Growing up, Reza Nekumanesh’s Iranian-American family wasn’t particularly religious. But he was told he was Muslim, which he understood to mean one thing: he didn’t eat pork. Basically, he was like any other kid who’s told he is Muslim, Christian, Jewish, or any other faith. It all boiled down to what was required or restricted. Now the director of the Islamic Cultural Center of Fresno, Nekumanesh spent the years since childhood studying religion — all religions — to come to a more complete understanding of his own faith.
It’s not everyone who can say that studying other religions is what helped them understand their own faith. But that’s what Nekumanesh says brought him closer to Islam. If he could go to school forever and keep studying religion, he would. Instead, Nekumanesh has turned the world around him into his classroom, and has kept studying. He is on the board of directors of Faith in Community, a group of inter-faith leaders in the Valley working for social justice, and also is involved with the Human Rights Coalition of the Central Valley.
As director of the ICCF for the past two years (and a parishioner since the center opened 15 years ago), Nekumanesh says the center is not only a place of worship for Muslims in Fresno, but a place of learning, for Muslims and non-Muslims alike. It’s a place that encourages inter-faith cooperation and dialogue, and opens its doors to anyone with questions about the Muslim faith. The center’s openness is captured in a sign that hangs there, which reads: “Come as you are, go as you are. No one here will try to change you.”
Except that you might leave with a better understanding of yourself or someone else.
Here, Nekumanesh talks about his academic approach to religion, what he considers to be the most beautiful part of Islam, and the important work the ICCF is doing in the community.