The Islamic Center of Greater Toledo (ICGT) is an integral part of the local northwest Ohio community. This religious institution does not want to be a space only for Muslims or only for religious worship. Instead, it sees itself as an institution that can bring together people from different backgrounds in a spirit of tolerance, respect, and understanding.
Dr. Abdel-Wahab Soliman, an Egyptian American and long-standing community leader at ICGT, explains the importance of community outreach within the broader Toledo area:
“Definitely, September 11 was a turning point. We, all of a sudden, woke up and realized that we are defined by a bunch of terrorist groups. Islam was really defined by terrorist groups. Everyone started looking at us as a kind of weird group who created our own religion, our own God. People started to look at Islam itself as a religion that promotes violence. After that, we started getting more involved in the community, more involved in politics. This mosque, from the very beginning, was really involved in the community at large. A majority of the mosques in America were not. They even considered participation in local politics as something against Islam. This was a major change, a major shift, after September 11.”
Amidst growing Islamophobia in American society following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the ICGT expanded its long-standing community outreach efforts to combat the idea that Islam promotes violence and hatred.
Dr. Abdel highlights the long history of the ICGT in Toledo as a major factor in the success of its outreach efforts.
“We have an old community here. This is maybe the third or fourth generation of Muslims born in America. They understand that we have to be a part of the community at large, we have to be involved in the community at large. The outreach in this mosque has always been very good.”
Since moving to the United States in 1988, Dr. Abdel has understood the importance of building a sense of Muslim identity rooted in broader American society and culture.
“When I came to America, I was very interested in Muslim organizations and how to integrate Muslims with the community at large while preserving our identity as Muslims. I was very aware of that. Because I am in America, I am aware that I should adopt American culture while keeping my identity as a Muslim. I didn’t want to stay as an Egyptian living in America – no. I am an Egyptian, I am proud to be an Egyptian. But I am here, I should live my life within this culture. If I continue to live as an Egyptian, I am going to isolate myself until I die. That was not the right approach to take. This community, especially, understood that from the very beginning.”
In his role as a leader within the ICGT, Dr. Abdel has been involved in numerous community organizations and interfaith groups, including the Multicultural Network at Owens Corning, the MutiFaith Council of Northwest Ohio, and the World Affair Council of Northwest Ohio.
He explains how these experiences shaped his personal approach to Islam. By developing relationships with people from different faiths and cultural backgrounds, Dr. Abdel has come to understood Islam in a deeper, more expansive way than he did before getting involved with the ICGT and its community outreach efforts.
“To live your life, you have to be a part of the community. Not the other way around. Muslims used to think that they were protecting our kids from leaving Islam by isolating themselves from the community at large. But it might be the opposite. When you interact with others, you have a much better understanding of your own religion. Actually, I became – I wouldn’t say more religious, no. I understood my religion in a different way, in a better way, in a universal way instead of being tied to a certain culture.”