Masjid Al-Iman in Victoria and eight other mosques in B.C. opened their doors to the public on Saturday, inviting the community to learn about the Islamic faith.

It’s the first time major mosques in the province have united to hold open houses on the same day.

“It’s all about bringing the community together and breaking stereotypes,” said mosque member Farrah Baluch.

The event is part of a province-wide effort, organized by the B.C. Muslim Association, to help bridge the gap between Muslims and non-Muslims in the region.

“I just hope that people understand that Islam is not as foreign as people make it seem,” said Ismali Mohamed Nur, Imam of Masjid Al-Iman Victoria.

According to Statistics Canada, hate crimes targeting Muslims and other faiths rose by 47 per cent in 2017.

Members say today’s event helps to reduce some of the stigma surrounding Islam.

“We want to show who we are, what we do and what we are truly about,” Baluch explained.

“The hope is to educate the wider community and to show them that Muslims are just friendly neighbours,” said Mohamed Nur.

Islam is the world’s second-largest religion, with more than 1.8 billion followers around the globe.

With a Muslim community in the thousands across Vancouver Island, visitors say the open house was an educational experience for all generations.

“Personal contact with people helps to break down barriers and things become more familiar,” said Kathy Costigan, who attended the event with her daughter.

While mosques are always open to anyone, on display during the event was Muslim culture and history.

Activities included traditional temporary henna tattoos, writings in Arabic and a chance to try on hijabs.

“I’m going to be visiting the Middle East in the spring, so it’s great to get a little sense of the culture here at home first,” explained attendee Bronwyn Dodds.

To learn more about the annual event, visit openmosquedaybc.ca

Ceilidh Millar