Tyler mosque’s open house offers a chance to dispel myths about Islam

People who don’t believe Jesus was a prophet cannot be Muslims. About one-third of Africans brought to the United States as slaves were believed to be Muslim. And Muslims don’t consider Christians infidels.

Those were some of the facts that members of the community made clear at the 16th annual open house of the East Texas Islamic Society, a mosque on Texas Highway 64 in Tyler where hundreds worship on Friday afternoons.

The roughly 200 guests were offered complimentary copies of the Quran, a book on the similarities between Christianity and Islam, and iftar, a ceremonial meal that Muslims eat after sundown to break their fast during Ramadan.

Ramadan is the ninth month in the Muslim calendar, the month that Muhammad was shown the Quran by God, and Muslims observe it by fasting from sunrise to sunset. At the East Texas Islamic Society, observers broke their fasts at 8:17 p.m. with a prayer, followed by the community meal.

Like Christianity and Judaism, Islam is rooted in the story of Abraham. The religion believes that Abraham was the first prophet of God; that there were several other prophets, including Adam, Noah, Moses, Jesus and others; and that Muhammad was the final messenger of God’s law.

“In Muhammad’s time, mosques were not just for Muslims to go and worship,” Anwar Khalifa, a member of the East Texas Islamic Society, told attendees. “They allowed Christians to come and hold their services in the mosques.

“We want to be following the tradition of Prophet Muhammad and have our place open for anyone who wants to use our mosque,” Khalifa said. “So in that tradition, our place is open, and we have our open house here and we welcome people to come. “

Yasmeen Khalifa

Yasmeen Khalifa, a student at the University of Texas at Tyler, told the crowd some basic facts about Islam and Muslims. She also defined terms that people might see misused in other places, like jihad or Sharia.

Islam is based on five pillars: professing the faith; praying five times a day; dedicating one-fortieth of your wealth to helping people in need; fasting from food, water and worldly pleasures during Ramadan; and making a pilgrimage to Mecca

Jihad means struggle, she said, and can mean small struggles like helping people who are oppressed, or the greatest struggle, trying to make yourself a better person every day.

Sharia includes tenets of Islam like taking care of your family and your parents, practicing business fairly, not lying and not committing adultery, she said. No country implements Sharia, or Islamic law, and Muslims are expected to follow the law of the land, she said.

Khalifa wears a type of head covering called a hijab, which covers the hair and then wraps around the neck. She said Muslim women wear different types of coverings, or none at all, based on their own personal preferences. In her family, she wears a hijab and her sister does not.

She said it’s believed that 30 percent of enslaved Africans brought to the United States were Muslim. Jesus is equal to all other prophets, such as Adam or Moses, and Muslims believe he was the Messiah, but, unlike Christians, do not believe he was the son of God.

Forced marriages are not allowed, but consensual marriages have some defined characteristics. “With property rights, once a woman is married, what’s hers is hers, but what’s his is theirs, so that’s kind of cool,” Khalifa said. The crowd started applauding.

Shamsa Ashraf, the principal of the society’s Faith Academy, said she and her students have a day just like most elementary schools. There are assemblies, classes and the students take the same standardized tests that are given in Texas public schools.

Ashraf said children start out their lives as innocent people, and somewhere down the line many lose the tolerance, respect and love that they once had. She said that loss is learned, and it’s important for schools to teach children children.

“We need to make sure that when those children grow up to be teenagers and later on adults — if they have that same attitude, those same attributes, that same behavior, we would have a better world,” Ashraf said.

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