On a crisp February 11 morning, Dar-us-Salaam opened its doors to its neighbors in College Park. Lavender table covers, balloons and white lanterns welcomed College Park and surrounding areas residents to a luncheon they were invited to thorough flyers in the mail.
About 200 residents attended.
Imam Safi Khan gave a presentation on the five pillars of Islam and the Arkanul Iman, before a lunch of gyros, salad and biryani served by youth volunteers. Volunteers Shamila Hashim and Saafiyah Abdul Aleem, and Vice Principals Aisha Elahi and Abdul-Qaadir Abdul-Khaaliq were seen greeting and seating guests.
The Mayor of College Park Patrick Wojahn and members of the city council were there. At the request of the mayor, Imam Safi Khan summarized the 20-year-old history of Dar-us-Salaam in College park. He shared stories of how the forest behind the building used to be frequented by drug users and troublemakers. The presence of a Muslim institution cleaned up the area.“I really enjoyed both the hospitality and the opportunity to learn about the valuable contributions that Muslims have made in the United States and in College Park! Thanks to Al-Huda and to Imam Safi Khan for the opportunity,” he posted on the neighborhood website.
Recently, the College Park City Council passed a unanimous resolution against the Muslim Ban and approved a letter in support of Deferred Action of Childhood Arrivals, and immigration status given to undocumented immigrants who arrived under the age of 16.
Fellow garden lovers and faith-based social media aficionados, allies, moms and dads, and curious neighbors who just wanted to know how to appropriately say ‘hi’ while walking down the street, without it being awkward, came to attend the open lunch. Children and grandparents shared smiles and pizza.
Sajila Yaqub, a longtime member of the Dar-us-Salaam community, shared that many people still assume Muslim women do not have a say in their lives. They were surprised to hear that childcare and work is juggled between couples in the community.
Some neighbors find it hard to approach Muslims. "Is smiling appropriate?" asked an attendee. Imam Safi Khan joked with the audience, “It depends on the kind of smile,” he jested, as he informed the audience that smiling is a sunnah of the Prophet Muhammad. Many Muslims are traumatized and hesitant seeing their faith being misrepresented in the media; the rise in hate crimes has also made people wary of strangers.
“How do you invite a Muslim neighbor to dinner?” asked a resident, wanting to know the dietary requirements of their Muslim neighbors.
There were a number of questions on hijab and niqab. “Why do some women cover their face and others don't?” asked an attendee. Imam Safi explained that these were choices women made according to their understanding and comfort. As he made references to Allah the Most High, a neighbor wondered if God was a he or she. (God is gender neutral in the Islamic faith).
Some neighbors were interested in the curriculum taught at Al-Huda School, a project of Dar-us-Salaam. They asked the imam about the diversity of the congregation. At last count it was approximately 50 different backgrounds including Eskimo, Native, Latino, Caucasian, African-American, South Asian, East Asian, and many different parts of Africa and Middle East, shared Imam Safi.
Violence seen on TV screens and associated with Islam was a question asked in multiple iterations:“But what about the violence we see? Is the violence growing pains of a faith that is the youngest of the Abrahamic faiths?”
“How do we counter stereotypes about Muslims?” asked a neighbor who was also a part of a minority community. “Don't be a bystander, use your privilege to speak up in spaces and places that we don't have access to,” suggested a sister in the audience. “Aaron and I were so happy to attend; we are looking forward to finding ways we can engage, and continue to build on our new friendships. It was a wonderful event!” shared Ellen Henderson-Madhavan.
“Given the political climate in our country these days, it's so important that we have these community conversations,” noted Matt Dernoga, who lives in the neighborhood.
“How has the greater College Park community treated you? What other outreach activities does your community do?” asked neighbors interested in forming a deeper relationship with the school. Councilman Fazlul Kabir has acted as a community liaison, as both his sons are graduated from the school.
After the event, neighbor Todd Reitzel posted that he was impressed by the lunch and the ‘generous welcomes by everyone there, of all ages, including students’. “Everyone was very friendly and attentive, including providing coloring and pizza for young kids. And I appreciated the imam's sharing of his faith. Thank you, neighbors,” he said.
Dar-us-Salaam will be offering weekly Question and Answer sessions on Islam at College Park Community Center during the months of March and April (except the first of April). “It’s obviously an important topic and by participating in such an exchange of information, we in this dynamic city will be contributing to greater understanding and hope in the world,” says Arif Faridi, the main organizer of the event.