Two groups of youths from Monroe County parishes recently gained firsthand knowledge of Islam by visiting the Islamic Center of Rochester.
On July 22, 10 members of the senior-high youth group from Spencerport’s St. John the Evangelist Parish visited the Islamic Center, where they had the opportunity to pray with their Muslim hosts. They learned that Muslims worldwide pray facing Mecca five times a day.
“It’s really cool to know that all the Muslims around the world were praying at that same time,” Sarah Skelly said.
“They can feel a connection to relatives around the world,” Stephanie Magin noted. “I think everyone praying at the same time, five times a day, is awesome.”
Prior to visiting the Islamic Center, the youth-group members had talked about the basics of the Muslim faith, then expressed an interest in learning more about Islam and meeting practicing Muslims, said youth minister Barbara Legere.
“Let’s get to know the real people,” Legere said. “We only get to know about the extremists in the news.”
Linda Pepe, director of religious education at St. Paul Parish in Webster, took the parish’s fifth- and sixth-grade religion classes and some parents to the Islamic Center on Valentine’s Day. After the visit, some of the students and parents wrote essays about the trip and what they learned about Islam.
“Its always important to learn about other faiths,” Pepe said. “It brings us together, the first step towards peace.”
Dr. Muhammad Shafiq, imam of the Islamic Center, agreed.
“We need to raise our next generation in building relations and peaceful living that comes by visiting other places of worship, learning about the other faith and getting to know one another,” he said. “It is our responsibility to take initiatives of bringing peace between our faiths and our people.”
The youths from St. John’s and St. Paul noted that visiting the Islamic Center was a first step toward helping them form educated opinions about other religious groups. Members of both groups said their opinions of different religions were formed by what is portrayed on television, and many times the stereotypes emphasized by the media are negative.
“The stereotypes we had got cleared away,” said Andrew Cholewa of St. John’s.
Focusing on similarities between Christianity and Islam rather than differences made both groups realize that the two religions have much in common. Hannah Barry, a St. Paul religious-education student, said that after visiting the Islamic Center and asking questions about Islam she could only see one big difference between the two religions.
“Basically, the only differences between Christianity and Islam are that Islamic people believe that the prophet Muhammad was the last prophet and that Jesus wasn’t the messiah, just another prophet,” Hannah wrote in an essay about her impressions of Islam.
Members of both parish groups said they had a rewarding experience at the Islamic Center. They enjoyed praying there and being able to ask questions about Islam.
“We can’t agree on everything, but we can respect one another,” Legere said of Christians and Muslims.