CAIRO — Through information handouts, Qur’an copies and answers to questions on common misconceptions, Muslims in Southern California are reaching out to their broader community at the state’s public fair.
“We want to show that we are part of this community,” Arshad Khan of the Sacramento Chapter of Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA) told the Sacramento Bee daily on Monday, August 18. “What better way to show that than coming to the State Fair, which gets people of all different backgrounds? Problems start with the lack of communication and understanding,” Khan believes.
Visitors of the California Public Fair, running from August 15 until September 1, get to know Islam through the “WhyIslam” information booth. During the fair, to be attended by approximately 900,000 people, Muslim volunteers are on hand to answer questions, pass out brochures and give away copies of the Noble Qur’an.
The booth is part of ICNA’s three-year-old project “WhyIslam,” which focuses on outreach through direct contacts with non-Muslims in Southern California, home to some 600,000 Muslims.
A recent US survey revealed that the majority of Americans know very little about Islam and do not see any common grounds between the Muslim faith and their own Christian beliefs. There are between six to seven million Muslims in the US. For many visitors, the “WhyIslam” booth is a welcome opportunity to find first hand information on Islam.
“I don’t know any Muslims, and I can’t approach a perfect stranger,” said Cindy Cassidy. “This was a great way for me to find out more.” Standing before the booth, Cassidy, who had little knowledge about Islam, was loaded with questions. “Just out of curiosity – and I don’t mean any disrespect,” she told volunteer Salihah Bustamam, “why do you cover your heads?” Bustamam, 25, smiled and answered that Muslim women wear the hijab as an act of obedience to God. She added that hijab also represents a step toward freedom from being judged by the looks rather than the intellect. When Cassidy finally left the booth, she had several brochures, a copy of the Qur’an and the satisfaction that her burning questions had been answered.
Al Fink, a retired federal worker, believes the “WhyIslam” booth is a good way to shatter stereotypes. “All they want to do is spread a little knowledge,” Fink, a Jew, said of the Muslim volunteers. “Ignorance is dangerous.”