Masjid Hamza, in Valley Stream, along with hundreds of mosques across the country, will open its doors to the community this weekend in an effort to break social barriers and have an honest discussion about Islam.
Zohaib Mustafa, a member of the mosque's executive committee, said that because there is misinformation about the faith being circulated by the media, as well as news coverage of “psychotic individuals” committing heinous crimes in the name of Islam, the mosque’s leadership thought it was an opportune time to welcome people to visit and ask questions.
The event is sponsored by the Islamic Circle of North America and its outreach subsidiaries — GainPeace and Why Islam — and will feature a tour of the mosque, an Islam question-and-answer period moderated by GainPeace Director Dr. Sabeel Ahmed, and a free lunch.
“We thought we’d team up with them to open up our mosque to local neighbors who might not have been here before,” Mustafa said.
Masjid Hamza sent out a notice of the event to 3,000 households in the greater Valley Stream area, and invited religious clergy from neighboring communities as well as officers from the Nassau County Police Department’s 5th Precinct to attend.
“It’s a completely open forum,” Mustafa said. “Any questions can be asked. There are no restrictions whatsoever. No matter how soft or how hostile the question is, [Ahmed] will be more than happy to answer it.”
Ahmed, who previously served as president of ICNA Chicago, said that this weekend’s event is the first of its kind, for which mosques nationwide are coordinating with outreach groups to meet with neighbors.
In his experience, many non-Muslims ask about topics such as the treatment of women in Islam, Shariah and jihad. “It’s better that you ask these questions here than you go home and Google them,” Ahmed said.
He likened jihad, which, in its most basic form, refers to internal struggle, to quitting smoking.
“Suppose if I am a habitual smoker, right? I’ve never smoked, but suppose if I am a habitual smoker,” he said. “ … The struggle that I would be going through within myself, to come clean and to give up smoking — so that’s present in Islam, we say jihad. Because now you’re struggling to be a better person.”
Another recurring topic of discussion, in Ahmed’s experience, is the false idea that Islam is a new faith, and that people who practice it are foreigners. “In fact, I remind them that there were many Muslims who fought in the Revolutionary War alongside George Washington for the freedom of this country,” he said.
Ahmed said he likes to rattle off a list of Muslims who have contributed to American society to demonstrate that they have always lived in the United States. Ernest A. Hamwi, a Muslim Syrian immigrant, invented the waffle ice cream cone in 1904. Fazlur Rahman Khan, a Bangladeshi-American, one of the architects of the Willis Tower in Chicago, built in 1970, was Muslim. Jawed Karim, a German-American of Bangladeshi descent, who is Muslim, co-founded YouTube and uploaded its first video in 2005.
Ahmed has been doing outreach work about Islam since the mid-’90s, and said that although not all who might benefit from the discussion would attend, he thought that it would train people to become “ambassadors of peace” who could reach others in the community.
“The reason I give an opportunity for people to ask these tough questions is because the fear of the unknown leads people to have hate and bias and discrimination against people of other cultures and other religions,” he said. “And unfortunately, the fear of the unknown leads toward violence.”
The open mosque day at Masjid Hamza is scheduled for Sunday, Aug. 20, from 1 to 3 p.m. at 200 Stuart Ave. in Valley Stream. Admission is free, and lunch will be served. For more information or to RSVP, call (315) 534-0790. Additionally, GainPeace has a toll-free hotline, (800) 662-ISLAM, which anyone can call to ask questions about Islam from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.