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Muslims counteract fear at annual conference in Dallas

By Natalie Smolenski, KERA 90.1 Reporter

http://stream.publicbroadcasting.net/production/mp3/kera/local-kera-520406.mp3

Muslim leaders meet in Dallas to counteract fear.

Dallas, TX –

[sound: young boy reciting Qur'an]

Natalie Smolenski, 90.1 Reporter: The few thousand Muslims who gathered at the Westin Galleria were keenly aware of how they're perceived by fellow Americans. In hallway conversations, conference-goers subtly acknowledged that people regard them as closet extremists and believe their culture is incompatible with American values. Saffia Meek, who is the Operations Manager for the Dallas Chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, does media outreach for Islamic events and organizations. She said the religious moderation of most Muslims is ignored:

Saffia Meek, Council on American-Islamic Relations: Every time something happens in the news, all the major Islamic organizations always put out a condemnation, and we'll do press conferences about it, but it just doesn't get into the mainstream media, so most people don't know that we have done that, and then they complain, "Why aren't the Muslims speaking out against it?" Well we have!

Smolenski: One person who decided to provide that coverage is Sarwat Husain. She is editor-in-chief of San Antonio-based newspaper Al-Ittihaad, which means Unity in Arabic. She established the paper after 9/11 with a mission of connecting Muslims and non-Muslims in what she sees as a shared American culture.

Sarwat Husain, Al-Ittihaad: We are human beings just the way they are. We are Americans just the way they are. We have taken an oath to serve the country; We do it.

Smolenski: Even though the paper is geared toward US Muslims, Husain says she wants it to eventually reach every household in America. So she only publishes articles that won't cause further division, and uses Qur'anic verses to counter extremist submissions.

Husain: There is no other agenda except for the news; I do not want any fanaticism in there. You know. Creating their own Islam. I have to ask them to correct it, and I get them the sources in the Quran and everything.

Smolenski: Many Muslim organizations now focus on outreach efforts both to educate non-Muslims about the faith and to help build lasting community institutions like schools, mosques, and charities. But Imam Mohamed Maged Ali, Executive Director of the All Dulles Area Muslim Society near Washington, D.C., told conference-goers that organizations can't do all the work.

Imam Maged Ali, ADAMS: It begins with the neighbors. Muslim or non-Muslim alike. Imagine if they have the best impression, they give the best impression to their neighbors. My brothers and sisters, ask ourselves, how many of your neighbors know who you are?

Smolenski: Research indicates that outreach can be effective, especially when it takes the form of humanitarian aid. According to the non-partisan group Terror Free Tomorrow, when Americans sent aid to Pakistani earthquake victims last year, support for America increased by 20% there while support for Osama bin Laden and suicide attacks dropped by the same amount.

Smolenski: So, the Islamic Society conference featured booths collecting donations for orphans, refugees, and victims of natural disasters, including Hurricane Katrina. Some attendees wondered how to balance philanthropy in America with the more dire needs of Muslims overseas, but every speaker emphasized that constructive action in this country is the best way to express Muslim patriotism. Conference Chair Azhar Azeez:

Azhar Azeez, ISNA: American Muslims are here today to contribute and to make America a better place. The best place on this Earth. And we know that America as a nation was built on these strong values. The values of pluralism, the values of secularism, the democratic norms that exist in this society. This is what make America a great nation.

Smolenski: For KERA 90.1, I'm Natalie Smolenski.

Contact KERA's News and Public Affairs staff about this piece

Islamic Society of North America

Council on American-Islamic Relations