Amid the houses lining the darkened streets recovering from the summer heat, a corner in South Glendale remains buzzing with excitement throughout the night.
Cars have exhausted available street space. The pitter-patter of footsteps can be heard walking toward the growing aroma of biryani and shish kebabs neatly stacked in large aluminum tins. Men and women are gathered here, diligently preparing to break their fast and indulge in the evening Islamic meal known as Iftar.
It is the first night of Ramadan, a holy time for Muslims, who — between a month-long dawn-to-dusk fast — spiritually recharge themselves with prayer and reflection. It’s a time to put things in the right perspective, I’m told, a time where Muslims undergo retraining to remind them of their faith and responsibility to fellow human beings, to the environment and the deprived, among other things.
For decades, members of Glendale’s disjointed Muslim community yearned for a place of their own to gather. Now, tucked behind a tuft of manicured shrubbery on the corner of Maple and Adams, the Islamic Center of Glendale has brought them together where they’ve worshiped and forged relationships beyond the ones they have with God.
In 2008, when the organization existed by name only, Muslims in Glendale would rent facilities from the Pacific Community Center, whom they credit for helping them out tremendously in their efforts to carve out a space within the city. It took a few more years of rolling out carpet every night to pray on, and interest-free loans from community members — paying or receiving interest is considered “haram,” or sinful, according to Islamic law — for them to secure a permanent place.
The former Japanese church they now use as a community center and place of worship serves 250 to 300 people and has been left almost intact, save for a few small modifications, such as custom-made stained glass windows, according to Abo-Elkhier Serag, the acting imam who calls himself a “servant” of the center rather than its leader.
Having spent years on the East Coast in a town that had a mosque, despite having just 10% of Glendale’s population, he was surprised to learn that efforts to bring one to Glendale would make it the city’s first.
“This city should have had a mosque 50 years ago,” he remembers thinking.
Open since mid-2010, it has steadily attracted a growing number of worshipers, giving local Muslims a convenient and socially vibrant way to express their faith.
Mohammed, who preferred to use his first name only, says the center has really changed things for Glendale’s Muslims.
“It has brought the community together,” he tells me as we stand next to a line of hungry men looking to fill their plates with the night’s feast.
A registered nurse and lifelong Muslim who has come to Iftar before his hospital shift, Mohammed says the center allowed previously missing social relationships that come second nature to Muslims to finally thrive.
But as excited as everyone is with the opportunity for their own community to flourish, leaders are eager to engage and integrate with non-Muslims as well.
The center has hosted several open houses, inviting the larger Glendale community to share meals and learn about their activities. Members of local churches and synagogues have attended in the past, said Magdy Elshwahyk, vice president of the center.
They are also very mindful of the center’s location in the middle of a residential neighborhood, taking extra precautions to keep noise to a minimum.
“We’re trying our best not to bother our neighbors,” Elshwahyk said.
In the middle of the night, exhausting all parking spots in a residential neighborhood. Is the call to
jihad prayer coming soon too?