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Speaker pleads for peace Muslims are urged to get to know people of other religions



Published: Thu, September 12, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



A handful of non-Muslim community and religious leaders turned out for the event, along with several Muslim families.

By MARALINE KUBIK

VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER

YOUNGSTOWN -- Red prayer mats with arrows pointing in the direction of Mecca, the holy city, are lined up edge to edge forming one solid carpet in a large, open room void of furniture except for a few folding chairs against the back wall.

Three crystal chandeliers hang in a row in the center of the room; six ceiling fans -- three on each side -- hang in rows next to the chandeliers.

Men and boys trickle in and take their places. Many are barefoot. All are without shoes.

The imam -- the holy man who conducts the service -- seems undisturbed by the intermittent entrances as he delivers his sermon.

Those who understand Arabic arrive early, complete their prayers, which involve a series of prostrations, and listen to the sermon. English speakers arrive throughout the imam's sermon in Arabic, prostrate themselves in prayer, and patiently await delivery of the English version.

Upstairs in a smaller room, women and young children perform the same ritual. A few elderly women improvise the series of prostrations from folding chairs.

All the females, even the youngest babies, have their heads covered and, like the men, all are without shoes.

Because they prostrate themselves in prayer, the women pray in a separate room for the sake of modesty.

Plea for peace

On this Friday before the first anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on America, the imam delivers a universal sermon pleading for peace -- Islam means peace -- and a world free of racism and discrimination.

"There should be no distinction among anyone," he said, gazing at the congregation seated shoulder-to-shoulder and cross-legged on the floor.

Because all people are equal in the eye of God, everyone sits or stands in rows at the mosque. No one is seated higher or lower, or given preferential treatment. Each is just one among many; no better, no worse.

"Peace is not simply a matter of signing papers," the imam continued. "Your heart must be filled with love and compassion, tolerance and forgiveness. ... Everyone who believes in God must join together."

In that spirit, the Islamic community of Masqid Al-Khair, a mosque on Youngstown's South Side, had an open house Wednesday inviting the public inside to share in remembering the tragedy of Sept. 11, honoring those who lost their lives or loved ones, and celebrating the hope for peace.

A handful of non-Muslim community and religious leaders turned out for the event, along with several Muslim families.

What counts

Although organizers had hoped for a larger turnout, Dr. Mustansir Mir, professor of Islamic studies at Youngstown State University and keynote speaker during the open house, stressed that it was the kind of people who turned out that mattered rather than the number.

Those who came, he said, are the ones who will help educate the greater community about their Muslim neighbors.

Mir praised America's ability to adapt to change and welcome what he called a "salad bar" of people who come from varied backgrounds and parts of the world. There is no other country in the world that has a national identity so strongly bound to immigration, he said.

"There is no other country that offers so much opportunity to so many at such a large scale."

He also pointed a finger at the Islamic community, accusing American Muslims of not doing enough to reach out and become more integrated in American culture.

To help promote mutual understanding of the many religions practiced by area residents, Mir suggested organizing a picnic where families could come together, have fun and get to know each other before discussing their differences.

Among those in attendance eager to support interfaith programs were Elsie Dursi of the Mahoning Valley of Churches and Bonnie Deutsch Burdman, director of the Jewish Community Relations Council.

kubik@vindy.com




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