Tucked into a small building just off Highway 33, men and women sitting in a semi-circle bowed their heads as a man standing with his back facing them, released a song both foreign and beguiling.
“It’s the call for prayer,” they were told when it came to a close. It’s made five times a day, summoning worshipers to the faith.
For many in the room it was the first time to have heard the call.
It was also the first time they ever stepped foot into the Kelowna Islamic Centre, or had a wide range of questions about the religion answered.
“They have been asking questions like, ‘How do you pray? What do you do when you pray? Is the Christian and Muslim God the same? Are Muslims condemning recent terrorist attacks?”said Adnan Bhat.
Bhat, a member of the Muslim Students’ Association, organized Saturday’s open Mosque event as a way to start a conversation between Kelowna’s Muslim and non-Muslim residents, in hopes it will quell concerns raised in the wake of recent attacks in Paris and other cities around the world.
“(We want) to bridge the gap between Muslims and non-Muslims, and to boost the mutual understanding and respect between each other,” said Bhat.
“People are often fearful of what they don’t know, and so by allowing them to come to the mosque, and organizing events on campus, we allow them to understand us as much as they can, hence getting rid of any skepticism around Muslims or mosques in general.”
It’s not the first time Bhat’s done what he could to boost mutual understanding, but when asked if it was uncomfortable to continually be explaining his faith, he said no. He feels it’s his responsibility.
“Muslims have been telling people what we are not, especially in the last 15 years (since 9/11), but we want to change that and tell people what we are,” he said.
“Ideally people would understand Muslims have nothing to do with terrorism, but that’s not the case, hence putting us in this position.”
Eventually, he said, that position will change.
If those who were at the event are any indication, there is a desire to better understand the faith and its practitioners.
Kayla Gowenlock attended the event with her nine-month-old son, saying that she was happy to learn more about what it means to be Muslim and see such an appetite for understanding among her non-Muslim peers.
“I think that people are interested, and it’s good to see the Muslim faith in town is open to having us here, and building a partnership,” said Gowenlock.
It was heartening, to her, as well.
Gowenlock is involved with a task force that is working to bring together a coalition of groups to help with the settlement of Syrian refugees.
Knowing that there is openness in the community to people of all different stripes will go a long way to creating a smooth transition.
The Kelowna Islamic Centre is located at 1120 Highway 33.