Mosques around Rhode Island opened their doors to the public Saturday, in an effort to increase the visibility of Muslims in the Ocean State. Visitors to Masjid Al-Islam in North Smithfield, the state’s largest mosque, had the opportunity to eat halal food, try on a headscarf, and learn more about the religion.
Janita Ducharme, a school teacher in Cumberland, lives next to the Mosque. She said she drives by the building every day, but had never been inside.
“I think events like this allow you to come in, if you have an open mind, and just realize that everyone around you, whatever faith they are, whatever culture they are, are basically the same people,” said Ducharme. “We’re not very different from each other.”
Organizers with the Rhode Island Council for Muslim say the goal is to counter negative attitudes toward Muslims, which many feel has been growing. Muslim leaders cite President Donald Trump’s campaign, which tapped into fears about terrorism perpetrated by Muslims. In the last several years there have been scattered acts of vandalism to Rhode Island Islamic centers.
Aisha Manzoor, a leader in the local community, said some Muslims are pulling their children from Islamic Schools, and declining to wear the hijab – the scarf some Muslim women wear as head covering – for fear of retaliation. Manzoor said open Mosque events are also an opportunity for Muslims to meet accepting neighbors.
“They’re afraid, and so this was something not only for the broader Rhode Island community, but for the Muslim community as well,” said Manzoor. “For them to see that it is okay. We are who we are, and we might be different, but we’re all human beings.”
In a large room normally meant for prayer, Imam Mufti Ikram explained the history and practice of Islam to dozens of people, seated in folding chairs or spread out on the carpeted floor. Ikram explained the connections between Islam, Judaism, and Christianity.
Sarah Soule of Smithfield caught Ikram’s discussion. Soule was raised Christian and said she wanted to expand her understanding of the religion.
“I feel like I’ve grown up with only one perspective, a Christian perspective and I’m very interested in seeing everyone else in the world,” said Soule. “Having a more open perspective, and it was great, it was a great event.”