Kendall mosque opens its doors to non-Muslims

With her shoes off and black-and-white hijab covering her hair, Stephanie Restrepo took her place in a back row at Masjid AnNoor Wednesday night and completed the sunset Islamic prayer known as the Maghrib.

Unfamiliar with the prayer, which involves kneeling and bowing motions, the 25-year-old peaked at those around her to make sure she was in sync.

“It was like the first time I visited Catholic Church,” said Restrepo, who was raised as a Pentacostal. “I wanted to actually learn what’s inside, what’s the process of their prayer.”

Restrepo was one of roughly a dozen non-Muslims who attended the fifth annual open house at Masjid AnNoor, a mosque in west Kendall. The event, co-sponsored by the Coalition of South Florida Muslim Organizations and EMERGE USA, always takes place during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, a period when Muslims refrain from eating and drinking from sunrise to sunset. The fasting and prayers are designed to help followers reconnect spiritually.

“The fast is a self-discipline,” said Imam Zakaria Badat, the leader of the congregation. “If we can leave things aside for 12 hours or 16 hours, I think we do have the will and the power to leave them for the rest of the time.”

Traditionally, Muslims break their fasts by eating a date, then taking part in the sunset prayer. After prayers, they break the fast with a celebratory meal, known as an Iftaar.

“We want to share with you tonight how the Muslim community here breaks their fast, and how we live within a society, within a community," Badat said to the group of non-Muslims who'd gathered to hear him speak.

Restrepo was invited to the open house by her friend and colleague, Iram Qureshi. The pair, who work at Nordstrom’s in the Village of Merrick Park in Coral Gables, sometimes talk about faith and religion.

“I was like, ‘Let’s go, Stephanie, because you don’t know exactly who we are,’ ” said Qureshi, 36, of Kendall. “It’s always better to have more knowledge about different religions. It doesn’t mean I am pressuring her. I was just like ‘Come, join me.’ ”

Restrepo appreciated the invitation.

“I got a waterfall of information,” said Restrepo, whose friend explained the layout and décor of the mosque to her. “It’s a lot of different customs that I’m happy to learn about.”

Bill Duquette, 58, also was invited by a work colleague. The CEO of Homestead Hospital brought his wife, Gladis, 62. The two are Catholic; he grew up in what is now Palmetto Bay, she, in Cuba.

“I know what Ramadan is all about but I wanted to get a better insight,” said Duquette. “We have a lot of Muslim friends. This is great that they’re reaching out to teach people.”

The highlight of the evening was the Iftaar, or celebratory meal after the fast. Served under a white tent, the menu consisted of three different types of kabobs: chicken, beef and ground beef. Also served: rice, salad, humus and pita.

Under the tent, Restrepo asked Qureshi about why she fasted.

“I would say it’s the best lesson in how to be patient,’’ Qureshi told her friend. “It’s the best way to feel how others are surviving without food for many, many days. We are just doing it from sunrise to sunset; it’s not that bad.’’

At a table next to them, Kyle Schulberg, deputy district director for Rep. Joe Garcia, was engaged in a lively discussion about religion, language and culture.

“Everybody is so welcoming,” said Schulberg, who has attended the event in the past. “I learned a lot.”

It's those interactions that make the evening worthwhile for Nidal Hozien, chair of the Islamic School of Miami, the school connected to Masjid AnNoor. The open house, he noted, bridges gaps, opens doors and shows people that mosques are simply a house of worship.

“I think the biggest thing is it debunks stereotypes that people don’t know what’s going on inside this domed building,” Hozien said. “It’s not some mystical place. It helps a lot when we talk to people in this area.”