The Lebanese Muslim Association runs National Mosque Open Day annually, incorporating mosques from across the country.
In Melbourne’s west, members of the Hoppers Crossing Virgin Mary Mosque hope to break some of the misconceptions about Islam.
“Anyone who has any doubt about what we do and what we teach is welcome to the mosque,” Sheik Nawas Saleem said.
Questions and curiosity will be welcomed at the mosque on the open day Saturday October 31.
Sheik Saleem said nothing would be hidden from the public.
“The mosque is a place which is very open — there is only one room, we have our books on display, there is no hiding space or hidden chambers,” he said.
The mosque’s name and its location — next to a large Christian Church — were intentional, to help build bridges with other religions.
For regular attendees, like Ismail Baig, it is a place of community, teaching and prayer — common characteristics of every major religion.
“From my perspective, the mosque is the most important thing for every Muslim,” Mr Baig said.
“This is the place you find yourself belonging, and you find something you need all the time; it’s essential for my life.
“It is just like any other mosque, temple, or synagogue, to learn you have to go to the institution, and this is my institution.”
‘Mosques should not be seen30 as a threat’
Ever since the 9/11 terror attacks, Sheik Saleem said he was forced to defend his faith against public criticism and condemnation of Islam.
“We have learned since 9/11 to live and resist those challenges,” he said.
“Muslims in this country are only 3 per cent [of the population]… and there are 97 per cent of non-Muslims who are watching, so we have a huge duty to teach people about Islam.”
But he said amid the tension, there was also cause for encouragement.
When protests flared in Bendigo over plans to build a mosque, Sheik Saleem watched the scenes unfold from Melbourne.
“It was quite disheartening, but also it’s very blissful to see a large number of people go out and protest in favour of the mosque — I look it as not glass half empty but glass half full.”
Mr Baig said the introduction of mosques into Australian communities should not be seen as a threat.
“I’m sure it wouldn’t have any adverse effect on the community,” he said.
Rather, Mr Baig believed there was greater likelihood of radicalisation in communities where Muslim youth do not have a sense of belonging and a safe place to practise their faith.
“As a lay Muslim, I’m able to scratch the surface of my religion, and if they [sheiks] don’t guide me, I may go astray — I may understand something that’s not part of Islam,” he said.
“If you have a mosque, these are the places we can grow further, learn things and contribute to the community.”