ORONO, Maine — In an opportunity to “Meet Your Muslim Neighbor,” guests were greeted with “a greeting of peace: the greeting of salaam. Assalamu Alaikum, peace be upon you all.” The new Islamic Center of Maine in Orono, or ICMO, completed in early January, held its first open house on Saturday, March 6.

It was a chance for the Muslim population to “celebrate this milestone with friends, family and community,” as Gov. John Baldacci expressed in his letter of congratulations sent to the center. Guests from as far as Lewiston attended the event to learn about Islam and to tour the new mosque.

After the adhan, or Islamic call to prayer, Muslims gathered in congregation and stood behind the imam-leader to pray their daily Maghrib prayer. Forming rows of men and women separately, Muslims stood side-by-side, making sure to close the gaps between each other, representing unity between one neighbor and the next.

The evening proceeded with a welcome and thank-you from Dr. Mohammed Tabbah, chairman of the mosque’s board of trustees, on behalf of the Muslim community. Tabbah recognized the mosque for serving two main purposes.

“First,” he said, “was for our community. With a bigger place, we can gather, pray and have social activities for our kids and families. Our second goal, which if not as important, but more important, is that we had been hoping that we could have these kinds of gatherings. Our old [mosque] could not do that, and the space was very limited.”

Believed to be built by Albanian immigrants in the early 20th century, the first mosque in the United States appeared in Maine. Tabbah noted the first free-standing mosque in Maine was established in the 1990s at 151 Park St., Orono, which also is the location of the new mosque.

Eaman Attia, head of the Outreach and Education Committee at the ICMO, followed the greeting with a talk titled “Islam’s Message to Humanity,” based on the last sermon of Prophet Muhammad. Attia said that when preparing her speech, she thought, “What would our Prophet Muhammad say to such a gathering?” After his only pilgrimage to Islam’s holy city of Mecca, Attia said, “he addressed freedom for all, sanctity of life, equality of races, women’s rights, justice and the rights of others.”

Islam’s message of equality was emphasized by Islam’s Prophet Muhammad and in the Quran where God declares to all of mankind, “We have created you from a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, [so] that you may know one another” (49:13), Attia said.

ICMO president Samir Sbayi echoed Attia’s message concerning Islam by addressing what he described as “a snapshot of the workings of a Muslim and what their belief is really based on.” Sbayi related the practices of a Muslim based on the five pillars of Islam: belief in one God, prayer, charity, fasting during the month of Ramadan, and the pilgrimage to Mecca.

“When you think of pillars, you think of a foundation of a building. Islam is based on these pillars,” Sbayi noted.

Concluding the presentation, the floor was opened to the guest audience for a panel where questions concerning Islam, its practices, history and modern stereotypes seen through the media were addressed.

“As everybody feels that terrorists hijacked the peace in this country, we feel the same thing — they hijacked our peace, and they hijacked our religion,” Tabbah said.

Guests shared refreshments as they toured the new facility, complete with a classroom, an interior dome, and men’s and women’s mud rooms, which were not present in the old mosque. The open house served as an opportunity for the public to “Meet their Muslim Neighbor,” and as Attia recognized, “come together to form lasting and binding relationships between our local community and our friends and neighbors in Maine.”

Hina Hashmi is a junior at Bangor High School and lives in Veazie with her parents and two brothers.