Making 50 Calls to Prayer in 50 States

I am greeted with an exuberant “Salaams” from Jameel Syed, a Detroit-based marketing executive and muaddhin (the person designated in a masjid to recite the call to prayer). He and his campaign manager, Yahya Sultan, are traveling across the United States visiting 50 mosques in 50 states so Jameel can make the call to prayer (or adhan) in each one. It is an ambitious and history-making endeavor.

After each adhan, the 40–year-old will deliver the Prophet Muhammad’s (peace be upon him) last sermon to the attendees of each mosque. The two men will travel to 33 states in the Midwest and East Coast by car, but fly to the 17 more far-flung ones on the West Coast, including Hawaii and Alaska. Jameel excitedly tells me that as they head west, he even plans to call adhan over the Grand Canyon.

This hectic crisscrossing of the country began on Friday, April 3rd in Plainfield, Indiana at the headquarters of the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) and will conclude in Rochester Hills, Michigan (Jameel’s hometown) at the Islamic Association of Greater Detroit (IAGD) on Friday, May 8th. Twelve days into their journey the two men have checked nearly half the states off their to-do list.

Meeting the 50 different mosque communities is the most fulfilling part of the trip, according to Jameel. “Their generosity is endless. The congregants offer warm meals, words of encouragement and inspiration.” As they hop from one house of worship to the next, Jameel and Yahya are profiling some of the mosques and their leaders in short video clips, highlighting the small-scale but meaningful efforts the Imams and congregations are making to better their communities. For example, a mosque (Masjid-al-Taqwa) in Kansas City offers re-settlement programs to help its many Kenyan, Somali and Sudanese congregants integrate into American society.

So why take on this exhausting project of calling 50 adhans in 50 mosques in 50 states? Jameel recently turned 40 and, as is common for those marking a milestone, he reflected back on his life. His father passed away in 2003 while praying, and his son, at the ripe age of thirteen, has already memorized thirteen chapters of the Qur’an.

“I see these two men in my life having achieved so much spiritually. I asked myself what have I done in my faith. Not enough, I feel, when compared to my father and my son. How can I use my talents to serve the community? Well, I made the call to prayer at the 2014 ISNA convention in Detroit, so while talking with friends I joked about calling adhan across all the states, but soon after my passing comment turned into a real intention.”

A little over two weeks into the project and Jameel feels it has been well worth it. Every time he delivers Prophet Muhammad’s (peace be upon him) last sermon, the words draw tears, nods and smiles from the listeners. “It is remarkable that everyone responds the same way. It is nothing short of inspiring.”

The bulk of the funding for the project has come from various Muslim organizations, with Life for Relief and Development being the leading sponsor. When groups asked their donors to give for this particular initiative, the response was enthusiastic. The two men have also set up a gofundme account where individuals can chip in to help finance Jameel and Yahya’s journey.

Of course, the power of social media cannot be ignored. Jameel’s supporters can follow and share his project by checking in on the regular photo and video updates he posts on FacebookTwitter and Instagram using the hashtag, muaddhin. “To see the last sermon of the Prophet go viral, the efforts of the 50 communities go viral!” he tells me, his voice rising with enthusiasm. “This is how we are engaging with and empowering the hundreds of Muslim communities across the United States, and serving Allah at the same time.”

Najiyah Khan is an Assistant Editor for altM. She serves on the Board for Peaceful Families Project; and also works with various nonprofit organizations and interfaith groups in fundraising and outreach.

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