By: Br. Bilal Saleh
In an effort to encourage dialogue and mutual understanding, Daarus Salaam Mosque hosted its first open house on May 17, 2015. The event was a huge success, especially considering it was the first time the mosque took on such an undertaking!
Prior to the event, our community members were encouraged to invite their neighbors and co-workers to come learn about the local Muslim-American community in a laid back environment. The turnout clearly exhibited that people took this directive seriously. About 150 visitors filtered through the mosque doors during the four hours the event was on.
Local community volunteers greeted the visitors, providing them with guided tours and responding to their inquiries. The tour included a live demonstration by Dr. Souheil Zekri of how Muslims perform wudu, or ablution, before their five daily prayers. Volunteers also handed the female visitors free hijab, or headscarves, and even showed them how to put them on. Some of the community’s well-respected members, including Dr. Ghiath Mahmalji, Dr. Adel Eldin, and Ghada Eldin, entertained complex questions from guests. These inquiries dealt with some of theological aspects of Islam, why women wear hijab, and gender roles. And for a bit of a cultural twist, a number of meticulous women manned a henna-painting table so that visitors were able to get beautiful henna designs drawn onto their hands.
But beyond just answering questions, Daarus Salaam Mosque’s volunteers made a concerted effort to make the visitors feel welcome. There was a great emphasis on the sense of community that unites New Tampa’s Muslim American population with all of the diverse groups in the surrounding area. A number of volunteers labored in the kitchen and prepared a magnificent cookout featuring hamburgers and samosa so that the mosque-goers and the visitors could break bread together. Sounds of laughter and excited chatter resounded from the picnic area, which quickly filled with people eager for friendly conversation and good food. And while the adults were conversing, the children had a spectacular time in the two bounce houses set up outside.
All in all, the event went very smoothly and the hardworking organizers achieved the goal they had set out to accomplish: building bridges and forging connections with the community at large. Truly, the open house acted as a safe and inclusive space for non-Muslims unfamiliar with Islam to learn a little bit about the religion, and, more importantly, garner a deeper, more informed appreciation of who their Muslim neighbors really are.