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Manteca’s growing Muslim community

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POSTED September 22, 2017 1:13 a.m.

Mohammad El Farra was driving down Yosemite Avenue on a day when the Manteca Chamber of Commerce had its 2,400 flags on display as part of its Flags over Manteca endeavor when he spotted something that bothered him — an American flag lying on the ground.
El Farra, who is a pediatric dentist at Valley Oak Dental, saw other people just pass by the fallen flag. So El Farra stopped, retrieved the flag, and placed the pole back in one of the holes drilled specifically for the purpose of flying Old Glory.
Making sure the American flag was shown the proper respect is not out of the ordinary for the North Hollywood native who attended Catholic high school, is an avid college football fans — the USC Trojans is his team — and is keeping his fingers crossed that his favorite baseball team, the Los Angeles Dodgers, doesn’t slip into an October swoon.
But it drives home a point as to why he doesn’t participate in the Pledge of Allegiance even though he respects and is thankful for the sacrifices made by those who have paid the price to secure his freedom and those of other Americans.
“My allegiance is to Allah,” El Farra said, adding that he doesn’t pledge his allegiance to any flag per se.
Allah is the same God that Christians and Jews worship, El Farra explained.
“Even though Muslims, Christians, and Jews believe in the same God, their concept of God differs,” El Farra shared with Manteca Rotarians during their noon meeting Thursday at Ernie’s Rendezvous Room.
 El Farra — besides being devoted to his family and patients and a Manteca resident since 2003 — also serves as the Imam, or worship leader, for the Manteca Islamic Center on South Union Road.
As Imam, he also strives to educate others outside his faith about Islam in a bid to debunk misconceptions.
There are more than 1,000 Muslims in Manteca’s growing Islamic faith community. That includes 200 plus students enrolled in Manteca Unified schools.
The faith’s ranks in Manteca consists of a wide array of ethnic backgrounds — Caucasians, Latinos, African-Americans, Pakistanis, Arabs, Fijians, and Portuguese, among others.
“We are very diverse,” El Farra said of the Manteca Islamic Center. “It is something I am very proud of.”
Worldwide, there are 1.7 billion Muslims spread out across six continents of which only 18 percent are Arabs. Indonesia has the world’s largest concentration of Muslims with Africa next while China has 50 million Muslims. There are 2.25 million Muslims in the United States with the Islamic faith among the fastest growing in the country.
El Farra explained the five tenets of the Islamic faith:
uTestimony of faith.
uPraying five times a day.
uAlms — or donating 2.5 percent of one’s annual savings to help the poor.
uFasting during Ramadan.
uPilgrimage to Mecca.
El Farra noted those who lack wealth aren’t pressed to donate to the poor or travel once in their lifetime to Mecca, nor or those not healthy required to adhere to the 30 days of fasting — no food, no drink, no water — from sunrise to sundown during Ramadan.
Given Ramadan fell this year during June — that included the longest day of the year and a string of 109 degree days — El Farra said it was a bit of a challenge.
El Farra noted the Quran — that was compiled over 23 years — is accompanied by 10 volumes to provide context. He explained that context is the key to understanding the Quran.
As an example, El Farra said Jihad “does not mean waging holy war.” It is a term that was hijacked by those who stayed from the basic tenets. Jihad is actually an Islamic term referring to the religious duty of Muslims to maintain the religion. It is the act of “striving, applying oneself, struggling, and preserving” to be true to the faith.
The hijab or headscarves that many Muslim women wear is referenced not just in the Quran but in the Bible through passages in Corinthians.
He pointed out the Islamic faith has long elevated women and does not make them submissive as some claim.
He noted it wasn’t until 1870 that women in England under law were allowed to inherit property while the Islamic faith established that principle 1,400 years earlier.
“ISIS is not Islam no more than the KKK or the Westboro Baptist Church (a church known for conducting anti-gay protests at military funerals among other things) is Christianity,” El Farra pointed out.

To contact Dennis Wyatt, email dwyatt@mantecabulletin.com

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