Islam in America
Muslims have much to offer America. The richness and variety of the American Muslim community have great potential to "promote what is good and forbid what is evil" in this society. To accomplish this goal, Muslims must carry out their obligation to accurately represent Islam in this country. One of the best ways to introduce Islam to local communities is by having an open house at your mosque or Islamic center.
Mosque Open House
A mosque open house is an effective way to open the channels of communication between the Muslim community and people of other faiths. The relationship that is established by the program is one of respect and understanding. This relationship will help (inshallah) to prevent stereotyping of Muslims and may even serve to keep hate crimes from occurring.
How to Set Up an Open House
- Prepare the members of the Muslim community by explaining the necessity of building a positive image of the mosque in the surrounding area. Plan an event that will present the best image of Islam and Muslims. The format of the open house is flexible. Selected community leaders can be invited or the entire community may be asked to visit. The open house might be held in the evening on a weekday, on a weekend or during Ramadan. It is up to the local community to decide which approach is best.
- Invite community leaders to the mosque, making sure to include clergy, community activists and local government officials. Remember to invite the chief of police, mayor and members of the city council. Send personal letters of invitation. The tone of the letter should be friendly and inviting. Follow up with phone calls. Letters are not enough.
- Publicize the event in the local newspapers through brief and well-written press releases and advertisements. Call CAIR if you need help with news release format. Free advertising is available through newspaper religion page calendars and radio/TV public service announcements. Also take advantage of church newsletters and bulletin boards.
- Inform your guests of the etiquette of the mosque before they arrive. Most people do not wish to be disrespectful so prevent potential misunderstandings by informing visitors of the rules to observe when in the mosque. This will make them feel at ease and will save them, and you, from embarrassment. Explain to them that the mode of dress for the event should be conservative and relatively austere. Make clean and neatly folded scarves available for the female guests. Explain the essentials of prayer to the guests and stress the solemnity of the occasion. Inform the guests that one must be a Muslim in order to pray like a Muslim in the mosque. Explain the separation of men and women in the mosque by stressing that the separation does not imply inequality. These simple explanations will have a great effect on the guests because they indicate that the Muslim community is well organized and wants to make them feel comfortable.
- Clean up the mosque. The first impression that is made is the one that will last. Walls, floors, carpets, and especially bathrooms must be spotless. Everyone can join a "mosque cleanup day" to get the building and grounds into shape. Cleanliness is an Islamic virtue.
- Set up a reception area where guests can be received and be served refreshments. Refreshments should not be served in the event of a Ramadan mosque open house, but should be replaced with the iftar meal. Have greeters at the door to receive the guests and to hand out the "Welcome" pamphlets. The reception area should be where the etiquette of the mosque is explained. There should be a place where hijab is required so the female guests will have a chance to put on their scarves. Invite the guests to the prayer and encourage them to attend to help dispel any stereotypes they may have.
- Literature that is made available to the guests should be carefully selected to represent Islam. Avoid excessively political literature stressing what lies at the heart of Islam: Peace and the relationship between God and man. Do not push materials on people but make sure to have a table of free literature.
- Assign appropriate greeters and hosts, choosing people who have an outgoing personality and know how to interact with people of other faiths. Greeters would escort guests to the hosts who will show them the mosque and stay with them to explain what they see. Do not leave guests alone to wander about the facility. Make sure all the guests are warmly received and given name tags. Special attention should be given to the female guests because they may not be sure where they "fit in." Have sisters assigned as hosts for the female guests. In the event of an iftar open house, make sure Muslims and non-Muslims are seated together for the meal.
Post helpful signs indicating the different entrances to the prayer hall clearly so as not to cause any confusion.
Most importantly, pray that the reaction of the guests will be one of understanding and that God may open their hearts through the endeavour.
Allahuma Amin! (God knows best)