An Islamic community made up of over 40 nationalities is the last thing I expected to find when I packed my bags and moved to the town of Columbia, Missouri in the middle of the country. It was oddly comforting and a pleasant surprise.
Perhaps the way my parents raised me— bringing in their experiences from Aleppo— rubbed off on me and made me naturally drawn towards people of that part of the world. So when I saw a council meeting for a Mid-Missouri Islamic center's appeal for an expansion, I got curious.
Hannah Musick, a fellow Mizzou Grad J-school Bootcamp attendee, and I went to the mosque at around 5:00 a.m. for the first prayer. My ethnic background is Syrian-Armenian, but—being born in Los Angeles— I don't have any true knowledge of middle-eastern traditions or certain religions associated with that part of the world. Nevertheless, I was allowed to enter on the condition that I remove my tightly laced converse and store them in a wooden shelf, downstairs.
Over the course of the next week, Hannah and I revisited the mosque a few times and interviewed members, the higher-ups, and individuals with relations to the center. One person, in particular, Farah El-Jayyousi, stood out because of a print out of a letter she wrote. It was a letter that pleaded for an expansion of the Islamic center.
The letter was from roughly 20 years ago.
The article that Hannah and I collaborated on ended up being a story about the resilience, patience, community and hope of a cluster of individuals from all around the world who came together under one Islamic faith in Columbia, Missouri.
Here's the article that I co-wrote and photographed for the Missourian's front page story.