The Islamic call to prayer sounded over a grassy stretch of the USC campus early Wednesday as more than 1,500 Muslims arrived to celebrate the end of Ramadan, the monthlong daytime fast.
Organizers said the service, which marks the start of Eid el-Fitr, the feast day following Ramadan, was the first ever involving a cross-section of Los Angeles Muslims. Besides Muslims of Middle Eastern or North African heritage, American blacks who have also embraced orthodox Islam also attended.
The service, sponsored by 22 Southern California mosques, had originally been set for Exposition Park. But state police told those who arrived before dawn to set up the minbar, or pulpit, that they could not meet there because they did not have a permit. Worshipers were directed instead to nearby USC, which offered the use of its campus.
As men and women sat in rows on prayer rugs, a flag flying at half-staff nearby served as a reminder of recent tensions in the Middle East. A USC spokesman said the flag was lowered in honor of a Navy diver who was slain by Shia Muslim terrorists aboard the recently hijacked TWA airliner in Beirut.
Atiq Siddiqi, a Rosemead public school teacher who organized the service, said the Shia Muslims responsible for the hijacking "are not acting in accordance with Muslim beliefs."
A number of other Muslims talking to reporters at the service noted that politics motivated all sides in the crisis in Lebanon, but that the Koran, the holy book of Islam, does not justify kidnaping or harming captives of any kind.
"The people who have taken hostages may have it in their mind that what they are doing is just, but in Islam their action is not just," said Osman Kaldirim, an electrical engineer and native of Turkey who served as treasurer for the service. "Everybody is feeling pain, whether they are Muslim or non-Muslim."
An engineering executive who attends an Islamic center in San Gabriel characterized the Shia Muslim terrorists as publicity seekers who are more eager to tangle with the United States than with the Soviet Union.
"Why don't they go to Afghanistan where 50% of Muslims are Shia?" asked the executive. "It's because they know they can't do anything against the Soviet Union. The U.S. government is the most peaceful government in the world, so they always try to do something against America."
Sunni Muslims Predominated
Virtually all of the worshipers attending the service Wednesday were believed to be Sunni Muslims, the predominant tradition in worldwide Islam, although organizers said that Shias also were invited.
As male Muslims exchanged embraces after the hourlong service, flyers were handed out by the Islamic Assn. of Afghan Students, who claimed there was special meaning this year to Ramadan. The annual fast commemorates the month when, according to tradition, the prophet Mohammed received the revelations of the Koran. The Afghan students said Muslim brothers and sisters who have died fighting the Soviets in their homeland are martyrs because they were attacking the enemies of Allah.
On a lighter note, a table set up to sell Islamic religious items included a bumper sticker saying, "I Allah."