Changing Visions of Ourselves > Between Two Worlds

Los Angeles

Hussam Ayloush

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Director, CAIR–Southern California

Eighty percent of the Muslim community in the US are immigrants and their children; 20 percent are US-born. Half of Muslim immigrants are from Pakistan, India, or Bangladesh; a third are Arabs from Palestine, Egypt, Syria, Iraq, and Lebanon; and the rest are a very mixed group – Africans, Malaysians, Turks, Afghanis, Bosnians, Iranians.

The Iranian community is very large in the LA area, but previously it didn’t relate to the Muslim community. People left Iran because of the Islamic revolution; many were supporters of the shah. Now their kids are coming around to CAIR or the Muslim Student Association.

These days Iranians are drawing closer to other Muslims. Discrimination and harassment don’t distinguish Iranians from others, or people who attend mosque from those who don’t. There are many Iranians who are successful in business, who never go to mosque – but their kids are getting beaten up. The feeling has been, “I named my son John, I drink beer, I’m not religious or ideological” — but it doesn’t help. People are realizing it’s racism and has to be dealt with as such.

CAIR offers a space that brings together the mosque-going and the non-mosque part of our constituency, in LA even more than in DC or on the east coast overall.

We’ve also built relationships with non-Muslims – for instance, with part of the Coptic community. We met with the Coptic patriarch following the killing of a Coptic grocer after 9/11. One of our people and a Coptic representative serve on the city’s Religious Advisory Council, it’s a forum where people can get to know each other.

We also work closely with the Sikhs – nationally we are supporting the Sikhs to build their own coalition to address similar areas of action.

The aftermath of 9/11 has brought so many different groups together – it’s the humanistic side of such a horrible criminal activity. In the 1940s, the Japanese had no way to reach out, they were very isolated.