Monday, September 21, 2015

Houston Ashara 1437

Moula's fasal is here and Houston is excited beyond belief!  It is of course Shehzada Malikul Ashtar Bhaisaheb Shujauddin's karam that Houston has the sharaf of Moula's Ashara majalis in the upcoming new year.  This means that mumineen from all continents are now in pursuit of more information about the energy capital of the world. 

Houston jamat has set up a comprehensive website at to help all prospective visitors but I thought I’d use this platform to share some more information.  The topics covered below are as follows (and will be frequently updated):

1.    Houston the city
2.    Houston masjid and mumineen
3.    Accommodation
4.    Airports
5.    Arriving in Houston via Dallas
6.    Transportation
7.    Weather
8.    Mobile SIMs
9.    What not to bring with you
10.  Laundry
11.  Medicines
12.  Food & groceries
13.  Travel and tourism in Houston 
14.  Travel and tourism around the US

1. Houston the city

The city of Houston is the fourth largest metropolitan area in the United States with a population of 6.5 million. 

With 1 of every 4 Houston residents born outside of the United States, Houston is the most cosmopolitan city in the country.  Besides English Houstonians speak 90 languages (of which Spanish, Vietnamese, Chinese, and Urdu are most popular).

Houston is also a geographically vast city and covers some 8,800 square miles or 22,500 square kilometers (an area larger than the state of New Jersey).  

Economically too Houston is a giant and is consistently rated to have among the most business-friendly environments in all of the United States.  The city’s annual economic output was $520 billion in 2013.  To put this in perspective, India’s was around $1,500 billion. 

2. Houston masjid and mumineen

The distinctive and glorious $30-million Mohammedi Masjid, located at 17730 Coventry Park Drive, Houston, TX 77084, is a jewel of a complex that sits on 40 acres of land about 30 miles west of downtown Houston. 

Surrounded immediately by suburban residential communities, the complex enjoys an extremely peaceful and quiet environment.

Of the 450 mumineen families, about half live within a 20-minute drive of the masjid.  The remaining half are scattered throughout the city.   

3. Accommodation

Houston jamat has arranged for negotiated rates with a number of hotels in the area.  You can find out more about these hotels at

By the time you read this though, most of those hotels are going to be fully booked.  Try out:
Many hotels will provide two reservation options, a cheaper non-refundable rate, and a higher rate for reservations that can be canceled for no penalties as late as one day before the check-in date. 

I also recommend checking out (this website provides cheaper but only non-refundable reservations).

Also, make sure your hotel is as close to the masjid as possible.  Distances may not look like much on the map (since everything is big in Texas) but anything outside a 10-mile radius (click on the image below) will take you as much as 1 hour to get to the masjid (one-way) especially during the morning rush hour. 
Houston Map
4. Airports

International visitors arriving on direct flights to Houston will land at Bush Intercontinental Airport (code IAH).  Because almost all international flights land in rapid succession between 1 pm and 5 pm there can often be long lines and waits at immigration and customs.

The other airport that serves the city is Hobby Airport (code HOU).  International flights that land here originate from Central and South America and the Caribbean. 

Bush Intercontinental lies 45–60 minutes northeast of the masjid.  Hobby is 4560 minutes southeast of the masjid.  Rush hour traffic will effectively double these travel times.

Houston jamat will have registration desks at both airports and will run buses from the airport to designated hotels.

5. Arriving in Houston via Dallas

If you are unable to find flights to Houston you may want to consider flying to Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport (code DFW) and then connecting to Houston.  Dallas is about 250 miles (400 kilometers) north of Houston.

To get to Houston from DFW, consider the following options (descending order of convenience):
Flights to Houston:  There are short flights (40-minute flying time) to Houston pretty much by the hour (by American Airlines and United).  Make sure these connections are on your international itinerary.  In other words, if you purchase the Dallas to Houston flights separately you will need to pay $25 per luggage piece (one-way) when you check in.
Uber:  A regular Uber with 4 passengers will be about $320 – $450 (although it may not have enough space for all your luggage).  An Uber SUV will set you back $1,100 – $1,500.
Rental car:  If you are planning to rent a car in Houston you may as well rent one in Dallas and drive to Houston.  The drive takes about 4–5 hours. There is a car rental center at DFW; you will need to take the rental car shuttle from the terminal (runs every 5 mins) to the rental center where you can pick up your vehicle.  To rent cars, check out,, or
Bus:  You can also take a bus service called Megabus ( from Dallas to Houston. For this you will need to take the DART train ($2.50 per person) from Dallas Airport's Terminal A to the Megabus Terminal in downtown Dallas. You will then take the Megabus (they have frequent buses) to Houston downtown (costs $20 – $35 per person depending on time of day).  From downtown Houston you can take Uber to your hotel (will cost about $65 – $90 to the masjid) or have a friend come pick you up.  
Depending on the number of mumineen arriving in Dallas, there is a possibility that Houston jamat will arrange for paid shuttles straight from Dallas Airport to Houston masjid.  Please inform the Ashara Transportation Committee at if you are planning to arrive in Dallas along with your flight confirmation if you'd be interested in this option.

6. Transportation 

Houston, like many American megacities, is infamous for its urban sprawl and limited public transportation options.  The masjid is in a suburb that is not served by trains or buses.  Visitors will therefore have to rely on:
Jamat buses: These will run between the masjid and designated hotels.
Uber:  There are no running taxis in the masjid area (most roads near the masjid are not meant for pedestrian use).  This means that you must either call for a taxi or use you Uber app (a more popular and better option).  There will be designated areas in the masjid complex for taxi and Uber drop-off and pick-up. Do keep in mind that Uber (or taxi services) may not pass muster if hundreds of people decide to call for rides simultaneously from the masjid. As with any big city mumineen should exercise caution when taking these rides.
Driving:  If you feel you will benefit from the mobility that comes with a car, I recommend looking for rental cars at especially if you are looking for rental centers located across the city and not just at the airport.  Other websites to search are and
Texas law allows visitors to drive up to 90 days with a foreign drivers’ license (i.e., you do not need an international driver’s license to be eligible to drive).  However, do confirm with your car rental company about their policies on this front.
Additionally, when you arrive at the car rental company, they will try to sell you all kinds of options.  Focus on the necessities.  By law, you will need to carry insurance (cost of $10 per day per driver). 
Before you decide to rent a car, consider that Houston is notorious for its horrible traffic gridlock especially during rush hours.  If possible, avoid arteries such as Interstate 10, Highway 6, Highway 290, Highway 59, Interstate 610, and Interstate 45, from 6–9 am and 4–7 pm.   
Traffic flow (with masjid as the reference point) during morning rush hours (glacial as it may be) is West to East and North to South (i.e., all towards downtown Houston) and vice-versa in the evenings.  At this time even local roads can be painfully slow so an abundance of patience and caffeine are recommended.
Another consideration in your decision making should be the fact that there will be no visitor parking in the masjid complex or its immediate vicinity.  Instead, visitors will park at a parking lot at a distance from the complex connected to the complex via continual shuttles.  (You will not be able to walk from these parking lots to the masjid complex.)
7. Weather

A bevy of movies of the Western genre has wrongly left the impression that Texas is a vast, dry desert studded by cacti.  Texas is indeed vast but not all of it is desert. 

Houston, located in the greenest and wettest part of Texas, is drenched by 60 inches of rain every year.  So do be prepared for downpours and thunderstorms.  Early to mid-October daytime temperatures will run in the 80°–86°F range (i.e., around 27°–30° Celsius) and nights will see temperatures in the 60°–66°F range (i.e., 16°–19° Celsius).  

8. Mobile SIMs

Houston jamat will provide T-Mobile SIMs for free.  You will be able to choose from plans that may cost $10 per week for unlimited calls and texting.  Data would be extra ($5 per week for 0.5 GB and $10 for 1 GB).  

I should warn you though that T-Mobile may have cheap plans but their call quality and coverage can be horrible (and thousands of people at the masjid using their cellphone will definitely not help).  If you are willing to spend a little more it may make sense to get SIMs and plans from AT&T.  You will be able to find out more once you arrive.

9. What not to bring with you

Please remember that the US uses 110 volts and the plugs are different from those used in Asia, Africa, Europe, and the UK.  You will likely not need to bring irons and hair dryers since most hotels provide them in every room.  If your hotel does not provide irons (or if the iron is shared among several hotel guests) you can purchase one for as little as $12 at a Walmart or Target store.

Additionally, if you are carrying food with you please do not carry meat products or fruits into the US.  Those who do so will be invited to the special customs inspections area where your bags will be checked thoroughly and all offending items will be confiscated.  This will be a time-consuming process and will only serve to worsen your already mounting jet-lag fatigue.

10. Laundry

Many hotels will have laundry services or washer and dryer machines that may be coin-operated (meaning you will need stacks of 25-cent coins or “quarters” to do your laundry). You will also find self-serve laundromats in open-air or “strip” malls all around town.  

11. Medicines

The masjid complex will have a medical camp but if you use prescription medications, please carry enough to last your journey since prescription medicines may not be readily available in the medical camp and may be incredibly expensive to purchase.

12. Food & groceries

Houston has an excellent food scene and halal restaurants have followed suit (although most of them are functional eateries without much or any ambiance).  

If you are looking for groceries, stores such as HEB and Kroger will be easy to find everywhere.  When buying packaged food, do look at ingredient lists since non-halal foods may show up in unexpected places (e.g., flavored yogurt may have gelatin).

13. Travel and tourism in Houston and nearby

Houston has plenty to do if you are looking to spend some time here:  there is of course the world-famous NASA Space Center.  Then there is the museum district in the city (with 20 museums and galleries including the Museum of Natural History, the Museum of Fine Arts, and the Children’s Museum) with some incredible collections.  There is also the Houston Zoo and for those interested in the performing arts, Houston has an incredibly active Theatre District in downtown Houston.  

For sports fans, there is the NRG Stadium for American Football (home to the Houston Texans), Minute Maid Park for baseball (home to the Houston Astros), and Toyota Center for basketball (home to the Houston Rockets)

Houston also has some great parks.  At 7,800 acres, the George Bush Park is the largest urban park in the United States.  Other notable parks including Bear Creek Park (again a huge patch of forest and wilderness in the city), Memorial Park, and Herman Park, and the Houston Arboretum are great places to retreat.  All parks contain picnic areas, sports facilities, and miles of hiking and biking paths, as well as an abundance of wildlife (deer, rabbits, tortoises, and all kinds of birds can often be sighted among other fauna and flora).

There are few other attractions at a reasonable driving distance from Houston.  The island of Galveston on the Gulf of Mexico, about 1.5 hour drive from the city, has beaches and a port where several cruise ships depart for Florida, Mexico, and the Caribbean on a daily basis.  Austin, the capital of Texas, is a 2-hour drive from Houston. New Orleans in the state of Louisiana sits about 5.5 hours east of Houston (although many people do not find its attractions to be family-friendly).

14. Travel and tourism in the US

There is no shortage of sightseeing in the US but most places will involve a flight from Houston (often as long as 2 to 4 hours).  For those looking to explore the sights and sounds of the US in less than a week there are several options that may work out. 

(1)  Northeast US: Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Washington DC
(2)  California Coast:  Los Angeles, Monterrey, San Francisco
(3)  Disney and other theme parks:  Orlando, Florida or Orange County, California

For nature buffs, there are tens of national parks (nps.govto choose from. Yosemite (California), Grand Canyon (Arizona), Yellowstone (Wyoming) are among the internationally famous ones.

You may build your itineraries online using travel websites such as,,  Most will give you options for vacation packages that will include flights and hotel stays as well as options to purchase tours and sightseeing options.  

Tour operators such as,,,, and will provide complete escorted tours with flights, tour guides, hotel stays, meals, bus transportation. Make sure you read online reviews for your chosen itinerary or tour company before making your reservations.

Finally, I plan to add additional information as it becomes available.  If you have specific questions, please do email ( them to me.  I will try my best to post answers on this blog.

Here’s praying for Moula's tulul umr and inshallah we will see you all here before too long!