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ISWV Statement to the Community

Dear Members of the Islamic Society of West Valley Community,

In the name of God, Most Gracious, Most Merciful.

As-Salaamu 'Alaykum,

With heavy hearts but unwavering resolve, we address you today in the wake of recent events. It is with a sense of duty and determination that we share this statement, not only to correct the record but also to reaffirm our commitment to justice, unity, and resilience in the face of adversity.

As many of you know, in 2023, the Islamic Society of West Valley (ISWV) engaged in discussions with Hamakom Synagogue (formerly Temple Aliyah) regarding the potential sale of their property. These discussions were marked by mutual respect and a shared vision of fostering interfaith harmony and cooperation.

Our longstanding relationship with Rabbi Stewart Vogel, Hazzan Mike Stein and others at Hamakom has always been characterized by meaningful engagements and shared values. From Shaykh Suhail Mulla's participation, upon invitation, in Temple Aliyah's Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Interfaith Shabbat Service to his contributions at their festival of Shavout, our connections are rooted in mutual understanding, respect, and genuine friendship.

Thus, when ISWV expressed interest in purchasing the synagogue property, it was met with enthusiasm and openness from the Hamakom leadership. Over almost one year of engagement, ISWV and Hamakom diligently and professionally pursued the possibility of a sale. Our negotiations were marked by good faith and honesty. For us, and we believe for the leaders of Hamakom as well, this was not just a transactional interaction, but a relationship based on respect and integrity. The temporary use of their space during Ramadan further exemplified our cooperative spirit and shared commitment to supporting one another.

However, on the first day of Ramadan, Hamakom Synagogue abruptly terminated our rental agreement in response to a wave of negative sentiment from a segment of their community. This segment of their community appears to be driven by baseless fear and prejudice against Muslims. Hamakom staff informed us that they received angry messages along with threats from their members to withdraw financial support if the ISWV community continued to rent their facility.

The sudden termination – and the subsequent proliferation of reactionary and vitriolic messages online – was traumatic for all of us in the ISWV community. Not only did we have to scramble to make alternate arrangements for our daily Ramadan services, we also had to increase our security to ensure our community’s safety. The exposure of our youth to messages of intimidation on social media, originating from Hamakom community members (which have since been deleted), underscores the severity of the situation. From our perspective, it is apparent that the voices of cooperation were drowned out by voices of prejudice and bigotry and this stands as a stark reminder of the challenges we face in combating intolerance, ignorance, and Islamophobia right here in the San Fernando Valley.

Some press accounts attempt to deflect blame onto ISWV and tarnish our reputation with misleading statements. We categorically reject any efforts to paint ISWV as the wrongdoers in this situation.

These accounts claim that Hussam Ayloush, Executive Director of CAIR-LA’s, speech at ISWV’s Ramadan prayer service was the reason for canceling our agreement. This is incorrect and disingenuous. In fact, in Hamakom’s own statement to the Jewish Journal, a spokesperson for the synagogue acknowledged that Mr. Ayloush “did not express any anti-Zionist sentiments during his speech.” His presence at our Ramadan gathering demonstrates Mr. Ayloush’s support of interfaith work and in his remarks Mr. Ayloush stated his favorable opinion of both congregations building bridges during Ramadan.

It must also be made clear that ISWV did not ask for the covering of the “Bring Them Home” posters in the lobby of the Temple. Rather, this was an offer made by their leadership out of a desire not to trigger negative sentiments amongst our respective communities given the feelings of pain and grief in the Muslim community related to the staggering civilian death toll in Gaza. An additional offer was made for other materials, including religious imagery, to be respectfully covered. ISWV responded that it would be wholly unnecessary to do so and that such a covering would be, in fact, sacrilegious in our view as we respect the Jewish faith as well as its religious scripture and imagery.

The ordeal faced by our community members, from armed guards escorting our board member at Hamakom when we were told to collect our equipment, to aggressive messages on social media, was shocking and deeply disconcerting. It seems clear to us that Hamakom gave in to pressure driven by ignorance and fear on the part of a vocal and influential group over the values of compassion, unity, and justice that are grounded in both of our respective faith traditions. Yet, in the face of adversity, we return to and stand upon our values of mutual respect, justice and compassion as well as our unwavering belief that Allah (God) is surely the best of planners.

Months of hard work and personal sacrifice dedicated to securing a future site for ISWV seem to have been lost, but we remain resilient and hopeful that by the grace of God we will find something even better. Given the current climate, we have since withdrawn our purchase offer for the Hamakom property. It is a sad testament to the current times when we lose sight of our shared goodness and humanity. Still, ISWV appreciates the respectful dialogue that we have shared with Hamakom leadership and remains committed to principled and honest interfaith relations. We will remain true to our genuine actions towards building a local community where truth, courage and mutual respect prevail.

In closing, we urge our community members not to succumb to fear or intimidation. Let us place our trust in Allah and remain steadfast in our belief that He will guide us to that which is better for us. Together, we will overcome this adversity and emerge stronger than ever before inshallah. With unwavering faith and unity, we will find a site for our Masjid community to come together and continue our journey towards building a more compassionate and inclusive society.

May peace and blessings be upon you all.

Board of Directors
Islamic Society of West Valley