RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — An open house at the Islamic Association of Raleigh drew a crowd of more than 700 visitors.
Red, white, and blue signs with the American flag and an outline of the United States greeted guests at the Islamic Center with “Meet Your Fellow American Muslims” in big lettering across the top.
“The challenge is, for so many Americans and so many people, their view of Islam is shaped through the lens of terrorism,” Imam Mohamed AbuTaleb said.
“To open our doors is part of what makes this community rich and vibrant. To open our doors I believe is part of the vision, the essence of what the Founding Fathers envisioned in founding this country even if we’ve been on a long and continuing journey to reach some of those ideas,” he said.
“For us today, this is part of what it means to be Muslim, part of our worship and our devotion to God,” Imam AbuTaleb added.
Imam AbuTaleb, who has a PhD in electrical engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in addition to being a Muslim scholar, spent more than an hour answering questions for the guests before they joined the hosts for a feast of food from Muslim countries around the word.
Groups from many local churches toured the mosque alongside others curious about Islam and their Muslim-American neighbors. They observed midday prayer and listened to readings from the Quran.
About 20 members of the congregation from Holy Trinity Lutheran Church joined senior pastor Sharon Taylor for the open house.
“We’re trying to break down barriers and try to understand other faiths and understand people who have different cultures. Start with conversation and be a part of coming to the table and trying to learn about each other,” Taylor said.
“It’s wonderful. Their hospitality is amazing and it’s an opportunity for us to come together and ask questions,” Taylor added.
Outreach director and prayer leader Fiaz Fareed gave a presentation about Islam and answered some audience questions before the early afternoon prayer began.
Larry Anderson, a member of Umstead Park United Church of Christ, said the part of the day that appealed most to him was observing the prayer.
“We each have a prayer life that’s kind of secret, and I’m always impressed with how open the Muslim faith is with sharing their common faith in a way of prayer time,” Anderson said.
He said the main thing he took away from the open house was learning about how much Muslims embrace Christianity and Judaism. Anderson said people need to recognize their commonality and diminish their differences.
Tammy Kechout said the number of people who came to show support for their Muslim neighbors was incredible. She converted to Islam six years ago.
Kechout said a lot of people who participated are normally quiet, but told her they came to express their disgust at how Muslims are being treated.
“We are Americans. We want to be seen just as anyone else,” Kechout said.
Another volunteer, Yousef Abuahmad, said Saturday’s attendance was triple the size of previous open houses, which he said shows allies supporting Muslims are growing. However, he said it seems a growing number of people also view and treat Islam as a boogeyman.
“On some level it does hurt. We’ve come to acknowledge that this is just the current environment that we’re in right now,” Abuahmad said.
“Instead of getting upset about it, the better thing to do is to rise above and just address it and change people’s minds and change people’s hearts.”
The Islamic Association of Raleigh invites people who couldn’t attend to contact them for individual tours and question sessions. That invitation includes people who may have a negative or hostile attitude towards Muslims.
“We open up to everyone to come. People who have questions. People who don’t understand what Islam is,” Kechout said.
“People that are tearing their hearts out inside, saying that Muslims are not good people. We want them to come and see and to come meet someone and ask questions.”
The Imam addressed the connection made between Islam and terrorism. He said ISIS is as Islamic as the Ku Klux Klan is Christian.
AbuTaleb criticized what he referred to as “the perversion and abhorrent abuse of faith” for qualifying one’s actions.
He and many of the Muslims in the prayer room applauded and praised their guests for having the courage to come to the open house.
“That’s an important part about what makes our community rich. The ability to demonstrate the capacity to have this conversation,” AbuTaleb said.
“So much of our community is caught up in a divisive rhetoric, and doesn’t know that there is a different way to engage one another and have conversations like today.”