Faysal Kolkailah knelt on a colorful Pakistani rug, his palms on the floor, and placed his forehead on the ground.
“I am not kissing the ground,” he said, using an all-too-common slur disparaging Muslim prayer as a lesson for a group of about 20, mostly non-Muslims learning the basic tenets of his faith, Islam.
They had been invited to the Mosque of Nasreen’s second annual open house — part of a decades-old effort by local Muslims to open a dialogue with non-Muslims, said Hisham Assal, a 53-year-old computer science lecturer at Cal Poly.
“I think there’s always been a level of curiosity in the U.S., but that level of curiosity increased after 9/11,” he said.
Since 9/11 and the subsequent invasions and occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq, ignorance and negative stereotypes about Islam have increased, said Naiyerah Kolkailah, president of the Islamic Society of SLO County and Faysal Kolkailah’s daughter.
With the help of the Muslim Students Association at Cal Poly, Naiyerah Kolkailah organized Saturday’s open house at the 3-year-old mosque to help teach people who know little about the religion of Islam and to dispel misconceptions and prejudices about it.
The event was also a way for people to meet Muslims, Naiyerah Kolkailah said.
Faysal Kolkailah, a longtime San Luis Obispo County resident and a Cal Poly professor who preaches at the mosque as its unofficial imam, says that too often people associate Muslims with terrorists.
In 1995, when domestic terrorist Timothy McVeigh and others detonated a bomb in Oklahoma City that killed 168 people, a reporter phoned Faysal Kolkailah for comment, assuming the attacker was Muslim and that as a fellow Muslim he could comment. He was fuming mad and asked the reporter why she assumed a Muslim would have any more insight into political violence than anyone else. He asked the reporter why she had not called Jews or Christians from the Middle East.
People should be judged for their actions and not their faith, Kolkailah said.
Many people have several misconceptions about Islam and women, he said. Some think the fact that women pray separately is evidence that they are not as important as men. But that is not the case, he said.
Among them: Women pray separately for privacy. Women on their periods cannot pray. If everyone in a mosque could see when a woman was not praying, they would know who was on their period.
Also, in some mosques, women pray behind men. That is so that they are not kneeling in prayer before a group of strange men and for the previous reason.
In some places, such as Saudi Arabia, women are not allowed to drive cars, he said. But such laws are not Allah’s laws, Kolkailah said. They are man’s laws, and no one should judge a religion based on one country’s laws. Nothing in Islam says a woman cannot be an astronaut, a pilot or a driver, he said.
What are the major beliefs of Islam?
Islam, which was founded in the Arabian Peninsula by the Prophet Mohammad in the seventh century, has six articles of faith, according to Faysal Kolkailah:
- Allah is the only god.
- Allah created angels.
- There are prophets and messengers, such as Jesus and Moses.
- The original books of both Christians and Jews were the word of God.
- Despite free will, there is divine decree; in the end, Allah is ultimately in control.
- There is an afterlife including heaven and a hell, and Allah will judge you based on your actions in life.
The faith’s basic practices:
- Make a declaration of faith, in Arabic, that there is no god but Allah (God) and Mohammad is his messenger.
- Pray five times a day.
- Fast from dawn to sunset during the month of Ramadan.
- If you can, you must make a pilgrimage— the Hajj — to Mecca in Saudi Arabia.
- If you can, you must give a percentage of your savings away as alms.
- Following these articles of faith and practices are guides for improving your character, Kolkailah said, but not guarantees that you are a “good” Muslim. That depends on you.