Day 21: Breakdown in Montana

By Bassam Tariq | 49 Comments »

BAM / Thud / CLUNK. However you describe the sound, Aman and I hear it before we see smoke build up in front of our Chevy Cobalt. Aman panics and pulls to the side.

“I think I hit a large rock.”

A rock, really?

We get out and inspect the car. Things look fine, we wait for the smoke to settle and get back in the car and drive forward. But forward means that we are stuck in first gear moving 10 miles per hour. Cars pass us by, trucks honk their horns. We pray to find the next side lane that’s open and when we do, we park.

Aman isn’t getting any signal on his phone. I’m not either. The car isn’t moving and our GPS says we are about 40 miles south of Bozeman. To top it off, we have an eleven hour drive to Fargo, North Dakota tomorrow. This doesn’t look good.

We wait ten minutes in hopes of a police officer to pass by, but no luck. I start walking towards Bozeman in hopes of getting some reception so I can call AAA to get our car towed.  Aman stays back to watch the car, I strap on my camera and start hiking north –the start of another interesting adventure.

On the way through a narrow stretch of the highway, I see a man parked by a stream, putting his fishing gear away in the back of his Nissan pick-up truck. I walk towards him and strike up a small conversation. The fisherman tells me that I wont get any reception until I reach the city and Bozeman is at least 30 miles away north. I start kicking the sand aimlessly and work up the nerve to ask him if he can take me to the nearest city with signal. He thinks for a second and tells me to get in the back of his truck.

On the truck ride over, the fisherman gives me the lowdown on where we are. We’re in Big Sky, Montana, a small town known for its large ski resort. It is located off of highway 191, which is known to get dangerous in the night time. Just when I’m about to ask him why, we find a tow truck guy and the fisherman drops me off there.

After saying goodbye to the fisherman, I head inside the tow truck office and am met by a mustache, er, a man named Ken. I give Ken the lowdown on what happened and how we need a tow truck asap. Ken nods his head and starts typing up a report on his small computer. Soon enough, Ken was getting his flat bed truck ready to pick up Aman and our Cobalt.

“Heh, so I guess we’ll be best of friends by the end of this.” I say to him.

“Ok.” he responds.

Clearly, Ken is a man of few words.

We pick up Aman and the Cobalt, and finally head towards Bozeman.

I plant myself by the side door, while poor Aman gets crammed in the middle between me and the stoic Ken. As we head north on the highway Aman notices the crosses lining the entire highway.

“What are those crosses for?” Aman asks Ken.

“For those that have died on this highway.” Ken responds.

“Wait, how do people die here?”

“In the night time, bears come out. Deers will run around. Slippery roads from the ice. You name it.”

Aman is fixated on Ken’s mustache and begins to chat with him about his facial hair.

“How long have you had that mustache?” Aman asks.

“Going on 41 years,” Ken’s muffled voice says from behind his facial hair.

“How long did it take you to grow?”

“About a year.”

“I consider myself a facial hair aficionado, and I’ve got to say, you have one fine work of art on your face.”

“Thanks, I’m not sure I know how to respond to that.”

I see the sun setting and realize that soon enough we’ll be breaking our fast. And that’s when I realized how tired and exhausted the day had made me. One of the best ways to get through the day fasting is to keep yourself busy and now, finally having a moment to relax, my brain catches up with my stomach and it’s a terrible feeling.

# # #

I wake up to the truck pulling over inside a parking lot. We have arrived in Bozeman and get outside the car. I remember taking a photo of Ken and asking him to smile.

“I am smiling,” he said.


We exit the tow truck, take our stuff out of the Cobalt and wait for our host, Ruhul, to pick us up. Aman and I are silent and are dreading the inevitable talk about what we have to do if the auto repair took more than a couple of hours.  Then of course, the worst question – What happens if  we miss more than one day?

Soon enough, Ruhul, our host, shows up and we are on our way to his house.

Ruhul is one of the oldest members of the Muslim community in Montana. He is a professor in Mechanical Engineering at Montana State University.
According to him, there isn’t a single mosque in the entire state of Montana. Not one. It’s one of the only states in the entire country that doesn’t have a mosque.

I ask him where he prays taraweeh, the Ramadan night prayer.

“The university [Montana State] has given us a prayer room and another space for taraweeh prayers.”

Ruhul likes it in Bozeman, that’s why he’s been here for over 20 years with his two daughters and wife.  He’s leading the push to help build the first mosque in the state. But it’s hard to, he says, because most of the Muslims here are transient. They come to the area to attend school at Montana State University but end up leaving after graduation. Ruhul says that makes it hard to build a mosque because there isn’t a longstanding Muslim community here. But once you build a mosque, a community will slowly begin to form around it.

We arrive at his house, break our fast and eat a great meal prepared by his wife. Ruhul tells us there is no access to halal meat whatsoever in the area, so his family has a halal meat company in Iowa regularly send meat via FedEx. Wow.

After eating, we head out to Montana State University, where the community gathers to pray.  We enter a small classroom where there are 15 people in the middle of  praying the night prayer, Isha. We join in.

Around the room, I see about fifteen students and a couple of faculty members. They all look back at me and smile. I didnt plan on praying with the congregation today, but I felt compelled to. Maybe we will make to North Dakota tomorrow, maybe we wont. Whatever the case, we have to try and that’s all really we can do.

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  1. September 2nd, 2010 | Ajmal Khan says:

    Let us all pray to help them build our first mosque in Montana.

  2. September 2nd, 2010 | Theresa says:

    Love this post! Hope you make it to North Dakota!

  3. September 2nd, 2010 | Azhar says:

    Inshallah they will have a mosque in Montana soon! Aman and Bassam i am totally hooked on this website and can’t wait till you two come to chicago. May Allah bless you both

  4. September 2nd, 2010 | Aishah says:

    Asalaamu Alaikum

    Wow halal meat by fedex. I thought we had it bad since we have to travel more than an hour to get ours every month. May Allah help them build a mosque and a permanent community. Amin.

  5. September 2nd, 2010 | Amena Khan says:

    Hahahahhahaha. Aman, you actually asked him about his mustache? Hahahaha. Good one.

  6. September 2nd, 2010 | Zenaira says:

    “Heh, so I guess we’ll be best of friends by the end of this.” I say to him. “Ok.” he responds.

    I wake up to the truck pulling over inside a parking lot. We have arrived in Bozeman and get outside the car. I remember taking a photo of Ken and asking him to smile. “I am smiling,” he said.


    On a serious note, I’m surprised they don’t have a masjid there. My friend just wrote an article about Park51 and the role of Canadian Muslims. He wrote the following sentences, and I think they can totally be applied to this situation as well: “I would suggest to their community and our campus community to start today by being productive members of society, don’t wait until a complex is built or for someone to do it for you, but do it today because no one knows what will happen to Muslims tomorrow and only Allah (swt) knows what hardships may come.”

  7. September 3rd, 2010 | Ruhul Amin says:

    Alhamdulillah, we are getting there. We have raised half the money we need but we still have to go the other half. Please help us to build the first ever Mosque in the State of Montana. Please donate at and tell your friends/family to help us in this noble cause inshaAllah. More information about our IRS approved tax-exempt project can be found at our website

  8. September 3rd, 2010 | Ruhul Amin says:

    Yes, “halal meat by fedex”! We have been doing that for last 21 years….

  9. September 3rd, 2010 | Mohd. Syafei says:

    Assalamua alaikum warahmatullahi wa barakatuh,…
    Alhamdulillah, Finally I found this Blog. I’m Indonesian muslim who want to know how moslem life in abroad, I really enjoy your journey…really inspirational and motivated me to doing Ibadat better. Do you mean if I share it with muslim community in my country…
    Wassalamu alaikum warahmatullahi wabarakatuh

  10. September 3rd, 2010 | Anonymous says:

    Why is the imam in the picture holding a quran and leading salat. This is disgraceful. Astagfirullah. I think they should all pray there salat again. Atleast one person amongst them should have this much knowledge that this is not permissable in salat.

  11. September 3rd, 2010 | M says:

    Fascinating. IA the car will be repaired quickly and your journey will be safe and easy.

  12. September 3rd, 2010 | Anonymous says:

    The reason the person leading the prayers is holding a Quran is that probably he is not a hafiz (memorizer of the quran) and they are performing the Taraveeh prayer. In small place like Montaina, i doubt they are any hafiz’s of the quran. Hence the leader of the prayer can read from Quran if they are no hafiz present.

  13. September 3rd, 2010 | khadija says:

    slm.iv just spent 2days readin ur blog and im totally addicted to it. and i cant belief i have to wait for the next instalment. im in cape town south africa and its weird how similiar things are with regard to masjied and the people. also i think bout how easy we have it here in regards to halaal food and bein able practice islam, think we take it for granted.
    keep up the excellent work

  14. September 3rd, 2010 | dave in key west says:

    archaic ritual FAIL

  15. September 3rd, 2010 | Anonymous says:

    It is ridiculous when people think they know everything and are very quick to claim that what people are doing is wrong. If there is no Hafiz present then it is permissible to read from the Quran. There is a hadith relating to this,

    It has been narrated by Abu Dawud in Kitabul-Masahif, via Ayyub, from Ibn Abi Mulaikah, that Aishah, may Allaah be pleased with her, was being led in prayers by her servant, Thakwan and he was reading from the Book. And Ibn Abi Shaybah said: Waki informed us, on the authority Hisham bin Urwah, on the authority of Ibn Abi Mulaikah, on the authority of Aishah, may Allaah be pleased with her, that she freed a slave belonging to her and he used to lead her (in prayer) in Ramadhan, using the Book.

  16. September 3rd, 2010 | Ellen says:

    I am a member of the Bozeman community and can tell you that we do not have a mosque, or an Imam, or Hafiz and on the first night of Taraweh the leader of the prayer quoted a Hadith stating that in Sunnah it is permissible to read one Surah from the Qur’an as long as the other Surah is memorized. As practicing Muslims, we all have the Surah Al Fatiha memorized and therefore are in the right.
    Please be understanding of the fact that as a VERY small Muslim community with very little support, we are only doing our best. We are lucky to have a Taraweh and a member of the community willing to lead it and a place in which to gather.
    Do not judge, you are a Muslim.

  17. September 3rd, 2010 | Fatima says:

    Ditto Khadija,

    I’m also from SA – In Jhb – definitely addicted to this website as well :) We are incredibly blessed here in SA – Masjid’s in practically every suburb – sometimes 2 or 3 – May we all give thanks everday to the almighty!

  18. September 3rd, 2010 | Sabeen says:

    So the smoke started building up and then you kept driving?! That’s brave :-) There is a lot of barakah in your journey, and inshAllah you will be protected during it (along with being rewarded with a fully functioning car soon).

    Jazak Allah Khair for sharing your story and bringing together so many people across the Muslim World. Be safe!

  19. September 3rd, 2010 | Tahera Rahman says:

    Wow, really interesting.
    Inshallah we’ll have a strong Muslim community/mosque there in the near future.

  20. September 3rd, 2010 | Z says:

    My favorite line:

    ““I am smiling,” he said.



    Sorry to hear about the breakdown! :( You guys are real troopers!

  21. September 3rd, 2010 | rehan says:

    I’m trying to think of an internet meme gif to post here! BUT I CAN’T FIND ONE!

  22. September 3rd, 2010 | Sara says:

    @ the person who thinks it’s so horrible that the imam is holding a Quran-
    I’m a Muslim in the Bozeman area and if you’re a hafiz, then please, come to Bozeman and lead taraweeh. Otherwise, don’t judge. We are not currently lucky enough to have a hafiz. We’re doing the best we can. Leave the judgment to Allah.

  23. September 4th, 2010 | Rashed says:

    Several years ago, during a study-abroad semester in the Czech Republic, I’d pray tarawih with my fellow Muslim students at Palacký University in Olomouc. We had a small but cozy prayer room in the basement of one of the university dorms. None of us was a hafiz, so a Yemeni brother who was good at tajwid led us and read from a copy of the Qur’an while doing so. I felt more of a sense of community in that musalla than I’ve felt in many a mosque. So, to the Anonymous poster above: please don’t rush to criticise people unless you’ve been in their situation.

  24. September 4th, 2010 | Rashed says:

    To Sisters Ellen and Sara: I went to college in a small town in Iowa, where the Muslim community numbered fewer than 15 individuals (and that’s including the Muslim college students). I’m proud of your community for organising tarawih prayers in the first place. Ma sha’ Allah.

  25. September 4th, 2010 | Aman and Bassam says:

    think hard!

  26. September 5th, 2010 | Beenish says:

    Whoa finding out how people died on that road, I would be Alhamdulillah-ing it all the way to Bozeman! I liked this post a lot. This whole project is awesome! It’s really cool to see and learn about all the different sorts of communities out there at least from your guys’ perspectives! Thanks :)

  27. September 6th, 2010 | Haris Siddiqui says:

    Hey I used to go to that school and attend the same place in Culbertson Hall for Taraweeh. This post has brought back some good memories for me from Bozeman. It is a really beautiful place.

  28. September 10th, 2010 | Dan J.S. says:

    So why did the Chevy fail? Did you hit a rock or was it mechanical?

  29. September 10th, 2010 | Elizabeth says:

    I love this blog! As a proud Montanan, I would love to see a mosque built in Bozeman (or any place in Montana for that matter). Not because I am Muslim, as I am not, but because of the diversity of belief, beauty, and richness it would bring to our communities. Thank you for writing about your trip. I am sharing this with my friends. Well done!

  30. September 10th, 2010 | Tricia H. says:

    I found this site through the CNN link, thoroughly enjoying reading through this blog, and just donated $10 to I C Bozeman.

    The only way to defeat intolerance is through tolerance; the only way to defeat hate is through love. I’m glad Aman and Bassam have shown in their journey that America is still a nation of tolerance and love. The petty voices of small minds have gotten far too much airplay for far too long. May God bless both of you, always.

  31. September 11th, 2010 | Jennifer Zinchuk says:

    Wow! I’m so glad I came across this blog–your trip sounds amazing and it is so refreshing to read of your adventures(and see it get some national press)! As a former Montanan, it is fascinating to hear about Montana’s Muslim community (as small as it may be). I’m very interested to read more–thank you for sharing!!

  32. September 11th, 2010 | Chip says:

    I am so glad you found the US accepting of immigrants, I was worried what you thought(aren’t you from Ohio??). What did you really expect? The media likes to portray the US as some intolerant place but can you name a country that has labored more for the greater good of world, laid her son’s and daughters to rest in the name of freedom? I think a phone call to anyone outside of LA or NY could have told you that and saved you the drive. I would even go as far to say that most people could care less who or what anyone worships, it their business. Now speaking for myself here, I do get offended when a given “community” moves to the US to escape what ever terrible situation they lived in before and bring the crap part of it with them. Say, honor killings, female mutilation, the desire for Islamic laws. My question would be isn’t this what you were trying to escape? Some may make the argument of tradition, that however needs to be left in whatever forsaken country the given community is from. One the reason the US has been so successful was the ability of the past immigrant to bring with the the best parts of their past but to leave the crap part behind. I have known people from most faiths and as far as I know everyone got along. I often argued with the TV that the world (especially the middle east) could learn a lot from the four corners on my block, three different churches, I don’t ever recall gun battles breaking out. That all said I do admit to having one beef with the US Muslim community, that is why does it seem to have the unwillingness or the inability to speak out against the people hijacking the religion with violence? That leads me to question, are they American first or Muslim first? Like the Mosque in NYC, I thing everyone agrees a private person can build anything they want on private property but it does seem to be a bit of a stick in the eye. So for me (for what that is worth) until I see more of the Muslim community speaking out publicly against the violence instead of saying well you sorta brought it on yourself I view (from a political standpoint) it with a suspicious eye.

    But, I digress, I am glad you found America accepting. Something everyone else already knew.

  33. September 11th, 2010 | Ilyas says:

    Chip..I’ve read your statement above and was buzzled by your hypocrisy. In one hand, you attempt to assure these two guys that America is a tolerant(I’m a Muslim and I do believe America is tolerant)country, yet, your message has a venomous degree to it.

    You accuse us of importing behaviors such as genital mutilation and honor killing. The problem is, have you studied the religion of Islam without resorting FOX NEWS? FYI, Islam forbids both deeds. Its unislamic to mutilate the human body and its absolutely forbidden in Islam to commit an act of honor killing.

    Last but not least, we love this country. We understand that this country has values that are not foundable in Muslim countries today. Ironically the American value is inherritanly an Islamic value, because in Islam we are told in our holly qur,an to be tolerant of other religion, to be just, to be fair, and to rule your subjects humanely and justly, to not steal, lie, gossip, backbite, kill, fornicate, and etc. Therefore, understand that you are intolerant and in the process ignorant.

  34. September 11th, 2010 | Chip says:

    Ayas, My point was condoned or not the behaviors happen her in the US, Minnesota and Ohio come to mind, also the girl trying to get away from her parents because she was too western. Granted this isn’t particularly different that any other religion. Most have a “dark age” so to speak of terrible atrocities being committed in the name of god but for the most part most of the world has moved on. All the “lefties” like to bash FNN, that doesn’t make the story untrue, unreported anywhere else but not untrue. However anyone who takes any news org or politician at face value is a fool.

    If all these behaviors are forbidden then explain the treatment of women in, say Saudi Arabia. A fairly modern country but yet a woman cannot drive there, you have the behavior police etc… I don’t get it at all it reminds me of Mormons to a certain degree. England is a good example of trying to blend in, they want a Sharia subset law, yeah..there is a good idea, lets cut off a hand of a kid that stole a matchbox. Or what was that case in the US where the guy raped his wife and the judge indicated he was innocent because in his “culture” he was allowed to do it…what????

    I would think anyone who lived here more than ten minutes would love this country…regardless of background. I am sure that people who have lived here and then bad mouthed it after the fact are just upset they didn’t get whatever they think they were entitled to, so now we all must pay.

    Again I think my point is why is there not more outcry from the Muslim community in America against the violence? Granted I don’t know what I would expect, but it seems remarkably quite. You have the finance guys in NYC that can be tracked back to known terror guys and they only thing they can say is well you sorta brought it on yourself, really? how is that by trying end oppression?

    Yes I will admit I am intolerant, intolerant of B.S. and grow more so with age. I hate all the back door deals(politically speaking) disguised intentions etc… I really wish people would just be a lot more forthcoming and a lot of BS could be avoided. Ignorant…maybe, my wife might agree but I wouldn’t be searching out sites like this one to tell the other side of the story so to speak if I wasn’t trying to figure out where the truth is.

    Lastly I would say that all the stories that make the news are usually awful ones and the good ones are relegated to page 6 section D. Please don’t me wrong that I am accusing every Muslim in the US of such behaviors, I assure you I am not. It is like the Catholic church, why where they so quite and protective of pedophiles in there ranks? But I suppose that is the problem with society in general the jerks always make more noise than the people just wanting to live their lives.

  35. September 13th, 2010 | ilyas says:

    Chip, you know something chip? I think your a decent guy who’s a bit misinformed. I believe that if you had the opportunity to sit down with a Muslim that you would come to a positive understanding of Islam.

    You see Chip, you’ve mixed couple of things about Islam and the people that called themselves Muslims. You forgot to understand that culture is not religion. Sometimes some Muslim’s culture is sinful in the eyes of Islam. For instance you mentioned why women can’t drive in Saudi Arabia? The reason is not because of Islam it’s because of that particular countries conservative’s culture. Also remember that Saudi Arabia is one country out of a hundred muslim countries in the world. Those other countries allow their women to drive. Furthermore Chip, do you know that 3 Muslim countries have elected women as their President or Prime Minister, and they were Bangladesh, Pakistand and Indonesia(most populous Muslim country in the world). Would it be fair for me to ask you “why America has not had a women president?”.

    Chip, you say that we do not speak against terrorism. In the quran it says that ” a person who unjustly kills another human being is as if though he killed the entire humanity”. Do you know Chip that when we meet on another we greet each other with “salaamu alaykum”, meaning, “peace be upon you”. If Islam was a violent religion would we not greet each other “war be upon you”. Btw, all forms of terrorism in my personal opinion are against humanity and should be condemned by all of humanity, whether its by muslims, christians or jews. Plus be fair and just when judging us because I dont judge your religion based what few christians have done, such as Hitler, the crusders, the inquisatadors(I butchered it), and timothy mcveigh.

    Lastly chip, majority of Muslims Americans know that America is wonderful country to live in. Million times better than all of todays Muslim countries. You’ll find in America things that were impossible in a lot of Muslim countries. In America your provided with the right to worship, even if you wana worship Chip himself. In America your allowed to bad mouth the president on his job performance, but try doing that in any Muslim country and you sure will dissapear. In America no one is above the law, in almost all of the Muslim countries in todays world, the elites have one law and the common men has an inferior law. In America you have democratically elected representative government, in Muslim countries you have kings and military dictators who happen to murderers and thieves plus heartless(keep in mind that these countries are absolutely supported by America though these countries leaders are oppressing their own citizens). As a matter of fact I myself is so much grateful to America. I was born in Somalia, yes Somalia, I think you’ve seen Somalia on the news, something about piracy. All jokes aside, as a young kid I was forced to flee the civil war and seek shelter in neighboring Kenya. America came to my rescue and took me in. I came to America never knowing how to write and read in English. As a matter of fact I never set a foot in school prior to coming to America. Imagine been 10 and not knowing how to hold a pencil. Thanks to the good lord today I hold a bechelors degree from “the” Ohio State University. No, it’s not a big deal, but my point is that Chip, it would never have been possible if America was not generous toward me and my people. Also this country is so generous that they allow you to become an American citizen and carry that passport. In so called Muslim country like Saudi Arabia, Somalis who are born in that country and that grew up in it are shipped back to Somalia every year and are denied citizenship, even though we happened to share the same religion. They are also denied the right to education. However, the religion of Islam forbids all these negetive behavior of such a Muslim country as Saudi Arabia. Best believe I am not “behind kissing”, but i’m grateful to America.

  36. September 16th, 2010 | Angie says:

    Hey Guys-
    I’m a Christian & a Montanan living in W. Africa. I live in a mixed Christian/Islamic country. I’ve recently been so sad regarding the publicity received by the intolerant few in the US, but then I saw your story on CNN & eventually made it to your blog. I was so proud that Montana gave you a kind welcome. I’m excited to read on & see how your journey ended & if you had a great Eid celebration. Ours was alot of fun here in Sierra Leone.

  37. September 28th, 2010 | USEagle says:

    Thank God! there is no Mosque in Montana! they should all be run out of the United States! We do not want you here! or your trash!We do not stand for allah a moon idol god!Go back where people pray to idols!we want you out! do not even try to build a mosque in Montana! Its only a matter of time till America has had enough & and it is about that time now!

  38. 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

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  42. May 3rd, 2013 | Frank Dwyer says:

    I just discovered this project in my Religion course about a week back. I lived about an hour away from Bozeman before going off to school, and I know the college there has a growing Muslim community as well, thus I was thoroughly shocked when I learned there was no Mosque or Islamic Center in the state. I hope and pray that the Muslim community in MT grows and builds a much more accommodating facility for their needs, Montana needs Muslims to stay in the state: they build diversity, are well educated, and very nice people.

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  48. August 19th, 2015 | U.S. Born and raised says:

    I don’t think we need any Islam related bull in Montana. If I were Islam I would keep it to myself. I’ve seen enough with ISIS. What does Allah or whoever think about beheading innocent people in public. Let me guess, American Muslims have different values than foreign Muslims. That’s bull, stay out of my home country please. At least keep your faith locked In a closet I’ve seen enough on T.V. Almost every day some new Islamic news that makes my blood boil. It would be nearly impossible for me to forget what I’ve seen and to me all Muslims have the same beliefs whether here or anywhere else.

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