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Muslims in Maine, Part 1: Understanding the Religion

Less than one percent of adults in Maine are Muslim.

But that number is growing – in a time when much tension surrounds Islam.

TV-5 visits a local mosque to talk about the faith.

“People come and they say this is who I am. I’d like to speak to you guys about this. I have a concern about your faith and Muslims. I say sit down and we’ll talk, brew some tea and discuss it. If coffee is your thing let’s do that too.”

It’s a mosque with an open door policy – one that invites people in to learn about a religion that often comes with misconceptions.

It’s Friday prayer at the Islamic Center of Maine in Orono – it’s one of less than 10 mosques in the state – and it’s the furthest north.

For the most part, it’s tucked right into the Maine fabric.

“You get the ignorant every once in a while to call and say something bad when things happen, but in general – it’s a very accepting community and a very welcoming community,” explains Abdullah Al-Fdeilat, a member at the mosque.  “And we’re happy to be here.”

That reaction is not universal – there’s national rhetoric, that links the religion to terrorist attacks, which is true to an extreme degree.

“Unfortunately that happens,” says Amadou Thiam, another member of the mosque. “But the problem is people need to realize we don’t, most of us do not condone what they do. We don’t agree with what they do because they are brainwashing people. For example, people in ISIS, Al Qaeda for example, those guys, they usually go to poor places where people don’t have education or a way out and they promise them things. And when you are desperate you do almost anything and they are brainwashed at such a young age. And that’s not Islam.”

“I think maybe the media might play an important role in this, like when an attack happens they concentrate and focus on the Muslim part of it,” adds Yayha Elsayed, who also attends the mosque.

What they say the media is lacking is the big picture.

Islamist extremists like those in ISIS are only a fraction of followers and it’s those people, not the religion that’s violent.

There’s more than a billion Muslims worldwide who are not waging deadly attacks in the name of Islam, like the community here in Orono.

“I think it’s the lack of education on the religion. People don’t care to know, basically,” Thiam explains. “They just go with propaganda and what’s shown on TV or whatever they read.”

“What is the difference between someone who says they belong to KKK and they put a hood on and they go burning crosses at houses of black people and any other race that’s not them? What make them different than other Christian groups?” asks Omar Conteh, outreach coordinator at the mosque.

He says education and conversation are key in breaking the generalization – as long as others are willing to talk.

“Whatever their concerns are, we try to put them to ease. That we Muslims in this world are not here to destroy people’s way of living. We believe in our Quran. God said very simply – there is no compulsion in faith. There is no compulsion in religion. That no one has to believe anything they didn’t want to believe.”

The Islamic Society of Maine typically holds open houses in the Spring.

For more information, you can check out their website here.

Thursday night (2/18) you’ll hear from another member of the mosque – her name is Maya and she’s 11 years old.  She’ll have a millennial’s perspective – Muslims in Maine, Part 2 at 6 p.m.