In late July or early August 1982, three village boys stood in a dark wet street near Tobacco Road in Banjul, the Gambian capital. One kept on laughing, one was grumbling. The third was defending himself against his complaining friend. All three had just finished high school and were about to head for the unknown. Lamin Jobarteh was the amused boy. He went to Mississippi, in the United States, where he finished his Bachelor of Science degree in Business Management at Rust College in Holly Springs, in 1990. He went back to The Gambia to work at the National Investment Board for four years. He left again to go back to the U.S. in 1994, only because of the military coup of July that year.
From Mississippi earlier, Lamin ended up in another, even more unlikely place in the U.S., on November 17th 1994 – Alaska!
“When I arrived here the Muslim community was very small. We were barely 200 and the majority were Albanians. We had a small rented office space as our masalla, paid for by a wealthy Palestinian. By the beginning of 2001, we started getting refugees from Iraq and other parts of the world.”
Lamin and a handful of friends decided to mobilize the others and set up the Islamic Community Centre Anchorage Alaska (ICCAA) and a committee in April 2000. “We elected Dr Buhari as our President. He is from Pakistan. I was elected the treasurer,” he recalled.
Because of his unifying skills and pleasant personality, Lamin was elected President in September 2002. Fifteen years now, Lamin is still President, a testimony to his success in running the ICCAA and the love of his association.
Lamin brings to mind the days during and after the time of Prophet Muhammad (peace be with him), when Muslim pioneers went to unknown places in Arabia and the rest of the world, built mosques and lived with Muslims and non-Muslims. From only a rented masalla in 2002, they embarked on a task no one had thought was even imaginable – to build the first mosque in the state of Alaska, known typically in the imagination of most people for only its Eskimos and ice. Over a period of 10 years, Lamin, his wife, Kady (Khadija in full) and the ICCAA committee spearheaded a fund-raising drive and successfully raised $3.1 million. They built one of the most beautiful mosques in the U.S., where and when it was least expected. He attracted the attention of the international and U.S. media, such as Al Jazeera, Newsweek, Brian Adams, Julia O’Malley, The New York Times, Michael Isikoff and a host of other international radio and television stations.
He also met prominent religious Sheikhs from the U.S. and around the world.
In 1997 Lamin earned his M.B.A. in Business Management from Alaska Pacific University in Anchorage (the capital of Alaska). He became a successful banker in Anchorage, where he got a job with America’s historic bank, Wells Fargo. In only three years after his appointment as a commercial loan officer, he rose to become Branch Manager and Assistant Vice President.
Whilst at the bank Lamin became aware of a well located plot of land for sale and informed his committee, the majority of whom were engineers. The negotiations that ensued were successful and the committee purchased the land for $700,000. This led to the inspiration and activities that spurred the ICCAA into fully fledged fund raising across the U.S.
He left the bank in September 2009, because he no longer wanted to work with interest (riba), which is forbidden in Islam. Lamin became a self-employed business man and helper to fellow Muslims in satisfying their obligatory dietary requirements through halal foods. He opened Alaska’s first halal grocery store in November 2009. Alaska is now home to more than 4000 Muslims, the majority of whom (about 2500) live in Anchorage.
I asked Lamin about the relations between Muslims and non-Muslims in Alaska.
“We are highly respected in the community, mainly because of volunteer activities, such as feeding the poor in the shelters, cleaning neighborhoods, serving lunches in the schools, etc. I am proud to be a Gambian, because in my country Muslims and non-
Muslims live side by side. We don’t disturb them and they don’t disturb us. This is the experience I am sharing in Alaska. I want Alaska to be a model of peace between
Muslims and non-Muslims for the whole world to see!”
Lamin said that the Alaskan model should be copied throughout the U.S. “Muslims are an integrated part of America. Over 3.5 million call the U.S.A. their home, the majority of whom are medical doctors, engineers, nurses, college professors, accountants, etc., and are in high income brackets.”
Lamin is grateful for their success in Alaska. “In 2004, when we started building our masjid, we had no cash on hand and we relied solely on donations from domestic and international contributors. Alhamdoulil Lah our project is now 97% completed under my leadership.”
Lamin hails from a village in The Gambia called Kudang, which is located 290 kilometres from Banjul. It is more than 10,000 kilometers from Alaska, with average annual temperature of more than 81°F, compared to Alaska’s 37. Who would have imagined in July/August 1982 that he would be living where he now lives and doing what he now does? Not me, the boy who was defending himself helplessly near Tobacco Road that dark night in 1982. Not even Lamin himself!
In May this year (2017), there was a reunion through one of the world’s biggest (if not the biggest) obsessions – the mobile phone. Numerous things have changed since 1982, but not all. Our grumbling friend, K.S.D., has risen to a senior position in Africa’s biggest multilateral bank. He still grumbles about me, sometimes, but I have discovered now why – because he wants more of my time as someone dear to him. This, he revealed to me recently. I feel guilty as charged! I, on my part, continue on my nomadic sojourns around the world (a habit I have had even before Tobacco Road). Lamin still heads the
ICCAA and continues to warm the hearts of his association. He is now trying to raise funds for the parking lot (area) at the historic mosque in Alaska, where Muslims admirably continue to live in peace with non-Muslims.
He can be reached [email protected] or +1 (907)350-0792.