One grew up on a farm in Pakistan, the other was a child of Detroit. One
was born into Islam, the other was brought up a Baptist. From these
disparate starting points, Iqbal Khan and Mustafa Yunis Richards set out as
young men to explore the most fundamental questions of faith.
They took different paths. One wandered the world as a seaman, the other
bounced from one belief system to the next. In the end, oddly enough, both
wound up here, working in the casinos of Las Vegas, praying in the city's
mosques - strangers to each other, but in spirit the closest of travel
"I wanted to find all the truths," said Khan, a 53-year-old security guard
at the Main Street Casino. "I wanted to see all the holy places. Growing up
in Muslim society, I was kept like in a cave, in life's cave, even though I
was from a very educated family. It's a cave that had no information from
the outside: What's right? What's wrong? How can you verify?"
For years Khan toiled in the engine rooms of commercial ships that supplied
U.S. military bases overseas. On shore leave he would hunt for used books
on history and religion and make visits to the landmark shrines of all
faiths. While at sea he studied the texts and also taught himself languages
- German, Greek, Arabic - preparing to converse with people he encountered
at ports of call.
"I checked everything," he said. "I talked to people. I learned about
humans. I learned about their livings, their religions, how they act. I
started going to churches. I went to synagogues. I learned about Catholics,
about Orthodox, Protestants. All of that."
"I still don't know a lot about Mormons."
Richards, a soft-spoken, 52-year-old black man, worked as a bellhop at the
Imperial Palace hotel and casino on the Strip until circulatory disease
forced him into early retirement a few years ago. He has been a practicing
Muslim for a decade, the last leg of a journey that began in his late teens
with a visit to a Detroit synagogue.
Richards was a physical presence back then, weighing a well-muscled 215
pounds. As he stepped into the doorway, the rabbi thrust his hands into the
air, as if expecting to be robbed…