On Saturday, March 11, community members of many religions, races and beliefs congregated at the Islamic Center of Tacoma for a day consisting of appreciation and education. The gathering at the local University Place mosque was equipped with a plethora of familiar, state fair-esque activities aimed at engaging the youth in attendance, whilst encouraging an open dialogue among community members with friendly faces and inclusive prayer ceremonies for anyone to participate in.
“This is a grand opportunity for us to truly show our appreciation of the support from everyone locally, and give back a bit,” said Aziz Junejo, volunteer at Saturday’s event. Henna tattoos for those interested in styling things up a bit and an artist drafting classic Arabic calligraphy for the evening’s visitors could be found under the activities tent. Not too far away from the activities tent was the pièce de résistance of sorts – a buffet with chicken, vegetables sauteed to perfection and ready for all, even desserts! Engage the youth, feed the adults attending, and fill us with love – good one, guys. Honesty and understanding led to a palatable show of appreciation from the mosque, and local political representatives, amid our current turbulent atmosphere of tightening regulatory interference and travel bans.
Located in University Place, the Islamic Center of Tacoma has been in the community since 1981 and has recently has seen an outpouring of support, unrivaled by anything in recent memory. Showing up to the mosque to find inspirational and supportive messages posted about the grounds has been commonplace for several months now, including many “we love you” messages and “we support our Muslim community.” So, this day was, “For you, our loving community. Today, and from here on, you are all honorary members of this mosque!” exclaimed Junejo. “Do you agree, Imam Ahmed Saleh?” The Imam, in Islamic mosques, is the highest respected position, and when asked, Imam Saleh replied emphatically, “Yes! Our doors are, and will always be, open for one and all to come and participate or communicate with us anytime.” That was the consistent observation through the night.
Upon entering the mosque, for example, the majority of those in attendance gladly shed their footwear to abide by the observed customs of the Islamic tradition. Happily making your way through the sizeable crowd (sans Nikes) the smiles between visitors and Muslim attendees alike was noticeable. Questions like, “Why do you wear the headdress?” were met with honest answers. Clarity really was an ever-present tone, as to make guests feel most comfortable. Speakers from the Muslim community ensured that the attending community members felt clued-in, and aware of every custom observed, even having people present for their traditional prayers, and a translation of most every verse and word from their holy book, the Quran. Much more pressing issues are still present, however, says President Nasir Dabashi. “We need continued community support moving forward. We are a country founded by immigrants, so by neglecting this right to anyone is affecting our community, and our principles, dearly.” Dabashi held this event to show the mosque’s appreciation for a community of supporters. “For several months, we have seen a lot of support – calls, letters, notes on our door. All this is in response to perceived actions taken against our religion and certain countries in the East, and we needed to show our love, we had to.”
“To one another, we are critical,” says Saleh, of the necessary contrasting aspects of life that we encounter. “But do not trust liars, and cheaters, of course!” The crowd responded with boisterous laughter and applause. “Finding the necessity in each other’s differences and flaws is not innately human, but we must, because that is the way god has created things. A good for a bad, a light for a dark.”
Sister Allaa Alshaibani, currently a psychology student at PLU, said it best: “Hate breeds hate. If you cannot stand up and fight hate, act in a manner to oppose it.” Strong words from a woman who’s been affected so emotionally by bans on not just traveling to our great country, but for the persecution faced by those simply born in a perceived “dangerous country,” calling on the politicians in attendance, and guest speakers, to not rest “The support is a blessing,” says Alshaibani, “but we should not get comfortable yet. There are still many more hurdles to clear ahead.” This day was one meant to shine a light on a gracious community, but also one to illuminate a religion, and region, being skirted to the side by our current administration that feels that these conditions dictate judgement. Alshaibani pleads, “The time to band together united is not over.”
University Place School District Superintendent Jeff Chamberlin offered words of encouragement in response to calls for unity and respect, stating that, “It starts with our children; 4th-graders in our district study all aspects of Islamic Empires during a three-week immersion, every year.” Chamberlin was one of many high-profile community heads that spoke that night, along with Representative Derek Kilmer, Tacoma Mayor Marilyn Strickland, and Pierce County Prosecuting Attorney Mark Lindquist. “In my community, every single person matters equally, hands down,” Lindquist said. “Listen, everyone matters, it’s simple as that.”
Saleh invites everyone in Tacoma to come down to the Islamic Center of Tacoma, located on 2010 Bridgeport Way W., “for education, questions, religious services and anything involved with our mosque,” Dabashi states. “We are open, and want to show our dedication to this community by extending our hand to them.”
U.P. Chief of Police Mike Blair stated honestly, “I had my world changed tonight.” To corroborate everyone's enjoyment of the evening, he offered this sentiment: “The prayers and activities that I witnessed here tonight were beautiful. I will be back for the loud prayer,” referring to a special prayer not observed during the event’s length. “If it was anything like the ones we got to witness, it should be extremely powerful.”