The Islamic Society of Orange County mosque in many ways reflects the prosperous heart of Southern California where it's located. As congregants waited for a guest imam to speak, grandmothers scolded noisy children and teenagers texted on their cell phones. Two teenage girls in the women's prayer room said their favorite pastime is shopping. Another teen called a friend, trying to convince her to dig through her closet for an abaya, a loose-fitting garment, and join her at the mosque for the fundraising talk and dinner. The women and teenagers wore abayas and hijabs, Muslim head coverings that reveal a woman's full face, while at least four women wore niqabs, which fully covered their faces.
Men and women who gathered were awaiting Siraj Wahhaj, a popular New York imam who arrived and spoke to hundreds of Muslims at Orange County's oldest and largest mosque. A convert to Islam known for his trademark white robes, Wahhaj personifies the challenges for Western law enforcement and other outsiders to the Muslim world—a complex and sought-after figure seen as nonviolent but who also has had ties to prominent terrorist figures.