A mosque in suburban Los Angeles that began as a center for Muslim immigrants from Thailand now serves Muslims of many backgrounds. The thriving religious center in Azusa, California, is a labor of love for one Thai immigrant and his family.
Rahmat Phyakul is overseeing remodeling of this suburban mosque with help from his wife, Sukatee. They are Muslims from Thailand, and the driving force behind this Islamic house of worship.
Phyakul is the administrator and imam of what he said is the first mosque established by Thai Muslims in the United States. Thai Muslims are a minority of a minority, because most Thais are Buddhist.
“Our Thai people, our Thai friends and associates thought that it would be a good idea to establish a mosque, the Thai Muslims, so we can maintain our culture and at the same time we can maintain our faith,” he said.
After 19 years, the mosque is international, with the hundreds who gather for prayer coming from all parts of the Muslim world.
“We have people from Pakistan, from India, from the Philippines, Indonesia, Dubai, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Egypt, Africa, African Americans, and all walks of life, and all kinds of people that come here because this is an international place,” said Rahmat Phyakul.
Rafique Ahmed was among those who came to pray on a recent Friday. He moved to the United States from India by way of Pakistan, and he credits the imam and his wife with building this community.
“They are the backbone. They are so committed, and they have been doing a wonderful job for the community,” he said.
Some Thai members of the mosque shared a meal of Thai foods on a recent evening, and longtime mosque member Mariam Ruangsuwan reflected on the changes that have come as the community has expanded.
“The businessmen helped with the money and everything, so now we are successful. We have a big mosque and [it's] beautiful inside,” she said.
Imam Phyakul said there have been tensions with some in this mostly Christian neighborhood, who are suspicious of Muslims.
“However, we sustain and as the Koran taught us, be patient, do good things and good deeds. And that is why we have been lasting for 19 years,” said Phyakul.
The whole family works together to keep the mosque running smoothly and it's become their main focus, according to Sukatee Phykul.
“I am so glad that the family works together for the sake of Allah,” she said.
The mosque has become a spiritual home for the Muslim community of this suburban neighborhood, where there was none before.