No Enclave — Exploring Islamic Los Angeles

No Enclave

I’m not religious. I am curious about my fellow humans, however, and the various ways in which we attempt to understand our world. I suppose it’s partly for that reason that I’ve always been fascinated by mythology and religion. My curiosity has led me to read a few religious texts, including the Bhagavad Gita, BibleGospel of Thomas, HagakurePhrases and Philosophies for the Use of the YoungÀ ReboursSilmarillionTao Te ChingTorahQuran, and Walden — mostly in translation. I remember reading the Quran in 2000 CE (1422 AH), enchanted by its fluidity and poetry. I was somewhat surprised, given the deep schisms between Abrahamic faiths, how utterly in sync it was with the holy books of Christianity and Judaism, and reading it further informed my view of those faiths.

We we now brace ourselves for an American president who has exploited divisions between faiths for his own gain, who brags that he doesn’t even read books, and who has villainized instead of welcomed the Muslim refugees of violence in the Middle East. I’m not sure if this will help, but I thought that the least I could do given this rise in Islamophobia is to spotlight the history, presence, culture and contributions of Muslims in Los Angeles.


The Abrahamic religions include not just Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, but also Bábism, Bahá’í, Druze, Rastafari, and Samaritanism. Of the world’s religions, Islam has the second largest number of adherents. Interestingly, although widely equated with the Arab ethnicity, none of the countries with the largest Muslim populations are Arab. None are also located in Arabia or even the Middle East. They are (in descending order) Indonesia, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Nigeria. Only 20% of Muslims, in fact, live in either the Middle East or Maghreb.

According to recent estimates, Islam is the third largest religion in the United States. There are somewhere between 3.3 and 6 million Muslims living in this country. Early Muslims moved to the American colonies where they often labored as merchants, sailors, and agricultural workers. Most voluntary Muslim immigrants of the era were Turkish, Punjabi, or YemeniAmerican Revolutionary War rosters record the involvement of Muslim soldiers in the war against the British. The first nation to recognize the USA’s independence was a Muslim one, the Sultanate of Morocco. Founding fathers George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and especially John Adams, all wrote approvingly of Islam. 

Many more Muslims were forcibly brought to the US by nominally Christian slave traders. Between 1701 and 1800, some half a million Africans were abducted and

Omar Ibn Said, enslaved Islamic scholar from Senegal

forced into slavery in the US. An estimated 50,000 to 150,000 of those slaves were Muslims. Unlike their free Muslim peers, open adherence to Islam was violently suppressed by their masters.

When the American Civil War broke out, hundreds of Muslims were recorded as having fought alongside non-Muslim troops. From the 1880s until the dawn of World War I, thousands more Muslims emigrated from the territories of the Ottoman Empire to the US. Muslim immigrants of this wave especially favored three towns: Dearborn, Michigan; Quincy, Massachusetts; and Ross, North Dakota.

Hi Jolly

One of the first prominent Muslims in California was Hajj Ali (حاج علي, commonly spelled as “Hi Jolly,”  and later known by the unlikely name of Philip Tedro). Hi Jolly was born Ali al-Hajaya in the Ottoman empire to Syrian and Greek parents. He was hired by the United States Cavalry to tend camels in Arizona and California as part of an experimental program in 1856. The camel program was never adopted because donkeys and other army animals were apparently spooked by the large ungulates and the program was summarily abandoned. According to Out West (formerly The Land of Sunshine) magazine, he later deliberately stampeded his camels through a German picnic on the edge of town. Jolly had served with the French army in Algiers and apparently afterward held all Germans in contempt. He died in 1903.

Bosniaks Cultural Community of Southern California’s President Halil Hasic, center, with his wife, Selma, at an iftar party held at Heritage Park Community Center (Image: Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

US Congress initiated a new immigration law in 1964 which was finally enacted in 1968, opening up immigration to Africans, Asians, and Middle Easterners. In Southern California, many Muslim students applied for permanent residence. Muslims have often moved to Los Angeles in the face of turmoil at home. The Bangladesh Liberation War of 1971 was reason enough for many Banglas to settle in Los Angeles. The Islamic Revolution in Iran impelled many Persians to come to Los Angeles. Bosniaks immigrated to Los Angeles during the war between Bosnia and Herzegovina (1992-1995).

In Southern California today there are now roughly half a million Muslims.The Muslim population of Los Angeles, as elsewhere, is multi-ethnic. Farsi, Arabic, Hindi, Urdu, and Bengali are among the metropolitan area’s most spoken languages. An estimated one third of the regions roughly half million Muslims are of South Asian ancestry, one third of West African ancestry, and one third of Middle Eastern ancestry.

Southern California has for half a century been a region which welcomes, benefits from, and is in many ways defined by diversity. Since 1965, Los Angeles has attracted more Muslim immigrants than any other American city. Prominent Muslims born in, raised in, or who at one time lived in Southern California include Abou El Fadl (academic), Ahmed Zewail (scientist), Amir Hussain (academic), Ayman Mohyeldin (journalist), Edina Lekovic (public figure), Hassan Hathout (doctor/professor), Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (athlete), Kamran Pasha (novelist), Kenneth Hsien-yung Pai (writer), Khaled Hosseini (author), Ma Hongkui (warlord), Mike Tyson (athlete), Mohamed A. El-Erian (businessman), Muhammad Ali (athlete), Reza Aslan (scholar), Safi Qureshey (businessman), Shaquille O’Neal (athlete), Sadullah Khan (public figure), Sayed Hassan Al-Qazwini (imam), Sherman Jackson (scholar), and Wallace Fard Muhammad (co-founder of the Nation of Islam).

Over half a century, Southern California has witnessed a handful of heinous crimes carried out by self-identified Muslims including Anwar al-Awlaki, Hasan Karim Akbar, Hesham Mohamed Hadayet, John Walker Lindh, Sirhan Sirhan, and Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik. Far more often, however, Muslims (and those wrongly perceived as Muslims) have been the targets rather than perpetrators of hate crimes. Masjid Omar Ibn Khattab has been burglarized, had its windows smashed, and been graffitied with swastikas. In the aftermath of the September 11 attacks, Frank Roque shot a Sikh gas station attendant Balbir Singh Sodhi five times, killing him. Agoura Hills resident Mark Feigin recently threatened a “Columbine-style” attack on a local mosque which he defaced. An Islamic school received threats that everyone on the premises would be shot. A middle school in Lake Balboa was tagged with anti-Islamic expletives. An Iraqi-Angeleno was recently beaten by a man and told, “Go back to your country.” In Chatsworth, a man’s motorcycle was defaced with anti-Arab language. In 2012, Nakoula Basseley Nakoula’s film, Innocence of Muslims sparked global controversy and inflamed inter-ethnic tensions, despite its cartoonish ineptness. Since the election of Donald Trump, the entire nation has witnessed a spike in hate crimes, including many against Muslims and suspected Muslims. It’s my own belief, however, that we are a less bigoted nation than at any time in the past, but that the least bold amongst us have been sufficiently emboldened to act on their bigotry by the election of a man who has pledged to ban all Muslims from entering the country. 

Pioneer Boulevard (Little India)

Los Angeles is not Trump’s America, though. The Los Angeles area is home to several ethnic enclaves with ties in countries with large Muslim populations. Although every major faith is represented in India and Hindu is practiced by 80% of the population, with 170 million Muslims, it’s also home to one of the largest Muslim populations in the world. Its mostly Muslim neighbors, Bangladesh and Pakistan, were part of the country until the Partition of India and Pakistan (Bangladesh was formerly East Pakistan) in 1947. The seeds of Little India were planted in 1970, when Los Angeles’s first Indian grocery store, Selecto Spices, moved from Hollywood to Artesia. In the 1980s, various Indian restaurants sprang up around it and people began referring to the strip along Pioneer Boulevard as Little India. Today, there are Hindu-operated Indian restaurants representing various regions as well as Bangla, Kashmiri, Pakistani-owned establishments.

3rd Street (Little Bangladesh)

Bangladesh is a country with a population which is 87% Muslim. Banglas began settling in the area of what’s now Little Bangladesh in the late 1960s. The Los Angeles Bangladesh Association was created in 1971, the same year the Bangladeshi Liberation War broke out. Bangla immigration peaked in 1991. Little Bangladesh was granted official recognition in 2010 but aside from an annual parade, there’s few obvious indications of the Bangla presence in the tiny neighborhood, centered along 3rd Street. Open your eyes and ears, however, and you’ll notice the markets, shops, restaurants, and women wearing saris.

Westwood Boulevard (Tehrangeles)

A wave of Iranians emigrated to Los Angeles immediately leading up to and following the overthrow of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi and the Iranian Revolution of 1979. The 1980-1988 war with Iraq impelled more Iranians (mainly middle and upper class and also including Bahá’í, Christians, Jews, and Zoroastrians) to move to Los Angeles, now home to the largest population of Iranians outside of Iran. By the mid-1990s, the portmanteau “Tehrangeles” was applied both to the greater Iranian-Angeleno diaspora, and increasingly, a short stretch of Westwood Boulevard, which began to emerge as a Persian business corridor in 1974.

Little Arabia Plaza (Little Arabia)

A common misperception is that all Arab-Americans are Muslim and that most Muslims are Arabs. In fact, approximately 63% of Arab-Americans are Christian (35% Catholic, 18% Orthodox, 10% Protestant), whereas roughly 24% are Muslim. Little Arabia began to emerge in West Anaheim in the 1980s, when Arab homebuyers and business people were drawn to the blighted area by cheap real estate and ample room for improvement. In 1996, Lebanese Ahmad Alam and other Arabs helped establish the Arab American Council. That same year the Arab World Newspaper began publishing from offices in the Alam-owned Brookhurst Plaza, and a Palestinian couple from Nazareth opened Kareem Mediterranean Restaurant, today the oldest-extant Arabic restaurant in the neighborhood. In 2014, Little Arabia was finally granted official recognition.

Although there are strict guidelines in Islam specifying which foods are halāl (حَلَال “lawful”) and which are harām (حَرَامْ “unlawful”), there is no single Islamic Cuisine. According to the Quran, the only explicitly forbidden foods are meat from carrion, blood, pigs, animals dedicated to a god other than God, and alcoholic beverages. The principal of dhabīḥah (ذَبِيْحَة) prescribes the method of animal slaughter, requiring it be slaughtered while mentioning the name of God, that it be killed quickly with a sharpened blade, and that it neither see the blade nor smell the blood of a previous slaughter.

Due to the spread of Islam, the cuisine eaten by Muslims draws upon many culinary traditions, including those of the Middle East, North Africa, Central Asia, Eastern Europe, South Asia, Southeast Asia, and elsewhere. In the Los Angeles area, it can be difficult to easily ascertain which restaurants have halāl menus and which do not. There are Arab restaurants operated by Christians, Persian restaurants operated by Jews, &c. On the other hand, there are restaurants with halāl food which might come as a surprise, including Chinese, Burmese, and Thai Muslim-operated restaurants, and halāl Sizzler in Anaheim. So, although I’ve done my best here to list local restaurants serving halāl food, please double check before visiting.

Kareem — a Palestinian restaurant established in 1996

Afghan Kabob House (Afghani, Beverly Hills), Al-Watan Halal Restaurant (Indian-Pakistani, Hawthorne), Al Wazir Chicken (Middle Eastern), Barn Rau Thai Halal Cuisine (Thai, North Hollywood), Aldewaniah Restaurant (Middle Eastern, South Central), Almaza (Mediterranean, Palms), Apey Kade (Sri Lankan, Tarzana), Banadir Somali Restaurant (Somali, Inglewood), Beverly Chicken (Lebanese, East Hollywood), Biriyani Kabob House (Bangla, Little Bangladesh), China Islamic Restaurant (Chinese, Rosemead), Flame Persian Cuisine (Iranian/Persian, Tehrangeles), The Halal Guys (Koreatown), Hayat’s Kitchen (Lebanese, North Hollywood), Heidar Baba (Iranian/Persian, Pasadena), India’s Restaurant (Indian, Sunset Junctions), Jasmine Market (Burmese-Indian, Culver City), Javan Restaurant (Iranian/Persian, Sawtelle), Joe’s Falafel (Mediterranean, Studio City), Kabab Grill (Mediterranean, Palms), Kruang Tedd Restaurant (Thai, Thai Town), Lemongrass Thai Halal Restaurant (Thai, Canoga Park), Les Amis Restaurant (Mediterranean, Fullerton), Mama’s Secret Cafe (Turkish, Beverly Grove), Mas’ Chinese Islamic Restaurant (Uyghur, Chinese), Moun Of Tunis Restaurant (Tunisian, Hollywood), Mr. Kebap (Turkish, Fountain Valley), Mutiara Food & Market (Burmese-Malaysian, Inglewood), Omar’s Xinjiang Halal (Uyghur, San Gabriel), Open Sesame (Mediterranean, Fairfax), Paros Chicken (Mediterranean, Little Armenia), Pita Bar & Grill (Mediterranean, Fairfax), S Gyro & Kabob House (Afghan, Reseda), Shah-Abbas (Iranian/Persian, Beverly Grove), Shamshiri Grill (Iranian/Persian, Tehrangeles), Shayan Express Restaurant (Mediterranean, The Fashion District), Sultani Restaurant (Iranian/Persian, Hollywood), Sunnin Lebanese Cafe (Lebanese, Santa Monica and Tehrangeles), Tarboosh Middle East Kitchen (Middle Eastern, Koreatown), and Zam Zam Market (Pakistani, Culver City).

Desserts at Kunafa King, inside Fresh Choice Marketplace

There are numerous halāl markets, including A & S Market (Palms), Bangla Bazar & Restaurant (Little Bangladesh), Family Halal Meat Market (Northridge), Fatima’s Halal Meat Market (Bell), West LA International Market (Palms), Super King Markets (multiple locations), and Swadesh (Little Bangladesh). As with the restaurants, please make sure before visiting that they’re in fact halāl if that is important to you.

Islamic music is the religious music performed in public services or private devotions throughout the Islamic world. As such it includes the varied, multi-ethnic traditions of Anatolia, Arabia, Central Asia, the Horn of Africa, Iberia, the Levant, the Maghreb, Persia, South Asia, Southeast Asia, West Africa, and elsewhere. Islamic musicians include performers of both religious and secular music, who happen to be Islamic.

Los Angeles concert venues have hosted numerous Islamic performers including A. R. Rahman, Alam Lohar, Junaid Jamshed, Maher Zain, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Rahat Fateh Ali Khan, Richard Thompson, Salif Keita, Yasiin Bey (fka Mos Def), Yusuf Islam (fka Cat Stevens), Zain Bhikha, and many others. There are also numerous Muslim musicians born, raised, or at one time based-in the Los Angeles area, including Abu Nurah, Akon, B.G. Knocc Out, Chali 2Na, EverlastIce Cube, Janet Jackson, Jermaine Jackson, MC Ren, Napoleon, and Omar Offendum. Rapper Snoop Dogg formerly identified as Muslim, but in more recent years has flirted, at least superficially, with Rastafari.

Image: Nanette Gonzalez

Local DJ collective Discotan is led by Hyderabad-born Aruna Irani (real name Arshia Haq). Monthly, she and fellow DJs David Gomez and Jeremy Loudenback (and formerly Sasha Ali and Kirk Gee) spin a mix of music from Asia and Africa at Footsies, a bar in Cypress Park. The selections are retro-leaning and mostly taken from the culturally Islamic MENASA (Middle East, North Africa, South Asia) region.

Kasem in Detroit, 1957

Legendary disc jockey and voice actor Casey Kasem was born Kemal Amen Kasem on 27 April 1932. He was was also a committed activist on behalf of animals and Arabs. His parents were Druze immigrants from Lebanon, who moved to Detroit, where Kasem was born, and where they worked as grocers. Although a monotheistic and Abrahamic religion, Druze is sometimes considered separate from Islam, as it also incorporates the teachings of Hamza ibn ‘Alī ibn Aḥmad, al-Ḥākim bi-Amr Allāh, Akhenaten, Aristotle, Plato, and Socrates.

After getting his start in radio at Wayne State University, Kasem worked in radio in various American cities as well as the Armed Forces Radio Korea Network. In 1963, Kasem joined KRLA in Los Angeles, where he was a champion of the Eastside’s music scene. Kasem hosted the weekly radio program, American Top 40, from 1970 until his retirement in 2009 (with a hiatus from 1998 to 2004, when he hosted Casey’s Top 40, Casey’s Hot 20, and Casey’s Countdown). In 1991, outtakes from American Top 40 were incorporated into the song “U2” by San Fransisco’s Negativeland.

He was also the voice of Norville “Shaggy” Rogers in the animated Scooby-Doo franchise from 1969-1995. A committed vegan, he quit Scooby-Doo for refusing to promote, as shaggy, the fast food chain Burger King in a commercial. He returned from 2002-2009 on the condition that Shaggy was explicitly identified as a vegetarian. He was also the voice of Peter Cottontail in the Rankin/Bass production of Here Comes Peter Cottontail, Robin on Super Friends, Mark on Battle of the Planets, and many others. He voiced several characters on Transformers but again quit out of principal, in that occasion over what he saw as the series’s racist depictions of Arabs, such as with Abdul Fakkadi, King of Carbombya. Kasem died, aged 82, on 15 June 2014.

It’s no secret that the Hollywood film industry has a pretty sorry history of depicting Islam and Muslims. According to the New York Times, the Los Angeles area is home to an estimated 500,000 Muslims, making it the second largest concentration after New York City’s, and rare is the occasion in which a Muslim character appears in a film or television series set in Los Angeles. When they do, the plot is almost always predictably centered on terrorism. The Islamophobia of Hollywood is the subject of Sut Jhally’s compelling 2006 documentary, Reel Bad Arabs: How Hollywood Vilifies a People.

Bravo’s “reality” series, Shahs of Sunset, which debuted in 2012, follows a group of Iranian-Americans living in and around Beverly Hills. Although not all of the characters are Muslim, by portraying Middle Easterners not involved in terrorism, and in one case, gay, it has been purported reverse some of the prevalent negative stereotypes of Muslims and Middle Easterners. In my opinion, however, any positivity is completely outweighed by the show’s furtherance of the widespread stereotype of Iranian-Americans (and Westsiders) as vulgar, vacuous, materialistic, unsophisticated, and unproductive.

Meanwhile, there are (or have been) a few actors, comedians, writers, producers, and directors based in Los Angeles, who happen to be Muslim (or culturally Muslim), and making a career in Hollywood. To name but a few: Ahmed Ahmed, Azita Ghanizada, Faran Tahir, Hasan Minhaj, Iqbal Theba, Isaiah Mustafa, Lewis Arquette, Maz Jobrani, Mara Brock Akil, Moustapha Akkad, Rizwan Manji, Shohreh Aghdashloo, and Zahra Noorbakhsh.

Calpet Super Station (Image: Los Angeles Conservancy)

Islamic architecture encompasses a wide range of styles beginning with the foundation of Islam in the 7th Century. Its architectural influences include Byzantine, Chinese, Indian, Mesopotamian, Persian, Roman, and other cultures conquered by Muslims. Important features include courtyards, domes, gardens, hypostyles, minarets, muqarnas, and various ornamental forms. The most obvious examples of Islamic architecture are in the world’s mosques but in the first half of the 20th century, there were no mosques in Los Angeles and Islamic architecture was simply another fantasy revival style along with Spanish Colonial, Dutch Colonial, French Renaissance, Mayan, Mediterranean, Tudor, and others.

(ca. 1932) View showing the Calmos Union 76 Service Station complete with three domes and two minarets located on the S/E corner of North Alexandria Ave and Hollywood Blvd. Note the tracks on Hollywood Boulevard. (Image: Water and Power Associates)

I recognize the influence of Islamic architecture all over Los Angeles. There are two that I catch sight of all the time. On San Jacinto Street in Silver Lake, there’s a home built in 1935 which sports minarets and a dome. At 4968 Hollywood Boulevard, there’s small shopping center built in 1925, also with minarets. The former Calmos Union 76 used to have a domed building which was long ago demolished, presumably to make more room for parking spots. Although not meant specifically to evoke the Islamic world, the non-native palms which so many people accept as both emblematic of and intrinsic to Los Angeles, were initially planted by Spanish missionaries to evoke the Holy Land. The Orientalism of the 19th Century also played up the palms’ Near East associations, and they continued to be planted in order to suggest an oasis city on the edge of a not-quite-desert. That Orientalism was part of a larger exoticism and even when inspired by the Near and Middle East, the architecture also included pre-Islamic inspirations, as evinced by Ancient Egyptian-inspired cinemas and the ziggurat-topped Los Angeles City Hall.

The Lincoln Theater

More celebrated examples of Islamic-inspired architecture include (or included) the Beverly Theatre (Lewis A. Smith, 1925, Beverly Hills — DEMOLISHED), Shrine Auditorium (John C. Austin, G. Albert Lansburgh, and Abram M. Edelman, 1926, University Park), Lincoln Theatre (John Paxton Perrine, 1927, Central-Alameda), Calpet Super Station (Roland E. Coate, 1927, Santa Monica – DEMOLISHED), the Tower Theatre (S. Charles Lee, 1927, Broadway Theater District), Beverly Hills Waterworks Building (Arthur Taylor, 1928, Beverly Hills), Catalina Casino (David Malcolm Renton, 1929, Avalon), and Crossroads of the World (Robert V. Derrah, Hollywood, 1936).

Islamic Center of Southern California (source: unknown)

Authentic Islamic architecture didn’t exist in Los Angeles until the mid-20th Century. The Islamic Center of Southern California was founded in 1952, in Wilshire Center, and was the first mosque in Los Angeles. It was followed by the Masjid ul Islam, founded in 1971. Likely the most eye-catching local mosque is Masjid Umar Ibn Al-Khattab, built in Exposition Park in 1994.

Expo -Vermont -- Masjid Omar Ibn Al-Khattab mosque2-thumb-600x381-30492
Masjid Umar Ibn Al-Khattab

The Nation of Islam is a religious and political movement, founded in Detroit by Wallace D. Fard Muhammad on 4 July 1930. It differs from traditional Islam, teaching that founder W. Fard Muhammad was both the Messiah of Judaism and the Mahdi of Islam. There is also a unique cosmology which teaches that American blacks are descendants of the Asian black nation and of the tribe of Shabazz whereas white people are a race of devils created by a scientist named Yakub on the island of Patmos. Fard was possibly an Afghan-American, although little of certainty about his life is known. He is believed to have lived in Los Angeles prior to moving to Detroit where he was involved with an earlier black political movement rooted in Islam, the Moorish Science Temple, founded in Newark, New Jersey in 1913.


The Nation of Islam’s Temple No. 27 was founded in Los Angeles by Elijah Muhammad in 1954. It was the first Nation of Islam mosque in Los Angeles (and was located at 5606 Broadway). On April 1962, seven unarmed Nation of Islam members (including Korean War veteran Ronald Stokes) were shot by Los Angeles police who raided the temple. William X Rogers was shot and paralyzed for life. Korean War veteran Ronald Stokes was shot in the back whilst surrendering and killed. A coroner’s inquest determined that Stokes’s death was “justifiable” and a number of Muslims were actually indicted. Many have subsequently pointed to the incident as one of the catalysts of the Watts Uprising of 1965.

Masjid Bilal Islamic Center (source: unknown)

In the intervening years, the relationship between Los Angeles and the NOI have grown more cooperative. In 1972, the University of Islam (now the Masjid Bilal Islamic Center) was founded on South Central Avenue. The intersection of South Central Avenue and East 41st Street is now designated Imam Abdul Karim Hasan Square, after the first minister at Temple No. 27. Not far away, the intersection of East Martin Luther King Jr Boulevard and South Central Avenue is designated Malcolm X Square — although it should be noted that both intersections, like most of the city’s official squares, isn’t a square in the accepted, meaningful sense.

Los Angeles also includes a much larger population of traditional Muslims and is home to over 120 mosques. As that’s too many to name individually, I will only list some of the area’s main Muslim organizations: Az-Zahra Islamic Center, Council on American-Islamic Relations, Islamic Center of Irvine, Islamic Circle of North America, Greater Los Angeles, Islamic Relief USA, Islamic Shura Council of Southern California, Islamic Society of Orange County, Islamic Weekend School, Lariba Finance House, Muslim Public Affairs Council, Muslim Students Association at UCLA, Muslims for Progressive Values, Nigerian Muslim Association Of Southern California, Sri Lanka Muslim Association of California, University Muslim Medical Association, and the USC Muslims Student Union.

Image: Young Portuguese by Reza Abbasi, 1634

Islamic art encompasses the visual arts produced by people who lived within the vast territory ruled by culturally Islamic populations, from the 7th century to the present. Islamic art is not at all restricted to religious art, but encompasses the art of the varied cultures of Islamic societies. There is representative art, like the Persian miniatures of the great Reza Abbasi and others. More common, however, is non-representative art which blurs the lines between art, design, and architecture, including calligraphic decorations, glassware, pottery, tiles, carpets, woodwork, and more.

Image: George Awde, selection from Untitled, series of 24 inkjet prints, 30″x 37″, 2007-2014

The Los Angeles / Islam Arts Initiative (LA/IAI) is a citywide initiative focused on producing and presenting discussions, exhibitions, panels, and performances which represent contemporary and traditional Islamic art. Two of its programs produced thus far include Doris Duke’s Shangri La: Architecture, Landscape, and Islamic Art and Shangri La: Imagined Cities, both exhibited at the Department of Cultural AffairsLos Angeles Municipal Art Gallery at Barnsdall Art Park in 2014.

Fig. 64 Reclining Odalisque, from the Les Femme du Maroc series

From 1 February 2015–3 January 2016, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art featured an Islamic art exhibition titled Islamic Art Now: Contemporary Art of the Middle East. As the name emphatically made clear, the focus was not on traditional Islamic art but rather contemporary art by artists from the Arab and Persian world, including Barbad Golshiri, Hassan Hajjaj, Lalla Essaydi, Mitra Tabrizian, Mona Hatoum, Shirin Neshat, Susan Hefuna, Wafaa Bilal, and Youssef Nabil.

Arab American Day Festival Orange County

There are two official holidays in Islam, Eid Al-Fitr and Eid Al-Adha. The former celebration marks the end of Ramadan. Eid Al-Adha is celebrated on the tenth day of Dhu al-Hijjah and lasts for four days. Both are celebrated by the region’s Muslims. Arab American Day Festival Orange County has been celebrated most years in September since its establishment in 1996. Muhammad Ali Day has been declared several times, most recently in 2002 on his birthday, 17 January. Los Angeles observes the month of July as Los Angeles Muslim American Heritage Month.

Image: Fitzgerald Whitney (Los Angeles Times Archive / UCLA)


Susan Ji Young Park’s “10 Best Halal Dishes in Los Angeles (2013)

Edward E. Curtis’s Encyclopedia of Muslim-American History (2010)

As always, corrections and additions are encouraged. Please leave comments and I will do my best to incorporate them and credit you, if desired.


Eric Brightwell is an adventurer, writer, rambler, explorer, cartographer, and guerrilla gardener who is always seeking writing, speaking, traveling, and art opportunities — or salaried work. He is not interested in writing advertorials, clickbait, listicles, or other 21st century variations of spam.

Brightwell has written for Angel Walk LAAmoeblogBoom: A Journal of California,diaCRITICS, Hidden Los Angeles, and KCET Departures. His art has been featured by the American Institute of Architects, the Architecture & Design Museum, the Craft & Folk Art MuseumForm Follows FunctionLos Angeles County Store, the bookSidewalkingSkid Row Housing Trust, and 1650 Gallery.

Brightwell has been featured as subject in The Los Angeles TimesHuffington PostLos Angeles MagazineLAistEastsider LABoing BoingLos Angeles, I’m Yours, and on Notebook on Cities and Culture. He has been a guest speaker on KCRWWhich Way, LA? and at Emerson College.

Art prints of Brightwell’s maps are available from 1650 Gallery and on various products from Cal31.

He is currently writing a book about Los Angeles and you can follow him on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter.

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5 thoughts on “No Enclave — Exploring Islamic Los Angeles

  1. Great review, surprisingly enough the south east cities host a sizable Lebanese [Muslim] population, mostly in the city of Bell. Along gage avenue, beginning at the river and moving west, you have a mosque/Islamic center (5250 E Gage), al hadi islamic school (5150 gage), a martial arts studio, El Hussein Community center (4313 gage) a youth center (4201 gage), and various other establishments like Cedar Halal market (4846 E Florence) and World Famous Grill(4143 Florence). In neighboring Maywood you have Bab-Ul-Ilm Islamic center and a highly rated (per yelp) halal pizzeria, BIG AL’s Pizza (atlantic blvd). The muslims of the south east have been living in the area for 40 plus years, without incident. They intermingle and are often very fluent in Spanish. The only way you will know they are there is by seeing the women/girls in their hijabs, otherwise they blend in with the latinos. Even the Mayor of Bell is Muslim (who also speaks Spanish)!

    Liked by 1 person

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