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Longview mosque to welcome public in wake of national protests

By Glenn Evans
June 16, 2017 at 6:45 a.m.
Updated June 16, 2017 at 6:45 a.m.

Saleem Shabazz visits with Usama Zafar at the Islamic Center of Longview on Tuesday June 13, 2017. (Michael Cavazos/News-Journal Photo)

Longview-area Muslims are inviting the community to bring questions about their faith and practices to an open house next week. The invitation to the sixth annual open house follows a weekend of protests — and counter protests — over whether members of Islam plan to impose Sharia law on their fellow Americans.

"That is the scare tactics of the Islamophobes, for lack of a better word," said Saleem Shabazz, spokesman for the Islamic Centre of Longview. "We're going to have dinner. This is Ramadan, and they will get an opportunity to break fast and also to make prayer. We're going to start it off with a question-and-answer session with myself and two other brothers."

Ramadan is a monthlong Islamic observance, this year from May 26 through June 24, during which Muslims fast in daylight hours, abstain from fleshly endeavors and seek the will of God.

Tuesday's open house, arriving as the holy month winds down, is envisioned as a chance for non-Muslims to learn more about followers of the ancient faith.

The Longview mosque has about 40 families in its membership.

Shabazz acknowledged the rallies, sponsored by the group ACT for America, that were held in 38 cities across the country this past weekend. The protests pushed the idea that American Muslims plan to impose strict Sharia law on their neighbors.

Shabazz also noted counter protesters who showed up in greater numbers in Austin, Fort Worth, New York and elsewhere to support American Muslims.

"As a matter of fact, one of the things I have been really, pleasantly surprised by is the communities — most of them where Muslims are located, they defend them, because they see them as good neighbors and good, viable parts of the community," Shabazz said. "Most Americans, I think, see Muslims only as fellow citizens. They are not buying into the notion that we are all extremists."

The same situation has evolved in the neighborhood surrounding Longview's five-year-old mosque at 119 Amy St.

Some neighbors who learned about the planned worship center expressed concerns ranging from increased traffic on the small street to outright fear of a religion that's largely a mystery to many East Texans. Many placed yard signs simply with the word "Jesus" on them, implying that their street had no room for Islam.

"The thing that is wonderful — ever since that initial resistance, and we had a chance to talk to them — one of the ladies that put out the Jesus signs, she's one of our best watchmen," he said, indicating a resident who now keeps an eye out for her new neighbors.

The neighborhood children play regularly on the mosque playground.

"It shows you that when people get past their initial fear and realize there's nothing to be afraid of, then good things happen," Shabazz said. "We need to be good neighbors. As a matter of fact, we put a member out of the mosque because he was refusing to do that."

That former member had refused mosque instructions that he stop speeding on the small residential road, he said.

Shabazz said concerns about an imposition of Sharia law are unfounded.

"Sharia law cannot be implemented without the majority of the people in the community going with it — most Muslim countries don't even have Sharia law," he said.

He acknowledged that the U.S. Supreme Court shot down a part of Sharia law in 2015 when it outlawed government bans on gay marriage — a ruling that upset Muslims and the Christian right equally.

"Isn't that amazing?" Shabazz asked. "What Sharia law actually is, is we believe that the right to govern and the rules we make to govern our lives have to derive from the laws put down by our creator. And that's what Sharia law is. We don't believe that manmade laws have the same sovereignty as the laws that come down from God. But there's nothing underhanded or mysterious, because we believe God is the only sovereign."

Shabazz said Tuesday's event should last "at least a couple of hours."

"We're hoping people stay there for a while," he said.

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