Photo Credit: Nicole Adamson
Athens residents got a taste—literally and figuratively—of Muslim culture at the Al Huda Islamic Center’s open house on Saturday, Feb. 24.
“I think that in the climate we are in right now this is incredibly important,” said Lamarana Balde, a secretary at the center, located on South Milledge Avenue. “If we Muslims aren’t showing people who we are, other third parties do it. Islam is about friendship; not what people see on TV.”
The event allowed visitors to try traditional Arabic and East Indian dishes like baklava (pastries made with honey and nuts), samosa (savory pies filled with ground meat or vegetables), pakora (fried snacks) and basbousa (cake), ask questions about and take home a Quran, and tour the mosque. Volunteers of all ages waited in a tent to assist women with trying on hijabs (head scarves) or painting henna (temporary tattoos) on their hands. There was also a station for kids’ activities, like balloon animal-making and face painting.
Around 1:30 p.m., presenter Amin Tomeh gave an overview of the religion of Islam and what it is like to be an American Muslim to a crowd of 50 barefoot people. He discussed various stereotypes held about the beliefs of the religion and explained that often one should “separate what is believed by the culture of a country from the beliefs of the actual religion that residents practice.” Questions were encouraged and abundant, and the intended 30-minute presentation turned into an hour-and-a-half discussion.
“We are so happy to see questions and the numbers present here today,” Balde said. “It shows us how we can improve our relationship with this Athens community.”
Students and locals of all ages and backgrounds made up most of the crowd of couple hundred people who drifted in and out throughout the warm and sunny day. Volunteers were very welcoming, and willingly chatted and answered the questions of anyone who came up to them.
Alexa Schaefer, a junior at the University of Georgia, came with a group of six students from the UGA Catholic Center. She said that she found the event interesting and very informative.
“[This kind of event] is important, absolutely,” said Schaefer. “Everyone was welcoming and so open to sharing. I learned so much from the presentation and it was great that [Tomeh] was so open to questions from everyone… I think it’s necessary for people to get to know the different communities in their city.”