At a time with rising tensions between Muslims and non-Muslims over thing like taxi service, Rochester’s mosque has taken on a public education campaign.

It’s holding monthly open houses for non-Muslims to take the unknown out of Islam. All questions are welcome. However all sides admit it’s a daunting task.

It’s a dreary Saturday morning and a group of 10 visitors have gathered at the back of the mosque. Marie Wynne Miller is one of them. She’s listening to a very detailed history of Islam. The facilitator is explaining Allah’s deep sense of justice, another man, and then the Imam, in Arabic, chime in.

The meeting has already lasted over an hour. Finally, Miller takes a break in the chatter to ask a question about culture and practice. Do they influence one another?

For example, a Muslim exchange student who lived with her always washed her hands before prayer in the morning.

“And to my knowledge she did not dry her hands. Okay, that’s one little habit. Maybe that just fit into her aspect of Muslim religion. And she certainly didn’t speak Arabic either,” Miller explains.

“Just the washing of the hands or the whole thing?” a community member asks.

“Oh, no, the other part seems reasonable to me,” Miller responds.

A few people try to answer Miller, but they only talk about the hand washing. She wants more.

The call to prayer comes and the sessions breaks up.

Miller puts on her jacket. She says news about the war in Iraq and the war on terror has filled her with questions about violence and practice. She says none of that was addressed. “There are so many sects, s-e-c-t-s, of the religion when I read about it. And they didn’t speak of these. And I really would like to ask about the different sects,” Miller says.

Differences aren’t the focus of these meetings, according to Rashed Ferdous: it’s the similarities. Ferdous runs the open houses. Ferdous says Rochester is a welcoming city, but people have justified questions about Islam.

“If I put myself in the shoes of a non-Muslim who is living in here, what I hear from the media and newspaper and all these things. I mean, I’m going to have the worst opinion about Muslims,” Ferdous explains. “Knowing that, I can’t say he’s prejudice. He’s just ignorant. If someone say, hey why are you guys terrorists? That’s an ignorant question. It’s not a bad question.”

Ferdous says he’s battling ignorance, not prejudice. He believes the best way to do that is to build relationships.


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