by Kelly Williams
On October 7, mosques in Southern California scheduled an Open Mosque Day where non-Muslims could tour the mosques and talk with Muslims who attended the mosque. We assembled a team (that will remain anonymous for obvious reasons) to obtain first-hand reports at four mosques. One of the objectives of the mosque visits was to confirm the conclusions of a 2011 survey of 100 mosques published in the Middle East Quarterly that 81 percent of U.S. mosques display moderately violent to highly violent literature and that their practices showed strong compliance with Sharia Law. The reports below, therefore, address the evidence of rigorous enforcement of Sharia Law as well as other observations of interest to those who have wondered what actually goes on inside the mosques. What stands out is the stark contrast between the “look and feel” of a mosque as compared with an American church or synagogue.
Mosque: King Fahd Mosque, Culver City.
* Segregation of women in prayer.
* Some men with beards.
* Most women in hijabs/scarves.
* Markers in carpet for prayer lines.
* Some attendees bearded with head covering and wearing traditional garb.
Militant literature on sale or in library:
* Arabic books outnumbered English books about 4 to 1.
* Authors included Yusuf al-Qaradawi, Ibn Taymiyah, Martin Lings, and Karen Armstrong.
* Most of English Qurans were post-1970 translations.
Foreign influence in the Mosque:
*Could not identify mosque leader. Guides said the mosque was run by a rotating committee and numerous prayer leaders.
* All inscriptions were in Arabic.
*Mosque funded by Saudi Arabia, and past imams have been on the payroll of the Saudi Arabian Consulate of Los Angeles.
*Free Qurans available, but no visitor pamphlets were on display.
*Women separated from men for tours of mosque.
*Women prayed in separate balcony area.
*Most women wore hijabs or scarves.
*Worshipers were of all races and nationalities – no one race was predominant.
*Mosque website says it is a Sunni (traditional) mosque.
Male Team Member 1: The man who guided me around was from Afghanistan and had been in the U.S. for about 20 years. He denied any knowledge of former terrorists attending the mosque, and said they don’t keep membership rolls. He was very congenial, and I was convinced that he was not involved in the Islamist agenda. He did not read Arabic, however, and when I asked tough questions about Islam, he handed me off to Shakeel Syed, Executive Director of the Islamic Shura Council of Southern California.
One issue discussed was the condemnation of Christians and Jews in Surah 1 of the Quran. Mr. Syed was clearly very proficient in takiyya, using the reference books in the mosque’s own library, and then he quickly cut off the conversation and said he would continue the conversation via email.
Female Team Member 2: We ladies were first warmly greeted by Najat, a Moroccan woman, and Billie, a Burmese woman whose brother was also heavily involved in the mosque. I decided to get right to the point and challenged Billie (by now it seemed too intense for Najat, so she left) on Surah 4:34 (commanding men to beat their women). She was quick to defend that domestic violence occurs in all religions, and that she runs a shelter for abused Muslim women. I also challenged the segregated prayer areas and she pointed out that women prefer to pray their own way, and do not want to prostrate in front of men with their butts up. We also got into a bit of the life of Mohammad, who she said was the perfect man to emulate, and I pointed out that I was not convinced of that, since he married his daughter-in-law, and a 6-year-old (Aisha). She dismissed that, as the son was adopted and Aisha was betrothed. She seemed uncomfortable and kept telling me that I should speak with her brother as he has good explanations about these issues. I told her that it was obvious to me that she hadn’t read the Koran, and she said she can recite in Arabic, but doesn’t know the meaning. I told her it was important to know the meaning, as she may find that her prophet may not be as pure as she was lead to believe. We parted on friendly terms with her giving me her contact information.
Female Team Member 3: Welcoming atmosphere? Well, not really. We turned into the parking lot and waited while a young man took his time and strolled in front of the car with his face directed away from us. Forget about asking him where we should park. We were not worthy of his attention. No signage saying “visitors park here” or “stairway this way” or “welcome visitors. Please leave your shoes here.” We actually violated protocol accidentally by walking up the “no shoes” stairwell, not knowing any other way to get into the mosque.
No plates of cut up fruit or carafes of juice. There was some bottles of water, some coffee from Starbucks in cardboard dispensers, one meager plate of cookies or pastries. I didn’t want to eat from it in case that was all they had and the kids might go hungry. This was in complete contrast to church and synagogue open houses/hospitality hours and other events where if there isn’t homemade food, there is bakery food, and plenty of drinks on ice.
The ladies who greeted us were gracious and friendly. It was prayer time so we were hustled out to go upstairs with the women because the men had to begin their prayers. Upstairs in the women’s balcony it was hot and stuffy. The windows opening to the men’s main prayer room were mostly closed, but you could look down and observe. The windows toward the outside were frosted glass and were closed. The men got a fresh cool breeze from outside, upstairs we were sweltering. Not that anybody would pay attention to my opinion, but why not give the ladies the most appealing and comfortable spot and go upstairs like gentlemen?
I did notice while observing my team members challenge the hosts and hostess, that when they quoted passages from the Quran the immediate response was that it wasn’t true; that the interpretation was incorrect. The yellow-shirted man in the library (Shakeel Syed) wanted to stop team member 1 from talking then and there and put him off until a later time. Young boys were watching avidly as team member 1 pressed his points. It was a case of we want to educate and indoctrinate you, but you may not ask any questions because we don’t have the answers or we don’t like the answers and we don’t want to admit it in any case. Their host’s and hostess’s voices raised, all the while addressing us as “Brother” and “Sister” and being very sincere, in the case of the woman, offering to bring in her brother-in-law the imam to explain because she really didn’t know the Koran very well and the man because he would explain later. She really was sweating it. His voice got very tight. Both team members were asking pointed questions. My rabbi could have handled such challenges so much better than the Imam and the Muslima lady. In fact, so could his 14-year-old daughter.
Shakeel Syed assumed that I was team member 1’s wife. How odd, that there can be no single woman not connected to a male owner. Like, who is controlling the woman who is in the same room with you?
THE LIBRARY: Where are the tables and chairs for students to sit and read the books? A Muslima carried in some chairs for a group of elderly white ladies she was escorting around and lecturing to, and there were a few chairs and two desks in the back where a pair of bored teenage boys sat minding a couple of computer screens.
One of the male guides tried to distract me from recording the names and authors of the books by talking about the library. He pointed to all the collections on the opposite wall, how they were so beautiful. I had seen them earlier, of course. There was shelf after shelf of antiquated sets of volumes with matching bindings and gold script on the spines, but since all of them were in Arabic, I hadn’t explored them further. They were of all colors, which reminded me of encyclopedia sets. He told me that they got all their books from donors. What did it matter the beauty of the collections, if none of it compelled anyone to pick them up and enjoy them? And how could one read if there were no chairs to sit in and read? How many members of the mosque actually read Arabic?
SECURITY SYSTEM AND CAMERAS: I looked around the garage for security cameras when we parked and also looked around the ceilings while we walked around the mosque. I didn’t notice any. But later I spotted a big screen TV divided into about 20 squares showing all kinds of angles viewing inside the mosque. Such a lot of money on security for a building that is unlikely to be breached or damaged or vandalized, yet nothing in the library to encourage reading or study the way most libraries are outfitted.
Important Fact: Two of the 9/11 hijackers (Nawaf al-Hazmi and Khalid al-Mihdhar) and the soldier who killed fellow soldiers in Kuwait with hand grenades in March 2003 (Sgt. Hasan Karim Akbar) attended the King Fahd Mosque before their acts of terrorism. The mosque’s Imam Fahad al Thumairy, an employee of the Saudi Arabian Consulate, was deported in May 2003, for supporting terrorism. The mosque is supported by The Islamic Foundation of Shaikh ibn Taymiyyah (who died in prison in 1328), whose book “Answering Those Who Altered the Religion of Jesus Christ” is considered one of the most important Islamic books published in the United States.
Mosque: Islamic Center of Southern California, 434 S. Vermont Ave., Los Angeles.
Observations from Team Member 4:
A majority of the women I saw were wearing colorful hijabs. The men were in regular “American” street wear. I did not see any “shaggy beard” types. The men I saw were “clean cut.”
Militant literature on sale or in library:
The bookstore was closed but, when I asked what books I should read they did bring me in. There were so many books and they did not leave me to browse on my own. It is open during the week and I will try to get by there again and see specifics. I did notice some by Hathout. There were many Korans with translation (he showed me them specifically).
Foreign influence in the Mosque:
I was introduced to Dr. Maher Hathout. He was giving the “Sunday School” talk at the Institute for Islamic Knowledge which is in the building (same room as the woman’s prayers. I asked if these talks were open to the public and he said they were for registered members, but guests were welcome. He was from Egypt, but has been in the U.S. for a long time. He is a retired physician.
The typed handout was very basic. It explained “what is a mosque,” who is welcome, about the prayer area, prayers and rules. I did note that it used the term “In North America” many times. On my personal tour, the tour guide mentioned many times about their good works in the community (only specific was a food bank). He also talked over and over about how they work with other faiths in the area. Also he runs a young professionals group and they have things at temples and other churches.
The guide brought me into the prayer room. The carpet did have the outlines to pray. He said the women pray off to the side, but not because they have to pray separately, but because they don’t want distractions. He also said that since it is so crowded on Friday the women pray in a separate room (behind glass on the other side of the hall from the regular praying room).
I did not see any African-Americans there. They seemed to be mostly Middle Eastern men and Middle Eastern and “white” converted woman. When I asked this question, my tour guide told me that had a wide range of nationalities that worshiped there. He said it was not as busy as usual for a Sunday possibly due to the road closure situation.
My guide asked me what I knew about Islam and if I had a faith. I told him and he assured me that Islam was just like mine, an Abrahamic faith. All the “normal” dawa. After the tour I asked for suggestions of what I should read to learn more. He brought Noor-Malika to meet me. She was a former Methodist; now convert who told me to read Martin Lings’ “Muhammad: His Life Based on the Earliest Sources.” Also anything by Karen Armstrong (she told me what a great scholar she was and a little about her life and conversion). She also recommended “The Road to Mecca.” She took my email address as well, as she is very involved with interfaith here in LA. She said she moved from Ojai to LA just so she could attend the ICSC because their interfaith program was so strong. She is also involved with the Guibord Center. She said she would send me information.
My tour guide introduced me to Maher Hathout. After all that I was back with the tour guide. He suggested that I come back on Fridays and listen to the sermons. (Editor’s note: Martin Lings’ biography of Muhammad was written for children and is not a scholarly work. Many of the darker aspects of Muhammad’s life are omitted from the narrative.)
Mosque: Islamic Society of Orange County, Garden Grove, CA.
Observations by Team Member 5:
* Segregation of women in prayer.
* Men with beards and neatly-trimmed mustaches.
* Markers in carpet for prayer lines.
*Prayer leader bearded with head covering and wearing traditional garb.
Militant literature on sale or in library:
*Books available by Yousef Al-Qaradawi and Dr. Jamal Badawi.
*One book by Yusuf al Qaradawi was “The Lawful and the Prohibited in Islam.” Qaradawi is the spiritual mentor of the Muslim Brotherhood. He is known for his virulent anti-Semitic statements and his expressed desire to die in battle against “the Infidels.” Qaradawi is not the only hateful Islamic writer whose works were seen in the book store.
*There were many different pamphlets available for free or for purchase. They also gave away free Qurans. One pamphlet was titled “Submission Faith and Beauty – The Religion of Islam,” by Joseph Lumbard.
*An English-language translation of the Koran was available to visitors for free. The translation was by Syed Vickar Ahamed. [Editor’s note: This 1999 translation is described as a “simplified translation for young people” and it is distributed in mosques and hotels. It is a complete white-wash of the Arabic text of the Quran. In Surah 4:34, “beat your women” is translated “percuss them.” Surah 9:29 is a complete distortion: “Fight (O Prophet) those (in the vicinity of Makkah) who do not believe in Allah . . .even if they are of the People of the Book, until they pay jizya (security tax) by hand in humble expression.” Likewise, Surah 9:123 about fighting unbelievers is limited to only those who broke treaties. Surah 47:4 about beheading captives says, “Therefore, when you meet the believers (in battle), strike hard at their necks.”]
*Women separated from men in prayers.
*One of the tour group leaders said that it was a predominantly Sunni mosque.
*We were told that most Muslims give up their association with particular sects when they come to the U.S. But at the same time, we were told that it is a primarily Sunni mosque with the majority of worshipers coming from Pakistan.
Visitors were broken up into groups of 15 and then given a tour of the campus. This Islamic center has a mosque, a meeting hall, a mortuary, a food pantry for the hungry, and a school for K-8. The cost of attending the school is $5,000 per year. There are between 300 and 600 students enrolled. The enrollment is all Muslim, but in the past they have had non-Muslim students.
Dr. Muzammil Siddiqi was out of town, so Imam Suhail Mulla briefly answered questions in the mosque. When he told everyone that Muslims over history have co-existed with every other religion, I asked: “Then why are the Coptic Christians in Egypt being murdered and their churches being burned now that the Muslim Brotherhood has taken power?” His response was that I had my facts wrong, that is not happening there. He then went onto someone else instead of engaging with me about that. When I asked him about the opening statement read, Shura 1, he said there is nothing there about nonbelievers or the unbeliever, and asked for the next question.
So overall, there were many lies and most people were not knowledgeable enough to question them.
Dr. Muzammil Siddiqi’s son is the president of the mosque now. His name is Hasan Saddiqi. And he is married to Amana Siddiqi who works for CAIR.
After initial greetings, visitors were broken up into groups and taken around the mosque compound by assigned tour guides. We eventually were taken into the mosque itself, where prayers and sermons are held. We listened to the call to prayer, followed by a recitation in English of Surah 1 of the Koran, after which, our guide and Imam Suhail Mulla, took some questions. [Editor’s note: Surah 1 is a supplication to Allah to keep Muslims from the paths of either Jews (“those who have incurred Your wrath”) or Christians (“those who have gone astray”).]
I asked about the recent unrest in the Middle East and the controversy over the now-infamous video (“The Innocence of Muslims”). I referred to Imam Siddiqi’s sermon of September 14, when he advised his congregation to exercise patience and not resort to violence. I mentioned that Siddiqi had used the words, “mockery” and ridicule” to describe the nature of the video. My question was whether they considered the video to be blasphemous, and if so, how that would be punished in a country such as Egypt (since the producer of the video was a Coptic Christian immigrant from Egypt.)
Imam Suhail answered that he didn’t care to get engaged in terms like “ridicule,” “mockery” or such, but that the video was offensive to what Muslims hold dear, and that he was against anything that attacked any religion. As for punishment, it was up to individual nations to decide that issue.
Another questioner asked about persecution of Coptic Christians in Egypt. Imam Suhail responded that he had spent several years in Egypt and studied there. In his experience, Christians and Muslims lived together very well, and that throughout history, Muslims had lived in peace with non-Muslims. He brought up the example of Muslim Spain, where Muslims, Christians and Jews had lived together in peace and harmony. Suhail told the questioner that he (Suhail) didn’t know where he (questioner) got his information about Copts in Egypt being murdered or their churches burned. Not true. (Really? New Year’s Eve 2010-2011, Alexandria, Egypt, 21 dead.)
A few minutes later, I privately asked our tour guide, a young man who is an American-born son of Pakistani immigrants, about how Islam views apostates-especially those who publicly criticize Islam. He said that different people around the world had different opinions about this question, but that at this mosque, they didn’t get involved in those issues.
What we got was a happy face presentation on Islam accompanied by statements that defy reality as noted above.
Mosque: Chino Valley Islamic Center, 5565 Daniels St., Chino.
Observations of Team Member 6:
*Most women, even young girls were in hijab.
*Men wore Western dress, except for some boys in brown Middle Eastern grab.
*Men were in prayer when I arrived.
*Women were not praying with the men.
*Lots of pamphlets, free Qurans, plus the glossy 1001 Inventions: Muslim Heritage in Our World, Foundation for Science Technology and Civilization. They were giving away a book that must cost $100.
*A very eclectic crowd.
*Palestinian Imam, Pakistanis, Indians, African-Americans.
Chino Valley is a small but growing mosque/Islamic center. I chose Chino Valley because the Imam, Dr. Ahmed Sobah, president of the mosque, was on an interfaith panel at my former church, Eastside Christian Church, about three years ago. Dr. Sobah was very well received by many in the Eastside community. When he talked about growing up in Bethlehem and walking in the steps of Jesus, one Eastsider said, “We’ve got to stop all this hate.” New members were particularly impressed. At the time, I was speaking to Eastside’s older generation in Bible classes about political Islam. I was always asked, tensely, what I thought about this interfaith panel. I tried to be diplomatic, but the information I presented offered a very different picture of Islam. They saw this.
Today, attendance was light, with only eight outsiders maximum. Two were candidates for school board and city council who were being courted with lunch invites and precinct walking promises. (I have their names.) One was a student collecting info for an assignment. One was an exercise instructor invited by her students. One was a prospective convert. (She became defensive when I asked, privately, why… I urged her to read the Qur’an.) Finally, there were two of “us.” I identified myself as an Eastside member, so Ahmed called me by my name and spoke of his “beautiful experience” at Eastside, five services with thousands attending. (Yes, I do remember.)
I always look for new thematic statements to emerge. I’m eager to see if others heard this theme: The recent emotional (subtext: violent) reaction by Muslims in the Middle East is an inherent part of Arab culture. Arab Christians react in the SAME WAY when Jesus is attacked. It’s an inherent part of Arab culture. This thematic statement was repeated throughout Dr. Sobah’s presentation.
Here are some of Dr. Sobah’s main points:
- Mistreatment of woman in Islam? “Simply not true.” Add that Muhammad came and established greater rights for women than any other culture. Evidence? Benazir Butto (Pakistan) and Ingred Mattson, president of ISNA.
- Violence in Islam? “A complete misconception.” Violence is a part of ALL religions. Every religion has terrorists. (During Q & A, I spoke to both examples of Christian terrorists: Timothy McVeigh and Anders Breivik, using the same label, “A complete misconception.”)
- The U.S. Constitution is closest to Sharia! (Sobah dismissed my question, “Is ‘Reliance of the Traveler’ a codification of Sharia law?” No, Sharia is everywhere…etc.)
- Laws prohibiting hate speech? No! We love America. But, if speech causes people to die, then we must do something. So, I said, if the video caused the deaths of people, do we outlaw it? “Well, maybe we should discuss this,” he replied.
- Those (like Pamela Geller) who speak out against Islam are just in it for the money. In a private conversation with one of the members of the mosque, a rather articulate attorney, I attempted to posit the idea that if offensive speech was based on fact, it should be protected at all cost. Our discussion was quite calm. But, in the end, his position was that all facts could be spun. I could see where he was going. Considering the atmosphere of this election season, what could I say?
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