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Muslims open doors, dialogue

September 28, 2007|By HEATHER KEELS

HAGERSTOWN - Imam Sularman has heard it all: Muslims worship Muhammed. Muslims worship the black stone in Mecca. Muslims worship the moon.

That's how he can tell people are getting their information about Islam from the wrong sources. A Muslim would have quickly set the record straight: One of the religion's most fundamental principles is submission to the creator and Him alone. But not enough people are asking Muslims.

"If I want to know something about Christianity, I'm certainly not going to go to a Jewish person," Sularman said. "Unfortunately, in that respect, we Muslims have been left out. Everybody's talking about Islam but Muslims."

That's why the Islamic Society of Western Maryland opened the doors of its mosque Thursday night and invited the community to join in as local Muslims broke the day's fast and conducted their evening prayer.

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About 100 people gathered in a tent outside the mosque despite pouring rain. They listened as the society's chair, Abdul Waheed, explained why Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset during the holy month of Ramadan and why Muslims pray five times a day.

Susan Lyons, a nurse who works with Waheed at Washington County Hospital, said she thought it was important to learn about other religions firsthand.

"It's very unfortunate that Americans would rather just accept information that's spoon-fed to them rather than actually pursuing knowledge," she said.

That's why Lee Fitzpatrick said she brought her two children from Waynesboro, Pa., to experience the event.

"I think it's important for my children to experience diversity and learn that there are all different ways of doing things, but there are lots of common themes."

Her daughter, Kathleen Shepherd, 7, watched as women in hijabs knelt and touched their foreheads to the floor in prayer.

"It wasn't like everything you see in a Catholic church," observed Connor Shepherd, 10.

It's especially important to expose children to different cultures so they grow up to be open-minded and tolerant, Waheed said.

Waheed said he was received warmly when he moved here from Pakistan and has helped resettle Meskhetian Turks fleeing persecution in Russia. He said he can understand why many are worried about bringing additional refugees to Washington County because of limited resources, but believes these concerns are unfounded, considering that all of the approximately 60 families he has worked with have since settled in, gotten jobs and place no burden on the community.

Still, he encourages people in the community to reach out with more resources and welcome newcomers with open arms.

Lyons agreed. "We share this planet," she said. "We just cannot be exclusive. It doesn't belong to us."

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