PERRYSBURG – The Islamic Center of Greater Toledo in Perrysburg, Ohio, has welcomed on September 16 a variety of visitors from all faiths during the 18th annual late-summer International Festival.
“We initially came for the food. It’s so spicy and fragrant,” said 53-year-old Jackie Petruney of Perrysburg, Toledo Blade reported on September 17.
“I didn’t know much about Islam. I didn’t know they don’t do cremation. And the fasting — that’s a long time to fast. I have some friends who are Arabic but I didn’t feel comfortable asking them, so this was a perfect way to find out.”
Visitors were invited to tour the center, the largest mosque in the region and a spiritual home to 300 Muslim families from 23 countries. Diverse dishes from several Muslim nations were offered to visitors as well.
The center seeks to show visitors a glimpse of the world’s fastest growing religion — practiced by 1% of Ohio’s population. The center is considered to be the biggest of 11 mosques in Toledo. It was built in 1984 and has put on the festival for the past 18 years.
The tour groups were taken to the prayer space inside the dome. They were invited to take off their shoes and step onto the royal blue carpet where members pray in front of a minbar, the stairs where an imam stands to deliver a sermon.
“It’s a sacred space, which means we put our head on the ground. It’s just clean. That’s why we take our shoes off,” said Dr. Faiza Husain, who led one of the tour groups.
Husain, a 28-year-old physician from Maumee, further described the five pillars of Islam: belief in one God, praying five times a day, fasting during the month of Ramadan, donating a portion of earnings to charity, and pilgrimage to Makkah.
“I try to keep it really general, really easy to understand. Nothing political. Many say they learned a lot or their misconceptions were cleared,” she said.
Mary Jane Stradler, a 71-year-old from Perrysburg, took off her shoes and joined the afternoon prayer alongside the women, who practice across a divider from the men.
“I didn’t know what they were saying but I participated anyway,” she said. “I said my own prayer and followed what the ladies were doing.”
Another visitor was John Heacock, a 39-year-old visiting from Dallas, was surprised to learn “how many parallels there were as far as Christianity, and also that each mosque is its own separate entity.”
On her behalf, Sue Kaake, 49, volunteered in the kitchen, scooping balls of dough to make Lebanese saj, a flatbread cooked on a convex metal surface in front of visitors at the food tent.
“I love that everybody is working together,” she said. “I just wish everybody in the world would do that.”