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Ramadan comes at uneasy time for local Muslims

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Posted: Friday, October 7, 2005 10:00 pm | Updated: 8:34 am, Fri Mar 21, 2014.

Earlier this week, Muslims throughout the nation cast their gazes to the night sky, spying the first thin crescent of a new moon, the official sign that Ramadan had begun.

They did this knowing what the upcoming month would mean - perspective, renewal and the enormous task of reaching outside themselves to embrace one another in the spirit of Islam.

But for Lodi Muslims, the prescribed period of reflection comes at a critical moment in their shared history.

In the past year, they've seen the arrests of five local Pakistani men at the hands of the FBI, the subsequent deportation of two religious leaders, and a series of lawsuits between two feuding factions of the Lodi Muslim Mosque for leadership.

Even more recently, plans for Lodi's first Islamic community center and school, which many say would have been a bridge between Muslims and non-Muslims in the area, was denied by the county Board of Supervisors. The decision last month came as a grave disappointment to planners who had worked for the Farooqia Center for nearly a decade.

Now, with Ramadan in full swing, can lessons of forgiveness be pervasive enough to heal old wounds and get the Muslim community back on track?

Some locals say they are willing to reconstruct the bridges that have been burnt between the two factions in Lodi. But others seem to indicate that even Ramadan may not be able to make reconciliation come so quickly.

Ramadan, which began on Tuesday night, runs until Nov. 4 when Muslims celebrate Eid, or the culmination of a month of daylight fasting. During Ramadan, Muslims are to refrain from excessive or immoral behavior, such as quarrels, and are to reflect on being a better Muslim.

"It opens up your spirit and makes you be more forgiving," said Stockton Muslim Pamela Parvez. "It's a real eye-opening time."

Separate services

Special Ramadan services at Lodi Muslim Mosque on Poplar Street began Tuesday night after the sighting of the new moon, when close to 100 members knelt in prayer and prepared for the first recitation of the Quran.

A latecomer to the Ramadan prayer stands in the back while other Lodi mosque members bow during prayer Wednesday. (Mike Graffigna/News-Sentinel)

Absent were several former board members, who claim they were ousted from the mosque by President Mohammad Shoaib and his supporters. Several of those members, also backers of Farooqia, filed a civil suit in July to reclaim the board they see as rightfully their own. Taj Khan, a longtime Lodi resident, was one of several plaintiffs.

Shoaib, in the name "Lodi Muslim Mosque," filed a lawsuit in May against Farooqia Islamic Center for misuse of mosque money. The suit alleged that Khan and others had given checks to imam Mohammad Adil Khan without mosque permission. Adil Khan was one of two imams deported to Pakistan in the wake of the June arrests.

Both cases are still pending in San Joaquin County Superior Court.

In an interview Tuesday, Shoaib said he welcomed Taj Khan and other Farooqia supporters to take part in Ramadan services at the mosque. He said he hoped the two groups would reconcile their differences and sit together to work things out.

"Ramadan means we should forgive everybody, no matter what happens, and try not to do the same mistakes again," Shoaib said.

"They should sit down with us and talk to us. We can settle these difference ourselves without going to court."

The president also asked for forgiveness for anything he may have done to hurt people.

In a separate phone interview Friday, Khan said he's heard similar words before, but sees no proof that the current mosque board will change for the benefit of the community. He and other Farooqia supporters worship at the Umar Farooq Mosque on Hammer Lane in Stockton.

"That kind of gesture needs to be backed up by action," Khan said of reconciliation in an interview Friday. "(Ramadan) is a good time to do that, but there has to be a positive movement from everybody involved."

The local Muslim community is still trying to regroup after being put under a microscope at the peak of the FBI's three-year investigation into the mosque and claims that local men may have had a connection to terrorist activity in Pakistan.

In the aftermath of the FBI's initial claims, their leaders, former mosque imams Mohammed Adil Khan and Shabbir Ahmed, were ultimately deported on immigration violations, as was Adil Khan's son. Two remaining suspects, father and son Umer and Hamid Hayat, are still awaiting trial, which will not start until next spring, at the earliest.

Support for the imams further split the arguing factions, with Farooqia backers siding with the imams who had worked on the project with them.

Shoaib said he hoped to put that argument behind him as well this Ramadan.

"Whatever happened with these people, let's forget these things and let's work together," the mosque president said. "They are gone, (but) we stay here with our children."

A time to heal

Despite the tumult of the past year, most local Muslims said they felt Ramadan is the best time for people to reach out to fellow Muslims, regardless of past conflicts.

Tasleem Ali, a teacher at Henderson School who spoke on a July episode of ABC's Nightline about Lodi's Muslim community, said it's definitely possible for the factions to set aside their differences during Ramadan.

"Any kind of animosity and hatred - Ramadan puts that to rest," added Ali, who recalled watching adults fast and pray during Ramadan as a child and wanting to emulate their profession of faith.

Parvez, whose husband sits on the Farooqia board, said she would definitely reflect on what's happened in the community in the past year when she knelt to pray this Ramadan.

But, like Khan, Parvez was leery about the sincerity of Shoaib's invitation to come together and put the past behind them.

"It's not like we haven't, as a group, tried to work things out with them several times," Parvez said. "I want to be forgiving about it and let it go. There's just a lack of trust there."

Several people involved with or having a vested interest in the two civil suits said that past negotiations have failed. Attempts to sit down with a mediator from Council for American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) in Sacramento have failed to come together.

Both groups point to the other for the failure of the CAIR meetings, and some point to that failure as proof that future olive branches may as well be fated for a similar end.

But to mosque member Bara Khan, who sees Ramadan as the time when the door to heaven is open and the gates of hell have been shut by Allah, the devil's work can be undone, even when a community is so deeply divided.

And Shoaib said he would tend to agree.

"This Ramadan, come to the mosque, you are most welcome. Join us in recitations and slowly, slowly, we can heal these things," he said.

Contact reporter Sara Cardine at sarac@lodinews.com.

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