Larry Snider

Mosque Open House: Meet Your Muslim Neighbor

On Sunday I attended an Open House at the brand new Al-Manar Mosque and Learning Center in Gloucester Township, NJ. An invitation came to the Jewish Community Relations Council of Southern NJ, and while there was some anxiety about one of the speakers, as a longtime activist and believer in interfaith dialogue I knew that I had to go. I was not surprised to see a second more courageous member of JCRC show up because I know she believes deeply in bridge building. So, we and a baker’s dozen or so others joined about one hundred Muslims in attending an introductory program on Islam 101, with some Q & A and four speakers interspersed with readings from the Quran.

There was a Call to Prayer and Afternoon Prayers preceded the event, which I participated in as best I could. I decided to wear my yarmulka to distinguish myself as a Jew from the men in the Mosque with kufis and embroidered skull caps. The larger room had a beautiful prayer rug and lovely chandeliers with a small stage in front and a screen denoting prayer times, five times a day. In my limited experience, I’ve been to about ten Mosques and spoke at a couple. This one is being converted from an old school house right behind the Gloucester Premium Outlets on the Black Horse Pike, for those who know South Jersey.

Dr. Ali Farooqui was Master of Ceremonies and welcomed everyone telling us that there was food in the back and that we were all invited to stay for the Iftar, a break the fast dinner scheduled to follow at sundown 7:17PM. He also told us that along with the four talks, four people who memorized the whole Quran would recite from it in Arabic and provide English translation. Two of the readers were young men in their teens.

The first talk was by Professor Mostafa Hijaz. He began by saying, “Alhamdulillah,” praise be to G-d-Allah. He welcomed us once again and said that there was a verse in the Quran that says, “All people of the Book come to a common word together and worship the one true G-d.” Professor Hijaz went on to outline the Five Pillars of Islam, the six Pillars of Faith and the virtues of Fasting in Islam, Christianity and Judaism.

After a reading of the first Chapter of the Quran by Abdullah, a 17-year-old visiting from Texas, the second talk was presented by Imam John Starling. He lives in Cherry Hill and converted to Islam in 1999 at the beginning of Ramadan. He told the story of the Prophet Muhammad and how he received the Quran in the seclusion of a cave near Mecca. Muhammad was visited by the Angel Gabriel who recited the first verses from Chapter 96. Muhammad shared them with his wife Maymunah and a Christian who could read. Over the next 23 years, he returned to the caves in Mecca and Medinah and received the entire Quran from the Angel Gabriel. He went on to talk about the Prophet and his journey to Madinah as well as his meeting with a Jewish tribe whose lineage was different from Muhammad who descends from Ismael.

Ducah, a young man from Cherry Hill read from the Quran and Dr. Tesneem Alkiek talked about how what Muhammad was bringing to his people was an ethical prophesy to come together and replace the pagan idolatry and the exploitation of the weak. Muhammad, she added, promoted taking care of all the people in the community.

After another reading, the final talk was given by Dr. Tahir Wyatt on perceptions of the Muslim Jesus. First, he asked for questions and I responded by asking, “What makes this Mosque unique?” He said it is the people, a very diverse group representing many different nationalities. “You will feel welcome.” He said Chapter 19 is named after Mary, the Mother of Jesus. In one of the commentaries, Hadith’s, Muhammad states that, “I am the closest of all people to Jesus, son of Mary in this life and the next.” Most Muslims consider Muhammad to be the last Prophet.

Dr. Wyatt went on to say we venerate Jesus, one of the five greatest prophets. Another is Abraham. There are over 100,000 prophets in the history of the world. Most aren’t named. Mary was very special. He said that this Open House was a beginning point for understanding Islam. He hoped to continue the discussion.

Guests were invited to have something to eat in the back room as evening prayer began and then, after prayers, we were invited to join everyone downstairs for Iftar, break the fast dinner. It was halal, not very different from kosher, with meat, rice and chicken and other things that I didn’t get to. I spoke with a number of people briefly, thanking them and telling Dr. Farooqui that I was sure they would be getting an invitation from the Jewish Community Relations Council in Cherry Hill. I shook a lot of hands and felt like it was a new beginning.

I waited for a LYFT, because my car is in the shop. I was picked up by Tarah who told me that he didn’t know there was a Mosque here, that he lives in the area, and that G-d works in mysterious ways. I thanked him for the ride home and wished him well.

About the Author
Larry Snider was President of the Interfaith Community for Middle East Peace a non-profit based in suburban Philadelphia. Today he lives in New Jersey and is a Board Member of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Southern New Jersey.