Naperville, IL, April 15, 2018: The unseasonably cold, rainy April day did not dampen the enthusiasm of the guests as they poured into the Islamic Center of Naperville (ICN) to attend the Open Mosque Day hosted by the Islamic Center on Sunday, April 15th. They walked in from the cold to a warm, friendly welcome by about 80 volunteers from ICN who have been working tirelessly over the past few weeks to make this a successful event.
“We really enjoy hosting our friends and neighbors from different faiths and we strive hard to make their visit to our mosque a memorable one” said Shoaib Khadri, President of the Islamic Center of Naperville. “This is our sixth Open Mosque Day and at every one of them, we see many familiar faces of interfaith partners, friends and people who have attended before, but this year, we saw a significant number of new people, which was very welcoming. The primary purpose of the event was to give people of different faiths an opportunity to visit a mosque, something they may have never had a chance to do, and learn more about their Muslim neighbors and the faith that they practice.”
The guests started coming in as soon as the doors opened at 11 AM and it was a constant flow of people who varied from students to church groups, elected representatives, school board officials, law enforcement officers, local girl scout troops, families with kids, and the elderly across various faith denominations. Many students from local community colleges who are in Professor Dave Huber’s “World Religion” class participated in the event to get some firsthand exposure to Islam. The organizers estimated over 800 attendees based on the registration figures.
The format of the Open Mosque Day (OMD) was similar to the previous similar events with the main booths and food in the gym, the congregational prayers in the prayer halls, and presentations in separate rooms. A new addition to this year’s OMD was an inspirational gallery showcasing beautiful exhibits with verses of the Quran as well as Hadith – the sayings of Prophet Mohammed.
All the booths were laid out along the periphery of the gym with a large open area in the middle for people to gather, meet with a seating section facing a stage where continuous videos featuring the activities of ICN were played along with some snippets about Islam. The booth on Prophet Muhammad provided information about the life and the teachings of the last messenger of Islam where volunteers discussed various aspects of the prophet’s exemplary character and its impact on the Muslims. A second booth was dedicated to the Quran, the holy scripture of Islam that Muslims believe was the divine revelation from God.
The booth that always attracts a lot of questions was the “Islam and Extremism” booth considering all the negative perception of Islam in the public. The volunteers shared a lot of material that clearly explained that aggression and killing of innocent people were clearly forbidden in Islam and how most violence carried out in the name of religion is actually politically motivated and had no religious basis.
People lined up to get their names written in Arabic Calligraphy by Mahfooz Khan, an active member of the ICN Interfaith Committee who also has a flair and talent in Arabic Calligraphy. An “Artifacts and Culture” booth highlighted different aspects of Islamic culture, architecture with displays of different artifacts.
An “Islam & Science” booth illustrated the harmony between Islam and science by highlighting various scientific facts with references to the Quran and the numerous contributions of Muslims to the field of Science.
The “Women in Islam” booth was buzzing with activities with people curious to learn about women’s rights in Islam and questions about why women cover their hair. Various women volunteers at the booth were happy to answer their questions while giving the female guests a unique opportunity to try on a hijab (head scarf) that the guests were allowed to take home. Volunteers also drew beautiful designs of henna on guests’ hands.
The guests enjoyed a wide array of food ranging from Mediterranean cuisine to South Asian snacks to delicious desserts with tea and coffee. The food tables were well staffed with cheerful volunteers and continually replenished with the delicious food throughout the event. There were booths with free literature on Islam and copies of the Quran for people to take home, including a separate booth with literature in Spanish.
One of the most attractive features of the event was the screening of a multimedia presentation titled “Journey through Time” which was produced by Yousuf Siddiqui, Chairman of ICN’s Outreach Committee – a beautifully articulated message highlighting six of the greatest messengers of Islam – Adam, Noah, Moses, Abraham, Jesus and Muhammad with direct references in the Quran on each of them. Mr. Yousuf Siddiqui, said “We wanted to show our guests that Islam believes in these prophets, and their common message of the worship of One God. We had huge interest from the visitors and had excellent dialogue afterwards in the post question and answers sessions.” A recent addition to the multimedia presentations was a video production called “The Great Women in Islam” that highlighted inspiring stories from women who are revered in Islamic history as well as great contributors to the faith over the years.
Shahab Sayeedi, a board member of the ICN as well as an active member of the Outreach Committee, presented the basics of Islam and answered guest’s questions. Islam 101 presentation at the top of every hour was a popular attraction as the crowds filled the room Shahab said, “The Islam101 presentations provided our guests with an understanding of Islam and some of its practices while allowing them to ask questions and any clear misconceptions they may have had in a friendly and relaxed environment in the mosque.”
A new feature called “The Feedback Wall” – a large paper mounted board to solicit feedback from the guests, captured the mood of the visitors as many of them penned their thoughts in vibrant marker colors. Mayor Steve Chirico of Naperville, who spent a fair amount of time interacting with the hosts as well as the guests, commented: “Thank you for being such wonderful community partners.”Another guest wrote: “It’s amazing how at home I feel when we talk about our similarities and not our differences, Thank you for sharing your beliefs.” Bishop Andrew Child of the Church of Latter Day Saints who brought a number of his congregants, summed it up very well: “Thank You! Inspiring event. We can all learn from each other and strengthen one another in our faith.”