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March Forth

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NOT WITHOUT MY PASSPORT

 By Mary Lahaj

I am an American Muslim. I grew up in the U.S. and both my parents were born here, so I never had the opportunity to travel to a Muslim country, i.e., where at least 90% of the population is Muslim. Accustomed to living as a religious minority, I was curious to know what it would be like to be part of a society where I was in the majority.

In 1993, the Religious Director (Imam) at our local mosque in Quincy, MA, told me about a teaching position in Bahrain. The Headmistress of a K-12 bilingual school was hiring American teachers and a vice principal. Dr. Layla was trained in the U.S. and wanted to establish an American curriculum to replace the old British system.

Since I had done some part-time teaching and was looking for a position, the Imam recommended me. This was an opportunity for me to work for a couple of years, save money, and expose my young son Julien to learn about a new culture. He was 11 years old at the time, and I thought it would be a broadening experience. Julien’s father, Robert, and I were divorced, but he did not stand in my way, even though he didn’t much like the idea. I sold everything we owned and after a tearful goodbye, Julien and I left for the island in the Persian Gulf.

Bahrain is a small country of 2 million people. In my research, I was mostly concerned about the status of women. I read that women were free to wear whatever they wanted, and they could drive. It was true. There was no real middle class in the country, but there were plenty of malls and beautiful things to buy.

But there is a bad sectarian situation in Bahrain, similar to Iraq. The majority of the country’s Muslims are Shias, more than 60%, just like in Iraq. The country is ruled by a handful of Sunni families who all claim to be related to the ruling Emir. At the time, the Bahraini Emir was also the cousin of the Emir ruling in Kuwait. The small ruling class has created apartheid conditions for the Shias. I observed that the Shia held the lowest paying, dirtiest jobs, such as driving rusted-out cabs and broken-down buses. They did construction work on the side of the road in the unbearably hot sun. Their social situation reminded me of the way African Americans lived in the South, in the 1930s. They were an oppressed and hated “minority,” with absolutely no social mobility. They even had segregated mosques.

By removing Saddam Hussain in Iraq, we breathed new life into ancient sectarian conflicts and gave hope to the Shias. To ensure their freedom from oppression, their Iranian neighbors (where the Shias are a self-ruling majority), and the Iranian-backed Hezbollah in Lebanon rushed into Iraq with reinforcements. In a nut shell, this is the basis for the endless civil wars in Iraq, Yemen, and Lebanon.

On the last leg of our journey, Julien and I met two other American teachers. There was a Muslim woman, Soheir, who was African American from my hometown, Boston. The other teacher, Kathy, was from Florida. Kathy was a fair-skinned, beautiful blond and a practicing Christian. From the outset, Kathy’s skin color influenced the way the Bahrainis treated her. They adored her.

When we landed in the capital, Manama, we were met by Dr. Layla’s staff of Sri Lankans. They picked us up in a van and drove us directly to the school. Our meeting with Dr. Layla took place in her office, at 2 AM. She insisted that we each sign a 25-page contract, before she would let us go to our domiciles to bed. It was the first time we had seen the contract.

Blurry eyed, we were too exhausted to read it. But Dr. Layla insisted that it could not wait until tomorrow. We asked her to tell us what was in it. She mentioned a few things, proud of her cunning. As these conditions came to light, our eyes slowly widened.

For example, the vice principal’s job that interested me would not be available for another five years. The job was part of a 5-year plan to build an annex to the school. For the next five years, I would be teaching. We were all under the impression that we were here under a two-year contract. “Well. No,” she said. “That was completely wrong. Whoever told you that had it completely wrong. That’s not my fault,” she said.

Next, she explained about our pay. It was good pay, except that she would be holding back a substantial amount of money every week. If she was unhappy with our job performance and decided to send us back to the U.S., she would use that money to pay for our trip. If things worked out, at the end of the five years, she would give us the money she held back.

After 2 hours of Dr. Layla aggressively arguing and justifying each point in the contract, we saw the futility of disagreeing with her. We finally decided to sign the outrageous document and deal with the consequences later, just so we could get to bed.

“Negotiations” completed, Dr. Layla smiled wickedly and immediately demanded and collected our passports. She said it was the law in Bahrain, as per the Ministry of Work (where her cousin held a position). “As your employer, I will keep your passports, so you don’t travel the country, or leave without my permission.” She locked them in the safe and said she would give them back, as soon as she had sent them to the Ministry to be registered. Meanwhile, we had planned to go directly to the U.S. Embassy to let them know that we were living in Bahrain. But we couldn’t go there, not without our passports.

Dr. Layla loaded us back into the small van and issued directives to the tired workers (her “slaves” essentially) from Sri Lanka. They drove us to our digs, a dirty apartment with bugs on the pillows. By this time, we could not sleep. We stayed up for the rest of the night, plotting our rebellion. If necessary, we would just leave (if we could get our passports back). In the morning, we repacked our things in the van and informed Dr. Layla that we refused to get out of the van.  We would return to the airport, unless she promised to find us another place immediately. Amused by our rebellion, Dr. Layla said she was planning to find us a better place, anyway. “If you insist,” she smirked, “I’ll see what I can do.”

She found us a nicer place that same week, but it was in the middle of a desert, with one road and no houses around it for miles. We each had a bedroom, except that Julien and I shared one large room. The only other people in the apartment complex were 15 men from the Philippines. They were working in Bahrain under a two-year contract, sending their wages home to their families. Since we were stranded in the desert, they drove us in their van to the market, to downtown, and the laundromat. They were such good people; they took Julien to catch crabs at dawn.

With Dr. Layla, we had to fight for everything, even basic necessities. Whether it was a stove, refrigerator, an armoire, sheets, or a telephone, we had to threaten her first, before the “negotiations” would begin. When she wanted something from us, she would threaten us first, and then, begin negotiating.

Dr. Layla told us proudly that her mother lived next door to the Emir. She identified with the ruler. In this case, we saw that Dr. Layla had the disposition of a dictator, and we, her subjects, were always at her mercy (a quality she severely lacked). We were dependent on the slaves for transportation to work and back. Dr. Layla dispatched them to pick us up at 6 AM and drive us home at 6 PM. We never got a telephone. To call home, we had to find time during the work day, get permission to use the office phone, and sacrifice our privacy.

I naively imagined I would fit into the Muslim majority society, being an Arab and a Muslim. But I didn’t. In fact, Dr. Layla treated everyone who wasn’t a member of her family like a slave.  Our work schedule reflected our status. For example, we had one or two free periods. But we never had a break, because one or more of the teachers would be out sick, and the rest of us would have to divide up and teach their classes. I had hoped that one of the teachers might befriend me and invite me to her home. But I soon discovered that the teachers, who were mostly from Egypt and Palestine, were living under even more onerous conditions. Due to high unemployment in those countries, the women worked in Bahrain and sent money home, so their families could survive.

By 6 AM the temperature on the island was already 90 degrees and the humidity 100%. I taught English in grades two and four, and American history in grade ten. The classrooms had old desks and ancient air conditioners that rattled so loud, I had to scream to be heard. I carried six textbooks in my arms to the different classrooms, exacerbating my sciatica pain. The children, who were mostly cared for by nannies from other countries, were not well-behaved in school.  One time, I came to a third-grade class, where they had blockaded the door to keep me out. They complained that I would not allow them to stand on their desks and sword fight with their rulers.

Although my situation was unbearable, Julien was having a pretty good time. He was enrolled in the 6th grade, unchallenged by the work. He made a few friends who invited him to play at their house. The biggest problem I had with Julien was the lice he gave me, which was an epidemic in that climate. He got lice twice, and since we slept in the same room, I got lice twice. To be rid of them, I had to wash everything in a giant trash can, pour in detergent, boil water on the stove, and stir the mixture with a broom.

It seemed like an eternity, but it had only been six weeks when I got word that Robert was coming for a week’s vacation. It was like him to want to be sure we were okay. My first thought was that it was time for us to leave; maybe Robert was our ticket home. But for more than a month, we had been asking for our passports so we could go to the U.S. embassy. Finally, Dr. Layla took them out of the safe and handed them to us, threatening some calamity if we didn’t give them back to her as soon as we were done. We got our passports back the day before Robert was coming.

Our host at the embassy was a young Indian woman with a British accent. She was very knowledgeable about the country and its “strange” ways. After seeing our drawn faces, she encouraged us to speak openly. I let her know that things were not going so well. I asked if it would be okay to leave with my son’s father when he came. She shook her head emphatically: No.

“You’re under contract right?”

“Yes,” I said, “But we were forced to sign it.”

Reading the concern on all our faces, the host lowered her voice and said, “If you really want to leave, the only way would be for you to keep your passports and leave in the middle of the night, without telling anyone.”

We were all flabbergasted. I thought about the other teachers who would have to teach all my classes, and cringed.

“Look,” she said. “Your employer, Dr. Layla, is known by everyone in this country. By law, she will have placed your name on a list of workers at the Ministry. I think she has a relative who works there. So, if your name shows up on the computer at the airport, they won’t let you leave.”

What if I told Dr. Layla that I needed to leave, to get home to my sick mother? Wouldn’t she let me go?” I asked.

She shook her head. “No. If you even mention that you’re leaving, she will never let you go. And if you try to leave without telling her (in the middle of the night), be sure you don’t tell anyone.”

She paused, intent on making her point, “Let me be clear. When you get to the airport, if they see your name on the workers’ list, you could end up in jail. And, only Dr. Layla could have you released, into her custody, of course.”

After we left the embassy, the three of us agreed not to return our passports, until we could figure out what to do. We still had no phone to make plane reservations, and no transportation. If I decided to leave, Robert would be my one chance. But the idea of sneaking off in the middle of the night and burdening my co-workers with my classes was not the way I did things.

I had one week to decide between two bad choices. Of course, Robert was willing to help us leave. Still undecided near the end of the week, I called my mother from a pay phone in the city. Our conversation lasted less than 3 minutes. She said, “Come home, Mary,” and hung up. That was all I needed, to make up my mind.

Robert made the arrangements, and I started packing. I wrote a note and gave it to my two roommates to give to Dr. Layla when they arrived at work in the morning. I asked them to apologize for me to the other teachers. Robert picked us up with at 10 PM, and we checked into a hotel near the airport where we waited for our 1:00 AM flight.

At the airport, we were stopped a few times at the usual check points. The last stop, at the gate, was the one computer. While the man was looking at it, I tried to keep from shaking. He stared at the computer for a long time, checked our passports and looked back at the computer. And then, he let the three of us board.

I held my breath until we reached London, where we had a 10-hour layover. I will never forget the cool air and bright sunshine of that October day. Back home, Dr. Layla called the Imam at the mosque and told him that I had stolen money when I left. The Imam told her that if she could prove this, he would see that justice was done. Of course, it was a lie, for I had actually forfeited my whole paycheck.

That was October. By January, Kathy was fed up with Dr. Layla. To help her escape the island, she asked a soldier from one of the American bases. While she was in the air on her way back to Florida, Dr. Layla had called Kathy’s mother and commanded, “As soon as Kathy lands, you must tell her to get right back on the next plane. She cannot leave without my permission.”  Without a word, Kathy’s mother stared at the phone for a moment and then hung up.

Dr. Layla never tried to hide her prejudice. During that one year, she fired Soheir. However, the school’s disappointed parents convinced Dr. Layla to hire her back. But at the end of the year, Dr. Layla fired her a second time. She used this as an excuse for not giving back the money she had withheld. Luckily, there were others in Bahrain, kind and generous, who came to Soheir’s defense and helped her to leave the country.

 

 

Contemplative Practices in Islam

“The World Is Too Much with Us,” by William Wordsworth

The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
…For this, for everything, we are out of tune;

It seems that as early as 1807, Wordsworth complained of the world and the fast pace of life as a source of discontentment. I wonder what he would think, if he were alive today. What has changed?

As someone who glides through life, moving from task to task, I have felt that the world is too much with me; and despite all my cleverness, I too, have been beset by discontentment.

The topic of discontentment has been kicked around by ancient philosophers and religious leaders since time immemorial. Taoists call it imbalance. For example, the Qur’an calls it “a sickness of the heart” (2:10).

In the following quote, the famous Christian monk, St. Augustine, proposed a remedy:  “[true contentment] is felt only in the presence of God  … Our whole business then, in life, is to restore the heart to health so that God can be seen or felt.”

I embraced Augustine’s remedy and plotted a modest course of spiritual paths that would restore my heart to health and lead me to be in the presence of God.  At first, thinking I might be better off to want less from the world, in exchange for more happiness, I considered the path of asceticism. But, I realized that such a life wasn’t for me, and set out to find a different path.

Unfamiliar with contemplative practices, I imagined contentment on the faces of two familiar spiritual leaders. I pictured Buddha, seemingly detached from the world, sitting peacefully under a tree and wearing an expression of serenity and peace. The other face was that of Christ, suspended above the world on a cross, being crucified and wearing a similar expression of peace. Neither of them had   betrayed the pain or suffering caused by the world around them.

I had some experience with the practice of Transcendental Meditation, which led me to examine the basic elements of meditation and my own capabilities. The first is the importance of being self-disciplined. Since meditation must be practiced with regularity, being self-disciplined is crucial for meditation to be effective in life.  Another feature of meditation is its demands on one’s time. Stepping away from the world to sit in the lotus position for hours is a sacrifice. Thus, one must be prepared for self-sacrifice on the path of contemplative practice.

Wanting to learn more about contemplative practices in my own tradition, Islam, I chose to analyze four of the five pillars familiar to every practicing Muslim. The pillars of faith have always been described as “obligations,” so I had never before stopped to think of their contemplative features, or compare them to Zen Buddhism and Transcendental Meditation.

The first pillar is the core belief in the Oneness of God− known as tawhid, in Arabic. Tawhid is the heightened awareness of God’s presence, in everything we do. To achieve that heightened awareness, tawhid demands that one enters into an exclusive relationship with Allah (God). The exclusive relationship blocks out anyone or anything, and prohibits any other relationship of similar importance. In other words, tawhid excludes what attracts us in the world and recognizes no other authority besides Allah−not parents, teachers, or friends.

In the hierarchy of contemplative practice in Islam this exclusive relationship with Allah is the foundation. In practice, being in that relationship, during prayer, or fasting, or acting with kindness and respect toward another living thing, can result in a deep sense of contentment.

The second pillar is praying five times a day. Islamic prayer is similar to meditation in defining the elements of contemplative practice. For instance, it demands your time. It requires that you disengage from the world around you −five times a day, every day. Similar to meditation, praying five times a day requires self-discipline and self-sacrifice.

How to pray five times a day? To begin the practice, I had to develop more self-discipline.  But it was more complicated than that. I was paralyzed by my conflict of interests.  Do I watch the rest of my favorite TV program? Do I end my phone conversation? Can I stop my work? Maybe, I should check my email or phone, one more time. Do I excuse myself from a fun-gathering of friends? Do I inform my boss that on my break, I will be praying? But then, these questions get to the heart of the spiritual quest for contentment. We must either stay the course, or stop the world I want to get off to commune with God.

At first, I tried and failed to pray five times a day because I was trying to squeeze my prayers into my busy, important life.  At each intersection, my busy life would block me from crossing.  My breakthrough came as a result of reading the oft-repeated command in the Qur’an that says “establish prayer” in your life. I had read this phrase in passages many times, but this time, I was able to derive a new meaning. I realized that in order to go to work, I had to arrange my life around the established commuter train schedule. Understanding this key word, I identified the prayer schedule, which follows the movement of the sun from dawn to evening, as the established schedule for me to arrange my life around.

I also had to think of my secular life overall. I learned that I would have to intentionally carve out a sacred space and time. At first, I could only find time for one prayer a day; but eventually, I was able to arrange my life around the five daily prayers. Yes, it meant going out to lunch with my sister after prayer time. And yes, it took some sacrifice to leave an engagement. But taking time out to commune with God five times a day has given me a deep sense of contentment that I have never felt before. Moreover, I have discovered that time out is addictive; and, like any time-honored, life-consuming addiction, doing it is easier than not doing it.

But the biggest challenge remained: how to keep the demands of the world at bay, during prayer or meditation? When I studied Transcendental Meditation in the early 1970s, the Yogi had devised a method to protect the meditation from worldly intrusions.  He gave me a mantra (which cost $450) and warned me that the world would come as “thought bubbles,” and preoccupy the mind. To train my mind, I was told to repeat the mantra, and that would release the intruding thoughts into the air. I found this to be a constant battle that I never could win.

In Islamic prayer, it is also necessary to train the mind to protect it from worldly intrusions. The method is similar but different (and there is no charge for it).  The method starts by reciting “Allah whoo Akbar” (god is great), at the beginning of the prayer. The gesture is a conscious effort to be in the exclusive relationship with God (tawhid). Next, the mind is kept engaged and busy, quietly reciting Arabic prayers from memory. The prayers are in Arabic because it is the language of the Qur’an. But for most people who do not understand Arabic, the sounds are really more like mantras than meaningful words. It is preferable to learn some translation of the prayer in English. Although, even with that, the flow of the Arabic recited from memory is still an effective barrier to the thought bubbles.

Performing prayer also requires a precise choreography, involving the body transitioning into three different positions. Keeping track of the physical movements and the flow of Arabic sounds, helps me to stay focused more often than not; the focus being, remembrance of God and keeping the world at bay. It is always a challenge. But when I have succeeded to pray five times in a day, I feel a sense of contentment and triumph. It’s not because I am praying for God’s sake. I am praying for my own sanity’s sake. And for that, there is no success in my life that holds a greater meaning.

When I asked myself if and when I had ever felt particularly close to God, I thought of the holy month of Ramadan, another pillar of Islam. During Ramadan, Muslims fast from before dawn to sunset. Christians and Jews are familiar with fasting and how it can change daily life. But for Muslims the fast is a long and difficult change.  It lasts for a month and includes abstaining from food, water, and sex, during the daylight hours. Oftentimes, the person fasting is deprived of sleep as well.

In my experience, the suffering of extreme thirst and the depletion of energy sometimes overwhelms me in the late afternoon, when there are still 3 to 4 more hours left of daylight. When I feel this way, I can’t help but ask myself, “Why am I doing this?” I know it is a test of my relationship with Allah. How deep is my commitment and love? To past the test, I remind myself that I have chosen to fast and promised God I would complete the fast on this day. Once I have consciously reiterated my intentions (purifying intentions was taught by Jesus in the Gospel) and renewed my relationship with God, I experience a gratifying sense of closeness to God.

As I once heard a Methodist minister explain, it’s not the suffering that gives an act meaning; it’s that the relationship with God holds up under the suffering. In fact, it is that suffering and its consequence that I miss most, when the month of Ramadan is over.

Hajj is another pillar of Islam. Prior to my departure for the pilgrimage to Mecca (Hajj), I received a lot of advice. Experienced pilgrims told me, “It will be a test of your faith.” During an orientation program, our religious leader, the imam, said, “You will be out of your comfort zone.”

That was an understatement. Unlike Ramadan, when your life returns to normal each night, as you indulge in food and drink. On Hajj, there is no return to normal. The pilgrimage is two weeks of discomfort and relentless demands, both physical and mental. I compare it to a long-term illness that must be endured with incalculable patience and perseverance; one day at a time, and with no guarantees that it will heal you.

The Hajj was a prolonged test of leaving my loud, comfortable world and traveling to another loud but distant, foreign world. It was an adventure, where I awoke each day wondering, is this really me? I was challenged to relate to the land and the different people I met; and by the rituals that were beyond my mental comprehension and physical capacity; and, perhaps beyond my faith.

Every religion asks us to abandon comfort and familiar ways. We get up early to pray, we fast, hone our virtues, and purify our inner self, with the hope of achieving Divine union (taqwa). For the faithful, faith is diligence, without assurance; and such was the pilgrimage to Mecca. Like Abraham, we were asked to perform unparalleled tests of faith, without any assurances.

Every day, all that was familiar to me receded further into the past, to insignificance. Inexplicably, the further removed I became from my life, the closer I came to Allah. The one thing I remembered was that a few years ago, I had made a conscious choice to complete this once-in-a-lifetime obligation. But while on the pilgrimage, I had only one motivation in my heart, to help me to put one foot in front of the other, and it was to keep my promise to Allah.

There is no easy explanation, but in many ways, the suffering, the self-discipline, and the separation from my world, made the pilgrimage to Mecca the quintessential contemplative practice. I see now that I had chosen to be in relationship with my Beloved Creator, above all else.  And now, when I recall my pilgrimage, I derive contentment from remembering the magnitude of this relationship in my life.

Finally, no discussion of contemplation in Islam is complete without some mention of Sufism. Steeped in the Islamic tradition, Sufism is a spiritual science that sits at the far end of the contemplative-practice continuum. By means of ‘turning,’ ‘whirling,’ praying, chanting, and fasting, the ascetic Sufis reach the goal of profound union with the Divine. While we eschew suffering and sacrifice in life to pursue the path of contentment, the Sufis accept that the path will be a difficult one.

In the following quote, America’s most beloved 13th century Persian poet and Islamic mystic, Maulana Jalaluddin Rumi, describes the path to contentment best:

“Do not imagine that the journey is short; and one must have the heart of a lion to follow the unusual road, for it is very long…. One plods along in a state of amazement, sometimes smiling, sometimes weeping…”

The Story of John Omar, Top Turret Gunner & Flight Engineer – Army Air Corps World War II

 John Omar wedding

 By Mary Lahaj and Sheila Omar Malasi

Like other American families, the eight founding families of the Islamic Center of New England in Quincy (the first mosque in New England-1964) sent their sons and daughters to fight in World War II. One came home with the Purple Heart for courage under fire, John Omar.

Before he became well-known as the first religion teacher at the mosque, a crackerjack mechanic, and the owner of Omar’s Garage, located first on Water Street in Quincy, and later, near the Burgin Parkway, John enlisted in the Army Air Corps and served his country from 1943-1945.

At eighteen, after graduating with honors from Quincy High School in 1943, John was the top turret gunner and flight engineer for a B-24 Liberator, dubbed by the crew, “She’s Our Gal.” Assigned to the 8th Air Force, 382nd Bomb Squadron 491st Bomb Group, John and the crew were stationed in Pickingham Air Field in Norfolk, England.

It was early in the war, when the enemy was eager to take down any Allied aircraft, before it could hit its target. But even before they started to fly missions, the crew had a couple of close calls during the training program, including a difficult landing that broke the nose wheel. Another time the hydraulics failed prompting a call from the pilot to “Omar” (the crew’s nickname for him) to manually crank down the landing gear so they could make an emergency landing. The plane landed without the brakes and skidded to within a few feet from the end of the runway.

During the Battle of the Bulge, a heavy snowstorm at the start of one mission caused their plane to crash shortly after takeoff.  Eleven of the 500-pound bombs aboard were jettisoned into a field below.  When the plane hit the ground, the 12th bomb came crashing through the cockpit bulkhead with its nose a few feet from Omar’s back.  Moments after they crashed, Omar heard the pilot screaming for help and was able to help free the pilot from the burning wreckage so that they could both quickly escape from the plane in case of an explosion.

In a mission to Magdeburg Germany, they encountered a heavy barrage of anti-aircraft flak as they were approaching the target. They lost the #3 engine and the rudder cable was severed.  Because the hydraulics system was damaged, they could not open the bomb bay doors to release the bombs.

In response, Omar disconnected his heated flight suit and straddled a 9″ catwalk that ran from the cockpit to the waste door to reach the cranks that opened the bomb bay doors.  In 42 below zero temperatures, clinging precariously to the struts of the catwalk- the only thing between him and the earth below- Omar manually cranked open the doors so the bombs could be released. While performing this task, shrapnel wounded him in his right foot.

Once the bombs were released, he then turned his attention to repairing the severed rudder cables so that the plane could be turned around. With the #3 engine out, the plane kept losing altitude as they were leaving Germany.  A “May Day” call was sent out and someone gave the pilot a heading.  Miraculously they made the landing on a very short runway with no gas showing in the tanks.  The plane’s fuselage had been hit 44 times.  For his courageous actions in that mission, Omar was promoted to Sargent and awarded the Purple Heart. He flew a total of 29 missions, before the war ended.

Many of the young Muslim men in the founding families enlisted, including Sam Hassan (president of the Islamic Center of New England 12 times), his brothers (Ali, Abdu, Moe, and Albert) and sister, Zaida. In the Ameen family, Joey, Michael, and Sam joined up, and two daughters enlisted in the Women’s Army Corps (WAC), formed in 1943. Jimmy Abraham, Moe Allie, the Derbes, and the Hassan Brothers were among the boys who enlisted in WW II and fought in subsequent wars as well.

Other patriots stayed home. My grandfather, for example, Mohamed Omar, the first Imam of the mosque in Quincy, trained as a welder and helped build warships for Bethlehem Steel at the Fore River Shipyard. Quincy Point, located near the mosque and the Shipyard, is the neighborhood where John Omar and my mother, Mary, grew up. Many in the Muslim community remember John fondly, as a religion teacher in the Quincy mosque, but very few have any knowledge of his heroic war efforts or his Purple Heart.

Meanwhile, John married and raised eight children of his own. Below is John’s wedding picture from 1946.  Almost all eight of the Islamic Center founding family members attended his wedding.

FRONT ROW, LEFT TO RIGHT:  Ramsey Ameen Hassan; Fadal Hassan; Mary Omar Hassan; Bride-Mary Omar; John Omar (groom); and Emma Hassan. BACK ROW, LEFT TO RIGHT:  Sam Hassan; Carl Awad (Navy veteran); Ali Awad (bride’s father); Mohamad Omar (John’s father).