By Patty Wetli
IRVING PARK — Muslims’ presence in the U.S. dates back to the 1500s, and if that’s news to most people, Muslim-Americans are the first to admit they haven’t always been their own best advocates.
Explaining “who we are and what we do … we have not done that effectively,” said Sabeel Ahmed, director of GainPeace, an outreach project of the Islamic Circle of North America.
On Sunday, the Muslim Community Center, founded in 1969, will host an Open Mosque Day at its Elston Avenue home (the onetime Rivoli Theater) as part of its ongoing efforts to build bridges between neighbors.
“We need to get to know each other, to sit down with each other,” said Ahmed, one of the event’s organizers. “Our differences should not divide us.”
The day’s programming will include a presentation on the fundamentals of Islam, as well as a tour of the center, time for socializing and activities such as henna painting.
“It will be an experience, not just a lecture,” Ahmed said.
GainPeace has held similar open houses at the Muslim Community Center’s suburban locations and has even set up booths at summer street festivals — including Sausage Fest — as a way of demystifying Islam.
Of the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims — nearly 80 percent of whom live in non-Arab countries, Ahmed noted — nearly a half million make their home in the greater Chicago area.
“There is so much interest … especially in these times,” Ahmed said. “People are willing to learn, people are willing to listen.”
In addition to education, the open house is designed to clear up some of the biggest misconceptions about Islam and Muslims, including the treatment of women within the religion and culture.
“Because of their head coverings, people think women don’t have any rights,” said Ahmed.
He said the hijab is not a symbol of oppression but is a “way for them to express their spirituality.”
“No less than 20 to 25 Muslim women took part in the Olympics and won many medals,” Ahmed said.
The portrayal of Muslims as terrorists is also inaccurate, he said. “There is so much misinformation and fake news,” he said.
Muslim-Americans are among the country’s most educated people, enjoy low crime rates and give a great deal to charity, according to Ahmed.
At the end of Sunday’s event, Ahmed said it’s his hope that people “leave with a positive impression, contrary to what has been projected.”
Article Courtesy: DNA Info Chicago