These are stories about people crossing borders: of religion, of culture, of nationality and of identity. They take place in Iowa, a state of often overlooked diversity and home to the oldest established Muslim population in the United States.
Private Aaron Robinson has a problem. The Cedar Rapids, Iowa, native joined the army reserves in 2002 and then converted to Islam while he was stationed at Ft. Riley in Kansas. Robinson was sent to Iraq for eight months and he's seeking a discharge before he's called back.
Opening the Friday afternoon prayer service at the Iowa City mosque, the muezzin calls the faithful to prayer. His amplified voice overwhelms the space, resonating through the bodies of the gathered men as they stand shoulder to shoulder facing east toward Mecca. The adahn ends, the sound reverberating against the stark white walls for a split second, and the muezzin hands the microphone to the imam. Friday prayer has begun.
Iranian-born Yana Hamid was encouraged by her peers to starve herself. "I started fasting for Ramadan," she says, "and I just didn't quit." The majority of Muslims observe total fasting between dawn and sunset during the holy month as ordained in the Quran which says, "Fasting is prescribed to you.so that you may learn self-restrain."
Young billy goats flood the floor of the Kalona Sales Barn from March to April each year. Their plaintive bleats contrast with the rapid-fire, staccato rhythm of the auctioneer who sells them by the pound to the highest bidder with a slight nod or a raised finger.
Dr. Mohammad Nasr will never forget the day he was forced to leave a man to die.
A kidney specialist in Khartoum, Sudan, Nasr was preparing a patient for dialysis. But there was a problem. The patient was Christian and the hard-line Islamist government had just declared holy war against Christians in the south of the country. Someone called the security forces. When they arrived, Nasr, a Muslim, begged to finish his task. They took him away and he spent a month behind bars.
Bill Aossey was the first Muslim to serve in the Peace Corps. He was a Boy Scout and so were his three sons. He has fond memories of shared camping trips and scouting expeditions.
Nigerian-born Kazeem Olanrewaju, a doctoral student in chemical engineering at the University of Iowa, is a former Muslim. The person whom he credits most with his conversion to Christianity is, ironically, the local muezzin, or Muslim holy man, who announced the call prayer in his hometown of Lagos. Kazeem recalls that the muezzin had a severe illness and their Christian neighbor prayed for his return to health. "Miraculously," reports Kazeem, "the muezzin recovered."
Sitting on a bench facing a soccer field, half a dozen parents attentively watch their children pass, shoot and score. 40-year-old Paula Miller, an unmarried mother of two, tracks her 10-year-old daughter Giullietta's movement, occasionally yelling, "Go Giugi, get up on it, come on!" As Paula shares in the excitement of the game, she looks no different from other parents - except for the hijab she wears.
The day after Fatimah Mohammad married a widowed, successful Muslim businessman from Illinois, his "dead" wife telephoned her from Egypt.
Imam Ahmed Elkhaldy, president of the Iowa chapter of the Muslim American Society (MAS), responds to the same question nearly every time he gives a presentation on Islam to a Christian audience:
"Everything you've said in an hour and a half is [identical to] CHristianity. Can you tell me how we are different?"
The best falafel sandwich in Iowa City used to be served at an Irish pub owned by an Italian-American from Ames.
It was also the only one in town.
The spring 2007 semester marks the first time that University of Iowa undergraduates can graduate with a transcript documenting their understanding of the Muslim world.
Shams Ghoneim says the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 changed her life. "There is a line in my life," she said, "before and after 9/11. It shook me to the core. It still does."
About 3 percent of the world's 1.3 billion Muslims practice Sufism, a mystical form of Islam, with the group's 39 million members divided into numerous tariqas, or Sufi orders. What nearly all Sufis have in common is a devotion to three main tenets: dedication to Allah, divine love and experience of the self as God.
The tiles created by Iranian-American artist Jafar Mogadam are exploding fractals of color, gigantic puzzles of competing symbols and forms drawing on artistic traditions from around the globe.