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Residents welcome Janesville's first mosque

By Jake Magee
August 29, 2015

JANESVILLE—Residents exuded tolerance and open-mindedness Friday night as about two dozen locals gathered within Janesville's first mosque for an open house.

The mosque's owner, Salih Erschen, hosted the public gathering to help educate the community about Islam—something he has been doing everywhere he goes for years now.

“People are worried that Muslims are some type of a threat,” Erschen said. “…If they don't know about the faith and the practice and the ideas and what Muslims are focused on in life, then that causes a bit a fear, … so I always encourage Muslims to open their doors and invite people in and talk about what our faith is and share. That's been my approach … is to try and be more and more open about it.”

Erschen's open-door policy worked. Several residents experienced Islamic culture firsthand as Erschen shared a short message about social injustice and Allah's role in the world. Erschen's son-in-law Ibraham Jitmoud read from the Quran in Arabic and ended the evening by leading Muslims in prayer.

Those gathered included Christians from nearby churches who were curious about the mosque. The Rev. David King of Christ Presbyterian Church on Wright Road has been seriously studying Islam since 9/11 and has since gained Muslim friends.

“We have an interest in Islam, but not an interest in becoming Muslim,” King said, speaking for himself and his wife, Priscilla King. “We're Christian, and we want to hear what he (Erschen) has to say. It's curiosity.”

King rejects the notion that Christians and Muslims worship the same God, as Muslims don't believe in the holy trinity, King said. Still, he keeps an open mind and recognizes Muslims' right to worship as they choose, just as he does.

“Why am I tolerant? Because we're all sinners. Because the grace of God has come to me in Christ and saved me, and who am I to be harsh and hateful toward somebody for where they are?” King said.

First Congregational United Church of Christ member Jim Hay is open to the idea of a mosque as well. His church is getting a new pastor in a few weeks, which has revitalized the church into reaching out to the community and displaying a “more inclusive type of atmosphere,” he said.

“We are an open and affirming church, where all people are welcome regardless of your sexual orientation, and we want to build upon that for the future,” Hay said.

The mosque opening in Janesville is a good thing for the city, he said.

“I think it's great because we are a diverse culture, diverse area, and we can't ignore, we can't leave out, we can't pick and choose who we want, who we don't want,” Hay said. “And even if we might disagree, we need to find what it (Islam) is all about and at least respect it.”