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Mosque hosts open house
To establish and maintain warm relations with their neighbors, the Muslim community opened the doors of the Islamic Center of Yuma to the public Saturday. The mosque is located at 200 W. 24th St.
Well over 100 Yuma area residents and winter visitors representing various faiths and denominations attended the open house, packing the mosque to learn more about the Muslim faith and the people who practice it.
In contrast to some vitriolic comments posted by a few ideologues online at YumaSun.com this week lambasting the Muslim community and the open house, the large crowd gathered at the mosque participated in civil discourse throughout the event.
“It was shocking how few people understood that we even had a mosque like this in the neighborhood,” Yuma County Supervisor Russ Clark told members of the Islamic Center during the open house.
“Of course by reaching out and asking everyone to get to know you and understand you – it brought up probably some torment from some misunderstanding, and some negativity from some that didn't even realize it existed. Is it a good thing that you reached out and something you want to continue to do in the future even though it may bring some negative with it?”
Dr. Hani Soliman, chairman of the board of directors at the Islamic Center, replied “it is absolutely something we want to do and continue doing and the reason is that we live here with our neighbors and we know that the positive response has been overwhelming.”
The Muslim community in Yuma has “never really spent much time on the minority that has a negative attitude, because the majority of our neighbors have been so kind and so welcoming,” he continued.
“We have been very blessed to have everybody here as our neighbors who have been very welcoming even without us asking them to. That really warms our hearts and we are glad to have everyone here. Certainly without any hesitation we want our neighbors to talk to us and we want to talk with our neighbors. We want to know each other.”
Community activist Jack Kretzer said he believes the open house was an important step in creating friendly relations between Muslims and people of other faiths.
“One of the things we need in Yuma is for people to understand, and you don't understand anything unless you have information. Things like this are a start, and I really appreciate you doing it.”
Saadia Khan, a former member of the Muslim Public Affairs Council, was pleased with the large turnout and stated the event was only the beginning of ongoing interfaith communications in the Yuma area.
“Every one is so loving and so accepting and I want to reiterate the point I keep hearing over and over again - that agreement is not a precursor to have dialogue… to break bread together, to have a conversation together and to get to know each other. At the end of the day, we all have the same concerns. We all have concerns for our youth, our families, and it is really important to continue this dialogue.”
Yuma Police Chief John Lekan and several other officers from the Yuma Police Department attended the open house. Lekan noted it is YPD's goal to continue to cultivate an open and long lasting relationship with the Muslim community.
Lekan views Muslims as “another part of the Yuma community that I need to know as a law enforcement leader of the city of Yuma.”
And while Muslims represent a unique culture and religion, they are “no different than Catholics, no different than Baptists. This is America. It is all about equality and everybody's civil rights. They are Americans, so education and knowledge, I think is going to fix that seed of hatred that sometimes exists here in our America, and puts it aside. It is very important.”
The civil discourse occurring at the mosque during the open house was an excellent way to impart such knowledge, Lekan continued.
“I was very surprised with how large the crowd was that turned out. I thought the questions were absolutely well thought out from all sides of issues that have been going on nationally and internationally. I thought it was well balanced. Everybody looks safe here, everybody is having a great time becoming more knowledgeable and educated here. It is a great Yuma event.”
During the question and answer session, Larry Suderman spoke about the need for unbiased media coverage concerning Muslims.
“The one thing I have always gotten upset with the media about – they really don't understand what a Muslim is,” he said. “They talk about how evil they are. I have always lived by the premise that Al -Qaeda is no more Muslim than the KKK is Christian.”
Many don't realize “the ones who suffer at the hands of Al -Qaeda the most around the world are Muslims,” Khan replied, noting the majority of Muslims in America work with law enforcement agencies to ensure national security.
“After the death of Osama bin Laden, we feel like this extremist ideology is a bankrupt ideology. Media has a huge responsibility when they report news and when they report events, because sometimes when you hear anti-Muslim rhetoric, it is a very small minority voice and sometimes that small minority voice is amplified.”
One way to ensure unbiased coverage is to host community events such as the open house, Khan continued.
“I am so happy to be here today and tell you about some of the work we do because I think some of the best results we can have from interfaith dialogue, and meeting with one another, is through policy work and to hold media responsible to report news that actually informs you. There is a saying in the journalism world, ‘if it bleeds it leads.' That is something we need to overcome.”
For more information about the Islamic Center of Yuma, log onto islamiccenteryuma.org or call 783-4919.