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The long and diverse history of northwest Ohio's Islamic community, from the first immigrants in the 1880s to the fallout from 9/11 to last week's reopening of the state's first mosque, is the topic of Toledo Muslims, premiering at 8 p.m. Thursday on WGTE-TV, Channel 30.
As with other programs in the local PBS affiliate's Toledo Stories series, Islamic Toledo is a half-hour show offering both a broad overview and interesting details about the subject.
Writer Greg Tye interviewed more than a dozen local Muslims and lets them tell their own stories, complemented by archival photos, home videos, news clips, and narration.
The local Muslim population traces its roots to the late 19th century when Syrian and Lebanese immigrants fled the Ottoman Empire. Today it is a diverse community drawn from more than 20 nations.
Many early Muslim immigrants, then widely called Mohammedans, had their names Anglicized by U.S. immigration officials. Yehia Shousher explains in the program that Americans found his name hard to pronounce, so he started going by "John" because it is the English translation of Yehia.
The first Muslim immigrants generally did not have college degrees, unlike later arrivals after immigration laws were changed in the 1960s, and found work in auto factories or owning their own businesses. Many opened restaurants or bars despite Islam's prohibition on liquor because it was a profitable business. "I was more or less desperate," Mitchell Salem says in the film.
Islamic Toledo recounts notable moments such as the dedication of the first mosque in Ohio, on Bancroft Street, in 1954, which, after years of being vacant, reopened on Friday as the new home of Toledo Masjid al-Islam.
It also covers the 2001 election of attorney Cherrefe Kadri as the first woman president of a U.S. mosque, and the support Toledoans showed local Muslims after the 9/11 terrorist attacks when thousands of people of all faiths answered a call from Christian radio station YES-FM to gather at the Islamic Center of Greater Toledo in Perrysburg, hold hands while encircling the mosque, and pray for the safety of those who worship within.
Dr. Amjad Hussain, a Toledo-area Muslim, surgeon, columnist, and newly elected president of WGTE's board of directors, said at a screening of the program Monday night at WGTE's studios that Islamic Toledo tells "a wonderful story that needs to be shared with the community at large."
The show will be rebroadcast on Channel 30 at 1 p.m. Friday and 10 a.m. Sunday.
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