Years of planning, waiting pay off at Islamic Center of Manteca
By Kevin Parrish
One dream realized, Muslims in Manteca now hope their new mosque will become a beacon of community understanding.
On Friday, they dedicated the Islamic Center of Manteca, San Joaquin County's first from-the-ground-up mosque, in a sincere, solemn ceremony.
Imam Mohammad El Farra used his khutba (sermon) to exhort the 650 worshippers, many of them from Stockton, Modesto and Tracy, to be "good Muslims, generous to our neighbors, ... to not raise our voices, to not curse and to not insult those of other faiths."
He urged his listeners to live in peace and kindness and to be people of strong character.
Friday's ceremony looked like an impossible dream a few years ago.
"It's been a long process," said El Farra, pausing reflectively an hour before delivering his message to the packed mosque.
"There have been bumps in the road, but I thank God for everything, ... our perseverance.
"It's really something for a small community like Manteca to do something like this. It sends chills through me."
El Farra, a USC graduate, is a 34-year-old pediatric dentist with Valley Oak Dental Group.
His 8-year-old daughter Yasmeen stood nearby.
"His heart is beating really fast," she said.
The $1.2 million mosque sits on a 1.5-acre spit of land off South Union Road. It is wedged next door to Sequoia Heights Baptist Church, which allowed its lot to be used for overflow parking Friday.
The mosque has a small, attractive dome. There is a multipurpose room, the main prayer room below the dome and an adjacent area for women who want privacy. The prayer room features marble pillars and is flooded with light from large windows.
"I am very happy. This is fantastic," 43-year-old Ali Getti said as she arrived. "I did not expect the mosque to be this beautiful."
Bathrooms for both genders are equipped with a special wadu washing area used for cleansing and purification before worship.
"I call it the sacred spa treatment," said Mas'ood Cajee, also a Manteca-based dentist and a member of the congregation. "There are physical and metaphysical qualities to washing all the senses before touching the Quran or saying prayers."
The mosque was built without incurring any debt, a point El Farra made during his grand-opening message. Donations came from across San Joaquin County, up and down the Central Valley and from out of state.
Members of the church come from a variety of cultural and doctrinal backgrounds. "It's not quite but almost like having Protestants and Catholics worship together," Cajee said.
Manteca's three predominant Muslim groups are from Afghanistan, the Middle East and Fiji Islands.
Hazel Velazquez, 34, is from Mexico.
"I converted four years ago," she said, greeting worshippers as they arrived. "I'm very excited. This is life-changing for me. This will bring our community together. We've been so separated."
Valazquez stood outside in the blistering heat and never stopped smiling. She welcomed everyone with the traditional Arabic greeting - As-salam alaykum - which translates into "peace be upon you."
Inside, old friends reconnected with the same words and with warm embraces.
The 39-year-old Cajee, conducting a tour of the mosque, is cognizant of the image Muslims have in the minds of many Americans. He was born in South Africa, raised in Oklahoma City and is a graduate of the University of Oklahoma.
"I'm a big Thomas Jefferson fan," Cajee said. "He was no ordinary founding father. This is the future he envisioned for a pluralistic Republic. Freedom of religion was a radical idea.
"I think he envisioned this day and this place in 2013 California."
Now that Manteca's Islamic Center is complete, El Farra and Cajee look forward to the day when their congregation can reach out and help followers in Stockton and Tracy finish building their own mosques. "Kind of like Amish barn-raising," Cajee said.