For the past year, the Muslim community in mid-Missouri has been under more scrutiny than any other religious group.
Just last month, five men linked to a Columbia-based Islamic charity, the Islamic American Relief Agency-USA, were accused of illegally trafficking $1.4 million in funds to a Sudan-based organization with ties to a then-Saddam Hussein controlled Iraq. The men are charged with stealing government and public money and misrepresenting their fundraising goals to the public. Two of the men, Mubark Hamed and Ahmad Mustafa, live in Columbia; a third, Ali Mohamed Bagegni, is a former resident.
In September — in a separate incident — the FBI searched the home of Shakir Hamoodi, a well-known community leader and a member of the Islamic Center of Mid-Missouri, in connection with his work for Life for Relief, a Michigan-based charity that helps people in countries that include Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Despite the recent 33-count indictment and the FBI investigation, the Islamic Center has not stopped encouraging its members to be very active in the community, said Hend El-Buri, an Islamic Center of Central Missouri women’s committee member. Nor has it made them reconsider their annual open house.
El-Buri said that the wider Columbia community has always been supportive of the Islamic Center, and that recent events have not had a negative impact on local perceptions of Muslims or the Islamic faith. If anything, the news has increased people’s interest in mid-Missouri’s Muslim community.
“Now they want to come talk,” she said.
The purpose of the annual open house is to encourage an interfaith dialogue.
“It’s basically just to teach people about Islam and Muslims,” said El-Buri, a Muslim woman.
Faeza Khan, spokesman for the Muslim Student Organization at MU and a member of the Islamic Center, said the event is a chance to increase strong ties between Muslims and non-Muslims in the community.
“The main point of the open house is to allow people to talk to members of the congregation and also to see the mosque.”
The event will feature informational presentations, tours of the mosque and foods from various Muslim countries around the world. Visitors can also watch two of the five Muslim daily prayers (at 2 and 5:15 p.m.). Henna tattoos will be available for women, and El-Buri said there will be information about the sometimes controversial role and treatment of women of Islamic faith.
But most of all, El-Buri said, the open house is a way for local Muslims to express their community spirit.
“We love being part of this community,” she said, “just like everybody else.”