By: Irshad Siddiqui

“Can I pray with you?” asked Joshua an attendee at the Masjid Open House. A member of the St. Petersburg Jewish community, Joshua learned about the open house and brought his 6-year-old daughter to show her the Mosque. He stood beside his new friend Hamid, one of our Masjid volunteers, during the Dhuhr prayer and emulated the moves of the other worshippers. It was a sight that reflected the openness and acceptance that each one of the visitors would express that day.

Non-Muslims – Jews, Christians, Hindus and Sikhs alike – thronged the New Tampa Masjid to attend our Open House on October 23, 2016. “Our doors are open!” proclaimed a flyer inviting the community to the event. In the throes of election fever and strong rhetoric that comes with it, the air was palpable with intrigue and inquisitiveness among the visitors. “I did not know that Islam revered Jesus so highly,” quipped a Christian attendee. Another attendee from a nearby church congregation hugged a volunteer and said, “Thank you for opening your doors for us – we had a lot of misconceptions about Islam and Muslims”.

As the guests kept pouring in, volunteer were seen providing a guided tour of the Masjid. They explained the centrality of the Masjid in a Muslim’s life as a place of prayer, as well as a center for spirituality and community. They translated the Quranic verses written on the walls and talked about the history of the Masjid and its architecture. Dr Khan, a volunteer, sat with a group of older visitors, as he explained to them the basic tenets of Islam, especially the five daily prayers, while the Adhan was being called. The visitors watched in silence as the worshippers stood up for the Dhuhr prayer, taking note of the order and formation that replaced randomness as soon as the Iqamah was called. After the prayer, Imam Junaid explained the method of the Salah and its spiritual significance in the life of the Muslim.

The visitors were ushered into the exhibits and poster gallery by the volunteers. They had an opportunity to browse posters and educational materials from Discover Islam that describe common Islamic beliefs and also address common misconceptions about Islam. The ladies loved the Henna station as well as the room full of ethnic wear that was being displayed by sisters of our community. Some visitors took the time to chat with our resident experts after they were done touring the Masjid and browsing the different exhibits. Sister Danielle and Br Shakeel provided in-depth answers for a variety of questions posed by the visitors.

The tour of the Masjid was capped with a splendid lunch prepared by the community members. The guided tours, the exhibits, and the one-on-one attention provided by the volunteers and community members all made for a very cordial and friendly experience for our non-Muslim guests. The Open House met its goal of showing our neighbors that a Masjid is a simple place of prayer, attended by common folk who have common every day struggles and strive to have a positive impact on our community and the country.  It helped debunk stereotypes and opened up hearts and minds. Overall, it was a very pleasant and heartwarming day for everyone Alhamdulillah.

The community members and volunteers yet again rose to the occasion and showed their openness and dedication in organizing this successful event. In this upcoming year full of challenges and opportunities, we look inwards to our community for the strength and outward to our neighbors for the support we need to thrive and build a better Tampa and a better America. May Allah help us and guide us towards a successful and bright future. A future where complete strangers like Joshua and Hamid are able to share a moment of appreciation and gratitude for each other, and for each other’s faith.  Aameen.