Imam Achmat Salie greeted visitors to Masjid Saad by calling them "noble" and "courageous" for seeking to educate themselves by touring the Sylvania mosque.
"I don't know if some people expected to find submachine guns or a bomb," he said, sparking laughter. "We sometimes fear the unknown, fear the things we do not know about. By you educating yourselves, you deserve a round of applause."
The group of about 150 clapped with enthusiasm as the Muslim spiritual leader continued his half-hour lecture on the basics of Islam.
The visitors were at Masjid Saad on Tuesday for the 2009 Summer Houses of Worship Tour, an annual series sponsored by Toledo Area Ministries. The mosque is the only non-Christian venue on this year's tour, which spotlights a different house of worship each Tuesday morning through Aug. 18.
The tour began with a welcome from Salmeena Sediqe, a businesswoman and mother of five who was elected president of Masjid Saad in May - the first woman to hold that administrative post at the Sylvania mosque.
Donnajean Stockmaster of Toledo Area Ministries then spoke briefly about some of TAM's programs, particularly its efforts to help senior citizens sign up for food stamps.
Imam Salie, a native of South Africa, covered a broad range of topics during his lecture, including Islamic extremism and terrorism. He said every major religion has followers who misinterpret its teachings.
The goals of Islam are peace and scholarship, he said, but some Muslims take the word "jihad" and twist it.
Jihad means struggle and can be used to describe the challenges one faces in life, from striving to be a good husband and father to trying to eradicate hunger and poverty, he said.
"I consider myself an 'eco-jihadist,'•" Imam Salie said, referring to his desire to promote ecology.
But jihad has been distorted by some Muslims to reflect a struggle of Muslims seeking power over non-Muslims.
"Every religion has a golden rule, but there is a huge gap between the ideal and the reality," he said.
While the gap may seem insurmountable at times, the Qur'an, or Islamic holy book, compels Muslims to be optimistic, he said.
"It's very fulfilling to learn about other religions," said Sherry Miller, 68, of Toledo. She attended the mosque tour with her husband, Gary, 69, and their 9-year-old grandson, Noah Roscoe.
The Millers are members of Messiah Lutheran Church in Point Place, which is the next venue on the Houses of Worship tour.
"You sure get a lot of insight into what's going on inside the churches," Mr. Miller said.
Young Noah said he enjoyed visiting Masjid Saad and was especially impressed by the sparkling glass chandeliers that hang in the main prayer room.
"And I got to take my shoes off," he said with a smile.
Removing one's shoes is a requirement, as a sign of reverence, for all who enter the mosque's thickly carpeted prayer room.
Many of the visitors asked aloud when they arrived whether they should take off their shoes. Although there were no signs addressing the issue, the answer was implicit in the wooden shelves lining the hallway that lead into the prayer room.
Marlene Harner, 74, of Toledo, said she was curious to tour the mosque that was once a Christian church.
"I am familiar with this building and I wanted to see how it's been changed," said Mrs. Harner, adding that she and her husband, Ric,, have been coming to the Houses of Worship tour every summer for a dozen years.
Masjid Saad, founded in 1979, outgrew its previous building on Secor Road and bought the former Cathedral of Praise, with 14.2 acres of property, for $2.7 million. Members of the mosque moved into the former church in June, 2007, and Cathedral of Praise moved to Monclova Township and was renamed the Church on Strayer.
At Masjid Saad - "masjid" is Arabic for mosque and "saad" means fortune or good luck - the men worship at the front of the prayer room, the children stand behind them, and women worship in the back of the room or in the balcony.
There are separate entry doors for men and women into the prayer room.
Imam Salie, who served as Masjid Saad's imam in 2007 before leaving to study for a doctorate degree, fielded questions from the audience after his talk.
He was asked why women must stand in the back of the prayer room during services.
Muslim prayers are unique, he said, because worshippers kneel and touch their heads to the ground.
"It is inappropriate for a strange man to be behind a woman in these prayers," Imam Salie said. "It's more practical for women to be at the side or in the back."
Another questioner asked why women in Muslim countries are treated differently in various parts of the world.
"More of it is the culture, not the religion," the imam said.
In response to another question, Imam Salie said Muslims believe in heaven, hell, and purgatory but should never be "arrogant" about their eternal destiny.
"One must be constantly on alert. I can mess up at the last minute," he said.
He said Islam teaches that children who die before reaching puberty go to purgatory, where "Abraham will take of them."
Imam Salie also said music is not a big part of Islamic worship, but instead emphasize the "melodious" chanting of the human voice. Away from the mosque, however, Muslims enjoy all styles of music.
"My children just introduced me to Natasha Bedingfield and my wife likes Celine Dion," he said.
After the lecture, visitors were given tours of the facility, followed by the sharing of refreshments in Toledo Islamic Academy's high school in a separate building on the south edge of the campus.
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