There may be no mosque in La Cañada for practicing Muslim-Americans, but there is something just as strong. Operating since 2006, the Islamic Congregation of La Cañada Flintridge is an affiliation of local families interested in community service and uniting in Muslim fellowship.
“We’re like a virtual organization, a group of La Cañada neighbors,” said Levent Akbarut, an steering committee member who helped organize the dinner. “We’re basically like the neighborhood church without the brick and mortar.”
On Friday night, congregants gathered with friends, Muslim and non-Muslim alike, at the Community Center of La Cañada Flintridge for a potluck dinner to mark the end of the day’s fasting for Ramadan and to celebrate communitywide outreach and volunteer efforts. The event, which used to be held throughout the year but is now annual, drew about 150 locals.
Among them was Carol Martin, board member for the San Gabriel Valley Habitat for Humanity. She became acquainted with Islamic Congregation of La Cañada Flintridge when several of its families showed up for a home-build project in Glendale. Since then, she’s learned a lot about Islam by attending the interfaith events.
“I think most of us are unaware we have such a large Muslim-American community in La Cañada, which is what events like this are good for. You have to interact,” said Martin, who sat with friend and fellow Habitat for Humanity worker Connie Alamdari.
“When you segment, you divide and you diminish your power,” Alamdari added.
Other prominent guests in attendance Friday night included Salam Al-Marayati, executive director of the national advocacy and policy group Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC), and local religious leaders, including Pastor Paige Eaves from Crescenta Valley United Methodist and members of the Islamic Center of Southern California in Los Angeles, where most La Cañada Muslims attend services.
The featured speaker at the dinner was Ahmed Younis, a senior consultant for the national poll service Gallup and a senior analyst of the Gallup Center for Muslim Studies and the Muslim-West Facts Project.
Younis shared 2011 data gleaned from interviews with Muslim-Americans throughout the nation on their beliefs, attitudes and associations. Nationally, he reported, Muslim-Americans are the religious group most likely to condemn personal or military acts of violence and least likely to identify with their religion on a worldwide scale. Also, 92% of those polled professed their personal loyalty to the United States.
“Muslim-Americans strongly identify with the U.S. in the same numbers that they identify with Islam,” Younis said. “There is no conflict in their identities.”
Mohammad Malekzadeh, known locally as Dr. Malek, is a living example of that statistic. He’s lived in La Cañada since 1974, when he came from Iran to study medicine. Today, he works at UCLA as a pediatric nephrologist and considers America his first home.
“Everything I have is here,” Malekzadeh said. “I consider everything here my home — my president, my Congress. I belong here.”
After Younis’ presentation, Akbarut addressed the crowd. “We are here today in faith and brotherhood, in celebration of community service, of different faiths and showing you what Muslims are all about,” he said. “We can cut through all the negativity. We have the truth on our side, the truth of what really is — the truth of who we are as Muslims.”
For more information on the local Islamic congregation, visit www.iclcf.org.