Interview with Dr. Mustafa H. Kuko Director of the Islamic Center in Riverside, California:
I’m in charge of the administrative side. I take care of the community relations meaning we have different activities within the center and the individual accounts, family counseling, marriages, funerals. I also take care of our outreach program and relations within the Muslim community visiting schools, universities and the prison system. Whenever we get an invitation I respond to that and also it is part of my job to receive visitors on almost a daily basis both small groups and big groups which can mean as many as 400 people. That is my job and that side of it is to take care of the center meaning both the mosque and the school.
We have a fulltime Imam whose job is to lead the center. There are 5 daily services and I don’t usually lead the services except some times on Fridays because it is a weekly service and I sometimes need to deliver a message. Normally on Friday we get a guest speaker from outside such as Los Angeles or Orange County and sometimes out of state but sometimes I am the speaker even though it is not my job but that of the Imam.
I fell into this position as I have never been specifically trained for it. I went to school at USC until I finished my PHD in demography. My family background is however religious and I grew up in Sudan. My family was so religious that they took care of many mosques and I received so much from them and their background that aside from the education I got in school it was an education but I don’t have a degree in religious studies. I’ve been an advisor to the Ministry of Education in Saudi Arabia for 8 years and I’ve been a professor in Riyadh for 12 years.
When I came back to this country they asked me to take this job and I am one of 5 people who have done this since the center was established in 1979 here in Riverside. I ended up taking the job and I have been doing it for the past 13 years. I came to the United States in 1975 as a student at the University of Chicago and rom there I went to the University of Indiana where I got my masters degree. From Indiana and from there I came to California and got my PHD at USC. I did teac briefly at Indiana and then I got a job with Saudi Arabian Ministry of Higher Education to be in charge of the Saudi students in California, Oregon, Washington, Nevada, and Hawaii. In that position I was in charge of the affairs of the students and their relations for 8 years.
After that I moved to Saudi Arabia when I went there on vacation and ended up working for them for 12 years. All in all I’ve been in this country for 36 years. I’ve stayed here even during the time I spent in Saudi Arabia spending the summers here when the university closes down in June and go back in September.
Why am I in Riverside? That is a very good question. When I first came here as a student and I did a program and commuted daily I stayed here even when I went to UCLA I would wake up very early in the morning to commute however one of the reasons I was staying here because housing was much cheaper. When I finished I got an offer in Orange County and it was closer for me to live here rather than in Los Angeles so I stayed in Riverside. There was also the fact that my children were born in Riverside and went to school here. When I came back here from Saudi Arabia my daughter opted for UCR so we moved here and the rest of the family came to join her here.
When I came back the organization asked me to help take care of it because the director who was here before me resigned and got another job in Arizona so they didn’t have a director and asked me if I would take the position. I came to Riverside originally for school and I came back and actually I got an offer in Florida between Orlando and Tampa where they were establishing a center and an offer in Charlottesville, North Carolina but we preferred to come here and the brothers here said, “Well we need you here.” So I’ve been here since 1979.
I definitely interact with ministers of other faiths and I do it extensively. I visit the different churches in town and also in San Bernardino, Pomona valley and Orange County. I’m an active member of the ICUC (Inland Congregation United for Change). It is basically made out of ministers and I am active with the Riverside Clergy. Actually I have very good a very good alliance with the Jewish community and with the 2 local rabbis for the last 10 years. We discuss issues regarding interfaith and spend time together building bridges. As a result of that the three of us were selected as Champions of Justice in 2002 and given an award at the convention center. Even the community around us appreciates us. I’ve also been honored by the County of Riverside because of my efforts and last week I had a big group that was organized by a church in town and hosted them. I do all that.
I was several times hosted by media outlets like NPR to speak on issues of inter-church and this coming Sunday I have an invitation from a TV station in the Valley to speak on faith. It is a continuous thing.
The address for the Islamic Center is 1038 W. Linden Str, Riverside, California. Phone number for the office (951) 684-5466
Web site: http://www.islamiccenterofriverside.org/index.asp