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Islamic Center’s open house addresses ‘Islamaphobia’

Posted March 25, 2011, at 11:11 p.m.

The Islamic Center of Maine in Orono held its second annual open house, themed “Defeating Islamaphobia Through Understanding,” a year after the new facility was built. Approximately 200 guests attended the early February event, including students from the University of Maine, teachers, neighbors, and co-workers.

Significantly larger than the older establishment, the new 5,500-square-foot building is better able to accommodate the activities of the local Muslim community. When the mosque is open, the five daily prayers are conducted: one before sunrise, at noon, in the afternoon, after sunset and at night. Other regular activities at the center include a weekly Islamic study circle: a Sunday school of about 30 students, an afternoon tae kwon do class, Wednesday adult classes, various social activities every month and, most importantly, the active outreach program that worked to organize the event.

Following a brief recitation of the first verses from the Quran at the Feb. 5 open house, president of the ICM Dr. Samer Sbai greeted the audience with “the best greeting I know — the greeting of the prophets and messengers from Adam to Abraham to Jesus to Moses and Mohammad, Assalamu Alaikum, ‘peace be with you.’”

The first speaker of the evening, Omar Conteh, completing a degree in Mental Health and Human Services, described the event as an opportunity for the local community to learn about Islam and come together “so we can all love one another, understand each other, and be good neighbors to each other.” Conteh shared the basics of Islam by defining the six pillars of a Muslim’s faith and the five pillars of the religion: belief in one God, establishing five daily prayers, giving charity, fasting during the month of Ramadan and performing pilgrimage to Mecca.

Following Conteh’s introduction, Eaman Attia, head of the mosque’s Education Committee, continued with a talk titled “God Given Rights.” After exploring the meaning of “Islamaphobia,” Attia discovered a common link between various definitions of the recently coined term. “The western culture has a fear of Islam and Muslims because there is a belief that [they] do not share common cultural values with the western world,” she said. This led Attia to explore cultural values, or rights that we all have and share, including the right to equality for all human beings and the rights to freedom, justice and education.

“Whatever rights that God has given us in Islam are therefore the rights that God has given to all of humanity. These are rights that nobody on this earth at any time or place has the right to change, has the right to amend, has the right to abrogate or has the right to withdraw. These are permanent, perpetual, eternal rights: God given rights,” she said.

Attia explained these four values as human rights given to all of mankind by God. These same rights constitute the essence and root of the Islamic faith. “These Islamic rights confer honor and dignity on all mankind and eliminate exploitation, oppression and injustice,” she said. The program concluded by opening the floor to questions from the guest audience. Questions varied from topics concerning music in Islam to how the events in Tunisia and Egypt affect the image of Islam in the world.

Dr. Mohammed Tabbah, chairman of the mosque’s Board of Trustees, answered, “One of the meanings of the word ‘Islam’ means peace … and peace does not just mean there is no violence. With the status quo in Egypt and in similar countries in the Middle East and all over the world, people thought that was peace, and actually it was not peace because there was no justice … To have real peace, to have positive peace, you have to have justice.”

Guests were welcomed to tour the facility as they enjoyed refreshments served at the end of the program. The open house was an opportunity for the public to both “Meet Your Muslim Neighbor” — the theme of last year’s 2010 ICM’s open house — and also to “Defeat Islamaphobia Through Understanding.”

In 2004, Kofi Annan told a United Nations conference, “When the world is compelled to coin a new term to take account of increasingly widespread bigotry, that is a sad and troubling development. Such is the case with Islamaphobia,” which is why Attia enforced in her presentation that God declares to all of mankind “justice, kindness and doing good to kith and kin, and forbids all that is evil and oppressive. He exhorts you so that you may be mindful” (Quran 16:90).

Hina Hashmi is a senior at Bangor High School who lives in Veazie and is planning on attending the University of Maine in the fall.

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