Yesterday, the closest mosque to me held an open house and having business in the vicinity, I stopped by. This is an annual event that draws quite a crowd of local, non-Islamic visitors. The small parking lot was full and cars were parked up and down the street.
The open house included guided tours of the facility, information about Islam and the local center, questions and answers, free food, some "sweet water" from Mecca, free literature, and some Islamic art. As with the only other mosque I have visited (the al-Hussein Mosque adjacent to the mammoth souk in Cairo) visitors had to remove shoes before entering. The prayer room with the carpet with spaces pointed towards Mecca is small, about the size of a large living room.
The imam introduced himself to me, quite a friendly and gregarious fellow. He, along with all of the males, were dressed in western fashion. A few had the kufi, a white cap. Many of the females were covered but I didn't see any with the full coverings. There may have been uncovered females but with a large crowd, I wouldn't know how to identify the Muslim women. The imam I recognized from local newspapers, since he is the local source for comments on Islamic matters, terrorist attacks, and the like.
One might note from the information given that the purposes of the open house was:
- Come and meet your Muslim neighbors. The locale, Athens, is a university town and has a sizable international population. I do not know what percentage is Islamic. The mosque is quite small.
- Take a tour of the mosque. It is interesting. I wasn't present when any of the various call to prayers were held.
- Try henna tatoos or try a hijab. No thanks.
- Enjoy some snacks. I did indeed. They were good.
- Attend Q & A. No questions off the table. I wasn't present for this but bet it was interesting. Note the specific statement that there would be "no questions off the table." As an aside, I did learn that the Quran is in Arabic. A translation of the Quran is not a Quran (sort of like the KJV 1611 only folks maybe?).
Athens is a liberal-minded community, above average in education with the major employer being the University of Georgia, and probably more ecumenical and open minded than a typical Georgia city. The county was in a minority of such that voted for Clinton in the election, about 70% in her favor attributable to the sizable minority population and the more liberal "gown" part of a "town and gown" community. The mosque has been around for years and there was no protest or controversy about its establishment.
One can judge the reason for the open house: demystify Muslims to folks with whom they work, shop, attend school, and live. It's tough to generate a general hatred or bigotry to folks whom you know and whose behavior is the same as yours, dignified, civil, law-abiding. With general hostility towards Muslims a little hospitality and openness goes a long way in establishing goodwill.
Our constitution says, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;"
There are those who would have the state classify Islam as some hybrid religion, a geopolitical movement deserving either no state first amendment protections or some limited version of such. My views on church and state are not influenced by a mosque tour and a few free snacks. All religions should have the same rights of free exercise as does mine - Christian, Protestant, Baptist, Southern Baptist. I doubt a friendly imam and some Baptist-like hospitality at a mosque will influence those who seek to restrict religious liberty for Muslims in our country but it might help to de-demonize all Muslims by getting to know a few neighbors.
There are something like a billion and a half Muslims in the world. I've been around a few of these in a half dozen countries, eaten in their homes, talked with them, visited their places of worship. In America, where Muslims, Mormons, or Baptists should have the same religious freedoms under our constitution. Where worship practices or behavior of Muslims, Mormons, or Baptists run counter to our laws, they should be stopped.
This Baptist, while wishing and working for the salvation of all who do not follow Christ, favors protecting the religious liberty of all.