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Interview: Muzammil Siddiqi

Muzammil Siddiqi

Imam Siddiqi is the chairman of the Fiqh Council of North America and the educational and religious director of the Islamic Society of Orange County, Calif. This is an edited transcript of an interview conducted on Jan. 13, 2010.

Tell me how you came to Orange County.

I came to Orange County in 1981. I was in Washington, D.C., at the time, [where] I was the director of the Islamic Center. But with the Iranian Revolution and all of those things, the center there was going through some turmoil. Some people visited me from Orange County and invited me [to California].

“9/11 created a lot of misunderstanding. ... But that's not what Islam is; that's not what Muslim people are.”

So I came. It was my first time to California, ... although I've been in this country since 1969. I liked very much the environment. The community was a small community at that time. [I] spoke at the Islamic Center and visited families in different places and then went back. …

After a few months I received an offer from them to come and be the director of the center. They had just established the center, and they wanted to see somebody come and lead the community. I spoke to my family, my wife, children, and we decided to come. So we just moved here, and ever since we are living here. It is almost now 30 years.

[How has the Muslim community here in Orange County grown since then?]

The community was small at the time when I came. In our Islamic Center, we had 100 to 200 people come for Friday prayer. But slowly more people started coming. ... We started [an] elementary school for children, and that attracted many people, really a program that I had started. So we started taking more property in the area and expanding our center. We built a school first, and then after that we built the new mosque.

Now the community is large, because many refugees came because of the Iran situation; from Afghanistan; many coming from Cambodia and Vietnam; then people from many other places. We have, I estimate, about 100,000 Muslims in Orange County. And then many other Islamic Centers were established, so we have 12 centers now.

How many Muslims are there in L.A.?

In metropolitan Los Angeles, all the way from Santa Barbara to San Diego, we estimate half a million Muslims. And they are from all over actually. I would say at least maybe 30 or 40 different nationalities are planted there. And also in Los Angeles, we have a very good-size Afro-American community, local American people who accepted Islam...

Do you feel that faith in this country is changing because we've had a big increase in immigration, not just Muslims, but Hindus and Buddhists from all different faiths, from across the world?

Yeah, America is now a country of many religions, not just one religion or two religions. And then, of course, [the] large Christian community and then large Jewish community, but then there are Muslims, the Hindus, Buddhists. In Orange County we have a very large amount of Buddhists and people of other faiths who are here. So it's a land of diverse cultures, diverse ethnicities, religions, and that makes a pluralistic society.

But when people of religions come to America, are they somehow changed by the American culture, or do they change the culture themselves?

It's both. People have to understand that the culture here is traditions, and they have to adopt, so adapt and adopt both. They have to adapt themselves to the local culture. That doesn't mean giving up their tradition, giving up their values, but at the same time understanding. So you see that a lot of direction takes place.

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