Leaders of the Islamic Center of Tri-Cities said they were surprised by the one-man protest staged in front of the West Richland mosque last week.
But they also said it’s inspired them to reach out to the community with information and a message about their religion.
“Islam is a religion of peace. The meaning of the root of ‘Islam’ -- the word ‘Islam’ -- is peace,” said Mohamed Elsehmawy, the imam, or religious leader, at the mosque.
He added that the traditional Muslim greeting translates to, “Peace be upon you.”
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Elsehmawy and other center leaders have talked about possibly arranging some open house events.
They also said they welcome people with questions about Islam -- as well as concerns and criticism -- to call or come to the West Richland center for more information or to talk.
Protester Michael Harmon, who was outside the mosque Sept. 29, cited groups like al-Qaida and Islamic State, telling a Herald reporter that, “They all follow the Quran. The Quran itself is evil. It states there in black and white they want to kill us.”
Islamic Center leaders said those groups violate the principles of Islam. “Unfortunately, any religion, including Islam, is subject to other people claiming they know it better, or to (people committing) wrongful actions in the name of the religion,” said Dr. Fadi Alqaisi, a Tri-City physician and the center’s vice-president.
Dr. Hannan Chaugle, also a Tri-City doctor and the center’s president, added that there are more than 1.5 billion Muslims worldwide, “and most of them are peace-loving people.”
Just because members of groups such as al-Qaida and Islamic State call themselves Muslims, “does not mean what they’re doing is Islam,” he said.
The Islamic Center, which has been in its home on Bombing Range Road since the late ’90s, has a decades-long history in the Tri-Cities.
It was established in 1979, with gatherings for a while held at the Richland Community Center because there was no permanent meeting space, according to a history on the center’s website.
That changed in 1985 with the purchase of a house on Van Giesen Street on the Yakima River. Eventually, more space was needed and construction started on the 7,000-square-foot Bombing Range Road facility. It includes a prayer hall, social area, kitchen, library and classrooms.
While the center started out with a small number of members, its ranks have steadily grown during the years. During a recent event, more than 1,300 people showed up -- so many that tents outside were needed to accommodate everyone.
Chaugle said the center has had a good relationship with the community during the years, highlighting its participation in the Tri-Cities Interfaith Alliance as an example.
He described the protest as isolated, saying the center has received supportive messages from people and groups in the community since.
The center has a full statement in response to the protest on its website at www.ic3c.org.
-- Sara Schilling: 509-582-1529; firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @saraTCHerald