Islamic Center of Cape Girardeau holds open house to increase awareness about Islam

Monday, November 17, 2008
Ahmad Sheikh, right, talks Sunday with Ada Cruce, left, and Barbara Barklage at the Cape Islamic Center open house.

God is bigger than the imagination, a being who never eats, never sleeps. God is everywhere.

"Nobody can forgive your sins but God," Noor Wadi, 14, explained to visitors of the Islamic Center of Cape Girardeau during a Sunday afternoon open house.

Members of the mosque, 293 West End Blvd. near Harmony Street, opened their doors to "increase awareness of our Muslim community so there will be no misunderstandings," said Shafiq Malik, the mosque's amir, or administrator. He moved to Cape Girardeau in 1981 and graduated from Southeast Missouri State University with a degree in accounting.

Inside the mosque, visitors removed their shoes and women covered their heads before entering a room divided by a simple adjustable curtain, with men sitting on one side and women on the other. The few decorations are devoted to the Quran, the book that is to Muslims what the Bible is to Christians and the Torah is to Jews. The floor is covered with small prayer rugs. Two bookcases nestled in a corner hold books in Arabic and English devoted to explaining Islam to people of all ages. At the back of each room is a row of chairs for those unable to kneel in prayer.

Behind the mosque, in a one-story building used as a community center, old and new members of the mosque mingled with visitors.

Copies of the Quran were available at the Cape Islamic Center open house Sunday.

Sisters Nayab and Sahab Bashir, 16 and 13 respectively, moved to Cape Girardeau with their parents and two younger sisters a little more than a year ago from Beachwood, Ohio. Nayab said she sees the mosque as a gathering place for the community. Sahab, who said she has many friends among the congregation's members, said the open house was important.

"We are the opposite of the stereotype," she said. "Every religion has its bad people. Most people are good."

More than 60 visitors filled the community room, where information supplemented a buffet-style meal.

Visitors tried such Middle Eastern cuisine such as the sesame-flavored chickpea spread, hummus, served with flat breads; spicy tandoori chicken; and baklava -- delicate and sweetened phyllo dough layers stuffed with chopped nuts.

Syrian-born Sam Alsmadi, owner of a downtown Cape Girardeau restaurant, Mediterranean on Broadway, is a member of the Sunni sect, which he described as more liberal.

"God was never an extremist," he said, standing near the buffet table. "God is right in the middle."

The object of praying five times a day, kneeling on a clean cloth, lying with one's nose and forehead on the ground, "is the ultimate humility," he said, a reminder that human life is transient.

At the far end of the room, Dr. Musa Wadi, who during the week treats patients through the Pulmonary Clinic of Southeast Missouri Hospital, gave an informal lecture with slides highlighting key points of the Muslim faith and answering common questions.

Wadi explained why Muslim women wear headscarves, called a hijab -- an Arabic term for modest dress.

"Is is because she's having a bad hair day or because her family makes her or both?" Wadi asked. Some in the room chuckled, but listened as he explained that modesty for men and women is an important part of the Muslim culture.

He went on to say that personal hygiene is highly valued.

"Cleanliness is half the faith," he said.

The other half of faith, he said, is respect for human life, caring for the less fortunate and worshipping a single God.

Deb and Dennis Hanabarger of Cape Girardeau visited the community center after learning about the open house. Deb Hanabarger said she's seen Muslim women working out at her gym and had questions about women's roles in the religion. She said she came to the open house because "we're Christians, and we wanted to show love."

She liked the various dishes she sampled and even bought a copy of the Quran.

"I'm sure we have differences over Jesus' role," she said. "But we have a lot in common -- respect for elders, the young and the parents, being against slavery. And the Ten Commandments? They seem to agree with the words ... I believe love is the bottom line for everything."


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