Published: Sunday, September 9, 2007
Mosque tour gets questions answered
There are major misconceptions about Islam, said a mosque tour guide.
By WILLIAM K. ALCORN
YOUNGSTOWN Muslims are just like anybody else, said Saeeda Yasmin Ghani, president of the Islamic Society of Greater Youngstown.
Indeed, a major purpose of a public open house Saturday at the Masjid Al-Khair mosque on Homewood Avenue was to demonstrate to the community the similarities between Muslims and people who belong to other religions.
"We want the community at large to be aware that the Muslim community exists here and has for 40 years," Ghani said.
"We are peace-loving and ask that people not condemn the whole Muslim nation because of a few fanatics," she said as the sixth anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York City and Washington, D.C., nears.
"That was a horrendous act ... for which there was no justification," Ghani said.
There are major misconceptions about Islam, one of which is that people see it as a strange religion, when it really is a continuation of Judaism and Christianity. There are many similarities, said Dr. Khalid Iqbal, who conducted tours of the mosque during the open house.
A major point of discussion is whether Muslim women are oppressed by the religion.
To the contrary, said Dr. Iqbal, a pediatrician. Muslim women had rights long before other religions even thought about it, such as the right to own property and to divorce.
Muslim women hold important jobs in the worlds of work and politics, such as Ghani, who leads the Youngstown Muslim community, Dr. Iqbal said.
"Certainly not," said Ghani, when asked if Islam oppresses women.
Ghani, administrative director of the laboratory at St. Elizabeth Health Center, said Islam respects women. In areas where women are not respected for instance, in Saudi Arabia, they are not permitted to drive it is the culture, not the religion, she said.
Modesty is the reason men and women do not pray together in the kneeling prostrated position, Dr. Iqbal said. In the Masjid Al-Khair mosque, the women's' prayer area is separate from the men's. In other temples, however, they may pray in the same room side by side, but not one behind the other, he said.
Another major misconception is that Muslims use violence to get their way, Dr. Iqbal said.
He said Muslims believe so strongly in social justice and fairness and equality between human beings that when that belief cannot be accomplished through peaceful means, the use of force is justified.
For example, when Sadaam Hussein of Iraq invaded Kuwait, it became necessary to use force to get him out. Islam, in general, supported that effort in the first Gulf War, he said.
But, when it comes to matters of belief and religion, Islam does not encourage violence, Dr. Iqbal said.
Among the non-Muslim visitors at the open house were friends, Nancy Schulz of Canfield and Cathy Reinard of Youngstown, and Nancy's daughter, Erin Kriss of Austintown.
"After all the stuff you hear and read [about Muslims], we wanted to come and learn for ourselves," Schulz said.
"It makes sense," said Kriss, after learning why Muslim men and women pray separately. She found it amazing that the Quran, the Muslim's holy book, has never changed, while there are several versions of the Christian Bible.
However, she thinks the explanation that Muslim women are treated equally "falls a little short," however.
"Muslim men put women on a pedestal and think they are doing something good, but maybe they are really limiting them," Reinard said.
Also among those present at the open house were Mostafa and Rawiah El-Leboudi, ages 11 and 8, respectively, who came to Youngstown in 2004 via Chicago and Cairo, Egypt.
Mostafa is a student at Boardman Center Middle School and Rawiah at Boardman's Robinwood Lane Elementary School.
The said they both like the mall, but the mall they were referring to was in Cairo, where Mostafa said they could go ice skating and bowling, "and shop," Rawiah added.
But, they have things they like around here too, such as Geauga Lake and the Canfield Fair. And, they said, school here is a little easier.
The goal, said Dr. Iqbal, is to persuade people of other religions to try to understand Islam and "build on our similarities rather than exploiting minor differences and promoting tension and hatred."
Ghani said that after 9/11, Muslims in some parts of the country did feel the hatred.
In Youngstown she did not, however. In fact, she said the reaction of her friends and co-workers was caring and concerned about her safety.