ORONO, Maine — Johanna Szillery of Old Town came to meet her neighbors.
The Rev. John Buhr, pastor of Pathway Community Church in Newport, attended so he would be better equipped to answer questions from his congregation about Islam.
Lindsey Piper of Belfast brought her sister, who married a Jordanian and is a Muslim, to meet other followers of her faith.
They were among the more than 200 people who attended the third annual open house at the Islamic Center of Maine, 151 Park St., on Saturday. The topic, “ The Quran: Learn It or Burn It?” drew the largest crowd the mosque, which was completed two years ago, has hosted, according to Jenan Jondy, outreach coordinator.
“Last year, we ran out of chairs,” she said as the two-hour session ended. “So, this year, we bought 50 more and they were filled.”
The event began with members of the mosque reciting evening prayers, then moved into a talk peppered with humor by Dr. Muhammad A. Mir. Using a computer that projected images on a wall of the mosque, he included a warning that said: “Parts of the presentation are boring.”
Mir went through the history of the religion and explained what was happening in the Arab world when Mohammed received his first revelation from Allah in 609 A.D. The words, “Wine, wars, wealth, words and women,” appeared on the wall as Mir explained that tribal warfare fueled by a desire to accumulate property dominated a society where alcohol use was excessive. The culture valued the spoken word over other art forms, such as painting, and treated women as commodities.
Muslim’s holy book, the Quran, was Allah’s message to Mohammed just as the Torah, a text sacred to Jews, was God’s message to Moses and the lessons of the Christian Gospels were God’s message to Jesus, Mir said.
The Quran addressed many of those societal ills by forbidding the use of alcohol, laying out when followers of Islam should use violence and giving rights to women that reversed the tribal practice that considered females to be property.
In answer to a question about the suicide bombers who were involved in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States, Mir urged those in attendance not to “focus on the bomber, focus on the suicide part.” Suicide is forbidden by the Quran.
“We view [suicide bombings] more as a sociopolitical act than a religious action,” Mir said.
Another audience member asked what the Quran said about “same-sex loving couples.”
“Homosexuality is considered a sin in our faith,” Mir replied.
The crowd remained respectful and attentive.
“I am in awe of and humbled by your dedication to following Allah,” Szillery, who attends the Church of Universal Fellowship in Orono, said during the question and answer period. “What has your reception been like in Maine?”
Mir, an internist at Eastern Maine Medical Center, said that northern Maine “is the best place to be a minority.”
Jondy said that before moving to Greater Bangor with her husband, Dr. Mohammad Tabbah, and their children, she went shopping at the Bangor Mall and stores nearby to gauge how people reacted to her.
“I have had a very positive reaction,” she said. “People have been so friendly and so kind.”
Jondy said that the information disseminated at Saturday’s event will reach far beyond the people who attended because they will share what they learned with family and friends who in turn will talk to neighbors and co-workers.
“That is the thing I absolutely love about the open house,” she said. “People come here, they learn about Islam and they take it back home and share it.”
Over the past three years, Jondy estimated the center’s outreach program has reached 3,500 people at events at the mosque, at presentations at area businesses and schools and by email.
“When we share our beliefs and people learn about Islam, we break down a lot of barriers,” she said.
For information on the Islamic Center of Maine and its activities, visit www.theicmo.com or call 866-3410.