With open arms, East Texas Muslims invited their friends and neighbors to learn more about their faith and cultures this week.
The East Texas Islamic Society held its annual open house Tuesday and an estimated 400-plus people showed up to the standing-room only event.
The event provided an opportunity for non-Muslims to visit the mosque, hear a presentation about the faith and its influence on history and ask questions.
After the program, members of the mosque served food to the guests.
“We want to know your questions,” Anwar Khalifa, an Islamic society board member and outreach coordinator, said at the start of the program. “And there’s no question that will be offensive, so feel free to ask your questions.”
Questions covered a variety of topics including the recent terror attacks in Europe, appropriate greetings between Muslims and non-Muslims, how to prepare halal food (food allowed under Islamic dietary laws), the meaning of jihad and divisions within Islam.
The panelists answering the questions were: Khalifa; Nafie Asad, chairman of the Islamic Faith Academy school board; Abdullah Ezat Bayomi, the leader of the prayers at the mosque; and Shamsa Ashraf, the principal of the Islamic Faith Academy.
One of the first questions asked to the panel was about what responsibility peaceful Muslims have to stop the violence being committed by other people who call themselves Muslims as well.
“For me it’s really difficult because why should I even be associated with these people (who) do these horrible acts?” Khalifa said.
He went on to say when Westboro Baptist Church members hold a protest or picket a funeral no one expects the local Baptist churches to respond or counter their behavior directly. People know the local Baptist churches have no connection to Westboro. The same should be true for local Muslims, Khalifa implied.
“That’s not us,” he said of the violent acts being committed. “That’s not Islam. That’s not what Islam teaches.”
On the contrary, it teaches that if someone kills a person, “it’s as though you’ve killed all of mankind,” Khalifa said. “Who wants that burden on the day he is meeting his Lord?”
Ms. Ashraf said the open house is an example of the local Muslim response, an opportunity to show the unity in this community.
"We are one and we are a community together," she said.
In responding to a question about the meaning of jihad, Khalifa said the word means to strive. The lesser jihad is to help oppressed people and the greater jihad is to improve oneself or to become a better person from day to day.
One man asked if it is possible for non-Muslims to prepare halal food (food allowed under Islamic dietary laws) for Muslims.
Khalifa said Muslims have varied opinions on defining halal food. Some Muslims believe food prepared by “people of the Scripture” (Muslims, Jews and Christians) is halal.
Others are adamant that the animal must be slaughtered in a certain way in order for the meat to be halal, and the name of God must be invoked when the animal is slaughtered.
The food and drink that is off limits include pork, alcohol and the meat from any animal that was found dead.
When it comes to greetings, there are some differences. Bayomi, the leader of the prayers, said out of respect Muslim men do not touch women who are not their relatives.
Therefore a Muslim man is not going to shake the hand of a non-related woman or give a side hug or any other type of similar greeting.
Women can greet women and men can greet men with handshakes, hugs, etc., but the opposite sex is a different story when not related.
As far as the Muslim view of other faiths, particularly Christianity, Khalifa said Muslims do not deify Jesus Christ. They believe in His virgin birth and miracles and call him the Messiah. However, they don't believe him to be God.
Muslims do believe in only one God and that their holy book, the Quran, is a revelation from God. Muslims recite portions of the Quran in their daily prayers.
Khalifa said the turnout at the open house was great.
“It means a lot to the Muslim community that you are here,” Khalifa said. “Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.”
Yvonne Wright, 38, of Tyler, came to the event with her husband, daughters and one of her daughter’s friends.
“I thought it was great,” she said. “I think it’s a really positive thing for the community.