With his knees on an Islamic prayer rug facing Mecca, Imam Mohammed El Farra led several dozen Muslims through their Friday prayers on the first day of Ramadan – the ninth month of the Islamic calendar where fasting is the norm to teach modesty and sacrifice.
But rather than doing so in his own mosque, El Farra had to make do with the floor of the Emory Hall on Yosemite Avenue. The banquet facility has been home to Friday prayers for members of the Islamic Center of Manteca while they work to save money for a mosque of their own.
While it’ll take more than a million dollars to construct the building on property the organization purchased on Union Road, you won’t find very many of the members complaining about how long it’s going to take before they have a place of their own.
“It’s definitely going to be a sense of pride for our community and will allow us to share our beliefs with the outside community as well as building a bridge that will foster understanding,” El Farra said. “But Muhammad said that good things come to those who wait, and while donations are coming slowly, we have faith that this will be a project that we’ll see happen and be proud of once its complete.”
For the last several years the group has met daily for prayer at a location on Main Street that over the course of time became much too small for the growing numbers. El Farra estimates that the original nuculeus has swelled to two or three times the size of the initial group.
While The Emory provides more than enough space on Friday afternoons, the cost of renting multiple buildings is anything but cost effective – forcing the group to move forward with the purchase of the land and the engineering work necessary to move forward with construction.
All that’s needed now is $1 million to construct the building and they’re up and running.
But when it comes to spirituality, the location of the prayer suits Muslims like Khan just fine.
With his thick English accent, Khan is quick to point out what he considers to be the benefits of the faith that he considers more of a lifestyle that requires devout dedication than just your standard religious belief.
“It’s something that teaches you to become one with the world – with mankind,” he said. “A lot of people don’t understand the premise of the Muslim faith, but if they took the time to learn about it they’d see it’s about finding the good in people and the world and striving to become a better person.”
Not everyone who practices Islam has done so for their entire life.
Abdel Varela started off as a Southern Baptist before searching for something that better suit his lifestyle – one that included a long journey that would eventually leave him believing in no religion before he one day picked up a Bible and started scanning passages that would plant the seed for his new faith.
He says he’s never been happier.
“The turning point for me came when I was reading that there can’t be an image of God, and that really left me with only two options – Judaism, which I couldn’t be a part of because I wasn’t born into it, and Islam.
“I chose the latter and it really has done a lot to help me make the most of my life.”
And while the general consensus of Islam across the world often paints the faith in a negative light, El Farra is quick to point out that the two biggest concerns that people have about Islam are only misconceptions that can easily be discussed and clarified.
“Unfortunately people believe that we promote the reduced status of women and are in some way affiliated with terrorism and the activities they undertake,” he said. “Both of those are just flat out not true, and it says in the Quran that taking one innocent life is just as bad as taking the lives of all of humanity.
“That’s one of the reasons why we’re looking forward to building this center is so that we’ll be able to have a better relationship in the community and dispel some of those beliefs – to show people that we have our beliefs just like anyone else and much like the other ancient religions they’re all born out of the same region.”
For more information about the Manteca Islamic Center visit their website at www.icomatneca.org.