At the groundbreaking ceremony for Spokane Islamic Center’s new mosque and community center, children shoveled dirt onto a pile that grew bigger and bigger. Perhaps when they are adults the world will rest much easier with peace. Prayers are fashioned from such impossible requests. In a year, Muslims from throughout the Inland Northwest hope to be saying those prayers from a 6,000-square-foot building on Spokane’s East side.
And they plan to open their mosque to non-Muslims, so that Inland Northwest residents can better understand a religion that often makes world news in horrific ways, as it did Wednesday when German officials uncovered plans for major terrorist attacks there. The suspects are Muslim.
Spokane Islamic Center President Mamdough El-Aarag understands how such news encourages some non-Muslims to see all Muslims in the same way. So he has this request: “Please, if you are going to form an opinion about us, come and see first.”
Non-Muslims attended the ground-breaking ceremony Friday, because they have worked on interfaith efforts with members of the Spokane Islamic Center through the years, long before Sept. 11. So when the horror happened six years ago, the Muslims felt overwhelmed with community support.
And partly in thanks for that, they will open their new mosque and community center as a public facility where non-Muslims will be welcome to watch Muslims in prayer and learn about Islam. The center’s prayer services have always been open to outsiders, but the current space is too small to accommodate many visitors.
The United States was founded by men and women fleeing religious persecution. They made freedom of – and freedom from – religion nonnegotiable tenets of their new world. This constitutional right sometimes pushes people to the outer limits of tolerance. When John F. Kennedy, a Catholic, ran for president in 1960, some voters feared the Vatican would rule the presidency. The candidacy of Mitt Romney, who belongs to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, has raised fears of a presidency heavily influenced by the Mormon church.
Openness and education can diminish fears.
“The Muslims in the U.S. came here for freedom of speech and freedom of religion. If we are not open, we should go someplace else,” El-Aarag said.
In a shaky time, in a shaky world, as the somber 9-11 anniversary approaches, Spokane and North Idaho churches are figuring out how differing religions can peacefully coexist and work together. The new mosque will be one more symbol that
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