Poet, rapper and activist Mona Haydar has built a global audience with her music especially when it comes to the Muslim community. Haydar is proud of that accomplishment but she also was looking to find a way to reach beyond her core audience.

That was accomplished by a 2,500-mile journey along historic Route 66 taken by Haydar and her husband, Sebastian Robins. The travels of the Muslim couple can be seen in the three-part PBS documentary “The Great Muslim American Road Trip.”

The first episode debuts at 10 p.m. July 5 on ValleyPBS and will continue weekly through July 19.

The chief objective of their trek was to cast a spotlight on the diversity of the Muslim community. To accomplish that goal, they met people from all backgrounds and uncovered an unexpected Muslim American story – past, present and future. 

“I don’t want to ever come across as somebody who is erasing difference, because I feel like that’s one of the things that makes the Muslim community so rich and so beautiful,” Haydar says. “That is one of our strengths and one of the most beautiful things about our people, our community, our family, our ummah.  One of the things that was very interesting was the history of Muslims in America and how far back, predating the idea of even what America was or was going to be, you know, there were Muslims.  Muslims have been here on this land actually working side by side with the Native peoples, meeting them and coming into contact with them in beautiful ways, not in colonial and not in harmful ways, but in the ways of beautiful relationships.”

Getting the close lack at all of the diversity came through the couple stopping at famous roadside attractions and experiencing the landscapes along this iconic route through the heart of America, the highway writer John Steinbeck dubbed “the Mother Road.”

There was a time when Route 66 connected Chicago with Los Angeles. That has changed since the 80s and sections of the highway no longer exist with approximately two-thirds of Route 66 being still accessible. When sections of the highway were no longer available, Haydar, Robins and the road crew traveled on roads that paralleled the famous highway.

None of their encounters along the way had been set up in advance. One of the big discoveries the couple made with their spontaneous encounters was that the United States may not be as divided as some would think.

Robins says, “There’s a beautiful expression that it is really hard to hate up close; you can’t really hate the thing that you know.  I think that goes for both sides. We went into parts of America that I think Muslims would be afraid to go into.  We went right into the heartland. 

“But we put ourselves in this really vulnerable position.  As travelers, you’re homeless, you’re ignorant and sort of lost.  There’s something beautiful that happens when you put yourself in that position, and the kindness that we were met with from the beginning to the end was really beautiful.”

The couple spent time with a wide diversity of people from African American Muslims to immigrants from Thailand and the Philippines, places they point out that you wouldn’t normally expect to find Muslims. 

Their 21-day trip was not about trying to get people to embrace Islam, but for people from all sides to really getting to know each other. Their experiences that time and time again, people showed them kindness and were willing to share their own stories.

Robins calls it a blessing that people open their hearts to them and shared vulnerable, heartbreaking, resilient stories that left them feeling connected and hopeful. Each stop resulted in special connections but some stops touched them more deeply.

Haydar explains that they made some significant and meaningful connections in Las Vegas. She’s quick to admit the Nevada city is not on the Route 66 path but road closures ended up funneling them there.

That’s where the found a community called the Muslim Village. Haydar was inspired deeply by how they are living a communal life of service and offering themselves as stewards of hospitality to all humankind.

“They offer work and jobs to people who have been recently released from prison.  They bring people in off the streets.  They are supporting often the forgotten of our society,” Haydar says. “For me that was just such an inspiration, so beautiful for me as a guide and rubric for how we are all supposed to live as people, truly offering our lives to make the world a more beautiful place for everyone, you know, especially those who are often forgotten, or our society often doesn’t want to look at those folks.  So that community was just incredible. “