It's Wednesday night at the local mosque on the corner of Locust and Fifth Street. Upstairs, in the prayer room, about 40 men of all ages stand next to each other in elbow-rubbing distance — all facing east toward Mecca, the holy city of Islam. They bend over, kneel, then prostrate, a process repeated several times. The women do the same in a separate room. When prayer ends, I shake hands with most of those present — a sign of respect and friendship. Even if they are not featured in the stories you are about to read, Muslims at the mosque that night — and on many other occasions — allowed the Missourian to attempt to understand the local community, the fundamentals of Islam and the struggles American Muslims face on a daily basis when trying to blend faith with culture and society. We engaged in conversations on numerous topics — from the impact of extremism on the public profile of the faith to the nature of interactions between men and women. They allowed us to learn about their lives and struggles, and they let us document their daily activities.
Rehab El-Buri, whom you will meet in this section, said she endows her actions with purpose, something required if a Muslim is to walk the right path. Talking to a reporter also had a purpose — to promote and present her faith to Columbians unfamiliar with local Muslims. Rehab was born and raised in Columbia and is one of about 1,500 Muslims living in mid-Missouri. Her openness and the openness of other Muslims is an invitation to interfaith dialogue and communion. I knew little about Islam when I began reporting this story in January. I knew even less about the local community of Muslims. As you read some of their stories, I hope you will come to the same realization of universality I did. No matter the religion or the path one chooses to walk, the experiences we go through as human beings are similar. Finding purpose, integrating into society and defending our kin are moments of life we share. Muslims will be the first to tell you that some use the Quran to justify violence. What they ask for in return is for the community to listen to the ones who don't, because that is mainstream Islam. (MORE)