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Community News: South

USC AREA : Mosque Opening Doors to Community

March 20, 1994|SANDRA HERNANDEZ

Although the Mas Jid Omar Ibn Al Khattab Mosque is being touted as the first traditional mosque built in Los Angeles, the center's leaders are taking a less orthodox approach to its role in the community.

"We're trying to have a mosque where everybody can come, not just Muslims," said Salaha Abdul-Wahid, a spokesman for the mosque at 1025 Exposition Blvd. and director of the nearby Pontifex Media Center.

Inside the main prayer room, striped carpeting guides worshipers to the east, the direction of Mecca. A mimbar, or a wooden podium from which the service is conducted, stands in the corner.

Downstairs, a large multipurpose room serves as an alternate prayer room and community service hall.

"What we're hoping to do is have this be a community hall where we can have meetings to discuss crime or education or housing," said Abdul-Wahid as he walked around the downstairs hall.

To make all Muslims feel welcome, the mosque is led by a dawah, or religious educator, rather than an imam, or religious leader, Abdul-Wahid said.

"We wanted to get away from the idea of a personality-driven mosque. There are so many divergent issues that to have one leader would have closed it off to another group, and if you close it off, then you close off a possible dialogue," he said.

The 40,000-square-foot mosque opened in January, nearly a decade after plans were made to build the prayer center. The cost of construction was about $7.5 million, Abdul-Wahid said.

Although securing building permits was a slow process and construction was stop-and-go, Abdul-Wahid said, the mosque has allowed leaders an opportunity to establish better ties with residents outside the Muslim community.

Mosque leaders have been campaigning to have the Metro Blue Line extended to the USC area.

The mosque, named after a companion of the prophet Muhammad, drew nearly 2,000 worshipers when it opened. Since then, more than 700 people continue to attend Friday services, the mosque's leaders said. Community leaders estimate that 300,000 Muslims live in Southern California.

Abdul-Wahid said many worshipers were alerted to the new building by the dark green dome crowned by a brass crescent moon.

"When we put on the dome, it was really a momentous occasion," he said. "We filmed it, because most Muslims felt like the mosque was really here when the dome was put on."

Information: (213) 733-9938.

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