50 MOSQUE MAN FALL TOUR 2015: 1. Denver, Colorado
I visited Masjid Al-Noor in Denver, Colorado Tuesday, April 21 of this year, 2015. I called the Adhan for Asr prayer. Imam ShemsAdeen Ben-Masaud, a young student of knowledge, newly returned from Jordan would be my host for the occasion. It was a very brief touch and go event as we needed to be in Cheyenne, Wyoming by the evening.
During that brief encounter, I was able to see his dynamic personality in action as he wore the teachings of his mentors on his sleeve, showing respect to the elder scholar on site and wielding rapport with the youth in the community. His personality bore a unique combination that I felt was positioned to make a deep and positive impact with all of those that surrounded him. I knew that I would want to come back for another visit to learn more in detail.
This is specifically why I chose this location as the testing grounds for my fall 2015, 50 Mosque Man Tour. I would visit between Thursday morning and Saturday morning. The following narrative is a summary of all that I encountered during my visit. This event was very special, because every single youth group and Muslim Student Association in the entire city of Denver, Colorado combined their efforts to produce this event. Led by a dynamic personality in Imam ShemsAdeen, the youth took to social media and positioned this visit as an opportunity to begin a collaboration amongst all of the various groups and catalyze a launch of a major platform.
I could not have asked for a better host, accommodation and reception. The community of Denver, Colorado is a must visit for any person looking to travel. From the airport, to the masjid and everything in between, this is a place full of good food, great people and wonderful sightseeing.
TAKING OFF FROM DETROIT
The flight was early (8:09am) and I knew I needed time to collect my thoughts. I entered the Delta Sky lounge, grabbed some edibles to get the juices flowing and stored some away for the flight. I was reppin IMAN Central with their "Refresh The Hood" Hoodie. Wanted to make sure that I made up for missing the 7:30am Chicago tour during ISNA. It's been nearly 4 months since I carried my companion: "The Muaddhin Banner" and I knew I was out of touch. As I sipped on some apple juice and chewed on a bagel, I thought to myself: "I needed to get back to form, to operating procedure." Needed to take a picture of every major and minor milestone along my journey. Needed to avoid every opportunity cost that I could. I kept telling myself that their is a story to tell here. Ten minutes to boarding time, I left the lounge and made my way to the gate. Upon arrival and amongst the crowd, a face looked familiar. Bernie Smilovich, Click on Detroit/Channel 4, Sports Director was on my flight. I cautiously approached him and inquired if he was in fact the television news celebrity. He pleasantly confirmed that he was. I pulled up a picture of my USA Today's article and shared with him my story and why I was heading over to Denver, Colorado. He thought that it was pretty cool and so I asked him if I could take a picture with him and that became my first win of the trip. A chance for me to share a thought about my journey and in return, a brief collaboration of positivity was the result.
MEET AND GREET
I arrived in Denver on time (10:01am). Waiting for me was the young student of knowledge/Vice Imam of Masjid Al-Noor, Imam ShemsAdeen Ben-Masaud. He'd been waiting for me 30 minutes prior to arrival. We Grab my bags and headed for the hotel. We shared and egg sandwich that his wife made for both of us. First impressions are everything and generosity seemed to be the way of his people. We took some pictures at the airport and posted them so that our followers on social media knew that our story had begun. The young Imam had informed me that we had a packed schedule. There would be several meet and greets posted throughout my stay. We would need to be efficient with our time and make sure that our message was customized towards the right audience as we prepared for what was ahead.
I let him know that we needed to stop by the Apple Store to make sure that all of our technical needs are taking care of, so that I may seek council on matters of posting to social media and optimizing my visual presentation for the main event. After the meeting with the business consultants of the Apple team, we grabbed a quick bite to eat in the mall cafeteria. The whole time, Both of us were posting and hash tagging, making sure that everybody in the network was plugged in.
We reached the hotel. I dropped off my bags, changed my clothes, performed a fresh wudu, slung my banner over my shoulder and jumped in the car to the first location.
VISIT WITH THE KIDS
We arrived at Crescent view Academy right before the Dhuhr prayer. Upon arrival, I had an opportunity to see the local scholar giving instruction in way of the appropriate posture when praying. The Imam and I prayed in the back of a packed room of boys and girls dressed in uniform. After the prayers, we were both introduced buy the school administration and were given an opportunity to address the youth about my journey across the United States and the last sermon of the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ. The children were very curious. They had many questions. We tried to field as many questions as we could, being mindful that they had to go back to class. Possibly the best part of the visit may have been the opportunity to take pictures. First the boys would go and then the girls. Serious pictures, Silly ones and Muaddhin poses. The most interesting find for me during the visit to the school was the discovery that the man who would be my host, whose manners were most impressive, was a product of that school, as were other teachers and administrators that I met along the way. This to me was a prime example of return on investment. Whether we are talking about Muslim or non-Muslim communities, kids don't always come back to give back. When that happens, it's a very special thing for everybody.
MUSLIM STUDENTS ASSOCIATION
We reached campus around 3:30 PM to catch the tail end of the meeting. There we had an opportunity to meet some of the local university leadership. I had a chance to give an overview of what the expectations are and if they had any questions either about my historic journey or about the program that would be taking place the following evening. It wasn't until we interacted with a few students that I became aware that the young Imam also happened to be the chaplain for the Muslim Students Association. We opened up the banner, took some pictures and headed to the next stop.
BREAKING IN THE COURT & HANGING WITH THE YOUTH
One of the requests that I made, was an opportunity to play some basketball with the youth. As a former player, I used to relish the opportunity to play any place, any time. That day was special. They had just cemented two poles, put fresh asphalt and paint down and so we would inaugurate that court and played the first official game there. We had just enough time to squeeze one full court game before it was time for the Maghrib prayers. As luck would have it, our team won on a game winning shot by one point and I was off to prepare to make the call to prayer. That 30 minutes, 15 minutes or 10 minutes before prayer is a very special time. It's always interesting to take in the view of the people who are waiting for the time for prayer to come in. There is a calmness and a serenity about their demeanor. I made the call to prayer Madani style and the Imam led Maghrib. After that, he had arrange for me to sit down and impart some pearls of wisdom onto the local youth before the next prayer. So, I talked about being exceptional and making sure that intentions should be clear on any small or big endeavor. The youth listened and others joined in as well. It was an informal talk, But one that brought us close together. When the time to make the call to prayer came, I was pleasantly surprised to hear the beautiful voice of a young student from Saudi Arabia. It was his own melody that he used and it was a sweetness to the ear and to the heart. We prayed and then went out for a late dinner with a few select college students before I headed back to my hotel.
JUMUAH KHUTBAH (FRIDAY SERMON)
Friday morning, I was slated to give a short talk after the Fajr/Morning prayer, but taking inventory of what I had on my plate, I declined the offer to concentrate on my core presentation later that evening in preparation for the delivery of the Friday sermon. Around 12 PM I was pleasantly surprised to hear the recitation of the holy Qur'an outside of my room. I paused what I was doing and opened the door to find that the cleaning service were working on some other rooms and a middle aged woman had the recitation playing on her phone. I greeted her and asked her where she was from. She replied that she was from Algeria and I introduced myself as a guest to their community and also as the speaker for the Friday services. It was a gift to be able to see the devotion of the people of Denver, Colorado to the rights that the day of Friday. May God bless her work, Her family and her community I thought to myself. I received a text stating that my ride was there and so we proceeded towards the masjid. Upon arrival, the first service had just finished and was heavily packed. I had an opportunity to see people from all different ethnicities pouring out of the basement of the facilities. After everyone left I set up for my presentation, which would be championing the last sermon of the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ.
PREPPING FOR MY FIRST PRESENTATION
The question I find asking myself is: "How do you present hundreds of photo's, over a months worth of video footage and countless tales of people and places that were encountered over a timeframe of 1-2hrs?" The art is not the presentation of quantity, but rather the ability to express the idea in a simplified and streamlined fashion. Laced into the fabric of my presentation would be Muslim American trivia and vocal samples of Adhan, Qur'anic recitation and Nasheed (Wasn't even able to reach that far). My graphic design abilities played a big role in making sure that the presentation was high-quality. By the time that I was finished putting my keynote presentation together I had over 400 slides in the program. Even as Imam ShemsAdeen pick me up to take me to the venue, I still find myself adding more me to the presentation. This being the first time that we would run the program, you want to make sure that it goes as smoothly as possible and that you have represented the 50 communities visited doing the historical trip as best as possible.
THE MAIN EVENT
The presentation began promptly at 6:30 PM as planned. The room was packed with people representing all sorts of various demographics: Muslims, non-Muslims, elders, young people and a healthy mixture of various ethnicities. Approximately 5 slides per state were allocated and my biggest fear was that the presentation would be way too long. As I begin my speech, a surge of emotions took over. Everything started coming back to me about how difficult and enlightening the journey was. There were too many important tales to tell. How do I pick and choose which one gets more importance? Just like anything else, we began with the name of God and proceeded to tell the story. Time flew by so quickly and before we knew it, we were two and a half hours into the program. I saw people in the audience cry, take pictures and post. Others were eager to ask questions. For the first time since May, I was able to get the details of the trip out into the open. It was a blessing for me and those that were present. After the presentation, Many people expressed how inspired they were from the journey. It's funny, You know what it meant to you and why you did what you did, but it is always others that will truly define the act itself. For some, it was a spiritual upliftment. For others, it was motivation to go out there and do something exceptional, not just for themselves, but for humanity. Some said that they now realize the importance of understanding people from other communities. All in all I was very satisfied that everybody walked away with something that they could use to better themselves and/or make the country, the world a better place. I had an autograph signing session with the audience. A sense of fulfillment was the net result.
The best part of the event happened to be the photo session that took place after the speech. People were energized and motivated. They wanted to become part of the narrative. Throughout the evening, people were hash tagging and posting on all of their social media networks. There were several groups being represented and each one wanted to get themselves on the map. We had a blast taking serious photos, funny candids and individual portraits. People needed to be themselves and the "Muaddhin banner" seemed to be a celebrity on its own. The #50MosqueMan hashtag was designed to connect all of the communities together that participated on this tour. The group in Denver, Colorado really took ownership of kicking off this tour the right way. What a vibrant group. Afterwards, they took me to grab a bite to eat and before I knew it, I was ready to head to the airport. So marked the first stop of the fall tour. Many thanks to the beautiful community of Denver and all of it's youth. Next stop: KANSAY CITY!
You can learn more about my tour and view all of the awesome footage online at:
YOUTUBE: Jameel Syed Channel