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Random Thoughts from the Michigan Trip

April 19, 2006

kr’s note: Why do I always seem to have these ruminations after visiting Michigan?

As one may have noticed, I was in Michigan over the weekend. I had gone to attend the MMYC (Michigan Muslim Youth Council… or whatever it is) conference (formerly known as the annual spring MYNA conference). The conference was geared towards high school students, so I went mainly as a counselor. That translates into looking over 5-6 kids and making sure they go to sleep on time, attend the lectures, answer their questions, and making sure they don’t burn down the place. After spending a weekend with high school kids, I think I speak on the behalf of all the counselors when I say that all the kids should be lined up against a wall, and we should be given 10 dodgeballs each. Set, aim, fire.

I’m kidding… I think. The kids were both well-behaved and not-so-well-behaved. Of course, my group, due to my wise leadership and serving as such an illustrious role model and hero figure, was extremely well behaved and seemed to learn quite a bit. I had instituted a rule that they had to take notes at each session, and I would quiz them afterwards. They did well on these quizzes, and also had some great follow up questions during the discussions in between the talks and late night in the rooms. There were several other well-behaved groups, but of course, my group was the best… hehe. Overall, it was a pretty interesting conference; it had its ups and downs, but I’m quite happy that I decided to attend and help out. I learned many things during the weekend, things that one learns not necessarily from reading a book but simply by the experience of observation and asking questions. I will now share some of what I learnt during this weekend:

1. I had the good fortune to travel up with Nassir “my last name is too complicated” Kotelensky (there Nassir, I think I spelled it right?). Old boy actually saved me a huge chunk of change, since I was going to fly out early Friday morning. He called me up late Thursday night and said that he too was going, and even offered to drive. I had met Nassir several times before but never really had the opportunity to spend an extended period of time with him. We had some amazing conversations during our trip about a plethora of topics ranging from strange and hypothetical fiqh scenarios to making fun of Michigan. But the part of the conversation that I enjoyed the most was when he shared how he converted to Islam, describing his journey that began with doubt and ended with faith. It’s been said many times before and I’ve alhamdulillah spoken to many converts about their conversion experiences, but subhanallah, each time one (meaning those of us who were privileged enough to be born Muslim) of us hears it, it’s such an iman-boost for us. I find it marvelous that people who weren’t raised as Muslims and despite our lack (quantitatively and qualitatively) of da`wah, these people still enter the gates of Islam by the virtue of God. Like Odysseus returning home (you like the Greek mythology analogy Nassir?… hehe), each convert navigates through a host of obstacles and obstructions, throwing themselves metaphorically into the hands of God Himself, who guides them peacefully and triumphantly towards His Light. And with that, they bring that Light into the Muslim community as well. And perhaps this is why it is absolutely crucial that Muslims make converts feel comfortable in this deen, for after having their own hearts illuminated, they in turn shine brightly for the rest of us.

2. I introduced Nassir to the greatest thing that Michigan has to offer: Ahmo’s Big Market in Ann Arbor, home of the famous philly cheesesteaks and chicken gyros. My humble disciple, Omar Waqhar, claimed that he would take us to a place that blew Ahmo’s away. To his credit, the food was pretty good, but it was no Ahmo’s… not even close. All you Michigan people that claim that Ahmo’s isn’t good anymore… “Which of the favors…” Sometimes, I think that all my trips to Michigan are simply for the sake of taking a bite out of that fresh cheesesteak sandwich. So now, more than ever, I am convinced that Ahmo’s is the greatest restaurant in Michigan… the 6 sandwiches I bought (to take home) are proof enough. Dear God, please give tawfeeq to the Ahmo’s management to open a Chicago branch immediately.

3. One of the things I noticed about the kids is their total apathy for everything in general. It’s like they simply didn’t care about anything, especially anything to do with Islam. In a sense, their biggest problem wasn’t that they didn’t know much; the problem was that they had no desire to learn anything more. Islam was just something they did on the weekends or when their parents told them. There was no sense of feeling contentment or happiness in being a Muslim. The way I see it, the biggest problem amongst many of these kids was their psychological crisis and lack of self-esteem. While I’m not sure what has definitively caused this (I’m open to anyone’s theories), one thing I noticed is that many of these kids don’t have much to keep them hyped, in terms of speeches and whatnot. I think back to my MYNA days (which weren’t very long since I was quite anti-MYNA at one point… gasp, I was even salafi for a while….) the conferences, speeches, and atmosphere always revolved around feel-good hype stuff that made one just feel happy to be Muslim. I think that’s something that is significant, especially during those formative years of an American Muslim youth… they don’t necessarily need vast scholarship, complicated topics, etc.; perhaps they would benefit more from simple, “hyped up” talks instead.. I think that if we just focused on keep them inside the door of Islam during these formative years, the real changes we’d like to see in them (love for scholarship, tradition, etc) will naturally happen as they mature and become comfortable with their Islam. Perhaps more on this topic later.

4. Michigan has the most useless road signs. Seriously, I thought this state was wacky enough, but they have the most confusing and annoying road signs. Even their traffic lights are messed up, with the left turn signal coming AFTER the same-side traffic has finished. We saw so many ridiculous road signs that made no sense, such as a no left turn sign displayed on the onramp as one merged with the highway. It’s like, hellooo, yes, I’m merging with the highway, why would I take a left turn??? There were a whole bunch of “wrong way” signs put in the oddest locations, especially as one took an on-ramp. The most ridiculous sign was a whole bunch of no-parking signs that we saw on the side of a busy one-lane main road. The sign was so useless; why would anyone park and block off a busy one-lane road? It was so idiotic that we had to stop and take a picture of it:


Wait a minute, the very fact that we pulled over and parked to take a picture of this useless and ridiculous sign might have validated its existence…

5. Finally, we observed this picture on the visor of Nassir’s car… I think they oughta do a better job of hiring people to draw better pictures for such safety diagrams:


Is it just me or do the “arrows” look like the kid’s brains are flying out due to the horrific impact? Is that the message they should be sending us?

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32 Comments
  1. Anonymous permalink

    This was a good read. Short and sweet — for this Xanga anyway (I kid, I kid)
    Yea high schoolers.. what can you say. I think it’s immaturity more than anything. Speaking for myself, I was just like that in high school — not a care in the world.
    Hmm maybe I should start drawing safety diagrams. I’ll add it to my list of options after graduation, right along with writing greeting cards, opening a restaurant, and becoming an inventor of stuff that’s so ridiculously simple, but will earn me millions (like the paperclip for instance.) Remind me again why I got a degree?

  2. dude, can you open a better version of italian express? gyros are 6 bucks now… what the flip. and they totally shaft you on the quantity. ah, i yearn for those days when i had to take half the gyro home and finish it the next day… all for $3.95

  3. Might I ask where you were taken that was supposed to blow Ahmo’s away. I’ve been in Ann Arbor three years and I haven’t yet eaten at Ahmo’s actually. Are you referring to the one near campus? And the MSA cards even have a discount to there. I ate at this pita kabab place the other day for the first time, it was darn good. They put fries in the chicken shawarman. Mmmm.

  4. “I think that if we just focused on keep them inside the door of Islam during these formative years, the real changes we’d like to see in them (love for scholarship, tradition, etc) will naturally happen as they mature and become comfortable with their Islam.”
    i agree with u on that…in fact i know exactly wat ur talkin bout when it comes to these high schoolers. i mean i was one not too long ago and alhamdulillah i’ve learned a lot from my high school mistakes and experiences and matured immensely. But now when i see what i’ve left behind me…i’m really saddened by the kids and their lack of effort in actually practicing what they are being taught. some of them r just plain ignorant…even the older ones in high school. You would think in an islamic high school it would be different but they really need some guidance and encouragement. and don’t even get me started on the muslim kids in public skools. the point is…i think it’s true if they hav that encouragement (not forceful) when they are younger, they will gradually get some sense knocked into them and come to realizations on their own inshallah.

  5. Dude, you’re probably going to hate me after this, but Ahmo’s is overrated. You MYNA/former MYNA guys who die over everything related to Michigan (I mean, EVERYTHING…hint hint) hype that place up way beyond it’s due. Ahmo’s is just a regular Arab fast food joint that serves regular Arab fast food. I find absolutely nothing special about it. Yeah, its good but c’mon, enough is enough. If we’re talking about great Arab food, I can point out so many other places that kick Ahmo’s arse. Five minutes from my house in Chicago is a splendid place called Pita Inn which serves the best Chicken Shawarmas this side of the world. 2 hours from where I am now is this awesome restaurant called Aladdins which serves up some of the best Arab food I’ve ever eaten. I’ve heard stories of over-hyped guys from Chicago driving 5 hours to eat a cheesesteak at Ahmos…that’s just plain ludicrous. I think the best cheesesteak I’ve ever had was when I visited Salt Lake City this past winter…I don’t know if anything can top that. Oh and let’s not forget the famous Chicken Guy from Manhattan…NO ONE can top that guy.Oh yeah, about your Italian Express point. I say we hold a massive protest in front of their restaurant denouncing their unjust prices. Perhaps we can eat there at the end of the protest.

  6. “Wait a minute, the very fact that we pulled over and parked to take a picture of this useless and ridiculous sign might have validated its existence…”
    lol
     

  7. To Kamran, Respected Teacher and Mentor:
    3 things.
    #1. I felt quite helpless while I was taking care of my group. I sometimes envisioned them as a toned down version of English Soccer Fans. Yes, the same fans who would throw flares at opposing goaltenders. I saw in them a zeal for everything in life EXCEPT for Islam. Wheather, it was a zeal for the opposite sex, for sleep, for food, but sadly not for Islam. However, that said their shortcomings as a group were my failures as a counselor. I believe Islam is not something that can be forced upon a person. During the conference, I felt as if we were trying to force feed them the religion of Islam. A person must realize in his heart that he must follow the path to salvation(Islam) or the path to hellfire, there can be no compromise in this. Ayah in the Quran:(Oh my people how is it that I call you towards salvation, while you call me towards the fire.) You cannot go to Islamic conferrence one day then go smoke hookah with arab chicks in Dearborn, nauzibillah. Meaning, some of these kids try to live dual personalities and it won’t work. Something has to give.
    #2. Inshallah, next time you come ,WALLAHI, I will take you to a place that is better than Ahmos. =) 
    #3. I deeply apologize if I offended you in any way during the weekend.

  8. Whoa dude, that picture of the kid’s brains flying out is disturbing…

  9. subhanAllah, GooD goiN with the mentoring. I wish I could do that for a weekend or two. Sounds fun fun fun. I love working with the youth. adults bore me sometimes.  But then sometimes one might get a group of girls who were forced to attend the program and whose cell phones never cease to stop ringing and have to ‘fix their hijab’ in the restrooms between every lecture. alhumdulillah though, it’s a process.
    mashaAllah BIG MARKET. I love that environment. cool beans. salamu ‘alaikum.

  10. i took your nubmer three and added it to our suggestions notebook. if you have any other suggestions, please email them to me or one of the other organizers. we def. are going to change up the speakers next year and making the conf. more of a feel good conf. was the general sentiment. that is what these kids need, to know that islam can be cool, and they should feel special being muslim. what are you doing august 6th – 12th?

  11. I think the baby squirrel children need a sense of community and how Islam connects to them, everyday…and more spiritual feel-good sufi stuff…but nothing too complex, as that will go over their heads…

  12. Kamran, a correction:
    – It was I who introduced Nassir to the true best thing that Michigan has to offer: Amina and Yasmeen Hafeez.
    As for the Michigan people and their tastes, you are 101% correct. They’re so used to having friggin awesome places to eat that their taste buds have gone into a state of mental illness (because taste buds have minds, yes). Do you recall when we ate at Cedarland’s? It’s our khandan favorite and everyone always says “no way you gotta go to such-and-such instead,” only to find that nothing compares to Cedarland’s. And Ahmo’s they bash on too, but it owns. And Bhaiya said it best, “they’re just mad cuz we take all their women.”
    And what’s with their lack of left-turns and crazy U-turn system? But their post-green left-turn arrow only system is solid.

  13. Glad you had a good time…yet, you didn’t order the Ahmo’s Sub…next time we’ll go together and I’ll order you the Shuttari Special…after eating it, you’ll never leave Michigan – even with our wacky road signs!

  14. Anonymous permalink

    Remember our tag-team job as counselors for those kids in 2001? We got voted to have the best group of kids in the entiiiiiiire conference. Now that was pimp ..

  15. Yeah. Too many times people hype on the punishments and not enough on the love.As my hubby likes to say: Spread Da Lurrvve…Re: pic with kid’s brains … gore sells. ‘Nuff said.

  16. I miss the days of counseling MYNA kids. Can’t no one hang with the Don. Well, now you might be able to, but back then, not a chance.For the haters that say that the don must be REALLY old, the last time I counselled MYNA kids was 2003 or 4 or something like that.

  17. Michigan isn’t the only place with weird road signs. Illinois has plenty of them too. I see “No Parking” signs all the time on busy roads where no sane person would ever think of parking. Plus, Naperville has these signs warning about deer in places where, in my fifteen years living in Naperville, I’ve never seen a single relative of Bambi.

  18. those philly cheesesteaks sound real good right now….. 🙂

  19. those philly cheesesteaks sound real good right now….. 🙂

  20. WOW what a disservice to UofM Dearborn, who you met on Friday, who welcomed you with open arms. you my friend, are something else.NO PROP FOR YOU!

  21. yea that was quite random for a typical kr post.. at least i think.  But I liked it, # 3 in particular.  I agree, I think even just hangin out with other muslims gets that hype and builds that desire and motivation.  The environment and company one is in makes a world of difference.

  22. funny how trips with nasir always have to include his conversion story. what’s funnier is that ppl try to be suave about getting to it, but he knows it’s coming.and the sound of ahmo’s makes my mouth water, I’m so deprived.

  23. u were salafi?

  24. i am a well-behaved high school-er….high schoolers rock….

  25. khalid roshan: i went to the ahmo’s that was on the ann arbor campus… i dont remember the exact address location, but i was introduced to this amazing place by one kashif siddiqui (may God bless him… hehe) back in 2002. i had went up to the walimah of ibrahim moiz (he of the outback steakhouse email)… kashif took us there before the walimah, and i experienced the greatest sandwich ever. i dunno about all these other places that people hype up (in terms of sandwiches), but for fast food, ahmo’s OWNS.
    sadiq: after saying that, you deserve to be exiled… but then again, after youve been in iowa for three years, i guess you’ve already experienced the worst in terms of exile. anyway, as for ahmo’s, i’m not talking about arab food when i talk about ahmos. i dont even think they serve arab food. they serve fast food stuff like sandwiches, subs, etc. as for real arab food, dearborn still blows away anything that chicago or any where else has to offer. places like cedarlands and al-ameer own pita inn like i own you, o ye who are kr’s bucketboy. as far as your salt lake city and manhattan things… these are all da`eef riwayah. michigan joints have been visited by so many people that these riwayah are mutawaatir. the bottom line is that italian express sucks… but we still go there cause we have no other alternative.
    waqhar: dude, no worries man, you didn’t offend me in the slightest bit. i enjoyed hanging out with you this weekend, and inshallah i look forward to when i come up for atif’s wedding that we can chill and do some wild stuff… you know the kind im talkin about… as for the force feeding, all we can do is offer muslim kids a buffet… at the end of the day, they have to decide to eat or not. “and upon you is the coveyance, upon Us is the Reckoning”… anyway, after your “halal pizza” place fizzledout, i dunno if i can trust your judgment on what’s a “good place to eat” anymore =).
    bint: sometimes the amazing thing is that the process is perhaps more beneficial for people, in the long run, than the goal itself….
    saqib: i stand corrected… perhaps i should have stated “the best edible thing that Michigan has to offer”…. well, amina and yasmeen are so freakin cute that they’re edible. but youre right, michigan people are such ingrates. they have the best restaurants around and they’re so used to them that they dont even appreciate them anymore. unlike us chicago people who plan trips to michigan simply for the sake of eating at their restaurants. i think all those road signs mess with their minds and thus their perception of what’s good and ability to recognize great-tasting food. they all should be exiled to iowa.
    shuttari: i wanna go there with you so you can hook me up with your former ahmos-employee discount. i bought 6 sandwiches to take home which cost me nearly 30 bucks. perhaps with some hookups, i can get even more =). and ive been hearing a lot about their roast beef sub which is supposed to OWN… havent tried it yet. i cant seem to move away from the cheesesteak since it’s so damn good.
    kareem: heck yeah dude, 2001… what a great conference. woulda been great if you came along, then i coulda said i travelled with two whiteboys…
    kazim: the Don is a dummy… and back then, for sure, i couldnt hang with you, i was in awe of you. but now, the student has become the master. of course, i wouldnt be on top of the mountain without you, but the fact remains that im on the mountain top and youre just looking up… it’s ok, the rest of the world is giving you company =).
    asad: yeah, but our road signs arent AS ridiculous as theirs. plus, ive seen several deer in naperville, especially near the forest preserve near rt 53.
    muhi: im so sorry. when i get back home, ill do an edit to this post and tell everyone what a great time i had there, how you rolled out the red carpet and whatnot. my bad dude =(.
    bhaijan: youre not deprived… didnt you just post about the great chicken kabob place that you went to in pak?
    vaseemy: yes, back during my sophomore year of high school, when i read a few books of theirs (cause they’re usually with nice looking covers and clever sounding titles)..but then “God, He is the one who took you from darkness and into light…”… hehe.
    A/E: all high schoolers should be exiled to iowa =).

  26. Wow man your post just gave me a whole new profile on brother Nassir. We only know him as the grown, matured and and married man (who still plays pick-a-boo with random little kids, chases people around the CPSA parking lot, and constantly woos the CPSA non-males).

  27. Anonymous permalink

    Hey Sadiq, to the best of my knowledge, Pita Inn is not Zabiha (and thus not Halal), but Pita House is.  Seriously…..

  28. Michigan has nothing on the backwardness of Milwaukee. Yes, that little town that even at its greatest resembles little more than an active downtown Naperville, had signs in their restaurants instructing people to smoke INDOORS and not outside. We saw one cop the entire weekend (and that was when we drove 30 minutes out into the burbs looking for a latenight IHOP) The local university also had disposal boxes in every bathroom for syringes. God I love Chicago Spending time with the Muslims youth is underrated.

  29. thanks for adjusting my seat back to its position…NOT.

  30. ^you should thank me for driving cause your significant other fell asleep =). i had to combine a deadly mix of amp energy drink and a doubleshot to simply stay awake… i accept cookies as suitable apologies. white chocolate chip with macadamia nut, please.

  31. abrar: i believe that the only thing that pita inn has that is zabiha is the chicken shawerma. this is the only thing they claim that is zabiha, as well as what the community has investigated about. by the way, since you are currently reading the book of zibah in Hidaya, please give us a dars (lesson) on the rules of slaughter and whatnot =).

  32. Salamu Alakium: “their biggest problem wasn’t that they didn’t know much; the problem was that they had no desire to learn anything more. Islam was just something they did on the weekends or when their parents told them. There was no sense of feeling contentment or happiness in being a Muslim. The way I see it, the biggest problem amongst many of these kids was their psychological crisis and lack of self-esteem. While I’m not sure what has definitively caused this (I’m open to anyone’s theories), one thing I noticed is that many of these kids don’t have much to keep them hyped, in terms of speeches and whatnot. ” I think it has a problem to do with family. Since family is the major basic unit in Islam. The concept of love which many of the older generations take for granted. Have you ever heard of “purana zamana mai dil kee baatha hothee thee”, some people have still kept that essence whcih helps the kid. In all honesty every family has its own problems, but this immersion of technology has swept alot of the youngster in becoming…lazy. When I was in highschool , yes there was the internet but I didn’t have a xanga,myspace,facebook etc et, or aim. It was just for research. Before there was always video games but now there is so many differnt types of video games other than just mario brothers, sonic, donkey kong, and duck hunt. Families are adapting to this society and its structure more independant. You dont really meet your cousins , and kids really learn from their friends, and family. Most kids in general are not interested in religion and alot of them do lack self-esteem ..and my theory is maybe because of the lonlieness. Maybe of trying to be someone who your not. The essence of life is observing, communicating, interacting. Sometimes I talk to aunties and we talk about some issues of what is correct, in which we agree usually. However when I speak to my friends about the same issues, they think what is islamically incorrect is correct because of what their mothers may encourage(the mother knows that what she is encouragin is incorrect). So there in this state of lack on confusion..when you become so confused you become careless. There is so many factors that have led up to this, it is weird though you stick the same kid to a muslim country and see how he reacts to the culture and family there (depending if they practice Islam). At least in my family there is just this immense amount of love you recieve–not because you are an american but it is because of who they are. Sometimes I ponder that I wish I could meet Prophet Muhammad(saw), indeed he has done alot…but the man who he was, how he dealt with people in such a loving, sweet, kind way… salamu alaykum  i guess this is a topic i think about very much..motivating people who are already muslim to understand and read the Qur’an is a struggle in itself for me sometimes.

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