By:  Adel Eldin

One of our duties towards our neighbors is to visit them, check on them, help them, be there when and where they need our help and wish them well. You cannot go to sleep knowing that your next door neighbor is hungry. Our beloved Prophet Mohamed Peace Be Upon Him ( PBUH) has repeatedly recommended to take care of neighbors to the point that the companions of Prophet Mohamed( PBUH) thought the neighbors will inherit from them.

Putting these teachings into action locally, the Dawaa Committee at ISONET ( Islamic Society of New Tampa) has been reaching out to the neighbors to wish them well. We also explain that, although Muslims do NOT celebrate Christmas, Muslims DO celebrate the message of JESUS, who is loved by Muslims as a Prophet of God, and who is mentioned in the Holy Quran 25 times more than the Prophet Mohamed (only mentioned 5 times).  We also point out that the Virgin Mary is the most honored woman on earth, and that a whole chapter in the Holy Quran was named after Her.  She is considered to be a role model and yes, she was wearing a (Hijab) or a head scarf, which is symbolic of purity and modesty and which is also worn by Muslim women and adult girls.

What we do is a public relations' (PR) campaign especially at a time with rising wave of Islamophobia and with the recent events in Paris and San Bernardino.  We have been doing these visits for years, but felt it was even more important as anxiety was at its peak, and everyone was curious to know what Islam and Muslims are all about. A simple way to achieve that and change the narrative is we visit, talk, laugh, share something sweet and agree on working together on making our community better and our country safe. As an aside: When it comes to media-bashing, you will be pleased to learn that almost every group that came before Muslims as the new kids on the block, had their fair share of being bashed and called names! The Catholic Deacon explained that the same type of media-bashing happened to Catholics 100 years ago; they were not even considered to be Christians, were treated very badly, and were discriminated against when applying for jobs.

So, for two consecutive Sundays, following Fajr Prayer and joining the Free Community Breakfast which is open for Muslims and non-Muslims interested to in learning about Islam, brothers and followed by QuranClass and with a group of committed volunteers, we visited Cyprus Point Community Church, our next door neighbors, and had a very warm welcome; they even offered helpon securing our borders for the safety of our community!

We then visited Heritage Church, a small church but one which is deeply rooted - as a 5th-generation Floridian explained- and then went on to visit the nearby Sikh Temple.  At both places of worship, all of us shared the word of peace.

The following Sunday, we followed the same routine: Fajr Prayer, then free community breakfast , then Quran class, and then went to visit St. Mark Evangelist Catholic Church on Cross Creek Blvd. We were met by a very welcoming staff, and we dropped off sweets.  It was perfect timing: hungry worshipers had just finished their service and were walking into the hall; we wished them well, and the leadership there welcomed cooperation on educational efforts to clear the misconceptions about Islam presented by the media. After visiting the church, we went across the street to visit the fire station as the crew was just finishing breakfast.  We had great time with the staff and agreed on a common enemy:  ignorance.  We agreed that education and kindness are the main ingredients to the curefor Islamophobia.  Islamophobia is hurting everybody eventually, as we are all Americans, and we have to work together for the betterment of all of our community.  The same was echoed at the second fire station, and everyone left with a new chapter being written in building bridges of trust and respect with their fellow Americans of Muslim faith living in the same community.

Everyone is encouraged to replicate this work wherever they happen be to show that Muslims do care about their neighbors and are fulfillingthe teachings of our Beloved Prophet Mohamed (PBUH), who was sent as a mercy to all mankind.  In this way, we can change the negative media notion that Muslims hate America and do not care about their community and country.  Our action speaks volumes!