Muslims and America
Friday, August 22 2008 | Comments (0)
In this 30 Days episode, an all-American guy from West Virginia ventures out of his comfort zone to experience life as a Muslim in Dearborn, Michigan...
Morgan Spurlock had found a person who was willing to uproot from his life and family to experience what life as a Muslim would be like in America. He found just the right person in Charlotte, West Virginia- Spurlock’s home state.
Dave Stacey is a 33 year old insurance salesman with a wife and a little baby. He is a Christian who loves to drink beer and eat pork, especially at barbeques. Morgan and Dave even ate some grilled piggy at a party Dave’s family gave in Charlotte, before he left for his 30 Days assignment. His destination was to be the heart of Muslim America- Dearborn, Michigan.
Morgan asked his wife Aileen how she felt about him leaving for Michigan the next day. “I don’t know. I guess I am still in shock that this is happening!” she replied.
Before Dave left, Morgan had a sit down talk with him in his home. “When you hear ‘Muslim’, what do you picture?” he asked. “I picture a woman with a sheet or hat covering her”, he said, “And I see a man with an AK 47 at war with someone.”
Since Dave is a practicing Christian, Morgan asked him was he willing to pray with Muslims in their way. Dave said no. “The ten commandments say ‘You shouldn’t put any other gods before me.”
“Why are you doing this?” asked Morgan.
“To immerse myself in something I not totally nothing about”, Dave replied. “It’s gonna put me in one of the most vulnerable positions I have ever been in.”
Day 1 began in Dave’s house with Morgan telling him the rules of his assignment. “Rule one, you will live with a Muslim family”, he said, “and you will follow all of their customs and traditions from what you wear to what you eat.” Morgan also told him the other rules: study the Qur’ran (the holy book of the Islamic faith) and to grow a beard. He gave Dave a garment bag to put on. “In keeping with the first rule,” he said, “you’re gonna have to put this on.” Dave grabbed the bag, went to his bedroom and put on an all white tunic and pants complete with a little cap on his head.
When he got dressed in his new garb, he went downstairs where his wife and Morgan chuckled. Aileen looked at the little cap. “It accentuates your head but it is not you.”
“I KNOW it’s not me”, Dave replied.
“Getting away from my wife and son will obviously be hard”, said Dave as he packed up his suitcase in Morgan’s rental. After a hug and kiss from his wife, he was off to the airport.
Things got interesting when he arrived at Yeager Airport in Charleston. “It was very strange being in the airport”, Dave said. “It is amazing how a change of clothes can change how people react to you.” While walking through the airport with his luggage, and clothed in full Muslim garb, Dave was stopped by airport security and was then prompted checked for “suspicious” items.
“It was the first time I ever was stopped at a security checkpoint”, said Dave. “I definitely commanded a lot of stares.”
Once he got to Michigan, he traveled to Dearborn, where his chauffeured car pulled up at the Crescent Academy Mosque. It was there that Dave was to meet his host family, the Haques. The only thing is that he arrived while they were in prayer and he had to wait quietly in the back before they got to him.
Shamael Haque came up to Dave and introduced himself. Dave then met Sadia, Shamael’s wife who was holding their little baby.
It turned out that the Haque family lived right across the street from the mosque so Dave followed them back to their home with his luggage. Dave found out that his hosts are of Pakistani descent. Shamael is a physician while Saida is studying to be an attorney.
As they ate together at the table for dinner, Dave had a chance to taste Middle Eastern cuisine while discussing understanding or lack of concerning the Islamic faith. “I know very little of the Muslim faith”, he admitted. “There are very few Islamic people that live in West Virginia.”
“After 9/11, we definitely got some dirty stares”, said Shamael. “It’s very uncomfortable.”
Saida agreed with her husband. “I still get reactions like ‘Oh, you don’t speak with an accent’”, she said to Dave. “Not realizing that I was born and raised in this country.”
Shamael handed Dave a copy of the Qur’an to study from. “The Qur’an is what Muslims believe to be the word of God revealed unto Muhammad. Peace be upon him”, he said.
Day 2- Dave woke up bright and early to a bedside radio that emitted a loud, melodious tune. Needless to say, he was quite startled by the sound until Shamael came into his room and shut off the radio.
“That was the 5:30 alarm for our first prayer”, said Shamael.
Dave scrabbled to get dressed as Shamael led him into the family room where his wife was already waiting to do the first prayer for the day. Dave watched them pray from the kitchen.
“It’s impressive to pray 5:30 in the morning”, Dave said. “Maybe I am more freaked out about this than I am letting on.”
Later that morning, during breakfast and with Saida noticeably absent, Shamael wanted to have a man to man talk with Dave. “When I leave for work”, he said, “my wife would not be comfortable being alone in the house with someone she doesn’t know.” Dave was shocked.
Shamael explained that it is not customary in his religion for women to be with men alone that they don’t know. “It is said from the Prophet, when there is a man and woman alone, Satan is the third.”
Dave told him that he understood and left the home in his rental to explore Dearborn, the most densely populated Muslim community in the United States. As he drove through town, he noticed the shops and the people he saw. “I am in Michigan, but I might as well be in the Middle East”, said Dave in his interview. “In light of all the recent beheadings and things, my mom thinks I will be on Al-Jaherezza.”
Day 3- To learn more of the Muslim faith, Dave went to the local Karbalaa Islamic Education Center, where he met up with his new spiritual advisor, Imam Al Husaini. Being a prayer leader, an Imam serves in a similar capacity as a priest or rabbi for a mosque.
“Christianity, Judaism, Islam…they have different language, different culture”, explained the Imam, “but the core, the principles of all three religions are the same- we believe in one God.”
“The Imam was saying that we all pray to the same God”, said Dave in his interview, “and this is blowing my mind.”
Day 4- Dave had a new spiritual advisor but he would learn a lot of the Islamic faith by his immersion into the lifestyle of the Haques and their buddies who were all Muslim. He sat and spoke with them about his experience so far, especially his time being checked at the airport by the security.
“They gave me the wand”, he said.
“Yeah”, said one of Shamael’s friends, “we know about the wand.”
Day 6- Dave was preparing for the Muslim holy day of Juma that would happen the next day at the mosque. “I know that there will be a prayer service going on’, he said, “and I am going to be asked to pray to something that I know very little about. I got a real conflict about that.”
Day 7- On Juma the Friday prayer service, Dave had a meeting with his Imam before the ceremony. He expressed his misgivings about praying in Arabic to a conception of God that he didn’t understand.
“You are here to learn, not to believe”, said the Imam. “Let your heart meditate, to talk to God. It doesn’t matter which language or which physical action…just spiritually talk to God.”
Dave did the ceremony but felt extremely uncomfortable as the Imam did the service. “I don’t know if the prayers are to condemn Christianity or the Holy Trinity”, he said during his interview.
Day 9- Dave was invited to a bachelor party for one of Shamael’s friends. However it was different than what he expected. It took place in a gym and instead of strippers and booze, the men played basketball and prayed. Dave watched from a distance.
“I was just stuck on how seriously they take it”, said Dave. “After you watch them pray, it seems as if they had some experiences… like they had connected on some pretty deep levels.”
Day 10- Dave had another meeting with his Imam to have some more questions answered about Islam. “Do you believe that Jesus was the son of God?”
“Spiritual son”, said the Imam. “So was Abraham. So was Moses. So was Mohammed.”
Things got a little uncomfortable for the Imam when he saw Dave sit with his leg crossed and the bottom of his shoes facing him. Not only did Dave forget to take his shoes off before he came in the door, he didn’t know that to show the bottom of your soles to another in Arabic custom was extremely offensive.
“When you get into the house of God”, explained the Imam, “we’ve got to show the highest level of politeness.”
Day 13- Dave was growing increasingly uncomfortable with praying in Arabic in the mosque. He was so conflicted that he gave Morgan a call for some advice. Dave spoke with him on his cell phone and aired out his grievances about his misgivings about praying.
“What I want to make sure that happens”, said Morgan, “is when the call to prayer comes, you unroll your mat and observe the time. “
Day 14- Two weeks into his assignment, Dave was able to take Arabic lessons at the local Islamic Center of America. His instructor’s name was Ameer. Dave struggled with the pronunciations throughout the lesson but Ameer was patient.
Day 15- Dave didn’t really click with Imam Hasain, so he was able to get a new one at a mosque in nearby Detroit. He asked his new Imam, Eide Alawan, some questions like why the women pray behind the men.
“It just seems like men are inherently evil”, he said to Imam Alawan.
“You will find in a lot of mosques where the women pray behind the men”, replied the Imam, “it is out of respect for the women.” He explained that having women bend down in front of men would be distracting. That made a lot of sense to Dave.
The Imam also gave Dave a sheet that explained not only the prostrations for Juma, but what the prayers in Arabic mean translated into English. Dave practiced at the Haque household that night.
Day 19- Dave was progressing in his Arabic lessons with Ameer and was pleased with his tutelage. The two men hung out at Hart Plaza in Detroit and spoke Islam some more. Since he considered the Muslim way of life strict, he asked Ameer what he does for fun. “We are allowed to have responsible fun”, he said. Dave asked what if he wanted a couple of beers.
“I don’t think so”, Ameer replied. “And you know that even in your own religion alcohol is forbidden.”
Day 21- Dave offered to make dinner for the Haques by observing their faith which called for all of their food to be halal. Halal is to the Muslims what kosher is to the Jewish. The practice calls for no pork, no alcohol and that any meat that is consumed is to be ritualistically blessed at time of slaughter.
After he visited his first slaughterhouse to pick up some beef and lamb, he went back to the Haques and prepared a tasty feast for his host and some of their friends. They agreed it was delicious and they thanked him. Sooner than later, the discussion became political and Dave asked if they were aware of a sleeper terrorist cell around town.
“When they do catch a Muslim or an Arabic”, said Shamael, “I think that it is a way to make headlines.”
The argument grew heated between everyone until Saida tugged on her husband’s arm. “We need to pray”, she said and she was insistent about it.
“Shamael and I sorta butted heads”, said Dave in his interview. “But right when we were at the apex of battle, it was time to pray. After five minutes of doing it, all the hostility was really pretty gone. Taking time out to redirect that anger was good.”
Day 25- Dave was settling down into living in Dearborn as a Muslim with other Muslims. But he was still in a comfort zone. To get him out of that, Haaris Ahmed, who is one of Shamael’s friends and an attorney for the Council on Islamic and American Relations had a task for him to do in nearby Howell, Michigan.
“Here is a petition”, said Haaris, “asking for opposition to any kind of legislation that would profile against Arab Americans or Muslims just based on their ethnicity or religion.”
Howell Michigan has a lower population of Arab Americans or Muslims in it and Dave had a hard time convincing the people to signing the petition.
“No Christian has ever destroyed the World Trade Center”, a person told him. “It was only Moslems.”
David grew exasperated. “What about Oklahoma? The federal building there. Who did that?”
“Who are the terrorists in America today?” the man asked walking away. “Moslems.”
Day 26- Dave was scheduled to give an interview at a radio station in nearby Detroit to recount his experience with his project. People from all over the metropolitan area called in asking him if he became aware of any terrorist activity.
“I had to defend myself to Americans”, said Dave in his interview, “it was a weird position to be in.”
As he neared the end of his assignment, Morgan flew into town to see how he was faring. “What has been the scariest thing for you so far?” he asked. “Opening up my head into the spiritual unknown”, replied Dave.
“What are some of the things you admire?” Morgan asked him.
“The self-discipline they exhibit”, Dave said.
Day 28- It’s Juma again and Dave went to the mosque in Detroit to pray in the Muslim way. He prostrated and prayed with the other people in there and felt much more comfortable than he did before.
Day 29- Dave went to Ameer’s home and thanked him for the lessons he gave him. “I could tell from the first time we met that I was going to learn a lot from you”, he said.
“It is from God”, said Ameer. “Because I feel the same thing. You are a good Christian but don’t forget Islam. This is a trust. If there are some people who say something wrong about Islam, I think that it is your responsibility to defend it because you lived it.”
Day 30- Right before he was to take the plane back home to West Virginia, the Haques and their friends threw Dave a surprise going away party complete with a large cake that read, “Let’s Agree to Disagree”.
“You guys have been really wonderful to me and I really appreciate it”, said Dave to everyone.
After saying goodbye to his host family, Dave was excited to get back into West Virginia. Morgan met him at the airport and drove him back home. Once he stepped in the door, he gave his wife and son a kiss and a hug. In addition, he put the Muslim garb away, shaved his beard and had drunk some beer with Morgan.
“As an Anglo-American”, he said in his interview, “I never felt like a minority anywhere I went. I came back knowing that they (Muslims) are some of the most awesome people… devoted…productive. I think we could use several million more of them, to tell you the truth.”