May 18, 2012 - albanyia    8 Comments

Memories of early Muslims in Albany, NY — part 2

Ok so this is the second of what I hope is a series of different Muslim’s memories of growing up in Albany, NY.

I’d love for more people to write about their early memories of going to ICCD as kids (or other area Mosques as kids) and their experiences. Kind of so we can preserve those memories as so many more Muslims/Mosques arrive in the Capital District and we move on to the third and fourth generations here! So please let me know if you can write a few paragraphs that we can post on here!!

So last time I told you about how we used to go to the Mosque every week and practically grew up there, it was such an integral part of our lives. We used to have two or three classes with breaks in between. Our hangout place was the girl’s bathroom! We’d go in there and be free and talk about our American school and life and whatever else. We also used to go outside to the treeline and go into the woods a little where we’d have a private hangout. One day on one of those ‘youth sports day’ Saturdays we went into the woods and somehow got lost! when we finally came out we discovered a golf course! It was like a new world of smooth grass, rolling hills and a pond with lily flowers. We felt like we discovered a lost new world! Later on I found out some of the older boys had already discovered the golf course and used to go there to smoke! Tsk!!

The teachers would use various ways of teaching us. I don’t think we actually had any type of books until much later. At some point they started photocopying different things and binding them into books. The Islam teachers would teach us a random subject each week and we’d always complain that we just ‘learned the same thing over and over again’. On occasion a teacher would take our class outside to the grass and we’d sit in a circle and read from our Quran pages or the teacher would tell us a story or answer any questions. Brother Djafer especially was an amazing storyteller who would make the Sahaba and Seerah come alive for us. These are some of my favorite memories.

All the classes were co-ed until maybe my later teenage years when they separated us into a girl’s class and a boy’s class. I think most of the boys just stopped going after awhile as they got older. But most of the girl’s continued and only ‘graduated’ when they graduated from high school.

Brother Djafer and brother Mokhtar used to take us on camping trips to the Adirondacks during the summers during my teenage years. We even went horseback riding and once I think we stayed a whole week up there with a big group of boys and girls. The girls used to row out to some island and we’d go swimming there with our long pants and t-shirts. That was definitely a highlight in life. Our Imams back then were very young themselves and had young kids and wives back home. We’d sit around the fire and tell jinn stories, they’d talk or say something to each other in Arabic and laugh or they’d tell us ‘riddles’ that we had to figure out.

One of the interesting things I contemplate here is that we never had this strict kind of separation like we have today. Girls and boys with huge barriers in between, the old in one place and the young in one place. It was just that we were all together.

The custodian of the Mosque was named Br. Kamal. He was quite the character and always took care of us kids by putting out cookies during breaktime (we were only allowed two each) and used to know everyone by name. He was originally from Macedonia and in one rare instance came to our class and talked about ‘the old days of the war’ there. He was probably one of the first Muslims to even come to the capital district, if not like The first! He died just a few years ago and the entire ICCD Mosque was packed with old and new faces and they took him to be buried at the Muslim cemetary. That was a very sad day.