Seventh-grade students and faculty from Sinai Akiba Academy in Westwood filed into the Islamic Center in Los Angeles at noon May 7 for a lecture on Muslim culture and to observe an afternoon prayer session.
Jihad Turk, director of religious affairs at the Islamic Center of Southern California, lectured the students on Muslim basics before breaking into more complicated areas.
“What are the five pillars of Islam?” Turk asked, and at least a dozen hands shot up.
“We studied Islam for three weeks,” said seventh-grader Sam Rosenberg, adding that he saw one distinction between Judaism and Islam. “[The Haj], which is a pilgrimage to Mecca ... is mandatory.”
Classmate Brigitte Saeidi-Omrani suggested the Jewish equivalent would be going to the Western Wall, adding that she saw another similarity in that fasting is a ritual in both religions.
After the lecture, the students went downstairs to a large, carpeted room where they observed men and women praying, separated by gender. A row of local television cameramen, Los Angeles Police Department officers and other guests also were present.
In a front corner of the men’s section, Dr. Maher Hathout, a retired physician and senior adviser of the Muslim Public Affairs Council, spoke into a microphone and gave khutba, the sermon.
“The danger is here, very real, and not securely contained,” Hathout said. “Reflections, I think, are very important for the people of America. This is not a problem for the Muslims, or of the Muslims, it’s a problem for America. Trying to portray it as a problem of the Muslims is not accurate and creates a backlash.”
Hathout added that the man arrested in the attempted bomb incident in New York last week was not labeled by officials as Islamic but as Pakistani.
Instead, he claimed, “The people with special interests and special agenda raised these voices, pointed fingers to the Muslims, and usually it is a whole range of things, from the ridiculous statement of: ‘Why don’t you blame the terrorists?’ ”
Following the prayer session, the students spoke with Zabie Mansoory of the Muslim Public Affairs Council.
Also at the event was LAPD Deputy Chief Michael Downing, who said that LAPD has been visiting the mosque for the last three to four years, to maintain relations with the community.