During the month of Ramadan, two Muslim-American New Yorkers are visiting 30 mosques around the country and writing about their experiences on a blog.
As part of their tour, Aman Ali and Bassam Tariq stopped by the Corvallis, Oregon, mosque where Mohamed Osman Mohamud occasionally worshiped before he was arrested on charges of plotting to blow up a Christmas tree lighting ceremony in Portland, Oregon, last November. (Someone set fire to the mosque two days after Mohamud's arrest.)
"He was very good friends to a lot of people who felt betrayed," Ali told The Lookout. "We wanted to focus on the psychological pain these people are dealing with."
Mohamud's former friends at the mosque and from Oregon State University called him "Momo." They aren't allowed to visit Mohamud in jail, but have written letters to him that they shared with Tariq. Two of his friends sounded angry, writing that Mohamud was "set up" by the FBI, because he was nabbed in a sting operation where federal informants pretended to be people who wanted to help him plan a terror attack.
But a few of his other friends expressed sadness that Mohamud would consider violence. A friend from college, Ali Godil, wrote, "The biggest fear when fighting a monster is becoming a monster yourself." Ismail Warsame, a Somali-American like Mohamud, wrote that the incident taught him that "we should reach out to our youth before it's too late."
The pair also visited a mosque in Las Vegas, Nevada and profiled Amanullah Naqshabandi. Naqshabandi works in a casino to make ends meet, even though Islam forbids gambling. "I stand before Allah and leave everything for him to judge," he told them. "I am here because of his destiny and all I can do is make [the] best of my situation."
A recent CNN poll found that a plurality of Americans, 46 percent, say they hold a positive view of American Muslims, up from 39 percent in 2002. But Ali says the mosque project isn't about making non-Muslims like Islam.
"This isn't a PR campaign," Ali said. "We are more concerned about telling authentic stories about Muslims, positive or negative."
Tariq and Ali, who is a stand-up comedian when not touring mosques, raised $12,000 online to fund the trip.