Leaders of the Islamic Center of the South Bay, whose mosque in Lomita was struck by vandals twice last winter, are hoping to prevent further attacks by integrating their center into the local religious community.
In proposals to various churches and temples in the area, the center, which is the only mosque in the South Bay, has called for creation of an interreligious council to bring together leaders of the Christian, Jewish and Islamic faiths.
Akhtar H. Emon, chairman of the center's board of trustees, said the council would sponsor lectures, seminars and exhibits on the different faiths and would take stands on important social and local issues.
"There is so much misinformation and lack of information about different cultures and religions," Emon said. "This group would serve as an information exchange. There is so much commonality of belief between all of us on many issues. This way, we could speak as a single voice and carry much more weight."
Most Groups Are Christian
Various interfaith groups exist in the South Bay--the largest being the South Coast Ecumenical Council based in Long Beach--but most of those groups are limited to Christian churches. Some groups, such as the South Bay Interfaith Clergy, meet with Jewish members, but none has extended an invitation to the Islamic Center, Emon said.
Formal responses to the center's proposal are just now trickling in, but several officials from local religious organizations have applauded the Islamic initiative in phone calls and during informal conversations, Emon said. Some of the officials confirmed their enthusiasm for the proposed council during interviews.
"We would welcome getting together with the Islamic group, but up until now, they have been rather invisible in the community," said Don Lindblom, executive director of the South Coast Ecumenical Council, whose membership includes churches from 25 cities in northwestern Orange County and southern Los Angeles County. "We are a Christian organization; however, we do enter into fellowship and working relationships with other faith groups."
Helped During Olympics
Lindblom said that during the 1984 Olympics the South Coast group helped establish an interreligious council in Long Beach that provides many of the services Emon has proposed for the South Bay council.
"There is a need in the South Bay for an interreligious association of some kind," he said. "There are segments of it operating already--for instance, the Interfaith Peace Committee and and the clergy group--but there is no one group that brings together all issues and all the faith groups."
Richard A. K. Miles, pastor at St. Mark's Presbyterian Church in Lomita and past president of the Lomita-Harbor City Ministerial Assn., said the proposed council would help promote religious tolerance in the South Bay.
"It is one thing to have a religious competition, but it is quite something else to stand by and let somebody be blown up," Miles said.
"The local mosque has been a target for some overzealous nationalistic feelings of some misguided persons in our community," he said. "While nobody has been injured, they have had their property defaced. That is of grave concern to us in the Christian community because it does not represent the feeling of the Christian community in this area."
Need to Learn More
Rabbi Leon Kahane of the Temple Menorah in Redondo Beach said he would need to discuss the proposed council with the temple board before endorsing the Islamic Center's initiative. Kahane said he would need to learn more about the mosque before making a recommendation to his board.
Kahane, however, praised the center for approaching members of the local religious community and for working for peaceful relations between Christians, Jews and Muslims.
"If there are people of the Islamic faith reaching out to the world, more power to them," he said. "This is the way it ought to be. People who want to seek peace should not be set aside."
Emon said members of the Islamic Center of the South Bay, which moved last year from temporary quarters in Hermosa Beach to a remodeled home on Walnut Street in Lomita, came up with the council idea shortly after the mosque was vandalized. At that time, mosque leaders decided to launch a major public-relations offensive to improve the image of Islam in the South Bay.
Organized in 1982
About 100 Islamic families from 19 cities in and around the South Bay regularly attend the mosque, which was organized in late 1982 in the community room at the Courtyard Mall in Rolling Hills Estates. Until the attacks in January, however, the mosque kept a very low profile, mostly because members were reluctant to draw attention to themselves.