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The Islamic Center of Johnson County has between 3,000 and 7,000 active members.
One of its newer members, Hamzeh Ghosheh, knew he wanted to find a mosque as soon as he moved to Kansas City.
“Just like any other Muslim congregation, ICJC was a place where I felt at peace,” said Ghosheh.
One of the leaders at the mosque, Imam Mohamed Herbert, says a place of worship is a critical safe space for Muslims in America.
“There’s so much to pray for,” he said. “Having our own spaces for worship, having our own spaces to pray, our community spaces helps us feel, at least for a moment, that we belong.”
Herbert says being a Muslim in America has never been easy, especially with anti-Islamic rhetoric stemming from events like 9/11, generalizing many Muslim people as terrorists.
“There’s an element of looking over our shoulders,” he said. “There’s also an element of disappointment.”
Lately, the disappointment has stemmed from the Israel-Hamas War, particularly how he’s seen Palestinian people treated. While he believes no innocent lives should be lost, he can't help but feel for those he has ties to.
“We’re seeing family members, we’re seeing relatives, people that we know die by the thousands,” Herbert said. “Every single time this discussion comes up, the first thing we’re asked to is to prove our humanity.”
Which is why when he addresses his congregation, he is intentional about instilling hope while reminding them to simultaneously maintain their faith.
"Keep moving forward, keep praying to God," Herbert says. "Hope for better days, and know even if those better days don’t come, you still have a paradise waiting for you."
Both Herbert and Ghosheh say they believe Palestinian and Muslim voices have been overlooked. They also say that having direct ties to these identities should not be the only reason people care about Palestinian lives.
Ghosheh moved to Shawnee, Kansas, from Jerusalem. Despite being from Israel, he says not being Jewish resulted in a difficult upbringing.
“Growing up in Jerusalem was never easy,” he said.
Ghosheh says people born in Jerusalem like him called themselves “Jerusalemites.” Even though he did not have direct access to Palestine, he still identifies as Palestinian.
“I identify as a Jerusalemite, as a Palestinian, as a Muslim and as an Arab,” Ghosheh said.
He says being surrounded by violence and danger is common in Jerusalem, which is why he checks in on his family regularly, especially with the ongoing war.
According to the Associated Press, over 8,000 Palestinians have died in Gaza and over 1,400 people have died in Israel.
“I need to call my family and connect with them because it’s also something that’s touching my nieces and nephews,” Ghosheh said. “Currently with all that’s happening, it’s been super hard to reach family members. And with the time difference, it makes it even harder.”
But those aren’t the only people he checks in with. His startup, a company that created a safe driving app, employs multiple Gazan people on purpose.
“I did start my company so I could bring out new technology and be able to save lives through a software that is developed by Palestinians, designed by Palestinians,” he said.
For him, it is important to provide Gazan people with opportunities despite the current landscape in their homeland.
“Working with Gazans, you see the most beautiful representation of what it is to problem solve,” he said.
But problem solving does not start and stop with Gazans.
Ghosheh says the first step in helping Palestinians is seeing them as worthy of help.
“Look at people from the same human lens that you look at all other people,” he said.
One of the things he does to help the Palestinian effort in KC is working with Al Hadaf KC, a Palestinian and Muslim led organization that seeks to center and amplify the Palestinian voices and call for the rights of Palestinian people. The organization facilitates rallies, discussions and other events to raise awareness.
“You do not need us to give you a green light to talk about this,” Ghosheh said. “You do not need that permit, that Palestinian or Muslim permit to talk about this. We want you to speak up, we want you to stand up for it.”