Auburn Hills exec to visit mosques in all 50 states
Jameel Syed is embarking on a quest he believes no other follower of Islam has completed.
The Auburn Hills marketing executive plans to visit a mosque in all 50 states, where he'll recite the religious call to prayer, deliver the Prophet Muhammad's last sermon as well as help chronicle the stories of local Muslim communities.
It's a daring mission leading the 40-year-old father and two associates across many thousands of miles by car and plane, through shifting terrain and diverse cities.
Amid heightened tensions and perceived anti-Muslim sentiment nationwide in the wake of extremist acts, the goal is to "have an opportunity to humanize Muslims living in America and all over the world," Syed said. "A lot of our organizations are spending a lot of time trying to defend ourselves. … Instead of telling people who I'm not, I'd rather tell people who I am."
Syed was to launch the project — dubbed Muaddhin, an Arabic term referring to the person making the call to prayer — Friday at the Islamic Society of North America's headquarters in Plainfield, Ind.
Before returning in early May to his home mosque, the Islamic Association of Greater Detroit in Rochester Hills, he expects to have trekked to 33 states and flown to 17, according to a GoFundMe page, gofundme.com/muaddhin, that aims to raise some $50,000 for the journey.
Syed intends to film a short video at each masjid, or mosque, allowing attendees to outline the history in that state and area as well as communicate a message to the world.
Activists say his voyage could help improve attitudes toward Muslims and promote understanding.
"Any publicity that lends itself to people learning about Islam is a good thing," said Dawud Walid, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations' Michigan chapter.
Syed, a University of Michigan graduate and founder/CEO of the Fluidvisions marketing firm in Rochester Hills, said he has been planning the trek for months.
The effort took on greater urgency after three Muslims were slain this year in Chapel Hill, N.C., and a string of videotaped killings committed in the Middle East by ISIS, Syed said.
"This is a feel-good trip for Muslims, for friends of Muslims, who understand there's more to the population than some atrocious acts committed by people who have no understanding of … Islam," he said.
Syed discussed the trip and plans during a gathering Thursday night at the Tawheed Center in Farmington Hills.
He said he's driven by a hope to unite others across divides. "Everybody has a way they can contribute toward the common good," Syed said. "You build the bridge of relationships, you find where the commonalities are — that's the way to go."
In a YouTube video, Zienab Fahs, president of Oakland University's Muslim Student Association, called for others to back Syed's work. "He's going out and getting literally everybody's perspective across America," she said in the clip.
The project also helps others learn more about how deep Muslim roots extend in the country as well as works to dispel stereotypes, said Muzammil Ahmed, chair of Michigan Muslim Community Council. "The call to prayer, people don't realize, is a call for people to come to the mosque, where people find serenity… We feel the call to prayer is a very positive message, and we hope that it will drown out some of the negative messages from the extremists that are out there committing acts of violence."