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'Breaking naan:' Great Muslim Food Fest encourages community to learn about Islam
'Breaking naan:' Great Muslim Food Fest encourages community to learn about Islam

Assalamu Alaikum. Peace be upon you.

The response: Wa Alaikum Assalam. And may peace be with you too.

The common greeting between Muslims transcends language, Adam Mefrakis said. Even for non-Arabic speaking Muslims, the greeting still stands.

The Islamic Center of Central Missouri, Mefrakis said, is "almost like a melting pot." An MU graduate and Columbia native, his father is from Libya, his mother from Missouri.

The people who attend aren't just one large synonymous ethnic group, Mefrakis said,"it's a mix. It shows that Columbia has a lot of diversity."

At the Great Muslim Food Fest on Sunday afternoon, Mefrakis gave a tour of the Islamic Center of Central Missouri and spoke about common misconceptions about Islam.

The event included a variety of speeches from different leaders in Missouri's Muslim community, face painting and henna, tours of the mosque and informational booths to peruse. The Islamic Center served rice and chicken, falafel, baklava and pumpkin pie, among other snacks.

The event was co-hosted by the Islamic Center of Central Missouri, MU's Muslim Student Organization and the Council on American-Islam Relations of Missouri, a nonprofit civil rights and advocacy group.

Faizan Syed, the executive director of Council on American-Islam Relations of Missouri, or CAIR-MO, said the festival was an opportunity for all faiths and traditions to get to know their Muslim neighbor by speaking "the international language of food."

"We all know that people across the world have come together and broken bread as a way to get to know each other," Syed said. "Today, we live in a country where misconceptions and hatred of Islam and Muslims is at an all-time high, which is what inspired us to hold the Great Muslim Food Fest."

Syed said that in a country so divided, where hatred is used as a mainstream political tool, people need more opportunities to be introduced to the people who live right next door.

"For all faiths, all backgrounds, all traditions to know and learn about each other, what better way than today, where we're breaking bread, or I guess we're breaking naan," he said.

For others, like Nadia Bihomora, a non-Muslim who attended the event, Sunday was the first time they had ever been to the mosque. Bihomora's sister invited her and her children, and her son got a football painted on his face at the face painting booth.

"We're originally from Rwanda, so the Muslim religion is not a foreign thing to us," Bihomora said. "It's been really good."

'The sharing of ideas'

The first Great Muslim Food Festival was held by CAIR-MO in St. Louis, where thousands of people came for a food festival and cook-off. Sunday's Great Muslim Food Festival was modeled after that one, and Rashed Nizam, a speaker at the event, said they plan to take the Muslim food festival concept on the road and bring it to other places in Missouri.

"As Muslims, our first responsibility is to establish peace with each other, with you, with your neighbors, with your friends and colleagues" he said to the crowd. "That's why I say peace be upon you."

He said the Muslim prophet Muhammed instructed Muslims to feed and care for the community, too. It is the responsibility of Muslims to contribute to the society, he said.

"I know most of you are hungry, so that's what we're doing, we're actually following our prophet. He didn't say hungry Muslim, hungry Christian, hungry Jewish, hungry man, hungry woman, hungry orphan, no. He said where man is hungry, feed them."

Aathif Shamail, the event coordinator for CAIR-MO, came to America three years ago. In a class at Webster University, he learned about slavery, and other American injustices, and said that the class made him want to fight for civil rights. It is important to take events like this to places where people may not know a Muslim person, he said.

"I've gotten to speak to a lot of people here, and I'm glad I got to expose them to our side of Islam," he said. "It's the sharing of ideas, which I think is beautiful."

"I think awareness is important," Shamail added. "We also should focus on places where there are no Muslims, like the country. They don't get exposed to Muslims or Islam, and then they believe what they see on the TV. So we hope to have events like this there so there can be more interactions with Muslims."

Shakir Hamoodi, who spoke at the event, thought the festival was such a success, they may do it once or twice a year from now on.

"This house behind me here is called the house of Allah, and what we teach in it, we teach the word of Allah as it was revealed in the mighty Qur'an," Hamoodi said to the crowd. "Hopefully we get to do this experiment again next semester. We see it as a very successful experiment."