Hundreds turn out for an open mosque event in solidarity and friendship
In an awe-inspiring act of hospitality, an Illinois mosque recently opened its doors to non-Muslim members of the community so they could learn more about the Islamic faith and the Muslim community in an effort to enhance understanding and acceptance.
The event was sponsored by the Midwest Islamic Center and held at Masij Al-Huda, a mosque located outside of Chicago. At a time when hate and fear threaten to fracture the fabric of our society, the event made it clear that hate and fear don’t stand a chance against love and acceptance. The event was packed.
Just before the election, only a couple dozen people had RSVP’d, but the numbers quickly grew into the hundreds in the days leading up to the event. Last Saturday, approximately 400 people flocked to the mosque in a show of friendship, solidarity and community.
The gracious hosts fed hundreds of people samosas, chicken salad sandwiches and pizza, all with a warm smile and cheerful “thank you for coming.” In addition to providing information on the history of Islam, the Quran and Muslim culture, there was also face painting and balloon animals for the children and a calligraphy station where people of all ages could get their name written in Arabic. Saima Ahmed, a mother who attends Masij Al-Huda with her family, said it was a joy to see the children of all faiths and backgrounds so “at home” in the mosque. “For the kids, it doesn’t matter what your faith is, your skin color or background, or what you had for dinner,” she told Scary Mommy. “They’re just happy to be with each other.”
One of the most overwhelming moments of the day for Ahmed came when she arrived at the mosque early in the morning to set up and found a visiting family from the area decorating the sidewalk surrounding the mosque with messages of love and support. “When I saw what they were doing, I just burst into tears,” she said. “It was as if our guests were welcoming us to our own event, and it was such a wonderful of example of community being there for each other.”
“In my 25 years of doing Open Mosque Day events, this was the largest ever,” said Dr. Sabeel Ahmed, director of the Gain Peace project, an Islamic outreach program in Chicago. The standing-room-only crowd listened to local Islamic leaders explain the basics of their faith, and discuss commonalities between Islam and other religions like Christianity and Judaism. There was also a Q&A following the presentations, when visitors asked questions on a wide range of topics including sharia law, homosexuality, and women’s rights.
A warm smile goes a long way, too. In fact, when asked what people can do to help, Ahmed responded, “Smile and just keep on smiling. We need to stay together and stand together.”
“Keep reaching out. I never dreamed our open mosque event could be so successful, but we took a chance and reached out, and the result was incredible,” said Ahmed. “I encourage everyone, from all communities, to reach out to each other, even if it may feel awkward or uncertain. There are people all around you who care about you, about your freedoms, and about your children. You won’t know who they are until you reach out.”
The event – with its wide, multi-colored swath of faiths, traditions, ages, skin colors, genders, sexuality and backgrounds – was as undeniably American as baseball and apple pie. After all, America is about diverse groups of people coming together in community, understanding, respect, and friendship to building bridges, not walls. Because underneath all of the differences, we are far more similar than we know.
Kareem Irfan, chairman of the Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago, told the Chicago Daily Herald that the crowd represented what America truly is supposed to be about.
“This is the quintessential America,” he said. “The understanding that everyone is created equal and the understanding that everyone will be treated equally under the color of the law. America is a beacon of hope for the rest of the world. This country does not need to be made great again. It is, and remains, a great country.”