BIOGRAPHY: Benyamin van Hattum
by Aman Ali
TAM Editors note: I am honored to know the van Hattum family, whom I first met at the North American Muslim Pow Wow held at Dar al Islam in Abiquiu in 1993. Benyamin and his family are among the original Muslim settlers of this community of Dar al Islam. I was happy that the 30 Mosques in 30 States group visited this year and published this bio.
Bassam and I were getting ready to leave New Mexico for an eight hour drive to Arizona, but we took an incredibly worthwhile one hour detour to Abiquiu, New Mexico. The small town is home to Dar al Islam, a divinely radiant mosque made from adobe mud that sits over a mile up in the mountains. We spoke with Benyamin, a woodworker from Holland who lives nearby the mosque. He told us to meet him by his home and he’d take us there. To say Benyamin is good with his hands is putting it lightly. At the bottom of the mountains, he built a mosque that he and his neighbors regularly use for prayer.
We found Benyamin inside a workshop shed where he was busy working on another door. He used to run a woodwork business for decades but has taken a break from doing it regularly because his health isn’t what it used to be. He told me it varies, but it only takes around a week and a half for him to make one of those intricately designed doors.
Benyamin and his wife regularly have company stay with them in the mountains and the two created a guest house for people to stay over. Below is a yurt, a round traditionally Central Asian tent, that the couple uses to put on concerts and even hold weddings in. They said they love having people come over, so I definitely need to make plans to come back!
Benyamin then took us up the mountain to Dar al Islam. It was built in the early 1980s at a time when there were around 30-40 families that frequented it daily. The mosque has a unique pueblo design and its foundation is made from adobe mud.
The mosque sits on a vast property in the mountains that many movie production companies use for filming such as the flicks City Slickers and Young Guns (one of my fave movies). In fact, that day we saw a production company that was filming Cowboys and Aliens, the upcoming Harrison Ford and Daniel Craig sci-fi movie. Next to the mosque is the Islamic school and inside I found some more doors that Benyamin carved. He told me this one took him a little over a week to do
Sadly, Dar al Islam is only used for special events like conferences and camps. I heard at least a dozen different reasons why it’s not being used regularly, but everyone I spoke to agrees they wish it was. Abdurrauf, a Belgian man who is the caretaker of the mosque, said one of the primary reasons why it’s not being used is lack of funds to run it. Plus many of the board members of the place are getting old and they could use some young new blood to energize the place.
I hope they do find people and funding soon, because this is no doubt one of the best Islamic treasures I have found in this country.
Originally published on 30 Mosques in 30 States site