Photo credit: Imam Siraj Wahaj (center) getting hugged by Muaddhin Jameel Syed after the Jumuah prayers in Brooklyn, New York on Friday May 2. Photo credit: Jameel Syed.
The Adhan was called 50 times, in all 50 states, over the course of 35 days by one man, Jameel Syed, and he is forever changed.
“The trip was, in every single way you would categorize it, an epic journey,” said Syed, a long-time muaddhin from Michigan. “You don’t do something like this and remain the same person.”
He embarked on his historic journey on April 3, and culminated his self-described chaotic, fulfilling, overwhelming and inspiring mission more than a month later. His trek took him to all corners of the country and taxed him physically and mentally, but it ultimately gifted him with a unique and important experience.
“For 35 days I was an ambassador for the greatest ambassador of all,” he said, referencing Allah. “I met thousands of people, Muslims and non-Muslims, and it was non-stop energy. Sometimes we hit three states in one day, and I even saw a guy take his Shahada at the airport. Outside of haj, this was the journey of a lifetime.”
Syed’s goal was not only to give the Adhan across the land and sea, offering the Prophet Muhammad’s Last Sermon at each stop along the way, but he also sought to capture the largely hidden yet compelling stories of the American Muslim community, to bring them to the forefront of this American moment in time, too often characterized by distinctly anti-Muslim sentiment.
To do that, he documented the good he found in mosques all around the country, and he spoke with religious leaders and everyday Muslims along the way, asking them how they contribute to a better society.
“We have to show Islam by our nature, by being a good neighbor, and there are amazing people doing amazing things,” Syed said. “Muslims are making an impact.”
One of his most meaningful encounters was with a Muslim who is indeed making an impact even as he and his family are grappling with the worst of tragedies, the death of loved ones. That Muslim is Namee Barakat, father of Deah Barakat, the North Carolina dental student who was gunned down and killed earlier this year along with his wife Yusor Mohammad and her sister Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha.
Members of the victims’ families are living the lesson Syed hopes to convey to American Muslims– “We have to physically engage with the community.” – with their work to remodel a home to one day serve as a safe house for women.
“(With these stories) I want to inspire Americans Muslims to do something good, to make their own propaganda amongst so much negative propaganda.”
With that in mind, he and his team are putting together a documentary of his trip and plan on debuting a five-minute clip at the upcoming national convention for the Islamic Society of North America.
But as he works to package the experiences of his recent past, Syed is also thinking to the future and his hopes for how those experiences will shape what happens next. Beyond his plans for the documentary, Syed has lined up speaking engagements throughout Ramadan in communities working to build mosques. After the month of fasting, he will be giving dinnertime speeches in conjunction with a visual presentation of his 50-state journey.
“I will be walking people through what I was feeling at the time, and this can only happen face to face,” Syed said.
He is also developing a full-day workshop and training program for others who aspire to serve as muaddhins.
The session will touch on the history of the Adhan, biographies of notable muaddhins, discussion of the Sunnah of giving the Adhan and specific how-to training to offer the call to prayer. The day-long session will end with an Adhan competition.
A marketing professional by trade, Syed said he plans to put much of that work on hold over the next year while he dedicates himself to ensuring that his journey across America will continue to spur Muslims to chart their own paths, to defy hatred and to actively shape others’ perceptions of who they are.
“Ninety percent of my energy is going to be making sure that I solidify the stories out there,” he said. “When I delivered the Prophet’s Last Sermon (in each of the 50 states), when he called for peace, unity, brotherhood, and gender and racial equality, it was a reminder that (negative propaganda) is not who we are, we are who the Prophet said we are.”
He continued, “This was something significant and humbling in my life, but my mission starts with the individual and ends with the community so I owe this to the Muslim American community to make sure this gets done.”
For anyone interested in inviting Syed to speak or to present his Adhan workshop, contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.