The Islamic Center—North Phoenix, on N 23rd Ave, is one of several mosques that bask in the hot desert rays of Phoenix, Arizona. I spent an hour learning about the mosque from Sadmir and Alma who are both Bosnian Immigrants. Sadmir is one of the main coordinators of the mosque while Alma is a teacher for the kids, who are also part of the Bosnian community. Alma also mentioned that she is a graduate of the renowned W.P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University. The Islamic Center—North Phoenix was built in 2010 by members of the Bosnian community who reside in the metropolitan area, but who also bravely immigrated from their homeland of Bosnia, as Alma also explained.
I wanted to explore this mosque and immerse myself in the people, the architecture, and the atmosphere. In doing so, I hoped to gain a better understanding of how Muslims think and act, and also to learn about the Bosnian immigrant community in Phoenix. Having read a good portion of the Quran, I can say that it's no more good or evil than the Old Testament for Christians or the Vedas for Hindus. The recent national political climate that has produced anti-Islamic sentiment has spilled into Phoenix, with anti-Muslim demonstrations and counter-demonstrations at area mosques in May and October 2015 (read more about this here). Although the perpetrators of terrorist shootings in Texas in 2015 did attend services at another Phoenix mosque, by no means does this mean that mosques are a source of evil; these were only two members of that mosque out of many. School shootings, wars, genocides, homicides, serial killers, colonization, imperialism, and other forms of violence have been carried out by people of all cultural, societal, and religious backgrounds. I began my visit by gazing upon the gorgeous crescent moon building that stood before me. The Mosque may appear simple on the outside, but when one crosses into its inner sanctum, beauty and intricate detail unfold like the immaculate Quran itself.
This Mihrab is the heart of the mosque, Sadmir explained. It is the central lifeblood of Islam that flows from each chapter of the Quran. The Imam is the Sunni Islamic leader of a mosque who leads prayers and reads from the Quran to enlighten the audience. Sadmir stated, Islam is about understanding that Allah is “One God,” the only god. It's about becoming aware of Abraham's sacrifice of his son Ishmael to Allah, that this sacrifice was a way of becoming closer to Allah. The story of Abraham's sacrifice in the Quran is ambiguous though, it does not explicitly state that Abraham sacrificed his own son Ishmael, but rather hints at the idea that the sacrificed individual was actually an animal. This is where the ritual of Qurbani was born, which involves the sacrifice of a live animal. This act is still carried out by many Muslims throughout the world. I asked Sadmir if this mosque does Qurbani, and he said they do not, but their communities back in Bosnia do. I also asked Sadmir how they get involved in the local community, he said that the members hold a yearly charity drive that involves the mosque giving out toothbrushes and other hygiene items to those in need.
The Facebook page of Islamic Center—North Phoenix shows YouTube videos from some of the activities and events sponsored by the Bosnian community. Written in the Bosnian language, the Facebook page conveys a lively sense of the Bosnian Muslim diaspora, which the timing of my visit to the mosque did not permit me to capture. Bosnians began getting resettled in Phoenix during the 1990s as political, ethnic, and religious conflict tore apart the former Yugoslavia and sought to control what are now Bosnia and Herzegovina. Records kept by the Arizona Refugee Resettlement Program, operating under the state’s Department of Economic Security, show that nearly 7,000 Bosnians settled in Phoenix since 1993 (source, and see also a 2016 Cronkite News article about refugees in Phoenix).
My time at the Islamic Center—North Phoenix was nothing but peaceful. Though security cameras line the perimeter of the building, these are to keep evil away, not invite it inside. The mosque's congregation worships their creator, members eat together in harmony, anybody is welcome to worship, and hygiene items are given to the needy. Good and evil coexist in our world no matter where we are, thus, it is up to us to choose what we think is right or wrong. As for the Islamic Center—North Phoenix, it crossed the border from Mecca (holiest city for Islam) to Bosnia, from Bosnia to Phoenix, and landed in the laps of Phoenix's residents. Now it is up to us to decide if we will continue to be blinded by the sun's rays, or become illuminated by its close friend- the moon.