Islam in America
Masjid Ul Islam, Inglewood, California
By Mohammad Yacoob
In 1966, during the month of Ramadan 1386 Hijri, a group of Muslims living in West Los Angles near University of California Los Angeles, rented a one bedroom apartment for one month for performing the Isha and Taraweeh prayer. At that time the Islamic Center of Southern California was the only organization that had a building of its own located on the City Terrace Drive in East Los Angeles. This building was opened only on Sundays and was located more than 15 miles from West Los Angeles. Other Islamic organizations were the Muslim Brothers of America, Los Angeles, and the Islamic Society of Orange County. These centers did not have any building of their own but were organizations only on paper. There were very few families active in the affairs of the Islamic Center of Southern California. The majority of the Muslims were students in colleges and universities throughout Southern California, including UCLA, USC, California Junior Colleges and private colleges; only three universities - University of California at Los Angeles, University of Southern California and University of California at Riverside formed an MSA (Muslim Students Association) chapter on their campuses in 1964.
In 1964 the US Congress initiated and later passed the new Immigration law scheduled to be enforced in the year 1968. This law, for the first time, put an end to the old immigration system, which was only favorable to the inhabitants of European countries. The new law opened up opportunities for people from Asian and African countries and encouraged them to apply for immigration/permanent residence status. Many families from Burma, Egypt, Iraq, South Africa, Pakistan, India, Iran, Turkey, Jordan, Syria and other Middle Eastern countries started arriving in the United States. Taking advantage of the new immigration policy, the Muslim students who completed their education also applied for permanent residence.
Again in 1967 the Muslim community rented a one bed room apartment for the Isha and Taraweeh prayers on Sawtelle Avenue in West Los Angeles. Many community members brought their children also to the Taraweeh prayers.
At this point, I would like to relate an interesting event that took place in 1968. The apartment was near the University of California Los Angeles Married Students Quarters in West Los Angeles. One day, Dr Salahuddin Bryson, an African-American Muslim, came for Taraweeh prayer accompanied by a very tall and young student from UCLA, who sat in the corner in the room and observed Muslims praying Salat. Dr. Bryson said that the young was a basket ball player and was writing his thesis on Islam. In 1969, the Islamic Center of Southern California moved from East Los Angeles to Wilshire District in Los Angeles downtown. It was early 1970 when I saw the same tall young man, who had watched us praying Taraweeh in West Los Angeles in 1968, in the Islamic Center. I was told that his name is Lew Alcindor. Later, this young man became a professional basket ball player and reverted back to Islam and changed his name from Lew Alcindor to Kareem Abdul Jabbar - the renowned & celebrated basketball legend.
As mentioned earlier, in 1969 – 1389 Hijri, the Islamic center sold the East L.A. building and moved to a new location on St. Andrew’s Place, in Wilshire District, in downtown Los Angeles. Juma prayer was scheduled at the Islamic Center and the building was kept open for Muslims to perform daily prayers. The Muslim community performed the Taraweeh prayer in 1969 for the first time at the Islamic Center. On the Eid- ul- Fitr day hundreds of Muslims came for the Eid Salat. Because of the limited space, the Eid prayer was held three times – led by three Imams – at 7:00am, 8:00 am and 9:30 am respectively. The same schedule was repeated during the Eid- ul- Adha Salat.
In 1970 (1390 Hijri) elections were held at the Islamic Center and the new executive council was elected. Many community members made suggestions to improve the activities of the Center. More and more Muslim families started coming to the center and everyone realized that there exists a real need for a bigger place to continue the Islamic Weekend School and other Islamic activities. The atmosphere changed and eventually emotionalism got the upper hand. In order to stay away from the charged atmosphere, the Muslim families living in West Los Angeles and South Bay area decided , once again, to perform the Taraweeh Prayers in a rented place in West Los Angles. In the mean time more Muslim immigrant families arrived in Southern California. In 1971, community decided to establish a Masjid in West Los Angeles/South Bay LA area and selected the name Masjid- ul-Islam for the new Mosque. At the same time the community decided to hold Eid prayers at the Veteran’s Administration Hall in Culver City, keeping in mind the limited capacity of the prayer hall at the Islamic Center of Southern California. Eid prayers - Eid- ul- Fitr and Eid- ul- Adha- were held in Culver City, each year from 1971 to 1976 (1391 to 1396 Hijri). During these years thousands of Muslims were performing Eid Salats at the Islamic Center, Islamic Society of Orange County, UCLA, USC, UC Riverside and other places in Southern California.
Masjid ul Islam was founded in 1971. An executive Board was elected by the community and entrusted with the task of establishing a Masjid and a school and incorporating it as a nonprofit religious organization. The board members, Ibrahim Dawoodji, Ali Surti, Mehmood Bholat, Jamal Qaudri and Mohammad Yacoob worked on the bye-laws. The articles of incorporation and the bye-laws were drafted, debated and approved. After obtaining the recognition of exemption status from the Internal Revenue Service and the California Franchise Board the community continued to explore the West Los Angeles and South Bay-LA areas for a good location for the Masjid.
To meet the immediate need, an Islamic Weekend school was established to teach Quran, Hadith and Islamic Ethics to children and adults. The location was rented places in West Los Angeles or Culver City. This condition lasted until 1975. In 1976, a spacious place was rented on La Cienega Blvd. in the city of Inglewood. The Islamic activities and the Islamic Weekend School were held in this place until the middle of 1977.
The present location of the Masjid on Java Street in Inglewood was purchased in 1977.Funds were collected from the Muslim community and the entire price was paid without paying any interest on the property. Alterations were made to building to provide area for wudu and abalution. In 1986 renovation was done in the prayer hall, wudu area, bathroom and the kitchen.
In 1960’s, 1970’s and 1980’s Inglewood Forum was the home of the Los Angeles Lakers Basketball team. The Masjid was located less than two miles from the Forum. In 1980’s Kareem Abdul Jabbar and Jamaal Wilkes, Lakers’ basketball players, came to the Masjid several times for the Juma Friday Prayers until both retired from Basketball. Kareem Abdul Jabbar came to the Eid Prayer for alteast three occasions.
The property adjacent to the Masjid and facing the Arbor Vitae Street was purchased in the fiscal year 1983-1984. The payment for this property was made over a period of one year without paying interest. The Imam of the Masjid moved into the Arbor Vitae building. Still, the need existed to expand the Islamic Weekend School. The executive board made a decision in 1991 to construct a new Masjid on the Arbor Vitae property. The work started early in 1992 for the construction of the Ladies Prayer hall, Islamic School and library. By the Grace of Allah, the building was completed in time for occupancy during Ramadan 1413 (February 1993).
The Islamic Weekend School made progress at a very slow pace. The enrollment went down and dropout rate increased. In September 1993, Salim Ahmed, Executive Board member, presented a new proposal to restructure the Islamic School. Acting on the recommendations made by Salim Ahmed the curriculum was expanded, the number of class rooms and teachers was increased to maintain a more effective teacher to student ration. New school hours were announced for both Saturdays and Sundays.
The name of the school proposed by Salim Ahmed was adopted and accepted as Al- Najam School. Al- Najam School became an independent organization managed by an administrative and a teaching staff. Two Executive Board Members were nominated to act as liaison between the Masjid and the Al- Najam School. As a result the enrollment of the school increased four fold and a waiting list had to be created to maintain the list of those seeking admission.
In August 1995, a property on Larch Avenue, adjacent to the Masjid was purchased and additional class rooms were made available in this building for the Al- Najam School.
Mohammad Yacoob, Ibrahim Dawoodji, Ismail Daddbhoy, Ali Surti, Haroon Parikh, Adam Bholat, Hamid ul Haque, Arshad Qazi, Jamal Quadri and Javed Bava have served as Presidents.
The following members are now serving the community as members of the Board. Javed Bava, President; Iqbal Bholat, Vice President; Ahmed Bholat, Secretary; Yusuf Bholat, Treasurer; and board members are: Dr. Abdul Rub, Jamal Quadri, Arshad Qazi, Hushmat AliKhan, Rauf Patel, Nasir Ghulam, Syed Shadaab, Ayaz Patel and Ghulam Mulla.
Sine 911 and even before that Muslims have been condemning terrorism every day all the time, saying that Muslims cannot indulge in terrorism if they are true Muslims because it is against the tenets of Islam while quoting verse from the Qur’an which says that the murder of an innocent person is the murder of whole mankind. Then there was this uninformed talk based on misinformation and disinformation about Islam being a factor in terrorism. To counter ignorance spreading anti-Islamic chatter, the Muslim American Homeland Security Congress was set up in Southern California by Muslim organizations and activists.
The Los Angeles Police Department and its Counter Terrorism and Special Operations Bureau started an Outreach Program to reach the Muslim community of Los Angeles to put to rest the apprehensions the community had about the LA Police and its activities. The Counter Terrorism unit members have been visiting various Mosques and organization.
On July 2, 2013, Michael Downing, Los Angeles Police Deputy Chief and Counter Terrorism Expert, Lieutenant John McMohan, and Chand Syed Police Officer II, met with Board members of Masjid ul Islam, Inglewood to extend police support and cooperation with the Muslim community against hate crimes, vandalism and other issues the community is facing in this part of South Bay-Los Angeles area. The Muslim community welcomes this relationship and will continue to bring its problems to the police department to keep Los Angeles a safe and a peaceful place. Mohammad Khan, a Muslim activist, who was instrumental in arranging this meeting introduce the members of the Police Department. Javed Bava, the current present of the Mosque welcomed Michael Downing and his team members and thanked him and introduced the board members to the police chief. Mohammad Yacoob, Founding President of Masjid ul Islam, gave a brief history of the Inglewood Mosque. Shaikh Hanif talked about the current activities and programs of the Mosque. Rauf Patel, Board member, who had met Chief Downing many times earlier also welcomed the team to the Mosque.
Deputy Chief Downing gave a brief talk and mentioned about his meeting with the Muslim leaders of Southern California, after the 911 attacks, including his discussion with Dr. Muzammil Siddiqi, Director and Imam of the Islamic Society of Orange County, urging him to issue a united-voice statement from the community. Finally Dr. Siddiqi was able to get the following:
Fiqh Council of North America: Issued fatwa to reaffirm Islam’s absolute condemnation of terrorism and religious extremism in the light of Qur’an and Sunnah. (1) All acts of terrorism targeting civilians are haram (forbidden) in Islam. (2) It is haram for a Muslim to cooperate with any individual or group that is involved in any act terrorism or violence. (3) It is the civil and religious duty of Muslims to cooperate with law enforcement authorities to protect the lives of all civilians.
Later Lieutenant John McMohan and Chand Syed Police Officer II also spoke. At the conclusion of the meeting, Javed Bava invited all the attendees of this meeting for lunch at Al- Watan Pakistani Restaurant in Hawthorne.
Another visit was paid by Lieutenant John McMohan and Sergeant Michael Seguin, on August 4, 2013 to the Mosque on the 27 th day of Ramadan to break fast with the community. They came into the prayer hall to observe the community members prayer Maghrib, the 4 th prayer of the day, before dinner.Ahmed Bholat, Secretary of the Mosque, and Muhammad Yusuf, an active member of the Mosque, provided information of Ramadan and late night prayer – Taraweeh. We would like to express our profound thanks to the Deputy Downing, Lieutenant McMohan, Police Officer Chand Syed and Sergeant Seguin for their effort to reach out to the Muslim community in the South Bay-LA.
Mohammad Yacoob , a retired Industrial Engineer and Engineering Proposals Analyst, lives in Los Angeles, California. He is the Founding President of Masjid - ul-Islam, Inglewood, California.
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