AP NEWS

Clear Lake ‘Meet Your Muslim Neighbor’ event seen as timely

April 25, 2019

Get to know your Muslim neighbor.

That’s the name and the idea behind an event scheduled for May 11 at the Clear Lake City-County Freeman Library that local Muslims and other residents view as timely in the wake of recent massacres in New Zealand mosques and in Christian churches in Sri Lanka.

In an 11 a.m. gathering sponsored by Muslim American Society-Houston and the Friends of the Freeman Library, the community is invited to meet, greet and learn about the local Muslim community.

Using a backdrop of interactive stations, posters, speakers and food, the event is an open invitation to learn about the teachings of Islam and the roles Muslim Americans have played in America culture.

While the Bay Area has a thriving Muslim American community, “for a person to actually meet and have a firsthand experience with a Muslim is still rare,” said Dina Abdelrahman, a health-care professional who moved from Egypt to the Houston area when she was 22 years old in 1997.

Abdelrahman, now 45 and a Bay Area resident since 2007, is one of the organizers of the Clear Lake-area Know Your Muslim Neighbor sessions, which began five years ago and has been held at various area locations. Turnout has been good, and feedback positive from a wide cross section of faiths, she said.

‘A lot of people are still afraid’

Know Your Muslim Neighbor is a way, said Abdelrahman, to bridge gaps caused by misunderstandings.

“We feel an event like this is essential because a lot of people are still afraid,” she said.

For instance, Abdelrahman recalls one visitor to one of the first events who was initially skeptical and distrustful, asking ‘Why do you hate us?’

Throughout the course of that afternoon, the visitor listened and, gradually, his attitude began to change, Abdelrahman said.

“He told me that his opinion was influenced by what he sees in the media,” she said.

Similar dialogues and events have occurred in the region to bridge the gap between faith communities.

Most people, said Abdelrahman, express common grief after the March 15 shootings at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, that killed 50 people and the Easter bombing attacks on churches in Sri Lanka that killed at least 321 people.

When extremist Islamic factions claim credit for something like the Easter bombings in Sri Lanka, Abdelrahman said, the true teachings of Islam get lost and distorted to nonMuslims.

“But we do find kindness and care from people more than anything else, more than the ugly stares and mean words,” she said.

Bonds forged between a mosque and a church

The Bay Area Unitarian Universalist Church in Clear Lake is next to the Clear Lake Islamic Center on El Camino Real.

The church and the Islamic center, connected by a shared entrance road, have forged a bond over the years.

“When you sit and have coffee with someone and just talk as people, you see that they’re just like you,” church member Christine Rubly said.

To Rubly, violence by terrorists claiming to represent Islam is not so different than that committed by white supremacists claiming to be Christian.

Listening to people, she said, is key to dismantling misconceptions.

While Houston has become known as one of the most diverse and welcoming cities in the nation, Rubly wants to see the surrounding suburbs follow suit.

“There are still people who don’t have personal dealings with others from a different group, whether they are Muslim or people from EL Salvador,” she said. “So, you become insulated, and all the feedback that you get is from people who think just like you.

“Exposure (to different groups) helps people see the value of embracing diversity. It adds to your life.”

Abdelrahman agreed.

“We are all guilty of holding onto these stereotypes and making judgments … (on Facebook) I ‘like’ the pages that are like me, and I block things I don’t like,” she said. “That’s not going to get us anywhere. It’s important to get outside of our bubble. We’re not preaching to anyone; we’re just asking people to explore and learn about our faith firsthand. Know the person before you judge.”

For more information on the event at the library, which is at 16616 Diana Lane, Houston; visit its Facebook page

yorozco@hcnonline.com