LONDON - Facing growing anti-Muslim sentiments, East London Muslims are opening the doors of their mosque to non-Muslim neighbors, in an attempt to promote a better understanding of Islam and Muslims.
There is more pressure on us as an institution because our mosque has come under a lot of pressure, Dilowar Khan, executive director of the East London mosque, told BBC on Saturday, March 30.
It's been criticized as being a hub for extremists, he said.
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Located in Tower Hamlets borough, the local authority with the highest population of Muslims, East London mosque has been facing rising sentiments from its neighbors.
The problems followed the rejection of plans to build a mega mosque near the Olympic site in East London.
Earlier in 2012, a video appeared online showing men shouting homophobic abuse at another man in east London, telling him to get out of here as it is a Muslim area.
East London Mosque condemned the actions of the self-styled 'Muslim patrol'.
We felt like because this was an issue right on our doorstep we had to speak out about that one, Khan said.
Therefore, today's open doors event at the mosque was planned an attempt to correct misconceptions about Islam and Muslims.
It's very important we reach out to our neighbors who see the mosque every day but don't feel that they can come in, Khan said.
We do get visitors regularly but there are still so many people who live nearby and don't know what is inside.
The event includes inviting members of the local community to take a look inside the mosque, observe prayers and ask questions about the religion.
There will be an exhibition about the way of life for Muslims in the UK, as well as information about culture and history.
Being opened to all kinds of questions about Islam and Muslim, the mosque officials assigned imams to answer visitors on complex theological questions.
Some people want to ask simple questions like whether as non-Muslims they're allowed to come in the mosque, said event organizer Shaju Khan.
Others make pretty broad requests like 'what is Islam?'
Media misconceptions about Islam were also a main part of recurrent questions from visitors.
We do have people who ask difficult questions. They may have read about Islam in the media and so they'll ask what Jihad is, which we tell them is simply a struggle, Shaju Khan said.
They have asked about the issue of women wearing the niqab.
Dilowar Khan said that an increasing number of mosques were holding similar events.
There is still a lot of ignorance out there with groups like the English Defence League wanting to vilify mosques saying they are full of fundamentalists who don't want to engage with mainstream society.
We have to play a part in changing that view.
Britain is home to a sizable Muslim minority of nearly 2.7 million; 4.8% of the population.
A Financial Times opinion poll showed that Britain is the most suspicious nation about Muslims.
A poll of the Evening Standard found that a sizable section of London residents harbor negative opinions about Muslims.
Reproduced with permission from OnIslam.net