We had the wonderful opportunity to attend the “Know Your Neighbor” event at the Islamic Center of Greater Cincinnati. After we removed shoes and the ladies wrapped a scarf around our hair, we walked into the prayer room at the mosque. There we saw beautiful Arabic calligraphy and a breathtakingly massive chandelier heavy with crystals from Syria.
As we faced towards Mecca, we observed their prayer ritual. The men lined the front of the prayer space as the women prayed in line behind. The prayer ritual requires Muslims to bend over on their knees and put their forehead to the floor. We were informed during the Q&A portion of the event, that the women stand behind the men for their comfort so the women wont have to worry about the wandering eyes of the men.
We learned a great deal about Islam and many myths were debunked. For instance, western media would have you believe that Muslim women are oppressed. However, Muslim women have historically had more rights than western women. For instance, Muslim women were allowed to own property and be involved in government long before their Western counterparts. Muslim women aren't compelled to change their last name when they marry. It was also pointed out that Turkey, a predominantly Muslim country, has a much higher of women in government than the US which we all know is sorely lacking in female representation.
There was also the inevitable discussion about Islam and terrorism. To that point, they decried that groups like ISIS and the Taliban are not Muslims because their actions are in direct opposition to the teachings of the Koran. Islam is a peaceful and loving religion not unlike Christianity and Judaism. In speaking of terrorism, there was also discussion as to why when a Muslim commits a heinous crime it is labeled as terrorism, but when a white man commits a heinous crime they are a called a disturbed lone wolf. If my memory serves me correctly there have been no shortage of "lone wolf" acts by white men in the last few years. In a church, movie theater, elementary school, citizens have also been terrorized by white men. Why the double standard? Is it because Muslims seem foreign and white men are the cultural norm? It is a dangerous precedent to set and many innocent Muslims become victims of this societal narrative.
My favorite part of the whole experience was the amazing food and conversations that took place afterwards. There were pakoras, hummus, babba ghanoush, and, my favorite, baklava. We had an opportunity to have deeper conversations with Muslims who volunteered at the event. My biggest take away from the whole event is exactly what I expected it to be. There are far more similarities between us than differences. I spoke with a women who was also a stay at home mother. We told stories of struggling to maintain our sanity while raising spirited children. There was an amazing teenager filled with spunk and big dreams for her future. There was also a group of kids playing around after a fundraiser for their school. You could have taken them from the mosque and put them in any "typical" American situation without notice.
The whole time, people were thanking us for coming. I could only answer by thanking them profusely for having us, for opening their doors and hearts and welcoming us in their community. If people who are frightened by the narrative created by the government and media about Muslims took a couple of hours on a Saturday afternoon to attend a "know your neighbor" at the Greater Cincinnati Islamic Center, they would find the welcome and generosity to be disarming and conversations enlightening. I would hope that they would also find that we are all Americans with more in common than they were led to believe.