, as are the majority of all peoples, everywhere–no matter the race or creed.

    Thank you,

    New Orleans

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    good work, subhanallah…

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