A Tribute to Home

March 20, 2009

Yesterday was the last day of my childhood. As my friends and I left Northlake Jamatkhana (a mosque for Shia Ismaili Muslims located in Northlake, IL), we looked back and teared up a little bit. The jamatkhana would be closing down soon because of two new jamatkhanas being built in different towns, effectively splitting up our group of friends between the two. But this was not why the tears were flowing.

Through new friendships and fights, moves and colleges across the country, we had stuck together with the help of cell phones and Facebook. We would survive this as well. But this time, Northlake would not stick with us. As the founding location and headquarters of our group, Northlake has held a special place in all of our hearts and has served as another person in the group, everyone’s best friend. A friend that was never unavailable or mad at you, even if you were a little late, a friend that provided you with the support of a community and the satisfaction of living Islam.

Islam is a way of life; I learned this in Northlake Religious Education Center in the 5th grade. We talked about it as a class, reading an article about it in groups and covering all the important discussion points. But looking back, I realized that the concept itself was not reflected better anywhere than Northlake.

For the past 18 out of the mere 20 years of my existence, my home was Northlake. My friends and I always took part in the jamati activities Northlake provided for us; indeed, it was the existence and continuity of these activities that slowly turned my friends into a part of my family.

In our childhood, it was a teacher, instructing us on how to pray and recite ginans (Ismaili devotional literature), and explaining our history to us.

It was a coach, organizing annual sports tournaments in which we took part. It showed us the importance of physical fitness, humility in the face of victory and the hope of next year after defeat.

It was a stage on which we performed countless cultural dances and small skits for special events, even if it was only for our parents and siblings watching.

It was a tutoring center after daily morning and evening prayers, where so-and-so’s dad or someone’s cousin in college would show us the importance of our education by leaving jamatkhana at 10 or 11 pm, so late that only a few people were left, so that they could explain to us how exactly to figure out that calculus problem that we had for homework.

It was a Domestic Arts class, where we learned how to effectively wash, dry, scrub, dust, mop, sweep, wipe and vacuum an entire building during the weekly jamati cleaning that everyone participated in. It was a weekly cleaning that could have been done by hired services, but was instead done by the people of the jamatkhana itself, something that spoke volumes of the value of hard work, cooperation and self-reliance.

It was a summer program, actually, many summer programs, for kids of all ages. It was a program that emphasized fun ways of keeping minds active during those three short months without homework or lectures. And as we grew older, it was a summer program that awarded us with the satisfaction of volunteering and contributing to the development of those same programs that we had so much fun in when we were kids.

It was a party room, where we held the celebrations for the three biggest holidays of the year, and played dandia raas until the wee hours of the morning. More importantly, it was a party that we attended every Friday night, at least, which prevented us from going to friends’ house parties. We complained about this endlessly while we were in high school. But afterwards, I realized the reason I never started drinking alcohol in high school, like many of my friends did, was because I could never attend their parties on Friday nights. I was in jamatkhana.

It was a weekend retreat home, but better because it was available to us every day of the week. We could walk into jamatkhana after the bells and drama of school, and know that we were walking into the familiarity of community and the peace of prayer and meditation.

At the closing of Northlake, it will be about 20 years old, just like me. It has given me a wonderful childhood, one that I know I would not have been able to find anywhere else, and its closing will represent the end of one chapter and hopefully the beginning of another relationship with a different jamatkhana; a new jamatkhana that will give me new experiences, but will reflect the same ideals that Northlake, as a parent, first taught me.


13 thoughts on “A Tribute to Home

  1. This is probably one of your best pieces…only because it has to do with Northlake. Honestly, I wish you could see my face at the moment – it is not a pretty sight. I’m gonna send this to my parents and print it out. Too many good memories and I think youve been able to capture them all! I’m gonna miss it…and all the great times I spent there with you and the gang! =(

  2. I’m glad you told me about your blog! I never would have read it otherwise, considering I rarely use Facebook. I love how you articulated the importance of Northlake so well. It’s as if you could read my mind 🙂 I’m not very happy about Northlake either, but it’s for the best. I don’t think HI wants any of us living in a town like Northlake, where the schools are less than stellar and safety is a concern. Besides, now we’ll have two new centers that can become our new sanctuary and best friend. Keep writing–reading your blog is definitely a better distraction than American Idol! Besides, you’re hotter than Ryan, goofier than Paula, and hautier than Simon. Miss you!

  3. I randomly found your blog while googling for a jamatkhane in New Haven. This particular piece is really well-written and is a touching reminder of what it felt like to grow up in the Ismaili community. I read it to my non-Ismaili fiancé, telling her that this is exactly the kind of experience I would want our future kids to have.

  4. Nausheen, this post is beautifully written. I could not have put it in better words myself.
    Northlake, you will be missed. You are the main reason I am who I am today.

  5. I read this whole blog through thinking this has to be someone I grew up with someone that captured everything i feel too! And I knew it was you! I love you and you better be going to NL! Or I will drive up to Glenview to get you!

  6. I am not here exclusively to sing your praises (too much) as I feel many people have already done that, Al-hamdu li ‘l-Lah. Nevertheless, I wanted to thank you again for elegantly conveying your perspective of what we all experienced, together.
    Now to the point for this post, keep writing! Only then will we collectively embrace the fact that NL remains forever with us.
    Thank you for being such a brilliant and compassionate friend.

  7. That is a great article, Nausheen, and makes us proud of a member in the family who can write so well. I had seen Kampala JK during the post Idi Amin days, when it was still occupied by some Muslim organization, and I could feel the sadness Kampalans would have felt in seeing the JK in that condition. Today, it is one of the best JKs in East Africa. Life has to move on, and today’s youngsters will build the same bond with their new JK as you did with Northlake.
    With lots of love,
    Aziz Uncle

  8. Hey Nausheen,
    Wow, could not have said it better myself. I definitely had tears in my eyes. Thank you for summing it up so well…and putting into words what I have been trying to explain to people around me who question my connection to NL.

  9. Absolutely valuable your individual writings to help me. So I currently have received a lot because of your current blogs and it is my best opportunity to share the great viewpoints with you.I hope we all can make contact much more by the mailbox and blog.Thanks a lot.

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