Brief History of the Islamic Center of Southern California (1952-1972)

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In the 1950-s the Islamic Center of Southern California was the only Mosque that was in existence in Los Angeles. It was located in a rented building on Fountain Avenue in city of Hollywood. Br. Sirajuddin was the President of the Center. Later, Br. Saeed Akmal, father of Frooq Akmal, Executive Board member of the Islamic Center in 1960-s, became the President. At that time, there were very few Muslim families in Southern California.

The Harbor Freeway was the only freeway that linked downtown Los Angeles to other cities in Southern California. In 1960-s hundreds of Muslim students were studying in various colleges and universities in Southern California including UCLA, USC, California Junior Colleges and private colleges. In 1963, the Muslim Students Association was established in Michigan. Although Muslim students were enrolled in various colleges, only three universities – University of California at Los Angeles, University of Southern California and University of California at Riverside formed an MSA chapter on their campuses. In the 1960-s the ICSC purchased a building located on City Terrace Drive in East Los Angeles and moved from Fountain Avenue in Hollywood to the new location in East Los Angeles. At the same time two more Islamic organizations were established in Southern California – Muslim Brothers of America in Beverly Hills by Dr. F. Hormozi and the Islamic Society of Orange County. These two organizations did not have buildings of their own. These organizations were only on paper.

In 1964 the US Congress initiated and later passed the new Immigration law scheduled to be enforced in the year 1968. This law, for the first time, put an end to the old immigration system, which was only favorable to the inhabitants of European countries. The new law opened up opportunities for people from Asian and African countries and encouraged them to apply for immigration/permanent residence status. Many families from Burma, Egypt, Iraq, Pakistan, India, Iran, Turkey, Jordan, Syria and other Middle Eastern countries started arriving in the United States. Taking advantage of the new immigration policy, the Muslim students who completed their education also applied for permanent residence.

In the early 1960-s, Br. Mohammad Dawood, Br. Abdul Hameed Akoni, Dr. Mohammad Ali and Br. Adeeb Shamma served as presidents of the Islamic Center of Southern California, and Imam Nabulsi was the director of the center. In 1966 during the month of Ramadan – Hijri 1386 – several families who had recently arrived from the Muslims countries and now living in West Los Angeles, near UCLA, decided to perform the Isha and Taraweeh prayers at the ICSC in East Los Angeles. The center was more than 15 miles from UCLA. Many Muslims living in West LA did not have cars; few thought that it was too far. After a lot of discussion they gave up the idea. The Executive Board of the Islamic Center was also aware of this fact. It increased its efforts to move the Center from East Los Angeles to another location near downtown Los Angeles.

The Advisory Board of the Center under the leadership of Dr. Sabri El-Ferra and Dr. Hadi Salem contacted Dr. Mohsen El-Biali, Director and Imam of the Washington D.C. Islamic Center and made an offer to him to become the Director of the Islamic Center of Southern California. After lots of negotiation, he accepted the offer. Dr. El-Biali, a graduate of Al-Azhar University, a prolific writer and speaker arrived in California in 1967 and started meeting Muslims families and encouraged them to get involved in Center-s activities. The Muslims living in Orange County and Los Angeles South Bay area also started to coming to the Islamic Center. In 1968, Br. Orhan Akbarut took over the reigns of Chairmanship of the Executive Board from Br. Adeeb Shamma, after the election. In the same year, Mohammad Dakhil and Dr. Nureddine Anaizi visited Southern California from Libya. During their stay here, Mehmood Dakhil, son of Mohammad Dakhil, a student at University of Southern California, visited the center with his father and Dr. Anaizi. They promised to help the center. After their return to Libya, they raised funds for the center which enabled the Center to purchase a new property in downtown Los Angeles. The property on City Terrace Drive was sold and the center moved to St. Andrews Place. The center formulated a plan and established Juma prayer, commenced Weekend Islamic School, started Tafsir of Qur-an by Dr. El-Biali, provided family counseling to Muslim families and encouraged them to avail services of Dr.El-Biali for marriages.

Many people who served as members of the Executive Board during the period 1968-1971 were: Dr. Abdul Majeed Ahmed, Orhan Akbarut, Moustapha Akkad, Farooq Akmal, Sulejman Sulejmanagic, Mustafa Amir, Mrs. Alice Audeh, Dr. F.M. Dia, Dr. Syed Mahmood Hussaini, Mohammad Khan, Harris Mia, Khalil Momand, Rachid Tifrit, Marwan Shihabi, Mrs. Lee Salem and Mohammad Yacoob. The Advisory Board members were: Dr. Sabri El-Ferra, Dr. Hadi Salem, Abdul Hameed Akoni and Mohamed Seirafi.

In 1969 the first eid prayer was performed at the new Islamic center. Hundreds of families came to the center for eid prayer. The center had to hold eid prayer three times: 7:00 am, 8:30 and 10:00 am. The same conditions existed in 1970 and 1971.
In 1969 eid dinner was held at the Roosevelt Hotel in Hollywood with Moustapha Akkad, ICSC executive board member, as the emcee. At the dinner, he talked about movie star Rita Hayworth and her daughter Princess Yasmin and an interview that was published in Los Angeles Times, and also about a letter written by the mother of Farooq Akmal, another executive board member.

Rita Hayworth married Prince Aly Khan son of Aga Khan III in 1949. Rita Hayworth and Prince Aly Khan had a daughter named Yasmin. Then a very public custody fight ended with Prince Aly Khan offering her a million dollars to raise Yasmin as a Muslim. In an interview, she had told the interviewer that she finds it very hard and difficult to raise her daughter, Princess Yasmin, as a Muslim in these United States. The interview was published in Los Angeles Times. Later Farooq Akmal-s mother wrote a letter to Los Angeles Times challenging Rita Hayworth’s contention that Prince Yasmin cannot be raised properly as a Muslim. Moustapha Akkad read the letter, which was provided by Farooq Akmal, and told the Muslim community members attending the eid dinner to accept the challenges of the American society and raise their children as good Muslims and good citizens.

One time, Moustapha Akkad told other executive board members including this writer that he was in the process of producing a film on Islam. He described the scenerio and said that in one of the segment of the movie, he would show Muslims performing two raka salat. The azan will be called in the precincts of the Haram Shariff near Kaaba. The Imam will read sura Fatiha and then the scene would change and go to Madina where the next sura will be recited. The ruku will show people in a mosque in Egypt; first sajada will be performed in Indonesia; the second sajada in Pakistan. The other parts of the salat will be completed in various countries, until the two raka are completed. However, he ended up making the movie “The Message” in 1977.

The new elections were held in late 1971 and Dr. El-Ferra became the Chairman of the Executive Board. In 1972 Dr. Sabri El-Ferra, Chairman of the Board, made the announcement that the Muslim community should start looking for a new location for the ICSC because the present location was becoming smaller for the Muslim community in Los Angeles. This was the beginning of the fundraising drive to acquire a new location for the Center, and during the last half of 1970-s the Center moved to its present location at 434 South Vermont Avenue in Los Angeles.

Mohammad Yacoob is a retired Industrial Engineer and an Engineering Proposals Analyst who lives in Los Angeles, California. He is a former Vice Chairman of the Islamic Center of Southern California.


Mohammad Yacoob is a retired Industrial Engineer and Engineering Proposals Analyst who lives in Los Angeles, California.