A call from the Canadian Islamic Congress last week, urging mosques and Muslim community centres across Canada to host public open houses beginning Sunday, Sept. 23 has been termed "very effective, very successful."
While final numbers have not yet been tallied, it is estimated that thousands from the non-Muslim public set foot inside a local masjid (or mosque) for the first time, to share coffee, tea, sweets, and informed conversation about what it means to be Muslim and follow the faith of Islam.
At the Erb Street Masjid in Waterloo, Ontario, for example, visitors -- often whole families and church groups at a time -- gladly deposited long rows of outdoor shoes in the foyer, before venturing onto the soft cream-coloured broadloom that covers the main, glass-domed prayer room. Despite the animated hubbub of voices and the darting energy of excited children, it was the most visually serene spot on the property: Everywhere else, visitors encountered evidence of the temporary chaos caused by an ongoing $500,000 renovation and expansion program.
While pouring numerous cups of coffee for the steady stream of guests, a smiling older woman explained that this was her first time in the masjid as well. "I'm Anglican, you see, but my daughter married a wonderful Muslim man who worships here, and now this is part of my grandchildren's faith too. I just had to be involved and do something positive to show my respect and gratitude for this beautiful, gentle faith... Once you really take the trouble to learn about Islam, it changes your point of view forever."
Meanwhile Dawud, a masjid member whose own family roots are mainly Scottish, had gathered a fascinated circle of listeners who peppered him with questions about Islamic rituals, ethics, dress, dietary rules, arts, literature, worship, human rights, family values -- all the issues people of faith care about, regardless of how they describe and praise their Creator.
Surprise clearly showed on many faces when he told them that the community of this masjid alone embraces more than two-dozen different national and ethnic groups. "You might have thought that all Muslims were dark-skinned or black, but you can see that my complexion is the same as most of yours," he said. "The person who lives next door to you might be a Muslim and he or she is your neighbour, part of the community we all share as Canadians."
Norma Hayman, visiting another Ontario mosque last Sunday, said she wanted to let her Muslim neighours know that she and her friends don't hold all Muslims responsible for the actions of a few criminal fanatics who abuse the name of Islam in claiming to act for their faith. "That's like saying we have to go after every white American because of what Timothy McVeigh did," she said, referring to the bombing of the Oklahoma Federal Building and the tragic loss of life that resulted.
"We are very happy that the open house idea was so well received across this country," said CIC national president, Prof. Mohamed Elmasry.
"There are of course, some our community who are fearful because of a few misguided anti-Muslim acts, but this is not the time to hide out. In the aftermath of the terrible sorrow and suffering caused by the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, all Canadians must come together in a spirit of understanding and reconciliation. We hope that even more mosques will hold regular open houses during the coming weeks to show the other side, the majority side, of Canada and Canadians."
"This allows neighbours to get together, to know one another better and to encourage genuine friendship and cross-cultural understanding," added Mrs. Wahida Valiante, national vice-president of the Islamic Congress.
It is expected that more mosques will hold open house events at various times this coming week (check your local newspaper, radio, or cable television community events service for details). Many local politicians attended last week's inaugural opening, joining with hundreds of men, women, and children in their ridings and constituencies. Special requests are already being received to accommodate group visits from schools, churches and other interested organizations.
The Canadian Islamic Congress is a national Canadian organization committed to serve Muslim Canadians. 420 Erb St. West, Suite: 424, Waterloo, Ontario N2L 6K6, Tel: 519-746-1CIC (1242), Fax: 519-746-2929, E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org, http://www.cicnow.com