Earlier this week, President Obama visited a Baltimore mosque to signal he wants Americans to increase their understanding of Muslims living in the U.S. On Saturday, one of the three Twin Cities mosques will hold an open house where non-Muslims can join in prayer and ask questions about Islam.
Sheheryar Muftee, the past president of the Islamic Center of Bloomington-Normal, says the open house is also a way of saying thank you to the hundreds of people who turned out at a Not In Our Town rally last December to show support for local Muslims. The rally was in response to a much publicized proposal following the San Bernardino terrorist attacks by Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump to ban Muslims from traveling to the U.S.
Muftee estimates there are about 250 Muslim families in the Twin Cities.
"Chances are if you set up a doctor appointment somewhere in McLean County, your physician will probably be a Muslim though you might not know it since we have a lot of physicians working in the Twin Cities," Muftee said. "If you are working at State Farm, you would most likely see someone there. If you are working at Illinois State University, I'm sure you will run into someone. We are fairly integrated."
Since the rise of Al Qaeda and more recently the Islamic State, as well as the deadly attack last fall on a community center in San Bernardino, Americans have been inundated with negative information and images of Muslims, Muftee said. The open house will offer a chance to correct some misunderstandings, he said -- for instance, that Muslims condone violence against people of other faiths. "It's something that specific groups and entities portray but it doesn't really reflect Islam," he said.
Muftee said Twin Cities Muslims participate in many community projects, including the McLean County Diversity Project, have cooperated with the county sheriff's departments, local police departments and the courts, and have joined in interfaith efforts that include Christian churches and McLean County's sole synagogue. The mosques have also give frequent tours for school children and university students.
Outside of tours and open house days, Muftee said residents can call any of the mosques at any time with questions or concerns. "I'm always available for anyone for any questions ... and others would be similarly open," he said.
While there have been attacks on mosques and threats to individual Muslims in other parts of the country, Muftee says Muslims here generally feel well-accepted. "I've lived here 10, 11 years and my experience has always been very positive." Muftee was born in Pakistan and is a naturalized citizen who works in information technology at State Farm Insurance.
Muftee said he hopes the Saturday open house will lead to friendships between Muslims and non-Muslims.
" I have friends I've made over the years that initially showed up at one of the those open houses and now we text every day, and I'm Muslim and they're non-Muslim," he said.
The open house is at Masjid Ibrahim, a mosque at 2407 E. Washington Street, Bloomington from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday. About 85 people have registered to come and about 100 are expected. Muftee recommends calling ahead of time to reserve a spot since seating at the mosque is limited. The Gain Peace Foundation, a project of the Islamic Circle of North America, is co-sponsoring Saturday's events.