Riding Chicago in the JamatMobile with Moses.

"You look like Moses!" My friend Wajahat considers that to be one of the best compliments he's ever gotten, alongside with "You look like Jesus!" Both comments from kids. Ah, the naiveté and honesty of children - God bless them.

Wajahat drove me around town while I was in Chicago, attending the Greg Mortenson fundraiser. Wajahat is considered dangerous, he's a marked man, probably on TSA's list of people to "randomly" search, and definitely on the FBI's watch list. The problem with Wajahat is that he is reflection of 2 sides of an uncomfortable truth. On the one hand, he could easily pass for a disciple of Osama Bin Laden, he's sports the mandatory chest-length beard, the all white "robe", a white skullcap, and a Quran is always near. On the other side, kids habitually mistake him for their prophet. Enemy and Savior - depending on who's watching.

He's been a friend for a long time, and he's also one of the coolest guys that I know. We have our differences - we can debate on the separation of the sexes, the hijab, or whatever, but at the end of the day, the filmmaker and the religious worker get along just fine. We were discussing that as we drove around the city, it's not so much about how people are so different, rather the lack of tolerance within and without any community that starts problems. For the most part - birds of a feather do flock together - and if you're different, you don't join the club.

A family in a minivan pulls up next to us at a red light, Mom, Dad and kids glaring at Wajahat, like he's radioactive, or ready to run down the street with box-cutters. Let me paint the whole picture, Wajahat works for Al-Furqaan Foundation, a company dedicated to distributing free Qurans, with the goal of getting a Quran into every hotel room in America. He doesn't just talk the talk - he walks the walk - his life is dedicated to spreading Islam. Whether you agree with him or his mission is besides the point, it's about tolerance. The light turns green, the family in the minivan don't move, Wajahat hits the gas, and we cross the intersection, leaving them behind.

For his job, he needs to transport Qurans to various locations around the country - so he rides around in one of the biggest, ugliest, rust-covered, burgundy vans I've ever seen! The moving bucket of metal's got to be least 15 years old - I nickname it the JamatMobile (I know he'll hate that). This behemoth is what he arrived to picked me up in, I chuckled when I saw it - too cool. The interior of the van is decked out in, what at one time was probably, really hip wooden paneling, and more ugly burgundy carpet, and wall coverings. The middle console between the driver and passenger seat is missing, so Wajahat ingeniously placed a tripod with music sheet stand - you know the one musicians place their sheet music one, while they play their instrument in its place. Hilarious!

He tells me, someone asked him if he was a musician, because of the stand. I think it's outrageous! He keep his notes there.., and sunflower seeds. He picks one up and offers it to me. We have the windows rolled down (no AC of course), and we're just strolling down the street on a beautiful Spring day, we got sunflower seeds on our console-stand, and people staring at us as they pass the JamatMobile - what more could you ask for.
Later in the evening when we get to the fundraiser. We turned into the parking lot, and passed the rows of shiny clean BMWs and Mercedes - the looks we get from people, as we cruise past them in our JamatMobile, is... "priceless". When Osama-look-alike Wajahat walks in the door, plenty of Muslims raise an eyebrow as well. Since I was an invited guest, our reserved table is at the front of the hall, so we walk past the entire crowd, before getting to our table. Seated, Wajahat leans over to me and says, "It's official - I'm the only "fundamental" here!", I respond, "Then, that makes me guilty by association!" We have a great time at the fundraiser.
Ever since he was removed from a flight - he doesn't fly anymore, he refuses to be degraded by anyone, he'd rather hit the road to get where he needs to go - anywhere in the country.
So if you happen to be barreling down an interstate one day - and pass an ugly burgundy van, with Osama behind the wheel, don't bother calling the feds, it's only Wajahat on another cross country tour delivering Qurans. The feds already know where he is.
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About Naeem Randhawa

Naeem Randhawa is a filmmaker, travel writer, and IT project manager, living in Dallas with his wife and baby boy. He has been writing about travel for over 12 years, and made his film directorial debut last year, with a film about fasting called “American Ramadan.” Having traveled almost every state in the US, Canada, as well as international destinations, his travel writings cover everything from adventure trails across White Sands in New Mexico, exclusive resorts in Quebec, Baja trekking in Mexico, to the many travel destinations in the US. He is currently developing a diversity based travel show, to premiere later this year. A self-starter, he taught himself filmmaking, to add a voice in countering the current media bias and void of Muslim representation in mainstream media. Last year, the film was picked up and broadcast by Link TV, Geo TV, Bridges TV, as well as international networks. This year the documentary will air across 50 PBS stations this year, and reach over 70 million TV US homes. He has also shot, and produced over 70 field television reports for a national satellite network, reporting on the Muslim community locally in Dallas, and at large. Highlights include coverage of on-the-ground reporting from New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina, and many others. He is currently working on research for his next documentary projects, about Hajj, Muslims in the US Army, Faith conversion stories, and a PSA for a national organization. His media website can be viewed here at JustSayGoFILMS.com.

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