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Islamic Society of Western Maryland opens 'window of understanding'

September 11, 2008|By JOSHUA BOWMAN

HAGERSTOWN -- In the early 1980s, as he prepared to move to New York from the south, Mohammad Haq's neighbors warned him to buy a weapon.

"Everyone said, 'It's dangerous,' you better have a gun,' and I believed them," Haq said.

After moving, Haq quickly realized he would be fine in New York. He said his neighbors' fears were rooted in images from TV.

"We develop images about other people based on a very narrow window of understanding," Haq said Wednesday at the beginning of a yearly open house conducted by the Islamic Society of Western Maryland. "This (open house) is an attempt to open that window."

Every year for the last 10 years, the Islamic Society has invited members of the community from different faiths to join them at their Day Road mosque during Ramadan, said Tanvir Pasha, president of the Islamic Society.

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The goal, Pasha said, is to combat what he called a "lack of knowledge" about Islam and its practices.

"It gives them a chance to see how we fast, how we pray. It's a way of communication," Pasha said.

About 100 people attended the open house Wednesday, sitting under a tent outside the mosque for a discussion and dinner to break the fast before going inside to watch the evening's prayers.

The event's featured speaker, Esam Omaish, noted that the timing of this year's open house -- the night before Sept. 11 -- only further highlights the need for communication across religious lines.

"It was an event that shook all of us. And nobody was more at the eye of the storm ... than the Muslim community in America," Omaish said, referring to the attacks of 9/11.

Omaish urged people to read the Quran, or Muslim holy book, noting that Muslims believe in Mary, Jesus and Moses.

"By faith, we are very close," Omaish said.

George Rae, a member of Salem United Methodist Church in Keedysville, agreed.

He said he goes to events like the open house to learn as much as he can about different faiths.

His desire to do so stemmed from a trip to Bosnia.

"I saw there firsthand the aftermath of what happens when religious beliefs become battle lines," Rae said.

He sat at a table during the open house with Michele Grove, who attends the Unitarian Universalist Church in Hagerstown.

She said she was excited about the open house when she heard about it earlier this month.

"If they are willing to welcome us here, I want to be here," Grove said.

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