Mary O’Brien, an eight-year-old Girl Scout making her First Communion this year, slipped her mother’s neck scarf over her head Sunday inside the Masjid Darul Quran Mosque in Bay Shore and prayed beside a new friend.
Fatima Begum, 11, in a green hijab, suggested the impromptu head covering, and Mary’s mother, Cali O’Brien, obliged, eager for both her and her daughter to experience their first time in a mosque.
“I was praying in my own way,” said Cali O’Brien, 49, a parishioner at St. Patrick’s Church in Bay Shore.
“I did, too,” Mary said, smiling.
Theirs was one of many connections made among strangers at the Fleece Friendship Tie event — organized by the Bay Shore-Brightwaters Multicultural Committee — where more than 200 people gathered Sunday in the mosque’s basement for a community service project: decorating fleece blankets for the elderly.
While the distribution of around 45 blankets, topped with personal notes from children, is planned for later this week to seniors at the East Neck Nursing Care and Rehabilitation Center in West Babylon, the larger goal of the gathering was to foster love and friendship among different groups at a time of “divisiveness,” said Michele Boccia, a Bay Shore resident who had the idea for the event.
“I can’t take all the hate that is happening. And I can’t take the fear that Muslims feel . . . it’s not right,” said Boccia, tears welling in her eyes. “For me it’s a Christian thing to do, to care about people, to respect people, to reach out. That’s what Jesus taught.”
Mothers in hijabs and dads wearing Kippas were among those who wrangled restless children during the two-and-a-half-hour event. Participants learned about the Muslim call to prayer and noshed on a selection of food that exemplified the diversity of the group — baked ziti, pizza, vegetable samosas, brown basmati rice, halal chicken. And for dessert, hamantaschen cookies and brownies.
The Lions Club of Bay Shore, celebrating its 100th year, paid for the event, officials said.
Nahid Sheikh, who worships at the mosque and worked with Boccia and others to put the event together, said the goal was simple. “Not just speeches, just a very social event, where you see that normal things happen at a mosque,” Sheikh said. “Food and drink and things that bring people together.”
Khalida Siddiqi, a native of Pakistan who has lived on Long Island for about four decades, said she’s visited synagogues and churches and was pleased that non-Muslims had a taste of the mosque experience.
“A lot of prejudice comes from not knowing each other,” said Siddiqi, 62, of Hicksville, a hospital laboratory supervisor. “We need to get to know each other. ”