"People keep saying that Muslims are not voicing their opinion by condemning terrorism. This is because Fox News is not coming here to ask us our opinions," said Usman Khan, a volunteer and congregant at the Islamic Center of San Diego (ICSD). "Ask anyone here what they understand Islam to be, and they will condemn terrorism."
Khan often speaks at local colleges and high schools about Islam. "We want to represent the peaceful faith. Yes, there are bad Muslims, but you can't fault Islam for that. There are bad Christians and bad Jews. Do we fault Christianity with Hitler, who used the Bible to justify his actions? Do we blame Christians because of the KKK? Do people hold the Jews accountable because of Baruch Goldstein?" (In 1994, Goldstein killed 29 Arab worshippers and injured 100 in the Cave of the Patriarchs, a site holy to both Muslims and Jews.) Khan said that 1.2 billion Muslims should not be blamed for the action of a few extremists.
Part of the problem, stated Khan, is that the media indicts Muslims. "I listen to local talk radio, such as Roger Hedgecock and Rick Roberts. They misquote Islam and spread false ideas about what we believe. I have tried to call them, but they either hang up on me or leave me on hold," said Khan. "Muslims get blamed more than any other group. After the Oklahoma bombing, people instantly accused Islamic terrorists. But there is no such thing as Islamic terrorism." Khan said the terrorists are motivated over political issues. "The problems in the Middle East that cause terrorism are because the people are oppressed by dictators and past western colonization. It is a political issue. There is nothing Islamic about terrorism. We don't call the IRA bombings Catholic terrorism." Khan said that the beliefs of Islam are not compatible with terrorism.
Khan, who brought up these topics, began to steer the conversation from terrorism. "I get tired of every interview or speech I do that focuses on terrorism," said Khan. "When I visited a local high school, a student asked, 'Is Saddam [Hussein] your uncle?' When I spoke at a nearby college, someone asked if I knew where Osama Bin Laden was. Everywhere I go I'm asked, 'How do you feel about 9/11?' Any American would be saddened by what happened."
Khan spoke about the relationship Muslims have with other faiths. "Muslims have a special respect for Jews and Christians. We believe in many of the same principles," said Khan. "But we believe the message of Jesus was distorted [by Christians] to make Jesus into God. Muslims do not believe a human should be worshiped. Jesus was a prophet who was born to a virgin. Jesus called people toward righteousness. The Bible is proven to be edited and revised."
ICSD's small parking lot filled quickly. Most worshippers parked several blocks away to attend the Friday prayer service. As people moved toward the building, chanting echoed through the speakers: prayers were about to begin. Men bowed and prayed before they entered the Masallah. (Masallah, the room where prayers are conducted, means "place of prayer" in Arabic.) All the men removed their shoes, a requirement to enter the room. A washroom allowed the men to wash their feet before they entered. Women are not allowed in the Masallah, but take a separate staircase to a one-way mirrored balcony where they are not visible. Women wore head coverings and most wore face-covering veils.
Inside the Masallah, red carpet dominated the room, which was void of furniture. After the chanted prayer, Imam Taha Hassan led the congregation in prayers as they faced the eastern wall, toward Mecca. The men responded to Hassan's prayers as they kneeled and bowed their heads. "Fear Allah as he should be feared," began Imam Hassan's message. "Today's talk is about a subject that concerns all of us. It is a message about marriage. In Islam, the family is the heart of the Muslim community." Hassan's message outlined the responsibilities of men and women in marriage. These responsibilities included loyalty, honesty, love, mercy, and good manners to one another.
After service, most of the men left the Masallah, although several stayed to continue to pray. Many congregants gathered in a cafeteria for lunch. "I've been here for almost a year," said Imam Hassan, who moved from Denver. "The Muslim community is much larger here in San Diego than in Colorado. The local mosques serve a community of 60,000 to 100,000 Muslims." Muslims attend the mosques that are closest to them. "If I am closer to another mosque at prayer time, I will stop and pray there."
I asked Usman Khan what he believed about the afterlife. "I don't know if I am going to heaven. That is why I'm doing good deeds now. You have to do good deeds to go to heaven," replied Usman Khan. "Heaven will be a place no eye can imagine or ear hear. The women will be beautified in heaven. Men can have more than one woman in heaven. The women of paradise are something that is there for you if you want that. But the most beautiful thing in heaven is seeing your Lord."
7050 Eckstrom Avenue, San Diego
Founded locally: 1987
Senior pastor: Taha Hassan
Congregation size: 10,000
Staff size: 5
Sunday school enrollment: 3000
Annual budget: don't know
Weekly giving: don't know
Singles program: no
Dress: head coverings, robes, casual
Diversity: Arabic, African
Sunday worship: daily prayers
Length of reviewed service: 1 hour