From the Back Pew: Get to know your Muslim neighbors

Muslims are getting such a bad rap these days — let's find out the truth!

When I heard the Islamic Center of Glendale would hold on Oct. 17 the first open house of its mosque in Glendale, I thought it could not have come at a better time.

Muslims have had a presence in Glendale, including La Cañada and Burbank, for many years — albeit "disorganized," according to Salam Al-Marayati, executive director of the Muslim Public Affairs Council, in a 2009 Glendale News-Press article. But there was no nearby, central place to meet, no location where area Muslims could pray and have enough time to get back to work. A few local Muslim families conducted research and found there was a need to hold at least some kind of service. Subsequently, Friday services were organized on the second floor of the Pacific Community Center in Glendale.

More than 100 people showed up at those early prayer services.

After two months of Friday services, and motivated by the large attendance figures, efforts began to find a more permanent home — filling a void some area Muslims believed existed within Glendale, Burbank and La Cañada. The Center closed escrow on its new mosque, at 700 S. Adams St., this summer and now holds daily prayer services.

The open house was part of national Open Mosque Day, and is one of many held around the country in an effort to "reclaim its image," according to one newspaper.

The headquarters sit on a quiet stretch of road lined by trees and modest homes. The goal of the open house was to get people to visit their Muslim neighbors, begin a relationship with them and gain an understanding of what Islam is about.

More importantly, the open house was held so that people receive information on Muslims and Islam and to ask questions — any questions — from why Muslims pray five times a day to what Muslims think about Osama bin Laden.

"Muslims want to live in harmony with people of all faiths," said Center member Abdul Maleque, 71.

"So much of what people understand about Islam is misguided and focused through the prism of the media, sound bites, terrorism, this, that or the other," said J.D. Hall, a Center member and Muslim. "I hope people ask whatever is on their mind. Any question you have about Islam, get an answer from a Muslim who practices Islam in what we believe to be the correct way."

When you enter a mosque, it is customary to take your shoes off, whether or not prayers are being said at the moment. At the front of the mosque, which resembles a tiny auditorium, stood Hall. And he made me wish I had gotten there earlier.

Displayed on the screen were graphics illustrating the basic tenets of Islam, including who Adam and Eve were, what the Koran says about creation, Islam's approach to gender equality, Islam's take on diversity, and what jihad really means (clue: It does not stand for "holy war" as many have been led to believe). I also learned that Islamic banks charge no interest, because charging interest is forbidden. So consider that the next time you're choosing a bank.

"I don't understand it thoroughly, but I know someone who does, if you really want the answers," said Hall.

I felt I was way in over my head on this one. Quickly, however, those feelings went away as I started talking to the Center's members, who were more than willing to answer any question I had and literally swarmed around me to speak to me.

"This is our duty our Muslims to let our brothers and sisters know what Islam is about," said Center member Abo-Elkhier E. Serag, who proceeded to tell me about his neighbor, who after the 9/11 attacks, offered his assistance to Serag. As Muslims, Serag said, it is their duty to dispel any myths and untruths people may have about Islam and Muslims.

"I think the prayer discipline is very interesting; Christians don't have prayer [the] discipline [of praying] every day," said Wendy Stackhouse of Burbank First United Methodist Church. "It's a different way of getting to the same place, I hope."

So the Islamic Center of Glendale now has a home in Glendale, waiting for you to enter and ask your questions. The Center is not an exclusive, members only place. Its doors are open. Go in. Ask questions. For more information call the Center at (818) 243-2233, or visit

MICHAEL J. ARVIZU writes for the La Cañada Valley Sun. Reach him at (818) 637-3263, or e-mail

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