Dr. Hannan Chaugle believes that the biggest religion is humanity.
So when about 500 people stopped by the Islamic Center of Tri-Cities for its open house, the center’s president was humbled and overwhelmed by the turnout given the current political climate.
“This is what makes America great, and this is why we left our country to come to this country,” said Chaugle, who calls himself an American Muslim.
“We are all created by one entity. We can call it God, we can call it Allah, we can call it whatever name we want. The biggest religion on this Earth is humanity,” he added. “I may spend all my time praying, but if I don’t treat my fellow human being nice, God will not be happy and maybe I will not find a place in heaven because I don’t treat everyone good.”
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Saturday’s interfaith event encouraged the public to tour the West Richland center, meet Tri-City Muslims, gain a better understanding of the religion of Islam and celebrate together with food and drinks.
The 2900 Bombing Range Road mosque is one of two in the Tri-Cities; the other in Kennewick.
Pastor Liv Gibbons was one of several speakers who addressed the crowd.
“I just wanted to share our Christian imperative to be good neighbors to one another, and that’s certainly what drew me here today,” she said after the event.
The pastor from Richland’s Northwest United Protestant Church described the attendance as mind-boggling, but also encouraging for the center and the entire community.
“It was just so good to see everybody demonstrating love to one another,” Gibbons said.
As guests were welcomed at the entrance by members of the Muslim Youth Group, they were asked to sign Post-it notes with words of encouragement.
“You have the right to be here. We love you!” said one message.
“Love is the answer to all problems. Love is powerful!” said another.
“We got (your) back,” someone wrote.
That poster board will be laminated by youth group leader Sabiha Khan and displayed in the center’s social hall.
“I would say that the silver lining in (President) Trump’s Executive Order is that we have hundreds of thousands of people across the United States who have come out to support Muslims,” said Khan, a Kamiakin High School social studies teacher. “We were very encouraged that at least 500 people showed up today at the mosque to support us.”
The Islamic Center first planted its roots in the Tri-Cities in 1979. After meeting in different locations, including a Richland house, the center purchased 2 1/2 acres in 1995 and opened the 7,000-square-foot facility the following year. In addition to the social hall, there is a prayer room, kitchen, library, office and classrooms for Sunday school.
The center's website says they have gone from serving 15 Muslim families in 1985 to more than 500 families, with almost 1,500 Muslims now living in the Tri-Cities.
Given the exponential growth in recent years, which includes an influx of refugees from the Middle East and Africa, center leaders are trying to raise money for an expansion, so there is more room for worship and learning. The proposed 17,000-square-foot addition would allow the prayer room to extend into what is now the social hall, and the social hall would move into a new area of the building. The project also would include more parking space.
“Every penny you give in the name of God, God will reward you,” Chaugle said. “One hundred years from now, we will not be here but the mosque will be.”
Chaugle, a Richland heart surgeon, said when the mosque was attacked in Quebec City in January, Tri-City residents contacted the Islamic Center and offered assistance, such as installing extra security.
“I just love it when I see all the support and the care and the love from the Tri-Cities, because ever since the last election it’s been kind of a mess,” said Eman Ahmed, 16, of Richland. “It’s such a good feeling whenever we see new people here. We feel appreciated and we feel welcomed and I couldn’t ask for anything more.”
Zonia Ziada, another open house speaker, said people are living in hard times right now, and they need to resist hate speech and injustice and stay together.
“I am a proud American. I am also a proud Latina. I am a proud immigrant. I am a proud woman of color. And I am also a proud Muslim,” said Ziada of Kennewick. “As you can see, I fit the prototype of everything that is fashionable to hate now in America and, this is very difficult because as the Quran teaches us, we are all one family.”
The Spanish-speaking court interpreter and longtime Red Cross disaster relief volunteer explained that when she raises her voice to defend what is right and what is peaceful, that is the legacy she is leaving her children, grandchildren and society.
“What would make us a better country, what would make America great again, is when we start with our voices, with our examples, with our actions and support everyone,” she added. “Everybody has the right to have a decent, humane life like I did when I came to the United States. And 40 years later, I’m finding myself wondering if this country that I so much love, is it still loving me?”