Mona Haydar keeps finding joy in surprising places.
She does that in “The Great American Muslim Road Trip” (10 p.m. Tuesdays on PBS), ranging from tiny towns to Las Vegas and beyond. She did it long before that, growing up in Michigan.
There’s “amazing artistry coming out of Detroit, Flint, Lansing,” Haydar, 34, told the Television Critics Association. “The Michigan art scene is just really, really beautiful right now.”
Others might link Flint with a water crisis, but for Haydar (whose parents immigrated from Syria), it’s where she grew up and blended with Black poets. “It was a way for me to channel my love, my energy as a young girl,” she said. “Flint … is a beautiful, vibrant community.”
She worked with Tunde Olaniran (who has Nigerian roots) in Flint, shot her first video at the Arab American Heritage Museum in Dearborn and worked with the Assemble Sound music collective in Detroit. And she drew global attention for her video “Hijabi (Wrap My Hijab).”
Alternately strident, funny, warm and angry, the video had Haydar with women of all ages, celebrating their oft-colorful headwear. On YouTube, it has topped eight million views.
Now the three-episode road trip (through July 19) has given her fresh insights. Las Vegas was a detour, but this was mostly along the traditional Route 66.
“I was surprised to find Muslims in tiny communities,” said producer Alex Kronemer. And he found them in ethnic variety.
“We me Filipinos, folks from Thailand and other places like that, that you wouldn’t expect,” Kronemer said. “We also met many converts of all kinds.”
That category includes Sebastian Robins, Haydar’s husband. He grew up with a Christian mother, a Jewish father and a grandfather who was born in Poland. “I didn’t have a home base and I spent a lot of my 20s and 30s exploring different religions.”
His fondness for Islam kept growing. “It has this structure that allows you, five times a day, to connect with God, to take time away, to put your head on the ground.” He also liked the emphasis on service, “as a Westerner who was raised fairly self-oriented.”
He met Haydar at a spiritual community; now their life reaches a new phase. “Eight years ago, we started our family,” Haydar said. “So we haven’t really had a chance to just hang out, the two of us.” Leaving their two kids with family, they were “able to connect as a couple.”
They connections fit – mostly. “This road trip definitely confirmed some of my reservations about his taste in music,” Haydar said.
They did manage to agree on Bill Withers … and that there are lots of interesting Muslims, scattered through America’s mid-section.