Muslim returns to Michigan after prayer trek

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News

Though he had only hours earlier completed a quest to deliver the Muslim call to prayer in all 50 states, Jameel Syed already set his sights on another milestone.

"Now I'm looking at the world," the marketing executive said while sitting after a gathering Friday night at his home mosque, the Islamic Association of Greater Detroit in Rochester Hills. "If I can do it in every single state, why not every single country?"

Hundreds welcomed the return of 40-year-old father from Auburn Hills, who left five weeks before to launch his project, dubbed Muaddhin, an Arabic term referring to the person making the call to prayer.

As extremist acts take the spotlight and negative perceptions of Muslims persist, Syed endeavored to shift attitudes while documenting religious communities nationwide.

Though reaching his goal of becoming the first person believed to make the adhan in each American state, he admitted it was a daunting trek with many logistical and other challenges.

"It has been an epic journey," Syed said. "Everything that it was supposed to be, it was. Everything that could have happened, it did."

During his whirlwind, 35-day trip, Syed stopped at some of the nation's largest mosques as well as places with few such worship spaces.

From Maine to Alaska, he encountered countless Muslims who were thrilled to help with food, funds, accommodations and more. "They treat you like kings because they realize that you're representing them. You're championing them."

And while crossing airports and numerous venues, Syed and associates "had a lot of conversations with people outside the Islamic faith, and all of them, 100 percent were like: 'Wow, this is awesome.' "

When he prayed on a beach in Hawaii, he came across a pair interested in his efforts. One was so encouraged, he imparted a ukulele lesson, Syed said. "I don't believe in shoving religion in anybody's face. You just show up with a smile and start connecting. … It was an amazing experience across the board."

Another highlight: meeting the father of one of the three Muslims slain this year in Chapel Hill, N.C., whose family is working to renovate a home and "turning it into a safe house for women in a depressed area," Syed said. "This is the response that I have seen — no hate, no vengeance. … They are moving forward and they are improving society. They're honoring the legacy of their deceased person by doing something to improve society."

Syed's expedition encouraged local Muslims such as Ahsen Harrie, 18, of Rochester Hills.

"There are a lot of stereotypes and a lot of people think a lot of different things about Muslims," he said. "This kind of shows we're just normal people. We're just trying to follow our religion."

Now, Syed is focused on shifting through the material collected during his trip and furthering the relationships formed. Many communities he visited have requested a follow-up visit.

In the wake of the verdict for the Boston Marathon bombing suspect and the recent attack during a Texas cartoon contest that featured images of the Prophet Muhammad, allowing Muslims to share their stories is more important than ever, Syed said.

"This is an opportunity," he said. "The tagline for this entire project is 'The Voice Heard Around the World.' That's Muslims now. You have a voice. Come out there and talk about what you're doing. Otherwise somebody else is going to offer you a narrative."

mhicks@detroitnews.com