Meet your Muslim neighbour celebrates one-year anniversary of opening doors to Calgarians

By Asad Cabdullahi Mataan

Members of a mosque that has been opening its doors for a year to Calgarians are noticing a change in attitude toward the faith for those who come in.

Baitun Nur Mosque, in the northeast of Calgary, is always busy. The mosque serves as a prayer space, but also offers counselling services, help with taxes and even has a basketball court.

That’s one of the things most people are surprised to find out, said Samira Sohail, 19, who volunteers as a guide for visitors at the monthly event.

“It’s really just a space for people to come together as a community,” she said.

For the last year, Sohail has been greeting people at the mosque who are interested in learning about the faith.

“We open our mosque doors for people to come and learn,” Sohail said. “It’s just good to know that someone can change their mind about us just by seeing who we really are. It leaves a really big impact on people.”

Over the year, she’s seen new faces but also a fair bit of returning guests. “There’s this one lady who is in her 80s but she comes every time … once it was –30 and she transited all the way here and I was shocked. She’s not even Muslim but she has so much love.”

The event started in the hopes that it would build bridges between the Muslim community and other locals in the city.

“Our intention was if we can clarify one persons misconceptions, we’ve done our job,” said Mohammad Bilal, one of the organizers of the event. “But thank God, we’ve received tremendous support from the community, on average we get around 50 to 70 guests a month.”

Ashley Gray visited the mosque because she wanted to learn more about the religion. She said a lot of the values she grew up with are similar to the Muslim community.

“I think it’s a great experience, our tour guide answered a lot of questions for us,” Gray said. “It’s educational and welcoming to learn about the religion.”

Bilal said that in the last year he’s seen a shift in the way non-Muslims view Islam.

“I think there are challenges but we take it one step at a time. Over time people are starting to realize there are two sides to the coin,” Bilal said.

Once people understand what the religion is all about, they’re more willing to share what they know with others, or speak up against Islamophobic remarks, he said.

“When we post our ads on social media we see a lot of negative comments that follow from people who don’t understand,” Bilal said. “But now we see members who have visited the facility step in and help clarify any misconceptions.”

Bilal said the event has been an opportunity to meet more people and create friendships with Calgarians.

“When we educate people and we welcome them with open arms, we’re making friends,” Bilal said. “At the end of the day and friends are better than enemies.”

Mary Getaneh is a Calgary-based reporter covering arts, culture and diversity. Follow her on Twitter: @marygetaneh

Source:  – Toronto Star