Schaumburg Twp. mosque's open house draws hundreds
Kim Calabrese attended Saturday's open house at the Midwest Islamic Center near Schaumburg as much for her children as she did for herself.
"I really wanted them to be able to surround themselves with peers they might have come in the door thinking differently about than they did as we left," the Carol Stream mother of two said. "I think they get it, or at least I hope they will."
It was a first-of-its-kind event for the mosque. At its peak, the standing-room-only crowd numbered roughly 400 as they listened to local Islamic leaders explain the basics of their faith and share not just the similarities but commonalities with Christianity. They also spent time answering questions from the visitors, touching on everything from sharia law, teachings in the Quran, women's rights and tolerance advocacy.
Pointed questions received pointed answers.
When an audience member asked the panel to explain and defend sharia law, one of the speakers used an analogy involving the Constitution and Martians.
Sabeel Ahmed, director of GainPeace, a nonprofit that works to educate the public about Islam, said if aliens came to Earth and asked him to explain the Constitution and all he said was it allows Americans to kill prisoners using lethal injection or the electric chair, that's akin to what most non-Muslims have been taught about sharia law, and all the beautiful parts have not been learned.
Ahmed said punishment is mentioned only briefly, and its importance has been distorted to fit an anti-Islam narrative.
"Anyone can abuse any concept," he said.
But the theme each of the speakers kept returning to was unity.
"Whether we want to accept it or not, we're all in this together," said Salman Faiz, a board member at the center.
The event comes at a time when Muslim-Americans have seen an uptick in hate crimes. Many attribute that to the campaign rhetoric of President-elect Donald Trump, who suggested he'd ban many Muslims from entering the country. His stance has softened some since being elected, but many Muslims remain concerned about the future of the country and their place here.
Kareem Irfan, chairman of the Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago, said the crowd represented what America truly is supposed to be about.
"This is the quintessential America," he said. "The understanding that everyone is created equal and the understanding that everyone will be treated equally under the color of the law. America is a beacon of hope for the rest of the world. This country does not need to be made great again. It is, and remains, a great country."
Recently elected Democratic congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi also spoke to the assembled crowd about the need to unite against hate.
"You are showing an open hand and an open heart for your fellow man, which we need more of in this country," Krishnamoorthi said. "We may have come in different ships to this country, but we're all in the same boat now."
Afterward, Krishnamoorthi criticized the ongoing executive branch transition process taking place in Washington and the bevy of advisers being named to the Trump administration. He said the onus is on Trump to show he isn't the president of only those who voted for him.
"The hallmark of our country is the peaceful transition of power, and President Obama is facilitating that," Krishnamoorthi said. "Donald Trump needs to reciprocate and show he is the president of all the people by reaching out to all religious communities and showing some grace."
Ron Streak, who lives next door to the mosque, said he came over because his "neighbors" invited him. He said he's never felt afraid living next door to the mosque and never had any problems with his neighbors.
"It's like any relationship. As long as there is mutual respect I don't think there should be any problems," he said.