Most Viewed Stories
Mosque blaze changed community
WHAT: "An American Mosque," a documentary about Islam in America and the enduring belief in freedom of religion.
WHEN: 7 p.m. Feb. 2.
WHERE: Yuba College Theatre, 2088 North Beale Road, Linda.
WHAT: "Beard Story,"a documentary about the social politics of facial hair, will have its Central Valley premiere.
WHEN: 6 p.m. Feb. 1.
WHERE: Yuba Sutter Regional Arts Council's Lee Burrows Theater, 630 E St., Marysville.
SUGGESTED DONATION: $10.
PREVIOUS SCREENINGS: An "American Muslim" screened in 2012 at the Asian American International Film Festival (New York City); Montalvo Arts Center, Saratoga; Santa Cruz Film Festival; Sacramento Film Festival; Athens International Film & Video Festival (Ohio); Atlanta Film Festival and Cleveland Film Festival (World Premier).
Yuba City's Muslim population has grown to about 500 families since a few dozen men emigrated from the Punjab region of what was then India, to California. They scratched out a living in migrant farm work, and started buying their own land in Sutter County in the 1950s.
When a new, 12,000-square-foot mosque on Tierra Buena Road burned to the ground on Sept. 1, 1994, it was not investigated as a hate crime.
Images of planes flying into buildings had not yet been embedded in imaginations across the Western Hemisphere. The Department of Homeland Security had not yet been created.
"It was just a big fire," says David Washburn, producer and director of a half-hour documentary slated to run on KVIE, Sacramento's Public Broadcasting Service channel, later this year.
"An American Mosque" will screen at 7 p.m. Feb. 2 at Yuba College.
The film, which began production in 2008 and was completed in 2012, focuses on members of Yuba City's Pakistani farming community, their determination to build a place of worship and the fire's aftermath.
The mosque was rebuilt. But the way the community viewed itself as part of America's melting pot was permanently altered. Investigators in 1994 determined the mosque's destruction was the work of arsonists. No one was arrested.
"When you use a couple gallons of gasoline and douse carpets with it, you're intending to do some real damage," Washburn says. "It was obvious from the beginning that it was a hate crime, but people were shy about coming out and saying it."
Washburn, a Bay Area photographer and filmmaker, initially came upon the story when researching an earlier documentary project about Tierra Buena's Sikh community.
The mosque fire was of particular interest to him because of its context.
Yuba City's Muslim population has grown to about 500 families since a few dozen men emigrated from the Punjab region of what was then part of India, to California.
Here, they scratched out a living in migrant farm work, and started buying their own land in Sutter County in the 1950s.
Khalid Saeed is the grandson of one of those first pilgrims.
He donated five acres of what had had been his grandfather's farm, for the mosque site.
"I remember then not locking the doors and not being afraid that anything like this could happen to us," he says. "We were transparent. We didn't bother anybody and nobody bothered us."
Victor Krambo, a convert to Sufi Islam and member of the Tierra Buena mosque, says that in 1994, the reality of someone having targeted Yuba City's Muslim community was a shock.
"These guys are farmers," says Krambo, who, like Saeed, appears in the film. "If their skin was a little lighter, they'd be rednecks. They're good ol' boys, for crying out loud."
Saeed says the tragedy of the mosque fire had two significant effects.
"Up until that moment, we were very trusting. I remember not locking my doors," he says. But in the aftermath, security cameras and gates were installed throughout the community. "Every time a dog barks, we went outside to see what was going on. We never did that before."
The once retiring community, having suffered a public loss, would be surprised once again.
Attention in the wake of the fire brought an outpouring of support and sympathy from church groups and area residents who felt compelled to write letters and send donations to the mosque's leaders.
Some of the letters received during those weeks were read aloud as part of Washburn's film.
Interfaith and Cultural Council screening 2 films
The Yuba-Sutter Interfaith and Cultural Council is sponsoring two documentary film events featuring local subjects.
"Beard Club," about the social politics of facial hair, will make its Central Valley premiere Feb.1 at Marysville's Lee Burrows Theater.
"An American Mosque," which follows a group of Muslim farmers in Yuba City after their new local mosque is destroyed by arson, will screen Feb. 2 at the Yuba College Theater.
The interfaith council was recently resurrected in the wake of an August shooting in a Sikh temple outside suburban Milwaukee.
The group is made up of representatives from several local religious and cultural communities. They include Yuba City's Sikh and Muslim communities, Marysville's Jewish congregation and Episcopal and Lutheran churches in Marysville.
"We're a fairly diverse community," said Victor Krambo, a long-time member of the Islamic Center of Yuba City. "The immigrant communities are large and self-contained, but we have opportunities to learn, and we shouldn't waste them."
Krambo is one of several Yuba City area residents featured in "An American Mosque."
For "Beard Club," Bay Area filmmaker Laura J. Lukitsch interviewed ZZ Top, '60s activists, a bearded woman and a young Arab graphic novelist.
Her film also features Yuba City physician Jasbir Kang, whose story illustrates the social and political challenges faced by Sikhs who keep their traditional beards.
Lukitsch will be present for the screening and discussion afterward.
A suggested donation of $10 will go toward post-production costs so the film can be completed for TV broadcast and DVD.
In "An American Mosque," filmmaker David Washburn, also from the Bay Area, interviewed several members of Yuba City's thriving Muslim farming community.
Their mosque, on Tierra Buena Road north of the Sikh Temple, was rebuilt after a 1994 arson fire.
A 1947 partition now divides Punjab into Muslim Pakistan and the Punjab region of India, where the majority of that country's Sikh population lives.
But in Yuba City, the two groups speak the same language, and worship within a mile of each other.
Washburn will be present for the screening and discussion afterward.
The film events, and future YSICC events, are intended to foster understanding among local cultural groups, Krambo said.
"Politics has to get left at the door," he said. "The only hope is for people to get to know each other."
‘Themes that are universal’
In the current political climate, and especially in the wake of recent hate crimes elsewhere in the country, director David Washburn says the story of the mosque fire is as relevant as ever.
"There's a difference between a curious mindset and a suspicious one," Washburn says. "That's what this backlash about (President Barack) Obama is all about now."
He hopes a peek into the lives of the Yuba City Muslim community will register a sense of familiarity.
"I'm using themes that are universal, and the objective is for people to think about their own desire to practice freedom of religion."
Khalid Saeed, a grandson of one of the first pilgrims, says he too is hopeful that those who see the film will come away feeling they know a little, understand, and can identify with his community.
"Americans don't know what Islam is. They've only heard about the extremists," he says. "But there are extremists in every religion."