Standing for peace

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Lamia Sassya of Boardman draws henna art on hands during the Masjid Al-Khair mosque open house in Youngstown on Sunday.

By Sean Barron


Randa Shabayek wants to reinforce that the vast majority of Muslims stand for peace and should not be judged by the few who distort and misinterpret the Quran’s teachings.

“We’re all brothers and sisters,” Shabayek, president of the Islamic Society of Greater Youngstown, said in expressing a main theme of Sunday’s fifth annual open house at the Masjid Al-Khair mosque, 1670 Homewood Ave. on the South Side.

The four-hour gathering featured tours of the mosque, as well as a variety of ethnic foods, clothing, books and pamphlets on the Islamic faith and activities for children.

Filling the mosque’s basement were the aromas of samosas (triangular pastries filled with potato or ground beef) and chicken biryani (rice-and-chicken dish), both prepared by Saeeda Ghani, an Islamic Society board member.

The two ethnic dishes, along with bhel puri tortillas with chickpeas, yogurt or chutney that can be complemented with spices) and chanas (spicy chickpeas), originate in Pakistan, she explained.

Other foods included pickled tomatoes, hummus, grape leaves and spinach pies.

On the sweeter side of things was cotton candy prepared by Manal Hamdan, a society member.

Ghani said she also hopes more people will come to events such as Sunday’s open house to gain a greater understanding of the Islamic faith.

“We’re trying to create more awareness regarding the religion of Islam because there are very conflicting views depicted by a handful of people, which does not give a full picture of what Islam is about,” she explained. “We believe in peace. Peace, compassion and kindness are what we’re all about.”

Many attendees were attracted to the variety of handmade scarves, table runners, shawls, pillows, shoes and slippers sold by Azka Malik, the mosque’s public-relations officer.

Malik also had on display two brass items from Pakistan with intricate needlework used to hold flowers, along with an assortment of small jewelry pieces.

Also on hand were Castro Mufleh and his wife, Holly Mufleh, both of whom run a school at the mosque.

The 6-year-old school has about 33 students in kindergarten through fifth grade as well as six full-time teachers who follow a curriculum that features Islamic, Arabic and Quran studies accompanied by math, reading and science, noted Castro, who’s also an Islamic Society administrator.

“The academics are really good, and the school’s student-to-teacher ratio is excellent,” he added.

It is hoped the facility will continue to grow to include youngsters up to the eighth grade, Holly said, adding that the school likely will relocate to satisfy the need for more space.

The open house included tours of the mosque’s prayer halls, as well as discussions Shabayek gave about the Five Pillars of Islam, the Quran and the Kabah, a 627-square-foot cubed-shaped structure in Mecca that many Muslims face while praying.

Also part of the festivities was henna art by Lamia Sassya of Boardman, who created artistic prints on some attendees’ hands and feet.

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