Day 8 – Florida, Islamic Center of Northeast Florida in Jacksonville

20
Aug
By Aman Ali | 47 Comments »

This morning Bassam and I linked up with Wayne and Robert of CNN.com, who are tagging along with us for the next few days to document our adventure through the southeast region of the country.

Wayne Drash and Robert Johnson are blogging about us on CNN.com

We hit the road in Atlanta to start our six-hour drive down to Florida and I turn on the radio. The song from the Rocky movies “Eye of the Tiger” comes on and immediately I begin belting out the song while I drum my hands against the steering wheel. Today is going to be a good day, I say to myself.

My singing continues a few minutes later when Marvin Gaye’s “Sexual Healing” comes on the radio. Then I realize it’s Ramadan and this is probably the last song I want to be singing right now while I’m fasting.

Driving through southern Georgia, we pass by sequential billboard patterns of porn shops and churches.

Then on the opposite side of the highway in Chula, Georgia I see a colossal confederate flag waving over 100 feet in the air.

Confederate flag. Welcome to the south.

Everyone in the car mutually agrees the flag is too racistly awesome to pass up without posing for a photo next to it. The flag off the highway exit stands next to a Confederate souvenir shop by a mosquito ridden pond. Three men sitting at a bunch in front of the shop begin staring at us as we pull into the place’s gravel parking lot.

“Let’s not go in,” Robert says, afraid of what might happen if two brown guys walk inside a Confederate shop.

Anyone who knows me knows when someone tells me not to do something, it just makes me want to do it even more. It’s the reason why my mother blames me for all her gray hair.

“I’m going in,” I said laughing at everyone else’s hesitation.

“Welcome!” said one of the men sitting at the bench to our surprise. “Great weather today, ain’t it?”

The name of the store is Lollygaggers. I walk inside and meet the owner, Robert. He’s a tall man that’s big on hospitality and apparently not as big on visiting a dentist.

Robert, owner of Lollygaggers off I-75 in southern Georgia

I ask him where the name of the store came from.

“You don’t know what lollygaggin is?” he asks with bewilderment. “When you sittin around havin a good time and you aint doin sh*t, you be lollygaggin!”

To our surprise, Robert was incredibly friendly. He talks in detail about how he’s frustrated with how Confederate flags get a bad rap and how he condemns all the racist connotations people associate with the flag. He said everyone is welcome in his shop regardless of where they come from. The guys at the shop turned out to be some of the friendliest people I’ve met on this journey. I expected them to be all prejudiced towards me, and here I was being prejudiced towards them.

The guys and I pose outside the shop for another picture and I upload it on the 30 Mosques Facebook page.

We get into Jacksonville shortly after 5 p.m. About a mile from the mosque I see a sign for this fast food restaurant, which we all once again agree is too hilariously racist to pass up for photos.

“We HAVE to go inside,” I say as I dodge oncoming traffic and U-Turn into the restaurant’s parking lot.

Wayne isn’t fasting so he decides to go inside and order this place’s infamous Camel Rider sandwich. He walks outside showing me what’s the sandwich: ham, salami, and American cheese.

“I think this is probably the most American sandwich that you could possibly eat,” Wayne says.

Wayne Drash, taking a bite out of racism

The place has pretty much nothing but ham and sausage on the menu, making me laugh because apparently the owner of the place is Palestinian (he wasn’t there).

Robert the photographer is hungry too and asks me what he should order, since he’s a conservative Christian that doesn’t eat pork. Our conversation is interrupted by a guy who pulls into the parking lot in a rusty white BMW.

“You guys wanna come to my party?” he asks as a woman walks out of the car and adjusts her pants as she walks into the restaurant. Robert and I walk up to the guy in the car and he hands me a CD-R with “Chokehold Records” written on it in a Sharpie marker.

Chokehold Records for life.

I take a look past the man’s stained wife beater and survey the gutted interior of his car filled with crumpled papers, Cheetos wrappers and a Marshall Field’s shopping bag (because thugs like pleated khaki pants on clearance).

He invites Robert and I to an album launch party at the arcade center Dave and Busters. Because when you’re releasing a thug rap record, make sure it’s at a place where you can play Dance Dance Revolution.

I then notice the man is repeatedly drinking shot glass rounds of vodka. Nothing is classier than getting tipsy parked outside of a fast food restaurant in the mid afternoon.

Bassam then walks up with his camera and begins snapping pictures furiously at him. The man is alarmed about why he’s taking pictures and gets slightly irritated.

“Oh God, we’re gonna get shot,” I think to myself.

Bassam and Robert calm him down after explaining we’re on a road trip and the photos are for our blog. He then explains he got caught off guard because he thought we were reporters and the last thing he wanted to see were headlines saying “Rapper gets caught drinking and driving.”

He agrees to photos and scornfully tells the woman with him to strike a seductive pose for Bassam.

“She’s one of my rappers,” he said while trying to bring back up the subject of his Dave and Buster’s party.

He says to get into the party, I need to get on his guest list. His guess list was a tattered binder he pulled out from under his seat that had crumpled up coffee stained pages in it. He hands me a pen and asks me to sign my name. I’m allowed to bring two people.

Are you on his guest list?

I have no interest whatsoever to attend the party, but I decide to sign it anyway. I sign using the name “Armando Valenzuela,” the standard alias I used to use as a kid when doing prank calls. I’m allowed to bring two people to the party, and the man says Robert and Bassam are allowed to come.

He then tries charging me $10 for his “Chokehold Records” CD. I politely say no and he tells me I can’t get into his party unless I buy the CD. We decide not to and walk away.

I see Wayne standing nearby with an angry look at his face.

“What, you won’t let me come to the pimp’s party?” Wayne said. “I see how it is, the white guy isn’t invited? What am I, chopped liver?”

We all laugh and head over to the mosque. Immediately we’re taken back by how beautiful the building is as the sun begins to set.

I look up and see the building’s minaret, the tall towers attached to the the mosque’s building. Immediately I ask someone there if we can climb to the top, so Bassam can get a photo of me doing the “King of the World” pose from the movie Titanic.

A Bosnian man and his son walk up to me asking if I’m the guy who wants to climb to the top of the minaret.  The son walks with me telling me how dangerous it is to get up there.

I look at the 10 rungs of the minaret’s ladder and laugh thinking it’s no big deal to get up to the top. “You think that’s it?” the son says while trying to taunt me.

He said the at the top of the ladder is a hatch that I have to push open to unveil about 100 feet worth of more ladder rungs to climb.  Never willing to back down to a challenge. I begin climbing with no hesitation. The kid begins mocking my lanky chicken legs going up the ladder’s rungs.

Thank Allah I have a good health insurance plan

“Wow, you climb like that and you expect to get to the top?” the kid says with another taunting laugh. I want to confront this kid, but I cant deny the fact that I’m intimidated by this ladder climb. I try heaving the hatch open but I don’t have enough strength to push it all the way back.

“Come on man, just push it open!” the kid says continuing his taunt.

At this point, I give up. It’s time to break my fast anyway. The Islamic Center of Northeast Florida is incredibly diverse. I look around and see a mix of Arabs, South Asians, Bosnians and African Americans sitting together and feasting on tonight’s meal.

After dinner, I then meet Shauib (pronounced Shoe-aib), He’s in charge of the mosque’s security and talks about the how someone tried to throw a firebomb at the mosque in May. It was all over the news if you didn’t hear about it. He then shows me what the damage looked like in a photo he took with his camera phone while standing at the top of the minaret.

“You’ve been to the top???” I asked.

“Yeah, it’s easy to get up there,” he said. “I’ve done it in my chappal (sandals).”

Now I feel like even more of a sissy. I need to go up there. Now.

“Want me to take you?” he said.

I grab Wayne and Shauib takes us to the base of the minaret. He climbs up the ladder and shoves open the hatch and guides us to the top.

The climb is tough but a lot more manageable than that Bosnian kid tried to make it out to be. I stand at the top to check out a breath taking view of the mosque. I see Bassam hundreds of feet below me and I shout for him to come over and snap some pictures of me.

Echoing through my head as Bassam is taking pictures is that “Eye of the Tiger” song I was singing earlier today. I felt like a champion.

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Comments

47
  1. August 20th, 2010 | SomeGuy says:

    Absolutely hilarious! :D

    one of the best posts yet.

  2. August 20th, 2010 | Abdul Azeem says:

    Mashallah , the writing on this blog keeps improving every day. Keep up the good work.
    I read this blog from Mumbai India.
    Please include at least one iftar dinner photo.

  3. August 20th, 2010 | Anonymous says:

    haha, awesome post and great pictures! I always wondered how it is in the minarets or how the view would be from top.

    Very interesting mention of the Confederate flag, and the restaurant name is just a ridiculously-funny irony.

    And I would have to agree that moms seem to all use the gray hair excuse as a blame on their most “troubling” child.

    I wonder why dads haven’t started blaming their children for their baldness too?

    totally random, but your phone color seemed to have matched every stop of this trip: confederate flag, restaurant sign font, rapper’s CD cover, mosque’s ladder, and even Robert’s shirt :)

  4. August 20th, 2010 | Minyong says:

    Brad Paisley gives me a smooth ride, but then maybe it’s cuz I am a girl. And I think he’s okay for fasting, no imam consulted.

  5. August 20th, 2010 | Anonymous says:

    Aman you should try some Cd from Muslim artist, there are all types of CD out there. It’s Ramadan yaar.

  6. August 20th, 2010 | Zenaira says:

    Chokehold Records for the win!

    Also, I’m totally loving the pictures of the playground at the masjid at nighttime; so pretty!

    And I really thought you ended up giving up on the climb so it was doubly awesome when I read that you ended up doing it, champ.

  7. August 20th, 2010 | Dilawar Ali Khan says:

    Good road trip a little more coverage needed on the Mosque its self,just keep in mind this is a trip about 30 mosques. Keep up the good work, stay focus and safe, God Bless you all.

  8. August 20th, 2010 | Kari says:

    LOL, “Please include at least one iftar dinner photo”, Commenter Abdul Aziz is hungry!

  9. August 20th, 2010 | abdus samad says:

    thanks for touring my hometown, it was a pleasure meeting you and Bassam! happy trails!

  10. August 20th, 2010 | Soorya says:

    Thank you for visiting Jacksonville! I followed your tour of NYC last year and this blog is getting better everyday. I grew up in the Islamic Center of North East Florida, there is a lot of love and hard work in every inch of the place.

    Safe travels and look forward to keeping up with the blog wherever you may go!

  11. August 20th, 2010 | Hud says:

    Did you go to the party at D & B after iftar? LOL

    Great Post!

  12. August 20th, 2010 | sam says:

    be careful of judging others: (i.e. calling strangers thugs, pimps, racists — when muslims are so painfully and clearly the target of the worst kind of stereotyping right now. i’m just sayin’. enjoyed the post, but didn’t appreciate the stereotypes and knee-jerk judgments, especially in light of this amazing journey y’all are on.

    salaam.

  13. August 20th, 2010 | Amena Khan says:

    A very picturesque Mosque. I agree, its one of the best posts. I am not sure what it is about minarets, but everyone wants to get to the top of it. I’m glad you did!

  14. August 20th, 2010 | Tahera Rahman says:

    Salam,
    I just found out about your blog through The Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago (CIOGC) and caught up on all your posts from this Ramadan. It’s great to know that our generation is getting more involved and outgoing in Muslim communities across the nation. Inshallah you guys make the most out of this trip…can’t wait til you’re in Chicago!

  15. August 20th, 2010 | Nur says:

    Aman,

    Seriously one of the best posts yet. Safe travels!

  16. August 20th, 2010 | Aman Ali says:

    @Nur, thanks :) Definitely had a blast in your home state :)

  17. August 20th, 2010 | Aman Ali says:

    @Amena, hahaha now its your turn to climb one :)

  18. August 20th, 2010 | Aman Ali says:

    @Hud, hahahaha you know what man, we should break our fast at a Dave and Buster’s in honor of him :)

  19. August 21st, 2010 | lamha hasan says:

    What a trip yaar. We need more pics of u guys performing in the mosque. Videos a PLUS!!!! :) enjoy, stay safe

  20. August 21st, 2010 | Bilaludin Zedan Ch says:

    Salaam Camera Bhaai,

    my mom was very proud when I told her that I was helping the cameraman out. I got 10 extra points for doing a good deed. I told her that you interviewed me and she looked very surprised. But I assured her that I gave all good answers. What Ramadan meant , what fasting meant , that I didnt had a girlfriend.Hehehe… At first she was shocked but then she said ….OK…. second generation will be getting lesson from third generation that girlfriends are not allowed in Islam…..Im proud my son, that you have been chosen for this task.Heheheh…..
    She loves my picture ..thank you for posting it Bhaai…..She thinks I will be one day the best Muslim Soccer player…..Looking at myself: May be she is right!

  21. August 21st, 2010 | Sharjeel says:

    Guys please don’t be hatin. You didn’t even listen to the poor guy’s music. He probably had some wicked jazz tracks on his CD. Black folk are know for their jazz music.

  22. August 22nd, 2010 | Brian O'Malley says:

    I am glad you admitted your assumptions about people did not always turn out to be true, and that those guys have been the nicest folks you’ve met so far.

    I am glad you have such an interesting post on your trip to Jacksonville, my hometown. I was also glad you commented on the great diversity of the Muslim-American community in town.

    As for the pork and sausage, don’t be too surprised. Jacksonville has had an Arab-American community for about a hundred years. Historically, most have been Christians.

    Jacksonville’s faith community includes a Syriac Catholic Church.

    In the 1980s, Jacksonville residents elected an Arab-American mayor, Tommy Hazouri.

  23. August 23rd, 2010 | Aishah says:

    Asalaamu Alaikum

    Do they allow muslims to call azan in the US? Just asking because in Canada they don’t and yet our mosque is building a minaret. I have no idea if you’ll even be able to climb it. It looks pretty skinny.

  24. August 24th, 2010 | Hashem says:

    Nice!! I wish you could of made a stop to Gainesville, Floirda. We have a large muslim community here and unfortunately have made headlines with the “dove” church here who wants to burn qurans :\

  25. August 24th, 2010 | Su'ad says:

    Salaaam,

    I want to echo Sam’s comment. I found it interesting that the you were able to paint a somewhat glowing depiction of a man who ran a souvenir shop for the confederacy but totally derided a man who was promoting music, no matter how potentially wack the music was…calling him a thug? And why exactly would you assume he was going to shoot you? On what basis? Its good you shared your reflections and perhaps now would be the time to reflect on those reflections and what they might reveal

  26. August 27th, 2010 | MJ says:

    Salaams,
    I did not like this post at all. I felt that it was demeaning to the people that you met. I think that it was cruel and un-Islamic to comment on the state of the man’s teeth. (i.e., the “dentist” comment.) The Prophet Muhammad would not make such a comment. There were lots of assumptions about the man selling CDs…Please, no more posts that make fun of those that you meet. Imagine if someone other than you were writing the post about your brother, and had decided to make fun of, or light of his situation. Or, make negative comments about your parents appearance. That wouldn’t be cool, would it? (I hope that doesn’t come off like I am suggesting that there was wrong with any of them; there wasn’t. I just want you to put yourself in their shoes.) It’s not becoming of you all. Please don’t resort to poking fun at others to get a laugh for yourselves.

  27. August 30th, 2010 | Edamommy says:

    It’s a bit classist and naive to remark about that man’s teeth. Dentists without insurance are expensive and once a problem infection starts it’s hard to stop without a lot of money and time. I’m sure that man is embarrassed about his teeth — way to go making fun of him.

    This is a really interesting blog. Bit disappointing to see repeated negative stereotyping though, especially during this most holy month.

  28. August 30th, 2010 | Wayne Coleman says:

    Heard about you guys from Wayne Drash and RoJo, they are friends of mine and he sent me the link. Great idea, and I wish you luck. You have your work cut out for you my friends! Be safe. if you get to Memphis, call me and you’ll have a place to stay ( call Wayne and RoJo, i actually let them stay here :) )

    Wayne Coleman
    901-857-5583

  29. August 30th, 2010 | Wayne Coleman says:

    Oh, just realized could you take my phone number down after you save it?

    Thanks.

  30. August 30th, 2010 | Laura says:

    I thoroughly enjoyed this post, and the humor behind it. Then I read comments by people who were upset by your attitudes towards the shopkeeper and rapper. I think this is a perfect example of how easy it is to succumb to racial and cultural stereotyping without giving it a second thought, and illustrates that we’re all human. We all struggle with accepting others outside of our realm and loving our neighbors, regardless of race, gender, ethnicity, religion, sexual preference, etc. etc.

    On a completely unrelated note, my parents live in a converted Methodist church and the climb up the bell tower on old, rickety ladders is terrifying! Kuddos for making the climb!

  31. September 4th, 2010 | Tauseef says:

    Your encounter with Robert reminds me of the verse in the Qur’an that instructs us to return a greeting with a better greeting, and if that is not possible, return an equal greeting. Your trip is a great example of how to meet and interact with strangers, and how simple things like how you say hello reveal so much about a person. May Allah continue to bless your journey, and next time drive a Honda, ha ha.

  32. September 10th, 2010 | chase says:

    YEAAA im from Jacksonville that mosque is right near my house i love how yall go to the no name fast food place cuz we got soo many of those here and ima apologize on behalf of the firebombers theres still alota of ignorant white trash here but i love my city

  33. September 11th, 2010 | Mixed Bag says:

    As a Jacksonville resident my only real encounter with the Muslim community here was when the Mosque leader on St. Johns bluff decided that non church members were not allowed to play soccer on their grounds. It was dissapointing because we had a great group of different faiths playing some fun competitive soccer. They Mosque members who played soccer were dissapointed but they fell in line. Churches do the same thing. It’s a club thing.

  34. September 11th, 2010 | Othman says:

    Wow that’s wonderful, i’m lollygaggering the whole time since the begining of this post.

    Regards from a Palestinian in dubai who got this link through his red neck american fiancee.

  35. September 11th, 2010 | Jessica says:

    Hey Othamn, my palestinian fiancee i told you not all rednecks are bad. Now I have Bassam and Aman to back me up! Thanks guys for the help :)

  36. September 11th, 2010 | Aqdas says:

    Nice post guys.I am reading about your travels and i am pretty hooked.But specifically in regards to this blog , i dont think it is nice to make fun of the guys teeth, when he has been so kind and also done away with your previous thoughts about the southern people.

    I know you are making an interesting blog with humor but that as kinda tasteless.

    Regards from Pakistan

  37. September 12th, 2010 | ilyas says:

    It was shocking to read this particular blog because it had a lot of insults on people that probably dont even know they been insulted. That store keeper didnt deserve to be insulted like that. I mean afterall, he welcomed you with an open arms. He even went out of his way to assure you that he wasnt a racist.Therefore you shouldnve have talked about his tooth. What does our religion say about backbiting? Does it not say that “dont say of others things that you could not say front of them”(Sort of like that). Im sure you could not have made fun of his tooth but here you are doing it. Plus that black guy didnt deserve it either. Please dont think that i’m a perfect person, I know i’m not. However, i’m not the one who took this responsibility of visiting mosques as muslims and posting your finding on a blog, in order to see the state of the muslims in america and their assimilation to their communities. Therefore, as this is an open blog, and you will have non-muslim interested in reading it, you should have been a good ambassadors of the teachings of our prophet Muhamed(s.c.w). Y’all set a poor example i’ll say.

  38. September 14th, 2010 | jpkones says:

    I disagree. The teeth comment is called “keeping it real”

    Greatest. blog. ever.

  39. September 27th, 2010 | thy bilet fiyatları says:

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

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

    selamın aleyküm kardeşlerim sizleri tebrik ederim böyle güzel bir site yaptığınız için şimdilik bu kadar diyorum başkada birşey demiyorum.

  41. March 16th, 2011 | Faba says:

    Thats my masjid!!

  42. April 10th, 2011 | MAS says:

    It’s funny cause that’s my masjid n I climb the minaret all the time lol

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