Scores of faith leaders came together at a Westbury mosque Sunday afternoon to celebrate the first event at the Islamic Center of Long Island's new Interfaith Institute.
The diverse gathering was a fitting start for an initiative that aims to dispel misconceptions about Islam, promote tolerance and strengthen relationships with other religious institutions.
"It's such a delightful day," declared Dr. Faroque Khan, a founder of the Islamic Center who is heading the institute.
"For many of you, this is your first visit to a mosque, so one of our objectives has already been fulfilled -- opening up our house of worship to a cross-section of people."
About 200 people attended the event, which paused for evening prayers. Visitors were given a brief tour of the institute -- a three-floor, 19,000-square-foot addition to the mosque that Khan said should be completed in about a month.
The $5 million facility will feature a multipurpose room that doubles as a meeting hall for as many as 300 people, rooms for Sunday religious classes, a cafeteria and a basketball court.
Islamic Center president Isma Chaudhry told the crowd that now, more than ever, there is a "crucial need for interfaith harmony."
"We have to be each other's keepers. We have to stand as one people under God committed to supporting each other in understanding, and celebrating religious and ethnic diversity," Chaudhry said.
The Islamic Center has 800 members and is physically the largest mosque on Long Island.
After introductions, the inaugural event dove right into one of the institute's chief subjects: contrasting the acts of terror by radical groups such as the Islamic State group, also known as ISIS, with the peaceful tenets of Islam.
Guest speaker John Andrew Morrow, a convert to Islam and author of "The Covenants of the Prophet Muhammad with the Christians of the World," didn't mince words in calling ISIS a "diabolical death cult" whose actions -- from killing innocent people and raping children to destroying places of worship -- directly oppose everything the Quran preaches.
"The Islamic State is not Islamic; it is satanic," Morrow said. "We need to unite . . . against the plague of extremism and hatred that threatens us all."