Step inside the Islamic Center of Greater Toledo (ICGT), and it’s clear that this is an active community space, not just a place for prayer services. This is especially true during the annual International Festival, when the mosque invites members of the public, both Muslim and non-Muslim, to come together around delicious food and carnival games to learn more about each other.
You see children running out the door, playing a game of tag. Adults working in the kitchen, preparing food for sale outside. A group of young men and women, sitting and chatting near the events board.
Dr. Fatima Al-Hayani, a retired professor of Middle East and Islamic studies, welcomes guests into the mosque’s museum space, where a collection of cultural artifacts from around the world represents the diversity of the Muslim community in northwest Ohio. Flags from Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Pakistan, Morocco, Palestine, Senegal, Malaysia, Turkey, and Brazil adorn the walls, signifying the national backgrounds of ICGT members.
An expert in Islamic history, Dr. Fatima explains how the first Muslims created the mosque as a space for religious worship as well as community gathering:
“The mosque is not for prayer alone. It’s a center. It’s a hostel. If you’re traveling and you need to sleep, you go there. If you’re hungry, you go there and eat. You want to learn, you go there. They had philosophers and scholars sitting in every mosque where people from all over the world can come and listen and be educated.”
This is the model shaping how the Islamic Center of Greater Toledo relates to the broader northwest Ohio community. This religious institution strives to be a place for learning, cultural exchange, peaceful rest, service, worship – and, yes, delicious food, too.
Among the many scientific and cultural innovations Muslims have introduced to the world, from algebra and architecture to philosophy and medicine, Dr. Fatima highlights the social space of the mosque as particularly important.
“Multiculturalism in Islam is a must, because the Quran said and the Prophet said, ‘The best of you is not Arab or non-Arab, Black or white. The best of you is the one who is most righteous.’ So, Islam doesn’t care. There is no difference between an Arab and a non-Arab, a white person over a Black person, except through righteousness. And that’s the beauty of Islam. That’s what was spread, and why many people adopted Islam. The equality in Islam. Today, if you look at some Muslim countries, you may not see it. But that’s what it was.”
The Islamic ideals of universal human equality and multiculturalism are clearly apparent at the ICGT. Everyone who steps inside is treated with respect, dignity, and compassion, from curious newcomers to veteran community leaders like Dr. Fatima.
Despite internal disagreements about ideology, which are common in any religious community, Dr. Fatima says that all Muslims agree on one thing: what is most important is how a person treats others, not what they wear or what they look like.
“Religion is how you treat others. Not what you wear, not what you own, not what you have, not what you look like. It’s how you treat others, how you deal with each other. If you deal in honesty, decency, understanding, comprehension, and help others when they need it, that’s what Islam is.”