If there’s any doubt that the U.S.’s founding fathers welcomed all the world’s religions, consider Benjamin Franklin’s remarks (mid 18th century) at the opening of a non-denominational religious meetinghouse in Philadelphia.
“The design in building not being to accommodate any particular sect, but the inhabitants in general; so that even if the Mufti of Constantinople were to send a missionary to preach Mohammedanism to us, he would find a pulpit at his service.”
Franklin’s non-sectarian welcoming spirit is alive and well more than two centuries later at the Santa Clara-based Muslim Community Association (MCA) of the Bay Area (www.mcabayarea.org). On Aug. 13, the three-decades old mosque invited the community to its annual Ramadan open house and iftar – the traditional meal breaking the Ramadan fast at sunset.
More than 400 people came together on Aug. 13 to enjoy a bountiful middle-eastern feast, and to get better acquainted with their Muslim neighbors. A community institution since 2001, the Ramadan open house has drawn an overflow crowd for several years running. This year’s guests included several members of Santa Clara Rotary Club – one of whom, SCPD captain Mike Sellars, observed the Ramadan sunrise-to-sunset fast that day in order to share the experience more fully.
Just in time for the open house, the MCA completed a major expansion. The additions include a filigree-like minaret that’s lit at night, airy new foyers with openwork facades and decorated glass domes that maximize natural light, and a room for ritual washing before prayer. In addition to extending prayer hall capacity if needed, the expansion will provide more space for the mosque’s many educational programs and social services.
“The expansion of MCA is a community accomplishment,” said Imam Suhaib Webb, a native Oklahoman and former hip-hop DJ, who is a resident scholar and teacher at the Bay Area chapter of the Muslim American Society. “This is a testimony to the diversity and respect of [the] Santa Clara and San Jose [communities] – we have worked together to accomplish this.”
“Tonight is about community coming together – CAIR and MCA [event co-sponsors] who have done so much to building our community,” Santa Clara City Council Member Jamie McLeod told visitors. “MCA is part of the diverse fabric of Santa Clara County,” added Los Altos City Council Member David Casas.
Rather than a deprivation, the month-long Ramadan sunrise-to-sunset fast is a blessing, said Imam Webb. “In our world it’s a blessing to be able to pause. [In Ramadan] we pause for 30 days. We’re asked to stop and think about our lives and responsibilities during Ramadan – with additional prayer, additional charity, and also forgiveness. We’re encouraged to focus on our families, break the fast together at a family meal.”
Before people went their separate ways, closing speaker Issa Eric Shaw shared a personal hope with the guests. “Growing up in Texas, my mother told me that when you have people to your house they should leave with three things: A smile, a beautiful and delicious meal, and your friendship.”
Certainly, the MCA’s visitors enjoyed all three that night.
The MCA has a busy calendar ahead. This month some local Muslim families are opening their homes to neighbors for Ramadan celebrations – information at www.amuslimvoice.org. On Sept. 3, 2011, the San Jose Tech Museum opens an exhibit co-sponsored by the MCA about the golden age of Islamic science (700-1700), “Challenging Misconceptions, Illuminating Diversity.” On Sunday, Sept. 11, 2011 the MCA will hold a 9-11 memorial.
Did you know…. the word “mosque” likely entered the English language through French (mosquée), from Portuguese (mesquita), from Spanish (mezquita), from Berber (tamezgida), which originated in Arabic (masjid).