One of the oldest mosques on Long Island is launching an interfaith institute whose mission is to dispel misconceptions about Islam and promote understanding among different faiths.
The Interfaith Institute of Islamic Center of Long Island will hold its first event Sunday at the mosque in Westbury.
John Andrew Morrow, author of "The Covenants of the Prophet Muhammad with the Christians of the World," will give a keynote address about how American Muslims should respond to ISIS, the military terrorist group that has taken over swaths of Iraq and Syria.
Morrow, a convert to Islam and a professor of foreign languages at Ivy Tech Community College of Indiana, is expected to address at least 250 religious leaders and others from a variety of faiths.
The Islamic Center -- which has 800 members and is physically the largest mosque on the Island -- has conducted outreach efforts for years. Other mosques and groups on Long Island do similar work as well.
This, however, is the first time a mosque has created a formal institution to do so, said Dr. Faroque Khan, a founder of the mosque who is heading the Interfaith Institute.
One goal is a more organized, forceful effort to explain Islam to the American public and build bridges with other faiths, he said.
The institute "will give us an opportunity to clear up some of the misconceptions and stereotypes about the Muslims," Khan said. "We always get asked, 'What are you guys doing about the terrorism overseas?' "
Khan and other mosque leaders say organizations such as ISIS, also known as the Islamic State, have nothing to do with Islam, which preaches peace.
The mosque's members are providing funding through donations. The institute will operate out of a new $5 million facility at the Westbury mosque that is near completion -- a three-floor, 19,000-square-foot addition that has rooms for religious classes on Sundays, a cafeteria, a multipurpose room that will double as a meeting hall for up to 300 people, and a basketball court.
The organization will start off with one part-time paid staff member. It will work with local schools and hold at least two major conferences a year, Khan said.
The initiative has gained the backing of other faith leaders, including Catholics, Protestants, Jews, Hindus and Sikhs, along with secular institutions, including universities and anti-poverty organizations.
The board of trustees includes the Rev. Calvin Butts, president of SUNY Old Westbury; Bernard Firestone, dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at Hofstra University; and Roger Tilles, Long Island's representative on the state Board of Regents, which sets education policy for New York schools.
"The goals of the Interfaith Institute are noble ones," Bishop William Murphy of the Diocese of Rockville Centre wrote in a letter for the institute's launch. "Since my arrival on Long Island in 2001, I have been inspired by the willingness of the Muslim community, among others, to work together."
Rabbi Michael White of Temple Sinai in Roslyn, said his synagogue has engaged in interfaith events with the mosque for years. Members of the mosque, for instance, have attended Passover seders at the temple.
"Many false assumptions about Jews and Muslims have evaporated in our many dialogues and learning sessions," White said.