By Logan R. Hullinger
INDIANA — The Islamic Center of Indiana, the community’s only mosque, held an open house on Saturday evening that featured a question-and-answer session and a sponsored dinner.
The event brought in well over a hundred Indiana residents, including elected representatives from the borough and the county. Their vehicles filled the mosque parking lot and a neighboring lot on U.S. Route 422 west of town.
Several Indiana University of Pennsylvania faculty members led the discussion, including Waleed E. Farag, Ph.D., a computer science professor, and Michelle Sandhoff, Ph.D., a sociology professor.
Attendees also joined two Islamic prayers — the Maghrib, or sunset prayer, and the Isha, or nighttime prayer, two of five daily formal prayers performed in Islam.
Farag, along with other figures of the mosque, spoke on subjects such as the five pillars of Islam — which serve as a framework for the religion.
Sandhoff told the stories of Mary, the virgin, and Jesus, the messenger of god, as told by the Quran, drawing parallels among Christianity, Judaism and Islam. In the question-and-answer session, panelists spoke of a wide cast of figures shared by the three religions, all descended from Abraham, their first prophet.
Some audience questions were light-hearted. One asked whether it’s OK for a woman to shake a man’s hand. One panelist prompted laughter when he advised “don’t listen to Fox News” to learn about Muslims.
Other questions raised more serious issues.
One Muslim man in the audience reflected on the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the mistreatment of Muslims following the incident. But, he added, he “never experienced discrimination in the town of Indiana.”
In a Sunday email interview, panelist Angelina DeSousa said the man may not be aware of “situations that have happened in Indiana,” including several incidents involving discrimination, some within the local school district. DeSousa added that a meeting has been scheduled to discuss the incidents.
The Islamic Center discussion adjourned to an expansive dinner. Dishes in Muslim culture predominated. For the less adventurous, pizza was served.
In the dinner queue, Farag condemned the anti-Muslim rhetoric of president-elect Donald J. Trump.
“We will not allow this kind of discrimination to define us,” Waleed said in the interview. “It’s sad that politics can be so cruel. But we just have to continue to prove we are a loving culture and always will be.”
The nearly five-hour event concluded with an “open social session” to encourage citizen interaction with neighbors in the Muslim community.
Logan Hullinger, junior journalism major at Indiana University of Pennsylvania from Clarion, is a staff reporter for The HawkEye. He may be contacted at L.R.Hullinger@iup.edu.