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Kelly: Mosque leaders at Tri-Faith Commons are eager to answer questions about Islam at open house

Kelly: Mosque leaders at Tri-Faith Commons are eager to answer questions about Islam at open house

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Out of respect for residents in nearby neighborhoods, the new mosque on the tri-faith campus of Omaha will not sound the five-times-a-day Islamic call to prayer.

“We decided we would not do that,” said Dr. Syed Mohiuddin, the mosque president, “to be considerate to our neighbors.”

Previous, smaller mosques in Omaha also haven’t sounded the call, but doing so was a possibility for the grander house of worship at the 35-acre Tri-Faith Commons south of 132nd and Pacific Streets.

The mosque, or masjid, sits a stone’s throw from a Jewish synagogue and the site of a future Christian church. But stones won’t be thrown.

On the contrary, leaders of Omaha’s Tri-Faith Initiative call the developing campus a “globally unique” example of interfaith cooperation.

Mohiuddin, 80, a grandfatherly Creighton University cardiologist, first came to Omaha in the 1960s. His recent research convinces him, he said, that no place else in the world is attempting what Omaha is doing — intentionally co-locating worship and cultural centers of the three Abrahamic faiths.

The mosque, which opened in time for the 30-day observance of Ramadan that ended June 25, is holding its first open house from 2 to 4 p.m. today. All are welcome, including — especially — non-Muslims.

They will see a modern mosque that blends into the neighborhood, looking more like it belongs in the American Midwest than, say, the global Middle East.

The architecture, by Slaggie Associates of Kansas City, Missouri, is distinct from, but doesn’t clash with, that of the synagogue.

The mosque has a contemporary minaret, a tall, slender tower; but at a distance, a traditional dome is not apparent at first glance. The dome is translucent, forming a skylight over the lobby.

Rather than calling the mosque the Omaha Muslim Institute, leaders have branded it on the exterior with the name of the organization that owns it, the “American Muslim Institute.”

Though the mosque is local, autonomous and not part of a national or international Islamic organization, the national-sounding name is intended simply to emphasize that these are American Muslims.

While strong in their faith, said the new imam, Mohamad Jamal Daoudi, a naturalized U.S. citizen, they are also like most Muslims in America — loyal to the country.

“No one should have any doubt about the patriotism of Muslims,” said Daoudi, 53, who enjoyed fireworks on the Fourth of July. “We are Americans, we love our country, and we will defend our Constitution to the bones.”

Eager to celebrate the open house and the opening of the mosque as “good news” about Muslims, the imam urged those with questions about Islam — even thorny ones about passages in the Koran — to please come and ask.

A confusing one often cited refers to a “Jew hiding behind me, so kill him.”

“Imam Jamal,” as he is called, said the context is an end-of-time battlefield prophecy. Nature, in the form of trees and stones, alerts innocent Muslims before Judgment Day about potential hidden danger.

Islam means peace, he noted, adding that such passages don’t suggest enmity to the Jews or others.

“Every group, ethnicity or nationality will have the good and the bad among them, and that should never brush the whole group in one color,” the imam said. “Very much the way we explain members of ISIS” — the Islamic State — “who claim they are true Muslims, while I consider they have nothing to do with Islam.” As for the notion of “Islamic honor killings,” Daoudi said: “I definitely and strongly renounce it.”

Imam Jamal, married and the father of three college-age children, was born in Damascus, Syria, and graduated from Damascus University with a degree in English literature.

After graduating from the Islamic Call College in Damascus, he came to the U.S. in 1995. He served the faith in California and West Virginia and earned a doctor of ministry degree in 2005 from a Christian college — the United Theological Seminary in Dayton, Ohio.

In recent years he was an imam in Augusta, Georgia. His contract wasn’t renewed, he said, because some board members were uncomfortable with his interfaith activities. A petition drive to keep him was unsuccessful.

A physician friend in Omaha told Daoudi about the mosque under construction, and he applied in October.

Dr. Mohiuddin said Daoudi turned out to be just what the AMI was looking for, though his application was somehow misplaced.

During a recent World-Herald interview at the mosque, the physician smiled and said to the imam: “We almost missed you.”

The imam said he is in Omaha not just to be a leader for Muslims but also to answer questions from non-Muslims, including those who disagree with Islam.

“We are friendly and open-minded,” he said. “Any problem having a cup of coffee and a chat?”

Donations, some from non-Muslim philanthropists in Omaha, have covered the cost of the $6.5 million, 15,000-square-foot, two-level mosque. Money is still being raised for operations.

Tours Sunday will include “Meet a Muslim” stations and views of the prayer hall, an Islamic ablution area, a library, a kitchen, classrooms, conference rooms, a youth gathering area, indoor basketball hoops and a grassy outdoor area.

The nondenominational mosque, which has video cameras and motion detectors as well as on-site security for gatherings, welcomes all branches of Islam: Sunni, Shiite or other.

Women are “full and equal partners,” a booklet says, and the wearing of a hijab, a Muslim head scarf, is optional.

Omaha-area Muslims, estimated to number 6,000 to 7,000, come from 20 countries in the Middle East, Asia, Africa and Europe. The mosque will help with the cultural resettlement of refugees.

The American Muslim Institute, which hopes to endow chairs at local universities, intends to promote better understanding of Islam through “acceptance, compassion, quality, justice and peace.”

South of the mosque, groundbreaking was held last month for a new Countryside Community Church. To the southeast, across Hell Creek — yes, the historical name is ironically devilish for this now-holy land — sits Temple Israel, which opened in 2013.

The seed of the $65 million campus (donated money) under the nonprofit Tri-Faith Initiative was planted on, of all days, 9/11.

That’s when Rabbi Aryeh Azriel of Temple Israel gathered congregants to help guard a mosque at 73rd and Grant Streets. The gesture led to interfaith picnics and other meetings.

At the Benson branch of the public library in 2006, Azriel (now rabbi emeritus) suggested to Dr. Mohiuddin that Muslims consider joining Jews in finding a common location in west Omaha. Christians soon were invited, too.

To have observed Ramadan at the mosque 11 years later and now to welcome the public today, Mohiuddin said, is a dream come true.

“It’s not only very emotional,” he said, “but also very, very satisfying.”

At the closing of Ramadan, as Muslims knelt on their prayer rugs and bowed toward Mecca, the mosque overflowed, upstairs and downstairs. Attendees were welcomed to park their vehicles in the Temple Israel lot.

As Mohiuddin recalled: “Someone said to me, ‘Where else in the world would you see people parking at a temple and walking to a mosque?’ ”

michael.kelly@owh.com, 402-444-1132

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