For some living in Saskatoon, Islam represents a roughly sketched mystery composed of stereotypes and alarmist media reports filled with half-truths.
'We are very proud to live in … one of the first countries in history to adopt multiculturalism.'- Hanan Elbardouh
That's why the local Islamic community is opening up its Copeland Crescent mosque to the public on Saturday.
"We live in a very diverse city right now and we feel that it's important for people to come and visit us and ask us questions," said Hanan Elbardouh from the Islamic Association of Saskatchewan.
"And it gives us the opportunity to answer their questions and make them feel welcome, socialize with them, have a little bit of fun with them, get them to taste our food and mingle."
Mosque leaders at the open house delivered presentations inviting people to ask questions. They also handed out educational brochures to provide more information on the role of women in Islam, and there were opportunities to try wearing a hijab.
Prior to the event, Elbardouh said she hoped the open house would help address misconceptions by providing factual information.
"We believe the lack of information about Islam is causing some challenges so we feel that we've been trying to open our doors to many religious groups to come and ask questions — school students, university students, I think it is important to inform people," she told CBC Radio's Saskatoon Morning.
The Muslim community in Saskatoon has grown rapidly over the years from a humble group of 50, now boasting a population of about 8,000 people worshipping at three mosques in the city.
Opening the door to open minds
With more visibility, Elbardouh said, non-Islamic members of the community seem to have become more emboldened to reach out as of late — but not always in a positive way.
"It becomes really hard after a terrorist attack," she said. "You feel judged and you feel like you have to explain yourself."
There are also, Elbardouh said, negative stereotypes about the status of Muslim women.
"People misunderstand the role of women in Islam and they feel that women are oppressed and they have to wear the hijab or they have to dress a certain way."
The Islamic community hoped to overcome much of that misinformation Saturday by creating a friendly, open environment where people feel free to ask questions.
In a way, Elbardouh said, this mosque open house is a way for the Islamic community to say thank you.
"We are very proud to live in a country, one of the first countries in history to adopt multiculturalism."
The open house at the Islamic Centre Saskatoon runs from 11:00 a.m. CST to 4:00 p.m. Saturday at the mosque on Copeland Crescent.