The Islamic Center of Manhattan welcomed the public into its space over the weekend.
The center hosted its first open house since the COVID-19 pandemic began in 2020. Manhattan residents filtered in and out of the center on Saturday — without shoes to honor Muslim practices — to learn more about Islam and enjoy some homemade food representative of Muslim nations such as Afghanistan.
Islamic Center interfaith leader Elfadil Bashir said the open house usually brings in people who are curious about Islam, or who didn’t know there was a place for Muslims to worship in Manhattan.
“This open house is actually a method of interaction between the Islamic Center and the community,” Bashir said. “As part of that community, we want people to know what’s inside the center, what we’re doing, and to answer any questions about Islam.”
Bashir, who is also a plant-breeding and genetics postdoctoral researcher at Kansas State University, said the open house featured several educational posters outlining the five pillars of Islam.
“The first is a testimony,” Bashir said. “To be Muslim, you have to have this testimony, which states your belief in one god.”
The second pillar of Islam is prayer, of which there is a set routine to follow for devout believers. Fasting, charity, and pilgrimage make up the remaining pillars of Islam. Information on the individual pillars was presented on posters placed in the mosque, with Muslim people from around Manhattan available to answer questions. Bashir said the largely Muslim nations of Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Kuwait, Kenya, Sudan, Iraq, Egypt, and Libya were represented Saturday.
“It’s really very interesting to see all those people from different nationalities coming together and having one message, that we are all Muslims, and we are part of this community,” Bashir said.
Manhattan Mayor Linda Morse was among those who attended the open house. She said the event highlights the Manhattan community’s work to be welcoming in nature.
“I want citizens to come here to the Islamic Center, and just get acquainted, so that when you meet somebody on the street you can say, ‘Hi, how’s it going,’ you know?” Morse said. “That’s the kind of community I want for us, as a city commissioner and as mayor.”
Massachusetts native Andrew Morgan has lived in Manhattan since July 2021. A property management professional by trade, Morgan accepted Islam in February 2011.
“It was just something I happened to come across,” Morgan said. “After a few months of study, I realized, ‘Gosh, I’ve believed this stuff my whole life.’ I didn’t know there was a religion that taught this stuff, so I made a trip to the mosque and spoke to some Muslims in person instead of trying to read and decipher it all online. Shortly after meeting with them … I decided to put my foot down and become Muslim.”
Morgan said he was not a terribly religious person before becoming Muslim, but the “belief of God” was always present.
“We weren’t atheist or agnostic, even,” Morgan said, “it was just something that kind of wasn’t brought up (in my family). I naturally just kind of believed it myself, without any prior influence.”
Morgan said when he started studying Islam, he was shocked to find some of the things he previously believed on his own to be large parts of Islam. He said he lived in North Carolina for a short time, and people “were not expecting” a white man from New England to be their interfaith leader and a practicing Muslim. He said becoming a Muslim helped give him empathy for others.
“It made me realize that, in order to serve God, we can’t be serving ourselves alone,” Morgan said. “We have to serve humanity, other people, our neighbors. It also instilled in me a respect of God if you would. When I lived here in 2007-2008, I was a little too cool for school, and I lived that life for a long time. Islam definitely grounded me, and helped me realize there are more important things in life than material wants.”