City of Brass

I started City of Brass in March 2002 at Blogspot, and moved to Beliefnet in August 2008. Over a thousand posts and a million page views later, it is time to end this chapter and start a new one.

However, I am not technically going anywhere – Beliefnet recently acquired Patheos, where I am going to focus my blogging at my more politically-oriented blog, Aziz for America.

Blogging is a reactionary process. I started City of Brass as a response to 9-11, because as a Muslim and an American, needed an outlet to relieve the tension between these parts of my identity. It was almost a form of therapy. I think I’ve said everything I needed to say about 9-11 in the 15+ years since. I have written about the Qur’an, Ramadan and Ashara, about the moon and the stars, about headscarves and human rights. I debated moonsighting and defended Milad al Nabi and ziyarat. I openly respected Judaism and Christianity as Abrahamic faiths, but was skeptical of Ummah. I talked about the Uyghurs and the Rohingya. I wrote about the war on terrorism and its attendant Islamophobia. I have refuted the libel of Muslims’ silence and pointed out the silence of others. I have tackled illegal NYPD surveillance, asked and answered questions about Park 51, and proved with data how Muslim informants have saved lives. I have critiqued intersectionality and the drone war, and expressed relief at the execution of Awlaki and 5 stages of emotion over the death of Osama. I articulated a Muslim political agenda, discussed whether Islam was a religion of peace or justice, asked how muslims can combat extremism, and proposed a Islamic dojo solution to the unschooled scholar problem. I shared the stage with amazing guest bloggers who kept raising the bar. I even kept a sense of humor 🙂 And throughout it all – I always found a way to honor America and honor Islam, and prove that there is no tension between these two great ideals whatsoever, and never was.


Today, the greatest challenge to my identity is my understanding of America itself, which is not threatened by extremists from outside who share my faith, but from extremists from inside who share my citizenship. This is why it is appropriate that I leave the fold of “Muslim bloggers” and instead embrace a more political agenda. Simply put, I want to make America America Again. I invite you to join me.

Of course, I am also on Twitter (@azizhp) and Medium (@azizhp), as well as geekblogging at If anything, I have too many outlets 🙂

It has been a pleasure working with the folks at Beliefnet. I entrust them to maintain my legacy of writing here online for posterity, and I am proud to have been a part of it. Thank you to Dilshad, who recruited me, and Sharon, who guided me, and to everyone else at Beliefnet for giving me this opportunity. See you at Patheos!


My friend Taha Raja just finished Arbaeen, a 53-mile walk on foot from Najaf to Karbala in Iraq, a pilgrimage for remembrance of Imam Husain’s sacrifice for Islam and humanity. Inshallah I will someday soon take part, but in the meantime, I was privileged to share in Taha’s journey, as he posted updates during the three days and two nights it took for him to complete. His Arbaeen diary is linked below, and the posts will be further updated with additional photos. Thank you, Taha, for bringing us all with you to Imam Husain’s hazrat and inspiring to do the same, inshallah.

Arbaeen Diary by Taha M. Raja

This is a guest post by Taha M. Raja. Third in a series; See Arbaeen Day 2 for the previous entry.

Post 1278. close to the right turn to go to the city center of Kerbala. Resting with a Iranian Tea which is a light blend of black tea and water with lots of sugar. Very refreshing. People watching….couples holding hands walking, families with kids, young parents with kids in strollers, young toddlers running around as they make their parents chase them, groups of men and women friends maybe tour groups or maybe just people who met each other in this journey and now are going to be lifelong friends due this experience.

I just connected with a few friends via WhatsApp. Looks like Astros are tied in Game 5! Well the important things….can’t forget those can’t we?

Photo by, and of, Taha M. Raja

Photo by, and of, Taha M. Raja

Post 1401. reminds me of the year 1401 with Ashara Mubaraka in Fatemi Misr (Cairo) when His Holiness Syedna Mohammed Burhanuddin RA and his successor Syedna Mufaddal Saifuddin TUS completed the restoration of the historic masjid of Imam Hakim AS in old Fatemid city. This Masjid stands as an iconic symbol and start of a golden era of restoration of the Fatemid Heritage which followed by hundreds of Masjids around the world. Including the Mohammed Masjid of Houston which I was given the privilege to volunteer my time and effort in building. We sat down at post 1401 to reflect in these events and remembered the gifts we have been given. Truly a remarkable journey thus far. We will head to 1452….I wonder what that year will bring….may we have a blessed time in good health. May we all travel through to 1452 in peace good health and prosperity and then many years thereafter.

Post 1452. we have arrived. Labaik Ya Husain

10:30 AM Monday. We arrived into the Haram Area of Imam Husain AS after our long walk. Total steps taken 128,630 steps, 55.39 miles in approx 51 Hours! This was certainly a bucket list for me.

After arriving at the Haram area, we could only see a sea of people. The area was wall to wall jam packed. I have been here many times before but never during Arbaeen. Arbaeen is a spectacle to see. The actual shrines are jam packed – hardly standing room. Just experiencing this sea of human beings is something that overloads your senses! I was extremely exhausted. My legs felt like jelly, my back was hurting and I was running on complete empty for energy. My two friends, Shk Taher Ezzi and Zainuddin Alibhai together we made our way through it.

Then we proceeded to our hotel, but before we arrived at the lobby the three of us eyed a restaurant with fresh kabobs, chicken rotisserie and fresh flat bread and the very special mint yogurt drink. It was outstanding! Batteries are recharging, spirits are high and feeling accomplished. Tonight we rest for the evening.

Thank you for all of you who followed me through this journey. I remembered each of you with your support, your encouragement and your “likes” Shukran! Barak Allah.

Over and Out……


2AM Kerbala….we did our last walk to the bus stop. Today we bid farewell to the land where history is written every year and pilgrims in the millions visit to pay respects to Husain AS.
My journey ends for now. My experiences of Arbaeen far surpassed my wildest expectations. This is an unbelievable human endeavour; testimony to the events of Kerbala 1400+ years ago. For only this remeberance, so many sacrifices so many volunteers. To those pilgrims still making their way….ahlan and to those of leaving we bid only farewell longing to come back soon.

Arbaeen 2017……. Hijri 1439.

Photo by Taha M. Raja.

Photo by Taha M. Raja.

Taha is an avid professional photographer, and the founder of Brambleberry Tours, specializing in photography safari trips to East Africa.

This is a guest post by Taha M. Raja. Second in a series; See Arbaeen Day 1 for the previous entry.

Post 580. It 5:30am and we resumed our walk to Kerbala. Breakfast on the road. Samoon (Iraqi fresh bread) with lentil soup a tradition for millennia of the Bedouins. Hit Iraqi black tea with a layer of sugar on a shot glass. Batteries recharged and ready to go for the next 25 miles. Our goal is to be in kerbala at the shrine of Abbas AS by midnight. We will walk the beautiful but dusty morning until around noon. Weather underground says temp today expected to rise from cool 61 to 97 by mid day.

Photo by Taha M. Raja

Photo by Taha M. Raja

Post 590. Update: Found a kebab place. Augmenting my breakfast of champions with fresh kebab

Photo by Taha M. Raja

Photo by Taha M. Raja

Post 700. It is 10:45AM. Temperature has rapidly risen to mid 90s. The dust storm has passed and the bright desert sun is back again. We will attempt to cross post 900 and then break for the day until sunset. Resume walking after maghreb (sunset).

Afternoon resting place. Photo by Taha M. Raja.

Afternoon resting place. Photo by Taha M. Raja.

Post 890. We arrived at 12 noon. It was zuhr time. Temperature was almost 100 deg F. We have walked another 9 miles this morning. Total journey so far 31 miles. Festivities, volunteers, and the human waves increase as we approach Karbala. Lunch was being served by Baitool Abbas and Iranian organizations volunteering and serving food. Lentil soup with rice and pickled vegetables. Amazing as volunteers were serving hundreds of pilgrims irrespective of your belief, race, creed. The food was good as we ate and then continued to our afternoon stop at post 890.

Afternoon stop, post 890. Photo by Taha M. Raja

Afternoon stop, post 890. Photo by Taha M. Raja

Zuhr namaz. Photo by Taha M. Raja

Zuhr namaz. Photo by Taha M. Raja

Post 1010. 6pm we left our post 890 and started walking after maghrib. After a few blocks we saw a stall where there was a short queue and the smell of fresh grilled meat and tomatoes and onions. Upon closer inspection it was exactly what the doctor ordered. Fresh ground beef or camel meat with onions lightly seasoned in fresh pita bread. We stood in line and got our share. Again no charge to the pilgrims. Man that sandwich could not taste any better. After a hard days walk it was arguably the best sandwich ever. Right across was ice cold coke. I had not drunk a Coke in ages but today ice cold coke from the classic bottle and the best ground meat sandwich was the best meal ever. We savored every bite knowing full well that this short blissful moment will end soon and we will need to resume our March to Kerbala.

But that short rest for a good meal was what we needed. The dust storm has stirred up again and visibility is low. But the nights are cool. We are now at post 1010. Our goal is 1200 tonight before we will retire again. We will do the remaining 252 posts tomorrow. That is the plan so let’s see what happens….

The best sandwich ever. Photo by Taha M. Raja

The best sandwich ever. Photo by Taha M. Raja

Post 1180. we found a great spot to spend the night. An AC hall…man that is a gift. We know we will have to still do 8 miles tomorrow approximately 4 to 5 hours of walking. But that was good compromise. My feet are hurting and my body says to stop. My spirit is elated and pushing me to go. But if I am going to successfully finish this then I need to listen to my body and stop and recuperate. Our initial goal at start was to finish the walk in 2 days and one night. But the truth is 2.5 days and 2 nights.

This journey truly allows you to appreciate the human spirit the shared journey that each of us is making. In a country and a region which from my home looks like a lost cause….you get reinvigorated in the your trust that people are fundamentally good and we strive for the same things. A common bond does indeed tie us. It was good to see this for me for it allowed me to truly connect again to something I have always believed but had gotten rusty with my age and skepticism that has set in with our recent world events.

I look forward to my last steps tomorrow as the images of kerbala and sacrifices made will play out as the human waves marches towards the shrines of Imam Husain AS and Abbas AS. With this single goal of kindness what can we all achieve will be in display at Arbaeen 2017. The citizens of Iraq and all volunteers who endeavour in this feat every year to help millions each year complete this feat is a small testimony of the battle of kerbala and what has inspired generations for the ages.

May all walkers of Arbaeen finish this journey in good health. May it be a small gift to you to inspire you in this journey we call life.

See you again tomorrow.

Taha is an avid professional photographer, and the founder of Brambleberry Tours, specializing in photography safari trips to East Africa. The next post in this series is Arbaeen, Day 3.