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Reunion gets Islam familiar on Whidbey

Top: Farooq and Leah Jaswal, possibly the only followers of Islam living on Whidbey Island, say they have found the community to be welcoming. The Jaswals plan to become fulltime residents of Whidbey;Below: Two Sunni Muslim women converse at the central Whidbey home of Farooq and Leah Jaswal of Bellevue. - Marcie Miller
Top: Farooq and Leah Jaswal, possibly the only followers of Islam living on Whidbey Island, say they have found the community to be welcoming. The Jaswals plan to become fulltime residents of Whidbey;Below: Two Sunni Muslim women converse at the central Whidbey home of Farooq and Leah Jaswal of Bellevue.
— image credit: Marcie Miller

Most islanders don't feel the need to alert local law enforcement and the state ferry system when friends are coming for a visit, but Leah Jaswal thought it was prudent to do so last weekend.

On March 30, Jaswal and her husband, Farooq, held a reunion at their Keystone beach house of a group of Muslims who went on the Hajj, a holy pilgrimage to Mecca, in February.

Many of the couple's guests were coming from the Seattle area, and Leah Jaswal feared a group of 30 to 40 Sunni Muslims dressed in traditional Middle Eastern garb boarding ferries to Whidbey Island might cause a stir on the normally uneventful crossing. So she alerted the Washington State Patrol. The information was also passed on to Whidbey Island law enforcement agencies.

Due perhaps in part to that warning, the crossings were uneventful for the Jaswal's guests. But the reunion was -- just as the Jaswals had planned.

As they arrived at the Jaswal home, Leah Jaswal greeted every new arrival with a hug and the words "Asalaam alicum." They replied, "Walicum salaam." Translated, both mean "Peace be with you."

Soon, the reunion turned into a typical Whidbey Island gathering of friends and family. On a rare, windless, sunny Sunday on Keystone beach, uncles and brothers sat in groups on driftwood, discussing work, family and world politics. A few kneeled on a cloth-covered concrete deck, facing east. Two young city boys industriously gathered beach rocks while their patient father held a potato chip bag turned treasure chest.

A jumble of shoes, from red leather sandals to L.L. Bean moccasins, lay outside the door of the Jaswals' beach house. Inside, aunts and sisters sipped chai or orange soda while they prepared food, looked at a photo album from the Hajj, or just admired the panoramic view over Admiralty Inlet.

The group was led on the Hajj by Imam Mohammed Joban. Joban achieved national attention last month when two Washington state representatives walked out on his Islamic prayer to open a session of the state House of Representatives.

At a time when Muslims are being "profiled" in the name of homeland security and mosques are sometimes the targets of hate crimes, the group gathered at the Jaswal home wanted others to know one thing:

"We are just like you," Farooq Jaswal said. "We want the same things as you. We want to live in peace."

The Jaswals are one of the few, perhaps the only, Sunni Muslim couples or families living on Whidbey Island. They live part time on the island and hope to sell or rent their home in Bellevue to live here full time. They have been active in the community: many in Coupeville will remember seeing their red 1969 convertible Cadillac in the 2001 Memorial Day Parade carrying the mayor and NAS Whidbey base commander.

Imam Joban, who was at last week's reunion, noted that although Islam is one of the fastest growing religions in the United States, it does not "recruit" followers.

"We don't force Islam on others," he said. "There are no Muslim missionaries."

According to the U.S. Department of State, America's Muslim population is expected to surpass the Jewish population by the year 2010, making it the nation's second-largest faith after Christianity. The State Department estimates the U.S. Muslim population at between 4 and 8 million. There are nearly 2,000 mosques nationwide.

The Islamic cleric said Muslims and Christians worship the same God, and that the Islamic holy book, the Quran, in an extension of the Bible.

While last week's reunion may have attracted attention on Whidbey Island, the Jaswals say they have not had any negative experiences.

"Most people are just curious," Farooq Jaswal said. "When they get to know us, they see we are not so different."

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