Mosque where terrorists may have prayed opens doors to public
SAN DIEGO (AP) – The Islamic Center of San Diego received a threatening phone call at 8 a.m. on the morning of the attacks on New York and Washington.
”Get ready to share the fear,” a woman’s voice warned.
The mosque’s answering machine seven minutes later recorded a man and his wife offering their home to Muslims who felt threatened and needed a place to stay. ”We’ll be happy to help out in any way we possibly can,” they said.
At the city’s largest mosque, Muslims have been grappling with the conflicting responses of intolerance and support in the days since the attacks. They have taken comfort from the flowers and messages of goodwill, even as Muslim women who wear the hijab, or Muslim headscarf, have been afraid to be seen in public, fearing persecution.
Muslim leaders at an open house Sunday acknowledged an internal struggle in the wake of news that at least two of the 19 suspects in the Sept. 11 attacks may have knelt last year in prayer with them.
Khalid Al-Midhar and Nawaq Alhamzi, two terror suspects identified by the FBI, stayed last year at the home of one of the mosque’s founders. They also bought a car from a man who attends the mosque.
The FBI has searched the mosque’s records, but the men did not register themselves with the Islamic Center, said Dr. Omaran Abdeen, a physician who serves as the mosque’s public relations director. Nobody seems to recognize the men and the mosque isn’t sure they worshipped there, he said.
Nevertheless, the Islamic Center, like most houses of worship, welcomes all who share the faith. About 800 attend weekly Friday prayers.
”The problem is you don’t know who they (all) are,” Abdeen said.
The mosque’s leaders have considered checking identities, but decided, after consulting the FBI, not to take that extra step.
”It’s a place of worship,” Abdeen said. ”It’s hard to have people come and worship and show their ID and undergo a search every time they enter. It’s a difficult thing to do.”
In the meantime, police have been providing round-the-clock security since someone exploded a firecracker and fired paintballs at the Islamic Center. Two patrol cars were parked outside during Sunday’s open house.
Inside, Abdeen and Imam Abdeljahlil Mezgouri fielded questions from hundreds who showed up, curious to learn more about Islam.
One woman asked about the meaning of ”jihad.”
”We don’t have holy war in Islam,” he said. Jihad means a struggle against temptation, internal and external.
Above all, Mezgouri said, Islam is a religion of peace.
There was another question about the role of women in Islam.
Muslim women stepped forward to say they found that hijab was not repressive, but rather liberating, forcing men to regard them as human beings rather than as sexual objects.
”It’s perfect for me. It’s for me, a perfect religion,” said 29-year-old Lina Rossetti, a medical researcher at the University of California, San Diego, who converted to Islam eight months ago, before marrying her Muslim husband. ”Islam brings our marriage closer and stronger.”
As they munched on a lunch provided by the mosque, Jim and Linda Ruggles said they had come in a show of support and were leaving with a great sense of understanding.
”There’s always a fear of the unknown,” said Linda Ruggles, 42. The open house ”dissolved a lot of misconceptions.”
Jillian Smith, 12, of Carlsbad said it had opened her mind.
”I got a new perspective on the religion,” she said. ”People shouldn’t blame the whole religion because some people made a bad choice.”
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