CA: ON THEIR GUARD
Imam Mohammad Azeez reads aloud the weekly announcements on this Friday afternoon and again wonders why he couldn't find anyone else to do it.
"Remember to sign up for the new class starting soon," he says as many worshippers file out the mosque doors.
Pray for the mother of a member who recently had hip surgery, he continues.
Don't forget about the upcoming guest speaker.
Pick up a flier on the way out.
In the two minutes it takes to read the notices, half the worshippers have left. Azeez jokes that there is probably a special blessing for those who stayed.
In the past, this job usually was done by one of the members of the Sacramento Area League of Associated Muslims, or SALAM. But that responsibility has increasingly fallen on Azeez, the spiritual leader of the mosque.
That's because it has become difficult to find worshippers willing to speak publicly at the mosque, even to do something as innocuous as reading the weekly announcements, says Azeez.
At the same time, some worshippers have asked that their names be removed from membership and mailing lists. Others refuse to write checks -- insisting on making cash contributions or using money orders.
Azeez and other religious leaders want to change this.
"I tell them speaking out is the only way to protect your community here, to put light where everyone can see it, to step forward, make the announcements, sign up for membership," says Azeez. "We have nothing to hide."
These are cautious times at local mosques. SALAM, which sits across the street from American River College, is considered one of the most diverse and progressive mosques in the area, with a mostly middle-class congregation. But even here, leaders deal with members wary of associating publicly with any Islamic organization.
A recent poll shows that Muslims take their faith seriously, with 72 percent saying religion plays a "very important" role in their life, according to the survey by the Pew Research Center in May. Seventy-eight percent say they are satisfied with their mosques. So why the reluctance?
Some worry that any documented connection to a Muslim organization, no matter how innocent, could be used against them in the future.