Dr Siddiqi among 100 People
who Shaped Orange County
Orange County Register has published an article on Dr Muzammil
H. Siddiqui recognizing him as one of the 100 people who have
shaped Orange County in the last 100 years. The example of
the eminent religious scholar is an inspirational one and
the article is reproduced below courtesy Orange County Register
for the benefit of our readers. – Editor)
It is the dilemma one
immigrant group after another has faced in the United States:
preserve the ways of the old country or adopt those of the
new? For emigrants from Islamic countries and their descendants,
the issue is even more pressing in a society that often treats
their faith, however peacefully practiced, as a source of
strife or even terrorism.
In Garden Grove, Muzammil H. Siddiqi has spent nearly a quarter-century
as religious director of the Islamic Society of Orange County,
attempting to build bridges from his Muslim congregation to
the rest of the community.
As an imam, lecturer and college professor, the 62-year-old
Siddiqi, a native of Rampur, India, performs a delicate balancing
act. While nurturing a spiritual and cultural oasis for the
county’s growing population of Muslims, he dreams of
forging a gateway to friendship between his congregants and
a community he says understands them far too little.
”You’re wearing different clothes, eating different
food, you look different, you pray differently – it’s
our responsibility to explain who we are.”
After completing religious studies in India and Saudi Arabia,
Siddiqi studied in Geneva and England. Learning the Bible
and Christian theology, he was increasingly drawn more to
their similarities with Islam than their differences.
Siddiqi was directing the Islamic Center of Washington, D.C.,
when he traveled to California in 1981 and visited the Islamic
Society, then Orange County’s only mosque. It was a
humble affair, a converted church so close to a nearby kennel
that worshipers had to pray loudly to hear themselves above
Siddiqi saw promise in the mosque and became its religious
director. Gradually, more worshipers, mainly of Middle Eastern,
Pakistani and Indian descent, joined the center, driving up
attendance at the Friday prayers from a few hundred to an
estimated 1,500 to 2,000.
But for Siddiqi, it was not enough for only Muslims to discover
the mosque; those of other faiths also needed to see and understand
He taught Islamic studies at nearby schools such as Cal State
Fullerton; he helped organize dialogues and round tables with
Christian and Jewish leaders, often inside the mosque; and
he hosted forums where up to 200 visitors can observe the
faithful at prayer.
His message of outreach reached its height immediately after
the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, which left the imam
stranded in Washington as he prepared to meet President George
W. Bush to discuss Muslim-American relations. Siddiqi was
chosen to speak at the interfaith memorial three days later
in the nation’s capital; mourning the nearly 3,000 dead,
he attacked terrorism as the ultimate perversion of the Qur’an
and his faith.
If Siddiqi has had to overcome suspicion from outside Islam,
he also has been challenged from within. At the Islamic Center,
the tension over his teachings came to a head in 1992, when
the mosque’s board of directors voted to eliminate his
position as religious director.
Days later, at a tense gathering of hundreds of members, the
imam declared that his foes turned against him for not embracing
a more radical, openly political brand of the religion. The
outcry among worshipers drew attention, and a month later
the directors reinstated Siddiqi.
In nearly 40 years, the Islamic Society has grown from a religious
hub to a social and educational one, comprising a mosque,
an elementary school and counseling services.
Siddiqi’s dream is for a seminary, a place to train
future imams in a region where many mosques – a dozen
now operate in Orange County – cannot recruit enough
clerics close to home and must hire from abroad.
A pipeline of US-educated religious scholars, he believes,
would enable American Muslims to accept the surrounding society
as a partner.
“Strangers have become neighbors, though sometimes the
neighbors have become strangers,” he said. “It’s
very important that people should understand each other. This
is a matter of survival now.”