The road to the mosque winds through some of the most pristine scenery in Marin County. Giant redwood trees crowd hillsides connected to lakes, parks and trails crossed by deer, hawks and the occasional mountain lion. Because of its secluded natural beauty, the area attracts artists and writers (Anne Lamott lives here), celebrities (ditto Sean Penn) and environmentalists.

Religious people are also drawn to Marin, which helps explain why a Persian cleric from Iraq established a mosque near Fairfax — perhaps the world’s only Islamic center set in a redwood grove.

As he sits outside the mosque and reflects on his life in Marin, Mehdi Khorasani wears the black turban that signifies his direct lineage to the Muslim prophet Muhammad. The connection stretches back more than 1,400 years, to the deserts of Saudi Arabia and the beginnings of a religion that now claims 1.4 billion followers.

Marin is a long way from Mecca, but in the confines of this Bay Area county, a thriving Muslim populace embodies the wide spectrum of Islamic theology.

Sunnis, Shiites, Sufis (people who follow Islamic mysticism), Ismailis (a branch of Shiism) and other Muslim followers live in Marin. They are businessmen and women, supermarket clerks, teachers, high-school and college students, insurance agents, artists, engineers, writers, musicians, formal religious leaders and everything in between.

The College of Marin offers a course in Islam. And one Marin school, Tamalpais High, opens up a room for Muslim students to pray in.

The story of Muslims in Marin is in many ways the story of Muslims in America.


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