After initial greetings, visitors were broken up into groups and taken around the mosque compound by assigned tour guides. Our group was led first to the mosque mortuary, where a funeral service was in progress. Therefore, we could not go in, but a representative explained the burial procedure to us in Islamic practice. We then proceeded to a presentation of the Orange Crescent School in the compound, which serves students from kindergarten through the 8th grade. The school representative explained to us that they have had non-Muslim students, but currently, all the students are Muslims. The tuition per year is about $5,000. We then were taken into the mosque itself, where prayers and sermons are held. We listened to the call to prayer, followed by a recitation in English of Sura 1 (of the Holy Koran) *, after which, our guide and Imam Suhail Mulla, took some questions.
I asked about the recent unrest in the Middle East and the controversy over the now-infamous video ("The Innocence of Muslims"). I referred to Imam Siddiqi's sermon of September 14, when he advised his congregation to exercise patience and not resort to violence. I mentioned that Siddiqi had used the words, "mockery" and ridicule" to describe the nature of the video. My question was whether they considered the video to be blasphemous, and if so, how that would be punished in a country such as Egypt (since the producer of the video was a Coptic Christian immigrant from Egypt.)
Imam Suhail answered that he didn't care to get engaged in terms like "ridicule", "mockery" or such, but that the video was offensive to what Muslims hold dear, and that he was against anything that attacked any religion. (I am paraphrasing). As for punishment, it was up to individual nations to decide that issue.
Another questioner asked about persecution of Coptic Christians in Egypt. Imam Suhail responded that he had spent several years in Egypt and studied there. In his experience, Christians and Muslims lived together very well, and that throughout history, Muslims had lived in peace with non-Muslims. He brought up the example of Muslim Spain, where Muslims, Christians and Jews had lived together in peace and harmony. (Again, I am paraphrasing.) Suhail told the questioner that he (Suhail) didn't know where he (questioner) got his information about Copts in Egypt being murdered or their churches burned. Not true.
New Years Eve (2010-2011) Alexandria, Egypt
A few minutes later, I privately asked our tour guide, a young man who is an American-born son of Pakistani immigrants, about how Islam views apostates-especially those who publicly criticize Islam. He said that different people around the world had different opinions about this question, but that at this mosque, they didn't get involved in those issues (paraphrasing).
In answer to another of my questions, our guide explained that most of the congregation was Sunni-of all persuasions and some Shia also worshiped at the mosque since their members came from all over the world..
In addition, English-language translations of the Koran were available to visitors for free. The translation was by Professor Syed Vickar Ahamed. It is published by the Book of Signs Foundation. I have yet to peruse it.
One final note: Browsing through the ICOC book store, I came across a book by Yusuf al Qaradawi, "The Lawful and the Prohibited in Islam". Qaradawi is the spiritual mentor of the Muslim Brotherhood. He has been featured here at this site on a number of occasions for his virulent anti--Semitic statements and his expressed desire to die in battle against "the Infidels".
What we got was a happy face presentation on Islam accompanied by statements that defy reality as noted above. I would also note that Qaradawi is not the only hateful Islamic writer whose works have been seen in that book store.
* Sura 1 (Holy Koran):
1.1 In the name of Allah, the All merciful, the Ever Merciful
1.2 Praise be to Allah, the Lord (Cherisher and Sustainer) of the worlds
1.3 The All Merciful. the Ever Merciful
1.4 The possessor of the day of Judgment
1.5 You (only) we worship and (only) Your help we seek.
1.6 Guide us to the straight path
1.7 The path of those on whom You have bestowed Your mercy
Not of those against whom You have sent (Your) wrath,
Nor of those who have erred and become lost.
(In 1.7, those who have incurred the wrath of God are the Jews, and those who have erred and become lost are the Christians.)