Ryan Harris first learned about Islam while watching a video on world religions in a social studies class.

Harris, a former Denver Broncos lineman, said he ended up converting because the religion meshed with his own ideas on spirituality.

"I always had a companion with me — Allah," he said

Harris was one of the panelists who spoke Sunday at the Islamic Center of Boulder's annual "Getting to Know Your Muslim Neighbors" open house. The well-attended event was created to open a community dialogue and showcase Islamic teachings and customs.

"We need this now because ignorance and words have actions behind them," Harris said. "People are scared. We don't need you to start a fight. Just stand up and say, 'I know a Muslim.' Those comments will change the world."

Rubina Mirza, right, applies henna ink to the hand of Israa Sarsour, left, on Sunday during the international bazaar at the Islamic Center of
Rubina Mirza, right, applies henna ink to the hand of Israa Sarsour, left, on Sunday during the international bazaar at the Islamic Center of Boulder's open house. (Matthew Jonas / Staff Photographer)

Along with listening to panelists talk about Muslim beliefs and practices, attendees toured the building at 5495 Baseline Road, enjoyed food and shopped at a bazaar that included ethnic treats and clothing.

The panelists talked about Islam requiring respect for other religions, with Islamic Center of Boulder Imam Shoaib Al-Zenati noting that the center is open to people from all backgrounds.

"I ask Allah to make us be united, not divided," he said.

Donna, an Islamic Center of Boulder member who asked that her last name not be used, talked about converting to the Muslim faith 12 years ago after being raised as a Catholic.


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She said her Muslim husband, who she married 46 years ago, never tried to talk her into converting because compulsion isn't allowed. Islam, she added, encourages her "to be the best person I can be."

"A lot of misconceptions are based on political things, not on true Islam," she said.

She's not forced to wear a hijab, or hair scarf, can run her own business and can control her own money, she said.

"Many women convert exactly because of the rights given to us in Islam," she said. "I'm still Donna, an average American woman who chooses to practice the Muslim faith."

The panelists also talked about how government actions in certain Muslim countries run counter to Islamic teachings.

"Like any other faith, people will change the context of the words, not the words themselves," said Muhammad A. Kolila, an imam at the Downtown Denver Islamic Center. "Some people are violent ... they will look for anything to justify it."

Boulder's Rachel Doriese said she's a regular at the Islamic Center's open houses.

"I've found this to be one of the most welcoming spaces I've been in," she said. "With the (President Donald Trump's) travel ban, it's very important to support the Muslim community here in Boulder."

Lafayette's Cheri Gould brought her 10-year-old daughter, Alice, so she could learm more about other faiths. Gould said she also wanted to support the Muslim community.

"There's a lot of divisiveness," she said. "These events are important for the community."

Andrea Harmann, who loves to cook Arabian food, came from Longmont hoping for some tips and recipes.

"It's all about the food," she said.

Boulder's Bill Semple said he found the event's multiculturism refreshing.

"It was good to have the open mindedness from a Muslim perspective," he said. "It's the opposite of the typical portrayal of Muslims in the media.

Amy Bounds: 303-473-1341, boundsa@dailycamera.com or twitter.com/boundsa