Islamic center opens its doors for 'Meet Your Muslim Neighbor' event

Abdul-Baasit, Imam of the Islamic Society of Greater Chattanooga, addresses community members and guests at the center's "Meet Your Muslim Neighbor" event on Saturday, Feb. 7, 2015.
photo Abdul-Baasit, Imam of the Islamic Society of Greater Chattanooga, addresses community members and guests at the center's "Meet Your Muslim Neighbor" event on Saturday, Feb. 7, 2015.
The Islamic Society of Greater Chattanooga held "Meet Your Muslim Neighbor," an open house for members of all belief systems to learn about the religion over coffee and snacks, at the I.S.G.C. Center on Gunbarrel Road on Saturday.

Dozens of people were spaced throughout the center's large gymnasium, munching and mingling, while members of the community handed out translated copies of the Quran, a slim book on the 50 most-asked questions about Islam, and cards with illustrations explaining Islamic prayer rituals.

Several "Discover Islam" placards lined the walls, offering answers to such questions as "What is Islam and who are Muslims?" and "How does Islam guarantee human rights?" Just off the gymnasium, hijab-wearing teachers gave tours of the Annoor Academy, a pre-kindergarten to fifth-grade school at the center.

Eventually the center's imam, Abdul Baasit, took up a microphone, and standing in the center of the gymnasium, addressed the crowd.

"I want to tell you how pleased we are to have you here," Baasit said. "You need no appointments to come here. We are obliged to show you what we have here, and what we have in our hearts."

Baasit explained some of the basic beliefs of Islam, including belief in the hereafter as well as proper interactions between members of the opposite sex. He even addressed Muslims who twist the religion to their own ends, a thinly veiled allusion to Islamic extremists around the world.

photo I.S.G.C. community members and guests listen to Imam Abdul-Baasit explain some of the basic tenets of Islam during the I.S.G.C.'s "Meet Your Muslim Neighbor" event on Saturday, Feb 7, 2015.

"Many Muslims misunderstand Islam itself," Baasit said. "It's almost more important for Muslims to understand Islam than non-Muslims. If you misunderstand your religion, then you won't get what you need from God. God said, 'Let there be no compulsion in religion.'"

The many visitors who attended came from varying backgrounds but for similar reasons. The Rev. Tricia Dillon Thomas, director of spirituality and hospitality at Presbyterian Campus Ministries at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, was there because a Muslim student asked her to attend. She said she hoped to meet the imam and work on building interfaith connections.

Maurice Robert and his soon-to-be wife, Bevi, came as part of a delegation from the nearby Chattanooga First Seventh-day Adventist Church.

"We came here for them to get to know us, and for us to get to know them," Robert said.

Officer Mirza Muretcehajic, whose uniform and Chattanooga Police Department cruiser parked out front led a few to wonder if he was there for security reasons, wasn't on duty.

"I wasn't asked to be here," Muretcehajic said. "I'm here because it's my community. My kids go to school here. We try to encourage people to come and ask questions, rather than assume what's being said is correct."

Saturday's open house was the second such event since the center opened in August 2011, and Abdul-Hafiz Eletr, an I.S.G.C. board member, said that the "Meet Your Muslim Neighbor" idea is a theme that's being adopted by many Muslim centers around the country.

"It's not about recruitment, it's about understanding your neighbor," Eletr said. "We have to support, engage, and connect with our neighbors."

The message of welcome was communicated right up to the end of the event. A little after 4 p.m., after most of the guests had left, the remaining men and boys from the community dutifully removed their shoes, and went into the prayer room beside the gymnasium for afternoon prayer.

The three remaining non-Muslims, encouraged to observe, removed their shoes and entered the blue carpeted room, watching reverently as the men prostrated themselves before their God.

Contact Will Healey at, or at 423-757-6731.