TWIN FALLS • One recent Friday, men took off their shoes and placed them in a shoe organizer near the entrance of the Islamic Center of Twin Falls.
They walked across green carpet into an area no bigger than a living room and paused, facing northeast toward Islam’s holiest city, Mecca. Several kneeled, heads bowed, while others sat in front of their imam, Bakhritdin Yusupov.
The room quickly filled until four lines formed before Yusupov. As many as 60 men gather to pray in this room on Fridays. In many countries, Muslims get Fridays off from work to go to their mosque, much as Christians have Sundays off to attend church.
Women also use the Twin Falls mosque, but jumu’ah, or Friday prayers, are required only of men. Sometimes the mosque is so crowded that people stand outside the door.
On Dec. 9, members of the Islamic Center of Twin Falls applied for a special use permit to expand and erect a new building on their site at 455 Addison Ave. The permit was approved the same day.
The next step is to get a building permit. But the nonprofit might need two or three years to raise $200,000 to build its 2,500-square-foot structure, said Imad Eujayl, center spokesman.
Recent terrorist attacks in Paris, Belgium and elsewhere have drawn much attention to Muslims, and stereotypes abound.
Indeed, two Muslims who frequent the Islamic Center here declined to be identified in the Times-News, saying public knowledge of their religion could hurt their business.
But many others said they feel secure in Twin Falls, a city noted for its Refugee Center and constant influx of foreign immigrants. An estimated 1,000 Muslims live in the Magic Valley.
One of their priorities is to enlighten others about the true meaning of Islam.
When Said and Cherif Kouachi stormed the Paris offices of the satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo on Jan. 7, killing 12 people, the retaliatory act over a caricature of Muhammad “had nothing to do with Islam,” Eujayl said.
“These people are using Islam the wrong way. They are criminals. They are hurting Islam.”
A Yemen-based branch of al Qaeda is claiming responsibility for that attack, as are supporters of the Islamic State, CBS News reported Wednesday.
Yet Islam teaches that if you kill one person, it’s like killing all of humanity, said Dzhumali Yusupov, a 17-year-old junior at Canyon Ridge High School.
In 2011, shortly before the 10th anniversary of 9/11, someone desecrated the local center, spray-painting a swastika on the building.
Local Muslims want their new center to be a place where people can visit and learn about Islam. If an elementary school is learning about Muslims, the center could serve as an educational site, Eujayl said.
“Knowledge is lacking. You really hope the Islamic Center of Twin Falls could play a role in educating the new generation,” he said.
Islam is the world’s second-largest religion, with an estimated 1.6 billion followers worldwide, reports the Pew Research Center. Although many people associate Islam with the Middle East or North Africa, 62 percent of Muslims live in the Asia-Pacific region, Pew says. Indonesia has the most, with 209 million.
Local Muslims have made presentations at Xavier Charter School, Magic Valley High School and the Magic Valley Unitarian Universalist Fellowship.
Eujayl was a guest speaker at the Magic Valley Arts Council in 2013, addressing cultural diversity in the community and Islam.
“They could learn proper lessons of Islam, not from the media, but from a Muslim,” Eujayl said.
Yusupov is so well-respected by local Muslims that they elected him their imam. He came to Twin Falls 14 years ago from Russia.
On Fridays, he first conducts a sermon in Turkish, then oversees the prayers in English so all can understand. Men come for the prayers, fellowship and to receive instruction from Yusupov.
The Quran, the holy book of Islam, was revealed to Muhammad in the 7th century in Mecca and Medina, Saudi Arabia, believers say. It teaches love of God and man and proper human conduct.
The Islamic Center serves as a mosque and a gathering place. About 20 children attend a two-hour Sunday school.
For the past two years, local Bosnian Muslims have gathered to remember more than 8,000 of their countrymen massacred by the Serbs at Srebrenica in 1995. Their remembrance of the genocide is held in a strip mall meeting room off Filer Avenue. The new Islamic Center will hold such events once it is built, Eujayl said.
Eujayl, who was born and raised in Al-Jazeera, Sudan, moved to the U.S. in 1999 and became a citizen in 2005. He has bachelor’s and master’s degrees in agri-science from the University of Al-Jazeera-Sudan and a Ph.D in plant molecular genetics from the University of Helsinki-Finland. Eujayl works in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s research center in Kimberly.
Dzhumali Yusupov, the high school junior, is from Russia. His family has been in Twin Falls for six years.
Dzhumali considers himself a student of Islam. He can read Arabic and is practicing how to speak it.
“I’m basic, I’m still learning,” he said. “Every time I go (to the center), there is something new. It’s in my heart when I learn it.”
He said he has been happy growing up in Twin Falls. Dzhumali said when he goes online, he often see videos of people talking about Muslims as killers. But Islam teaches peace, he said.
Dzhumali said he didn’t know much English when he first arrived, but he now works at Walmart and is on the Canyon Ridge varsity soccer team.
Besides school and work, he said, he spends most of his time at the mosque, including two hours of reading and praying each Saturday and Sunday.