SHAFAQNA-According to Ehtisham Siddiqui, President of the Islamic Organization of the Southern Tier, the purpose of the event was to bridge religious divides within the community and educate people on the beliefs and traditions of Islam. Informational posters lined the walls of the mosque with headlines like “Our beliefs”, “Our Scholars”, “What is the Quran?”, and “What do Muslims Believe in?” Bags containing informational pamphlets and copies of the Quran were handed out to everyone in attendance.
“[The goal is] to be able to really understand the similarities between the three Abrahamic faiths and get to know us as Muslims,” said Siddiqui.
According to Siddiqui, the idea for the open house came about in December as the Children of Abraham of the Southern Tier of New York— an interfaith group of Broome County representatives from Judaism, Islam, Christianity, and Unitarian– were meeting to make a statement against recent backlash against muslims.
“The way to eliminate much of the racial discrimination is through understanding one another and having that personal report with people,” said Siddiqui.
The mood was pleasant inside the mosque on Saturday as shoeless visitors walked over the bright red and gold carpets that cover the floor of the men’s and women’s prayer halls. Volunteers milled about the space, interacting with visitors and answering any questions that arose. Downstairs, platters covered in fruit, olives, cookies, and vegetables were laid out for visitors.
Barbara and Richard Bartholomew, of Kirkwood, were in attendance and are members of the United Methodist Church in Binghamton.
“We’re interested in any way we can help build bridges between Islam and Christianity, so we want to learn more about Islam,” said Richard Bartholomew, 88.
The Bartholomew’s, along with members of their church, helped cook meals for members of the Islamic Organization of the Southern Tier during Ramadan, a month where muslims fast from sunrise to sunset.
“I get hurt when I hear people say bad things about [muslims] because if you know the people then you really can’t hate anybody or any religion,” said Barbara Bartholomew, 87.
16-year-old James Brunt of Vestal visited the mosque Saturday with his confirmation class from Christ the King Lutheran Church.
“I really didn’t know much about Islam which is why I was eager to come,” said Brunt. “I didn’t know that Islamic culture has some of the same beliefs that Christianity does and that’s incredible.”
James’ mother Kathy Brunt, teaches the class of eight teenagers. The purpose of the class is to give the teens an opportunity to make an informed personal decision on whether they want to continue in their faith.
“If you’re going to confirm your faith in your own religion you really need to know what else is out there,” said Kathy Brunt. “I think it has been an incredible experience for them, I think our students probably know more about Judaism and certainly Christianity but Islam is probably a faith they are not as familiar with, I know it’s not what I’m as familiar with it and I know I’ve learned a lot just in the half-an-hour I’ve been here today.”
The Islamic Organization of the Southern Tier has called their location on Grand Avenue in Johnson City home for about 15 years. The building is home to prayer sermons, marriages, community gatherings, as well as religious and Arabic language classes, with about 400 people who regular attendees.
29-year-old Vestal resident Anas Shaikh has served as the Imam of the mosque since February of 2013.
“I’m very delighted and honored that we have such a great turnout. It means the world to our community that we have so many people who have come here to learn about Islam and getting to know muslims,” said Imam Anas Shaikh.
Shaikh, who estimated that about 500 people attended Saturday’s event, could be seen throughout the gathering answering questions and chatting with visitors.
“People had a lot of questions like ‘How do you observe the prayer’ ‘Where do you stand? ‘Why do you do it this way?’ and I think those questions really helped getting them to understand what our prayer is like,” said Shaikh.
As visitors exited the mosque two young volunteers stood by the doorway handing out flowers and goodie bags to their departing guests.