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As-salamu alaykum.

The tradition Muslim greeting, meaning peace be upon you, was uttered many times at the Islamic Center of Boulder on Saturday--by followers of Islam and non-followers alike--as the center held an open house event titled "Getting to Know Your Muslim Neighbors."

Focused on opening up a community dialogue and showcasing Islamic teachings and customs, the event brought an organizer-estimated 250 guests to the center, located at 5495 Baseline Road.

Attendees toured the building, enjoyed refreshments and--most importantly--listened to a talk outlining Muslim beliefs and practices delivered by congregation member, Kelly El-Yacoubi, and participated in a detailed questions and answer session with El-Yacoubi and Djilali Kacem, the imam for a Northglenn mosque.

El-Ycaoubi dedicated a portion of her speech to the high moral character of the Prophet Muhammad.

"His example of mercy on the earth is something Muslims like to emulate in their own lives," she said, noting he treated the poor and disabled members of society with respect and dignity. "He really wanted to be a mercy to the worlds, and we believe that God sent him as a mercy to the worlds."

El-Yacoubi, a Boulder native, has been a member of the center for about 10 years, after being raised Catholic. She rejected the notion that Islam is a religion that subjugates and belittles women.

"I was raised by a very smart, very intelligent woman, my mother. And I would never convert to a religion that would not honor me and allow me to be the person that my mother raised me to be," she said. "Islam gives women the right to vote--and this was over 1,400 years ago that this right was given, the right to work, but not only the right to work, the right to work for equal pay. The right to make decisions of what happens with their own money. The right and the obligation to an education, the right to marry or not marry and to choose who they want to marry."

El-Yacoubi later added, that while they are free to pick their husbands, Muslim women cannot marry someone from outside the Islamic faith.

The questions and answer session covered a wide swath of issues and ideas, including the differences between Islam and Christianity (Muslims believe the only God is God, and therefore worshiping Christ as God is a sin) and Islamic pillars of pilgrimage and prayer, which Muslims partake in five times daily.

One attendee asked how Muslims reconcile the fact that all major religions are based on compassion and mercy, yet Shitte and Sunni Muslims have been killing one another for centuries.

“It's politics. It's about power. It's a struggle,” said Kacem, adding that there are distinct differences between Islamic teachings and the behavior of some Muslims. “Nothing justifies the killing of innocents in Islam. This is not something new and it is not something restricted to the Muslims. In Northern Ireland, very recently between the Protestants and Catholics. Does that make all of them...bad? No. Are the Shittes and Sunnis killing each other? Yes. Is it right? No. And Muslims condemn it all over the place.”

Ajaz Siraj has been a member of the Islamic Center of Boulder community since 1996 and helped organize the open house event. He admitted members were a bit nervous about the event and wondered how many people would attend, but said he was very pleased by the turnout and the reception on Saturday.

"I think it was wonderful," Siraj said. "The whole point was to get some conversation going here; to take the initiative in the community to introduce ourselves."

Siraj said the Islamic Center plans to hold similar events in the future.

Richard Himley visited the Islamic Center for the first time on Saturday despite being "very interested in Islam" and living about a mile from the building. A Buddhist himself, Himley said he most appreciated the discussion of differences between Islam and Christianity as well as a section of the talk dedicated to outlining how the government actions in certain Muslim countries actually run counter to Islamic teachings.

Himley said he was very impressed by Kacem.

"He's fantastic," he said.

Denver resident Pat Terhune echoed that sentiment, crediting both speakers for an informative, intellectual talk that reminded him of his days as student at the University of California, Berkeley.

"It was very encouraging to me," Terhune said. "It was very open postured instead of a defensive posture. I enjoyed that."

Veronica Chavez, of Longmont, said she visited the mosque on Saturday because her daughter converted to Islam several years ago and is now a member of the congregation there.

"I think it is important to hear about the different philosophies of religions," Chavez said. "I think by knowing what's different about us, it brings us closer as a community."

Contact Camera Staff Writer Joe Rubino at 303-473-1328 or