“Some people know what Islam is,” said organizer Hassan Sultan, “and some only what it is perceived to be.”
Speakers stressed Islam’s emphasis on peace and equality for women. They urged listeners not to confuse the religion with cultural and political practices wrapped around it.
“There will always be misunderstandings,” Sultan said. “Our job is to clarify when people have questions about Islam.”
Sultan, the youth director for the Islamic Society of the Tampa Bay Area, works as a physical education teacher at the nearby Universal Academy private school.
Saturday’s open house offered visitors glimpses of the ethnic and cultural diversity of a faith that has more than 1.5 billion followers worldwide. Open house guests included natives of the Middle East, South Asia, Africa and the Caribbean.
Phillip Vick of Tampa came to learn more about his newly adopted faith.
Vick, 21, grew up in the Church of Christ, but left after dating a Muslim.
“She would tell me a little about the religion, and I started learning a little on my own,” Vick said. “I found a lot of similarities with Christianity.”
Vick said he was disappointed by Christians’ hostility toward newcomers at his former church. Members of the mosque have been more accepting, he said.
Vick’s decision took him away from his parent’s religion. So far, they’ve been open to the change, he said.
“Sometimes we’ve had debates over the differences, but it don’t get too heated,” he said.
Despite the open invitation to non-Muslims, few attended the mosque’s event. One who did was Cecil Hock of Valrico, a Lutheran and the Islamic center’s former insurance agent.
“I always felt warmth here,” Hock said.