Islamic Center packs House, displays first-rate hospitality

 By Joycelyne Fadojutimi and Kelly Bell

Longview business leader Tariq Bashir also serves as president of the Longview Islamic Center. He is quiet and reserved, and runs a thriving business in the Longview Mall. When his place of worship held an open house, his daughter was one of the volunteers assisting guests in any way needed, answering questions and making sure they felt welcome. The mosque on Amy Road was not built without resistance.

“The people in the neighborhood gave us a hard time,” Bashir said. “But God himself did it, and now we get along with each other.”

Neighborhood resident Richard McLeroy said people with the “Jesus sign” asked him to sign a petition. He turned them down because of how the United States Constitution guarantees freedom of religion. Moreover, they said they would not be doing a prayer call.

“I believe in live and let live,” said McLeroy. “Let them worship the way they want. They don’t bother anyone.”

Bashir says some Muslims do give Islam a bad name.

“We call these people extremists,” he said. ” We want peace. Everyone wants peace. The people who disrupt peace in the name of Islam are not Muslims.”

Bashir reports his congregation is building an open-to-the-public basketball goal. Anyone can use it. The goal of the Center is to reach the community, so they invited the public to the open house.

“We want the community to know who we are,” he said. “We are humans, and we have the same blood flowing in our veins. We respect every religion, and we want to tell the community who we are.”

The mosque has emerald green and creme-colored carpets imported from Turkey. They are there because nobody is permitted to wear shoes in the main mosque where prayers are spoken and worshippers listen to the Imam.

In addition, the event included a question-and-answer session.

Abdullah Bayomi commenced the question-and-answer session with a song in Arabic which he translated as, “Do not insult one another, welcome your guests, too much assumption leads to sin.

question-and-answer commenced with a song in Arabic which was translated as, “Do not insult one another, welcome your guests, too much assumption leads to sin.

Panelists who answered questions from the include: one woman and three men namely: Shamsa Ashraf, Answar Khalifa, Abdullah Bayomi and Saleem Shabazz.

QUESTION ON SEPARATION OF THE SEXES IN THE MOSQUE

Why do men and women not worship together?

Members are clear on why men and women worshippers are kept separate inside the mosque. Anwar Khalifa of Pyramid Homes in Tyler explains that women worship behind the men to decrease distraction. Because Muslims bow down to worship, a woman kneeling in the Islamic prayer position could make a man lose his concentration on Allah, and focus on the woman instead. Men are more visually oriented, you see. He pointed out that everyone is created to serve God. We serve God by serving others. Muslims also believe in heaven and hell.

“The way to heaven is by God’s grace and mercy,” he said.

QUESTION ON JIHAD:

According to Khalifa a jihad is intended to make oneself better. The lesser jihad, he explained, is intended others to help the oppressed. A main path to self-improvement is believed to be for someone to look at how he treats others. He also summarized the migration of Muslims to the United States. There are now about 13 million Muslims living in America. Khalifa (who is of Egyptian ancestry) is a graduate of Texas A&M, and loves his state.

“I am a Texan,” he said.

Saad Noman is planning to attend medical school, and listed Muslim accomplishments and contributions. These include algebra, medicine and life-long learning. Khalifa explained the five pillars Islam and what it means.

THE FIVE PILLARS OF ISLAM

  1. Shahada: Faith- Believe in Allah
  2. Salat: Prayer-Pray 5 times a day facing Mecca
  3. Zakāt: Charity-Give away 40% of your earnings at the end of each year while taking care of your immediate family–parents and children. The 40% given away at the end of the year does not include taking care of immediate family members
  4. Sawm: Fasting-Fast during Ramadan
  5. Hajj: Pilgrimage to Mecca if possible in your lifetime

 

QUESTION ON WOMEN ISSUES

How does Islam treat women?

The widespread belief that women are ill-treated in the Islamic world is called into question by how Turkey, Malaysia and Pakistan have had female presidents. Women in Saudi Arabia are not allowed to drive not because of religious, but cultural considerations. Women are to be well-treated because Islam teaches, “Heaven is at the feet of your mother.” According to Shamsa Ashraf on the panel, Islamic women wear modest apparel for modesty reasons, period. Muslim women practice modesty to such an extent that they avoid eye contact with men. Khalifa explained a man is allowed to marry up to four wives and treat them equally. However, Moslems obey the law of the land where they live. In America for example, you can only have one wife at a time because that is the law of the land.

Furthermore, he stressed that no country enforces Sharia laws. He stated, “The killing of infidels is taken out of context. The verses before and after need to be read to understand that it is taken out of context.”

QUESTION ON VIRGIN BIRTH

Do Moslem believe in the Virgin birth?

Khalifa also stated that Islam teaches that Jesus Christ was indeed born of a virgin, and that God created the Earth ex-nihilo. Islam denies that Jesus Christ is God. He is, however, Messiah, a creation of God, and He is returning.

QUESTION ON SEGREGATION

Is the day of prayer in the mosque one of the most segregated day like Sunday in the Churches?

Saleem Shabazz is an African-American, a veteran and a former Christian. He declared that Islam is color-blind. He is one of the leaders in the mosque.

“Islam does not see color,” he said. “It looks for the best-qualified person for Allah’s work. I converted to Islam because of the egalitarian position Islam has.”

QUESTION ON TERRORISM

What has ISIS done that Mohammad has not done more

The Iman said ISIS does not represent Muslims. They are killing innocent people, and this is wrong. According to him, Islam does not condone killing anyone. Islam teaches to worship Allah and to live in peace with all others, animals included. He acknowledges that Islam teaches to not drink liquor or eat pork, but admits there are Muslims who do. Khalifa condemned the recent murders of Christians in Egypt. He vehemently denounced the Egyptian government for not doing more to prevent this tragedy.

“The governments of Muslim countries should do more to protect innocent citizens from being killed by extremist groups,” he said. “I am ashamed of what happened.”

Bayomi said, “Mohammed did not kill his enemies. Rather, he forgave the people who wronged him.”

PEACEFUL CO-EXISTENCE QUESTION

Did Mohammad allow Christians to worship in mosques when they did not have access to a church? Yes! he did.

There was a time in history when the three main world religions-Judaism, Christianity and Islam lived in peace co-existence.

Moving the discussion forward, Khalifa said no one should use derogatory terms for others. He recently challenged two persons he overheard using the work “Jew” as a verb. “Jew”, he points out, is a noun, not a verb.

“When you hear someone talking derogatorily about someone else, do not participate,” he said. “Better yet–say something.”

Shabazz added that when we see everyone else as fellow human beings instead of labeling them, society will be a better place for all of us. Shabazz who has been part of the Longview Interfaith Coalition said he is open-minded to questions pastors and all Christians have on the similarities and differences between Christianity and Islam.

QUESTION ON ADULTERY

How does Islam see adultery?

Like Christianity, Islam regards adultery as an abomination. Four witnesses are required before anyone can be indicted for adultery. Theft is forgivable for those who steal for such a powerful motive as hunger.

Guest Jean Wheatfall was impressed with the open house.

“It was very informative [I’m] quite surprised,” she said. “All I can say is we need to understand each other. I enjoyed it all”

Another guest, Gail Cochrane, lived in Washington for 25 years, and is shocked by the racism prevalent in Longview.

“There is so much ignorance about other people and cultures,” she said. “We need to do more of this.”

The packed house was delighted by the sumptuous cuisine the hosts provided. There were both Far Eastern and homespun American offerings. Many carried heaping plates home with them.

Most important of all, it ended as an evening of genuine fellowship. Guests were armed with true knowledge of Islam; not what news pundits tend to feed their audience for ratings.