Two very close friends and classmates, Mawlānā Usmān and Mawlānā Yaḥyā had gone to the USA for leading the Tarāwīḥ prayers a few days before Ramaḍān 1996. They contacted me after their arrival requesting another two Ḥuffāẓ, as there was another nearby place where the locals wanted to offer their Tarāwīḥ. There was just one day to go to Ramaḍān and difficult to find Ḥuffāẓ, so I asked a close friend, Ḥāfiẓ Rafīq Shaikh, and he was up for it.
Some two days later, on the 24th of January, we boarded Continental Airlines at Manchester Airport, and after transiting at Newark Airport (New Jersey) we landed in Tampa (Florida) on the same day, as America is 5 hours behind the UK. The transatlantic flight had been very exciting, as I had the opportunity to propagate Islām to a fellow passenger from Manchester.
Brother Rabbānī and ꜤAbdul Qādir Bhai received us at Tampa International Airport. We arrived at the main Masjid in Tampa, Islamic Society of Tampa Bay Area (Istaba), at 8pm, where we met Mawlānā Usmān. Mawlānā Yaḥyā was leading the Tarāwīḥ that night at New Port Richey, where we took over the next day.
The four of us resided at Tampa in a very nice apartment with en suite bathrooms, in Pine Drive, off Meadowood Blvd and had a real good time. Mawlānā Usmān had been there many times, so we quickly made many friends.
New Port Richey was a quiet suburban coastal city, a 45 minute drive from Tampa, and home to Dr Yūsuf Kariwālā, who had requested that Tarāwīḥ take place there, resulting in our arrival there. The ꜤIbādat Khana was a small room where around 30 people (men & ladies), mainly doctors, would attend for Tarāwīḥ.
Florida is a beautiful state, with over 30,000 lakes, surrounded by the Gulf of Mexico, and generally nice and clean. We saw large detached houses with big gardens, and some looked like mansions set in lots of space.
The roads are wide, with three, four and even six lanes either side, graced by some of the best cars. We hardly saw anyone walking, with most traveling by car. There were no local shops, and even the nearest shop was a 10-minute drive. Every few miles you’ll come across a small shopping mall with a few shops and then nothing again for a few more miles. I think the family that lived closest to the Masjid was a 10-minute drive away.
Our Ramaḍān schedule was to sleep late, rest after Fajr and as it was hot during those days and the hunger and thirst would get to you as the day progressed, we would usually remain indoors and rest after Ẓuhr. Most days, we would leave for New Port Richey after ꜤAṣr, to arrive in time for Ifṭār, and return after Tarāwīḥ, with provisions for Suḥūr.
We started to get to know people and became good friends with a youngster by the name of Rafat, who was a real character. We had been given a rented Mitsubishi Galant so, on many occasions, Rafat would drive us to and from New Port Richey.
On our first Friday in the US, 26th January, we met Minhāj, a youngster of Pakistani origin, who had lived in Saudi Arabia for a number of years and had worked for WAMY. He had performed ꜤUmrah & Ḥajj so many times and dined, on many occasions, with the Shaikhs & Muftis of Saudi Arabia, but come to America to get a US passport; amazing!
That evening we were hosted at Ifṭār by Dr Yūsuf Kariwālā, a GP originally from Kari in India. His house was some mansion and in the evening he switched on the lights at the back of the house which had a pier style platform under which flowed the Gulf of Mexico. A spectacular, serene setting for us to recite the Holy QurꜤān for that night’s Tarāwīḥ; a truly memorable experience.
The next day, it was the turn of Dr Zaidī, a joint specialist running a private practice, who had recently moved into a $215,000 self-designed mansion with a swimming pool and surrounded by lakes; dazzling!
On Sunday, Dr Ijaz, a therapist specialising in breath therapy, invited us, as well as some 20 doctors, for Ifṭār, at his house. Sorry, I mean yet another mansion with a swimming pool.
On the 29th of January, we visited Busch Gardens, an attraction similar to Alton Towers (UK), but with an African theme. We had a thrilling time on Kumba, a very fast roller coaster featuring seven inversions (loops turning passengers upside down). Then it was the log flume and tidal wave which left us soaking wet. Although it was Ramaḍān and we were fasting, we had a lovely day. On the day, there were some five to six thousand visitors at Busch Gardens, including some from the UK. That evening, our Ifṭār was at the Tampa Masjid.
… Disneyland, and the Nation of Islām … continued in USA Part 2.