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Canadian-based writer Omar Mouallem visited dozens of historic and present-day mosques during a journey across North and South America, to learn more about his faith and himself.
The outcome of the journey was his new book, praying to the West: How Muslims Shaped the Americas, which he hopes it can be an antidote to anti-Muslim hate.
Mouallem, who was a teenager in Alberta’s High Prairie when September 11 happened, tells little-known stories in his book including the enslaved African Muslims who revolted against the Brazilian government, to the journey Inuvik’s mosque took across land and sea to be warmly embraced by the entire community, and the women who led the fight to preserve Canada’s first purpose-built mosque as a heritage site.
He also narrates the tale of Rana Abbas Taylor’s experience on September 11, 2001, the fresh graduate who just that week started her first professional communications job with The Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee, and how she saw second plane splicing into one of the Twin Towers.
Mouallem, who went through several inner phases due to September 11, wrote that Westerners treat Muslim communities as a new viral outbreak instead of an essential gene in modern America’s DNA.
“Islam is as old to the Americas as any non-Indigenous faith. One of the first people, an explorer that was with Christopher Columbus, to ever speak to the Indigenous people, actually spoke in Arabic,” he says.
“I think that there’s obviously this perception that Islam is a a new strain in the Americas that is relatively new, that it is only in the last century, but mostly in the last half century, and mostly just since the 1970s and 80s. But, you know, Muslim history goes back so much further in in the West. If you go to Trinidad and you see mosques that are 170-years old, you start to really appreciate the religious diversity of the West and just how important those first Muslim people were to shaping these countries,” he adds.