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Published: Sunday, 8/22/2004

Festival opens door to Muslim culture

BY MEREDITH HEAGNEY
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Iman Alhaj, 6, gets a tattoo from Mehuish Durrani at the International Festival at the Islamic Center of Greater Toledo. Iman Alhaj, 6, gets a tattoo from Mehuish Durrani at the International Festival at the Islamic Center of Greater Toledo.
ALLAN DETRICH / TOLEDO BLADE Enlarge

Music, art, and a whole lot of food were shared yesterday at the International Festival at the Islamic Center of Greater Toledo. The festival continues today from noon to 6 p.m., and provides a unique opportunity for the local Muslim community to share its culture with the public.

"We came to tour the Islamic Center and learn a little more about the people," said Joe Molloy of Perrysburg.

His wife, Suellen, said they had driven by the mosque on Scheider Road in Perrysburg, a "million times" but had never stopped to see it.

"Our future seems to be connected to theirs right now," she said. "We thought we better come and take a look."

Henna-type tattoos are offered by Mehuish Durrani during the International Festival at the Islamic Center in Perrysburg.
Henna-type tattoos are offered by Mehuish Durrani during the International Festival at the Islamic Center in Perrysburg.
ALLAN DETRICH / TOLEDO BLADE Enlarge

The Molloys were one of many families curious about the mosque and Islam. Others came to feast in the food tent, where 12 nationalities were represented. Many children lined up for the mini bungee jump, petting zoo, and camel rides. It's all about showing the community that Muslims have fun, too, said Dr. S. Zaheer Hasan, president of the center.

"Unfortunately, the national media [has depicted] Muslims as angry, serious, and not family-oriented people," he said. "That's absolutely not correct."

That's why, for those interested, the center offers tours, an art exhibit, and a bookstore. Dr. Mahjabeen Islam, who runs the bookstore, feels very strongly about the role such festivals can have in fostering tolerance.

"It's very enjoyable on the surface," she said, with the food, music, clothing, and art. "But on a deeper level, it makes people understand Muslims are regular folk."

Dr. Islam is angry that her religion has been used to justify violence.

"[Osama bin Laden] has totally hijacked our religion and now we are in peril," she said. "Now people think Islam means terrorism."

Dr. Hasan said northwest Ohio has been a good place for the Islamic community in the wake of Sept. 11.

"The situation [in the Middle East] is not very pleasant," he said. "It is the kindness of the people of northwest Ohio that has prevented this community from being unfairly treated."

Pakistani-American Uzma Ahmed moved to Oregon last year from West Palm Beach, Fla.

"I think it's a good idea to get together once a year," she said. "I was amazed there was a huge Arabic community here."

Jill Bell of Sylvania brought her three children to see the mosque and try new food.

"I think they need to be open to other religions and other cultures," she said.

One 8-year-old went home with some new information.

"It was pretty cool. I learned a lot that I had no idea about," said Troy Weider. "I learned they separate the men from the women [when they pray prostrate] so they don't get nervous seeing each other's bottoms."

Retiree Glenn Maddy, a Christian, thought the non-Islamic community could've showed more support. "There aren't enough Americans here," he said. "I was just thinking about the school teachers, Sunday school teachers, ministers that should be here."

Mrs. Molloy got the message the Islamic center was trying to project.

"They're basically saying the same thing: Lead a decent life, love your fellow man, everybody get along," she said. "That's the common thread."

Contact Meredith Heagney at:

mheagney@theblade.com

or 419-724-6050.



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