By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
The King Fahad Mosque, located on Washington Boulevard in Culver City, is a gracefully domed structure with an imported marble facade, a 72-foot-high gold-leafed minaret and intricately painted Turkish tiles adorning the place both inside and out. The facility was completed in late August of 1999, funded by a donation from Prince Abdul-Aziz, the son of Saudi Arabia‘s ruler, King Fahad bin Abdul-Aziz Al Saud. I spent much of the past week there. The following snapshots are the result.
On the morning of September 11, Tajuddin Shuaib wakes up at 5:30, performs the first of his five daily prayers, then falls back to sleep. He wakes again just before 7 a.m., then, as is his habit, flips on the TV as he gets out of bed. He likes to watch CNN while he gets ready to go to work. For Tajuddin Shuaib this means driving to his office at the King Fahad Mosque, where he has been its director and spiritual leader -- or Imam, as he is called -- since the facility opened three years ago.
On normal days, Shuaib leaves his house around 7:30. But on September 11, like most Americans, Shuaib finds himself immobilized by shock at the images that are playing across his TV screen. Like most Americans, he exchanges frantic, disjointed phone calls with members of his congregation. Like most Americans, Shuaib prays for the safety of the people who might still be caught in the collapsing towers. But unlike most Americans, Shuaib also mouths a special prayer as he watches the expanding devastation: “Please don’t let a Muslim be responsible for this horror.”
“As an American,” he says later, “I was sick inside at what I saw. As a Muslim, I was scared to death.”
Shortly after 9 a.m., Shuaib finally drives to the mosque and sees some of his fears coming to pass. At the building‘s front, a 30-ish woman clutches an oversize Magic Marker with which she scrawls the word MURDERERS in huge letters on the white marble. When she spots Shuaib, she begins screaming. “Murderers! Go back where you came from, Palestinian murderers!”
While another mosque official calls the police, Shuaib attempts to talk the woman down. “Ma’am, look at me,” he says. “Do I look like a Palestinian?” The woman stops shouting long enough to stare at him. Shuaib is a black-skinned man who was born in Ghana. He is also humorous, intelligent and possessed of the charm of a natural storyteller. “It‘s true,” he continues, hoping the woman isn’t armed with anything worse than the marker, “Palestinians come to pray here. We also have Egyptians and Pakistanis and Arabs and Africans and Sudanese. The whole United Nations comes to pray here.” The woman starts to shout again, but Shuaib keeps on talking. “The thing is, I am as upset as you are because I have family in New York and I have not been able to speak to them. But I‘m also terrified because, unlike you, I can be a target.”
By the time the police arrive, Shuaib has talked the woman’s fury into remission. Nonetheless, the officers search her car and find cartons of eggs plus a pile of stones. They ask Shuaib if he wants to press charges. He shakes his head no. Her anger spent, the woman turns sheepish and asks if she should clean the wall.
“That‘s okay,” Shuaib says wearily. “We’ll clean it up ourselves.”
On Wednesday, the mosque‘s community liaison -- Usman Madha, who emigrated here from Burma 35 years ago -- is crossing the street when a car slows to a stop right in front of him and the driver motions him over. Madha approaches the car with trepidation. He recognizes the driver as a Culver City resident who, for the past three years, has been vocally opposed to the mosque’s presence in the community. But to Madha‘s surprise, the man only extends his hand to shake. “For whatever it’s worth,” he tells Madha tersely, “I don‘t hold you guys responsible for what happened in New York City.”
Later, Shuaib and Mahad continue to field a weird mixture of phone calls -- a few obscene messages, a few calls of support, and a couple of inquiries from the press. Most of the calls, however, are from worried congregation members who want to know if it’s safe to come to the mosque. The King Fahad Mosque is the primary Islamic center for L.A.‘s Westside, and typically draws a crowd for each of its five daily prayer services, plus upward of 500 worshipers for the big service at midday on Friday. But since last Tuesday’s terrorist attacks, the place has been almost deserted.
Some mosque members have already had creepy experiences, and thoughts of this keep Madha up late Wednesday night. “It really got to me about 2 in the morning,” he says. “I said to myself, I thought we left all this behind to come to this great land where we are allowed to build our mosque and pray and practice. Now suddenly we have to defend our place of worship. It‘s just incredible. Incredible.”