CAIRO - Living in a city known as the world capital of sin, Muslims in the US city of Las Vegas are trying to resist various types of worldly temptations, facing a never-ending struggle to hold onto their faith.
We are criticized by other Muslims, Ahmadullah Rokai Yusufzai, who is known as Rocky to non-Muslim neighbors, told The Observer on Sunday, March 10.They'll say, 'You're living in Sin City? You must have a gambling problem. You must be doing this and that.'
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And we say, no. That's what happens on the Strip, but two miles radius of that, there's no casinos. It's just suburbia, ordinary families trying to live decent, good lives.
Most Muslims stay well away from the Strip. My house is about 15 miles away and it's a different world. I see the lights way off in the distance.
Yusufzai, 45, came to the United States with his parent from Afghanistan thirty years ago.
He worked in several jobs from a court interpreter to a soccer coach to help bring up his young children.
But the 9/11 attacks came to shatter his dreams, causing the charming and charismatic man to lose his engineer's job with a telecommunication company.
To make ends meet, the college-educated Muslim was prepared to work as a cab driver, but could not morally accept the company's requirement to cheat tourists by taking them on unnecessarily long routes.
He also refused to take rake-offs from strip joints and brothels.
But as economic woes bit, the Muslim man ended up towing a trailer up and down the Strip, advertising an adult-entertainment club.
I was towing this with license plates that read Allahu Akbar, listening to the Qur'an, Yusufzai said.
And yet I'm hauling this thing and praying to God to forgive me and to understand I'm just trying to put some halal food on my table without being dishonest and making 'easy money', as it's called in Vegas.
I still didn't feel comfortable. It was halal money I was making, but I had to hand back the trailer. It just wasn't right.
Yusufzai, the founder of Masjid-e-Tawheed, a 10-minute drive from Las Vegas Boulevard, says worldly temptations in Las Vegas trap many Muslims in the city.
It's easier to get lost in this city than anywhere else in the world, he said.
You get to the Strip, you can get a fake ID and go into any club and do whatever you want.
Drinking has become a major thing for teenagers. The parents are mostly in denial. They never believe anything has happened.
He says working in entertainment places becomes an irresistible temptation for many Muslims.
A job in a hotel can pay for a 2,000sqft home and two cars, Yusufzai said.
A taxi driver or a black-jack dealer earning $60,000 can earn enough for a house, cars and schooling.
Yusufzai says that Muslims in Las Vegas face major challenges in raising their children in the city.
But the parent role in this city is also extremely tough and challenging. I don't believe in punishment - that's just being pissed off and reacting to your own emotions, but I have to explain that in this city as a Muslim in the sin capital of the world, it's difficult.
The Muslim man cited the case of a beautiful girl in her 20s, who volunteered for jobs at the masjid.
She started crying, and said, 'I don't know how to pray. My parents never taught me. They were strict with the rules and laws of the culture, but not about Islam. They were too busy making money.'
The lack of enough imams is adding to the difficulties facing Muslims in Las Vegas.
We have two brothers who have learned on their own. They aren't certified imams who've gone to madrassa or Qur'an school, says Yusufzai.
But one is a baker in the casino, making pastries, and also works for a bagel factory. The other one is a courier and a cab driver.
Muhammad Chakir, an immigrant from Morocco, did not mind working as an assistant manager in one of the biggest casinos.
Other Muslims think it's crazy that we're here, but we try really hard to take the time to come to God and get away from all the bad stuff, Chakir said.
We don't have a problem with living in Vegas. For me, the diversity of the place, the fact that people from everywhere come here, makes it easier to be a Muslim, not harder, he said.
There's a lot of sin going on. But to be able to get away and pray and be peaceful here is fantastic.
Living in the middle of the sin city, Yusufzai learned not to judge people.
Muslims ask me how I feel about having bartenders and casino workers in our congregation, he said.
I tell them, we all go to our own grave. I can't judge that person and say you can't be a bartender.
I can suggest a better Muslim needs to do things that won't harm anyone. I will say what they're doing is wrong, but I can't stop anyone doing anything.The United States is home to a Muslim minority of between six to eight million.
Reproduced with permission from OnIslam.net