“A GEM FOR THE COMMUNITY”, THE ISLAMIC CENTER OF GREATER TOLEDO**
“A gem for the community” was how Bill Hilt, a local teacher from Perrysburg City Schools described the Islamic Center of Greater Toledo (ICGT) during a pre-pandemic visit to their annual “International Festival” that has been running for almost 2 decades now. At this festival, cultural heritage and food representing countries the members of this local mosque. Some of these countries are Egypt, Palestine, Syria, Turkey, Indonesia, Pakistan, Malaysia, Bangladesh, Brazil, etc. There are also games to play, music to enjoy, animals to feed, and tours of the mosque!
The representation is definitely not limited to Muslims but is inclusive of a more diverse group of people including non-Muslim members of their wider community such as Bill. At this festival it is common to see a local pastor helping with selling the food tickets as volunteers from different communities and ethnicities come together to make sure that everything runs smoothly so that their visitors have a positive experience.
When I got a chance to chat with Bill, who is also the founder and the president of the World Affairs Council of Northwest Ohio, he expressed how much he enjoyed coming to this festival:
“I’ve probably been here at least 10 times out of the 19 years it has been going on… I think it’s great, it’s really a great opportunity for the community … a nice opportunity for non-Muslims to come and take a tour and see what the mosque is all about. They get to eat food from something like 26 different countries here at this mosque so it’s a great opportunity to get a little peek in people’s cultures in a non-threatening way.”
For Bill, the ICGT is an integral part of northwest OH. The community room inside this mosque is a great opportunity for local organizations and the universities to host their events.
“I really like having it, I think it’s one of the gems of our community. I take a lot of international guests on tours with my position with the World Affairs Council of Northwest Ohio. Part of it is always at least driving by the mosque to see what it is and having a little bit of conversation about it. I grew up like maybe a mile from here; for most of my life, it’s just been part of the community.”
Emily Diamond was another local visitor at the festival. She works for Lucas County, holds a master’s in Cross-Cultural and International Education and is a former two times Peace Corps volunteer (Benin and Nicaragua respectively). The reason she was there was mainly due to her interest in inter-cultural affairs. However, coming from an inter-religious family background, Emily has always been interested in religion too. Having come to this mosque at different occasions, she was able to learn about Islam in a way different than what she saw about it in the media before.
“I mean I feel comfortable, I grew up kind of inter-religiously but also like not religiously. My parents grew up in different religions and then nothing for us. So, I’ve always been interested in religion. So, yeah, I think that I want to do the mosque tour, I want to learn about it, it’s like when you do, if you do the tour, it’s such a different version of Islam than what we see… we’re seeing a lot of extremists.”
Emily also touched on how she defines what is “religiously reformed” with regards to appreciation of diversity and the hospitality she experienced at the ICGT:
“I recently went to a series of classes at a synagogue which is on the other end of Toledo. And at the reform synagogue I took basic intro to Judaism, one of the things that the rabbi said that stood out was like you have the Reform Jewish synagogue, and the reformation the Christianity went through but Islam never really had an official reform movement per se. But like the feeling here is super one reformed Islam would be, but I mean I am also no expert…. Embracing intercultural mix and differences is what I think of is ‘reformed’ even though that doesn’t technically exist for Islam.”
The welcoming atmosphere at the ICGT keeps attracting people of all faiths to this fantastic festival where efforts to dismantle Islamophobia are not only undertaken by the Muslims but it seems to be an entire community effort where people show their support by visiting this religious center and learning about Islam while also enjoying some delicious food and having a fun day with friends and family.