(In this article I might mess up some terminology or term regarding this religious event going on. If/when I do, it’s simple ignorance on my part, not any sort of derogatory comment or criticism of the religion or its practitioners. I’m trying to learn here, so if you see something I’ve messed up, please let me know so that I can do better next time.)
It’s amazing what you can have going on in your own neighborhood and not have a clue about it – until you get stuck in the huge traffic jam!
Three years ago, four maybe, a mosque was built just a mile or two away, across the street from the high school, on the same street where there are a dozen or more synagogues, the local Roman Catholic church, and within two or three miles of a church for just about every other denomination you can think of.
It’s a very diverse area, to say the least, and that’s one of the things that I really like about it, even if I don’t belong to a church myself or get to any kind of regular services.
What I could see of the mosque, mainly the minaret and a bit of the building through the trees, looked lovely. While not a church member, I love church architecture, and I’m always curious about different religions, cultures, customs, and so on.
Yesterday and today, surrounding the mosque for blocks was a huge traffic jam. Along the two major streets that intersect at the site, there were people parking (and double parking to pick up and drop off passengers) for at least three or four blocks in every direction. The large parking lot at the high school was filled. In addition, there were large crowds, hundreds at a time, going to and from the mosque. All of the men were dressed in white robes and headgear, while all of the women seemed to be in intricate and colorful robes and dresses of every color in the rainbow. There were people in their 80’s and families with strollers and small children. You name it, they were there. All day Saturday, and apparently all day today.
Something was going on…
Yesterday I actually spent an hour or so googling Islamic holidays (and finding nothing that matched) and trying to get information on that particular mosque. About all I found was that it was called the Mohammedi Center, but not much more. At the time I figured it was a holiday of some sort and I just wasn’t asking the right questions. Then I saw the big crowd today again and figured it might not be that simple. In addition, today there was a large, ornate horse-drawn carriage out on the street with white thoroughbred horses being unloaded to pull it. Again, not something one normally sees in the west San Fernando Valley every day.
When I was stuck in traffic with pedestrians all around, I asked one family what the event was. I missed the first part of the answer, but heard that it was a festival of some sort and would be going on for three weeks.
Spurred on by this new information, I just did another search and found an article in the Daily News. Questions answered, and it’s more interesting than I had thought!
The mosque was built by the Dawoodi Bohra sect of Shi’a Islam and finished three years ago. But the mosque had not yet been inaugurated (blessed? consecrated?) and couldn’t be used for prayer.
Today was the first visit to the United States by His Holiness Syedna Mufaddal Saifuddin, the 53rd Dai al-Mutlaq. It seems he’s the equivalent of the Pope to the Shi’a sect from India, here to inaugurate this mosque, as well as two others in Orange County and in Bakersfield. (That could maybe explain the three weekends of celebrations mentioned when I inquired?)
In short, while there may be far fewer Shi’a in the world than Roman Catholics, it now makes perfect sense that the Dai al-Mutlaq’s visit would draw those kinds of crowds and that kind of excitement.
Finally, and one of the things that really caught my attention while driving through the area, might be explained by the comment in the article about how inclusive the sect is. On the corner, waiting to cross the street to the mosque, was a group of bagpipers in kilts and full Scottish regalia.
Maybe they were here for this, maybe it was just a coincidence, but it sure was different!