Shoes were set neatly aside on wooden shelves Saturday as members of the Norman community entered Masjid An-Nur, a mosque, for an open house hosted by the Islamic Society of Norman.
The open house’s theme, “Building the Bridges of Understanding”, was geared toward teaching the basic elements of Islam. There was also question and answer session, as well as informational booths to help educate those who attended.
“Islam is not something foreign. It is part of America as well. I’m an American citizen,” said Nouman Jan, Vice President of the ISN. “I’m just like any other religious person living in America.”
Jan said he feels like the Islam community is often misrepresented in mainstream media, especially after events that unfolded on Sept. 11, so the event was designed to help bridge the gap, help clear confusion and just open themselves up to the community.
It was also an ideal time to hold the event as they observe Ramadan, he said. Ramadan is the month in which Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset.
“It’s literally a spiritual journey and you try to attain piety in this month by stopping yourself from eating. It’s not just, you fast for no good reason; there is a motive behind it and that is to attain spirituality,” he said.
Fasting isn’t something just Muslims do either; it is also important to religions like Christianity and Judaism, he said. Focusing on a commonality, rather than pointing out the differences in different religions, is another way to bridge some of those gaps.
“The similarity (between these religions) is so much,” he said. “Unfortunately people will always, always try to bring in the differences to make more divisions for their political gains or their social gains or whatever.”
“And it happens on both sides.”
Another goal of the open house, Jan said, was to have the community feel welcome to come into the facility; whether it be to observe, worship, meditate or even just talk to someone if they are needing help.
“We’re a house of God,” he said. “Our doors are open to everyone.”
As the Islamic community grows, he said he has been focusing more on how they can be the best citizens for the city of Norman and what they can do to promote things that are good for the community by standing shoulder to shoulder with others.
“We want to just help the humanity and the country and every city where we live,” he said.
Jan also said with the population of Muslims of growing at a rapid pace, they are focusing on how to become more mainstream and help shift the current mentality of some.
“I see a very different mentality which is more focused toward, ‘Hey, let’s sit together and talk’, rather than, ‘Well, you belong over there and we belong over there and there’s nothing in common’. That is a very dangerous kind of mentality and that is what we really intend to address in America. That Muslims are part of America,” he said.
There may not have been any Muslims in America 60 to 70 years ago, Jan said, but they are here now, wanting to be part of the mainstream just like everyone else.
The Masjid An-Nur roughly serves 100 to 150 families. It has been in Norman since the late 1960s when people and students began coming in from different parts of the world, particularly the Middle East, and wanted a place to pray, Jan said.
For more information about the Islamic Society of Norman, visit masjid-annur.org