When Mahmood Kauser was 3 years old, he moved with his family from New York into a farm-style house located on the property of the Baitul Hameed Mosque in Chino.
Now, at the age of 35, he has returned home to Chino as the new imam.
“I walked these hallways and played with my Hot Wheels in the dirt outside,” said Imam Kauser as he sat in his office inside the mosque at 11941 Ramona Ave. “All my schooling was here in Chino.”
His father, I.H. Kauser, moved the family from New York in 1990 to become the imam of the Chino mosque where he served for 14 years.
The farm-style house is no longer there after an electrical fire in 2003 destroyed most of the mosque but a new house was built which is now the home of the imam, his wife, Smreen and their three young daughters: Fatima who is 6; Airah who is 3; and Isbah who is 1.
“Airah is the same age I was when I came to Chino,” he said.
As a boy, he attended Newman Elementary School, Ramona Junior High School, just down the street from the mosque, and Don Lugo High School.
He was a freshman when the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks occurred which changed his life and pointed him in the direction of becoming a missionary.
“We were home when it happened,” he said. “My dad wouldn’t let us go to school and he closed the gate at the mosque.”
The imam said his dad felt the family and the entire mosque was in danger. But something happened that struck him to the core.
Several residents in the neighborhood approached the gate.
“My dad thought they were going to be aggressive, but the exact opposite happened,” he said.
“They told us to open the gate because they could not bear to drive past the mosque with a closed gate,” he said.
The imam explained that the gate to the mosque is always open as a sign of welcome to the community.
“It was very emotional for my family,” said the imam.
Another soul-stirring memory is when a fire erupted at the mosque two years later.
“We all watched the mosque burn and wondered what we would do next,” he said. “It was traumatic.”
Then, members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints knocked on the door and extended their hand.
“Our church is open to you,” they said.
Every Friday from that day until the mosque was repaired, members of the mosque prayed at the Mormon Church and a bond was formed that lasts to this day.
“That was the love they gave us,” he said.
“When I think of these memories, I am so blessed to return to this community that helped shape me and helped me to see things so differently,” he said.
When the family moved back to New York, he completed high school and entered the seminary in Toronto, Canada to complete a seven-year program in Ahmadiyya theology.
He said the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community is a sect of Islam that is not accepted by the majority of Muslims because of its doctrines, including the belief that founder Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, born in India in 1835, is the messiah predicted by the prophet Muhammad.
As a missionary, the imam can be called at any time to move to another location.
He has served in Africa, the Marshall Islands, Philadelphia, and New York.
His goals for the Chino mosque, which is the headquarters for the Los Angeles chapter, is getting membership back to pre-COVID times, connecting with neighbors, and building up the youth. “I’m looking forward to reaching out to Chino and Chino Hills,” he said. “I hope to run into my high school friends too.”
The imam has a special place in his heart for young people who are battling issues and temptations all day long.
“When I was in high school, I didn’t have this,” he said pointing to his cell phone. “It’s a treasure and a trap all in one.”
He said social media is causing depression in teens and suicide levels are going up.
“I want to give teens the reassurance they can come to the mosque and be themselves and be happy,” he said.
During a recent youth camp, he encouraged everybody to ask questions and offered them the opportunity to text the questions anonymously so they would not be judged.
“The energy he gives off is infectious,” said 20-year-old Mirza Ghulam Haseeb, a member of the mosque who plans to become a missionary because of the example shown to him by the imam.
“He shows so much love that everybody thinks he loves them the most,” Mr. Haseeb said. “He has unconditional love for everybody.”
The imam invites the community to attend a discussion group that is held at 7 p.m. every Thursday called “Real Talk on Islam.”
He hopes the community will find a comfortable environment to ask questions.
“I hope they see that the gate is wide open,” he said.