How I Got My First Koran

An excerpt of the Koran is attached to the counter window of Kennedy Fried Chicken. Photo: Yiting Sun

An excerpt of the Koran is attached to the counter window of Kennedy Fried Chicken. Photo: Yiting Sun

It was a rainy Sunday afternoon in August. I originally planned for a visit to a Chinese take-out restaurant on Bathgate Avenue in the East Tremont section of the Bronx to see if I could find some ideas for stories about Chinese immigrants.

But I couldn’t get the owner of China Takeout Restaurant to say much to me. Speaking the same language in a remote area far from home was not a draw. Jimmy Fang did tell me that he moved to the United States with his parents from Fujian province in China when he was 18 years old. He got married in here in New York to another Fujian immigrant.

In the tiny take-out restaurant, their daughter was doing her homework on a table in the kitchen behind the counter window. Fang’s wife focused on deep-frying potato sticks. And Fang himself leaned toward the counter, taking orders and working the cash register.

The stainless-steel frying machines made me wonder about how much Chinese food has transformed in the U.S. A popular dish in the restaurant, french fries, was made by dipping a rectangular steel frame container into a tank of boiling oil, the same way as in Kentucky Fried Chicken.

I kept asking Fang questions about business and how has the economic downturn affected his restaurant. But he said he was too busy to talk to me as two overweight African-American women lined up in front of the counter.

So I thought, why don’t I go to a real fried chicken restaurant? Maybe I could find some cool story ideas there.

I turned around the corner and found myself standing in front of the Kennedy Fried Chicken. The owner is Mohammed Ullah, a Muslim immigrant from Bangladesh. The only encouragement he needed to talk to me was my self-identification as a journalism student. He figured out the rest all by himself. So I bought a slice of pizza from him and listened to his lectures about the virtues of Islam.

Ullah thinks anti-Muslim sentiments have escalated since the Sept. 11 attacks. “But we are actually very nice people,” he told me.

It was Ramadan, a month of holy fasting for the Muslims and Ullah had not eaten since morning.

He told me about the good deeds Muslims do during  Ramadan: Rich people pay a special kind of tax to help the poor, or they offer poor people direct material help, such as clothing.

He also told me that every Muslim should make a pilgrimage trip to Mecca. He was so proud that he had already done this.

Ullah has two children, both of whom are being raised in Islam by him and his wife. “Every summer, I send them back to Bangladesh to immerse in Muslim culture,” said Ullah. “No hot pants.”

Ullah was particularly critical of American sex education. “Here, everybody talks about sex to small children,” he said. “It is no good.”

But what Ullan really wanted to talk about was the Koran, the soul of Islam.

“The Muslim people only believe in one God that is Allah,” said Ullah. “Nobody but Allah has said the words in the Koran.”

Out of curiosity, I asked him: “Where can I read some English Koran?”

Ullah tapped on his forehead and told me to wait for a moment.

He rushed down to the basement. I could hear him moving and flipping cartons.

A few minutes later, he emerged out of the basement carrying a Koran  with both English and Arabic text.

“Here,” he said. “I have so many. This one is for you.”

I thought I could just take the book home in my backpack and start perusing it in the subway.

I was wrong.

Ullah wrapped it in two layers of plastic. According to holy Islamic law, I had to shower before I could open it.

And many showers later, I still haven’t opened it.

Leave a Reply