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Muslims take to Minn. State Fair to repair image


09 5 10

 

 

 

(September 4, 2010) By PATRICK CONDON, Associated Press Writer

 

Despite the smells of fried dough and roasted meat wafting from the Minnesota State Fair, Salim and Zuleyha Ozonder were focused on the people who were leaving, not the food or festivities beckoning from across the street.

 


Each time a new wave of people exited, the young Minneapolis residents — who hadn’t eaten all day — tried to press into their hands a small, glossy card that read “Islam Explained” on one side. On the other, it had about 180 words of background on a religion whose adherents fear is being misunderstood by too many Americans as violent and depraved.

“You just want people to take the card, spend a minute reading it and say, ‘Oh. They’re not terrorists,’” said 27-year-old Zuleyha. She and her husband, like other Muslims, were fasting during daylight hours for the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.

For most fairgoers, the last thing on their mind is religion — particularly the renewed controversy over Islam in America amid tension over plans for an Islamic center and mosque a few blocks from New York City’s ground zero. But volunteers with the Minnesota chapter of Islamic Circle of North America saw the mostly white, Christian fair crowd as just the type of audience that might benefit from greater understanding.

The “Great Minnesota Get-Together” is one of the largest and best-attended state fairs in the country. Every day for 12 days through Labor Day, hundreds of thousands of people stream onto the fairgrounds north of St. Paul to scarf highly caloric food, stare at farm animals, clamber onto carnival rides and enjoy concerts by country singers and classic rock dinosaurs.

Muslims at the Fair

In this Sept. 1, 2010 photo, Zuleyha Ozonder, left, hands out cards explaining Islam to fair-goers as they exit of the Minnesota State Fairgrounds in Falcon Heights, Minn. "You just want people to take the card, spend a minute reading it and say, ‘Oh. They’re not terrorists,’" said 27-year-old Zuleyha who volunteered with her husband Salim for ICNA’s Minnesota chapter’s outreach effort. (AP Photo/Dawn Villella)

“What are they doing here?” said Paulette Kahlstorf of Zimmerman, who declined a card from Zuleyha as she left the fairgrounds with her husband. “I didn’t come here for that.”

A minute later, Kahlstorf elaborated that she didn’t have a problem with all Muslims: “Just the radical ones.” And she said she didn’t mind their decision to hand out the cards, which include a toll-free number that anyone can call to request a free copy of the Quran.

“You know, I guess we let all the politicians come out here and schmooze, so we might as well let these folks as well,” said Kahlstorf. “Doesn’t mean I need to listen to them.”

A poll released last week showed many Americans have the same mixed feelings about the Muslim faith. The nonpartisan Pew Research Center found that most Americans doubt that Islam is likelier than other faiths to encourage violence and believe Muslims should have equal rights to build houses of worship. But more people have an unfavorable than favorable view of Islam by 38 to 30 percent — nearly a reversal of findings on the same poll question in 2005, when 41 percent had favorable views compared with 36 percent unfavorable.

Click to see the front of the card handed out.

Click to see the front of the card handed out.

Najam Qureshi, a member of the Islamic Circle of North America’s Minnesota chapter and a database administrator at Carlson Companies in Plymouth, said his group planned the state fair outreach effort — which includes radio commercials — long before the New York mosque controversy.

But he said that controversy has been another reminder of the work American Muslims need to do to fill what he called “the void of understanding about our faith.”

Various state-based Muslim groups estimate Minnesota has about 150,000 Muslim residents, and the state has had its share of incidents in recent years. Some Muslim students reported being harassed at schools in St. Cloud and Owatonna, and some anti-Islamic posters were hung around St. Cloud.

Click to see the back of the card handed out.

Click to see the back of the card handed out.

The Ozonders handed out 400 cards during one two-hour shift this week across the street from one of the fair’s main entrances, and were taking their second shift on Wednesday. The chapter is handing out the cards throughout the fair’s run, which ends on Labor Day.

The couple said they volunteered out of a desire to “do something together” for their faith. Zuleyha moved to Minneapolis in July from New York’s Westchester County after she married Salim, 28, a graduate student in physics at the University of Minnesota the last two years; both are of Turkish descent.

Both said their exchanges with fairgoers were mostly pleasant, though Zuleyha said one man cursed at her. Most people either decline the cards or quietly take them and keep moving.

Occasionally, someone will stop and talk for a few minutes, often to ask a question or two about Islam.

“More than one person said to me, ‘You look normal,’” Salim Ozonder said. “So if we can even break down a few misconceptions, that is great. Too many people in this debate are no longer interested in a middle ground.”

Article Courtesy: FOX News

 

  • Fayaz

    May Allah Bless you

  • michelle

    thank you so much for this wonderful effort! education is the key to understanding.

  • Gencer Gokeri

    This a wonderful way to reach out to the masses.As a Muslim;Turk, I am proud of the brother and the sister alone with your organization taking part at an event this big for dawaa work especially in the month of Ramadan May Allah (s.w.t.) be pleased with you all Ramadan Kareem

  • Jack Remington

    I have read the holy books of most major religions which I found broadening and have just read the Quran. Framkly, I am deeply troubled by what I found in it. You say that Islam is a peaceful religion but I found nothing peaceful in it. I found a text that was overwhelmingly hostile, intolerant and antagonistic toward people of other faiths.

    From the begining and over and over through endless repetition it said that Allah is the ONLY true God and Islam is the ONLY true and ACCEPTABLE religion. It tells me that as a nonbeliever (non Muslim)I am a hell-bound heathen, in league with Satan, cursed and hated by God. It tells Muslims that they are forbidden to be friends with me and requires them to fight against me. It tells me that a woman is only half as valuable as a man.
    How can Islam be compatable with our society where we are all equal and free to find our own spiritual path?

  • Salim

    I have found few many useful Islamic websites, where you can ask your questions & remove your misconceptions.
    Some of the them are listed below, by Dr. Yusuf Estes
    http://www.islamnewsroom.com/
    http://www.bridgetofaith.com/
    http://www.arabicinenglish.com/
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q372PFvXlKM&feature=related
    I am sure those with misconceptions about Islam will find them useful.
    Also, though Quran is complete world of God by itself.
    Nonetheless, Jack Remington has misunderstood because he does not know the perspective. You will get an idea after you watch the youtube listed above.
    Allah clearly conveys in the Quran, that he sent the prophet to explain.
    And, you have to understand the authentic traditions from Sahi Bokhari, Sahi Moslem, and few other Sahi books to understand the reference to the context.
    As an example, the Quran does not explain how to pray.
    The prophet explains and we know it through the authentic traditions.

  • Salim

    The Quran was not dropped in book form. It is a set of revelations Allah’s prophet continually received in various settings over the 23 years. We see in some verses that Allah is allowing Muslims to defend themselves and at the same tim setting the limits, and advising to accept peace even if the enemy offers the the peace in the middle of the battleground. As an example, Ali (May Allah be pleased with him) did not kill the enemy in the middle of battle after the enemy spat on him. Allah does not allow personal anger or hate anybody. Allah allows you to defend yourself agaisnt the oppressor and or the threat, but with qualifiers, limits & conditions.

  • NASAR B. MUKADAM

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