For a lot of Americans, their first impression of Islam comes from the television. Especially after the events of 9/11, Muslims have struggled against a narrative of extremism, violence and demonization.
In places like Greensboro though, that does not have to be the case. Meet your Muslim Neighbor is an event created for anyone and everyone to learn about Islam from local Muslims.
Imam Eesaa Wood, now regional manager with the Furqaan Project, wanted a way for Greensboro’s Islamic Center to have an open house. He did research and found Raleigh’s Meet your Muslim Neighbor. Loving the event, he decided to bring the idea to Greensboro.
“I said okay, great, I can do this every month,” said Wood. “I went back to Greensboro and I decided to present the idea to the governing body of the Islamic Center, they liked it, they let me do it, they made me the president.
“For about five years now we’ve been doing this every single month. We’ve had easily over a thousand, maybe as high as two thousand people visit the Islamic Center either on these events or they’ve called and scheduled our private tour.”
Wood recalls groups of all kinds having visited: 2nd graders, elderly, Jewish, atheist, Christian, ex-Muslims, college students and non-Muslims. They also go out into the community and speak if someone’s not comfortable coming to the Islamic Center.
“There are four main sections of Meet your Muslim neighbor, there’s an introduction to the building and the community, then there’s the presentation on the faith of Islam basics, then there is food always food, very important,” said Wood.
“You may not remember my name by the end of it, but you’ll remember the food. There is a Q and A session followed by an opportunity to watch one of our daily prayer services. It’s great, especially for college students who need to write a paper and visit a religious facility. They get everything all in one.”
The goal of Meet your Muslim Neighbor is to give knowledge of the Muslim faith for those who want to learn. Wood wants it to be known that the Meet your Muslim Neighbor’s goal is not to convert or change anyone’s religion.
“If someone did want to become a part of the faith, that is their business and more power to them, we are more than happy to help,” said Wood. “That is not a requirement though, and the person doesn’t need to fear that that’s what we are doing by inviting them into the center.
“If we offer someone a Quran, we are not trying to push our sacred scripture on them, it’s just we want you to have free access to read it. Getting people to come to this tour and getting material from our faith, the assumption is always that you’re trying to change my religion.
“That shouldn’t at all be the case. I don’t have that in my heart at all. I want guidance for everyone, but I want them to freely accept it.”
Wood wants to show as many as possible that Islam is not accurately represented by the extremism and terrorism often described in today’s news and politics.
“I know just from the look on the person’s face when they leave that everyone leaves there with an experience like ‘wow, I have a lot in common with these people,’” said Wood. “’They’re just like me, they don’t have any different outlook on the world in terms of what they want in life,’ which is just everyone wants to live in success, abundance and peace.”
A highlight for Wood from Meet your Muslim Neighbor was when a woman from Evangelical faith came out with more interest in her own faith.
“What she had learned about Muslims that day caused her to be more interested in her own religion,” said Wood. “We have so much in common and so many of the questions that were answered and concepts that were brought up to her really kind of challenged her own thinking about her own religion.
“Interacting with other faith communities that have very similar concepts and ideas, if it doesn’t cause a person to become interested in the faith, it does at the very least have them leave more interested in their own faith.”
Wood’s vision is for all Islamic Centers in North America to hold a Meet your Muslim Neighbor every month. He wants the Muslim American community to become the voice of their religion.
“The Islamic Centers have to come to a conclusion, not only is it an obligation for us as the Muslim community to tell people about our faith but we don’t live in a climate anymore where this is something we can even consider as optional,” said Wood.
“They are in every major city in America; even small towns in the middle of nowhere in West Virginia have Islamic Centers. It doesn’t take very much for your community to cook a nice meal, invite some people in, let them eat some food with you and give them some basic round down of a skeleton of the faith of Islam.”
Wood stepped down two years ago and now Tychus Carter, President of Islamic Center outreach, took over the project.
Carter hopes to bring more consistency and volunteers to Meet your Muslim Neighbor.
“I would like other people in the community that are out there to represent and I’d also like to get the youth involved as well,” said Carter. “Just refine and amplify this event to just be the best experience they can have.”
Interested in going? The next Muslim Neighbor happens on Saturday Nov. 5 from 5-6:45 p.m. at the Islamic Center of Greensboro.