An Edmonton mosque opened its doors to the public Sunday afternoon in an effort to combat what the congregation fears is a growing backlash against the Muslim community.
The idea came to Mohyuddin Mirza, the outreach director of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community Canada in Edmonton, after an online video was released by an al-Qaeda-linked group calling for attacks at West Edmonton Mall and other shopping centres in the U.S. and Europe.
“I thought ‘Oh, here we go again,’” Mirza said.
“This is my religion, this is my faith, I have lived this for 70 years, so I got to tell people that this is not what Islam is.”
He worried the mall threats, as well as the continued actions of ISIS and the attacks on France’s Charlie Hebdo magazine, would give people misconceptions about his religion.
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The open house at Al- Hadi Mosque was designed to give people from outside the faith a better understanding of the religion’s history and teachings. He said Islam preaches non-violence, and that groups like ISIS have twisted the faith’s tenants for their own purposes.
“It is to be a jihad of pens, a jihad of argument. Not a jihad of guns,” Mirza said.
He said like any other religion, there many different communities and beliefs within Islam. But those who commit violence in the name of the religion are ignoring what it actually teaches, he said.
Dozens of people attended the event. For some, it was a chance to learn more about Edmonton’s Islamic community. For practising Muslims, like Samina Mian, it was a chance to speak to others and dissolve some of the stereotypes that she has encountered.
“Respect, respect for other religions, respect for other cultures, and that's what real Islam is, respect,” she said.
Like Mirzas, Mian worries that for too many the only experience with Islam is hearing about extremist groups, so they might not be getting an accurate view of her religion.
“We read it, we hear it, we see it in the TV all the time, with the growing crisis in the Middle East, and ISIS, the way Islam is portrayed,” she said.
Sunday’s open house coincided with Meet a Muslim Family, a national campaign organizers hope will dispel misconceptions about Islam.