On the morning of 9/11, Saratoga resident Razi Mohiuddin woke up to his radio alarm clock with reports of the World Trade Center terror strike.
As the news unfolded in the aftermath of the attacks, he saw his religion under attack as well. A wave of Islamaphobia began sweeping across the nation as pundits blamed al-Qaeda.
"We had to define ourselves, rather than let someone else define what we stood for," he said.
"We as a community had come to realize that an entire religion was being blamed," he said. "We had to do something to counter that."
They could no longer stay silent. Before then, Mohiuddin said he didn't talk about his religion to his co-workers or neighbors. And he wasn't alone.
"People around us did not know what our faith was or what it meant to us," he said. "9/11 forced us to be much more open about our faith."
A turning point
9/11 marked a turning point for Mohiuddin. He began taking up a much more active role in his religious community.
Before he helped open the West Valley Muslim Association prayer center near the Saratoga-Cupertino border, he belonged to the Muslim Community Association with CAIR San Francisco Bay Area Vice President, Athar Siddiqee.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations encouraged mosques to reach out to the public through open houses. Part of the effort was to clear up any misconceptions that they condoned the actions of the hijackers.
"Nothing in our faith would advocate this horrible action," said Siddiqee. But the average guy on the street who had never interacted with anyone Muslim may have very well believed it, he said.
"It was the most horrible of wake up calls, but it was a wake up call nonetheless," said Siddiqee, a Sunnyvale resident.
But it wasn't going to be easy to open the mosque doors to the public in the wake of 9/11.
Out of fear of being targeted and harassed, MCA temporarily closed the Granada School, which offers pre-kindergarten to eighth grade in Santa Clara.
As the Friday after 9/11 approached, mosque attendees grew worried.
"Friday is our congregation prayer," said Mohiuddin, similar to Sunday for Christians.
They requested the City of Santa Clara Police Department and FBI to provide protection. There were uniformed and undercover police officers in the area.
With 1,000 to 1,500 attendees coming to Friday prayers in the afternoon, he said, the mosque would have been an easy target for revenge.
A new custom of open houses
The Muslim Community Association in Santa Clara organized its first open houses within three or four weeks of the attacks. They placed ads in the San Jose Mercury News.
"Our fears were turned into a sense of relief," said Mohiuddin.
Thousands of people showed up at that time, he said, including leaders from other denominations such as pastors, deacons and rabbis.
The open houses were not only a mechanism to inform others, they were tremendously helpful in alleviating some of the fears in the Muslim community as well, he said.
The first part of the open house was a presentation on what Islam is and what Muslims are. Following the presentation, participants took a tour of facility.
The purpose was to demystify what people do in the mosque, and to clear up misconceptions about Islam and Muslims.
A more intimate question-and-answer session involved breaking bread at the dinner table in small groups of 10.
Today, the open houses continue at the MCA around Ramadan, as well as the West Valley Muslim Association where Mohiuddin serves on the board, and the South Bay Islamic Association where Siddiqee is president.
At the last open house at West Valley Muslim Association the guests included: Assemblymember Paul Fong, Cupertino Mayor Gilbert Wong and Vice Mayor Stan Mareno, Saratoga Mayor Howard Miller and City Manager Dave Anderson.
For the South Bay Muslim Association in San Jose, guests included: San Jose Police Chief Chris Moore, President of the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors Dave Cortese and wife Pattie, county District Attorney Jeff Rosen, San Jose councilmembers Ash Kalra, Sam Liccardo and Kansen Chu.