“Submission to God’s will unites us all,” Miller said Saturday afternoon as she toured the Islamic Society of Wisconsin Green Bay Masjid, 1512 Velp Ave., on Green Bay’s west side. Masjid is the Arabic word for mosque and Miller is a member of the Norbertine Center for Spirituality at St. Norbert Abbey, which co-sponsored the session designed to help residents learn more about the Muslim faith, while also dispelling myths.
Guests learned that in Arabic, Islam means submission to God and a Muslim is someone who practices Islam. Allah is Arabic for the only God. The teachings of Allah are in the Quran, a sacred book. Visitors asked about Muslim birth and burial traditions, as well as details about Ramadan, a time each year when Muslims fast from dawn until sunset for about 30 days.
Women made up most of the more than 20 people who attended, and they were asked before arriving to cover their bodies and wrap their hair in scarves in a sign of modesty. The guests took off their shoes upon entering the mosque, which serves as a place for prayer, gatherings and services. Visitors viewed the mosque kitchen and a room where members wash their faces, feet, hands and arms before prayer.
Muslims are required to pray five times a day: before sunrise, at noon, after noon, after sunset and at night. The prayers last about five minutes each. Men and women usually pray separately, with men praying downstairs in the mosque and women praying in a smaller room upstairs. Both rooms have a green rug with a pattern that points in the northeast direction so that members face the Kaaba shrine in Mecca, located in Saudi Arabia.
It is not mandatory for women to come to the mosque to pray, though men are required to attend if they are able, said Imam Mohamed Zakarya. An imam is a Muslim leader, similar to a pastor. About 30 to 40 families attend the mosque, he said.
Muslims often move to residences near the mosque to make attending prayer sessions more convenient, Zakarya added.
Guests said many people in the community believe violence is part of Islam because Muslim extremists carried out the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. One woman mentioned hearing that Muslims were coming to rule the country and change the structure of government. Visitors then asked Muslims how they dispel such views.
Violence is not part of Islam and it’s the responsibility of residents to investigate such claims, instead of spreading rumors, Zakarya said.
“It is very important to learn,” he told the guests as they gathered around him on the bottom level of the mosque where men pray. “If you read about the teachings of Islam, you will be able to judge for yourself. You will not need to wait for somebody to tell you.”
Zakarya, who is originally from Egypt, said that killing innocent people is condemned in Islam, then added that the sixth pillar of the religion teaches Muslims not to condemn people who defend themselves.
“I think you get over fear by understanding,” said Tina Mercier of Green Bay, who said she previously practiced Catholicism before she became at odds with the church’s stance on birth control.
The session, which lasted about 75 minutes, was a “great opportunity to build more tolerance in our community for diversity,” she said.
The mosque opened in 2010 after the Green Bay City Council agreed to rezone the property following an intense debate about religious freedom. The site, a former bait-and-tackle shop, had been vacant for five years.
An estimated 1.6 billion people practice Islam, making it the world’s second-largest religion after Christianity.