As they have in years past, Bay Area mosques and the Council on American-Islamic Relations are planning to hold open houses for non-Muslims and local leaders to learn about Islam as part of Ramadan, the monthlong fast during daylight hours to celebrate the revelation of the Quran to the Prophet Muhammad.
The Islamic Society of the East Bay, the largest mosque in the Tri-City area, plans to hold its open house on Sunday, Oct. 8, with booths opening at 4 p.m. and the program beginning at 4:30 p.m. at 33330 Peace Terrace.
This year, though, organizers say they considered holding the open house in the courtyard due to logistics and the sheer number of visitors in what is, until the new construction is completed, cramped quarters.
But holding the open house outdoors also conveniently avoids thorny issues such as the separation of men and women during prayers and the iftar dinner - the meal served at the end of the day during Ramadan - as well as other awkward issues such as cell phones going off in the middle of the worship.
"When we're in a place of worship, we need to respect that place and we like that etiquette to be followed," said Khalid Baig, the president of Islamic Society of the East Bay. "But if we have a general meeting in the courtyard, we don't have to maintain or be as serious about those issues."
Jitu Choudhury, outreach committee chairman for the Islamic Society of the East Bay and organizer of the open house, admitted it's a balancing act of reaching out to the greater community while also trying not to offend more conservative Muslims.
He acknowledged that cultural issues sometimes create tricky situations, or misunderstandings, during open houses, citing an incident last year when one woman wore a short skirt to the event.
"Am I really going to kick them out?" Choudhury said. "I want people to be respectful but, more importantly, I want people to come and learn about our religion. I want them to know what I stand for and how I raise my children."
Choudhury said he still expects most of the presentations to be held upstairs in the main prayer hall, although some booths will be outside in the courtyard.
"When Muslim families go to the mosque, we have different rooms for prayers; we don't stay together," Choudhury said. "But if a non-Muslim family wants to sit together, it's not going to be frowned upon."
Sameena Usman, spokesperson for the Council on American-Islamic Relations in the San Francisco Bay Area, said they leave it up to each mosque to determine how to plan an open house.
"Every mosque that participates (in the open house) has held interfaith events in the past," Usman said. "I think most people understand that many women will not wear a head scarf, nor should they feel compelled to. They're not Muslim and it's not a part of their culture."