Dearborn, Michigan has the highest concentration of Arabs outside of any Arab country. It also has the most Shia Muslims in America with the largest masjid (mosque) in America, the Islamic Center of America. What’s really interesting to note that many Muslims in America know Dearborn exists but don’t really know the community like they know for example the NYC tri-state area or the DC-MD-VA area or the Dallas-Ft. Worth area. Muslims in LA know about Imam Siraj Wahhaj in Brooklyn or know about Ustadh Nouman Ali Khan and Bayyinah in Dallas or the ADAMS center in Virginia. These are all pretty well known nationally recognized Muslim communities in America. In fact, Shaykh Hamza Yusuf’s and Imam Zaid Shakir’s Zaytuna community in the Bay Area is probably synonymous with the Muslim American community globally speaking. When many international students come from Muslim countries, Shaykh Hamza Yusuf and Imam Siraj Wahhaj are two most popular figures known by them.
Then there is a Dearborn. Before I recently visited it, I just knew a lot of Arab muslims and a lot of Shia live there. I also watched TLC’s All-American Muslim which grossly messed up my view of Dearborn. By Allah’s will and permission I began the drive towards Dearborn to visit relatives and to check out Dearborn for my own viewing. Upon arriving a few hours before fajr, I was eagerly looking for anything Arabic or Islamic. My destination wasn’t far off the main road, so the only thing I saw was a truck parked on the side of the road with “Masha Allah” written in Arabic on it.
The next morning I woke up and began preparing for jummah. The host recently moved to Dearborn and was still getting use to the area. We were told that 12:30 was Jummah at the “American Moslem Society” in Dearborn also known as “the Dearborn Masjid” (Mosque), but when we got there the prayer had already started. So I missed the khutbah sadly. Being the nerd I am, I should have checked the web for timings, but for some reason when I go on vacations or away from home, the need to use technology dwindles to simply asking the locals. I joined the prayer and finished it with the jamaat. As soon as the prayer was done and I finished what I missed. I could automatically tell that this community was full of Yemenis due to their attire, physical structure and Arabic dialect. For a brief moment I reflected on the sounds and sights around me. I did not feel I was in a masjid in America at this moment. Not a single word of English was uttered by anyone. The only thing visually telling my brain I was in America was the sight of some sports caps and jerseys being worn by some brothers. When I walked outside through the halls I saw the dominant Arabic text plastered on the walls with very few English words. I come out of the masjid and realized I was still in America due to the cold winter weather and the Michigan license plates.
Later that afternoon I went with my relatives to pick up my niece from middle school. I don’t think I have ever seen so many Muslim children at a state public school. The sight was amazing. Again I was like, “Am I in America?”. Then I went to the elementary school for my nephews and again same sight, mashaAllah. The best part was there school papers were in Arabic and English. There homework was to learn the letter “kha” from the Arabic alphabet. This is a public school! Alhamdulillah! I felt like I needed to enroll in the elementary school to learn Arabic, haha.
Driving through the streets of Warren and Schaefer was pretty cool seeing the various Arabic businesses from restaurants to lawyers to real estate to medical offices. Most if not all the signs were in Arabic and English. It truly felt like a different country that somehow was able to mimic America’s infrastructure and happen to be an Arab Muslim majority.
I went for Maghrib at the “Moslem American Becca Center”. The jamaat (those who attended the prayer) looked predominantly Iraqi mixed with some Yemenis and Palestinians (maybe Lebanese, I’m bad at ethnicities in that area). It was a small building that could hold probably up to 300 people. The Imam seemed Saudi bred. What was really interesting is that as soon as Maghrib finished, a few seconds later they called iqama again. I panicked. I had no idea what was going on. I thought I went to a Shia masjid because I know they combine prayers, but I was sure this was a Sunni one. Does it matter? Allah will judge me on my intention anyway. Plus I am a traveler so technically it’s okay for me. I still was uneasy for not knowing what was going on. Then I was trying to think if the Imam announced he was a traveler but it was all in Arabic before the prayer. There was no way for me to know. I prayed with them regardless. I couldn’t leave anyway since I was blocked off on all sides. Then after the first two rakat, I panicked again. The imam was praying four rakat! He’s not a traveler. He’s not Shia. Is this another madhab I discovered? Then it hit me. It started to snow right before I entered the masjid. Maybe a blizzard was coming and the imam decided to pray Isha right after Maghrib due to the inclement weather so people will not have to return to the masjid. This seems the most likely situation. After Isha I proceeded outside and there it was, blizzard-like snow flurries. Cars were skidding and sliding. SubhanAllah! This Imam was wise. I was ignorant. Lesson learned, follow the Imam and trust in Allah with no worries.
The next day I visited the Dearborn Civic and Community Center. It was huge. There were basketball courts, swimming pools, rock climbing, another large gymnasium with more basketball courts and also used for volleyball, fitness center and a theater. All of this was donated by Henry Ford and his family. Their foundation continues to support it. I don’t think Henry Ford had any idea that his social services and community buildings would one day be full of Muslims. What was cool is that I asked one of the employees what they had to offer and one of the things they had was women only volleyball. I asked her what she meant and she said only women, no men allowed. That was interesting to hear but I am sure this isn’t due to the high concentration of Muslims in the area but nevertheless it was cool.
I checked out some restaurants during my visit. They were al-Ajami, Ananas, Manderine, Shatila, Masri sweets, and many others that I can’t remember. What was really interesting is that I never actually looked any restaurant up or a place to eat on zabihah.com. This was probably the first time ever in my life where I went to a new place in America without trying to find out where there is some halal food or actually where there is even a masjid to pray.
Before visiting Dearborn I had no idea what it would be like to live in a Muslim country or let alone visit one. I’ve only travelled the Western Hemisphere. I pray that Allah blesses me with the chance to visit many places in the East. Until then, Dearborn is as close as it gets. I had a great time there and look forward to travelling there again, inshaAllah.