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9/11 Rites Strike Tones Both Patriotic, Somber

Memorial: A service at the Crystal Cathedral features music and pageantry. Muslims condemn attack, mourn victims and discuss fears of 'Islamophobes.'

September 09, 2002|WILLIAM LOBDELL | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Before thousands at the Crystal Cathedral, the Sunday services commemorating the anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks included a black-tie orchestra, one of the world's largest pipe organs, a specially commissioned video and, as the grand finale, the unfurling of a 90-foot American flag that rose to the rafters as the congregation sang "America the Beautiful."

Six miles across Garden Grove, at the Islamic Society of Orange County mosque, about 250 people from various faiths gathered in a spartan meeting hall with no air-conditioning, the overhead fans on high because of the heat.

The Day of Unity and Prayer meeting, organized by the county's Islamic leaders, didn't rely on high-tech assistance but on voices including Arefa Simjee's.

The Muslim woman who lives in Westminster told the story of how her husband's cousin died on Sept. 11 while working on the 92nd floor of one of the World Trade Center towers.

Simjee told the audience that her family prays for "peace, justice, love and understanding."

"It hurts. It hurts a lot," she said in an interview afterward about the backlash felt by U.S. Muslims after Sept. 11. In addition to mourning the loss of a relative, "we were also very scared."

The two Garden Grove ceremonies were among the first of hundreds that will be held in places of worship and in public places across Southern California in the next few days to mark the Sept. 11 anniversary.

The largest inter-religious gathering in Orange County will be A Prayer Service for Peace at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at St. Columban Church in Garden Grove. Jewish, Islamic and Buddhist leaders will join bishops and other local heads of major Christian denominations for an interfaith service.

Sunday's event at the mosque also attracted many local faith leaders, in addition to politicians, police officers, firefighters, scholars and journalists, who were honored for defending the Muslim community in the days and weeks after Sept. 11.

Muslim leaders said they mourned their fellow Americans killed or injured in the attack.

But they said they also had to deal with "Islamophobes" who equated Muslims with terrorists.

"We thank God for the fair-minded, caring and compassionate people," said Hussam Ayloush, executive director of the Southern California chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

Dr. Muzammil Siddiqi, religious director of the Islamic Society of Orange County, said the attacks were "a major crime against our religion. We consider [the terrorists] enemies of Islam."

At the Crystal Cathedral, the services had the tone of a somber Independence Day. American flags lined the grounds. Some churchgoers discarded their Sunday best for outfits normally reserved for the Fourth of July: red, white and blue shirts, dresses, pins and purses.

Inside, the organist played "Battle Hymn of the Republic" and "God Bless America" while people were seated.

The Rev. Robert A. Schuller warned the congregation, "I hope you brought Kleenex, because you'll need it." In his sermon, against the backdrop of American flags, he said God has the power to "heal our nation, protect our nation and prosper our nation."

He said the thousands of prayers said since Sept. 11 will help America.

"I believe we're going to see a new power in our nation like we've never seen before," he said.

Ronela Vidican, a 33-year-old immigrant who moved to Santa Ana from Romania three years ago, frequently wiped away tears as she sang along.

"I was thinking how much I love America," she said. "I still can't believe [the terrorist attacks] could happen here."

For Fran Wilson, who has beenworshiping at Schuller's church for 40 years, the upbeat, patriotic tone of the service was perfect.

"I thought it was going to be all gloom and doom," said the 81-year-old Anaheim resident. "But our country is great, and we're going to lick this."

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