East Texas mosque hosts open house

TYLER, TX (KLTV) - By Taylor Hemness - bio | email

TYLER, TX (KLTV) - The idea of building a mosque not far from Ground Zero in New York has gained the support of New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and of President Obama.

Meanwhile, polls have shown that the majority of Americans are strongly opposed to it.

But, people in the Muslim faith have said that that would not be the case if there was a stronger understanding of the religion in America.

But, there is a mosque right here in East Texas, where Muslims have been educating people for years.

For the fifth year in a row, the East Texas Islamic Society Mosque is hosting an open house.  Christians and Muslims sit together, without shoes, in observance of the fact that a mosque is a place of prayer.

And, as in years past, there are some first-timers.

"I learned some of the things today," said Tyler resident Helen Miner. "I had seen pictures of the men all shoulder to shoulder in mosques, and I didn't realize that is just part of their tradition of faith."

And lessons like that are the goal of these open houses, because with education, can come understanding.

"The more insular you are, the more suspect you are," said Tyler home builder Anwar Khalifa. "So we want to make sure we're open to the public, and people know who we are and how we worship."

Khalifa is a member of the East Texas Islamic Society, and says negative feelings toward Muslims has become the acceptable form of racism in America. He says facing those feelings head-on is the only way to change them.

"You come, and you talk to us, and you see who we really are," Khalifa said. "There's no question out of bounds, you can ask anything you want, and we'll try to answer it the best that we can."

So in addition to showcasing the Muslim faith, the open house included more than an hour of question and answer time from visitors. The Imam, the equivalent of a priest or rabbi, fielded those questions. He's only been in East Texas for a few weeks, but he grew up in New York. He's keenly aware of the controversy there, but says it's presenting an opportunity that Muslims have to take advantage of.

"This is the moment where we have to speak up, because so many people are speaking against Islam," said Imam Faisal Ahmad. "And if we don't provide that balancing voice, then too many people will be misled."

The open house is scheduled every year during the Muslim observance of Ramadan. But the Imam says anyone is welcome to come and speak to him, and ask questions about Islam.

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