Day 11 – Texas, Synott Mosque in Houston

By Bassam Tariq | 55 Comments »

Abdulahed Farooqi stands next to Synott Mosque. Inspired by our project last year, Abdulahed is visiting 30 mosques in 30 days in Houston.

Synott isn’t the name of the mosque we visited tonight, but that doesn’t matter because in the past ten years I’ve been frequenting it I’ve called the mosque nothing else.

This is your hometown mosque, that mosque where you learned about Islam, ran into your first Muslim crush, where you volunteered at the Sunday school and picked a fight or two when you didn’t have to.  It’s that mosque where when you come back after such a long time, you still know you will be breaking your fast with a plate of biryani and yogurt. This is Synott.

Our family started frequenting Synott when we made the big move from inner city Houston to the suburbs. Before Synott, I never knew what a mosque community was like. We only went to mosques on Fridays in these small hole in the wall places near Pakistani restaurants.  It was also odd to see people my age hanging out there and not at home.

Another reason why we attended Synott was because the gas station we ran was right next to it. My father would open the gates of the mosque for the morning prayer, Fajr, first and then the doors of our gas station. It was a tough place to be in for our family because we were selling alcohol with one hand and then helping to run the mosque with the other.

Friday prayers were always a little awkward because many of the congregants would end up at our store to fill up gas and buy some candy for their children. As the congregants would be coming in to buy lollipops or pay for gas, many of the day laborers would be cashing in their weekly checks and buying alcohol. The importance of Friday took on a complicated gray meaning.

Of course, we weren’t alone in this. This may as well be the Achilles heel of the South Asian Muslim community in Houston. Running a gas station is a lucrative business and many observant Muslims are guilty of running them. Some have come to terms with their business dealings others are trying to get out. In the beginning, our family was naive enough to think that most of the revenue generated from a gas station comes from the gas. Turns out, you only make 1 cent per liter, which really amounts to nothing. Beer, cigarrettes and lottery become the cornerstone of your business.


We enter Houston from I-10 heading towards 59 South. I see the mildly interesting skyline of Houston and am in awe. I can feel the smog rushing through our windows, the truck drivers trying to overtake us and the XXX Emporium’s neon lights hoping to blind us in midday. There is no place like home.

O Houston

Aman and I reach Synott mosque right before sundown and are greeted by old friends. I never liked the TV show Cheers but right about now, that theme song “Where Everybody Knows Your Name” seems so fitting.

The following photos are an homage to some of the mosque members that I’ve been seeing as I was a kid, the regulars.

Ismail Baker, the relentless volunteer. One day he will be directing traffic, the next day he will be making your Rooh Afza with milk.

Token Uncle sahib

Rashid, one of the mosque caretakers that has singlehandedly kept up the maintenance of the mosque.

Shahid Uncle, my dad's only friend.

Mohammad Sarwar Tariq, the pops.

After breaking our fast and praying, Aman and I step outside of the mosque and plot our next move.

Ever since we planned on going to Houston, Aman has been adamant on making some contact with Hakeem Olajuwon, the legendary Houston Rockets basketball player who won the NBA MVP in 1994. Unfortuntately, Hakeem is in Jordan for Ramadan so it didn’t look like we’d run into him. But we decide to visit this strong Nigerian community that’s connected with him.

On the drive over to the Nigerian Mosque, Aman points at a gas station and wonders if that was the one my family ran. It was. I pull into the parking lot and step outside.

When we had the gas station, it was a red Conoco with shiny lights. My father opened it with the hopes of leaving his dead end job and moving forward as a self employed entrepreneur. It was a tough business to run, being open from 5 AM to 12 AM is no joke. It took us five years to get out of the business and when we did, we promised to not look back. The dilemma of course is that without this gas station we probably would still be in the inner city living in our cramped apartment. Running a gas station isn’t as black and white as you think, it’s complicated.

Aman asks me if I want to go inside to see how things are now. I think about it for a second, get back in the car and drive forward.

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  1. August 23rd, 2010 | Urooba says:

    Love reading about y’alls adventure!
    A very happy cyber Ramadan Mubarak!

    –A reader from the North (not Pole)

  2. August 23rd, 2010 | Dilawar Ali Khan says:

    A very well done balance story, doesn’t give some one a feeling of a personal biography,these kind of balanced stories are expected from you guys on this trip.Keep up the good work and stay in the safe hands of Allaha, all the best and good luck to both of you.

  3. August 23rd, 2010 | Amena Khan says:

    Very well documented. Very interesting too!

  4. August 23rd, 2010 | Salaam says:

    The alcohol thing is very true. Obviously, Muslims shouldn’t be selling things that are haram to them. Imagine a dawah scenario within the gas station:

    Joe: *buying a six pack* So tell me what Muslims can’t do.
    Akbar: Well, we cannot eat pork, have pre-marital sex, gamble, or drink alcohol.
    Joe: *looks at six pack, then at Akbar, then back at six pack* But you can sell it? Isn’t that a double standard?
    Akbar: *puts up a gas station for sale sign ten minutes later*

    What’s the most expensive gas prices you’ve dealt with so far?

  5. August 23rd, 2010 | Zenaira says:

    Thanks for bringing this issue to light. Most people just see one side of the story.

    Oh and the style of the portraits reminded me of this All you’re missing now is some audio commentary. :)

  6. August 23rd, 2010 | Minyong says:

    Yum, you write like a red, shiny lollipop melting on my tongue, between iftar and isha.

  7. August 23rd, 2010 | Sobia says:

    I liked this post a lot because it represents majority of Muslim gas station owners’ lives. Wow, that was a mouth full.

    When I came to Austin from a dry county, I would nonchalantly tell people that we owned gas stations for a living, only to get awkward silences and apprehensive nods—later, I was informed that people thought we sold Alcohol and lottery. Moral of the story–don’t prance around talking about owning gas stations unless you put forth a disclaimer.

    Nonetheless, if you set your heart to do something the right way and have patience through all the hardships, Allah swt will test you, but with it will come a lot of reward and serenity.

  8. August 23rd, 2010 | Muhammad says:

    You guys missed a treat in Houston. They just built a new Masjid in Houston, Masjid W Deen Mohammed. It is beautiful..

  9. August 23rd, 2010 | Hifza says:

    Brilliantly written! Love reading your blog, it keeps getting more interesting each day!

  10. August 23rd, 2010 | Sister Iman (Singapore) says:

    Salams : Just one word to say about your blog :
    Its awesome, alhamdulillah. Keep up the good work
    and keep going!! Ramadan Mubarak!! :-)

  11. August 23rd, 2010 | Sana says:

    Assalamu Alaikum,

    I’ve loved reading your guys’ blog since day 1. Everything is beautifully written and the pictures are amazing mashaAllah. I’m quite addicted and it’s been a good read for me everyday!
    I really love how you guys cover different aspects: not just the masjid itself, but the communities, the families, and even about your families, which as a reader, I truly appreciate.

    Thank you for sharing your adventure… and your lives with us. :)

    -from Chicago.

  12. August 23rd, 2010 | Rashed says:

    Refreshingly honest.

  13. August 23rd, 2010 | Marcia Morrison says:

    A very good update today! I was particularly interested in the part about the conflict between religious values and running a gas station. I imagine that might also occur with Mormons (do Mormons run the gas stations in Utah?) and with some Christians. I hadn’t realized how little of the profit comes from the gas itself. Makes me think of what I heard about burger places long ago, that most of the profit on a cheeseburger comes from the slice of cheese.

    Anyway, keep up the good work. I love reading about all the different types of communities involved with these mosques.

  14. August 23rd, 2010 | Ashfaq Ahmed says:

    With your simple narrative style and the right selection of snaps it is indeed an addiction to check your blog daily, looking forward each day to see a new mosque and read about the incidents along the way. May Allah keep you safe in the journey.

  15. August 23rd, 2010 | Nadia says:

    I’ve really enjoyed reading your blog. It’s great to see how every state has different meanings to both of you. Also, its great to get a glimpse of the culture around each community masjid.
    Synott definitely is a hometown masjid and my school for a few years. Everytime I visit Synott during my short vacations to Houston, I always feel a sort of attachment to the community. The familiar faces are always there welcoming you back home!
    Ramadan Kareem, and all the best on the rest of your journey.

  16. August 23rd, 2010 | Mohammad says:

    It is very lifting to see how people of different nationalities and origins can unite under one banner. And this is the most interesting part of your mission–learning about all those “different” people living in the States and how all of them pretty much have just one objective in life.

    Also, I asked in the blog post before this what camera you were using. I see you use a nikon with an 18-55mm lens and an 85mm f/1.8 perhaps?

  17. August 24th, 2010 | Aman and Bassam says:

    Hi Mohammad.

    Thanks for comments. I use a Canon 5D with a fixed 35mm f1.4 lens. I also have a zoom 24-105 but barely touch it.

  18. August 24th, 2010 | Naaima K says:

    That’s my masjid! It’s proper name is Masjid at-Taqwa. Yay H-town!

    Bassam, your description of Synott is right on the nose.

  19. August 25th, 2010 | Sherifah says:


    It would be nice if everyone could please forward the link to this website to as many non Muslims as possible.

  20. August 27th, 2010 | Qurat Ul-ain says:

    You couldn’t have written this any better
    perfectly worded
    just how i feel everytime i go to Synott Masjid

  21. August 30th, 2010 | lenny says:

    as an ex-texan–houstonian no less–i am happy to see my hometown depicted here as an old-fashioned mosque. the kind that represents another era, where things were hopeful.

    now, as a NYer, i am saddened to see my adopted city at the heart of this mosque debate. a new ground zero for a different type of hate.

    peace to you. be safe.
    i can’t help but think of those three civil rights kids in mississippi, all those years ago.

  22. August 30th, 2010 | Houstonian says:

    I have always thought of one day sponsoring college kids for a Muslim Roadtrip and seeing this report on CNN this morning really made me proud of you guys. I think you are doing a great job. Moreso doing this trip in Ramadan is even greater. Keep up the good work. Bassam, i feel you, my dad has only one friend too !!!!

  23. August 30th, 2010 | Anita says:

    Small world. I came across your website via a random link on twitter and find my neighborhood mosque is featured. I know the Greek family that most recently owned that station (corner of Synott @ West Bellfort?).

  24. August 31st, 2010 | Mindi says:


    I was unaware until now that you lived in Houston! That is where I lived up until 5 yrs. ago. I grew up there. Well the suburbs, Spring, Tx. Still home in my heart. Too bad you couldn’t meet with Hakeem Olajuwan! He is the best NBA player in my opinion. I’m going to continue to follow you guys.

  25. August 31st, 2010 | Houstonabadi says:

    Looking at ur Dad’s pic with his serious look and hands raised for dua, I can almost imagine him saying “Upar wale! What is wrong with my beta, driving all over the place taking photos. It is time for him to settle down.” :-)

    Btw, do u both still fast during these trips?

  26. September 2nd, 2010 | Muslimah22 says:

    Wow, I miss home so much.
    You should have went to the Clear Lake Islamic Center, too.

  27. September 11th, 2010 | Justin says:

    This blog is legit. Its nice to see someone who is actually attempting to build bridges. I feel so many times the media only portrays the outer fringes of society because it will garner more interest and bring in more revenue. Especially since you guys are from Houston(I live in The Woodlands).

    One quick comment/question. I understand Muslims respect Jesus as a prophet(as a Christian I hold Him in higher regard). If he can turn water into wine of the finest quality for others as a prophet, would it not be ok for a Muslim to sell such bevarages? Also, I understand that gambling can be harmful to individuals, but in Texas 100% of the proceeds benefit the education system. So even though it can be an evil it ultimately is used to improve society.

    Pardon me if I come off as offensive(that is not the intent) I just figured this would be a good place for dialogue.

  28. September 12th, 2010 | SSM says:


  29. September 12th, 2010 | Abdullah says:

    why didn’t yall talk about you guys experience at the Nigerian muslim association of greater Houston Mosque; Masjid ul’ Mumineen?.

  30. September 12th, 2010 | Abdullah says:

    never mind ..i’m sorry

  31. September 30th, 2010 | thy bilet fiyatları says:

    tebrik ederim arkadaşlar çok güzel bir islam mozaiği sergilemişsiniz turkey e de bekleriz.

  32. February 18th, 2011 | snarahman says:

    way back in 2002 when I visited the US for the first time, I had intended to do a drive right across the US,visiting as many mosques along the way and leaving copies of the Quran and womens prayer garb. Unfortunately, it was just too much driving for my sister and I and we never made it. Am glad that both of you made it.Well done.

  33. March 5th, 2011 | Backlink free says:

    hank you for sharing your adventure… and your lives with us

    if you set your heart to do something the right way and have patience through all the hardships, Allah swt will test you, but with it will come a lot of reward and serenity.

  34. June 12th, 2011 | 1254123123 says:

    wow ndo

  35. September 4th, 2011 | AB says:

    Justin and SSM,
    As a Muslim, I appreciate your interest and open outlook towards Islam. Consumption of alcohol was prohibited by Quran in several steps, as God knows that it would be difficult for people to give it up suddenly. Quran specifically mentions that both alcohol and gambling offer some good and bad effects; but the bad effects outrun the good ones. Therefore, it was prohibited. Every day we are experiencing the effects of alcohol in the form of death, injury, destruction and massive financial loss resulting from drunk driving, not to speak of other ill effects like rape, prostitution, broken families, and more resulting from alcohol consumption. Also, records have shown that many peoples’ lives have been destroyed by gambling addiction which is similar to alcohol addiction. It is also well known that most lottery winners’ lives have been worse than what they had before the winning. God knows what is best for humans, and therefore, prohibited these two things.

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