Islamic Center in Florida holds open house to foster unity

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SHAFAQNA – Hosny Ibriham, imam at the Islamic Center of Northwest Florida, delivered the traditional Arabic greeting — translation: “Peace be unto you” — to the hundreds of non-Muslim visitors at Saturday’s open house at the center’s mosque on Johnson Avenue.

And the greeting served as the core of the message that Ibriham and other Pensacola Muslims delivered to their visitors, urging brotherhood and understanding between all faiths, all peoples. Besides, they noted, Islam is one of the three monotheistic faiths that arose from the Abrahamic tradition, along with Judaism and Christianity.

“We eat together, we work together, we live together, we stand together and we are neighbors,” Ibrahim told the over-flow crowd in the hall behind the Center’s mosque. “But you have your beliefs and I have mine.”

And those beliefs can, and should, co-exist, he said.

The open house was organized by the upstart Marching For All organization, which began after the recent women’s marches in Washington, D.C., and across the country.

Organizers had set up the center’s hall with folding chairs, but throughout the two-hour open house, men kept bringing more and more chairs from the mosque to the hall to seat the crowd that just kept coming.  A healthy majority of the hundreds who attended were non-Muslim.

“We wanted to learn a bit more about Islam,” said Mary Anne Reeves, who came with her two oldest children, ages 11 and 13. “You hear about it in the media, but we really know so little. I wanted my kids to not be scared just because of what they might hear in the news.”

Some area Muslims said terror attacks by extremists led to mistrust by some of all Muslims. It’s an unfair association, said Mamun Rashied, former imam — prayer leader — at the Al-Islam Dawah Center on Barrancas, the first mosque in Pensacola.

“Throughout history, their have been people from all religions who have done horrible  things they claimed were in the cause of their faith,” said Rashied, 71, a U.S. Air Force veteran. “Nazis, the KKK, skinheads all claim to be Christians, but you don’t judge Christianity by their actions or interpretations of the religion. I love America. America is my home. But I’m also a Muslim.”

Volunteers handed out sheets with basic information about Islam, and also witnessed a call to prayer (adhan) preceding worship (salah) in the small, modest mosque.

“I’m so proud so many in our community came out to learn about Islam and in support of diversity,” said Sharyn Berg of Marching For All. “I can’t believe the turnout.”

Rashied said there are about 850 Muslim families in the Pensacola area. He also said Pensacola’s two mosques serve a number of military personnel, including foreign military training at Pensacola Naval Air Station. Al Islam Dawah Center on Barrancas Avenue will hold an open house on April 1. The time has not yet been announced.

“If we understood each other, a lot of barriers would come down,” Rashied said. “With Judaism, Christianity and Islam, it all came from the same source, the same root. They’re just three different branches.”

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