Behind the hijab in Anaheim

Update: View a slideshow of images from Open-Mosque Day here.

Too much is still unknown, speculated about and misunderstood when it comes to Muslims abroad and in the U.S. To counter this in their own small way, a dozen or so mosques throughout L.A. and Orange counties flung their doors open this past weekend for “Open Mosque Day.” I stopped by the large Islamic Institute of Orange County in Anaheim for the occasion, and there I was greeted by a table-full of smiling older women in hijab who offered pamphlets and chocolate.

Locals at this and other mosques were invited to stop by and munch on falafel, tahini and other treats while listening to a lecture about Islam, talking to members of the mosque and asking anything they'd ever wanted to ask about Islam.

The main room was lined with science-fair type booths with information about Spain (where Muslims ruled peacefully for 750 years), women and Mecca. At the women's booth I asked about handshakes between men and women (note to women: don't shoot your hand out). During the lecture an older man asked the young and erudite Imam, Mohammed Faqih, what his thoughts were on the formation of an Islamic state in the U.S. (I think religious pluralism works for the American people, he said. It's what they have chosen).

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I also took a “tour” of the sublime and surprisingly cozy prayer room, with it's massive carpet, high ceilings and pin-drop silence.

All of us were asked to remove our shoes, and the women donned optional scarves. Visitors could also observe prayer in the big room if they happened to be there during prayer time. Inside, our young tour guide fielded questions about head scarves, women, oppression and fasting.

Everyone was cordial and friendly, and judging by the nods and “hmms” of the visitors, they seemed to be getting something out of it. Nothing breaks the mystery of Islam down sooner, it seems, than a friendly conversation over falafel with an actual Muslim.

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