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Mosque open houses combat negative Muslim stereotypes


04 12 18

 

 

By By Bill Murphy, April 12, 2018
 
When the Bear Creek Islamic Center recently held an open house, more than 100 Christians and residents living near the mosque were able to pose questions about whether Islam considers Jesus a God, fosters terrorism and views women as a lesser gender.

“People live with opinions formed from sound bites,” said Kate Sunday, who is a Methodist and came with her husband. “We have dear Muslim friends who go to the mosque, and we wanted to experience what they experience. We differ when it comes to our prophet. But we are all children of God.”

Fatima Yakub, 27, does a henna design on the back of the hand of Stacey Bohm during the Open Mosque Day at the Bear Creek Islamic Center, Saturday, March 10, 2018, in Houston. ( Marie D. De Jesus / Houston Chronicle)

GainPeace, a Chicago nonprofit established to promote better understanding of the Islamic faith, local mosques and other Islamic groups, has held more than 3,000 open houses during the past four years to combat negative stereotypes of Muslims and the Muslim faith.

Open houses have been held in nearly every major U.S. city, with a quarter of mosques holding at least one open house annually in recent years, said GainPeace executive director Sabeel Ahmed.

(Left to right) Abdullah Siddiqi, 19, Mahmood Hasan, 20, and Abdallah Shabana, 23, serve guests at the Open Mosque Day at the Bear Creek Islamic Center (Al Mustafa Masjid), Saturday, March 10, 2018, in Houston. Open Mosque Day provides members of mosques the opportunity to meet their neighbors and dissipate misconceptions about Islam. ( Marie D. De Jesus / Houston Chronicle )

“We have felt that there are many barriers between Americans, and these barriers are giving rise to Islamophobia,” said Ahmed, a physician, who spoke at the Bear Creek Islamic Center open house. “This event helps us connect as humans. At the end of the day, we find that we have so many things in common.”

Visitors learned that Bear Creek Islamic Center served as a shelter during Hurricane Harvey, runs a food pantry and is a social and community center for Muslims. Along with GainPeace, the Islamic Society of Greater Houston and the Houston unit of the Islamic Circle of North America also sponsored the Bear Creek open house in west Harris County.

Nabihah Vaid face paints Christopher Bohm, 7, during the Open Mosque Day at the Bear Creek Islamic Center (Al Mustafa Masjid), Saturday, March 10, 2018, in Houston. Open Mosque Day provides members of mosques the opportunity to meet their neighbors and dissipate misconceptions about Islam. ( Marie D. De Jesus / Houston Chronicle )

Suzanne Itani, president of Taiba, a Houston nonprofit that works to empower and mentor Muslim women, said non-Muslims have so many misconceptions of Islam.

The open house was, she said, “an excellent program. It allows us to own our own narrative rather than what is out there in the media. It’s a great effort to bridge our communities and get to know each other and break down barriers.”

As she tried to corral her wandering young son, who was sporting face-paint, Stacey Bohm said the open house had made her aware of how Muslims are pigeon-holed.

Bear Creek Islamic Center (Al Mustafa Masjid) during the Open Mosque Day, Saturday, March 10, 2018, in Houston. ( Marie D. De Jesus / Houston Chronicle )

“I came to learn more, and I brought my kids so they can enjoy the experience. They don’t really know anything about Muslims. The event was nice,” she said. Organizers “talked about stereotypes against Muslims.”

Visitors received a gift bag that included a Quran and a dozen brochures on the central tenets of Islam, Islam’s view of Jesus and the reasons why some Muslim women wear hijabs.

Dolores Morales, left, and Narsedalia Lopez, center, pick books to learn more about Islam at the Bear Creek Islamic Center during Open Mosque Day, Saturday, March 10, 2018, in Houston. ( Marie D. De Jesus / Houston Chronicle )

Ahmed encouraged visitors to read the Quran to gain a better understanding of Islam.

“They will find that Islam stands for justice and peace and harmony. Just like the crusaders and the Inquisition and the KKK do not represent Christianity, some misguided Muslims don’t represent the just teachings of Islam,” he said. “If you want to know what Islam is, pick up a Quran. You will find that Muslims are here to work to better their communities.”

Dolores Morales, left, Maria Tamez, center, and Narsedalia Lopez pick books to learn more about Islam at the Bear Creek Islamic Center during Open Mosque Day, Saturday, March 10, 2018, in Houston. ( Marie D. De Jesus / Houston Chronicle )

Here are snippets on Islam from the brochures (published by GainPeace and the Islamic Circle of North America) given out at the open house:
On Allah, the Arabic name for God
“Belief and worship of the One True God is the cornerstone of a Muslim’s belief.”

“The message of Islam is simple: To believe and worship One True God alone and to accept Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) as His final messenger.”

“Worshipping others beside God or associating partners or equals with God is the worst sin in Islam. This includes ascribing some of God’s attributes to other objects or beings (e.g., idols); claiming that God has a son, mother or any other partner; or disbelieving in God.”

Fatima Yakub, 27, does a henna design on the back of the hand of Stacey Bohm, right, during the Open Mosque Day at the Bear Creek Islamic Center, Saturday, March 10, 2018, in Houston. ( Marie D. De Jesus / Houston Chronicle )

On Jesus and whether he was a divinity
“Jesus is a figure who is loved and revered by billions of people the world over, yet there is much confusion surrounding the status of this colossal personality. Muslims and Christians both hold Jesus in high regard but view him in different ways.”

“Thousands of prophets were sent by Allah, at least one to every nation, with the same message: to worship Allah alone and not associate any partner with Him. Some of these Prophets include Adam, Noah, Joseph, Abraham, Jacob, Isaac, Moses, Jesus and Muhammad (peace be upon them all). Jesus (peace be upon him) was one of the greatest Prophets sent by Almighty God.”

“Some Christians claim that ‘Jesus is God’ or part of a trinity – that he is the incarnation of God on earth, and that God took on a human form. However, according to the Bible, Jesus was born, ate, slept, prayed and had limited knowledge – all attributes not befitting God. God has attributes of perfection whereas Man is the opposite. How can anything be two complete opposites simultaneously?”

On Islam’s view of terrorism
“In war, the targeting of innocent non-combatants is a despicable act which Islam clearly prohibits. In fact, Muslims are not even allowed to destroy plants and animals unnecessarily, let alone innocent humans. … However, it is important to distinguish between terrorism and legitimate resistance to occupation, as the two are very different.”

On hijab
“To observe the hijab, Muslim women are required to cover their bodies with modest clothes that do not reveal their figure in front of male strangers. However, hijab is not just about outer appearances; it is also about noble speech, dignified and righteous conduct, and modesty. … There is nothing in hijab that restricts a Muslim woman’s freedom to express her views and opinions, to own property, to have an education and a career, or to choose a husband. The hijab is an act of honor and dignity, an empowerment, and a guarantee that a woman will be judged according to her inner spiritual beauty rather than her outer superficial appearance.”

Bill Murphy is a writer in Houston.

Article Courtesy: KYW Newsradio