Day 16 – Arizona, the Islamic Community Center of Phoenix

By Aman Ali | 23 Comments »

We left New Mexico much later than expected so our 8-plus hour drive to Phoenix meant we had to break our fast on the road. But with awesome scenery to look at on the way, we weren’t complaining whatsoever.

We broke our fast with a bag of nectarines that Benyamin, the woodworker we met earlier that day, grew at his home in Abiquiu, New Mexico. His wife made us some awesome chocolate banana bread too.

We get to Phoenix shortly before 9 p.m. to find the mosque right off the highway. The place is still packed as people prepare for Taraweeh, the Ramadan night prayers.

We’re greeted at the mosque by Usama, the mosque’s president. He’s a straightshooting kinda guy that talks to us in depth about the history of Phoenix’s Muslim community.The city has around 80,000 Muslims and a huge refugee population of people from Afghanistan, Bosnia, Albania, Somalia and other countries.

He said it’s great that there are so many cool cultures in the city, but what has happened over the years is the Afghanis have formed their own mosque as have the Bosnians and Albanians, etc. etc. etc. Segmentation is a huge problem among Muslims in this country. I completely understand it may be unintentional when people immigrate to this country, they find comfort by linking up with people of similar backgrounds. But in 2010, we can no longer afford to do that. Out of the over 300 million people that live in this country, only around 7 million people are Muslims (and that’s a liberal estimate). So we simply cannot afford to divide ourselves.

On the opposite side of the highway from the mosque is the ICCP’s future home, a colossal mosque that you can see from miles away. The outside structure of the $3.5 million building is already finished and the mosque board is trying to fundraise the remaining money they need to complete it.

We asked Usama if building a mosque this vivid necessary, especially in an economic climate where many Muslim communities are struggling to afford running their places. He said the mosque isn’t in debt at all and is only building things they can afford. Plus, he said it’s a house to worship Allah, shouldn’t we try to beautify it as long as it’s well within our means?

“We want people to drive by the highway and know that Muslims are here in this community,” he said. “We have had Muslims we’ve never met before drive by, see that there is a mosque here, and then want to donate.”

This new building will be the future place where the community will worship, and Usama said the current mosque will be used primarily to expand the Islamic School for the children.

I asked him if the ICCP has gotten any opposition to their new mosque, in light of all the Ground Zero hullabaloo in New York. He said unfortunately they have been getting opposition. What’s interesting is many of the city planning boards have been incredibly supportive and cooperative with the mosque’s plans over the years, but in recent months they seem to be scrutinizing the plans even more and pushing up deadlines for them.

The current mosque has been in the neighborhood for over 15 years to little or no complaints from local residents. Now all of a sudden, a few neighbors have regularly complained to the city about the mosque’s parking situation and other issues. The city recently even tried to prohibit street parking by the mosque only on Fridays from 11-3 p.m., which is usually when the Friday Jummah prayers are.

This neighbor below, the mosque has tried to reach out to him and make peace by doing things like bringing Ramadan dinner food to him. Usama told me he’d graciously accept the food, only to call the city the next day to complain about the mosque’s parking.

I think we as Muslims need to focus less on the Ground Zero mosque and more so on places like this or other communities like Murfreesboro, Tennessee. The Ground Zero mosque (and I dunno why I’m calling it that) is pretty much a done deal at least from a municipal approval standpoint. So let’s not forget about the other communities across the country where Muslims need our help. Remember, there are only 7 million of us.

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  1. August 28th, 2010 | Sana says:

    I love the architecture of that masjid! SubhanAllah, it’s breath-taking.

    And you guys are completely right about the segregated communities; it’s quite sad that it happens across the country everywhere with Muslims. This is the time that people should be more united with each other and also reaching out within their own communities to correct misunderstandings about the religion.

    Anyways, great post! Safe travels!

  2. August 28th, 2010 | Mohammad says:

    There is a Hadith where the Prohpet (S.A.W) says “A Muslim is a brother of a Muslim.” Now, the beauty of this Hadith (as with all others) is that the Prohpet (S.A.W) ONLY said that. He never added any adjectives to that statement. He never said that a “black Muslim is only a brother of a black Muslim” or an “Indian Muslim is only a brother of an Indian Muslim,” or “an Afghani Muslim is only a brother of an Afghani Muslim.”

    What is meant by that Hadith is that a Muslim, no matter what race or origin he is or if he’s a convert or a Muslim by birth, is a brother of every other Muslim. This is one of the reasons why extreme nationalism is considered to be a bad thing. You isolate yourselves from other people who are just like you.

    Its amazing how many problems would be solved if people were to just practice and do things that have been outlined for them.

  3. August 28th, 2010 | Dilawar Ali Khan says:

    Very strong statement from Mr Osam and i completely agree with him on the issue of ethnic segregation with inn the Muslim community, but this is all temporary, once we all original immigrants will hit the box, (means die)so called local born kids are only American Muslims, then they will have no choice but to put an end to this ethnic segregation.
    How can we help to archive this goal sooner? we must encourage our children’s to make there own decisions while respecting the boundaries of Islam, and allow them to chose there own life partners as long as they are Muslim.
    Any how i am going away to far from the topic of the day,Mr Aman & Bassam these are wonderful discoveries and keep up the good work, only Allaha can reward you guys for this effort, and thank you for sharing these stories.May Allaha Bless you guys and keep you in his protection.

  4. August 28th, 2010 | Dilawar Ali Khan says:

    Sorry about short spelling of Mr Osama’s name in the first paragraph.Hope Mr Osama will excuse me for this mistake.
    Thank you.

  5. August 28th, 2010 | Amir Syed says:

    Salaam Aman, how are you doing, i havent seen you in so many years but reading this blog fells like Ive been with you on this trip the entire way. All i really want to say is THANK YOU AND KEEP UP THIS GREAT WORK. All of us first generation American Muslims need to realize how beautiful our Ummah is and the potential it has to become once united. Hope you guys stay safe and may Allah bless you both on this noble journey.
    Peace and Love
    P.S holla at your boy if your in the Chi.

  6. August 29th, 2010 | Michael Gatto says:

    Is it just me or did the East Coast communities seem to be more lively, more full of zest that the mid-West and South-West? It seems that lameness increases as one goes Westward…

  7. August 29th, 2010 | Adilah says:

    Your pictures from New Mexico and Arizona are beautiful! I have always wanted to do cross country road trip and your pictures definitely heightened the desire.

    ps: your blog is awesome it so interesting to learn about muslims in remote places like arizona and N.Mexico. Its sad that in these places ethnic masjids are popping up, I understand where it comes from but what muslims need to realize that as long as they put their culture first and their religion second…The Anti-muslim haters will always have the upper hand.

  8. August 29th, 2010 | Nabil says:


    Your blog is awesome.I’ve been following your story since your 1st day journey.

    Best regards,

  9. August 29th, 2010 | Amena Khan says:

    Its so strange. We see blurring borders on one hand, and then severely segmented societies on the other. It opens up my mind, even more.

  10. August 30th, 2010 | jim velde says:

    Incredible concept and project. Great work!

    Glad I found it thanks to the CNN story.

    Jim Velde
    Tucson AZ

  11. August 31st, 2010 | Maryam says:

    Asalaamu ‘alaykum,

    While we definitely shouldn’t segregate masaajid by race like churches are in this country, I’d like to present another argument: much of our community is made up of immigrants or the children of immigrants. Being American, if I were to go live abroad, I would naturally stick to people who speak English and are from my background (not due to race, but because it is natural to stick to people who come from the same type of background as you and speak your language).

    So to me it makes complete sense that immigrants group together based on communities that they’re from, and then masaajid spring up. I don’t see it as a problem, mainly because I understand this is normal and ALSO because it is, inshaAllaah, very temporary. I do not see this as a problem at all with the generation of Muslims born and raised in America. We have, Alhumdulillaah, no problem with making friends/relating to other Muslims of different races, because we speak English together and come from a common American culture.

    Anyway my point is that we should understand where the separation of immigrant populations come from a sociological perspective, but also realize that Alhumdulillaah this is something that studies on race relations show only last a couple of generations before it fizzles out :)

  12. September 2nd, 2010 | Anonymous says:

    If you guys ever travel to Arizona again, definitely give Islamic Community Center in Tempe. It’s a really diverse masjid and the atmosphere there is the *best* during Ramadan. Currently my favorite mosque in the States. :)

    And ICCP is great, because you can see it from the highway.

    I’ve just discovered your blog and love it!

    Keep up the amazing work!


  13. September 3rd, 2010 | Gerald Baker says:

    I read about your Ramadan tour, in the “Cedar Rapids Gazette” newspaper today. I live in Cedar Falls, Iowa, just up the river from Cedar Rapids.

    I have read in the Bible, (as you may also have read in the Koran), that Solomon’s temple in Jerusalem was built with cedar wood, from trees in Lebanon.

    In Canada, I have read, there’s a TV sitcom, named, “Little Mosque on the Prairie.”

    Best wishes,

  14. September 9th, 2010 | Dr. Bill Brashears says:

    Thank you for the beautiful pictures and blog. I live just down the street from the Islamic Cultural Center and serve as the president of our neighborhood association. Usama and other members actively participate in our neighborhood group, which is largely formed of working-class people of diverse backgrounds. I have been pleasantly surprised at how open the vast majority of our neighbors are. In fact, the only neighbor that seems to be at odds with the mosque is the one highlighted in your article. Otherwise, we continue to engage in group activities that improve the neighborhood life for all of us, while getting to know one another in the process. Having the ICCP in our neighborhood has been very positive, and we will actively promote more participation and exchange in the coming year. All the best, Bill

  15. September 28th, 2010 | thy bilet fiyatları says:

    vay anasini be neler neler yapiyorlar su oyunlarda gercekten insan hepsini oynamak istiyor fakat bu kolay degil sanirim

  16. October 18th, 2013 | Cristi Bussie says:

    Darn! I’ve to show up at a meeting at my son’s school suitable when that is taking place.

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